The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has identified close to a hundred artefacts seized in the US as being “original Indian antiquities of tremendous value”, some of which were stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh and smuggled abroad.
ASI officials ADG Archaeology Urmila Sant and Superintendent Archaeologist, Amravati Circle, P S Sriraman visited New York last month, following a call from the office of Consulate General of India about the seized artefacts.
“We have identified about 100 antique objects, including idols dating to the Gupta period (5-6th century AD) and terracotta objects of Harappan culture,” Sant told The Indian Express. She added that 17 artefacts were seized by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security, from the storage of art smuggler Subhash Kapoor.
“After inspecting these objects, ASI officials ascertained all of the 17 seized objects to be antiquities,” she said.
The seized antiquities include several bronze statues stolen from the Suttamalli and Sripurantan temples of Tamil Nadu, while four antiquities were stolen from monuments at Madhya Pradesh’s Katni in August 2006.
Besides these, 56 terracotta objects returned by Toledo Museum, Ohio, to the Indian Consulate were also declared to be antiquities. The same were gifted to the museum by Kapoor. A majority of them belong to Chandraketugarh, West Bengal — a prominent site of terracotta art.
The ASI officials also inspected another 232 objects comprising brass and copper alloys, gold with enamel work, silver, stone and terracotta during their visit. Among them, a few were identified as antiquities like the stone image of Buddha of Mathura School, a terracotta image of Buddha belonging to the Gupta period, and a set of 10 copper plates engraved with Quranic verses belonging to the late Mughal period.
However, Sant added, it may take more than a year for India to get these objects back to the country, “after which they will be sent to the original locations from where they were stolen” she said.
Over the years, many idols have been stolen from temples and personal collections in India. As per a submission by the Ministry of Culture in the Parliament, 101 Indian antiquities have been stolen from the Centrally protected monuments since 2000.