The Met Museum will return an ancient sculpture to Nepal

The Metropolitan Museum of Art said on Wednesday it would return a 10th-century religious sculpture to Nepal after researchers discovered gaps in its provenance record.

Experts in the region’s cultural history said the icon was likely stolen from a temple in the Kathmandu Valley nearly 50 years ago.

The sculpture depicts Lord Shiva, a revered Hindu deity, with two disciples in a mansion atop Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. Clouds burst from the background of the halo god, who holds a vial filled with amrita, an ambrosia from the churning of the ocean that represents the origins of life.

Nepal’s Acting Consul General Bishnu Prasad Gautam said in a statement his government appreciates the museum’s initiative to return the sacred object. “The warm cooperation we have received from the museum has deeply contributed to Nepal’s national efforts to recover and restore its lost artefacts,” Gautam noted.

The return of the Shiva sculpture marks the third time in as many years that the Met Museum has repatriated an item from its collection to Nepal. In 2018, the cultural institution repatriated two stone sculptures: a 12th century stele of Uma Mahesvara (Shiva and Parvati) and a 10th century sculpture of Buddha. There are currently more than 200 Nepalese objects in the collection, according to a spokesperson for the museum.

“The museum is committed to responsible acquisition of archaeological art and applies rigorous provenance standards both to new acquisitions and to the study of long-standing works in its collection,” the Met said in a communicated. “By returning this sculpture to Nepal, the museum is acting to strengthen the good relations it has long enjoyed with academic institutions and colleagues in Nepal.”

In March, the Dallas Museum of Art repatriated a deity sculpture to Nepal with help from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and earlier this month, officials from the Denver Art Museum made another sacred statue in Nepal.

“Most of these items were stolen and passed through traders and auction houses,” said Roshan Mishra, director of the Taragaon Museum in Kathmandu and member of Nepalese heritage recovery campaign. “We have so many items like the statue of Shiva on our list. One by one, they will come back eventually.

The 13-inch-high artifact at the Met was once housed in the Kankeswari Temple (Kanga-Ajima), a local shrine not far from Kathmandu’s historic Durbar Square. According to Mishra, the sculpture was probably stolen about 50 years ago; eventually, it was sold to a collector, who donated the artefact to the museum in 1995.

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