As many as 157 artefacts and antiquities were handed over by the United States during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country.
The list has a diverse set of items — a 1.5-metre bas-relief panel of Revanta in sandstone made in the 10th century, an 8.5 cm tall bronze Nataraj figure from the 12th century, 56 terracotta pieces, several bronze figurines and copper objects, among others.
The items, which were stolen or smuggled out of India over a period of time, mostly belong to the period between 11th and 14th centuries. The returned antiquities include an 18th-century sword in its sheath, with the inscription mentioning Guru Hargobind Singh in Persian.
There are several historic antiquities as well, including a copper anthropomorphic object from 2000 BC and a terracotta vase from the 2nd century, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Saturday. While 71 artefacts are cultural, the others comprise figurines relating to Hinduism (60), Buddhism (16) and Jainism (9), it stated.
Their make spreads across metal, stone and terracotta.
One of the works is a paper painting depicting Rasikapriya by an anonymous painter, possibly influenced by the famed works of Rasikapriya composed by 16th century poet Keshava Das. The reverse of the painting bears a rubber stamp marking, which states that it once formed part of the personal collection of the Maharaja of Bikaner and was duly accessioned in 1964.
During the meeting between Modi and US President Joe Biden, the two leaders also “committed to strengthen efforts to combat theft, illicit trade and trafficking of cultural objects”, it was announced.
In 2019, an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) team had visited New York and identified close to a hundred of these artefacts, seized in the US, as “original Indian antiquities of tremendous value”, known to be stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh and smuggled abroad. ASI ADG, Archaeology, Urmila Sant, who was part of the team, had told The Indian Express that they visited the US following a call from the office of Consulate General of India about the seized artefacts.
“We have identified about 100 antique objects, including idols dating to the Gupta period (5-6th century AD) and terracotta objects of Harappan culture,” she had said. Sant had also said that 17 artefacts were seized by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, from the storage of art smuggler Subhash Kapoor.
Besides these, the 56 terracotta objects returned by Toledo Museum, Ohio, to the Indian consulate were also declared to be anriquities. These were gifted to the museum by Kapoor. A majority of them belong to Chandraketugarh, West Bengal — a prominent site of terracotta art.
Once the smuggled/stolen artefacts are seized in another country, the entire process of identification and return to the country of origin may take more than a year. Between 2014 and 2021, more than 200 stolen antiquities have been returned, or are in the process of being returned, to India, as per ASI, which is the custodian of these objects once they return to India.
Once ASI receives these 157 objects from the PMO, the art pieces will be sent to the original locations from where they were stolen after a due process.