File photo/ The four-faced Shivalinga of the Lichchhavi period, which disappeared from the Pashupatinath temple premises in June 2041 BS, has been found in the Chicago Museum of the United States. It is only from the will of the sculptor who passed away last year that this archeological heritage was taken from Nepal. There is no detailed account of how the four-faced Shivalinga idol, one of the most fascinating in the Lichchhavi civilization, was stolen in the sixth century. It is said that the statue, which was in the Christie’s Collection in London till 1997, was bought and taken to the United States. The statue was brought to the Chicago Museum in the United States by a collection of American billionaires James W. Elsdorf and Marilyn Broder Elsdorf (James W. & Marilyn Elsdorf Collection).
“We have informed the Department of Archeology and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the location of the four-faced Shivalinga,” said Arjun Karki, Nepal’s ambassador to Washington. He said that he could not get any information. But Licchavi period idols and heritage experts have confirmed that the idol disappeared from the Pashupati premises. Researcher Lansing Wandel’s Stolen Images of Nepal, published in 1989, also mentions that the statue was outside Pashupati Panchadeval and disappeared in July 1984 (p. 117). According to Govinda Tandon, a researcher who has done research on the cultural heritage of the Pashupati region, many archeological statues of the region were lost before the Pashupati region development fund was formed in 2044 BS. “This four-faced Shivalinga was also in a kind of unprotected and discarded condition in the southeast corner outside the Pashupati Panchadeval,” Tandon said.
Tandon’s book ‘Cultural Study of Pashupati Region’ published in 2042 BS states, ‘Among the four-faced lingas in the Pashupati region, the Shivalingas in the south-east direction outside Bhuteshwar and Panchadeval were remarkable in terms of antiquity. But unfortunately, both the idols disappeared. Another characteristic was that all four faces were gentle posture, beautiful face, suitable jewelry and hairstyle, three eyes on the forehead of all four faces. Instead of vertical eyes, horizontal eyes were raised on the forehead. These mouthpieces are no longer with us. ‘ The Department of Archeology, which keeps records of statues and archeological heritage, is unaware that the Pashupati complex was found in the United States. A State Department official also said there was no immediate word on the location or authenticity of the property found in the United States. In the Chicago Museum, the entire four-faced Shivalinga statue can be seen cut in half. The previous height of the four-faced Shivalinga was 28 inches, but when it was stolen, it was reduced to 16 inches.
After receiving information that a four-faced Shivalinga had been found in the Chicago Museum in the United States, archaeologist Rabindra Puri had started an investigation into the treasure inside Vandel’s ‘Stolen Images of Nepal’. “I started researching this heritage on the Pashupati premises in the same place where the Lichhavi civilization and culture existed,” he told Kantipur. Puri, who is involved in the campaign to establish a ‘Museum of Stolen Art’ by making ‘replicas’ of 50 representative statues stolen from Nepal based on Vandel’s work, said that the four-faced Shivalinga was already on his list. He said he was happy to hear that the archeological statue was found in the United States while the statue was being built, adding that a “replica” of such heritage reflecting Lichfield-era times, culture and civilization was essential. He informed that a ‘replica’ of 40 statues has been made to keep in his museum under construction in Panauti.
According to researcher Tandon, there is no official list of archeological materials / heritage in Nepal in any body including the Department of Archeology, Guthi Institute, Archives. “Someone is stolen or lost one morning,” he said. “If such a list had been made, the four-faced Shivalinga would have been found in the Chicago Museum, and the embassy in Washington would have known about its location or origin.” Or our archeology and foreign affairs might have known. ‘ Although there are no such records of all times and periods, Tandon emphasizes the need for a list of archeological sites. “The problem is that there is no list of where our Lichhavi statues are. There is no list of Lichchhavi idols in the Pashupatinath premises. There is no up-to-date record of Guthi Sansthan, National Archives, Charkhal Adda anywhere, ‘he said.
Who are James and Marilyn?
Chicago’s James W. Elsdorf, who made a name for himself by buying and selling world-class art heritage, died in April 1990 at the age of 76. After his death, his wife, Marilyn Broder Elsdorf, had been buying, selling and promoting such assets. Marlin died on August 1, 2019 at the age of 94. The will found after his death said, “After my death, hand over the four-faced idol of Shivalinga to Nepal.” According to Marlin’s will, known as the “Queen of the Chicago Art Society,” the museum informed the Nepalese embassy in Washington about the heritage. Knowing the ‘origin’ of this archeological statue, it seems to be easy to return the statue.
Vasudev-Kamalaja idol in FBI
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has taken charge of the statue of Vasudev-Kamalaja (Lakshmi-Narayan) which was stolen from the Narayan Temple at Patko Tol in Patan and brought to the US 36 years ago. Concerns about the Vasudev-Kamalaja statue were heightened when it was exhibited at the Dallas Museum in Texas in December last year. The statue, which is also mentioned in researcher Lansing Wandel’s ‘Stolen Images of Nepal’, was reportedly stolen from Patan in 1984.
Erin L. Thomson, who teaches Art Crime at John J. College in New York, USA, was the first to write a research paper on the statue, which is housed in the Dallas Museum. The statue was then removed from the museum’s exhibit as interest grew. After the authenticity of the statue was confirmed, the museum handed over the statue to the FBI in the process of sending it back to Nepal. “The FBI has already sent a letter to the embassy,” said Arjun Karki, Washington’s ambassador to the United States.”The Dallas Museum handed over the Vasudev-Kamalaja statue to the FBI on November 30.”
According to him, the statue has to be returned to Nepal as there is a provision in the UNESCO Convention of 1970 that if such lost or stolen cultural heritage is found, it must be returned to the country of origin. Nepal and the United States are signatories to the Convention. “I have been informed by the FBI, in consultation and coordination with the embassy, that the statue will be safely returned to Nepal as soon as possible,” he said.