New York: Two exquisite Indian antiques smuggled out of the country which found their way into museums in the United States have been officially repatriated to the Indian consulate in New York Tuesday by officials from the city district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr's office and US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The 11th century ‘Lingodhbhavamurti’ antique sculpted in granite and the 12th century ‘Manjushri’, crafted in phyllite - each weighing ~300kg - are back in India’s possession now. US Homeland Security experts estimate that there are at least 2000 such stolen/ smuggled artefacts which are still in various stages of finding their way back to home base.
An intricate, multi agency effort across teams from the HSI and New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr’s office worked to return these “treasures” back to India. India's Department of Revenue Intelligence was instrumental in initiating the case and nabbing the lynchpin Subhash Kapoor.
“I was overwhelmed...and really really proud”, says Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s Consul General in New York, about the moment he first set eyes on the two statues. Both are now wrapped up and and kept in a safe location in New York City.
"Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships - that’s what got us this far. Because of our trans-national teams, we are in a very good place to solve these problems”, said Angel Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI in New York City.
Melendez and his teams, who typically deal with criminals, narcotics and human trafficking, said the return of antiquities holds a "special" place for them because of the sheer emotional value that countries and cultures place on these treasures from the past.
The Lingodhbhavamurti dates back to about 1150 AD and traces its origins to the Chola dynasty in Tamil Nadu. Dr. Graham C Boettcher, Asia director from the Birmingham Museum of Art explained the exact moment that the sculpture depicts: "Legend has it that while Vishnu and Brahma were arguing Shiva appeared as a flame and challenged them to find his source. Brahma took the form of a swan and flew to the sky while Vishnu took the form of a boar - Varaha - and went to find the base. When neither could find the source, Shiva appears in an alcove inside the infinitely long column - that moment is called the Lingodhbhavamurti, which is the subject of the sculpture."
The Manjushri has its origins in the Vagiswari temple in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. It is often referred to as the oldest and most significant Bodhisattva in Mahayana literature and symbolizes transcendent wisdom.
As for the brain behind many such missing treasures - Subhash Kapoor, he is now being held in a prison in Trichy, Tamil Nadu. Kapoor, an US citizen, was extradited from Germany in 2012. He is being tried in two cases: The first is the theft of 18 idols from the Sundarashwar temple and Varadaraja Perumal temple in Ariyalur in April 2008; the second is in the case of eight idols stolen from the Arulmigu Pragatheeswarar temple in Ariyalur.
Before he was arrested, Kapoor was the go-to supplier of high end art to America's rich and famous. Kapoor's slide began after a tip off by Indian Customs authorities in 2007.
Investigating officers in the US are concerned that Kapoor may have maxed out his stay or close to the finish line in one case and the possibility of him being released in Tamil Nadu is very real. On background, officials familiar with the details told Firstpost that they are watching the Kapoor case very closely to see how quickly and efficiently he can be extradited to the US and tried here.
Last summer, over 200 stolen artefacts, many of them linked to Kapoor, were returned to India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to America. Earlier, in 2014, Australia returned a 900-year-old Shiva sculpture allegedly smuggled by Kapoor, during Modi’s visit to the country. In October 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel returned a 10th-century Durga idol stolen from Kashmir and allegedly smuggled out by Kapoor.
Updated Date: Sep 06, 2018 03:28:51 IST