Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign Launched

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Press Note, Friday, 1 Ashwin 2078 (17 September 2021), Lalitpur, Nepal

The Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign (Nepal Sampada Punasthapan Abhiyan) was inaugurated today in Lalitpur by the Mayor of Lalitpur Chiribabu Maharjan and Director General of the Department of Archaeology Damodar Gautam amidst a programme attended by local government and national-level officials, heritage activists, scholars, and members of local communities. The event was held at Bahadur Shah Hall in Patan Durbar Square.

The Campaign is a collaborative international effort meant to work for the return of the statues of Nepal’s gods, goddesses, buddhas, and bodhisattwas back to the home country. The goal is also the restitution of the statuary and other stolen objects, as far as possible, to their point of origin in communities, barring which to a dedicated museum or gallery.

At the opening, the Campaign announced the identification of two objects from Kathmandu Valley in the holding of the Rubin Museum in New York City: a flying Gandharva in wood stolen from Itum Bahal (14th Century), and a wooden toran (tympanum) stolen from Yampi Mahavihar (17th Century). At the launch event, the Campaign addressed a demand of the Rubin Museum administrators to make haste in repatriating the two statues.

Besides launching its website (https://nepalheritagerecoverycampaign.org), the Campaign also announced today that it had written formal letters to 15 museums in the United States, United Kingdom, and France asking them to conduct a thorough study of their inventories of the objects of Nepali origin, exhibited as well as in storage. They were asked to determine the provenance of the statuary and other objects held by them to determine if they attracted illegality under Nepali and international law. More museums and private collections are to be addressed by the Campaign in the future.

Launching the Campaign, Mayor Chiribabu Maharjan emphasised the importance of the returned deities to be placed in their original sites and committed the Lalitpur Municipality to such restitution of the recently returned Laxmi-Narayan of Patko Tole and the Uma Maheshwar of Gaa Hiti. Director General Damodar Gautam spoke of the several challenges to be overcome in order to both protect Nepal’s statuary as well as facilitate the return of stolen objects from overseas. Campaign Patron Satyamohan Joshi cautioned the Campaign members of the need for rigourous research and committed activism in order to achieve the goal of restitution of stolen Nepali deities.

From the side of the Campaign, Founding Chairperson Riddhi Baba Pradhan gave an overview of idol theft from Nepal since the 1960s and the need for an organisation such as the Campaign to support local and national government, communities as well as scholars and activists. Other members of the Campaign highlighted the rationale of restitution, the relevant laws and regulations, the specific case of the Laxmi-Narayan of Patko Tole that had been located at the Dallas Museum of Art and now returned, as well as the importance of activists working with national and international activists, scholars, and investigative journalists.

Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign has as its members and advisors, committed citizens as well as international friends who believe in the value of tangible heritage for the sake of preserving intangible heritage, both of which are vital for the vibrancy of Nepal’s living culture. The organisation, registered as a not-for-profit company under Nepali law, is the culmination of the individual efforts by individuals such as the artist Lain Singh Bangdel and culture preservationist Juergen Schick, going back decades, to identify and bring back the statuary stolen from Nepal located in foreign museums and collections.

The Founding Members of the Campaign have long been involved individually as well as jointly to combat idol theft, to document stolen objects and lobby nationally and internationally for their restitution. The seven individuals represent a spectrum of activities, from community leadership to conservation architecture, journalism, museum curation, and cultural activism. Similarly, the Advisory Council is made up of national and international persons of eminence in the field of heritage restitution.

Membership: Satyamohan Joshi, the eminent cultural historian is Patron of the Campaign. The Founder Chairperson of the Campaign is Riddhi Baba Pradhan, former Director General of the Department of Archaeology, Government of Nepal. The other members are journalist Kanak Mani Dixit; culture activist Dilendra Shrestha; public interest litigator Sanjay Adhikari; Rohit Ranjitkar, Director of Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust; Roshan Mishra, Curator of Taragaon Museum. The journalist Alisha Sijapati is the Campaign Director.

Members of the Campaign’s Advisory Council are Ramesh Dhungel, Pratima Pandé, Rabindra Puri, Juergen Schick, Vijay Kumar, Christiane Brosius, Erin L. Thompson, Joy Lynn Davis, Emiline Smith, and Lost Arts of Nepal (anonymous).

More information on the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign can be found on the website: https://nepalheritagerecoverycampaign.org