Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The case of missing 'Tetrāwan Avalokiteśwara'

Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in the temple shelf before the theft

An ancient sculpture of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in the form of Jaṭāmukuṭa Lokeśwara was stolen from a community temple in Tetrāwan (Nalanda District) on 26th January, 2013. The sculpture is 24 inches (2ft) long and 13 inches wide. Generally, such theft of ancient sculptures from villages in Bihar goes unreported.  Also most of the time the ancient sculptures kept in the village collectives are undocumented hence even reporting the matter to appropriate authorities is not of much help. In Tetrāwan, luckily, Shri Rajiv Pande a heritage volunteer from the village, had taken photographs of the stolen sculpture from his mobile phone just days before the theft.  In recent years we have surveyed many villages of Bihar to document the neglected heritage and facilitate awareness among villagers towards its protection and preservation. Our awareness generation efforts have started paying results. Now there are several examples from Maher and Lohjarā (both in Gaya district), where the participation of heritage volunteers led to the recovery of stolen images of Buddha.  These examples are encouraging other villagers and heritage volunteers like Shri Rajiv Pande to come forward and report the thefts.  The Tetrāwan sculpture was stolen four years ago. Stolen sculptures exchange many hands and go through auction houses like Sotheby’s, Bonhams, Christie’s etc before reaching their final destination - usually museums. Reporting the theft of the Tetrāwan Avalokiteśvara in Art Loss Register, London will help in tracking the sculpture in auctions and collections of international museums. 

Tetrāwan is situated 20kms east of ancient Nalanda University. Artefacts and ancient remains in Tetrāwan suggest it to be a very prominent Buddhist monastic centre in ancient times. This village finds mention in survey reports of all the prominent explorers and archaeologists of 19th CE like A. M. Broadley, Sir Alexander Cunningham etc. 

We urge like minded people and institutions to help us find and restore this beautiful statue to its find spot i.e. Tetrāwan. 

Temple shelf after the theft

Community temple in Tetrāwan

Shri Rajiv Pande with fellow villagers

Registration with Art Loss Register, London
                                   Art Loss Registration Number- R00009019

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Stolen 'Lohajarā Buddha' restored to villagers

Shri Rajesh Pande (Right) with the Buddha Statue.
The Buddha statue (9th-10th CE) that was stolen from Lohajarā village (Wazirganj block in Gaya district) in 2014 was brought back to its findspot finally on 30th January 2017. The statue was recovered from a house in Sithaurā village in Nalanda district in August 2016 by the Nalanda police. 

People of Lohajarā had very little hope of finding the stolen Buddha statue. Their apprehension was not without reason -- thousands of ancient statues went missing from the villages of Bihar in the past few decades, of which very few were recovered. This particular statue from Lohajarā, fortunately, was documented in 2011 by me.  When the statue was stolen, without wasting any time, I registered the theft in the Art Loss Register, London. The registration of the theft played a key role in its recovery. The complete story of the statue's recovery can be found on my  blog (Recovery of stolen 'Lohajarā Buddha' Sculpture).

After recovery, the statue was kept in the Rajgir police station. Villagers of Lohajarā produced the all the evidence required to claim that the statue belonged to their village. However, since the statue was stolen from in Gaya district and recovered from the Nalanda district, to get possession of the statue, the villagers of Lohajarā needed permission from the District Court of Nalanda. Hence, restoring the statue was a complex procedure taking up to several months because it involved the authorities of both Gaya and Nalanda districts.

Shri Rajesh Pande, a heritage volunteer from Lohajarā took the initiative and pursued the matter with the concerned officials in both districts. On 30th January, after submission of all the requisite permissions, the villagers of Lohajarā finally received the lost statue and brought it back to their village. The villagers realize that safeguarding the Buddha statue is very important. They now plan to build a temple where the ancient statue can be housed.  They hope to find some Buddhist donors who would contribute in the making of the temple. 

From Telegraph, Patna edition, 1st February, 2017.
Dainik Bhaskar, 1st February, 2017.

Dainik Bhaskar,  31st  January, 2017

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

7th Sāriputta World Peace Walk

International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) with support of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University), Nalanda and Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC) successfully organized 7th Sāriputta World Peace Walk at the base of Giriyak Hill, Rajgir on 14th November, 2016. Venerable Bhikkhu Saṅgha, important dignitaries, community of Nalanda and staff and students of NNM assembled at the start point of the Walk at 2.30 pm. Following the walk to the base of the hill, Venerable Bhikkhu Saṅgha chanted Sammaditthi Sutta.  The chanting was followed by   the speeches by the distinguished guests who spoke about contributions of Arhat Sāriputta. Objective of the event was to pay rich tributes and to generate awareness towards the legacy of Sāriputta on occasion of his parinirvāṇa anniversary on Kartikā Pūrṇimā (full moon day of Oct-Nov).  

Venerable Sāriputta is one of the most prominent disciples of the Buddha who is considered to be the right hand of the Buddha. For centuries, the followers of the teachings of the Buddha inspired by the contributions of Sāriputta to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha paid tribute to the stūpas built in his native village.
Tradition maintains that Sāriputta attained parinirvāṇa six months before the Mahāparinirvāṇa of the Buddha.  Sāriputta was born and he attained parinirvāṇa in a village near Rajgir and Nālandā. Pāli literature mentions the village Nālaka (also Nāla, Nālaka, Upatissagāma and Nālagāmaka) (SA.ii.172; ThagA.i.108; ii.93; ThigA.162), where Sāriputta attained parinirvāṇa.  5th CE Chinese monk-scholar Faxian (Fahein) corroborates this by mentioning the name of the village Nāla (Beal 2005), while 7th CE Chinese monk Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) mentions the name, Kālapinaka (Beal 1969). Identification of Sāriputta’s village based on Xuanzang and Faxian’s descriptions has led to village Naṇand (Prasad 1988: 175) and Chaṇdimau (Broadley 1979: 51), both in the proximity of Giriyak Hill. Our effort is to promote the whole area consisting of Chaṇdimau, Naṇand and Giriyak as Sāriputta Parinirvāṇa Zone.

Large stūpas were built at the native village of Sāriputta by King Ashoka and the place was part of the Buddhist pilgrimage as mentioned by Faxian and Xuanzang. Illustrations from life and contributions of Sāriputta were discovered in numerous frescos from the Tang Period (7th -9th CE) at Dunhuang Caves in China. Sāriputta is also depicted in ancient Thangka paintings from Tibet. Sāriputta is often seen flanking the right of the Buddha in many Buddhist temples around the world.

The government of Bihar has marked the day of the parinirvāṇa of Sāriputta as "Sāriputta Divas”. This Day is in line with the Vesak Purnima, celebrated as “Vesak”, to mark the day on which the Buddha attained enlightenment and also his Mahāparinirvāṇa. Speaking on the occasion, Ven. Lama Lobzang eminent monk and the founder of the IBC thanked Government of Bihar for declaring the nirvāṇa day of Sāriputta as State day. He said he will now urge the Government of India and Government of other Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand etc to mark the nirvāṇa days of Sāriputta and Mahāmoggallāna as National Days. He further added that from coming year the event should also take place in the probable villages of Sāriputta i.e. Nānand and Chaṇḍimāu.

Dignitaries present on the occasion,
1. Venerable Lama Lobzang, Secretary General, International Buddhist Confederation.
2.   Shri. Chandrasen Kumar, Hon’ble MLA, Islampur.
3.  Shri. Nanzgey Dorjee, IAS (Retd.), Member Secretary, BTMC.
4.  Shri. S P Sinha, Registrar, NNM.
5.  Ms. Wangmo Dixey, Executive Director, LBDFI.
6.  Shri. Subodh Kumar, DCLR, Nalanda.
7.  Shri Rajiv Ranjan, Dy Collector, Rajgir.

Ven Lama Lobzang , Shri Nanzgey Dorjee, Ven Dhammajyoti and others

Ven. Lama Lobzang leading the Walk.
The Assembly after the Walk at the base of Giriyak Hill.

Venerable Monks reciting Sutta

Dr Sunil Sinha, Registrar, NNM giving the Welcome Address

Ms. Wangmo Dixey sharing her views

Shri Chandrasen ji, Hon'ble MLA sharing his views.

Shri Raj Kumar Singh a heritage volunteer from a local villager sharing his views
Ven. Lama Lobzang sharing his views

Dr. Rana Purrushottam, Assistant Professor, NNM

Dr Vishwajeet Kumar, Associate Professor, NNM giving the Vote of Thanks.

A group picture of the participants
Message of Hon'ble Chief Minister published in all the leading Newspapers of Bihar


Beal, S. 1969. Si-yu-ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, Translated from the Chinese Of Hiuen Tsiang, New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

Beal, S. 2005. Travels of Fah-hian and Sung-Yun, Buddhist Pilgrims from China to India, New Delhi: Low Price.

Broadley, A. M. 1979. The Buddhistic Remains of Bihar. Varanasi: Bharti Prakashan.

Prasad, Chandra Shekhar. 1988. “Nalanda vis-à-vis the Birthplace of Śāriputra”. East And  West. Vol. 38. No. 1-4. Rome: Istituto Italiano Per Il Medio Ed Estremo Oriente.

 Abbreviations of Bibliography:

 P.T.S.    Means published by the Pāli Text Society.
 SA.        Sāratthappakāsinī, Saṃyutta Commentary.
ThagA.  Theragāthā Commentary, 2 vols. (S.H.B.).
ThigA    Therīgāhā Commentary (P.T.S.).

Friday, September 9, 2016

Search for Sarsu Tārā Sculpture

A statue of the Buddhist deity Tārā (110 cm X 45 cm X 20 cm) was stolen from village Sarsu (Gaya District, Bihar, India) in September 2007. The matter was reported to the police but the sculpture could not be traced. It is almost nine years since the statue was stolen and by now it must have reached some museum in Asia, Europe or USA. Due to lack of awareness the matter was not reported at international agencies tracking the stolen artefacts.
                        The stolen sculpture of Buddhist deity Tārā. 

Now we are making efforts to track the statue. The statue has been reported at the Art Loss Register. The people who have stolen the statue by now must have prepared a provenance dating before 1970 to qualify for the 1970 Rule i.e. this statue of Tārā was out of its find spot (Sarsu) before 1970. But we have sufficient evidence to prove that this statue was in the village till 2007 hence if we are successful in locating the statue we may claim its repatriation.  We have a picture of the statue from the find spot i.e. the village collective at village Sarsu in Gaya District. The statue of Tārā is also published in the Journal Manavkij (Published in 2014).

ART LOSS REGISTER Registration No. R00008510

We request all the concerned people who are working nationally and internationally on tracking the stolen artefacts to spread the word and help us track this wonderful piece of statue that belongs to Bihar. 

Statue at its find spot, before it was stolen
The wall after the statue was stolen
Sarsu village
News in the Telegraph , Patna edition

Online link of the Telegraph News

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Recovery of stolen 'Lohajarā Buddha' Sculpture

It is wonderful to know that the 4ft statue of Buddha (9-10th CE) stolen from Lohajarā village (Gaya District) on 02/07/2014 has been recovered from Sithaurā village (Nalanda District) on 20/08/2016.

In a span of six months in 2014, two statues of Buddha were stolen in Gaya district. First from the village of Maher (Maher Buddha) and the second from the village of Lohajarā (Lohajarā Buddha). Heritage volunteers from both villages reported the matter to the police and an FIR was registered the next day. Fortunately, I had photo documented both the Buddha sculptures. I had read about Art Loss Register (ALR), an International body that helps in tracking stolen artefacts. I took a chance and registered both the statues at ALR.

We got our first success when the statue of Maher was recovered six months after it was stolen. The reason why Maher Buddha was recovered is very interesting. Since the statue was registered at ALR the potential buyers in Europe and America were not interested in buying Maher Buddha. Local gang which stole the Maher Buddha could not find a buyer. It became clear to them that the Maher Buddha statue was now a liability and therefore they disposed the artefact in an agriculture field. This was later recovered by the police.

The recovery of Maher Buddha made me hopeful that someday Lohajarā Buddha will also be recovered in a similar manner. It was a long wait, and finally the breaking news came on 20th August 2016, more than two years after it was lost.  

A person named Mohammad Shahabuddin Alam was caught with the stolen Lohajarā Buddha. Shahabuddin in interrogation revealed that he was working for Mahesh Choudhary of Jamuāwan village (Gaya District) and Suresh Choudhary is the mastermind who is from Wazirganj.  Police raided the village of Mahesh Choudhary but he managed to give police a slip.

Sahabudin has revealed that for the last two years they were trying to sell the Buddha statue but the potential buyers were not willing to give more than 2 lacs for the sculpture. Probably, the statue was not in demand in international market. All the ‘best’ stolen artifacts usually end up at the Museums in Europe and America i.e. Museums are the ones which pay the best price. Museums are interested in buying artefacts that are not reported under stolen Artefacts anywhere and hence they always cross check the artefacts with tracking agencies. 

Most of the sculptures stolen from villages are never reported in the police and not much is achieved for the few that get reported because there is no photographic documentation of the statues. Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (Deemed University) in the year 2008 initiated Mapping of Nalanda, Rajgir and surrounding areas (Mapping Project) to document ancient statues in the villages of Bihar.  Nava Nalanda Mahavihara also initiated Engaged Buddhism in year 2010 to facilitate awareness generation among the villagers towards these ancient sculptures.

Photographic documentation of statues (under Mapping Project) and awareness generation among the villagers (under Engaged Buddhism) by NNM has started paying dividends.

Police has assured that after the due formality the statue shall be given back to the villagers (Lohajarā).

Police officers (Rajgir police station) with the recovered Lohajarā Buddha

Recovered Statue of Buddha kept at Police Station

Copy of First Information Reported (FIR) 

Copy of FIR
Sahhabudin, one of the thief in police custody