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article imageAustralia to return illegally acquired Shiva statue to India

By Sravanth Verma     Jun 23, 2014 in Entertainment
The Australian government is set to return a US$5 million Dancing Shiva statue to India, after it emerged that the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) had purchased them from an art dealer who acquired them illegally from a temple in India.
The 900-year-old Nataraja, featuring the Hindu deity Lord Shiva as the "God of Dance," will be returned to India along with another stone sculpture of Shiva as Ardhanarishwara or half-man, half-woman from the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). Both pieces were bought from Indian artifact dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is on trial in India for trafficking idols stolen from Indian temples at his request. He is also wanted in the US on charges of smuggling.
"We are satisfied with the steps taken and cooperation extended by the Australian government in response to this issue," said India's High Commissioner Biren Nanda. "We had formally requested the return of the statues and currently there is a process which is being followed to resolve the issue. We expect that the statues would be returned to India.
Australia is a signatory of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects and the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970. The statue is known to have been in its original place in a temple in the south Indian village of Sri Puranthan in 1974, which indicates that its sale is in contravention of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
T. Krishnamoorthy, trustee of the temple stated regarding the loss of the idol, "As the statues were missing, as I was trustee, tears came from my eyes as I thought that the statues went missing during my tenure. There were many people standing around. They all were very sad that the statues had gone from the village." The temple is only one of many built by the kings of the Chola dynasty in south India, and is recorded in the Hindu scripture of the Garuda Purana.
Several other "doubtful" statues have been taken off display at the AGNSW. Robyn Sloggett, director of University of Melbourne's Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, has called for a national audit of Australia's museum acquisition practices and holdings. Justifying the expense and the necessity of the audit, Sloggett says, "Directors are going out for public money and private money for acquisitions: being able to show due process seems a pretty big part of arguing that. Is it going to be more expensive to just wait 'til a problem comes up? It is going to be expensive to fail as publicly as the NGA and the AGNSW did?''
The NGA purchased 22 artworks from Kapoor, the owner of Art of the Past gallery on New York's Madison Avenue. The purchases were made between 2002 and 2011 and included photographs, paintings and 15 sculptures from south and south-east Asia. AGNSW's purchases from Kapoor include six Indian works between 1994 and 2004.
The dubious acquisitions were first investigated and reported by Four Corners on ABC News 24.
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