Explained: Tamil Nadu sculptures recovered from Australia and the United States
Ten antiques (sculptures) recovered from Australia and the United States were handed over to the Tamil Nadu government in Delhi last week. Union Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy said at the event, “Bringing Our Gods Home is an initiative of government that is rooted in the preservation, promotion and propagation of our heritage.” He said only 13 antiquities were brought back to India between independence and 2013, compared to 228 antiquities since 2014.
Some of the returned antiques and how they disappeared:
Dvarapala: Recovered in 2020 from Australia, this stone sculpture belongs to the Vijayanagar dynasty dating from the 15th-16th century. He holds a gada in one hand and has another leg raised to the level of his knee. The sculpture was robbed from Moondreeswaramudayar Temple, Tiruneveli in 1994.
Nataraja: Retrieved in 2021 from the United States, this image of Nataraja, a representation of Shiva, in his divine cosmic dancing form, is in tribhanga posture, standing on the lotus pedestal. It is dated from the 11th-12th century. It is possible that ananda tandava or the dance of bliss is represented here. The sculpture was broken into the vault of Punnainallur Arulmigu Mariyamman Temple, Thanjavur in 2018.
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Kankalamurti: Recovered in 2021 from the United States, Kankalamurti is described as a fearsome aspect of Lord Shiva and Bhairava. The sculpture is four-armed, holding ayudhas such as damaru and trishula in the upper hands and a bowl and cloverleaf-shaped object, as a treat for the mischievous fawn, in the lower right hand. The idol dates from the 12th to 13th century and was stolen from Narasinganadhar Swamy Temple, Tirunelveli in 1985.
Nandikeshvara: Recovered in 2021 from the United States, this bronze image of Nandikeshvara, datable to the 13th century, is depicted standing in tribhanga posture with arms crossed, holding an ax and a fawn in the upper arms, with its forearms in namaskara mudras. This sculpture was stolen from the Narasinganadhar Swamy temple, Tirunelveli, in 1985.
Four-armed Vishnu: Recovered in 2021 in the United States, datable to the 11th century and belonging to the later Chola period. The sculpture shows Lord Vishnu standing on a padma pedestal holding attributes such as shankha and chakra with both hands; while the lower right hand is in abhaya mudra. It was stolen from Arulmigu Varadharaja Perumal Temple, Ariyalur in 2008.
Goddess Parvati: Recovered in 2021 in the United States, the image depicts a sculpture from the Chola period dating from the 11th century. She is depicted holding a lotus in her left hand while the right hangs near her kati. This sculpture was also stolen from Arulmigu Varadharaja Perumal Temple, Ariyalur in 2008.
Child standing Sambandar: Recovered in 2022 from Australia. Sambandar, the popular child saint of the 7th century, is one of the Muvar, the three chief saints of South India. The sculpture is dated to the 11th century. Legend has it that after receiving a bowl of milk from Goddess Uma, the child Sambandar devoted his life to composing hymns in praise of Lord Shiva. The sculpture displays the childlike quality of the saint, while giving him the maturity and authority of a spiritual leader. It was stolen from Sayavaneeswarar Temple, Nagapattinam, between 1965 and 1975.