Saturday 14 July 2012

The Recovery of Stolen and Smuggled Indian Sacred Images

The article by A. Srivathsan ('The murky trail of stolen antiquities', The Hindu India has learnt the hard way that once the stolen antiquities reach auction houses, museums and private collectors it is difficult to recover them.
In 1982, a striking 12th century Nataraja bronze stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu in 1976 was displayed in the British Museum. After receiving a tip, the Indian High Commission in London alerted the London police and the sculpture was confiscated. The British Museum contested the ownership of the bronze. In the eyes of Indian law, Gods residing in temples are legal entities. Hence, the Indian government fought the case in the name of the God. Entomologists were summoned to inspect and testify the termite runs on the icon. After a long battle, the case was eventually settled in India’s favour in 1991. Pathur Nataraja triumphantly returned to Tamil Nadu and was received with fanfare. No less frustrating is the case of the Sivapuram Nataraja bronze stolen in 1956. The Norton Simon Foundation in the U.S., which bought this sculpture, planned to display it at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1973. When the Government of India filed a lawsuit for its return, an out-of-court settlement was reached. The Simon Foundation was allowed to display the icon for 10 years and then return it.
How many more such items have found their ways to private collections, as props for some pseudo-cultural interior decor scheme. How many clients looking at a piece they obtained from Mr Kapoor's New York "Gallery" are now wondering just what it is that they have bought? Or do people who buy such things not actually think about such matters?

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