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The case of Patan: Brahma Brahmani’s return – The real story of how this treasure found its way back to India

Author: Vijay Kumar
Publication: Myind.net
Date: November 18, 2017
URL:      https://www.myind.net/Home/viewArticle/the-case-of-patan-brahma-brahmanis-return-the-real-story-of-how-this-treasure-found-its-way-back-to-india

For years India and Indians have suffered foreign invasions and looting. The looters pillaged its cultural treasures by the thousands. The Archaeological Survey of India – the main custodian of our cultural property was in extended slumber, despite being pulled up repeatedly by even the CAG (report of 2013). Now when we are doing what is essentially their job, the experts are trying to scuttle our works and doing grave injustice to our Nation by their attempts- discrediting our research and efforts. The world media, global experts in illicit cultural property, International law enforcement agencies and even the UN has acknowledged and appreciated our work – but not our own ministries and departments. Not that we are doing this for credits or rewards recognition but when it is hurting the very reason why we are spending hundreds of hours – pro bono in the pursuit of bringing home our gods - the proverbial last mile is hampering the return of 1000’s of our cultural treasures.

Complete dossiers have been given by us to the ASI – including matching, supporting data proving the fake provenances for years and nothing has happened. What is hampering the return of thousands of stolen Indian cultural property? Why are there no big arrests or even attempts to dismantle the idol smuggling mafia? Sadly the reasons lie within our own departments. We hear from our sources in these agencies that as against other nations that are eager to take back stolen artworks, the ASI questions the authenticity of almost every artefact – meaning they suspect many of the objects including those that reputed museums purchased for millions of dollars to be fakes ! Yes, there could be some fakes but those can easily discussed after taking possession and getting a team of experts to properly study them. In this regard we find that the ASI is severely hamstrung by their pool of experts – but what is shocking in the case of the inspection of the above artefact despite a detailed match provided by us.

To make things worse - when India took possession of the Brahma and Brahmani sculpture in London this Friday, stolen from as ASI protected site in Patan Gujarat – and it was credited to the ASI and the Art Loss Register – we felt India needs to know the truth and decide for itself.

For starters

As part of our efforts we routinely monitor online auctions and also data mine past art sales records. Dr Kirit Mankodi maintains a site in which he routinely posts information regarding thefts from ASI protected sites – a kind of a lookout notice for stolen Indian art and we have collaborated on many thefts matched to now notorious Subhash Kapoor loot which have been seized in the US.

We have been working with Dr Mankodi on various other artefacts and it has been quite a rewarding symbiosis especially with regard to North Indian artefacts. Given that our efforts get zero support from any Indian Archaeologist, Dr Mankodi is a singular exception. Not only does he actively interact with us but also works closely in pursuing our leads with the various departments in India –including speaking in conferences, media interviews, filing RTI’s, submitting dossiers to the ASI and writing to the Prime Minister’s office.

So when he published this alert in early 2014 we had added it into our find database. http://plunderedpast.in/email-alerts/index3.html#three

Dr Mankodi had given the full details of this theft as below:

Brahma-Brahmani Theft

This message is about a stone sculpture of the Hindu god Brahma with his consort Brahmani  stolen from the open air museum at the Ranki Vav or the Queen's stepped well (underground reservoir) at Patan, Gujarat,  in 2001.

It will be seen in the attached photograph received from the Vadodara Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India that Brahma carries his usual attributes such as a sacrificial ladle and a manuscript. The panel measures about one metre in height, width 57-58 cm. and depth 45 cm (3' x 2' x 1.5'), and is datable to the twelfth century.

Another sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesha and his consort was also stolen on the same date from the same place, E-mail alert circulated on 29 February 2012. A photograph of that sculpture is also attached with this mail.

The Queen's stepped well is a monument of national importance as declared by the Archaeological Survey of India.

First Information Report (FIR) of the theft was lodged at the Patan City police station immediately after the theft, No. 230/2001 dated 10 November 2001. The sculpture has still not been recovered. Since the theft occurred ten years ago it may have already appeared in the art market.

This message is being circulated to alert the security agencies, scholars, conscientious collectors, museums, art dealers etc.

If you know about this sculpture, or if you or your institution purchased it even innocently, you know now that it is a stolen sculpture from a protected monument. The right action for anyone who has information is to contact INTERPOL or other security agencies, India's diplomatic missions, or ASI. The only course for one who has this sculpture is to surrender it forthwith. Under Indian laws antiques cannot be exported; this Brahma-Brahmani, which must weigh several hundred kilos, could only have been removed and smuggled out in a clandestine manner.

It is hoped that the conscience of honest collectors will be stirred. Dishonest dealers and auction houses everywhere are warned: they cannot get away with committing, sponsoring, supporting antique thefts, and that the Law will catch up with them sooner or later.

You are also requested to spread this message as widely as possible. In the past smuggled art was recovered as a result of efforts made by conscientious individuals like you, and Brahma-Brahmani and Ganesha can also be traced if everyone remains vigilant.

Addresses of the ASI's headquarters and the concerned Circle office are:

Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, Janpath, New Delhi 110011
Tel. 91 11 2 301 35 74, 91 11 2 301 59 54
Fax 91 11 2 301 94 87
E-mail: directorgeneralasi@gmail.com.

Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, Vadodara Circle, “Puratattva Bhavan”, 2nd floor, Near Central Library, Mandvi, Vadodara 390006
Tel. 91 265 2 42 93 87, 91 265 2 41 25 15
Fax 91 265 2 42 93 23
E-mail: circlevad.asi@gmail.com.

Thank you for your attention.
K. Mankodi
klmankodi@rediffmail.com,
klmankodi@yahoo.co.in

In mid-2014, during one of our routine data mining efforts – where we routinely crawl websites for auction of Indian Antiquities – I chanced on this link offering a startigly similar Brahma Brahmani for sale by Jeremy Knowles – in Arts of Asia event in London 2006.

However, we see the posting has since been pulled down and currently shows no data.

http://www.asianart.com/exhibitions/aalondon2006/4a.html

Some further checking helped us zero in on the same artefact housed in his gallery in London in 2014.

http://jeremyknowles.com/about.php

Though currently the photos have been removed, thanks to cached archives we can show you the same.

Having established the primary similarities I wrote to Dr Mankodi and sought a better resolution of the original stolen artefact and then worked on it to do a point by point matching. There was no doubt that we were talking of the same looted artefact.

Based on these Dr Mankodi wrote an email to the dealer and did not get any replies. He also wrote to the ASI with copy to PMO. When he received no proper response he filed as RTI on 10th June 2015 and received this reply!
..................................................................................
10th June 2015

Superintending Archaeologist
Archaeological Survey of India
Vadodara Circle
"Pusatattva Bhayan", 2nd Floor
Near Central Library, Mandvi
Vadodarav 390 006

REQUEST UNDER RTI FOR INFORMATION ON STOLEN SCULPTURES FROM VA.DODAR.A CIRCLE OF ASI

Sir,

The undersigned is a qualified archaeologist of lone standing in the profession. He is the author of THE QUEEN'S STEPWELL AT PATAN (1991) and RANKI VAV AT RATAN published by the Archaeological Survey of India during its 150 year celebrations.

(l) The following two sculptures were stolen from the centrally protected site of Ranki Vay/ Sahasralinga Talao in Patan in your Circle on one and the same day in November 2001.

A Ganesa sculpture;

B Brahma-Brahmani sculpture

Their FIR numbers are 230/2001 dated 10 November 2001. Their particulars are also given on the website www.plunderedpast.in, which is widely known.

It is requested that information may be supplied on the following:

-What steps, if any, has the ASI taken after lodging the FIR to recover retrieve these two sculptures:

-Whether the two sculptures have been recovered;

-lf the sculptures have been recovered, at what date were they recovered;

-If recovered, where are they preserved,

2) Whether there is any record of any other sculptures having been stolen from Ranki Vay after 1987 to date;

3) Whether ASI Vadodara Circle is aware about a news item published in INDIAN EXPRESS AHMEDABAD edition on 26 September 2014 that illustrated the abovementioned Brahma-Brahmani advertised by a foreign antique dealer;

4) If ASI is aware of the INDIAN EXPRESS news item, what steps did the Vadodara Circle take, if any, to recover the sculpture and to bring the antique dealer to book.

You are requested to supply the above requested information to the undersigned under the RTI Act. The required fee is attached/enclosed. If you are not the designated authority to supply the requested information, kindly forward this application to the office responsible, and advise the undersigned.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. K. Mankodi
..................................................................................
F. No. 48/RTI/T&A-2015-16-7391-A dated 30-7-2015

Subject: RTI on stolen sculptures from Vadodara Circle - regarding.

Sir,

With reference to your application dated 10 June 2015 received in the office on 30th June 2015. The information as required by you is furnished below:

1a. After lodging of FIR, this office had intimated (01) the Directorate, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi, (02) the Director General of Police (DGP), Government of Gujarat, (03) DGP, Government of Rajasthan and (04) various Circle Offices of Archaeological Survey of India in India. The Directorate in its part had communicated the incident to all High Commissions/Embassies and other relevant agencies.

1b No.

1c &d Question does not arise.

2. No.

3. No. This office has checked over news item on internet on official site of Indian Express and found that no such news was reported on dated 26/09/2014, as mentioned by you.

4. Question does not arise.

Yours faithfully,

Asst. Superintending Archaeologist & C. P. I. 0.
..................................................................................

We were further shocked when this news item surfaced which cast aspersions on our credibility.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Idols-from-Rani-ki-Vav-near-Modi-village-still-missing/articleshow/50261218.cms

"Recently, a team of ASI officials visited London to check on the originality of the Brahma statue. But the team came back stating that the statue is not original and the issue stands at that," joint director general R S Fonia told TOI.

Having been used to such sweeping statements we were not going to take this as closure.

Incidentally this from another ASI Director on our work was published as late as May 2016 after the world has seen our work in a flood of restitutions to India every single one enabled by our work and the acknowledged role in the Asia Week New York raids!

http://www.caravanmagazine.in/lede/state-of-the-art-antiquities-smuggling

DN Dimri, an ASI director in charge of antiquities, dismissed the report, telling me, “if they want to criticise, they are free to criticise.” He was similarly dismissive of Kumar’s contributions. “We appreciate his concern,” he said, but added that Kumar’s work only seeks to prove that “these are the art objects of Indian origin” that have been smuggled out of the country. Kumar, Dimri claimed, does not compile information about the “when and how” of these thefts, including official reports of the crimes. Without such a paper trail, he said, the ASI cannot repatriate objects.

Dr Mankodi wrote to the ASI and obtained the “Experts” report on the Brahma Brahmani.
..................................................................................
Report on examination of an Image of Brahma with his consort kept temporarily at High Commission of India, London.

As per the order F. No 12-18/2001-Ant dated 04 11.2015 of the Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, I along with Shri Jitendra Nath, Superintending Archaeologist, Vadodara Circle, Vadodara reached London on 06.11.2015 to examine the stone image of Brahma with his consort which Is under the possession of Art Loss Register, London and brought to Indian High Commission Office at London for examination as the said image was stolen from Open-air museum, adjacent to Sahasralinga Tales, Patan, ditrict Patan, Gujarat, India.

After reaching London on 06 11 2015 we were taken by High Commission official to the Strand Palace Hotel which is located very close to the Indian High Commission at Aldwych. London. WC2B4NA. We left our luggage in the hotel and rushed to High Commission office for examining the image. We were introduced to Shri Hari Das, Sr. Administrative Officer, Protect and Maintenance We explained the purpose of our visit to London. Shri Han Das interned that in order to save the time the concerned image, which was in possession of Art Loss Register, 1st Floor. 63-66 Hatton Garden, London EC IN 8LE, has been brought to the Indian High Commission, London for examining the image in greater detail as there is only one working day available at our disposal

Thereafter, we were taken to the room where the sculpture is kept and shown to us. It was packed with layers of bubble plastic and a white sheet made of synthetic fibrous material to avoid any damages to Image. As the base of the image is uneven it is placed over a heavy iron sheet (43x24x1.30 cms) supported with thick iron nail inserted through the base of the image. The image was placed over a stand with four wheel attached at the base so that the image can be moved in any direction to facilitate in examining the image easily.

While we were examining the Image, Shri Han Das introduced us to Shri Srinivas Gotru, Minister (Culturel) High Commission of India, Director, The Nehru Centre, B South Audley Street, London W1K 1HF. Shri Srinivas Gotru directed all the staff member to extend all possible help to us in examining the image. After discussion with them we started examining the image.

In first look the features of the image appeared to be identical to that of the stolen image. But on a closer look, certain discrepancies were observed We decided first to take the measurement of the image with a metallic tape While measuring the image kept in High Commission office it is found that the height of the image is 72cm, the width is 42cm and the thickness 24cm However, as per the record of the Vadodara Circle, the stolen image measure 102X41X20 cm which means that image in possession of the high commission is 30 cm shorter than the original one beside minor variation in width and thickness.
 
Following major differences were also observed while examining the image thoroughly -

1. Unlike the original Image there is no incrustation on image kept in the High Commission.
2. The feature of the image kept in the High Commission is relatively fresh and sharper in comparison to the original one.
3 The face of Brahma looks more serine in the original image stolen from Patan.
4. The fingers of the upper right hand of Brahma holding the shruk (sacrificial ladle) is broken in the image kept in the High Commission whereas in the original image they are intact.
5. The shruk in the upper right hand of Brahma in the image kept in High Commission, has a sharp circular motif at the centre and broken at the lower right corner and the upper tip whereas in the original they are intact the motif in the centre is not circular.
6. The right thigh of the consort of Brahma, kept in High Commission, is slightly upwards, whereas Pn the original image it is gently placed parallel to the thigh of Brahma.
7. In the original image, the deity seated near the right foot of Brahma holds a trident whereas, the one kept In the High Commission shows a different attribute.

In view of above observations, the marble image received from AIR and examined by us in the High Commission premises is not the one which has been stolen from the open-air museum at Sahasraling Talav, Paten, Gujarat, India.
 
(JITENDRA NATH)
(M. MAHADEVAIAH)
..................................................................................

Considering the detail to which we had done the matching as exhibited earlier – we were shocked to read this report and sought photographs of what was shown by ALR ( what is there role here ?) to see if it was indeed the one offered for sale earlier. Further scrutiny of the “major differences” cited in the report shocked us.

Even before we go into those differences, what struck us was the unprofessional procedures – why were the crucial provenance papers no called for or verified? The Brahma Brahmani is a unique composition and specific to Gujarat. Even if it is taken that this is not the same object matched to the Patan theft, it is still an Indian antiquity and should have been subject to scrutiny in its own right.

Now to the differences cited in the expert report.

Though not listed in the points the starting reference is to the size. The object inspected was apparently 72 cm by 42 cm and 24 cm. While the ASI on site card reference dims noted were 102x41x20 cm – thereby the image was said to be 30 cm shorter.

The major difference seems to be in the height as the width and breadth have marginal differences. Considering the capabilities of ASI we do not want to comment on the quality of record keeping and documenting in their archives. Further what is interesting is that the advertisement by Jeremy Knowles mentions the dimensions as 29” x 16 ¾” or 73.6x42.5 cm.

Now its elementary to notice that the ASI record of the original sculpture is obviously wrong as the over shape of the sculpture would be almost like an elongated pillar if it were to be indeed 102 cm, which is obviously not the case – as it more a rectangle.

Now for the various differences listed in the expert panels report

“Unlike the original image there is no incrustation on image kept in the High Commission” and
“The features of the image kept in the High Commission is relatively fresh and sharper in comparison to the original one.”

Baffling arguments as one is an old archival photograph in an open museum “maintained” by ASI and another is a cleaned one presented for sale in London! The dealer would have cleaned the statue and you are seeing the same in person compared to a dated scan of a photographic print

3.“The face of Brahma looks more serine (serene) in the original image stolen from Patan”

Subjective assessment and we let you make your own inferences.

4.“The fingers of the upper right hand of Brahma holding the Shruk (sacrificial handle) is (are) broken in the image kept in the High Commission whereas in the original image they are intact”.

Shocker of an argument and amazed that this was even attempted to be tabled. The converse if true would have been a clincher of an argument. However, considering the way thieves handle artefacts it’s a no brainer that the damage has occurred post the theft and hence is not a valid argument at all.

5.“The Shruk in the upper right hand of Brahma in the image kept in High Commission, has a sharp circular motif at the centre and broken at the lower right corner and the upper tip whereas in the original there are intact the motif in the centre is not circular.”

The same invalid argument on post theft damage. Similarly sharpness of an image inspected in person compared to an archival photo! However, it is interesting the amount of detailing we put into matching is being dismissed thus.

6.“The right thigh of the consort of Brahma, kept in the High Commission, is slightly upwards, whereas in the original image it is gently places parallel to the thigh of the Brahma”

Again demonstrates lack of subject knowledge interms of comparing photographic evidence with inherent parallax errors due to angle of expose!

7.“In the original image, the deity seated near the right foot of Brahma holds a trident whereas the ones kept in the High Commission shows a different attribute”

Why the expert panel couldn’t name the so called different attribute and once again we let our work be the judge.

Coming back to expert team’s findings “In view of the above observations (of the committee), the marble image received from ALR and examined by us in the High Commission premises is not the one which has been stolen from the open-air museum at Sahasraling Talav, Patan..” (Emphasis added)

Whereas the TOI article says http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Idols-from-Rani-ki-Vav-near-Modi-village-still-missing/articleshow/50261218.cms

"Recently, a team of ASI officials visited London to check on the originality of the Brahma statue. But the team came back stating that the statue is not original and the issue stands at that," joint director general R S Fonia told TOI.

Faced with our detailed debunking of the expert report as above and the fact that publishing any of these would cause an uproar in the media – another committee was setup by the ASI and we received this good news in Aug 2016.

“The entire issue of the authentication was re-examined by a Committee constituted by the DG, ASI.  The officials of the Archaeological Survey of India also visited Patan to verify the site of the object from where it was stolen and records of theft available with the Vadodara Circle.  After detailed deliberations, it was concluded that the image of Brahma and Brahmani stolen from  Patan and the image examined by officials of the ASI at High Commission of India at London in first week November, 2016 is one and the same.  The High Commission of India has already been requested to take over the object from Art Loss Register till the process of return of the image to India is initiated.”

This is a hard fought victory for the team. But it leaves a lot to be desired with regards to awareness, competency and technical prowess of those who are at the helm of affairs. Shouldn’t the team that gave the initial flawed report be taken to task and shouldn’t a comprehensive review of their past reports be undertaken to unravel what other treasures India has passed over?

Finally it is time for the photo ops and credits.

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/india-gets-possession-of-stolen-12th-century-brahma-sculpture-3058679/

 Both ALR and Mankodi contributed heavily to ASI’s analysis and examination of the sculpture.

“India has an incredibly rich and marvellous history and any opportunity to protect and preserve it should always be taken up. We are happy that this invaluable artefact will now make its way back to where it belongs,” said James Ratcliffe, director of recoveries at ALR. The sculpture will now make its journey back to its original World Heritage Site in Gujarat in consultation with the ASI.

I would like to know how the ALR contributed to this – from what I see there was a strong attempt made to get the artefact listed as either as fake or non-match despite tons of evidence provided by influencing an ill prepared ASI team aided by an unprofessional recovery body! Wonder why ALR never even mentioned the term provenance.

The saddest part is as with the other photo op restitutions we will never get to see the perpetrators of this crime brought to justice – the dealer goes scot free (cost of doing business!), no provenance papers / shipping trials are investigated and any clues which might lead us to others stolen from the same site during the same fateful night – the Ganesha might never come to light.
 
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