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Śālabhañjikā Yakṣiṇī: Nepal’s ‘stolen’ wooden idol awaits repatriation from New York

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Śālabhañjikā Yakṣiṇī: Nepal’s ‘stolen’ wooden idol awaits repatriation from New York

There is an ancient broken wooden Yakṣa idol on the upper part of the Bhaskar Dev Sankarit Keshchandrakrit Paravat Mahavihar in Itumbaha, Kathmandu. Śālabhañjikā Yakṣiṇī which was formerly standing on the very broken idol suddenly disappeared in the mid-1980s along with three other similar struts.

At that time, such cases of idol theft were rampant in Nepal. Although the police conducted a general investigation on such cases, neither the whereabouts of those invaluable Nepali artefacts could be found nor the thief/thieves. 

Thankfully, Bibek Sitaula, a student of archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland and also a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, recently found one of those stolen idols of Yakṣiṇī at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. According to him, the idol is kept in the museum’s storage and not for public display. And, that wooden sculpture is none other than the stolen statue of Śālabhañjikā Yakṣiṇī.

Sitaula has launched an effort to repatriate the idol back to Kathmandu in coordination with concerned government agencies as he believes it was stolen some 35 years ago. 

How did he found so?

Many idols from Nepal have reached prestigious museums around the world.  Out of them, one is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to Sitaula, Śālabhañjikā Yakṣiṇī is one of the most important wooden artworks in Nepal, presented to the museum by the collector Evelyn Kranes Kossak in 1991.

While checking the museum’s inventory during his study, this artwork caught Sitaula’s attention. “As soon as I

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