Buddha statue returned to India 57 years after theft

A 12th century statue of the Buddha that was stolen from a museum in India 57 years ago has been found in London and is on its way back to India. The bronze statue with silver inlay was stolen from the Nalanda Archaeological Museum in eastern India in 1961, one of 14 important Buddha statues stolen in a single burglary.

Nalanda was the site of a Buddhist monastery that was a center of learning and pilgrimage from the 5th century until the early 13th when it was sacked by Mamluk armies. Monks came from all over Asia, as far east as Korea, to study the rigorous Vedic tradition of learning taught at the Nalanda monastery. After its sacking, the site fell into disuse and was gradually forgotten. It was rediscovered in the 19th century by the Archaeological Survey of India and subsequent excavations in the early 1900s revealed multiple monasteries, temples and artifacts, including the 14 sculptures of Buddha that would be stolen from the museum.

What happened to the statue between 1961 and 2018 is unknown. It reemerged from the penumbra this March at an antiquities trade fair in London. Lynda Albertson of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA) and Vijay Kumar from the India Pride Project recognized it as one of the 14 looted Nalanda pieces and called the Metropolitan Police. The Met’s Art and Antique Unit investigated and confirmed its identity. The dealer and owner do not appear to have realized they were fencing stolen goods — the statue has passed through many hands over the six decades since the theft — and they cooperated with the investigation and returned the object willingly so there will be no charges pressed against them.

On Wednesday, August 15th, India’s Independence Day, the statue was returned to Indian High Commissioner YK Sinha in London in an official ceremony.