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.

Sivapuram Saga – the untold story – Part 3

Today the hand of a master forger provides us a vital clue – and we hope the Norton Simon Museum will try help to disclose or close this case.

As we have seen in the earlier parts – part 1 and part 2 of this series, how two of the looted Sivapuram bronzes landed in the Norton Simon Museum – one was returned after much debate and fanfare while the other still remains in the Museum. That still leaves 4 more to be traced, for the original Indian police case file lists “Thirugnanasambandar, Pillaiar and two Amman” as missing.

The case files further reveal that “The trustees of the temple wanted to repair the idols and this work was entrusted to Ramasamy Sthapathy of Kumbakonam in the year June 1954. In the year 1956 Thilakar of Kuttalam and his brother Doss induced Ramasamy Sthapathy to part with the original Natarajar and 5 other idols and to substitute the same with fake idols. “

Sadly the 1963 book by P. R. Srinivasan doesn’t carry any of the photographs of the two Amman bronzes.

However, thanks to our research we now have the French Institute in Pondicherry archive when they visited the temple on 15th June 1956 and followed up with a visit on 16th Nov 1957. The fake Somaskanda which we featured part 2 of the expose, gave us a vital clue – the master forger had definitely tried his best to mirror the original.

So we did a quick study of the other bronzes from the Sivapuram study by the IFP and landed on this Tani amman. To remind our readers – by the time the IFP landed in Sivapuram the switch was already made and they photographed only the fakes !

A comparison of the online archive of the Norton Simon Museum led us to this exhibit

Parvati, c. 1000
India: Tamil Nadu, 975-1025
32-1/2 in. (82.6 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

It is important to see the year of purchase – 1972, is the same year the Nataraja and the Somaskanda came to the Museum.

A side by side comparison reveals the handiwork of the faker – the overall resemblance is there for anyone to see.

The thief maybe in his overconfidence did not go into the minutest of details – if you know how a bronze is cast, you will understand why – its almost impossible to make a perfect copy – especially in the ornamentation and more so to get the actual weathering patterns.

We agree that this is not conclusive proof but given that the Nataraja and the Somaskanda have set a irrefutable pattern – it is now upto the Museum to come clear on this.

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 15- clue from a 1916 book reveals..

With the HR&CE and temple authorities continuing to be lax in their documentation, this expose shows again the importance of photo documenting our temple treasures.

Little did I realise that this innocuous looking book held within itself a vital clue.

South-indian images of gods and goddesses (1916)

available for free download here

page 109 in the book ( 129 in the pdf) has this photograph of a Somaskanda

The label simply states Somaskanda ( metal), sivankudal

This is a very unique somaskanda wherein the Siva and Uma have been cast seperately with indivudual pedestals. For those who know about bronze casting, the difficulty of such an attempt is evident – having to match the pedestals not only for height but also for the runner designs.

Thankfully this provides us some vital clues in identifying this bronze, which is currently in the Asian Civilisations Museum being purchased in the year 2000.

Let us compare the two

It is without doubt the same bronze. Further our enquiries have revealed that the temple has no other bronze currently – ie has lost all its treasures. The Book sadly has no other bronzes listed from this temple and from our checking no other book has any references to this temple. It is sadly an ASI protected site with no documentation.

Now, its up to the authorities to investigate this and establish the chain. But if this is confirmed it pushes the string of robberies to pre 2000 and many more temple bronzes and sculptures sold by the dealer into the ambit of “shady” dealings.

How the Kanchipuram Kailasantha Gauri’s past was erased and she was auctioned for a million dollars

A large and important bronze figure of Parvati

Is how the auction house describes her. Her base price was set for $800,000 – $1,200,000 and she was auctioned for $ 963,750

There is video link describing her and assigning a 11th Century date for her.

Chola bronzes of this height /size and beauty are comparable to the great bronzes just post the Sembian Madevi era and closer to Sri Raja Raja and Rajendra period.
The provenance and buyer information is scarce –

Collection of Ariane Dandois, London, acquired in Geneva, 16 March 1977


C. Vogel, “Global Treasure Trove,” New York Times Magazine, 1 March 1987, pp. 62-66

A casual check reveals nothing about the said bronze in the quoted magazine article.

It would be interesting for readers to read more about the previous owner but that is not our objective.

Now comes the interesting part.

In 1944 there is this interesting article titled

A Southern Bronze

One of such pieces is Gauri from the Kailasanath temple, Conjeeveram, now in the collection of Ramgopal, the well-known dancer.

Both tradition and stylistic features distinguish it as an early Chola work of probably the 10th century

Gauri is the Gracious Mother of the Universe, the Better-half of Siva, half-female half-male (Ardha-nariswara). In love and in devotion unexcelled even among the gods, She is the supreme arche-type of conjugal felicity. When love’s darts bruise young maidens’ hearts, their secret prayers are turned to her. It is she who protects them from every shoal and storm on the unchartered sea of married life. Just as Siva as Nata-raja symbolises the cosmic law of rhythm, Parvati in her aspect as Gauri symbolises the universal and eternal female instinct of yearning devotion, aspiration and concern for the male. Isn’t this figure instinct with that poignant feeling which makes the contemplation of beauty a haunting delight?

On first look they look similar, lets analyse them

There is a problem in the mentioned dimensions.

The 1944 article mentions ” Exclusive of the pedestal which is 9 inches, the figure is 26 inches in height” whereas the auction house measures it as ” 33 1/8 in. (84.2 cm.) high ” – however, the stylistic identifications match to a T.

It is pertinent to note that the Great Chola ruler Raja Raja visited Kanchi Kailasantha temple and was awe struck by it and some consider it to be his inspiration for building the Tanjore Bridhadeshwara temple. A further study of the Chola inscriptions could reveal if this bronze is indeed his gift.

This is obviously the same bronze from the famed Kailasantha temple of Kanchi which somehow landed up with famous dancer Sri Ram Gopal OBE and was with him atleast till 1944.

He passed away in UK in 2003.

How the Gauri went out of India, was sold in Geneva and acquired by the prev owner should be easily available to the auction house. A simple google search reveals the 1944 article and photos. . Considering the current cloud over Chola bronzes, am sure there was enough due deligence done and provenances verified to accord this Bronze ” A large and important bronze figure of Parvati” Tag. If so why was her past erased?

Kapoor Files- Art of the Loot Part 8- He is in Australia while She is in America

It has been quite sometime since the world was made aware of the theft of the bronzes and the involvement of accused Subash Kapoor and the gallery Art of the Past. The proverbial tip of the iceberg was this Nataraja and thanks mainly to efforts of blessed souls across the world.. While there has been nothing new that has come up on this case from the authorities and same rhetoric from the gallery.…we now have further evidence to show that his consort is languishing in America.

Here is the file photograph of them together as a couple in their abode in Sripuranthan.

We had earlier shown the proof on the Nataraja and now thanks to a generous reader we have accessed to the Art of the Past galleries 2008 catalogue which reveals shockingly indepth details of the bronze including a flowery writeup. You cannot but notice that the residual marks on her face and cheeks explicitly imply that she was a bronze under continuous worship !!

A simple comparison reveals that both are the same

This is the same bronze that was displayed when America customs displayed their catch in the news conference post the raids on the Art of Past gallery warehouse.

This should be more than adequate proof to seek the return of this bronze back to India ! and hopefully reunite the divine couple.

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

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.

Who are these two lil ones?

The internet is a definite boon for armchair researchers like me !! Quite often we do stumble on some unique puzzles in our quest to decipher the work of the ancients. One such task was to recreate the lost paintings of the Kanchi Kailasanatha temple.

We ran into quite a difficulty when we had to make out the minor forms especially the two figures found below the divine couple.

We wanted to be as true as possible to the original – but it was interesting to note that these two ganas – a male and a female dwarfs were in the scene at the first instance.

Possibly the first instance of a lady dwarf gana – an assistant to Parvati maybe?

Their iconographic significance was soon lost or so we thought, until Arvind shared this album of his capture of the beauties of Lalgudi

Though our main pursuit was in the narrative panels in the miniatures, there was one particular relief – dimly lit which had vague familiarity in it.

It was a relief of the divine parents albiet sans the skanda seated in the familiar posture – with a kneeling devotee on the right, two more on the top right and two more top left. Can you spot any attributes to assign them as Brahma n vishnu? Not clear. But the familiarity scene was played out at the bottom of the throne.

it would be difficult to date this panel as it does not fall in the early chola 9th-10th C CE scheme of narrative story boards. However, it is interesting that the sculptor chose to sculpt this dwarf couple in the same layout and postures.