Stolen Chola bronze begins return journey from US

A bronze statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period, stolen from the Sivan Temple in Sripuranthan Village in Ariyalur District in Tamil Nadu and recovered in the U.S. last year, started its return journey home on Monday. This 11-12th century bronze was among the several artefacts returned to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the U.S. on Monday.

Arriving in Washington for a three-day tour of the U.S, on Monday, Mr. Modi laid wreath at the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ at the Arlington National Cemetery, and met with the heads of several think tanks in the U.S. capital. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama.

These artifacts handed over to Mr. Modi were surreptitiously taken out of India over several years and were recovered as a result of an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the work of the United States Attorneys’ Offices. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch handed over several pieces to the PM, and a total of 200 such items will return to India from the U.S as and when legal formalities are completed. “Today we begin the process of returning more than 200 stolen cultural objects back to India,” she said.

“People are attracted to India for its ancient civilisation. We have towns dating back 5000 years,” the PM said. “These treasures are to be enjoyed by the entire world. Technology can help us catch those indulging in illicit trafficking,” Mr. Modi said, expressing “gratitude to the US Govt for the sensitivity shown to India's heritage.” “This will evoke great respect among the people of India.”

Personally collecting lost symbols of Indian heritage has been part of the Modi signature to Indian diplomacy. In September 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott brought to New Delhi two antique statues stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu and bought by art galleries in Australia. In October 2015, German Chancellor Angele Merkel brought to India a 10th century Durga idol which was smuggled out from a Kashmir temple. “Over the past 2 years, various countries have endeavored to return India's stolen cultural heritage,” the PM said after receiving the artefacts.

Items returned on Monday included religious statues, bronzes and terra cotta pieces, some dating back 2,000 years. A bronze sculpture of the Lord Ganesh is estimated to be 1,000 years old. A U.S press release put the value of the Saint Manikkavichavakar statue at $1.5 million. The collector had paid somewhere between $650,000-$750,000 for the statue in 2006, according to investigators.

The AG’s press statement said, the “majority of the pieces repatriated in the ceremony were seized during Operation Hidden Idol, an investigation that began in 2007 after HSI special agents received a tip about a shipment of seven crates destined for the United States manifested as “marble garden table sets.” This shipment was imported by Subhash Kapoor, owner of Art of the Past Gallery.” He was arrested and now awaits trial in Chennai.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 7:10:37 AM |

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