Friday, 25 December 2015

Mystery of the missing Gods

A man-sized stone warrior guards the doorway, half-sunk in sand. Hundreds of bats whirl overhead, shrieking at the intrusion. Exposed beams, textured by time and mould, add to the musty smell in the air. Cobwebs on prayer lamps enhance the sense of abandonment. The altar is stripped bare, like a frame without a picture: It's a temple without a god. The 1,000-year-old guardian of the temple, Shiva Nataraja, is missing from his abode.

The statue of a Dancing Shiva was bought by the National Gallery of Australia from Subhash Kapoor in 2008 for $5.1 million.
The Lord of Cosmic Dance has travelled 9,000 km to the National Gallery of Art in Canberra, Australia. How did he get there? Ask Subhash Kapoor, 65, a New Delhi-born and New York-based antiquity dealer, considered an art connoisseur as well as one of the biggest idol smugglers in the world.

He sold the Nataraja to NGA for Rs.31 crore in 2008.
Kapoor is suspected of stealing over 150 idols worth $100 million from India. The missing god is at the centre of a curious trial that has just started in a district court in Tamil Nadu.

"Art and antiquity theft is one of the most lucrative crimes," says IPS officer Prateep V. Philip, director general, EOW, in Chennai. "It outbids drug trafficking, arms dealing, and money laundering." The odds of recovering stolen treasures are abysmal, one in ten. But in this case, authorities managed to trace the idols stolen from Sripuranthan and the nearby village of Suthamalli to various museums and galleries across the world.
Six of the 28 gods have already been identified in museums and private collections across the world: Canberra, New South Wales, Chicago, Ohio to Singapore. The Australian government has ordered NGA to remove the Nataraja from display.
The Royal Ontario Museum insists it followed strict internal guidelines when it purchased a Buddhist stupa from Subhash Kapoor, a Manhattan art dealer who has since been charged by the Indian government with trafficking in stolen artifacts.

The stupa — a small stone urn used to house the remains of monks — and the ROM have now become caught up in an international investigation by U.S. immigration and security officials, who are also investigating a large illegal antiquities operation allegedly directed by Kapoor. In 2004, Toronto's ROM paid Kapoor $125,000 for the miniature reliquary, money that came from private donations.
Since 2012, U.S. agents have seized over 2,600 artifacts valued at approximately $150 million from Kapoor's warehouses. And last month, officials with ICE-HSI reclaimed a bronze sculpture of Shiva and Parvati from the David Owsley Museum of Art at Ball State University in Indiana.

The museum had purchased the piece from Kapoor in 2005, but ICE-HSI officials say the idol was "sourced illegally from India under the direction of Subhash Kapoor and smuggled into the United States." The Indian government alleges Kapoor has been trafficking in looted Asian antiquities for years and was part of a network of temple looters operating out of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu police issued a warrant for his arrest, and after he was extradited from Germany In 2012, Kapoor has been in jail in India awaiting trial.