Saturday, June 21, 2014

Theft of rare Buddha sculpture from Maher (Gaya, India)

Thousands of villages in Bihar (India) are situated over the mounds of ancient Buddhist monastic remains. Maher, in Gaya District is one such village that has many ancient Buddhist sculptures and pillars from ancient monastery from Pala period      ( 8th -12th CE) scattered all over the village. 

Nava Nalanda Mahavihara (NNM), under its “EngagedBuddhism” programme has taken an initiative of involving the community of Maher towards safety of ancient remains scattered in the village. Villagers under the leadership of their heritage leaders Vijay Sao and Raju Choudhary held several community meetings to secure the sculptures lying unattended in the backyard of the village. It is unfortunate that while the efforts were still going on one of the sculpture got stolen on 16th May, 2014. 

Villagers narrated how they heard dogs barking unusually very loudly at midnight of that unfortunate night. Villagers didn’t pay much heed to the warnings issued by dogs. And in the morning they found one of the sculptures missing from the place.

The rare Buddha sculpture that is now stolen.

Theft of scared artefacts from villages of Bihar continues unabated. The international syndicates in collaboration with their local counterparts are gradually plundering Bihar’s heritage and we are losing tangible heritage at such an alarming rate that unless the trend is arrested soon, we may have no religious artefacts to bequeath to our progeny. Most of the local shrines, village collectives in Bihar have been completely depleted. Just a few months back a beautiful sculpture of Buddha at village Mustafapur(Near Nalanda) was mutilated in an unsuccessful bid to steal it.

In first week of July, 2014, a large gang of thief tried to remove a large sculpture of the Buddha from Tiuri, a village 10kms east from Bihar Sharif. Thanks to the vigilant villagers that a timely, collective intervention by villagers at mid-night foiled the bid.

 Many such cases are reported each year but no success in nailing the culprits has led to an increase in such untoward incidents.  We have strong laws to prevent artefact theft but the laws are not backed up well by the enforcement authorities. Such cases are not dealt with the seriousness they deserve and they are treated as any other petty crime. The laws relating to artefact theft and trafficking should be reviewed and made more punitive to deter prospective offenders’ criminal courage.

Usually villagers are so accustomed to such incidents that they don’t report such matters to police. One of the reasons they mention for not reporting is indifferent attitude of the officials. They feel reporting is a futile exercise with no results. But the youths of the village are aware and have reported the matter to the police station.

There are many international voluntary institutions that help track stolen sculptures. Lack of photographic documentation is a big limitation for seeking any help from such agencies. Luckily the sculpture stolen from Maher was photographed by me. I am now mulling to put this sculpture on international alert with the help of voluntary tracking institutions. Many of the sculptures from Bihar can be seen in auctions conducted by Sotheby’s, Christie's and other auction houses in Europe and US. Most of these sculptures don’t have provenance records. It’s high time that the government realised the need to create artefact theft register at state level. Villagers should be encouraged to report incidences of theft to the appropriate authority.
The Theft of Maher Buddha has been registered with ART LOSS REGISTER 
Link of Maher Buddha registeration with ART LOSS REGISTER