Property claim after 2000 years?

by Björn Schöpe

March 19, 2015 – In ancient Rome Greek statues were all the rage so the Romans having occupied Greece confiscated virtually all objects of art they could get hold of. Now imagine modern Greece would claim these objects from Italian museums. After all, they are looted art. Somehow.

A similar case is being discussed between India and Afghanistan. The bone of contention is an enormous bowl made of grey-green granite with a diameter of ca. 1.75 metres weighing some 400 kilograms. Buddha himself is said to have given it to the people of the Indian town Vaishali around 500 BCE. Today the bowl is kept in the National Museum of Afghanistan. Because some two thousand years ago the Indian ruler Kanishka transferred it from Vaishali to Kandahar. While at this time it was a simple journey in one gigantic empire today the bowl stays beyond India’s national frontier in modern Afghanistan, in the National Museum in Kabul.

Some years ago Indian Member of Parliament Raghuvansh Prasad Singh demanded Afghanistan should return the bowl immediately. After all, according to him the inhabitants of Vaishali are the lawful owners. In early 2014 Singh successfully asked that an Indian team of experts would be sent to Afghanistan in order to examine the bowl. Newspapers already reported that the bowl was to be soon returned to India. The members of the commision, though, did not comment on this – with one exception.
In his report epigraphist Dr Khwaja disputed any association between the bowl and buddhism. In Kabul he had examined the inscriptions in Persian and Arabic covering the exterior of the bowl. These very inscriptions convinced him that this bowl could not have belonged to Buddha. Singh’s opinion, however, has not changed by Khwaja’s statement: this man, as Singh put it, is no archaeologist, anyway, but only an epigraphist …

The Indian government, though, does not appear to stake out claims any longer. Maybe New-Delhi shares the common view that two thousand years of ownership confer a lawful right of property.

A detailed article and an image of the bowl can be found here.

← back

Subscribe to our newsletter now

Get the latest news from the world of numismatics promptly delivered once a week by email.

Thanks. I'm already a subscriber.