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Airtam Site


It is common knowledge that ‘His Majesty Chance’ often accompanies great discoveries. When in 1932 a fisherman from Surkhandarya cast a fishing net at the steep bank of the Amu Darya river in 10 kilometres from Old Termez, instead of fish he pulled out a piece of stone relief imaging women playing musical instruments. Thus this fortuitous find initiated the research of one of the most remarkable Buddhist monuments in Uzbekistan.

In the 2nd century BCE a rather large town grew on the high bank of the river in Airtam Tract. Over a convenient passage across the Amu Darya rose the fortress town. Fortification walls with turrets, which are now only mounds of earth, surrounded the town on three sides. The excavations on the elevated parts of the settlement revealed dwelling and cult buildings. In Kushan times here was a Buddhist complex, which consisted of a temple and a stupa with relics. To our time there has survived only the base of the stupa made of clay bricks, and the lower cylindrical part, once covered with marble-like limestone. Archeologists also found fragments of painted alabaster statue of Buddha. Among the ruins of the walls and sculptures, there were also discovered coins of the times of Kushan king Kanishka and copper sotera coins of Megas.

The pylons at the entrance to the sanctuary with the statue of Buddha were once covered with stone tiles, whereas their tops were crowned with well-known ‘Airtam reliefs’. These are unique sculptural friezes imaging musicians playing the harp, lute, cymbal, drums and flute. The other friezes had reliefs which represented gift carrying women with flower garlands, fruits and containers. These female figures seem hovering among the splendid leaves of acanthus. The scholars believe that figures of the musicians symbolize five Great Sounds of Indian Buddhist mythology. These sounds were to charm Buddha’s ears with heavenly music. The gift carriers were to bespread flowers and to sprinkle aromatic water on the path of Buddha. The scene on the frieze is probably connected with “Parinirvana-Jataka” – a legend of Great Death. According to the legend, the Divine Spirits dropped flowers on the earth and conducted funeral rites when Buddha Gautama died: “they poured down the rain of flowers and music resounded in Heaven”.

Near the reliefs there was found a part of a stone stele with two characters in Hellenistic clothes and an inscription on its pedestal, recounting about the construction of the fortress.

Airtam is undoubtedly one of the most interesting antique monuments of Bactria, whereas the relief friezes from Airtam temple are believed to be the best examples of stone sculpture of Kushan times.

Sightseeing Places in Termez

Hakim at-Termezi Architectural Complex Kyrk-Kyz Hanaka
Sultan-Saodat Memorial Buddhist Cult Centers Koratepa and Fayaztepa
Buddhist Stupa The Ancient Settlement of Old Termez
Dalverzintepa Site Khalchayan Site
Zartepa Site Airtam Site