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Chief of the Five Thieves
Buddha head, Toddoo island, Maldives




Photos A to F
c. 6th-7th century CE.
Toddoo island, North Ari atoll
Height: 43 cm, Width: 40 cm, Depth: 51 cm

Coral stone head coated with lime plaster molded to show features. Vestiges of paint remain on the cheeks and lips of the figure; elongated earlobes.

The head was part of an undamaged seated Buddha statue discovered on 10 July 1958 by a team from Male' led by the late Mohamed Ismail Didi.

The statue had been placed 'within a meticulously built stepped stupa (dagaba)' in a mound called 'Bodu Gaafuni' by the people of Toddoo, according to Naseema Mohamed and Ahmed Tholal in their book The National Museum of Maldives.
'The upper molding of the base of the stupa was decorated with the railing pattern and features common to stupas in other South Asian countries. The interior of the stupa had a rectangular pit in the centre with four similar smaller pits at the four sides, interpreted as meaning the centre of the universe and the four directions.
'At the time of discovery, the body of the statue was depicted clothed in the robes of a Buddhist monk. Vestiges of paint remained on the cheeks and lips of the figure. The elongated earlobes reached to the shoulders of the statue...
'The stupa also contained relic caskets shaped as minature stupas. One was of silver, inside which was a smaller round container made of gold. Among the items in the silver container was a Roman Republican denarius of Caius Pansa minted at Rome in 90 or 89 BCE, and a ring. The denarius had a hole pierced at one side. This fact, and the worn state of the coin suggest that it was brought to Maldives at a much earlier period and had been used as a piece of jewellery for some time before being placed in the reliquary.
'The Toddo dagaba is part of an ancient monastery site and contains other mounds as well. It is tentatively dated to the period between the 6th and 7th century.'

The statue was vandalised repeatedly after its discovery, according to Adam Haleem:
'They began digging and when they found a statue and everyone began to shout and yell at the statue. 'Chief of the Five Thieves [from the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves], you are the motherless one!', one of them bellowed as he pointed a finger at the carving. 'The thief was hiding!' yelled another man even more loudly.
'By sunrise next day, a group of people had broken the head off the statue. It was put back on and the statue was placed under a roof. People began to yell, 'The religion of worshipping statues has begun!' And later in Male', people who were similarly gripped by anger attacked the huge statue and further damaged it. This is the story of the second destruction of the statue found in the ruins of a Buddhist temple in Thoddu in 1959... 'The statue was very beautiful,' [Abdul Hakeem] commented in 2001. Hakeem said the statue looked very much like one at the end of the Havelock road in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in fact there was no difference.' full article by Adam Haleem, and further information from Dr S. Paranavi-thana




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