Monday, May 7, 2018

Theft of Surya sculpture from Tapovana

Surya Sculpture, 2007



Dr Arun Kumar, Assistant Professor at Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda on his visit to Tapovana in February, 2018 noticed a vandalised shelf inside Tapovan Temple complex which had housed ancient sculptures. According to the priest of the temple, an ancient image of Surya (Sun God) was plastered into the shelf, which has got stolen in the last few years. The priest reports that many ancient sculptures have been stolen from the Tapovan Temple complex in recent years.

Dr Arun informed me about the theft of the Tapovan sculpture. Tapovana has two natural hot water springs. In 2007, during our visit to Tapovana, our team had noticed many sculptures of Hindu and Buddhist deities from medieval period kept on the shelves in the hot water spring enclosure.  The hot water spring campus was renovated in 2010 and the sculptures were plastered into the shelves. Fortunately, in 2007, we had documented the approximately 2.5 ft image of Surya which has gone missing now. 

To facilitate the identification and recovery of the lost sculpture from Tapovana, I provided the images of sculptures of Tapovana to Dr. Arun. Dr. Arun revisited Tapovana on 26th April, 2018, and showed the images of the sculptures to the priest and other local people. The priest confirmed that the Surya image in our database was the one that was stolen from the Tapovan Temple complex. According to the priest, the sculpture was stolen around 5 years ago.  

  Video clip of the priest explaining the theft of the Surya sculpture to Dr Arun. 

Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) in 7th CE on his pilgrimage to sacred Buddhist places took a sacred journey to the two hot water streams of Tapovana that were formed and blessed by the Buddha. The Buddha, according to Xuanzang, bathed here and thereafter people from all around came here to bathe and be relieved of chronic disease. Even now, one can see people from far off places gather here to take a dip in these sacred springs.

The Tapovana sculpture was stolen approximately 5 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. 

Tapovana is located 50 kms east of Mahabodhi Temple Bodhgaya and 30 kms West Rajgir.

We urge like-minded people and institutions to help us find and restore this statue to its find-spot, which is Tapovana.


Surya sculpture in the hot water spring complex, 2007
Vandalised Shelf, 2018

Renovated Hot Water Spring complex 

Thanks to Aparajita Goswami

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