Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 6- Seized bronzes with ICE?

In our ongoing series on the stolen bronzes, we present today further evidence / clues to the identity of a few bronzes seized by America – Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as per their earlier press releases

As before we have compared the images from Idol wing press release ( albeit very poor quality images) and progress made till date is shown in this file with images already identified with red ticks and subjects taken for today highlighted in red boxes.

We have one more bronzes which does not figure in the Idol Wing press release but was reported in the Hindu paper article – of Chandikeshwara.

It is also important to point out that as per this article of the New Indian Express states 26 missing bronzes – the idol wing has photos of only 15 (+1 – the nataraja + umai combo) – 16 in all. With the Chandikeshwara it is 17 now still leading 9 unaccounted for.

Coming back to our study, lets take the bronzes from right to left of the photograph.

1. Sripuranthan Thani Amman.

Cropped photo from ICE

Cropped photo from Idol Wing

Side by Side Comparison

2. Suthamalli Astra Devar

Cropped photo from ICE

Cropped photo from Idol wing ( actually the Idol wing image seems to be transposed)

Corrected Idol Wing photo

Side by side comparison

3. Suthamalli Sivagami Amman

Cropped Photo from ICE

Cropped photo from Idol Wing

Side by Side comparison

4. Chandikeswarar

Cropped Photo from ICE

Image from Hindu paper

Side by side comparison

5. Sripuranthan Sivagami Amman

Cropped Photo from ICE

Cropped photo from Idol Wing

Side by side comparison

With better quality photos the case for seeking return of these bronzes must be simple enough !!

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 5- Suthamalli Uma Parameshvari?

Today we make further progress in this case. We are in the pursuit of the very first image in Idol wing document.

Titled Sivagami Amman or Thani Amman in it. Lets take a closer look.

Now we go back to another catalogue from the accused’s gallery Art of Past. This time is March 2011 – a full 6 years after the loot and 2 years after the Idol wing published the photographs.

And take a look at the Catalogue item number 10 – Titled Devi Uma Parameshvari

It has some very stunning photographs of the Devi from different angles. Lets take a closer look a them.

Now, lets compare the two bronzes side by side.

Focusing more closely

Do you notice the similarities. Some more to assist you.

Compare the lower body and the base

The audacity of the idol smugglers is thus revealed – to attempt to sell a published stolen bronze so brazenly. As long as we do not have a comprehensive policy to photodocument and archive them properly the loot will continue. Our temples and custodians must see the strong deterrent such an effort can be, but till they are stubbornly spurning it away – How can we make them aware that its high time they realise that technology and advances in making such archives cost effective, easily accessible databases could put an end to this loot.

We will continue our pursuit…

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 4- Here is the Suthamalli Nataraja?

In the previous post we analysed the Sripuranthan Nataraja and raised definitive arguments for its comparison to the one in Australia. The post also raised questions on the other Nataraja – the Suthamalli one. To help you refresh your memory we take a look at the Idol wing release.

Today we are going to further search for this bronze. The famed Nataraja of Suthamalli.

This magnificent bronze has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, yet it was this crucial sculpture that helped to eventually crack the case as evidenced in this Hindu article.

Now the Idol wing put up these photos on its site sometime around 2009, a full 4 years after the theft. But we were quite surprised and filled with anguish when google returned us this March 2010 catalogue of the Art of Past gallery !!

Exhibit 6

Including macro closeup views of what appears to be the same bronze.

A full year after the Idol wing put up the photos, the gallery published high resolution images of the same bronze and canvassed for sale. How can we be so sure it is the same bronze ? Its the same story of uniqueness of the lost wax process.

There are tell tale clues in the circle of flames in this bronze too – the circle is a modification over the Sripuranthan bronze and has a secondary ring. the shape of the inter weaning holes provides us the clues.

There is also a unique design element combined with a dent on the same.

The shape of the Lord’s twirling locks and the snake ornament are the same well – infact his locks are splendidly ornamented with different gems – if only we had a higher resolution photograph from the authorities !!

As the Lord danced he twirled around and in this constant state of motion his adorning cloth is shown not only flying off but getting twisted on its own axis akin to how you would dry a wet towel – and the way the two ends of the cloth are attached are unique as well.

So we can be sure without doubt that both are one and the same.

There is a more specific clue which is already mentioned in the Hindu report, of an inscription sutavalli ( spelled with a tamil va instead of Ma for some reason) which is on the base pedestal. Since it is already discussed we do not dwell much on it but the old photo does not have this since it was taken prior to it being cleaned ! However, the above comparisons do prove without doubt that both are one and same. The inscription on the base however, is important , as we have reason to believe that all the bronzes of Sutamalli could have this on their bases – and hence have remained unsold ! The multitudes of prospective buyers who thronged the gallery are hence complicit in the crime !

A further argument on the above postulate will be explained in the next part of this series – where we look at what the catalogue described thus….” This is an extremely rare and important matched pair of the Shiva Nataraja and his consort, Uma Parameshvari. The divine couple have not only survived together as an original set, but also remain in complete states, with
their flaming prabhas and lotus pedestals.”

In search of Uma Prameshvari….to be continued.

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 3- Where is the Suthamalli Nataraja?

Following the fantastic piece of investigative journalism by the Chasing Aphrodite team, we continue to dig and present data that we feel will be raise pertinent questions.

We are back to Idol wing’s published photos of the missing bronzes from the two temples – Suthamalli and Sripuranthan.

Focus on the two Nataraja bronzes. One from Suthamalli

and one from Sripuranthan

It is clear by observing the Prabhavali or the circle of flames surrounding the bronze that the two are very different though the stylisation of the Dancing Lord is almost the same.

We have the Nataraja in the National Gallery which is said to “closely resemble” one of these – but which one? Lets study them.

Once again the circle of flames helps us know that this resemblance is to the Sripuranthan bronze and not to the Suthamalli Nataraja.

Now as published in the Chasing Aphrodite scoop, new photos have emerged of what appears to be the same bronze in the hand of the smugglers in an apartment in India sometime around 2006.

The accused Kapoor’s Art of the Past had published this photo in its Catalogue.

Now, as elaborated many times and also highlighted in the gallery’s defenses – there are hundreds of Nataraja bronzes in South Indian temples and they look very similar. However, to the trained eye it is very easy to spot the differences, credit again goes to the lost wax process wherein each is designed by hand, uniquely in wax before being cast in metal. So even with the hazy photos from the Idol wing / Archives – let us draw your eye to one particular aspect of the bronze. Count the flames in the ring and focus on the third one on his right – right under the uplifted foot

Do you see that part of the flame has broken off. Now let us compare all the images with us.

Ironically the Lord seems to point out this if you let your eyes follow his bent lower left hand !!!

Ascertaining this fact must not take a few seconds if only we had a better quality image from the Idol wing / IFP Pondy archives.

So one thing is for sure, we are talking of the Sripuranthan bronze and it has been removed from its base pedestal as well !! The larger question remains as to where is the Suthamalli Nataraja now?

During the course of our Independent investigation, we found another magnificent bronze Nataraja in the Art of Past catalogue of March 2011.

Once again comparing the Prabhavali – it is not the Suthamalli Nataraja. If so where is this from ? Are there more temples from where these precious treasures have been looted and we are oblivious to it. Who is to search for these answers?

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 2- Case of the Suthamalli Subramanya

In our continuing independent investigation of the loot of India’s cultural treasures, we have unraveled many startling truths and begin our expose on the Kapoor files. The objective of this series is not only to bring these shady deals to light, but also build awareness of the total apathy towards the loot of our cultural treasures – despite having the best minds in technology it is quite disgusting that we are being taken for a ride – not only is this day light robbery but the sale is also happening right in front of us – making a complete mockery of our regulatory watchdogs.

On one side are our religious moral police who seek new reasons to stall our genuine efforts to photo document our treasures and create a cultural database which will be an effective deterrent for these looters and their bosses. On the other side is the bureaucracy and red tape that fails to put in place effective curbs and instead disturb century old customs by dumping sacred bronzes into a central warehouse – without even ensuring adequate safeguards of tagging and cataloging them.

Back to the said case – We understand that the details of this case have been published on the Idol wing’s official website sometime in 2009. It is really sad that such an important case has been handled in such a fashion – Dancing Sambandar is titled Krishnan, Chandikeshwara is labelled as Murugan and Astra devar as Deepalakshmi ! So much for experts situated right in chennai who could have been called in to assist.

Thankfully there is also a pdf file which has better labels. But the size and quality of these images leave a lot to be desired. Thankfully someone ( French Institute Pondichery) has documented these sometime in the 1970’s that we atleast have something to fight our case !

For the record the authorities in the Institute have not shared any photos or images with me – since i am not attached to any academic institute, nor am i a Research Scholar nor am i doing any Phd studies affiliated to any institute. I have tried explaining that my aim is nobler than mere personal academic gain and my fight is to bring these cultural treasures back home – but for the past two months i am left with the shady / grainy photos on the web only.

Ever since we broke the news of the Vriddachalam Ardhanari loot we have analysed hundreds of photos both in our image database and on the net for clues. We are thankful for google without whom we would never have stumbled on this – the past catalogues of Kapoor’s gallery Art of the Past. We take up the Catalogue September 2009 for our investigation.

Of interest is item number 14.

The gallery has really put up some wonderful images of the bronze on its catalogue.

Now back to the pdf released by the Idol wing – notice the one marked in red at the bottom.

We could at best cull out this from the same for our study.

As you can see its a badly cropped image and tried our best to resize

It is very evident that we having fine bronze of Murugan / Subramanya with his characteristic attributes with us. It is not a Chola bronze but a Vijayanagara period creation ( as expertly advertised in the catalogue).

Are we talking of the same piece – one phtoographed insitu in the temple in Suthamalli and one in USA for the Art of the Past Catalogue.

Though the tradition of bronze crafting did deteriorate post the 12th C CE Chola period in terms of artistic and aesthetic beauty the basics were still the same. So you are still have the same basic process of manufacture via the lost wax and hence each bronze is indeed unique. I would like to bring your attention to some unique aspects of this particular work – the fashioning of the hands and in particular the way the thumb is fashioned is rather crude but comes to our rescue.

Moving to the ornamentation – the ear ornaments are pretty unique as well as the medallion on the chest.

Thus even with these low resolution images it is quite easy to prove the loot. The larger question remains as to where is this bronze currently. Has it been sold to some museum or art dealer or still in the Warehouse of the Art Gallery in America?

There is one more important clue that is going to help us by not being present !! Yes, there is a reason why the looters removed the deity from its base pedestal.

We shall see why and many more startling facts and revelations in the coming posts. 2 down – 26 more to go !!

Big Temple Painting – Why they are not Sri RajaRaja and Karuvurar

The controversy over the identity of the two people in this famed Chola painting probably overshadows the Big Temple Vimana’s Shadowless myth.

It is true that many great scholars did identify them as to be the Great Emperor and his teacher, but recent arguments do offer considerable evidence that to the contrary. This post is to line up these arguments and present them in a coherent manner as well as offer some possible evidences to the identity of the two.

1. First and foremost: The Emperor waited 15 years before taking on the crown from 969 to 985 CE. The Big temple was completed in 1010 CE, which is known to us from the inscription which states the Emperor donated Gold for making the alloy for the Top Kalasam / Finial on the 275th day of his 25th year of reign. a simple math gives us 985 + 25 to be 1010 CE. The last inscriptions of the Emperor is from his 29th year of reign ie. 1014 CE. So at the time when the paintings were done he must have been in his advanced years and not the strapping youth as seen in this painting.

Further more, inside the same painted gallery of the vestibule in the big temple, we have his portraits in the other panels, showing him as middle aged and with a majestic beard – when he is shown worshiping in Chidambaram standing and seated worshiping the very peruvudayar in tanjore.

2. The second important point to notice and to me the post important is the very structure of a royal portraiture. In the two panels where we have the great Emperor, no other person is depicted larger than him, except the Lord ofcourse.

I think most of the scholars erred maybe because so little was known of the overall smaller panels and we are to thank ASI, Sri. Sriraman Sir, Artist Sri Chandra Sir for the line drawings and Sri Thyagu for the brilliant photography – the two books added invaluable wealth of material to what we know of the famed paintings – One by the Tanjore Tamil University and the more recent one by ASI authored by Sri Sriraman.

3. Now back to the same wall but from a longer perspective. You can see that this is not a central panel ( as compared to the other two portraits of the Emperor where he is at the center of the panel along with the Lord), and there are two more people painted above them and they are proportionally larger than these two.

Obviously you would not want to paint some other mortal above the Emperor and in a larger size than him.

4. So if these are not the Emperor and his Guru, who can they be. On that subject a very interesting puzzle is the Guru’s sacred thread – if it is that. He is shown wearing it over his right shoulder which is very uncommon and usually practised when one does the funeral rites for the departed.

So there is a possibility that it can be perceived to be the Emperor’s son Rajendra with his Guru on his father’s …But then this is on the outer walls of the Sanctum and very very negligible chance for such a portrayal. It can be argued that it is just a cloth ( though vastra yagnopavithams are in vogue during that period).

5. If these are not them, who can it depict. There is an interesting sculpture in the Tanjore Palace Museum which bear a remarkable resemblance to the odd couple. They are Narada and Chitrasena.

Lets try to mix and match

6. Another possible identification comes from studying the famed Sundarar ascending to heaven panel.

Focus on the top left ( as you view it) of the painting

A host of celestials have assembled to view the divine spectacle and there is a particular row which we need to analyse.

Clearer in the line drawing

These are the Dvadasa Adityas, Ekadasa Rudras

Check the two people who are on the extreme left of them.

So, as per above since they form part of the welcome party when Sundarar ascended to the heavens along with Cherman Perumal, an event that happened well before the Emperor’s times – the two cannot be him and Saint Karuvurar.

Images Courtesy: Sri Gokul Seshadri, Sri Thyagu, Sri Sriraman, Sri Chandru and Hindu archives.

When the Pencil Jammers went to the Museum

I have been to museums quite often – right from my school days and seeing all those beautiful exhibits left me feeling low and not high. Yes, instead of just marching past, there was always an inner urge – a craving to put my abilities to the test. But my limited time was spent chasing too many leads and art fell away somewhere enroute but the craving still remains and like the proverbial last leaf – i still have a few canvases waiting for my masterpiece !

Maybe that is why i try and beseech those endowed with that talent and pester them to do by bidding !! Murali has been one such artist – whom i have pestered on and on and he has obliged more often than not. But then imagine a whole group of such talented artist descending upon a museum – that too the famed bronze gallery in chennai !!

They are the “Chennai Weekend Artists”

Here are some of their output…..at first i thought i would post the sculpture photos along with the sketches but then decided to just showcase just their art !!

Mr Balaji

Mr. Ganapathy Subramaniam

Mr. Karmuhilan Chellakkannu

Mr. Muralidharan Alagar

Ms. Nithya

Mr. Subhash Rao

Ms. Anbuselvi

I hope many more such efforts are encouraged especially among school children instead of just parading them infront of the exhibits and CWA take up such collaborative sessions with schools and colleges. It will help to spread awareness about our great heritage while ecouraging young artists by giving them interesting choice of subjects instead of just two hills with the sun rising in between !!

For those interested to know more about the CWA:

CWA is a group of artists and art enthusiasts who sketch on location in and around Chennai during weekends. CWA meets every Sunday at a location of interest. Any media is encouraged, though we mostly tend to focus on traditional methods. CWA comprises people from all walks and stages of life. only thing that unites is a passion to draw, paint and appreciate art. We share our knowledge through regular “Mini talks”, which are short focused and well researched practical how-to’s on the various facets of art. All are welcome to join. We use the below groups to share information about upcoming events, photos, reports and works by members.
CWA is a not for profit group.

Operates at

Group mail: [email protected]

Report for Museum meeting:

Vriddachalam to Australia – Ardhanariswara’s murky details

There are some sculptures that imprint themselves into your memory – this androgyne was one such. From the moment i chanced on the picture of him/her i could never take my eyes of the beauty of this sculpture.

I had used it to show the refinement of the Ardhanari image post – little did I realise then that the beauty had been robbed !!

Readers must have read the post on the Sivapuram Somaskanda and it was with great interest that i read today’s Hindu article of the Australia Nataraja. Interestingly there was a mention of the site Chasing Aphrodite in the article as source for the images. One led to another and the detailed article and the Ardhanari begun to haunt me – vaguely familiar !!

It is quite interesting that the Museum records show the following proofs for its Provenance

Quote: Ardhanarishvara

In 2004, the Gallery purchased this Chola-period sculpture from Kapoor for more than $300,000. The 44-inch stone figure represents Ardhanarishvara, the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati. It comes from Tamil Nadu, home to some 2500 important temples to Shiva. The image of Ardhanarishvara was likely in a niche on an external wall.

Kapoor provided two documents with the sculpture.

One is a receipt dated 1970, purportedly from Uttam Singh and Sons, the Delhi “copper and brass palace” that sold the sculpture to a private collector.

The second document purports to be a 2003 “Letter of Provenance” on letterhead from Art of the Past, Kapoor’s Madison Ave. gallery. It is signed by “Raj Mehgoub,” who claims to be the wife of a diplomat who lived in Delhi from 1968 to 1971.”

I ran back to my collections to trace the source of my reference.

Early Cola Architecture and Sculpture
; 866-1014 A.D.
Douglas E. Barrett – Published in 1974 !! intact in its Kosta in the temple !

and there in his plates is the same Kosta sculpture.

It is pretty clear even for a layman from the slab’s outline and the detailing in the sculpture as to the origin. I hope the authorities would be able to get their act together now and work towards bringing this invaluable treasure back to the Temple.

Treasures of Cham (vietnam) sculpture – part 2 – Ravana

Ever since i visited the Ho Chi Minh Museum and got bitten and smitten by the beauty of Cham art – the ruins of MySon ( in central vietnam) and the Danang Museum of Cham sculpture had steadily crept up to the top of the charts of my bucket list. The checkbox got ticked off recently and what a weekend it turned out to be.

Wanting to beat the heat and the tourists (!!) and hoping to catch the early rays of the Sun amidst the sacred valley of My Son – kept the alarm for 4.30 AM start ( stayed at Hoi An instead of Danang – which is closer to My Son) – Sadly being peak summer the sun was already up by the time we arrived at the beautifully manicured lawns of the newly opened site museum, just before the short drive up the hills. Vehicles are not allowed nearer to the ruins and a steady 5 min walk gets you the first look.

But you will have to wait a bit longer for a detailed post on MySon persay as i am still reading and classifying my images. However, as an interesting start I choose this fanstastic Tymphanum which sadly has been left on the floor of one of the standing towers of MySon – i think it will be moved shortly down to the site Museum. At first glance am not sure how many visitors would understand the panel ( no labels as well).

Yes, it is a very intricately carved Ravana Anugraha murthy – should be dated to the 10th C CE i think. Surprisingly there is not much literature available on this particular beauty. A chance search made available this reference though and what a reference it turned out to be

Champa and the Archaeology of Mỹ Sơn (Vietnam)

The label in the book reads as : Tympanum depicting Ravana shaking Mt. Kailash. Recovered at My Son. Present location unknown ( photograph Musee Guimet Archive, undated)

Thanks to our gifted artist Muralidharan – he agreed to sketch it for better study. Clearly the panel has suffered further damage with the lower torso of ravana completely damaged as it stands now !.

It is interesting to note that Ganesha is seen prominently along with Nandhi in the panel. Remember the one we discussed earlier from Cambodia also has Ganesha seated.

There are many unique things in this panel – one of course is the depiction of a Vimana / tower / temple – classically modeled. There is a large elephant below it and also what seems like a forest complete with animals inside caves.

The beauty of this panel is in the portryal of Ravana’s massive arms – interestingly they seem to be trying to juxtapose two different poses for his legs – thereby coming with three legs.

That Ravana is facing into the panel takes up the difficulty quotient and there is a tendency to compare it with the panel in Ellora

But the masterstroke here is how the sculptor has chosen to depict the heads of Ravana.

Is a stunning solution to a complex problem one which i feel even the master Pallava sculptors of Rajasimha Pallava could not conquer in the Mallai Olakkaneshwara Panel.

Hats off to the master sculptors of Cham for creating this dynamic beauty. Just as i was to complete the post, Murali sends across his completed sketch or should i say masterpiece ! Art lives on.

In search of the Snake Earring

It is always a thrill to match objects – we had such a thrill the last time we went in search of a ring. We continue on that path once again but this time is an ear ring ! Not any ordinary ear ring – but a snake earring !!

We had absolutely no clue of what it was when Raman Sir showed it to us. First question was if it were some amulet ! Even when he told us that it was an ear ring we were apprehensive. Even still when he told us that these were very much prevalent in Tamil Nadu right upto the 19th C we were not really sure. It looked too complex but then when we started comparing these with the modern day version of the heavy ( looks heavy but is mostly hollow – plated) earrings worn on dis intended earlobes by the village folk – could not but imagine at these the root word of the ear ring could be the same – Pambadam ( Paambu – snake) !

He proceeded to show us the same design in multiple materials – silver and copper.

Some googling helped us to land on this interesting article “Snake earrings of India” There the author had given a name to it – Nagavadura.

Further searches led us to sites assigned dates in the 19th C to the specimens.


Yet, despite multiple searches we have not been able to photograph of an actual person wearing this beautiful ornament. Raman sir made our task easier by letting us know that there exists a Paavai vilakku ( Deepa Lakshmi) in a popular temple with the same Ornament. So we had our antennas up when we visited the shrine and there she was. However, we couldn’t take obtain good photographs then.

Luckily our friend Mr. Veeren managed to source them thanks to mr. Vasanth Kathirvel (of Pondicherry.) – a big thank you to both of you. ( you will know why after seeing the photos next !!)

Such a masterly bronze – dating to the 17th – 18th C. Beautiful ornamentation and there is our Nagavadura.

I do hope some modern day jewellery designer works on this design but maybe he needs to find a way for it to be worn on a normal ear !!