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Indian Idols Hit on Heritage Black Market

Author: Pratul Sharma
Publication: The New Indian Express
Date: September 7, 2014
URL: http://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/Indian-Idols-Hit-on-Heritage-Black-Market/2014/09/07/article2418312.ece

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ‘good citizenship’ gesture of returning two stolen idols from India has brought back the spotlight on unabated thefts of priceless antiquities from temples and other places of India. Most of these statues and idols are smuggled out of the country and sold illegally at a very high price.

Since 2009, as many as 22 rare artefacts and idols have been stolen from various parts of the country, but only two have been recovered by the police so far. This year alone three thefts have been reported—two from Karnataka and one from Gujarat. A Durga sculpture from Panchalingeshwara Temple at Govindanahalli in Mandya, a granite Shivling from a temple at Thimmalapur, Bellary in Karnataka, and two wooden carved brackets from Vittalbhai Haveli, Kheda in Gujarat, were stolen. The wooden brackets, however, have been recovered by the police.

According to the figures compiled by the Union Ministry of Culture, five cases of thefts were reported last year, of which four were from Karnataka alone. These were: a Mahisasuramardini Durga sculpture from Renuka Devi Temple, Chandragutti, Shimoga; a Dakshinamoorty from Sri Vaidyeshwara, Mysore; a Shivling from Mallikarjuna Temple, Mandya; a Ganesha idol from Bucheswara Temple, Koravangala, Hassan, all in Karnataka; and a Tridev Buddhha statue from Mahasamund in Chhattisgarh. None of them have been recovered so far.

Officials say most of these artefacts end up being sold abroad illegally at exorbitant prices. Despite checks at the airports, these idols are smuggled out as it happened in case of the idols returned by the Australian government.

The Nataraj, an 11th century bronze statue, was bought for $5.6 million by the National Gallery of Australia in 2008, while the Art Gallery of New South Wales spent $280,979 for the 1,100-year-old stone sculpture of a standing Shiva with Nandi in 2004. The Nataraj statue was stolen from Sivan temple in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu in 2006 while the 112-cm high stone Shiva with Nandi was burgled from Vridhdhagiriswarar Temple in the same state.
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