NEW DELHI: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ‘good citizenship’ gesture of returning two stolen idols to India has brought back the spotlight on unabated theft of priceless antiquities from temples and other places in India.
Most of these statues and idols are smuggled out of the country and sold illegally at exorbitant prices. Since 2009, as many as 22 rare artefacts and idols have been stolen from various parts of the country, but only two have been recovered by the police so far.
This year alone three thefts have been reported -- two from Karnataka and one from Gujarat. A Durga sculpture from Panchalingeshwara Temple at Govindanahalli in Mandya, a granite Shivling from a temple at Thimmalapur, Bellary in Karnataka and two wooden carved brackets from Vittalbhai Haveli, Kheda in Gujarat, were stolen. The wooden brackets, however, have been recovered by the police.
According to the figures compiled by the Union Ministry of Culture, five cases of theft were reported last year, of which four were from Karnataka alone. These included a Mahishasuramardini Durga sculpture from Renuka Devi Temple, Chandragutti, Shimoga; a Dakshinamoorty from Sri Vaidyeshwara, Mysore; a Shivling from Mallikarjuna Temple, Mandya; a Ganesha idol from Bucheswara Temple, Koravangala, Hassan, all in Karnataka, and a Tridev Buddhha statue from Mahasamund in Chhattisgarh. None of them has been recovered so far. Despite checks at the airports, these idols are smuggled out as it happened in case of the idols returned by the Australian government.
The Nataraj, an 11th century bronze statue, was bought for $5.6 million by the National Gallery of Australia in 2008, while the Art Gallery of New South Wales spent $280,979 on the 1,100-year-old stone sculpture of a standing Shiva with Nandi in 2004. The Nataraj statue was stolen from Sivan temple in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu in 2006 while the 112-cm high stone Shiva with Nandi was burgled from Vridhdhagiriswarar Temple also in the state.
In 2012, art and antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, owner of the ‘Art of the Past’ gallery in New York, was arrested in Germany and subsequently extradited to India. He was accused of stealing and smuggling these idols to Australia. The case is currently at the prosecution stage in Tamil Nadu and India had sought the return of the idols in March from Australian authorities, who have been assisting in the investigation.