ANDHRA PRADESH

A.P. to go digital to secure ancient icons

Retrieved heritage:Union Minister Mahesh Sharma with the Worshippers of Buddha, at left, in New Delhi recently.PTI  

Embarrassed by the ease with which thieves smuggled out antiques, the new Board of Tourism, Culture and Heritage in Andhra Pradesh will digitize centuries-old treasures.

The return to India last month of three sculptures from the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) has turned the spotlight on icon smugglers. A Seated Buddha in stone, a Worshippers of Buddha carving and a 900-year-old image of Goddess Pratyangira were returned, and went on show in Delhi last month.

The limestone ‘Worshippers of Buddha,’ from the Satavahana era dating back to between 1st Century BCE and 2nd Century CE, was stolen on February 2, 2001, from the Chandavaram site museum in Prakasam district. Ten people broke into the museum around midnight and made off with it.

The panel shows two pairs of male and female devotees [partly disfigured] in a standing posture, worshipping a pillar. They are depicted with the feet of sakhya muni or Budha padas. It was one of nine objects stolen from Chandavaram on three occasions — on October 9, 2000, February 2, 2001, and March 23, 2001.

One of them was later exhibited in the NGA. On the opening night of the expo, Amareswar Galla, then at the Australian National University, told the authorities that the sculpture was from Andhra Pradesh. But he was assured that it was acquired legally.

“Nobody knew that it was stolen. Interpol had not been informed,” says Prof. Galla, now an adviser on international heritage to the A.P. Government, and Chief Curator, Amaravathi Heritage Centre and Museum.

Seeking return to State

The NGA had bought two of the three pieces in 2005 from disgraced U.S.-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor, though not the ‘Seated Buddha.’ There were no accurate images of the objects. Himanshu Shukla, Director, Andhra Pradesh Heritage, says: “The Government will apply for the Chandavaram icon to be restored to the State.”