US may return biggest cache of stolen antiquities

The team, sent to the US to examine, classify and annotate, comprised two senior ASI officials from Delhi and one from Kolkata office.

Published: 15th February 2023 08:18 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th February 2023 08:18 AM   |  A+A-

The 1972 Antiquities and Art Treasures Act does allow for sale of registered antiquities within India but imposes certain controls.

Image used for representational purpose only.

Express News Service

NEW DELHI:  The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) is expected to fetch a large cache of stolen antiquities, smuggled out of the country over the decades in the previous century, from the United States. According to the culture ministry officials, privy to the matter, a team of three senior officials of ASI, has examined and documented nearly 307 artefacts including idols in New York last week to facilitate their repatriation. If all articles are brought back, this will be the biggest haul of heritage objects returning to India.  

The team, sent to the US to examine, classify and annotate, comprised two senior ASI officials from Delhi and one from Kolkata office. “The officials stayed abroad for a week and scrutinised 307 antiquities which are still in possession of US authorities. They checked whether the relics are authentic and from India. The team also documented all the details such as the period they belong to and the year when they were stolen and taken out of the country. All the relevant paperwork has almost been completed. Now, the ministry will decide how many of them will be brought and the course of their repatriation,” said officials. 

Arrival may take about a year as the return is a cumbersome process and involves financial clearances if Indian authorities retrieve on their own, the officials. “When the foreign agencies return antiquities, repatriation is faster. When Indian authorities initiate the process it takes time due to administrative clearances. First it has to be decided which agency will bear the cost of insurance, packaging and transportation cost,” added the officials.

On several occasions, the Government has said that retrieval of cultural objects from foreign countries is on its priority list and it has been making concentrated efforts. Since 2014, the Centre has brought 228 antiquities from various countries while the majority of them (178) have come from the US. Only 13 objects could be fetched till 2014.

Officials said that administrative hurdles had also delayed the arrival of nine antiquities, which were proposed to come from the US, United Kingdom and Italy around October-November. The list of recovered artefacts awaiting repatriation include two quintessential idols—500 years old bronze deity of Lord Hanuman and Avalokiteshwara Padamapani, statue of Gautam Buddha.

9 antiquities awaiting clearance 

Two idols
500 years old bronze deity of Lord Hanuman and Avalokiteshwara Padamapani (in pic),  the statue of Gautam Buddha sculpted sometime between the 8th and 12th centuries

Idols of Lord Hanuman and Gautam Buddha belonging to 14-15th century were stolen. The US has promised to return them

The Buddha idol was installed at Devisthan Kundalpur Temple in Bihar and had been missing more than two decades ago

Three carved stone pillar fragments, black chlorite stele of Surya, an inlaid marble pillar, a sandstone relief, and the 14th century ceremonial Indo-Persian serpent sword

The pillar fragments are probably from Jagannath Monsoon Mandir of Kanpur, which belongs to the 11th century. The black chlorite stele is from the 10th century


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