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Updated: April 24, 2014 22:55 IST

New evidence strengthens case for return of stolen Nataraja idol

A. Srivathsan
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The photograph of Nataraja and Sivakami idols in Sripuranthan temple.
Institut Francais De Pondichery/Ecole Francaise D'Extreme-Orient The photograph of Nataraja and Sivakami idols in Sripuranthan temple.

With only a few days left for the Australian government to take a decision on the return of the stolen Nataraja idol, which is currently in the possession of National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra, new evidence has emerged to strengthen India’s claim over its ownership.

An expert assessment report, filed for the first time in this case, by R. Nagaswamy, a renowned scholar on Chola sculptures, has listed new inscriptional and iconographic evidence to establish that the Nataraja idol in Australia was indeed stolen from a temple in Sripuranthan, Tamil Nadu.

The NGA bought the centuries-old Nataraja idol for $ 5 million from Subhash Kapoor, a U.S. based antiquities dealer. The Tamil Nadu police allege that it was stolen and Mr. Kapoor masterminded the theft.

The investigating agencies have so far provided evidence such as shipping documents and confession of Kapoor’s long time manager, but supporting iconographic and historical information was missing.

Recently the Tamil Nadu police contacted Dr. Nagaswamy to study the features of the stolen idol. After comparing the three photographs, taken at different points in time, in India, with the image of the idol in Australia, he concluded that all show “absolutely same details.” The photos are of the same idol, he explained.

Dr. Nagaswamy told The Hindu that details such as the left hand tenderly holding fire in a cup, the necklaces adorning the chest, the nail of a tiger in the neck chain, and the figure of river Ganga and tiny snake in the matted hair locks are identical. So is the case with the mark in the armlet in the upper part of the left arm. He also pointed out that features such as the eight crane feathers on the head match perfectly.

Similarly, minor crafting errors also coincide. For instance, at the bottom where the ring of fire emanates, there is a carving of a crocodile on the either side of the feet. While the one on the right reaches up to the first flame, the other in the left falls short.

Typical of any royal dedication in the Chola period, this Nataraja idol too was consecrated along with his consort Sivakami. The photograph taken inside the temple in 1994 shows both the idols together. While the Nataraja is now in Australia, the idol of Sivakami, the police say, was also stolen and traced.

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