10,000 Major Artworks Stolen from Indian Temples Every Decade: ExpertTop Stories

November 12, 2018 10:35
10,000 Major Artworks Stolen from Indian Temples Every Decade: Expert

(Image source from: Scroll.in)

An assessed 1,000 pieces of antique artworks are stolen from Indian temples each year and transported to the international market, according to Singapore-based Indian-origin shipping executive.

"We are estimating about close to 10,000 major work of arts leaving India every decade," said S Vijay Kumar, who has been tracking the theft of venerable gods and goddess for 15 years. Some of these are as heavy as 15-16 tonnes.

Kumar has detailed the theft of artwork in the book "The Idol Thief", which was launched in Singapore on Saturday.

"We have tracked some of the huge objects 15-16 tonnes sculptures, that have left the country by Ocean containers, declared as brassware and garden furniture," Kumar told PTI.

"Sadly, for a long time it has not been cared for," he said, pointing out that not many people realize the extent of the loot which is a targeted loot on an industrial scale. Some stolen pieces are replicated without people realizing it.

Industry scale loot means auction houses are sending their top officials to pick and select art pieces whereas some are sharing the pictures on social media what can be sourced out of the Indian heritage, he explained. On selecting a specific artwork, the illegal process of acquiring it starts.

Kumar has legally checked and compiled his adventure of tracking looted Indian idols and artworks in the 225-page book of true events.

To escape tracking, ways for container shipment of huge sculptures are changed from Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and Hong Kong on to New York and London as well as other international destinations. Smaller pieces are being couriered, he said.

The United States is the major market for these stolen pieces, followed by the United Kingdom and now it is moving to Australia, according to Kumar.

Tracking these stolen pieces is problematic in the borderless European Union where some countries like Germany are putting in harsher laws on protecting antiquity works.

Kumar has an 11-member squad of volunteers and supported by about 200 spread across the world, all working for free.

The chartered accountant from Tamil Nadu releases the volume with a story on Subhash Kapoor, who is in Chennai prison for stealing of idols from Indian Temples.

American authorities have retrieved stolen Indian art worth USD 100 million from detained Kapoor's warehouses and galleries and named him "one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world".

Kumar said India needs a powerful law to protect its artwork.

Virtually all stolen Indian artworks in the global market are short of documents. There is no documentation on most of the Indian artwork, regrets Kumar who has played a part in the arrest of many idol smugglers and thieves.

Amongst the valued stolen artwork are pieces from the Chola dynasty which witnessed the building of many decoratively carved stone shrines all over Tamil Nadu from 850 CE to 1250 CE.

Giving a comparison, he said Italy was the front-runner in protecting its artwork with tough laws which has helped recover 378,000 pieces 2012 while India has rescued 27 pieces since 2012.

Universal thinking is changing with the burden being put on a purchaser to prove that the genuine artwork is acquired lawfully.

Egypt, for one, is recovering stolen artwork by just pointing out the Egyptian origin, putting the burden on a purchaser to prove it is a legal acquisition.

-Sowmya Sangam

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India  Singapore  hindu temple