Kathmandu mahabihar gets back stolen idol after 40 years

padmapani lokeshwar restored at naxal
The stolen idol of Padmapani Lokeshwar after being restored at Bhagwan bahal, Naxal. Photo: Nasana Bajracharya

A large procession of people dressed in traditional Newa attire that played traditional folk music, on Sunday evening, welcomed and restored a stolen idol at a mahabihar, an important Buddhist shrine in Kathmandu, after 40 years.

The stolen idol of Padmapani Lokeshwar or Avalokiteshwar was restored at Shankar Kirti Mahabihar of Naxal.

“The idol was stolen somewhere around in 1975. The dates are a bit hazy in memory, but the idol was stolen and it created a ruckus here. But now, after 40 years, it has been restored and we are the happiest and we have [Yadav Lal] Kayastha’s team to thank for all their initiatives and efforts,” shares a local and ward-1 chair, Bharat Lal Shrestha.

The stolen idol in question has been identified to be made during the 12 or 13th century. It is made of stone and is four-metre tall. After it was stolen, the idol spent its longest time at the National Museum of Nepal in Chhauni.

The revival

padmapani lokeshwar stolen idol
(On left) A picture of Padmapani Lokeshwar was taken at Bhagwan bahal, Naxal. And the same idol is seen on display at the National Museum of Nepal, Chhauni. Photo: Lain Singh Bandel/ Facebook page Lost Art of Nepal

During one of his campaigns in Hattisar, heritage activist Yadav Lal Kayastha was approached and informed by the locals of Naxal. “They informed me about the lost idol of Lokeshwar and I had been constantly searching for it. I reached many police stations to look for the idol and ask for their help.”

Shrestha adds there had been a few attempts to search for the idol before but they all met dead ends.

“About a week ago, I got a ping from the Facebook page, Lost Arts of Nepal. They informed me that there was an idol on display at the National Museum of Nepal that might be the one I had been searching for. Then, we confirmed the idol was the same as an old picture we had. Then, we requested the authorities to return the idol to its rightful place,” explains Kayastha.

stolen idol restored at naxal
The stolen idol of Padmapani Lokeshwar after being restored at Bhagwan bahal, Naxal. Photo: Nasana Bajracharya

Before Kayastha submitted the proposal though, he went around the Kathmandu valley to collect the necessary documents and trace the stolen idol’s journey. “Around the 1970s, the idol was stolen from the mahabihar’s premises. But, because the artefact was heavy, the thief left the stolen idol at the Kamalpokhari area. From there, the museum officials took the idol to Chhauni. However, the museum had no documents about where the idol belonged to or how it was left abandoned.”

Kayastha, who is a lead campaigner of the Sampada Samrakshan Mahaabhiyaan, shares he got immense support in the week’s time. “The locals, local authorities, security personnel and even the museum officials were very responsive and they expedited the work, which is why we could achieve this feat in a week.”

Next quest

shankhar kirti mahabihar
Shankhar Kirti Mahabihar in Bhagwan bahal, Naxal. Photo: Nasana Bajracharya

Shankar Kirti Mahabihar so far has reported three stolen idols; the Padmapani Lokeshwar idol was one of them. The main idol of the mahabihar–Kopa Buddha–and another of Laxmi Narayan from the premises are still missing.

“The support to restore the Lokeshwar idol has been encouraging. We are in search of the third idol and we already have some leads for it. Our team will be working together to bring it back soon as well. However, the main idol, an exquisite and unique wooden idol, is still missing,” says Kayastha.

Ward chair Shrestha also says he is willing to do all things necessary to bring the remaining idols back too. “The recent initiative turned out to be a cooperative process with my counterpart and other officials being active in reviving the idol to its original place. So, we are hopeful that when we initiate the next process, we will get the same cooperation.”

heritage activists with stolen idol
Heritage activists with a pivotal role in reviving the stolen idol of Padmapani Lokeshwar back to Naxal. Photo: Nasana Bajracharya

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Bajracharya is a sub-editor at Onlinekhabar. She mostly writes on culture and nature.

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