“We have been tracking down stolen idols and provide proof to law enforcement agencies to bring back our Gods, which have been illegally smuggled and sold in the art market. To bring back the 157artefacts, we have collaborated with Matthew Bogdanos, the New York assistant district attorney, who leads the antiquities trafficking unit. Indian-origin Akshara Iyer, who is a member of his team also helped us. The majority of the artefacts and antiquities come from five different streams - a few from jailed art dealer Subhash Kapoor’s collection and the rest are seized from other art dealers,” Vijay Kumar tells DT Next.
Out of the vast range of items, the most important one is the bronze Nataraja statue from the 12th CE. “One of our informants on the ground provided us the information that an antique Nataraja idol went missing from the Punnainallur Mariamman Temple, Thanjavur, in 1971. We traced the idol to the Asia Society Museum in New York City. The rest of the artefacts are from Chandraketugarh in West Bengal. It might take a month to bring back the 157 artefacts and antiquities,” he shares.
On the left is the Nataraja idol stolen from Punnainallur Mariyamman Temple that matched the one at the Asian Society Museum in New York City
Vijay says that there isn’t much awareness about the stolen idols and the regulations are not strong. “Even after the seizure of Indian idols from various parts of the globe, looting still happens in our country. There is a large-scale network that is looting our antiques. There should be a better watch on this and stronger regulation to curb the theft. Officials should go after these networks and find out how the objects are looted,” he adds.