The Archipelago

Thieves target ancient
temples in North Sumatra

A number of thieves in North Sumatra are reportedly targeting ancient temples in the province that are believed to contain treasures, including gold and silver relics.

The Medan State University’s Center for Historical Studies and Social Sciences (Pussis), disclosed that half of the 16 temples in Padang Lawas and North Padang Lawas regencies were currently at risk of being illegally excavated by treasure hunters. At stake are the Bara, Longu, Tandihat I, Pagaran Bira, Nagasaribu and Sangkilon temples, all dating back to the ninth century and originating from Buddhist and Hindu religions.

Pussis researcher, Eron Damanik, said that the ninth century temples would most likely be excavated by thieves because they were located far from human settlements and therefore difficult to protect.

Eron added that a resident had recently spotted thieves digging at the Sangkilon temple in Lubuk Barumun district, Padang Lawas regency. Unfortunately, residents failed to catch them and the thieves fled.

“There were five of them. They came from Rantau Prapat, Labuhan Batu regency,” Eron told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Eron said that the thieves had already dug a hole, approximately three-meters deep, one-meter wide and four-meters long, at the southern part of the Sangkilon temple.

He added that they had already moved the bricks at the temple pedestal, where treasures are usually to be found.

According to Eron, based on the size of the hole, the thieves are believed to have dug at the temple
for days.

“The thieves can dig at the Sangkilon temple freely, because it is situated far from any human settlement. Fortunately, residents quickly learned about the thieves’ activity. Failing this, the temple would have been damaged,” said Eron, adding that he was in the regencies of Padang Lawas and North Padang four days ago to put together inventories of those temples deemed at risk of looting.

Asked why the thieves were interested in excavating the temples, Eron said that it was due to the valuables found inside.

Based on historical literature, every temple construction has its own conditions.

“Every time that the construction of a temple commenced, gold, silver and bronze items had to be placed at the base of it. Gold signifies the goddess of Wisnu, silver symbolizes the goddess of Siwa and bronze the goddess of Brahma,” said Eron.

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