In a first, a gallery dedicated to showcasing artefacts repatriated from abroad and confiscated by Indian authorities while being smuggled out will be inaugurated by Union Culture and Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel at Purana Qila Saturday. The gallery has been set up by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which functions under the Ministry of Culture and is the custodian of all such artefacts.
This is the first time more than 50 such items will be on public display, an ASI official told The Indian Express. The ASI has a repository of 3,000 antiques — confiscated by the Enforcement Directorate, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Customs Department (and handed over to the ASI after the cases are disposed) — and several high-value sculptures that have been returned to India by foreign countries between 2014 and 2017.
In June 2018, The Indian Express had reported about the government’s plan to create such a display at Purana Qila, a monument under ASI protection, which also had adequate security arrangements for these valuable artefacts. Subsequently, the agency got into extensive documentation of these artworks and a tender was floated to invite private partners for the gallery late last year. “We shall either expand the display after gauging the response, or make it a rotational display, since it involves priceless antiques and artefacts,” said the ASI official.
The display is likely to include the 900-year-old Parrot Lady sculpture stolen from Khajuraho and returned by Canada in 2015; a bronze sculpture of Nataraja (Lord Shiva) returned by Australia in 2014; a floral tile from Kashmir returned by the US in 2016; a Chola period Sri Devi returned by the US in 2016; and a stone sculpture of Brahma and Brahmani stolen from Gujarat and returned by the UK in 2017.
“The entire collection, including religious statues, bronzes and terracotta pieces, some dating back 2,000 years, were looted from some of India’s most treasured religious sites and are estimated at over $300 million,” said another senior official from ASI, adding the mandate to showcase these treasures came from the PMO.
Currently, all antiquities returned to the government by foreign embassies and heads of state as part of diplomatic gestures, or those seized by Indian authorities while being transported illegally outside the country, are stored in a strongroom in Purana Qila.