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 !!

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 !!

A bedecked Bronze – Ornamentation study

Looking at the sky rocketing price of gold one might think that for once this precious yellow metal might at last follow the principles of Economics ! but then postulates come with their own exceptions and for ages this metal has defied all ! So best is to leave its current behavior to those who possess means to posses it and for those lesser mortal restrict to studying its most desirable form – Ornaments.

Kandikai, Sarappali, Savadi, Pulippal Tali, tolmalai, vagu malai, tolvalai, Kataka valai the list continues – thanks to Sri Ganapathi Stapathi’s book Indian Sculpture and Iconography, try to figure out what they are!

Thanks to Shashwath for managing to capture this beautiful Ardhanari closeup for our study.

Try and Identify these now.

Let me make it easier for you

The Kandikai is easy to identify – being the shortest – a rope like necklace with a large bead at the centre and small beads on its either sides.

The Sarappali is also easy – most elaborate, thick with pearls on the top and leaf motif on the bottom.

The Pulippal Tali is simple – a tiger tooth worn on a slender chain. It is interesting to note that though this ornament can be worn by both male and female , in this Ardhanari form the artist has chosen to show the differentiation in this alone – the male side has the Pulippal Tali while it extends as a simpler Savadi on the female side. The Savadi being a slightly longer chain than the Kandikai interlaced with repeating floral motifs along its length.

There is a beautiful flourish on the shoulder – the Vagumalai which is a wavy ornament slung over the shoulder in front, while a similar flourish along the sides is the Tollmalai

The Yagnopavitham is multi stranded and the scared knot – the Brahma Mudichu is stylistically shown.

The lower torso and elbows also sport ornaments.

The stylistic Keyyura / Tollvalai on the elbow is brilliantly set off by another ornament – the Kataka valai. The slender curves of the waist are highlighted by the ornamental belt – Udara Bandam.

The Yagnopavitha would in early Pallava period split into 3 strands – the shorter Uras Sutram, the central Yagnopavitham and a longer Sthana sutram. The Sthana Sutram is missing in this Chola creation.

Let me make it easier for you. Check the 3 in this rare Kongu Bronze Vishnu.

Maybe this will give fresh ideas to our Jewellers for a truly Antique Jewellery range !!

How do you define the essence of Bhakti – in bronze !

Many before and many henceforth will attempt to describe the dancing form of Shiva – Nataraja. The concept of his dance has inspired many and many more are drawn to it by the craft of the master artists who immortalised the form, as they captured his swirling movement in solid mediums – be it stone or metal.

Today, we see but a sample of the masterly craft, of portraying emotions that will take reels of print to even to try to describe.

Thanks to arvind’s expert captures, we see the Lord of Dance, in all his finery, not in a Museum Showcase but as an object of worship. The infinite grace of the form, the power of the pose, the soothing gesture of the hands, bring a sublime calmness as your mind seeks out his gaze.

As you ponder on the manifest and the unmanifest, you loose track of time, before you realise that you are not alone. His consort Sivagami too stands there, awe struck, by her beloved’s pose.

The appreciative smile pushing up the cheek and the pride swelling in her chest, she stands in all her feminine charm.

That is not all, there is one more person in the composition.

Karaikkaal Ammaiyaar

We have seen many of her forms before in stone
, there are also a few museum exhibits of hers.

courtesy: From the Internet

The above bronzes while doing justice to the life story, lack a crucial ingredient. What made her unique was her Bakthi.

Bhakti or True devotion is more than just a state of mind, for it transcends existence. The primordial urge of any creation is to survive, not just to exist but to procreate. leave behind a progeny or maybe just make a ` dent’ in the universe. However, very few attain a state a state of total surrender to the supreme, where you stop seeking divine support to survive, to heal, to cure or just material richness or well being but instead submit in soul, spirit and beyond to become one with the supreme. Such a state of mind is so difficult to describe in words, the emotion of sheer bliss as you commune with the omnipotent. We can maybe comprehend the greatness of Karaikkal ammai with a ref from her 12th Tirumurai which condenses the essence of her bhakti in a stanza.

” I wish for the immortality of my love of you, for I do not wish for rebirth, however, if i were reborn, I want to be born again as your devotee, never forgetting you, and above all those wishes i pray for this wish – i want to see you dance to my joyful singing and that i want to witness seated at your beloved feet”

Now, take a look at the bronze.

The greatness of the craftsman to be able to capture the essence of that very emotion, of her going into rapture seeing her Lord Dance, the way her hands hold the cymbals – keeping beat while at the same time showing the appreciation, the uplifted face and the extended neck – showing her yearning, the face, the slightly flared nostrils showing the spontaneous outburst of emotion and the eyes, seemingly acknowledging the fulfillment of her wish.

That is Bhakti for you.

The embracing couple

It was pouring heavily and i was not sure of where I was headed. The London bus driver’s knowledge of Museums did not seem to earn them much credits or they were eager to get rid of a rotund man carrying a weird package slung over his shoulders – yeah, was lugging a newly bought English willow cricket bat and thank God this was before all the unsavory incidents in London. But still, a few roads seemed to be blocked for repairs ( yeah in London too) and was misdirected twice before making up my mind of switch on my handphone’s GPS and checking the route. Unfortunately it too didn’t pick the difference between the British Museum ( where i was headed to) and the Museum of London. After soaking in the rain and seeing the glorious history of London, managed to get the right directions and headed towards the British Museum.

Finally landed at the imposing facade of the British Museum and was immediately stopped by the guards – thanks to my special attribute ! They were really amused for in their long service they had seen many a weird object being brought along but this was a first – a cricket bat to a museum ! That said the tryst with the bat and the Museum security continued right through the day. Not that i was helping it – trying to peer behind exhibits and trying different angles to try and capture the grace of bronzes from behind glass. But let me explain.

This particular exhibit had me all excited

The name plate gave it a 11th C CE date and called it ” the marriage of Shiva & Parvathi” – technically a Kalyanasundara Murthy. However, we have seen the bronze from the same period in the previous post and its easy to note the striking stylistic differences.

For starters the size of this bronze is about 1/3 rd of the tanjore bronze, the features are more rounded. i wish we could get a good portrait of the famed Pallava period bronzes of Vadakkalathur to compare. I am no expert on dating bronzes, but to me the features are not Chola and definitely not this late into Chola. The aspects of Parvathi as a young maiden are so realistically carved and the suppleness in the legs and arms of both of them indicate a strong 9th C CE date for this bronze.

The interesting feature to note is the pendant / chain worn by Parvathi. We have not seen this before and the characteristic absence of the panigrahanam pose narrows done the identification to Alingana murthy ( the embrace).

I was advised very early in my journey to understand Bronzes to focus not only on the front but also on the rear. I wish all galleries and Museums would exhibit bronzes separately allowing the viewers to admire them with a 360 degree view. It was not easy getting behind this particular exhibit.

But it was worth the effort ( and the trouble – as i accidentally leaned on the glass and caused the alarm to trip and another lengthy explanatory note on why i was mimicking a contortion artist)

…for it was not a single embrace, but a double embrace – double Alingana and to imagine this a 1000 years ago, the kind of intimacy that the divine couple are shown to be sharing and the contemporary appeal of the same, left me simply stunned.

A miniature mirrors a Bronze – Gangaikonda Cholapuram

It was a very rainy day when we reached Gangai Konda Cholapuram. Fortunately the rain stopped giving us a brief window to complete our tasks on the outside. The rain swept temple gleaned in all her pristine glory as we entered her.

As usual we were subjected to some rants by the ‘ authorities’ on cameras and photography, and we put forward the same arguments that any ASI site – Photography is allowed and free of charge – except for the Sanctum. ( providing of course you cannot use a tripod – some weird logic of ASI !). We wanted to cover a few miniatures inside the main Vimana but the arguments got us nowhere. We faced the prospect of one more unsuccessful attempt to cover them, when we were shocked to see that there was a big family function happening inside with full videography ! We threatened to bring hell and after much persuasion and promise that we would not shoot the main Sanctum, managed to get our equipment out.

The power went off right on cue just as we took in the sight of the gargantuan door guardians guarding the main sanctum.

How massive are these guys?

do you notice a small black speck in the photo towards the base??

Yeah, its the Cannon lens cover

As we walked past the dynamic duo to the next chamber, a very dimly lit wall showcased a brilliant miniature, quite in contrast to the massiveness of the occupants of the other side.

Sadly, we were clicking blind due to the power outage and the most important area of the relief was missed out. But still we could make out the panel. Apart from a whole host of distinguished rishis, we could spot Brahma officiating a ceremonial gathering.

And on top, was the marriage of the divine parents – Shiva as Kalyanasundara taking the hand of Meenakshi, with Lakshmi and Vishnu giving her away on both sides.

The immediate reaction was the recollection of the splendid Kalyanasundara Bronze which we saw earlier. .

The resemblance is remarkable

The stance and posture of Lakshmi

Vishnu seems to be little more bent forward than the bronze

But the clincher were the shy stance of Meenakshi

and the kati Vasta of Vishnu ( if you notice the way the waist cloth is worn by Vishnu – you see a characteristic U ), which is absent for Shiva.

We saw this in the previous post,

Compare the depiction in the bronze

Two different mediums, each with its complexities – the miniature with its size, yet the sculptor adheres to his Canons !