Karnali failing to protect historical artefacts at temples, monasteriesOut of the 51 archaeologically important artefacts stolen from various districts in a decade, 25 have been recovered.
Raj Bahadur Shahi
In the last decade, 51 idols, made mostly of metals, of Hindu and Buddhist deities were stolen from temples and monasteries in remote areas of the Karnali province. The stolen artefacts are of historical and archaeological importance with some dating back to 658 AD, according to Karnali Province Police Office.
As many as 21 historical idols and valuables were stolen from the Chandannath Temple in Khalanga, the district headquarters of Jumla, on November 26, 2016. Seventeen of the lost items were recovered by the police from a forest in Depalgaun a few months later.
However, four idols of archaeological importance are still missing.
Among the four idols missing from the Chandannath Temple, the Saraswati idol had 601 BS (circa 544 AD) inscribed on it. “The stolen idols of Saraswati and three others are of high historical value. Smugglers targeted those idols because of their worth,” said Ratna Prasad Acharya, a non-gazetted first-class officer at the Chandannath Guthi Sansthan, the body responsible for the upkeep of the temple and its resources.
Chandannath, a revered Hindu temple, is a major tourist attraction in the Karnali region. It is believed that Chandannath Baba, an ascetic, had brought various idols and installed them at the temple in 1855.
As many as 21 idols were stolen from Jumla in the last decade.
Acharya says the lack of security in remote areas where the old temples and monasteries are located, is one of the main reasons smugglers target these areas. “But even when we alert the police about the thefts, their approach to recovering those stolen items is lackadaisical,” complained Acharya. “We requested the police several times to find the idols, but they are yet to trace them.”
On June 10, 2016, a Buddha was stolen from a Bon Monastery in Dolpa. The stolen artefact is yet to be recovered. In November 2000, 18 idols were stolen from the Bala Tripura Sundari temple in Dolpa. Police recovered 17 stolen artefacts, but the statue of Shila Yogmaya is still missing.
Out of the 51 historically and archaeologically important stolen artefacts from various Karnali districts, only 25 have been recovered so far.
Dolpa, a remote and the country’s biggest district by area, has around 300 Buddhist monasteries and 500 Hindu temples. There are hundreds of historical temples, monasteries and monuments in the 10 districts of the Karnali Province. But most of them are neglected and need maintenance and security.
“None of the government offices have a proper record of the ancient idols found in the province. Thieves and smugglers target the historically and archaeologically important artefacts taking advantage of the lack of security at the shrines,” said Kala Bahadur Rokaya, a campaigner working for the preservation of national heritages. He raised questions about the poor security situation at historical sites that results in the unchecked smuggling of idols in the province.
The provincial police office often gives assurances to strengthen security at historical shrines. “Detailed investigation is underway about the stolen idols. We are hopeful of finding the artefacts and booking those involved in the theft,” said Senior Superintendent of Police Madhav Prasad Shrestha who is also the spokesman of the Karnali Provincial Police Office.
“A racket of smugglers is active in Karnali whose primary target is temples and monasteries located in isolated places,” said Ain Bahadur Shahi, a federal parliament member representing Karnali. “It is time our government takes these thefts seriously and amps up security.”
Police say the smugglers take advantage of security lapses in the shrines in remote places. “Many important temples and monasteries are situated in the remote parts of Karnali. There are no police posts nearby to be able to provide security to temples and monasteries,” said Purna Chandra Joshi, the former deputy inspector general of the Nepal Police. “Some of these thefts are not reported to police and in many cases when the police are informed, it is already too late.”