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America to return a treasure trove of 200 artefacts stolen from India

June 7, 2016
Bahubali
Bahubali Statue Manikkavasagar Chola Bronze 11th Century Ganesh Statue Unidentified Lady statue

Nearly 15 American museums will begin returning stolen artefacts to India in response to a major federal investigation which began in 2012. It all started with federal gum shoes receiving a tip-off about seven suspiciously heavy crates being shipped off to the US described as “marble garden table sets.”

A closer examination revealed the crates contained priceless antiques, setting off “Operation Hidden Idol,” which resulted in the arrest of six people and the recovery of artefacts worth over $100 million. Antiquities crook Subhash Kapoor dubbed “Indian Jones” by the US media is accused of smuggling the statues into the US. He is now awaiting trial in India on charges of trafficking in $100 million worth of stolen artefacts looted from temples in Tamil Nadu through his Upper East Side antiques business.

On Monday, the US government returned over 200 artefacts in a repatriation ceremony headlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

External Affairs Minister of India, Vikas Swarup tweeted: "PM @narendramodi: I am grateful to President Obama for returning to us these treasures which join us to our past. My gratitude to the US Govt for the sensitivity shown to India's heritage. This will evoke great respect among the people of India" in two tweets

For some, these artefacts may be measured in monetary terms but for us this is beyond that. It’s a part of our culture and heritage,” Modi said at the ceremony held at the Blair House on Monday.
We are grateful to President Obama for returning India’s stolen cultural heritage. People are attracted to India for its ancient civilisation. We have towns dating back 5,000 years,” said Modi.

US Attorney General Lynch said, “The US is committed to ensuring that no nation is robbed of the objects that inform its identity, shape its traditions and inspire its citizens. Today, as part of that ongoing commitment, more than 200 antiquities and cultural artefacts that speak to India’s astounding history and beautiful culture are beginning their journey home. It is my hope — and the hope of the American people — that this repatriation will serve as a sign of our great respect for India’s culture; our deep admiration for its people; and our appreciation for the ties between our nations.” 

The items returned include statues, bronzes and terra cotta pieces, some dating back 2,000 years, looted from some of India’s biggest temples. Among the pieces returned is a statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period (circa 850 AD to 1250 AD) stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai. It is valued at an estimated $1.5 million. There is also a 11th Century bronze of Ganesh.

The majority of the pieces repatriated in the ceremony were seized during Operation Hidden Idol, an investigation that began in 2007 after HSI special agents received a tip about a shipment of seven crates destined for the United States manifested as “marble garden table sets.”  Examination of the shipment in question revealed numerous antiquities.  This shipment was imported by Subhash Kapoor, owner of Art of the Past Gallery, who awaits trial in India.

HSI’s Operation Hidden Idol focused on the activities of former New York-based art dealer Kapoor, currently in custody in India awaiting trial for allegedly looting tens of millions of dollars’ worth of rare antiquities from several nations.  Artifacts were also found in the Honolulu Museum and Peabody Essex, who promptly partnered with HSI to surrender illicit cultural property stemming from Kapoor.  HSI special agents have executed a series of search warrants targeting Kapoor’s New York City gallery, along with warehouses and storage facilities linked to the dealer.  Additionally, five individuals have been arrested in the United States for their role in the scheme.  The estimated value of the artifacts seized so far in the case exceeds $100 million.

We at Chola Impressions make Chola style Bronze statues using age old technique of Lost Wax. Check out our collections here: Bronze Statue Collections

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