NEW DELHI: Over the years, chunks of India’s glorious heritage have disappeared forever, victims of audacious loot. The stolen antiques have then surfaced abroad, after being sold for astronomical amounts.
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 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.
Of the 22 idols stolen in the past six years, five cases were reported in 2012. These included stone idols of Brahma and Ambal from Teppakulamurani in Tamil Nadu; Brahma and Shiva from Pali, Korba in Chhattisgarh; stone sculpture from Jhalawar in Rajasthan. The most intriguing of these five thefts was reported from the highly protected Indian War Museum at Red Fort in Delhi. A Mughal era dagger with an ivory handle was stolen despite the presence of CCTV cameras. No clues have been found till now.
In 2011, three thefts were reported from Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. A Nandi sculpture from Peddamudiyam and a stone flower decoration—both from Kadappa district of Andhra Pradesh—and a sculptural panel of Vishnu Dashavatara was stolen from Dharmrajeshwar Temple in Chandwasa of Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh. Luckily, this was recovered by the police.
Similarly in 2010, four thefts were reported from Rajasthan, West Bengal and Karnataka, the states known for their ornate temples. Three silver antiquities were stolen from Hazarduari Palace Museum in Murshidabad in West Bengal. Another theft was reported from Karnataka where a granite Shivling was stolen from a temple in Bellary. Two sculptures were stolen from Kaner Ki Putli temple in Bhilwara district in Rajasthan. Thieves first stole a four-armed female deity idol in August and struck again in November for three small sculptures.
Earlier, in a similar pattern of burglary in the abandoned Gargach Temple in Baran district of Rajasthan, thieves stole two ornate sculptures in 2009. A couple standing under a canopy supported by two pillars was stolen in April and five months later another minutely carved male-female sculpture standing under a canopy supported by two pillars was taken away.
Ironically, some of these monuments and temples are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)—there are 3,676 centrally protected monuments under the ASI.
The government now intends to amend the Antiquities Act to make it easy for people to register antiquities and even sell them. This would help in unearthing illegal antiquities and also curb smuggling them out of the country, sources said.