Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 7- can we afford to be Lax

Can we afford to be Lax in our followup of bringing back our cultural treasures ? It is a question which we posed to our readers some months back in this post….

Sadly the trend seems to be continue in current ” progress” on the Kapoor story. We find a detailed account with varying dates , numbers given in the Idol wing’s website with the foot note reading as under:

Present Stage of the Case :

There were two temple burglaries in Sripuranthan Village and Suthamally Village during 2006 and 2008 which 28 antique idols of Hindu Deities of immeasurable value were stolen and subsequently smuggled out of India and illegally exported to USA”

Compare the same to the case registered

“It was during interrogation of those persons, it transpired that 18 Antique Metallic idols were stolen from Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple at Suthamalli village by the three of them”…..” theft of eight idols in an another Sivan Temple at Sri Puranthan Village in Ariyalur District”

“…….18 Antique metallic idols from Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple at Suthamalli village. A Non Bailable Warrant was issued to the petitioner and for recovery of stolen idols. Blue notices were sent for extradition of the petitioner to CBI, Interpol, New Delhi. It was further found that the same gang was also involved in the theft of eight Antique metallic idols stolen from Sri Pragdeeswarar Temple at Sri Purandan village in Ariyalur District. They were also exported to the U.S.”

So the case files reference to 18+8 = 26 bronzes.

Another reference mentions only 18

“On 13.04.2008, in a famous temple viz., M/s.Arulmigu Sundareswarar and Varadharaja Perumal Thirukovil, Suthamalli Village, Udayarpalayam Taluk, Ariyalur District, as many as 18 idols, made of panchalohas were stolen away.”

While the most glaring anomaly is in the number of bronzes stolen there seems no consenus on the actual year they were stolen and illegally exported out of India. To make matters worse the Idol wing’s most important tool – ie the release of the photographs in such poor quality and most irresponsible manner in which they affixed erroneous names to the exhibits : Real howlers like Deepalakshmi ( lady with the lamp!!) for an Amman bronze, Sampanthar for Manikkavasagar and Krishnan for Sambandar. The second set of photos have equally ridiculous labeling : Deepalakshmi for Astradevar, Murugan for Chandikeshwara.

The Pdf published in the same site thankfully makes a few corrections but is still wrong in many. However it is important to note that the Chandikeshwara shown in the website ( titled Murugan) is absent in the pdf and now has a proper subramanya. So let us count.

8 listed under Suthamalli and 8 listed ( count Nataraja + uma as 2) under Sripuranthan. The photo of Chandikeshwara seems to match the set from Suthamalli. So overall we have images only for 17 bronzes.

We have already published information on the pdf file and the two images marked in Green have been identified with bronzes currently exhibited in two major museums. This information has already been passed on to the authorities and hopefully they will act on them. It is important to mention that they seem to have acquired them as early as in 2006.

It is pertinent to mention that The Australian has just published a list of 21 items acquired from Subash Kapoor that need to checked. The most interesting is this masterpiece Sambandar.

We do not have a visual match for it from any of the published bronzes from the Idol wing ( as obviously they wrongly labelled dancing Sambandar as narthana Krishnar and then Manikkavasagar as Sampanthar !!).

We understand the the IFP has in its archives atleast some (more) of the photos from both the temples and it is sad to see that a complete itinerary of the assets have not been tallied and presented to the courts yet.

It is pertinent that the Idol wing and other authorities show more interest in solving this case in entirety and not just do lip service Galleries and Museums who have bought these stolen items have to shown proof to make them return these artifacts.

for example, below are some bronzes which are yet to be identified by us but published in the catalogues of Art of the Past.

Dancing Krishna / Navaneetha Krishna – Catalogue September 2008

The styling of this Krishna is contemporary the Sambanthar from Australia.

Skanda – Chola – Catalogue September 2008

This is a very important chola subramanya ( distinct from the previous one we posted)

Ganesha – Chola – Catalogue September 2009

It is important to notice that the base has been removed from this bronze. We have already seen that the bronzes from Suthamalli have inscribed bases reading ” Suthavalli” being found in both the Natarja and Uma pedestals. Were all the bronzes similarly inscribed and is it the reason why they had their bases removed? If so is this bronze part of the stolen yet unlisted one from Suthamalli ? Further we have information that the IFP has one bronze listed as Ganapthi under their roll number 02235. Will the authorities make the effort to check this?

Uma – Chola Catalogue September 2011

Classical Chola beauty. We hope this is part of the sculptures covered in the latest twist from America side.

Nataraja – Chola Catalogue March 2011.

Fantastic chola Nataraja and not matching any of the bronzes published by the Idol wing. It is pertinent to point out that the IFP has two bronze Nataraja’s listed in their archives under roll number 11207 from Sripuranthan. Was there a second Nataraja stolen from the same temple?

We have also had a kind volunteer submit paper cuttings of Art of Past advertisements in Art of Asia volumes and they have been invaluable in ascertaining provenance for ( yet unreported) findings. However, there are a few more interesting bronzes from those which we are putting in public domain for people to help report.

Somaskanda- Chola

This is different from the published Somaskanda from suthamalli – photo from the Idol wing which is still to be traced.

Jaina MahaYaksha – Chola

Very rare to see a Jaina bronze but sculpted in classic Chola style.

Parvathi – late Chola ?

We hope the above will help unravel more and spur the authorities to do a more through job

The saint with Tiger Paws

Today we are going to see a very special pillar from the tanjore big temple. Who is this man depicted? Do you notice anything unusual ? Well the topic of this post does give it away !!

Its special because it portrays a very special person, who was so great a devote that the most sacred of towns is named after him – yes, we are talking of Puli Kaal Muni in tamil – puli ( tiger), Kaal ( legs), Muni ( saint) or Vyagrapadhar in sanskrit.

He was one of the earliest devotees of Lord Shiva of Thillai ( Chidambaram) which was called from time immemorial as Puliyur or Perumpatrup puliyur ( perum – great, patru – devotion – puli – tiger, ur – city or town)

The legend goes that the great saint, would go early into the forest to collect the choicest of flowers to offer the Lord of Dance. But however early he went, the bees and ants would still get to the blossoms, so he went even earlier – even before the sun rose to find the flowers before the insects. This gave him problems as the dew drops wouldn’t have evaporated yet and he found the branches slippery.

So great was his devotion and his intent to get the best for his Lord, that he prayed to the Lord to endow him tiger paws, so that he could climb the trees effortless – and the Lord obliged. With great delight, he went on to collect the flowers before the first rays of dawn, beating the insects to the race to find the most beautiful and aromatic flowers, that so delighted his Lord. There are many references to him in literature ( pl see tamil portion of this post to read the references)

Now see him beautifully sculpted in the pillars of the big temple, down to the last detail imbibed into the pillar.

From Tamil Nadu to Cambodia – Karaikkal Ammai

This amazing sculpture is from Khao Preah Vihear, Cambodia. We have already seen a few amazing sculptures from this, today we are seeing a very unique lintel freeze of Shiva as Nataraja. From a distance you can see the lovely depiction of shiva with his ten hands, creating a feel of the cosmic dance.

As we explore more, under him, we see a beautiful depiction of Vishnu as Sesha sayana – reclining of his seprent anantha, with his consort lakshmi lovingly massaging his feet ( badly damaged though). You can also see brahma seated on his lotus pedestal that emerges from Vishnu’s navel. To their right are two cute parrots, and on top of them a mythical beast and a rider. To their right we see two monkeys?

Thought of stopping at this, but as we look closer at the dancing Shiva, we see two spectators ardently enjoying his dance, though their heads have broken off – the statue maybe headless but not clueless, the body parts of the person on to his right – show that its a lady. Now our task becomes is simple, how many ladies have been granted the privilege of watching shiva dance – it could only be the famous Karaikkal ammaiyar. We have some magnificent bronzes from the cholas. Leaves us in no doubt as to who is depicted. We will see the legend of this great devotee in a coming post, but she did ask for her beauty to be taken away by the lord. Maybe this was part of the disfigurement. She is often called as the ghost lady.

We will see in another post, the detailed life history of the great lady and why she got the ghost form

But how did such a very south Indian character ( sadly even many tamils would not be able to remember her) reach Cambodia. Could it be the handiwork of our craftsmen, chances seem remote as the facial features of these sculptors are more south east asian than indian. Maybe they were trained under the same canons of art or the religious scriptures, verses, literature traveled that far.

images courtesy

The Dance of Shiva, in stone

The greatness of the Chola sculptor seems to have brought the Lord of Dance to be confined into the niches of his creation. This magnificent creation in stone in the Tanjore Big Temple…is a splendid work of the artist on his favorite subject…if it was the Shiva Gangadhara or Somaskanda for the Pallava sculpture it was the Nataraja for the Chola artist.

See how the swirling nature of Shiva’s cosmic dance is brought into the composition…the serpent which garlands Shiva has been upset by the speed of the dance movement and it has slipped to his wrist, desperately clinging on to his beloved. The waist cloth too is not spared…its flowing movement beautifully depicts the lords twirling dance… the grace of the lifted feet, the strength of his other leg, the beauty of his upper torso, combined with the divine benevolence of his face…its difficult to put the emotion into words….you are truly spell bound.


“How many various dances of Shiva are known to His worshipers”, says Ananda Coomaraswamy, “I cannot say. No doubt the root idea behind all of these dances is more or less one and the same, the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy.” Continues Coomaraswamy, “Whatever the origins of Shiva’s dance, it became in time the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of.”

Spontaneous Joy, Divine Bliss

There are many different dance poses and forms of shiva and predominantly people associate his dance with destruction. Its very wrong for his dance is the dance of creation. I present to you this truly amazing confluence of man’ art and divine grace…a dancing shiva from Ellora

Amidst all the destruction around it, you can still see the amazing poise, grace …of an exuberance of life, of spontaneous joy…divine bliss. This is the essence of this sculpture…where the pinnacle of human art is towering, almost reaching the borders of divine creation. The sculptor couldn’t maybe infuse live into the creation, but we can surely say that he stopped just short of that…..truly beauty beyond compare ….

The delicate coils of snake, in stone

We had earlier seen the dance of shiva in many forms and how the cobra is unsettled by the speed of his twirling dance…here you see a different pose… 719 Elephanta Nataraja…the snake has thrown in coils around shiva’s spear and is trying to cross over to his neck…what a wonderful depiction ….mimicking how a snake would swing from one branch to another…( you can see the Lord of creation …the four headed Brahma…just above the snake seated on a lotus pedestal) 722729 What graceful postures of shiva…despite all the ruins and amputation…the grace and calmness in his face is radiant…his many arms kind of portray his fast dance moves….his body twisted in the classic tribanga ….three flexions across the axis so masterly used by the sculptor… 727 sadly these amazing sculptures were not understood or seen in the right perspective and used for target practise by invading Portuguese… 725731