Thursday’s recovery in New York by American investigating officers of a significant collection of antiques from Asia, including bronzes of Siva and Parvati valued around $ 8.5 million, has created fresh excitement here as the international trail of stolen antiquities gets hotter.
Among the idols stolen from Suthamalli and Sripuranthan villages in Tamil Nadu are those of Siva and Parvati, which are datable to the Chola period. Those who have been mourning their disappearance hope that among the material recovered would be the idols which disappeared in 2008 and 2006 from the two villages, located in Ariyalur district.
The seizures were made from the storage facilities of Subhash Chandra Kapoor, accused of trafficking in ancient idols from India over an extended period. Arrested in Germany and brought to India on July 13, he is in judicial custody, lodged in the Puzhal prison here.
Earlier, his bail plea was rejected and he was remanded in police custody on July 18 for seven days.The stolen idols include two of Nataraja, one of Siva in the form of Sundaresvara, and of Parvati and Sivakamasundari, Siva’s consorts. Idols of Saivite saints and of Murugan were also stolen.
The hope that the recovery in Manhattan could turn out to be good news in Tamil Nadu stems from the fact that some time ago, Interpol confirmed that the Nataraja idol stolen form Suthamalli visually matched the one found with Kapoor.
The Tamil Nadu police, after studying their images, spotted an inscription at the base of the idol, which they thought would turn out to be important evidence helping to recover the Nataraja idol.
Police sources say they have extracted crucial information from Kapoor and would investigate his role in other thefts also.
On their website, the police say the idols stolen from Sripuranthan were sent out through the Chennai port to ‘Nimbus imports, Exports inc at New York as directed by Subash Kapoor’ in 2006.
Writing on his blog, Rick St. Hilaire, an attorney and adjunct professor who specialises in cultural property law, mentions that “Kapoor is the owner of the Art of the Past, Inc. gallery in Manhattan as well as Nimbus Import Export, a corporation formed on August 17, 2005 and bearing the same address as Art of the Past according to New York Department of State records.”
Rick St. Hilaire says the Art of the Past website, now shut, once claimed that the gallery “has sold to some of the most celebrated public and private collections in the world.”
He lists 44 Indian art objects gifted to the Toledo Museum of Art by Kapoor, including a 5th century, Gupta period terracotta figure of Seated Mother, and a 2000-year-old Mithuna Plaque. The annual report of the museum for 2007-2008 confirms this.
“It is unknown if any museums are currently examining the provenances of their collections,” he says on his blog.
Closed for non-payment of rent
Art of the Past is now closed. When contacted, Kingston Jerold, counsel for Kapoor, said Kapoor was not able to pay the rent for the premises.
For quite some time, no business transaction had happened from his gallery, he added.