Stolen Buddha statue recovered

Efforts to track down missing Tara

By Alok Kumar in Gaya
  • Published 2.09.16
The statue of Tara, the Buddhist deity, that was stolen from Sarsu in Gaya in 2007. Picture by Suman

The efforts of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (NNM) to track down stolen ancient artefacts have finally paid off with the recovery of a Buddha statue on August 20 from Nalanda.

The 4-foot tall statue belonging to the 9th-10th century AD had been stolen from Lohjara village under Wazirganj block of Gaya district on July 1, 2014, and has been recovered two years later from Sithaura village in Nalanda.

A registration made with Art Loss Register (ALR), London, by Deepak Anand, heritage consultant of NNM, helped in recovering the statue.

Deepak said: "We reported the theft of the statue to ALR within 15 days of the theft, on July 16, 2014. Earlier too, registration with the ALR helped recover another Buddha statue stolen from Maher under Tankuppa block in Gaya district on May 14, 2014, and we reported the theft with ALR on July 3, 2014. This statue was recovered on November 20, 2014."

Deepak and Sujeet Nayan from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have also registered the theft of the ancient statue of Tara, a Buddhist deity, that was stolen from Sarsu village under the jurisdiction of Mohra block in the district of Gaya in 2007. This 25 feet (105 cm) tall statue also belongs to 9th-10th century AD.

"More than 500 of the ancient statues on display in European and American museums were accepted as there was no evidence of their theft. ALR is an international agency that helps track stolen artefacts. Among all the stolen statues from all over the world, the best usually end up in museums in Europe and the US. Before buying the artefacts, museums always cross-check the authenticity of the artefacts with agencies keeping a track on stolen artefacts," said Deepak.

"We are currently trying to get photographs of the stolen statues and other artefacts from villagers, so that we may register them with ALR. The ALR will not only help check the sale of stolen statues, but will help get back the statues that have been already sold and placed in museums," he added.

Most of the sculptures stolen from villages are never reported to the police, and if at all they are reported, not much is achieved because there is no photographic documentation. NNM in 2008 initiated a project to photo-document ancient statues in the villages of Bihar. NNM also initiated the "Engage Buddhism" programme in 2010 to facilitate awareness among villagers about these ancient sculptures, Deepak said.

Provenance of many of these statues is incomplete and museums don't have satisfactory details on how they procured them. A study in this regard has been published by NNM called Journey Through Bihar to Vihara by Aparajita Goswami and Deepak Anand.