The 3rd century artifacts rescued by the Karachi police a fortnight ago, have now been reported to be broken and shredded from edges after the merciless manhandling of the ignorant police force.
The raid which was conducted on Thursday night and early Friday morning in the Korangi Industrial Area, yielded 10 idols, a number small statues and various utensils, hidden underneath cleaning items, bales of straw and other miscellaneous items such as furniture, slippers and water coolers.
According to the agencies, the shipment was under their surveillance radar for some 20 days and they reportedly have lost track of the container. The flatbed truck was bound to Sialkot from where the artifacts were destined to be transported to wealthy clients of Europe and America.
“We got a tipoff from the intelligence agencies and seized the truck,” beamed SHO Javed Brohi. The artifacts, sculptures, tablets, and figures were destined for Sialkot. The driver, Zafar Ali, was arrested but all he could tell the police was that the vehicle was loaded from his employer Asif Butt’s warehouse in Ibrahim Haidery.
The next day, the police force decided to make an indentation of the seized items and the Awami Colony police station turned into a warehouse of 3rd century Buddhist relics. But soon it was evident that the boxes were not handled with care and the pieces came out severely damaged.
"We’ll open a museum right here,” joked one of the police officers. “Here, you want to take one home?” Their value in Japan, according to one estimate, could be more than $10 million.
The figures were wrapped in colorful foam and placed in wooden boxes. But as the police and laborers had no idea of the value of the artifacts they were dumped in the courtyard of the police station. Many were simply smashed, some ended up headless and others lost their hands and feet.
According to Qasim Ali Qasim, the director of the Archaeology and Museums Department, the Buddhist sculptures were known as Gandhara art and were found in Taxila, Peshawar and Swat in Pakistan and even parts of Afghanistan.
He estimated that they date to the third century and are mostly of mediating goddesses and gods. One of the heaviest ones was a 1,000 kg Bodhisattva, a mustached sculpture, adorned with a crown and ornaments. In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is an enlightened and wise being who invites others towards Buddhism.
Pointing to a tablet with dancing goddesses engraved on it, Qasim explained that it was an important artifact known as Jataka. “This piece tells the story of Gautama Buddha’s birth,” he said. “Though images, it shows how Queen Maya gave birth to him and shows others dancing and pouring water in joy.”
Another prominent sculpture was Hariti, a mother goddess with one child in her arms and the other standing next to her. “This goddess was a demon and used to eat children, but after meeting Buddha, she became a mother goddess.”
Qasim doubted that the artifacts were stolen from a museum or their reserves, and said they were most likely illegally dug up from Swat during the presence of the Taliban in the valley. This would have been a violation of the Antiquities Act of 1975, he added, saying that you needed a license to be in possession of such items.