New Delhi: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott today handed over to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi two antique statues of Hindu deities which were allegedly stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu before being bought by art galleries in Australia.
During his meeting with Modi, Abbott returned the idols, one of which is a Nataraja—the dancing Shiva—which belonged to the Chola dynasty of 11th-12th century. The other sculpture is of Ardhanariswara, which represents Shiva in half-female form, and dates back to the 10th century.
Both the statues were allegedly stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu and their return was sought by India in March. Modi thanked Abbott for heeding to India's request to return the idols.
“I would like to convey to Prime Minister Abbott the deep sense of gratitude of 1.25 billion people of India for the efforts he has made to bring with him two ancient statues that were stolen from India.
“The moment we had conveyed our request for the return of these statues, his government took this decision with great speed. Prime Minister Abbott and the people of Australian have shown enormous respect and regard not only for our ancient treasure, but also for our cultural heritage,” Modi said during a joint press briefing with Abbott after their talks.
Returning the sculptures is a testimony to Australia's good citizenship on such matters and the importance with which Australia views its relationship with India, Abbott's office had said earlier.
The Nataraja statue, cast in bronze, was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in February 2008 at a price of USD 5.1 million from art and antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor who was then based in New York.
The Ardhanariswara statue was purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2004 for approximately 300,000 Australian dollar (USD 280,979).
In 2012, Kapoor, owner of the “Art of the Past” gallery in New York, was arrested in Germany and subsequently extradited to India. He is accused of conspiracy to commit burglary and smuggling from Tamil Nadu antique idols of Hindu deities belonging to Chola dynasty.
The case is currently at the prosecution stage in Tamil Nadu and Australian authorities have been assisting in conducting investigation in the case in Australia.
In March, the Ministry of External Affairs had through India's High Commission in Canberra made a formal proposal to the Australian Department of Attorney General by forwarding the request of the Tamil Nadu police for the return of the two idols.