#94 17-23 May 2002

Lost and Found

Museums and galleries in the West have started returning Nepal’s stolen religious objects after relentless campaigning by activists.  

Now there is a challenge of safeguarding repatriated pieces in their original place.

Back in 2002, Nepali Times covered the return of a 200-year-old Dipankar Buddha stolen from Patan and tracked to a collector in Vienna. One of the first instances of a stolen idol being returned to Nepal.

Excerpt of the report by Kunda Dixit published in #94 17-23 May 2002 Nepali Times 20 years ago this week:
The gilded copper mask of the Buddha was in the custody of a family in Nag Bahal when it was stolen. It resurfaced when a well-known Cologne-based art dealer, Gallery Peter Hardt, tried to sell it to the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna this week for an asking price of 200,000 Euros ($180,000).

The museum’s curator, Dr Christian Schicklgruber, suspected that the Buddha image may be stolen and he checked with the Institut fur Südasien, Tibet und Buddhizmus of Vienna University.

Tibetologists at the university immediately sent a picture of the image on offer to Min Bahadur Shakya of the Nagarjuna Institute in Kathmandu, who confirmed that it was indeed a Buddha from Nag Bahal.

“I checked with three other stolen Patan Buddhas, and it was very clear that it was one of ours,” an ecstatic Shakya told us. “We only hear about idol thefts, we rarely hear of stolen religious artifacts being recovered. It is a very happy day for us.”

What saved the Buddha was some fast footwork between Schicklgruber at the Ethnographic Museum, the University and Shakya in Kathmandu. This evidence was sufficient to convince the Austrian public prosecutor to confiscate the image on suspicion of being stolen property. A case against the German gallery has been filed in Vienna. Currently Austrian police are working with their German colleagues and the Royal Nepalese Embassy in Berlin to pursue the case.

From archive material of Nepali Times of the past 20 years, site search:  www.nepalitimes.com

Original Article @Nepali Times