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

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