CHENNAI (TIP): A stolen Chola bronze valued at $1 million may well be the next Indian artefact to come home after a Nataraja and Ardhanari were returned by Australia.
The idol, surrendered by a private collector to US authorities, was part of the loot smuggled out of India by art thief Subhash Kapoor, say Tamil Nadu police. The figurine of saint Manickavasagar was among the 11th century, Chola-era statues that the Kapoor gang allegedly looted from a temple in Sripuranthan in Ariyalur.
The recovery from a private collector shows that US investigators are actively pursuing leads on those to whom Kapoor likely sold artefacts. “US officials didn’t reveal the name of the collector. But we came to know he voluntarily surrendered the idol that he bought from a dealer in the Kapoor network,” said a senior police officer in the state crime investigation department’s idol wing.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department recently seized nearly 2,500 antique pieces from Kapoor’s gallery and warehouses in the US. “The theft of another country’s cultural property is a terrible crime that robs a nation of its national heritage. This is especially true when the relics are religious idols as in this case. We commend this collector for his conscious decision to return this stolen idol,” said Raymond R Parmer Jr, special agent in charge of ICE-Homeland Security Investigations
(HIS) in New York.
An interesting feature of the Manickavasagar is the white coat over it.
This coat is given so that the statue, when exposed to the atmosphere, develops an artificial green patina on its surface over time. Idol thieves purport to demonstrate through the artificial patina that the idol was dug out from the ground and was not a stolen piece. An idol worshipped in a temple wouldn’t have the patina. In his confession statement to Tamil Nadu police, Subhash Kapoor had said that a curator in London helped him apply the patina to stolen idols to pass them off as antiques dug out from the ground. “What seems to have happened is that the collector kept the Manickavasagar in the closet and the idol therefore didn’t acquire the green patina,” says S Vijaykumar, heritage enthusiast who helps to track stolen idols.
After being extradited to India in 2012, Kapoor is cooling his heels in Chennai Puzhal prison. The trial against him has commenced based on a chargesheet filed in Udayarpalayam police station in 2008. A chargesheet in another case in Vikramangalam police station is yet to be filed since it requires cooperation of German authorities.
ICE-HSI has recovered at least six other sacred Chola bronze idols that it anticipates forfeiting and repatriating to the government of India. “I would like to convey my deep sense of appreciation to HSI for the exceptional work done in locating and recovering the Tamil saint’s statue,” said Dhyaneshwar M Mulay, ambassador consul-general of India in New York.