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Theft prompts safety ring for rare statues
- Gaya villagers to build room to store heritage idols, deemed varsity plans pictorial proof

The theft of a rare Buddha idol has prompted villagers of Maher to mull measures to protect two other Buddha statues under Tankuppa block, around 17km east of the Gaya district headquarters.

Around four-five years ago, Maher residents had stumbled upon the three statues made of black stone, including one in the mahaparinirvana (reclining) and two others in sitting posture, during excavation in the village located off the Gaya-Rajauli highway. However, one of the statues in sitting posture got stolen in May. Villagers lodged a joint FIR with Tankuppa police station reporting the theft but in vain.

In 2013, a team of Nav Nalanda Mahavihara (NNM), a deemed university functioning at Nalanda, came to know about the three statues kept in Maher during the process of documentation of ancient Magadh, comprising Patna and Magadh divisions, under the Revival of Ancient Buddhist Pilgrimage in Bihar project.

Apart from the stolen statue, there is another 5.5ft tall statue in sitting posture. The statue in mahaparinirvana posture is a rare find. Villagers have initiated steps for protection of the two other precious statues.

Deepak Anand, NNM heritage consultant and a member of the documentation team, said: “The statues belong to the Pala period (9th to 10th Common Era). The statue in the mahaparinirvana posture is a rare find, as no such sculpture of Buddha in this posture has been reported till date in Bihar. For protection of such sculptures scattered in different parts of Magadh, NNM has identified persons from among the villagers as heritage leaders.”

Vijay Sao, one such heritage leader at Maher told The Telegraph that villagers are committed to protecting the two other statues. “With motivation from the NNM and villagers’ contribution, we have cemented the base of the statues to prevent theft. We also plan to construct a room in the village to store big and small statues safely. We have spoken to a co-villager, Babu Chand Chaudhary, regarding donating a part of his land for construction of road up to the statues,” Sao said.

Anand said there were many international voluntary institutions that help track stolen sculptures. “Lack of photographic documentation is a big limitation for seeking help from such agencies. Luckily, the sculpture stolen from Maher was documented by NNM. We are mulling to put an international alert on this sculpture with help of voluntary tracking institutions,” he said.