A Gift to the Indian Prime Minister – a theft from Gujarat in 2001 solved

Truly success has many fathers !! The return of the Sripuranthan Nataraja and the Vriddhachalam Ardhanari has various agencies and people claiming to have contributed to its return. We hope the same enthusiasm is shown by these agencies / scholars/ experts in going after the hundreds if not thousands of looted Indian artifacts – auctioned, sold and exhibited in various museums, galleries and private connoisseurs across the globe and then they can lay their claim of having succeeded. Till then the art world at least knows who are the true monuments men – Jason Felch and woman – Michaela Boland and how we teamed up to form the International collaboration that resulted in their return.

India has to change its attitude towards such cases – these high profile returns are too far and few inbetween, compared to the extent of the loot. Thousands of artifacts are smuggled each year impoverishing our ancient land, eroding its very cultural roots and the scant effort shown by it to go after the thieves and let alone prosecuting them effectively and getting back the entire stolen loot. The classic case of the Sivapuram bronzes are still open since the 1950’s with no action from India – with major smugglers going Scot free by botched prosecution.

The return of these two has to be celebrated – but for altogether different reasons ! The message has to be loud and clear – gone are the days when India was lax in its pursuit of criminals and idol thieves. It will no longer stand mute witness to the rape of its cultural treasures. Art thieves and shady dealers must have sleepless nights knowing that the New India is coming after them. But to do all that things have to change.

The nodal agencies have no resolve nor resources. To prove our point, we present below our birthday gift to Hon Prime Minister of India – to help him bring back a stolen artifact not from any place in India but from his own home town… read on and remember that this is not a website of any agency but that of another kindred soul – an unsung hero Sri Kirit Mankodi. – his website.

Hindu god Brahma with his consort Brahmani stolen from the open air museum at the Ranki Vav or the Queen’s stepped well (underground reservoir) at Patan, Gujarat, in 2001.

It will be seen in the attached photograph received from the Vadodara Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India that Brahma carries his usual attributes such as a sacrificial ladle and a manuscript. The panel measures about one metre in height, width 57-58 cm. and depth 45 cm (3′ x 2′ x 1.5′), and is datable to the twelfth century.

The Queen’s stepped well is a monument of national importance as declared by the Archaeological Survey of India. ( post script – is an UNESCO World heritage site making it to the list this year!!)

First Information Report (FIR) of the theft was lodged at the Patan City police station immediately after the theft, No. 230/2001 dated 10 November 2001. The sculpture has still not been recovered. Since the theft occurred ten years ago it may have already appeared in the art market.

Now, for the Gift. The same sculpture was openly exhibited in London art week – Fall season in 2006.

It further looks like it was unsold and was exhibited again in London in 2011 second photo.

The India – London route for illicit antiquities is well known and thanks to Peter Watson’s expose you would only expect the central agencies to be vigilant and track sales for such stolen loot – especially from a centrally protected ASI Site. Sadly nothing was done !

So would the Hon Prime Minister be kind enough to activate the agencies to get his gift from London for him !

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 19- The ACM Singapore Uma

Australia returned two Iconic artifacts to India over the weekend and it is really satisfying for us – we strongly believe that the Gods have chosen to return back to their abodes and this is only the start – many more WILL come back.

What were returned were already forfeit to India as of April 2014 ! There are dozens of stolen art with false provenance still left in Australia waiting for proof from our side

The Vridhachalam Ardhanari and the Sripuranthan Nataraja are only tip of the Ice berg and its time Museums realise this – in today’s connected world and global collaborative research, they cannot hide behind technicalities.

Lots of friends ask us how they can help us in our efforts to bring back our ancestral treasures.

Here is one such example. Soon after we published the details of the Vriddhachalam story , the press and media caught on – interview for Radio Australia – ABC , The Australian , The Hindu , Hindu 2 – published our story.

A special friend on Social Media, a American national deeply interested in Indian Art contacted us and volunteered to provide assistance. A courier pouch landed in end june 2013 containing paper cuttings of – Art of the Past advertisements in various Magazines and Journals collected over the last 10-12 years !! One particular advertisement stood out.

How could i forget her – i had been there when she was first exhibited as pride of show – in 2006. Infact i had a painting of her framed in my room !!

I checked the Idol wing website immediately. The 3rd one was possible match but the proportions were all wrong.

A little bit of checking made us realise that some rookie programmer had reduced the size of the bronze to fit the pdf file without ensuring it shrank in proportion. The correct view was this one.

The rest was academic

Further research and another helpful friend sent us the Art of the Past catalogue 2006 with the actual advertisement.

The Bronze was acquired in 2007 as per the Museum Label.

We got in touch with the Museum and authorities in India mid of July and as usual met with a stone wall.

Finally things got to head when Kapoor’s Gallery assistant pleaded guilty in US court in early December 2013.

“During the period from on or about January 2005 to November 2006, one Uma Parameshvari (known at the “$650,000 Uma for Singapore”), owned by the Central Government of India, was stolen from the Sivan Temple in India’s Ariyalur District. During the period January 2006 to on or about January 2007, defendant and other co-conspirators shipped the $650,000 Uma for Singapore, from India to the United States. On or about February 2007, defendant and other co-conspirators arranged for the sale and transport of the $650,000 Uma to the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore.”

The Uma has since been removed from display and in May we reported that the entire list of objects that the ACM purchased from the dealer.

The defense of Museums worldover when faced with this scenario seems to be following the same rule books – Ignore, stone wall, delay etc etc. To add insult to injury see this stance taken by an Art Consultant

” Art consultant ————– suggests that there may also be alternatives to repatriation, even if an artefact is found to have been illegally removed.

She says: “Sometimes, the lawful owners of the artefacts do not have the resources to build climate-controlled environments, to conserve and restore old artefacts, to present exhibitions that attract large visitorships, or to fund scholarship on these artifacts.

“In this context, I would say that it should be an option for the museum to discuss having the artefacts stay on in a loan arrangement and perhaps to present these works jointly in public exhibitions or publications.”
– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/case-you-missed-it/story/sniffing-out-booty-20140214#2″

I am sure India has enough and more resources to take good care of its Gods and in the first place our Gods do not need climate controlled environments – our ancestors built temples as their abodes and they have lived there happily for thousand years until the greed of the greenback led a few astray souls to housebreak and rob them.

Its time Singapore follows the Australia model and returns the Uma. It is also pertinent that the ACM should be open and disclose the provenance of this Somaskanda as well – as of now they maintain that it is not bought from Kapoor / Art of the Past – its was bought in 2000 and in not disclosing the provenance it is hiding the identify of one more dealer / smuggler.