Bringing Our Gods Home: US Returns 200 Stolen Artefacts To India

by Swarajya Staff - Jun 7, 2016 12:05 PM +05:30 IST
Bringing Our Gods Home: US Returns 200 Stolen Artefacts To IndiaGanesh Idol

The United States Attorney General, Lorreta Lynch on Tuesday handed over 200 stolen artifacts worth $200 million to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a ceremony held at the Blair House.

PM Modi thanked the US government for returning India’s precious cultural artefacts and said that this gesture and sensitivity shown towards India’s heritage will evoke great respect among the people of India.

Here are the pictures of some idols posted by Prime Minister on the social media:



This Male Diety was from Madhya Pradesh Khajuraho in India and was made in the 12th century. (Photo: @narendramodi twitter account)
This Male Diety was from Madhya Pradesh Khajuraho in India and was made in the 12th century. (Photo: @narendramodi twitter account)


This bronze sculpture of Ganesha was removed from a temple in Tamil Nadu, India.
This bronze sculpture of Ganesha was removed from a temple in Tamil Nadu, India.
Bringing Our Gods Home: US Returns 200 Stolen Artefacts To India
Bringing Our Gods Home: US Returns 200 Stolen Artefacts To India

How did the Idols get there?

They are smuggled out of India. This network is systematic and well organised, explains Sanjeev Sanyal. Smugglers identify specific pieces, hack them from temples and forts, buy-off officials, smuggle across borders, use well-known auction houses and even have prominent art experts on their pay-rolls. Many of the stolen pieces are proudly displayed in museums and galleries around the world.

Over 20,000 pieces of precious Indian art and artefacts have been smuggled out of India in the last three decades. The total value of such smuggled items could be in excess of 10 billion US dollars, although many of these artefacts are priceless from a cultural perspective.

How do we reverse this plunder?

Sanyal suggests the following methods in this Economic Times piece:

1) Learn from the example of Tamil Nadu’s Idol Squad, which has had some notable successes despite pitifully little resources. He suggests forming such specialist teams in all states. This can be coordinated at the national level.

2) Active participation of scholars, history enthusiasts, temple devotees or even ordinary citizens can enormously help track down stolen pieces of art.

3) A clear framework of property rights needs to be established and enforced to make it possible for enforcement agencies to trace and claim back antiquities.

4) A National Antiquities Register can be created that allows any owner to register items and makes it easy to look up the ownership history.

The India Pride Project

Frustrated with the state of affairs, a group of volunteers organised themselves to track, lobby and bring back art works smuggled out of India. They call themselves the India Pride Project.

This group identifies stolen artefacts, traces them to their origin and lobbies with museums and art houses abroad to return the priceless art works. Here are some of their success stories.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself handed over the idol of Sripuranthan Nataraja to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014

Angela Merkel returned a 10th century Durga idol to Narendra Modi in October 2015.

An exquisite bronze work of Alingana murthy - Shiva embracing Parvati has been handed over to US authorities for enquiries - thanks to the efforts of the India Pride Project.

The India Pride Project is seeking support for their petition to the Government of India to recover more such stolen cultural treasures of India. Sign the petition here.

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