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Pressure builds to return artifacts from Paris



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By A Staff Reporter
Kathmandu, June 9: Heritage activists are pressuring Bonhams Art Centre of Paris, France, into returning the five 600-year-old religious objects of the Patan’s Taleju Bhavani temple. The objects, housed by the centre, were recently on sale.
Of the stolen 12 gilded bronze statues of the temple, five found their way to the centre during the 1970s and 80s. Years later, they were put on sale by an auction house. However, because of widespread international pressure, the Bonhams house reversed its decision to auction them.
Twelve previous bronzes of the goddess Durga and her retinue dating back to the 16th century were stolen from the temple around 40 years ago, but the Patan Museum, the concerned body, didn’t file a police complaint about the theft. The temple is located at Mulchowk, in Patan Durbar Square, in Lalitpur district.
As the heritage activists knew about the soon-to-be auctioned objects, they wasted no time reporting the matter to the French Ambassador to Nepal, UNESCO office in Kathmandu and UNESCO headquarters, Paris, about it.
Heritage activists Rabindra Puri said, “The auction has now stopped but our mission it to repatriate them. International heritage activists, Lost Art of Nepal, American Arts crime professor Erin Thompson have lent their support to stop the auction.”
It is believed that the five gilded copper-bronze images of Nrityanath, Mahalaxmi, Chamunda, Shiva Gana (Bhairab) and Panchmukhi Hanuman were stolen from the southern door of the temple.
“What is unbelievable is that the Patan Museum turned a blind eye to the theft even though the temple was located in Patan Durbar Square Area,” he said.
A team of heritage activists reported that they were trying their best to bring the objects home for which they are taking the help of the Interpol and that they were preparing a draft to file a police complaint about the stolen objects at the Metropolitan Police Range, Lalitpur, this week.
“The Range will send the report alongside the evidences supporting the claim of the provenance of the objects to the Interpol, headquartered in Paris, which will then report the matter to the auction house, which will eventually handover the items to the Nepal Embassy, through which they will be able to fly home,” Puri said.
Sanjay Adhikari, a heritage activist and lawyer, is preparing the draft. “However, it is the Department of Archeology (DoA), the responsible body for the archaic objects, should take the lead role in filing the police report,” he added.
Adhikari has already submitted an application to the DoA and UNESCO Kathmandu office requesting the repatriation of the stolen statues. DoA Director General Damodar Gautam said that the department was collecting evidences to prepare a report on the statues.