PUDUCHERRY: "Shadows of Gods: an Archive and Its Images" authored by Gopinath Sricandane that was released by Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India and François Hollande, President of the French Republic in New Delhi on 25th January 2016 is an archive and its images are a reflection of the strong ties that exist between France and India in the area, among others, of heritage preservation .
The book co-published by the French Institute of Pondicherry and the Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient (French School of Asian Studies) depicts how a French collection of photographies for scientific purposes became a cooperation tool with India, to trace stolen idols and art, and catch international traffickers who pillage Indian heritage.
This book retraces in detail how photographic evidences from this archive led to the arrest of Subhash Chandra Kapoor, a New York-based art dealer and one of the most high-profile smugglers of antiquities. At his behest, idol thefts at the Brihadeeswarar temple, Sripuranthan and the Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple in the village of Suthamalli were orchestrated. It narrates how the statues eventually made their way to the foremost art galleries around the world, through the vast and elaborate smuggling channels set up by Kapoor. The last illustration of this is the bronze statue of Nataraja from the Sripuranthan temple, which found its way to Australia, was returned to India by the Australian Government last year, based on evidence provided by the IFP/EFEO Photo Archive.
The Photo Archive of the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP)1 and the Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) 2 was started in 1956. It is a unique resource for visual information about South India in the second half of the twentieth century, focusing on temple art. As of today it has over 1,35,000 images covering South Indian iconography, temple architecture and rituals. It is a precious testimony to the rich culture of South India, and serves as a way to keep our memory of such invaluable heritage alive.
In addition to being a useful resource for researchers, this unparalleled collection is now becoming a high-value source of evidence in cases involving art theft. The IFP/EFEO Archive is often the only comprehensive visual record of many of the antique idols that were found in ancient temples across Tamil Nadu.