The US has returned over 200 artefacts estimated at $100 million to India, at a ceremony in Washington attended by PM Narendra Modi. At the ceremony held at Blair House, the PM said some of the artefacts may be measured in monetary terms but for India this is beyond that, it is a part of our culture and heritage.
The artefacts returned included religious statues, bronzes, and terra cotta pieces, some dating back 2000 years, that were looted from some religious sites. Among the pieces is a statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period (circa 850 AD to 1250 AD) stolen from the Sivan temple in Chennai, as well as a bronze sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesh.
Most of the pieces were seized during Operation Hidden Idol, an investigation that began in 2007 after Homeland Security Investigations special agents received a tip about a shipment of 7 crates destined for the US that were manifested as ‘marble garden table sets’. The shipment was imported by Subash Kapoor owner of the Art of the Past Gallery who awaits trial in India. They have executed a series of search warrants targeting Kapoor’s New York City Gallery, along with warehouses and storage facilities linked to the dealer. Five other people have been arrested in the US for their role in the scheme.
US Attorney General Loretta E Lynch said it is her hope and that of the American people that this repatriation will serve as a sign of America’s respect for India’s culture, their admiration for its people and their appreciation for the ties between the two nations.
Secretary of Security Jeh Johnson said ‘Protecting the cultural heritage of our global community is important work and they are committed to identifying and returning the priceless items to their countries of origin and rightful owners’.