Singh Bangdel is a foremost stone sculpture scholar
of Nepal. Since his return to Nepal in 1961 he conducted
extensive research relating to Nepal's stone sculptures.
In his course of researching these valuable pieces
of Nepal's past and present he has published several
books, "The Early Sculptures of Nepal,"
"Twenty Five Hundred Years of Nepalese Art
(German Edition)," and "The Stolen Images
Bangdel graduated from the Government School of
Arts and Crafts in 1945, he worked for D.J. Keymer,
in Calcutta. There, as Bangdel was working as
chief editor of "Prabhat" he met the
King Mahendra, then a crown prince. His artistic
pursuits led him to Paris in 1952 and after completing
his studies there, he left for London and worked
as deputy director for The Astral Art Group from
1958 to 1960. It was at this time that he met
King Mahendra for a second time. King Mahendra
invited all Nepalis in London to a gathering.
Among those who attended were Angur Baba Joshi
and Mrigrendra Raj. Bangdel had no doubt that
the king had forgotten the meeting. As they talked,
the king said, "It was during 1949 not 1948
that we met." At the end of the gathering,
Narpratap Thapa said the king wanted to talk with
him in person. The king simply asked him to return
to Nepal, to which he answered, "Our country
Nepal is an agricultural country, there may not
be much work for an artist." However, King
Mahendra insisted that he return.
his wife's consent, he returned to Kathmandu in
1961. Upon his arrival, King Mahendra made him
a member of the Royal Nepal Academy. At about
that time, Kamal Mani Dixit, a fellow member of
the academy took him for a tour of Patan City.
Bangdel was attracted by the different forms of
arts found in Lalitpur, "The City of Fine
Arts." The temples, vihars, sculptures, and
woodwork fascinated him. Every time he asked Dixit
for information on the art the answer would always
be the same: "No one knows how they are.
There are no archives describing them. The laborers
who lay stones on the roads may be the only people
who have information on them." Such remarks
on the heritage of the country disturbed him.
He now says he had made up his mind that he would
make it his duty to study these artwork and gather
information on them.
the time, he had not had training in this field
nor had he any ideas on how to research. "The
closest I had ever been to sculptures was during
the fifth year in Government School of Arts and
Crafts, when I had to sketch just the outlines
of Indian statues. It was at this time in the
fifth year at college when I met Stella Kramrisch.
I was fairly fast in making drawings and had finished
making an outline of a statue and was waiting
for my friends. A group of tourists entered the
room. Among them was a short lady [Stella] who
came looking at everyone's work. She stopped by
me, appreciated my outline and asked me, 'Are
you from Siam?' I explained that I was from Darjeeling.
After that, I met her in 1961 in Patan and started
a conversation. We built a valuable relationship.
She was studying ancient sculptures and had traveled
through Pakistan and India researching. She was
turning to Nepal's ancient art. This definitely
was a rare opportunity for me and I learned a
lot about research from our work together."
colleagues researching stone sculptures was Dil
Ratna Banerjee from India, appointed to this work
in 1962. The methods were simple though the results
were meager. With a notebook and a camera, the
duo used Bangdel's automobile and traveled around
the Kathmandu Valley. They stopped at every old
temple, vihara, chaitya, searching stone and metal
images and studying the subjects. "It was
tough to extract information on any of these things
as there weren't many archives, or inscriptions
describing them and the people couldn't be trusted
for exact dates," Bangdel says. Feeling the
need for more information in this field, he had
started reading up on Indian sculptures and those
of other countries. It was clear to him that sculptures
from this region had initially been highly influenced
by the work of their southern counterparts. He
started comparing these southern sculptures to
sculptures found here, thus making a chronological
chart for probable dates of sculptures in this
area. He then obtained permission to go to India
where he studied art forms around the country.
He visited many historical places, caves, and
museums to gather information.
Dil Ranta Banerjee was replaced by Krishna Dev
and Bangdel found himself working with a new partner.
In 1974 Pratapaditya Pal published a book, "Arts
of Nepal." He was studying at Oxford University
and was deeply interested in the ancient arts
of Nepal after he had read the research of Stella
Kramrisch. Mary Slusser, the writer of "Nepal
Mandala," had also been researching Nepal's
history. Both Bangdel and Slusser had their first
publication on Nepali sculpture out in the year
1982: Bangdel's "Early Sculptures of Nepal"
and Slusser's first version of "Nepal Mandala."
Bangdel looked for discepancies in all these works.
Agima who is a highly revered goddess of the Newars
of Kathmandu was remarkably similar to Sapta Matrika
in the south. Bangdel was certain that he had
to go through every sculpture and idol in this
area if he was to publish a sincere publication
on the ancient arts of Nepal. So in his research
he tried to study every discovered sculpture in
says that documentation and dating of sculptures
were the most difficult tasks. The lack of information
on sculptures added to his problems. He has been
studying sculptures for many years and has set
an iconography for their dates. He uses the characteristic
features and posture of a sculpture as the main
factors to compare it with others in order to
determine its age. "This is a task which
needs sensitivity and a lot of practice,"
"Stolen Images of Nepal" was published
by the Toyota Foundation of Japan. The Royal Nepal
Academy gave him a sum of $US 1,330 for the book's
copyright and stopped short of giving further
royalties. Bangdel meekly says, "I deserved
agrees that his forty years of research on sculptures
of Nepal has been tough work. When he set out
on this errand, there were not many books on Nepalese
sculptures he could refer to. Those that were
published held little in the way of tangible evidence
to support what was being said. Further, many
sculptures were being sold to foreigners and he
had problems tracking them down. Bangdel went
through the books published by Pratapaditya Pal
and Mary Slusser.
he is not satisfied with the results he has produced.
He says, "I cannot remain happy with my results.
Being happy means that I have completed exploring
all the ancient arts of Nepal and that there is
no more to study, which is not true. There are
many sculptures undiscovered and even more left
unstudied. I can only remain satisfied when I
am able to study more sculptures. With my work,
I may be able to inspire newer generations to
do the same, and then I'll be happy. Presently,
you can say I am happy because I'm researching
a statue of Jayavarma, which was found in Maligaon
in 1992. It clearly dates back to 185 AD according
to the inscription on the sculpture. This is among
the oldest Nepali sculptures found. I am busy
studying it and the probable lineage of the kings
as thelineage of kings in Nepal is confusing one.
Manadeva in his inscription at Changu Narayan
made in 464 AD names his great grandfather. The
fourteenth century writing of Yaksha Malla is
the first evidence to say that the Gopala kings
were the first to settle in the Kathmandu Valley.
research in Nepal is a very hard work mainly because
there is not much support from the government
and there aren't good sources. One has to work
with one's own links at one's own expenses. I
was kind of lucky in my work for I had many personal
contacts and my background made it easy for me
to build other links. I was given special permission
to study many sculptures in India and Nepal which
weren't on public display. With my contacts, I
was also able to track down sculptures which had
been sold anonymously to foreign countries. For
example, the sculpture of Jayavarma found at Maligaon
is exactly the same to a sculpture of Boddhisattva,
which is now in America. I was able to go there,
and, with the help of my daughter who is studying
there, I went around studying Nepali sculptures
my visits to foreign countries, I always tried
to study the sculptures found in those country.
The only thing I can find that sets apart Nepalese
sculptures from that of Western
countries is the values for which they are made.
Nepalese sculptures are made for devotional purposes
rather than for decorative reasons. Nepalese sculptures
can be barren of beauty and still endear its people;
most of the sculptures in temples are mainly of
that sort. For example, in second and third centuries,
idols of Buddhas were made in the Indian subcontinent
to be sold to people in Iran and to the west of
the Indian subcontinent. These Buddha idols were
very different to those that were made in Kathmandu
and most of the Indian subcontinent in that they
were made with beautiful features like well-groomed
moustaches, diadems, and well-shaped clothes.
The Buddhas found in Kathmandu and [most of] the
Indian subcontinent were very simple with long
ears, knotted bunches of hair, and simple plain
"I'm not sure if it will be any easier for
the young generation to have the same opportunities
as I have had but I want them to give serious
consideration to our heritage. I'm already seventy
eight and not strong as I used to be. I've been
doing what I can and now I'm worried as to how
the coming generation will continue this work.
There is still much to be learned. There are so
many sculptures hidden, buried around the ancient
cities like Hadigaon, Dev Patan, and Dhumbarahi.
The young generation can excavate and study their
findings. This seems hard but is not impossible.
They need to work with commitment and convince
the people of their work's quality. They must
set a momentum to preserve our arts."