Who plundered the gods of Nepal? | Nepalese time
There were two Bhairav sculptures at Halchok temple near Kathmandu, one of which was 300 years old. The second was made in 2013 and installed on the original. Both were robbed on December 7 – a nightmare come true for Narayan Putuwar, who served as a temple priest for 13 years.
The theft was reported to the media the week Nepal celebrated the return of the 800-year-old Laxmi-Narayan statue to PatkoTole in Lalitpur, stolen in 1984 and repatriated to the Dallas Museum of Art in 2021.
Even as religious antiquities stolen in Nepal are returned by Western collectors and museums, there have been a large number of thefts of other religious objects in and around Kathmandu.
A statue of Basundhara was stolen from the Siddheshwar Mahadev temple in Godavari on December 6, but was later discovered lying in a nearby forest. Meanwhile, two suspects were arrested on January 2 in Lalitpur with a stone Buddha they had stolen, also in Godavari on December 30.
Nepalese police have recorded at least 10 thefts of various religious, historical and cultural objects in the past year in the Kathmandu Valley.
“Perhaps the reason we hear more about these thefts is that the public and media are increasingly aware of the loss of cultural heritage and identities that these thefts mean,” says the litigator and cultural activist Sanjay Adhikari.
Subhadra Bhattarai of the Department of Archeology says there are reports of cultural and historical items being stolen every year, but that alone doesn’t mean there has been an increase.
The earliest historical account of a religious object stolen in Nepal dates back to 1765, when the statue of Narayan disappeared from the Bhagwati temple in Hanuman Dhoka. The looting peaked in the 1960s, when Nepal began to open its borders to the outside world.
Limited security and unguarded carvings in temple premises and community plazas have attracted art smugglers to Nepal. Additionally, Nepalese police say they currently do not have the manpower to guard every temple and cultural site in the country.
“We have strengthened security in the valley and mobilized our forces to carry out night patrols in civilian clothes,” said Dinesh Raj Mainali of the Nepalese police. “But our staff is limited.”
Some temples have installed CCTV cameras. Yet on December 13, a statue of Narayan was torn from the Bangalamukhi temple in Lalitpur, right in front of police officers at a nearby post.
The thief was arrested on January 2 and the statue has since been found, but it proved that police must improve intelligence and involve local communities in the protection of their sacred objects.