Stolen Buddha returned on Buddha Jayanti

A 500 year old Buddha stolen from Nepal is being returned by a Hong Kong-based collector

A 16th century gilded Buddha figure stolen from Nepal in the 1990s was handed over to the Nepal Consulate in Hong Kong on 5 May, Buddha Jayanti.

The 37-inch gilded statue of Vajradhara, the primordial dharmakaya, originally belonged to the family of Korchhen Shrestha in Dolakha and was located by the anonymous Lost Arts of Nepal to the collection of the Hong Kong-based art dealer Rossi & Rossi in September 2022. 

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An anonymous collector had entrusted the statue to Rossi & Rossi, and upon hearing that the Buddha had been stolen from a family in Nepal, the collector decided to voluntarily return it to Nepal. Some alterations had been made to the statue. In the in situ photo published on Lost Arts’s Facebook page, the Vajradhara is seen wearing a crown, which was different from the one it wore at the gallery. Lost Arts mentions that the gallery replaced the crown upon acquisition. 

Stolen Buddha returned on Buddha Jayanti
Lost Arts of Nepal located the statue in September last year. Photo: LOST ARTS OF NEPAL

Similarly, the aureole (parva mandala) was removed and part of the attachment holes from both arms was removed, while a missing bell on the left hand was added. The original crown and the aureole are safe back in Dolakha.

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After the statue was located, Dr Emiline Smith, Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Glasgow and Advisor to the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign, got in touch with the dealer to explore possibilities of returning the statue. 

"Although we often deal with repatriations based on moral arguments, this case was different as it was stolen from a private family home, and clearly needs to be returned to the original owners," said Smith. "Luckily in this case, the collector voluntarily returned the statue. This case shows that repatriation doesn't have to be a long and difficult process, and can be handled relatively smoothly if all parties are on the same page." 

Smith video-called the Shrestha family this morning, who were said to be "super happy" about the news of the deity finally returning.

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The Consul-General of Nepal in Hong Kong Udaya Bahadur Rana Magar received the statue and thanked everyone involved in the statue’s successful return to its homeland.

The Vajradhara will be repatriated to its original home through the Department of Archaeology, Nepal, in due course.