Tamil Nadu: 12th century idol stolen from temple found in US after 50 years

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A statue that was stolen in 1971 from a temple in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has been traced to New York, police say.

The 12th Century idol of Hindu goddess Parvati was found at the Bonhams Auction House, they said.

Bonhams is a privately owned international auction house which is headquartered in London.

A senior police official said the Tamil Nadu police’s Idol Wing has “readied papers” to bring the idol back.

Over the past few years, India has amplified efforts to bring back idols and other artefacts which were stolen or smuggled from temples.

In February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that “more than 200 precious idols” have been successfully brought back to India since 2014.

In 2020, the UK returned three bronze sculptures stolen from a Tamil Nadu temple more than 40 years ago to the Indian government.

One of the most stunning pieces returned in the past few years was a bronze Nataraja idol, which shows the Hindu god Shiva in dancing form. The statue, which was priced at $5.1m (£4.2m), was more than 900 years old and had been bought by the National Gallery of Australia in 2008.

The Parvati idol from Tamil Nadu that the police recently found was first reported missing from the Nadanapureshwarar Sivan temple in 1971.

Investigation began in 2019 after a temple trustee filed a police complaint. The investigation was led by the Idol Wing of the Tamil Nadu police, which traces missing artefacts.

The idol, which measures about 52cm in height, was one among five idols missing from the temple.

Police said this idol is valued at $212,575 (£175,914). It shows the goddess in a standing position, wearing a crown of rings kept atop each other.

The patterns in the crown are repeated in the necklaces, armbands, girdle and garment, embellishing the bronze texture, the police description said.

“The sculpture is a testament to the technical genius of the artist, epitomizing the confident and time-honoured aesthetic canon of the Chola empire,” the Idol Wing said in a statement. The Chola empire ruled last parts of southern India from the 10th Century to the 13th Century.

Police sought the opinion of an expert to compare a photograph of the idol with the one on sale at Bonhams Auction House.

“Therefore, we are entitled to claim ownership of the idol as India is a party to UNESCO’S World Heritage Convention, 1972,” they said.

Bonhams has not issued a statement yet.

Source: BBC