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Watch out for treasure hunters

There is such a terrific demand for priceless treasure that more and more people have begun plundering Buddhist shrines and archaeological sites. Several such cases have been reported in the past. The latest treasure hunt was reported from Ambuluwave in the Gampola area following the arrest of two persons who had dug an archaeological site for treasure.

The matter came to light when someone tipped off the police that a group of persons were planning to excavate land at the Ambuluwave hill where treasures belonging to ancient Sinhalese kings had been buried.

Several policemen that night proceeded to Ambuluwave in civil clothing to check the information. Eager to see the excavation process they climbed a tree close to a rock that gave them a clear view. They waited patiently till the arrival of the treasure hunters. After some time the treasure hunters arrived at the scene and went towards the direction of the rock.

After performing some rituals they started digging the earth.

The policemen watching the process were over enthusiastic and the branch in which they stood snapped alerting the treasure hunters.

The treasure hunters realising that something ominous was going to happen ran helter skelter. The police chased them for a while and took into custody the two men. The Police questioned the suspects and learnt that among the others who escaped was an official attached to a ministry.

The official had coaxed them to join in the treasure hunt. Meanwhile the police recovered paraphernalia of items like eggs, beetle leaves, Gas lamps, digging implements etc. The two suspects, from Gampola and from Nawalapitiya were produced before the Magistrate and remanded till the inquiries are over. Meanwhile the Gampola police said that they were looking for other suspects who fled the scene.

Numerous treasures and artifacts have been stolen previously. Last year two men who attempted to sell a white marble Buddha statue for one million rupees were arrested in the Kandy area. Desperate treasure hunters seeking fortunes had destroyed the ancient Rangiri rock temple. Two persons were arrested following the recovery of a Buddha statue from a timber depot at Peradeniya in 2004.

The statue carved out of wood with an encircling cobra was given to the suspects by a Buddhist monk to be sold.

The same year burglars broke into the ancient Lankatilaka Vihara and had removed valuable items. However they failed in their attempt to break open an iron safe that contained the gem studded gold Buddha statue.

Somewhere in 2003 treasure hunters damaged a 26 feet statue of the Buddha in the reclining posture in the Kegalle area. In the same year 13 persons including two men in yellow robes were taken into custody by the Katupotha police while attempting to dig an abandoned temple land in search of treasure.

Four treasure hunters were arrested by the Thambuthegama police in 2002 for allegedly robbing a marble statue from a Raja Maha Vihare from Sigiriya. Treasure hunters also damaged an ancient Buddha statue in a temple in Pahala Kaduganawa.

The chief priest of Walagamba Raja Maha Vihare had complained that the head of the 18 cubic feet long statue had been destroyed with a sledge hammer as the thieves believed that it contained treasure. In the same year the Mirigama police arrested six men including a man in yellow robes for attempting to rob ancient treasure from the Kotagala Kanda reserve.

The Kebitigollawa police arrested six suspects including four home guards who had dug up the sluice gate of an ancient tank in Nambakada in Kebittigollawa for hidden treasure.

An advertisement published in the newspapers by the Department of Archaeology some time back states- Protect our antiquities- They destroy ruthlessly our invaluable ancient national heritage which was bequeathed to us by our forefathers from time immemorial. Should we allow them to do this? Preserve the antiquities for posterity. Act immediately.

Inform the Divisional Secretary of your area, the nearest police station, Grama Niladhari, the Regional Archaeological office or contact the Archaeological Department about destruction and theft of antiquities. Destroying or stealing antiquities carries a penalty of not less than Rs 50,0000.00 or 2-5 years imprisonment or both.

 

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