If we don’t take note and document the antiques in our temples they may be lost forever, says S. Vijay Kumar to Pankaja Srinivasan

Can we, the regular people of Coimbatore, do something to stop illegal smuggling of antiques? Yes we can, said S. Vijay Kumar, a history buff, blogger and an untiring researcher. He spoke about the enormous drain of ancient Indian treasures and the apathy of authorities and the people to do something about it. Vijay was in Coimbatore for a lecture on the subject, organised by INTACH and the Vanavarayar Foundation.

Plunder and pillage is nothing new to this part of the world. Only now, marauding armies have given way to unscrupulous dealers from our own country. Recently a 1,000-year-old Ardhanariswara sculpture from a temple in Vriddhachalam in Tamil Nadu, turned up at an art gallery in Australia.

The loot route

Vijay Kumar remembered seeing a photograph of this sculpture in a book. Along with some journalists, he investigated the matter and reported that the idol was stolen from a temple in Vriddhachalam and brought it to the notice of the temple authorities as well. In the wake of this, many more dubious deals came to light. As a result, an antiquities dealer of Indian origin is in jail, pending enquiry.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Vijay, there is a surge of interest in ancient artefacts from this part of the world. Lack of proper documentation, policing and verification is making it ridiculously easy to siphon the art works out of the country. A recent cache of sculptures was imported into the US as garden furniture!

“The Archaeological Survey of India does not even have a list of protected monuments,” lamented Vijay. But, he acknowledged that documentation was a Herculean task. Tamil Nadu alone has thousands of temples, and to expect the Government to do something about it singlehandedly would be foolish. “It has to be a collective effort. The Internet has been a great help. If each of us here can photograph sculptures of temples in our neighbourhood, city, town and village and create a database, that would be huge,” he said. But there is a problem there. Many temples do not allow photography. Some people fear the Gods may get angry.

Despite that, Vijay Kumar and his friends have managed to document around 100 temples in Tamil Nadu. “Creating awareness among the caretakers of the temples and the people is the key. Also, there are thousands of sculptures languishing in godowns. Why can’t we loan them to exhibitions and art shows around the world? This will give them visibility,” said Vijay.

But the aam aadmi has to wake up and do something. Vijay hoped young people would help create a database and share the information online. This was the fastest way to document and keep track of our antiquities.

In his vote of thanks, Shankar Vanavarayar, Convener INTACH Coimbatore, said: “We will soon start with documenting temples in the Coimbatore region. The first trial will be with the Perur Temple. It is a celebrated temple and by starting there we will have a better idea of how to go about the process. We will definitely work out ways and means of crowd sourcing and involving the public in this mission.”