Is Your Nepali Buddha Statue Authentic?

Characteristics of Authentic Nepali Statues

It is important to make a sensible decision when you purchase a Nepali Buddha statue. As such, I advise that you understand the basic characteristics of the Buddha or deity. Additionally, it is helpful that all Nepali Buddha statues and ritual items are certified before they leave the country.

However, just because your new statue comes with a certificate and stamp does not mean it is fool proof. Therefore, lets go over some of the basics to assure you make a wise decision.

Are Chinese and Indian Buddha Statues Fake?

No, not if they are advertised as such. A statue is only fake if you have been mislead during the sales process. In fact, Indian and Chinese Buddha statues are a good alternatives to the Nepali statues. This is because they are usually of good craftsmanship and they cost less.

However, authentic Nepali statues are still the best hand made sculptures in the world and they have been for 1000 years. This will not change anytime soon. Nonetheless, it is still important for buyers to do their due diligence during the purchase process.

Department of Archaeology Certification & Stamp

Unfortunately, there will always be unscrupulous people who use sharp business practice. However, Buddhist sculpture creation is the national heritage of Nepal. As a result, the government of Nepal has prudently established the Department of Archaeology to inspect statues and other Buddhist art before export.

Therefore, all authentic Nepali Buddha statues and ritual items will be certified by the government – no exceptions. As such, they will come with the certificate and also the stamp.

Nepal Department of Archaeology certificate

Certificate from the Department of Archaeology in Kathmandu. Note – I have x’d out the customers name.

Nepal Department of Archaeology stamp

The certification stamp will be attached to your authentic Nepali Buddha statue.

Unfortunately, the ministry certificate and stamp do not guarantee quality. As stated on the certificate, they are verifying that the statue or ritual item is not an artifact of national or archaeological importance.

Nonetheless, it is very useful because at least we know that the item was created in Nepal. Additionally, the statue will come with the certification stamp which will be attached to your item.

Inspect the Buddha Statue Before Purchase

The most obvious precautionary measure is to use common sense. As such, the number one rule is to simply know what you are buying. All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Buddhist deities have standard attributes and characteristics that are affiliated with them. When you buy a statue, verify it’s identity first. If you do not know for sure – ask!

That said, please do not take someone’s word on faith alone. Additionally, never trust the seller based on their affiliation. A picture of the Dalai lama on their website is not a certificate of quality assurance. The case in point would be a recent transaction which occurred on the FPMT Foundation website.

A high level practitioner who was a Tibetan Buddhist nun for many years bought a Vajrayogini statue from them. However, upon inspection the statue appeared to be of very low quality. As a Tibetan Buddhist nun, of course she should know better but I think she made the purchase on faith alone. Have a look for yourself. 

Discrepancies with FPMT Statue

FPMT Vajrayogini statue

Kapala “Skull Cup”

Vajrayogini is supposed to be holding a kapala “skull cup” in her raised left hand. However, as you can see her left hand is obscured by the khatvanga and the khatvanga is secured onto her left arm. No photos on the website show the kapala, thus when you make the purchase you do not know if it is even there. 

Knife

Additionally, in her right hand she is supposed to be holding a flaying knife. This is not a standard type of knife, instead it is comparable to what looks like a eskimo’s ulu knife. Thus, it has a pronounced, round curved blade. However, what she is holding in her right hand looks more like a poorly crafted vajra.

Flames

The ring of flames is an important aspect of the Vajrayogini statue. However, an authentic high quality Nepali statue will be hand sculpted and the flames will have form and depth. Unfortunately, the person who crafted this statue painted them on.

Frame and Khatvanga

Also, there are no photos of the back of the statue. This is important because on quality sculptures the frame and also the khatvanga are removable. Thus, they can be completely removed or adjusted per the buyer’s preference. There is no reference made about this in the listing and no photos either.

Red Kalarati & Bhairawa

The worldly goddess red Kalarati and the worldly god Bhairawa are supposed to be trampled under the feet of Vajrayogini. However, the details of the bodies are conspicuously missing and the khatvanga is covering the face of Bhairawa.

Additionally, the space between the feet and the bodies makes it look like she is standing on stilts. She is meant to be barefoot.

Conclusion

Since important aspects of the statue are obscured, it is not possible to make an objective inspection. Therefore, you must have blind faith in whoever is selling it to you. Additionally, common sense should illuminate the missing kapala, flaying knife and other discrepancies.

But what is even more alarming is the price of the statue. At $370.00 USD it is priced at a premium. Indeed, a high quality Nepali Vajrayogini statue that is fully gold gilded in 24k gold would go for about the same price – including shipping!

Although they claim their website is non-profit it is no excuse. Buyer’s must take responsibility for their own purchase. If so, the national heritage of Nepal will be preserved for posterity. As a result, we will continue to have high quality Nepali Buddha statues for many years to come.