Atru town in South Rajasthan waits for the return of its treasured stone sculptures stolen from the ruins of the Gargach temple in 2009.

The people of the tehsil town in Baran district—remote and surprisingly low profile, considering its wealth of antiquities lying in partly abandoned temple premises-have no idea where the 8th century sculptures of “Mithuna couple” are now, but they have grown used tosuch disappearances.“They are still with Interpol, Washington,” said Vasant Kumar Swarankar, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey ofIndia, Jaipur Circle.The sculptures, considered to be more than 1,000 years old, were stolen on April 22 and September 19, 2009. They were two of four sculptures that surfaced when excavation was carried out on the Gargach temple ruins.

The stolen sculptures, smuggled to the United States and auctioned, were traced at the New York port by Interpol with help from US Customs as they were about to be shipped to London. The sculptures had featured in magazine advertisements abroad announcing their auction by an international auction house of New York and London. India is a signatory to the 1970 UN Convention on Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the illicit Trafficking in cultural property. It was on the basis of a request from the National Central Bureau that the sculptures were added to the list of Interpol’s StolenWork of Art Database. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seized the sculptures on April 16, 2010 while the shipment was being processed. One of the sculptures is an ornate carving of a Mithuna couple standing under a canopy—the male is in Tribhanga pose and the female standing crossed leg, on the left — while the other, almost identical, has the female holding a ‘book-like’ object.

In Rajasthan, 162 monuments are centrally protected under ASI and in Atru alone nine temples, including Gargach, Ganesh, Shitalamata and Nagdev Jain temple, are under ASI. Atru, close to the Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh border, was a favourite hunting ground for the notorious Jaipur-based idol thief Vaman Narayan Ghiya, who in July 1989 targeted the town’s Ganesh temple. Among the stolen idols Asht Bhuj Ganesh has been returned to the temple situated near the Bhuj Sagar lake — and is presently kept in a sculpture shed — the fate of the Varah Avatar on which Ghiya had laid his hands on is not known. And the list of missing idols from Rajasthan temples is long with numerous Jain temples all over the State and Timangarh fort in Karauli district falling victim.

More In: National | News