CHENNAI: With the retrieval of Uma Parameswari idol from Singapore, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has brought three smuggled antiques back to the country this year, unravelling the web of international smuggling racket involving disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.
Three smuggled artifacts including 900-year-old ‘Parrot Lady’ sculpture, 9th century Mahishasuramardini idol and 11th century old Uma Parameshwari statue were secured from Canada, Germany and Singapore, respectively, in 2015. “We were able to retrieve five smuggled antiques in the last two years, which is highest in over a decade. Two of the idols secured this year (from Germany and Singapore) have connections with Kapoor,” a senior ASI official said.
While the Tamil Nadu-based Uma Parameswari idol was purchased from Kapoor’s former New York City gallery ‘Art of the Past’, ASI strongly suspects his role in the trafficking of Mahishasuramardini idol, which went missing from a temple in Kashmir over two decades ago. During his visit to India last year, then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had handed over to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi two antique statues of Hindu deities, allegedly stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu and bought by art galleries in Australia.
In fact, the arrest of Kapoor by the TN police in Germany in 2012 brought international idol smuggling to the limelight, making museums across the globe to come forward to return the trafficked art pieces to India. In one such instance, on an invitation from a Singapore- based museum, ASI officials visited it in May 2015. “Out of the 30 antiquities that the museum had purchased from Kapoor’s former New York City gallery ‘Art of the Past’, 15 to 16 were from India and particularly 10 were from TN,” an official said.