Nepal expects governments, museums and private collectors to also return our stolen images that are part of our religion

British historian Perceval Landon, during his visit to the Kathmandu Valley in the 1920s, wrote that there were as many temples in the city as there were houses and as many idols as there were people. Indeed, in the old quarter of the city, it is not uncommon to come across a temple or shrine at every few yards, with its devout residents lighting a butter-fed lamp or making offerings to the gods and goddesses.

Even with the onset of modernisation, life for the people continues to revolve around the temples that house an image of the many gods and goddesses of the Hindu or Buddhist iconography. While many of the temples are still standing, unfortunately, many an idol has gone missing. It is hard to say exactly the scale of the loot of Nepali deities, but one can vouch for it that tens of thousands of images and antiquities have been plundered over the decades since Nepal opened up to the outside world in 1951. It is believed that Nepal had already lost most of its bronze and copper images by the Seventies, with thieves turning to what is left – Nepal's stone idols. Theft of Nepali deities is not limited to the Kathmandu Valley. Even the inhospitable terrain of Nepal's hinterlands has not stopped thieves from stealing the treasures of the region to sell them in the illegal black market worth billions of dollars annually.

Nepal's stolen idols grace not only museums in America and Europe but also private homes as show pieces. Once stolen, it is very unlikely that they will ever be returned to Nepal. Yet a stolen statue representing Laxmi-Narayana (Vasudeva-Kamalaja) has been returned to Nepali custody by US officials after 40 years, which is a matter of joy. The bronze artefact, dating between the 12th and 15th centuries, used to be worshipped in Patan until it was stolen in 1984. The statue had been sold at an auction six years after being lifted and loaned to the Dallas Museum of Art. Artist Joy Lyn Davis had tracked the idol in the museum while working on his project on stolen art of Nepal, which led to its location and return. This is not the first time the US government has handed over stolen images to Nepal. Earlier, in April 2018, it had handed over to Nepal two idols of 12th century Uma Maheshwor and 11th century Buddha that were stolen from the country more than 30 years ago and had been part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. And the previous year, the US had handed over four ancient idols dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

The Nepali government and the people greatly appreciate what the US government has done to return the idols promptly on learning that they had been stolen. Nepal expects other governments, museums and private collectors, namely from the European Union, to do likewise, as these idols are a part of our culture, religion, history and heritage. Nepali officials must strive to bring back our stolen images from foreign lands by coordinating with the related agencies. These statues of deities are not decorative or show pieces to stand on the shelves of museums or private homes. To us, they are living gods who are worshipped daily by the people here.

Vaccines for elderly

Nepal received the first delivery of COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX facility being coordinated by the World Health Organisation and other partners.

The country received a total of 348,000 doses of vaccines developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca and produced by Serum Institute of India under the COVAX facility, which is helping the developing countries in their fight against COVID-19. Nepal is getting a total of 13,000,000 doses of vaccines under the COVAX facility, which will be enough to vaccinate around 20 per cent of the population above 55 years of age.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli initiated the CO- VAX-donated vaccination drive on Sunday.

Nepal has already inoculated a total of 429,705 persons, which is 1.4 per cent of the total population, mostly frontline health workers, doctors and security personnel managing COVID-related dead bodies.

The government has a plan to vaccinate around 72 per cent of the population. The vaccination drive to the elderly will be launched from the same hospitals and health facilities already designated by the government.

Once the vaccination drive moves into full swing, infection from COVID-19 is expected to drop, giving a ray of hope for the revival of economy.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 08, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.