Five stolen sculptures returned to Nepal from US

Nepal Embassy in Washington receives the 10th century Uma Maheswar statue from Denver Museum. (Photo: Nepal Embassy, Washington)

NL Today

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Kathmandu: The Embassy of Nepal in the United States has sent five stolen ancient stone sculptures–ranging from the 6th to the 10th century–to Nepal.

According to the Embassy of Nepal in the United States, the ancient statue of ‘Uma Maheshwara’ from the 10th century was handed over to the Nepal Embassy by the Colorado-based Denver Art Museum. Likewise, the sculpture of ‘Chaturmukh Shivlinga’, ‘Nagaraja’, ‘Padmanpani’, and ‘Shakyamuni Buddha’ was handed over to the Embassy by a private collector on different dates.

According to the Embassy, the ancient statues and sculptures have already been sent to Nepal through UPS Freight Forwarding. The artifacts will be handed over to the Department of Archaeology, the Embassy said.

An art/heritage search campaign ‘Lost Arts of Nepal’ had made public the information about the statue of ‘Uma Maheshwar’ in the Denver Museum, which was stolen from Tahiti (Kumbheshwar Complex) in Patan about 60 years ago.

The museum handed over the stolen statue to the Nepal Embassy in Washington DC last year after it was confirmed that the statue on display was stolen. The sculpture is said to have been purchased by art collectors James and Marilyn Elsdorf from New Delhi, India in 1968 and presented to the Denver Museum in 1980.

‘Chatutrmukh Shivalinga’, or the four-faced Shivalinga, had disappeared from the Pashupatinath temple premises in June 2041 BS and was found in the Chicago Museum some two years ago. The statue, which was in London’s Christie’s Collection until 1997, was then bought by the American billionaire Elsdorf couple and handed over to the Chicago Museum. The four-faced Shivalinga is also mentioned in the book ‘Stolen Images of Nepal’ published by researcher Lansing Wandel in 1989.

When Nepal’s border opened to foreigners in 1950s, many small artifacts began to disappear and were sold in the black market abroad to people seeking to commercialize Hindu culture as a spiritual aesthetic. The transport of Nepali artifacts and sacred artworks was banned in 1954.

Many of these stolen artifacts have started surfacing in private collections and museum collections and are being identified and claimed by the Nepali government.

Some of the claimed artifacts have been returned such as the Patan’s statue of Vasudeva-Kamalaja (also known as Lakshmi-Narayan), Padmapani Lokeshwar of Naxal, a 17th-century wooden torana from Yampi Mahavihara and a 14th century flying Gandharva from Itum Bahal among others.

The Embassy extended thanks to all agencies and individuals involved in the repatriation of these important historical and cultural artifacts to Nepal.