Sunday, 21 October 2012

Bangladesh: First Came the Looters, then the Dealers

There has long been ethnic conflict in eastern Bangladesh between a Muslim majority and the Buddhist minority, particulaly in the Chittagong Hills Tract (see, among others here, here,). Recently, as the international media are reporting, there has been a new wave of attacks on Buddhist monasteries and property (here, here, here, here). Buddhists temples that were damaged or destroyed in the attack include:
Panachanan Banabihar, Bimukti Bidarshan Bhabna Kendra, U Chit Ban Rkhain Buddhist Temple, Central Sima Bihar, Sada Ching, Lal Ching, Maitree Bihar, Ukhiyar Ghona Temple, Aryabangsha Monastery, Ajanta Temple, Dipankar Temple, and Hari Mandir[...] Almost all the temples and monasteries, adorned intricately with wood carvings, were burnt and damaged… they were old, some built in the late 17th or the early 18th centuries
Relics of Buddha relics kept in the Sima Monastery were lost in the attack, also lost were a large number of manuscripts in Pali and other languages on stories of the Buddha and ancient literature. Ancient and rare palm-leaf manuscripts of folk and religious tales preserved in the temples for several hundred years went up in flames.

Important statues of the Buddha of various materials including gold and silver have gone missing: "Monks at U Chit Ban Rkhain Buddhist Temple, locally known as Bara Kiyang, said that there were more than 500 statues of the Lord Buddha in various posture made of precious materials in the temple but only 12 of them could be traced after the attackers had left the place".

Now it seems the international antiquities ("art") trade is taking an interest in the area:  
A large number of precious Buddhist artifacts, including ancient manuscripts and religious scriptures, mostly dating back to the 11th to the 12th century and about 5,000 copies of the Tripitaka which had been looted by criminals during the recent attack on Buddhist temples in the Chittagong Hill Tract areas, are being smuggled out to international racket dealing in anti[que]s and ancient artifacts. According to information, such precious Buddhist artifacts may be trafficked to countries like France, Italy, Japan and South Korea either through air or sea routes. [...] Following the tragic massacre on the Buddhist temples in Bangladesh, some nationals from African countries, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Korea in Bangladesh are seen frequently visiting Chittagong in the recent days, who are suspected to be contacting members of the looter gangs, who had stolen extremely precious Buddhist artefacts as well as remains of Lord Buddha.

Abdullah Juberee and AKM Atikuzzaman, 'Heritage, treasures all burnt', Newage, 8/10/2012.

'Stolen Buddhist artifacts reaching international racket', Blitz International Desk, October 21, 2012.

Photo: A monk attempts to salvage remains of burnt manuscripts

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