Antique idols from U.S. galleries handed over to India

Historic return: The artefacts were reportedly smuggled out of the country at different times.

Historic return: The artefacts were reportedly smuggled out of the country at different times.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The U.S. authorities have formally handed over to India a set of priceless antique pieces, including a limestone relief of Shiva and Parvati, a marble Apsara, and some other idols.

The artefacts were handed over to Indian officials at a ceremony to mark the Indian Independence Day festivities in New York.

They were reportedly stolen and smuggled out of the country at different times. They were seized from the Nancy Weiner Gallery, Christie’s in New York, and the Maitreya Gallery, all of which are situated in the United States. This is the first time the American law enforcement agencies have disclosed the names of the galleries and individuals in possession of the artefacts, and their valuation.

Launching ‘Operation Hidden Idol’ in 2012, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security had unearthed a treasure of 2,622 objects valued at $108 million from the business and storage facilities of Subash Kapoor. The authorities secured the cooperation of Kapoor’s former associates and seized documents, which, on investigation, led to a network of antiquities smugglers.

Following this, the U.S. authorities began seizing many antique pieces from auction houses and art galleries across the country. Over 200 of them were returned to India in June 2016, while many are yet to be handed over due to pending legal formalities.

The restitution includes the marble Apsara ceiling panel depicting a celestial goddess figure dated to the 10th century, measuring 44 inches in height and valued at $500,000; and a stone relief of Shiva and Parvati standing next to each other with halos behind them, which was dated back to 8th century. The red sandstone relief of a couple from the region of Mathura in India, belonging to somewhere between the 1st and 2nd century was valued at about $100,000. They were seized from Nancy Weiner Gallery on March 16, 2016.

A rock crystal Buddha; a 12th century bronze Vishnu; a figure of Shiva as Mahesvara; a black chloritic schist stele depicting a Bodhisattva, which belongs either to Bihar or Bengal; a red sandstone figure of Parvati holding a fly whisk aside a male attendant, from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, dated to the 11th century and valued at $54,000, were seized from the Maitreya Gallery on March 25, 2015.

A 10th century buff sandstone stele of Rishabhanata, the first Jain Tirthankara (a teacher who preaches dharma) seated in vajrasana and flanked by a pair of standing attendants, either from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, valued approximately at $150,000; and yet another 30-to-35-inch high sandstone panel depicting Revanta and his entourage, dated to the 8th century and valued at $300,000, were seized from Christie’s New York in 2016.

S. Vijay Kumar, art enthusiast and co-founder of the India Pride Project, a group that works for the return of stolen religious artefacts to Indian temples, told The Hindu that it was good to bring artefacts of States other than Tamil Nadu to the country, too. “For the first time, there are no idols from Tamil Nadu, though many are yet to be brought back from abroad. Many T.N. artefacts that have been seized and are in the process of retrieval in America. However, idol theft, which remains a Tamil Nadu issue, has acquired a national spotlight. Now, all other States too have shown interest in tracing their lost glory and bringing them [the artefacts] back to their soil,” he said.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 7:52:55 AM |

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