Friday, 20 November 2015

Shiva-Parvathi idol from Thanjavur traced in Indiana museum - !! but .. !!!

We go to Temples and pray before God  - we have immense faith in our traditions. There are so many beautiful temples all over Tamil Nadu, in existence for centuries.

Though not much of web presence, ThiruPaampuram is a small village in Thiruvarur Dist – Kudavasal taluk.  This place with origins to Chola dynasty lies near Kollumangudi on the way to Karaikal from Kumbakonam.  A famous temple of Sri Seshapureeswarar exists here.  The antiquity is revealed by the inscriptions  dating back to Rajaraja, Rajendra Chozha, Saraboji kings.  Many artists hail from here – famous being Nadaswaravidwan Thirupampuram Nataraja Sundaram Pillai and his son N Swaminatha Pillai.

Hundreds of thousand miles away – otherwise unconnected is the US State of Indiana in the mid-western and Great Lakes regions of North America.

The David Owsley Museum of Art (DOMA) is an art museum located in the Fine Arts building on the campus of Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA. It is named  in honour of David Owsley, grandson of Frank C. Ball (one of the five Ball Brothers), to recognize his donations of $5 million and over 2,300 works of art. The museum is home to approximately 11,000 works (mostly paintings, photographs, prints and sculptures).
Image credit :

In 2005, it acquired a Chola-era idol of Shiva- Parvathi from Subhash Kapoor's Art of the Past gallery in New York ~ without realizing that the  provenance papers of this statue are fake, given Kapoor's record. Today’s Times of India reports that US Govt has seized the idol or rather voluntarily returned.  Yet another bronze idol looted from a Tamil Nadu temple allegedly by Subhash Kapoor has been returned by a museum in the US to the country's department of homeland security (DHS) this week. Ball State University's Owsley Museum has returned the Chola bronze statue of Shiva and Parvati to DHS.

Heritage enthusiast S Vijay Kumar, who has helped to locate stolen temple idols in many countries, had located this statue in the museum.TOI in July 2015 had reported that it was sold to the museum by Subhash Kapoor for $100,000 in April 2005.Kapoor had a fraudulent provenance attributed to art collector Leo Figiel who claimed that he acquired the idol from a European collection in1969 -  most Kapoor provenances go back to this year since 1970 is the cut-off year set by UN for transfer of cultural property . “The bronze sculpture of Shiva and Parvati, from the Chola Period, measuring 5 x 12.25 x 6 inches, was sourced illegally from India under the direction of Kapoor and smuggled into the US. Around 2004, the stolen idol was delivered to Kapoor's former Madison Avenue gallery , Art of the Past,” said a DHS release.The release quoted the museum director Robert La France as saying that the department had presented convincing evidence that the work was stolen and its documentation was false. In July, TOI had reported that the base of the statue has an inscription in Tamil that reads: “Thipampaapuram Sivigai Naayagar.”  TOI had attempted to trace this village.

At Dheepambalpuram in Thanjavur, Thyagarajan, the priest at the local Shiva temple, said there may have been such a “pradoshamurthy“ in the temple but had got damaged many decades ago. Though present HR&CE records do not show such an idol, it is possible that the statue was lost or stolen long back from the temple.Vijay Kumar who had helped to gather evidence says that the Ball State bronze's hand and feet had indeed been damaged and a poor repair had been attempted. While it is not yet established that the idol does belong to present-day Dheepambalpuram, the priest Thyagarajan says the temple has 27 bronze idols that are ancient and some have similar inscriptions on their pedestal.

What a sad state of affairs – the idol that should have been worshipped in a Temple built by Kings centuries ago – gets stolen, there appears much evidence to trace it back – yet the authorities who manage the temple do not even know what the Temple should have had.

Temples are religious places – Every temple has its own significance brought by the Lord there – certainly nothing to do with the management – and Officials clamour for obtaining ISO certificates for temples.  As if these are business houses, they have Vision Mission statements.  Here is one certification for a very famous temple : To provide high quality service through safety, security, queue facilities for darshan, ‘annadhanam' to devotees, maintaining cleanliness in the temple premises by office administration.”

~ and you may get to read the Quality policy of the Temple too, displayed in various languages. 

PS :  many thanks to Times of India and Mr S Vijayakumar for their efforts.