A rare 1,300-year-old stone Durga that disappeared from a small temple in Kashmir at the height of militancy in the mid-1990s has been located at the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart in southern Germany.
Two experts from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) visited the Linden-Museum this May, and the ASI last week submitted several documents to the museum through New Delhi’s embassy in Berlin in order to make India’s claim over the idol “absolutely watertight”, officials said.
The museum has, however, said that “a lot of research” needs to be done before the “rightful owner” of the Durga is identified.
Officials said the 8th century idol was stolen from a temple in the Tengpora locality of Srinagar, and is suspected to have reached the alleged antiques smuggler Subhash Kapoor, who might have sold it to the Stuttgart museum.
Kapoor was arrested in Frankfurt in 2011, and extradited to India the following year. His trial for smuggling antiques began in Chennai in March 2014.
ASI Additional Director General B R Mani told The Indian Express, “The registration number of ‘Tengpora Durga’ procured from the state government was sent to the museum. We have also provided them with a copy of the FIR lodged with the J&K Police after the theft… Pictures of the idol published in earlier issues of Indian Archaeology, A Review, have also been provided.”
Mani said a copy of the report submitted by Superintending Archaeologists Sunanda Srivastava and K C Noriyal, who had visited the museum in May to physically examine the piece, had also been sent to the German authorities.
“We have absolutely no doubt the idol belongs to India, and Germany must return it under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, of which it is a signatory,” Mani said.
Sources said India first took up the matter of the idol with Germany in January 2013, after Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who was at that time New Delhi’s ambassador to Berlin, arranged a meeting between the Indian side and Germany’s Ministry of Science, Research and Art.
According to Mani, the ASI was first tipped off about the Durga’s whereabouts in 2011 by Rakesh Kaul, a US-based Kashmiri Pandit industrialist whom Subhash Kapoor had allegedly tried to “cultivate” as a client.
Kaul told The Indian Express over the phone from New Jersey that he had come in touch with Kapoor after he moved to New York in 1997. “Kapoor had come to the US in 1974. He started a store, Art of the Past, in Manhattan, and quickly established himself as a leading dealer in antiquities. He tried to cultivate me as a client and, frankly, I was stunned by the quality of the pieces he had. I first saw the Tengpora Durga then,” Kaul said.
In 2007, Kaul met Dr Pratapaditya Pal, continued…