Stone image of Durga, Nataraja idol & more — 36 antiques ASI recovered from UK, US, Australia

Antique items recovered in the last five years.
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Antique items recovered in the last five years. | Illustration: Ramandeep Kaur/ThePrint

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New Delhi: The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has retrieved 36 antique items from the UK, the US and Australia over the last five years, the Union Ministry of Culture and Tourism has said.  

On Tuesday, Minister of State for Culture and Tourism Prahlad Patel shared the details about the recovered antiquities in Parliament, in reply to a question raised by Rajya Sabha member Manas Ranjan Bhunia.

Patel said all the items recovered were given voluntarily by the museums and related authorities.

According to the information he shared, here’s a list of the 36 antiques returned to India.

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From Mauryan period to Chola dynasty

— A bronze image of Saint Manikkavachakar was returned voluntarily by the US in 2016. A 9th century Tamil poet, he wrote hymns about Lord Shiva. He is also the author of a key religious text of Tamil language, Shaiva Siddhanta, which forms the base of Shaivism — one of the three principal forms of modern Hinduism. The image is currently under the custody of the idol wing of Tamil Nadu.

A metal image of Ganesha was also returned by the US in 2016. It is currently under the custody of idol wing of the Tamil Nadu government.

This was recovered under ‘Operation Hidden Idol’, an investigation run by the US Homeland Department to recover antiquities stolen by Subhash Kapoor, a New York-based Indian art curator and owner of Art of the Past Gallery.

A terracotta female figure dating back to the Mauryan period, which was previously housed in Honolulu Museum, Hawaii, US, was returned the same year. It is currently housed in the Purana Qila Museum in New Delhi.

The Mauryan era, dating back to around 300 BC, pioneered terracotta figures. This female figure is believed to be an image of a female goddess that was worshiped in the period. 

A male deity figure was returned by the Honolulu Museum. It originates from Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh. The Temples of Khajuraho are an example of the Nagara style of temples. The Kandariya Mahadeva and Vishwanath Temple house sculptures of celestial nymphs with broad hips, heavy breasts and languishing eyes, which are believed to reflect the idea of female beauty and fertility.

— A floral tile originating from Harvan in Kashmir was returned by the US in 2016. It is currently housed in the Purana Qila Museum.

— The US also returned a bronze statue of Goddess Sri Devi, from the Chola period, in 2016. Currently housed in the Purana Qila Museum, it is one of the many bronze sculptures created during the Chola rule. Temple bronzes made under the Chola dynasty (9-13th centuries) are among the most spectacular works of art ever created in south Asia.

A metal image of Bahubali, possibly originating from Andhra Pradesh, was returned in the same year. It is currently housed in the Central Antiquity Collection (CAC) section of Purana Qila. Bahubali was the brother of Bharata and son of first Jain tirthankar Rishabnatha.

A recovered metal image of Hindu Goddess Parvati, believed to have originated in Tamil Nadu, has also been housed in the CAC Section of Purana Qila.

— The same is the case with a terracotta plaque, which is likely to have originated in West Bengal.

Also read: How Durga images and sculptures showed up in Ghazni, Afghanistan

Several gods and goddesses

— A metal image of Bhoodevi from Tamil Nadu was returned in 2016. It is housed with the idol wing of Tamil Nadu. Bhoodevi is a revered goddess worshiped as Goddess Sita’s mother. Her statues represent Mother Earth.

— A metal image of Lord Chakkarathalwar, from Tamil Nadu, was returned by US in 2016. It is currently with TN’s idol wing. Lord Chakkarathalwar, who is known to have the combined grace of Lord Varaha and Lord Narasimha, has a shrine for himself in most of the temples associated with Lord Narayana.

— A seated Buddha, originating from Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura region, was returned by Australia in 2016. It is currently housed in Delhi’s National Museum. The seated, meditating Buddha represents the fourth day of the week.

— Australia also returned the Panel of Devotees of Buddha, originating from Andhra Pradesh, in 2016. The National Museum houses this too.  

A stone image of Goddess Pratyangira from Tamil Nadu was also among the antiques returned by Australia.  The image is currently under the custody of TN’s idol wing. Pratyangira Devi is the blue-skinned version of goddess Durga that is usually seen as her depiction. In this image, the goddess, which her tongue thrust out, is seen killing evil with her trident.

— Among the other Khajuraho-based sandstone artifacts were a male figure in the Tribhanga posture, bust of a female, and a broken figure, returned by the US in 2017. These are currently in the CAC Section of Purana Qila.

— The US also returned a stone image of Durga, now housed in Purana Qila. This 8th century stone sculpture, according to reports, was kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York. The museum’s staff recognised it from the 1969 publication The Archaeology of Kumann by K.P. Nautiyal, in which the Durga was described as being housed in the Chakravarteswara Temple at Baijnath, a medieval capital in Uttarakhand, in northern India.

— A damaged sandstone image of Nataraja, who is the divine dancer form of Lord Shiva — in a dancing posture, originating from central India, was returned in 2017. It is currently in the Purana Qila Museum.

— The US also returned a mutilated sandstone panel depicting two male figures (Vidyadharas, which are mythological supernatural beings) originating from central India, and a stone image of a couple from Rajasthan, in 2017. Both the artifacts are in the CAC section of Purana Qila.

— A stone sculpture of Hindu deities Brahma and Brahamani, originating from Gujarat, was recovered from the UK in 2017. It is also in the Purana Qila Museum.

Also read: Archaeological Survey of India discovers 9th century sandstone Shiva linga in Vietnam

Metal idols of gods

— The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the US returned an idol of Goddess Durga and demon Mahishasura in 2018. Believed to be from Uttarakhand, it is now in the Purana Qila Museum.

— A Bodhisattva head, originating from Andhra Pradesh, was also returned by MET Museum in 2018. It is believed to be the bust of Shakyamuni. Another similar bust still present in the MET Museum is believed to be from a sculpture that would have been more than 12 feet tall and likely stood along the perimeter of a Buddhist sacred area enclosing a stupa.

— The UK returned an image of Buddha recovered from Bihar in 2019. It is currently in the Purana Qila Museum.

— A Bronze idol of Nataraja, from Tamil Nadu, was returned by Australia in 2019.

— Canberra also returned a stone sculpture of Nagaraja, discovered from central India, last year. It has now been housed in the CAC section of Purana Qila. Nagaraj, or the serpent king, is considered to be the vehicle of the Hindu goddess Manasa.

— A Dwarpala stone sculpture, believed to be from Tamil Nadu, was returned by Australia in 2020. The CAC section features this too. Dwarpala, meaning door guard, are prominent statues installed at the entrances of places of worship in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cultures.

— The UK returned a statue of a dancing Lord Shiva, from Rajasthan, and a limestone pillar, believed to be from Andhra Pradesh, in 2020. The ASI headquarters in the national capital houses both. 

— Metal idols of Lord Ram, Lakshman and Goddess Sita, from Tamil Nadu, were returned by the UK last year. They have currently been placed with the state’s idol wing.

— Earlier this year, the UK returned Navaneetha Krishna, likely to be from south India. Navaneetha Krishna, which means crawling Krishna in a reference to the Lord’s childhood, was a worshiped deity during the 12th century under the Cholas.

Also read: These are the 5 archaeological sites Modi govt wants to develop with museums


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