Friday, 13 May 2016

Mystery of the missing Gods

A tumbled ruin: the Brihadeeswara temple. A stone warrior guards the doorway, half-sunk in sand. Hundreds of bats whirl overhead, shrieking at the intrusion. Exposed beams, textured by time and mold, add to the musty smell in the air. Cobwebs on prayer lamps enhance the sense of abandonment. The altar is stripped bare, like a frame without a picture: It's a temple without a god. The 1,000-year-old guardian of the temple, Shiva Nataraja, is missing from his abode.
The Lord of Cosmic Dance has travelled 9,000 km to the National Gallery of Art in Canberra, Australia. How did he get there? Ask Subhash Kapoor, 65, a New Delhi-born and New York-based antiquity dealer, considered an art connoisseur as well as one of the biggest idol smugglers in the world.

He sold the Nataraja for $5.1m 2008. Kapoor is suspected of stealing over 150 idols worth $100 million from India. "Art and antiquity theft is one of the most lucrative crimes," says IPS officer Prateep V. Philip, director general, EOW, in Chennai. "It outbids drug trafficking, arms dealing, and money laundering." The odds of recovering stolen treasures are abysmal, one in ten. But in this case, authorities managed to trace the idol
Six gods were identified in museums and private collections across the world: Canberra, New South Wales, Chicago, Ohio to Singapore. The Australian government has ordered NGA to remove the Nataraja from display.

American and Indian investigators have compiled an enormous dossier on Kapoor. Much of the material has been the product of an investigation called Operation Hidden Idol.

American authorities say Kapoor was, in volume and value, the largest antiquities smuggler in American history.
Their best evidence is an almost unimaginable 2,622 items, worth $107.6 million that was confiscated from storerooms in Manhattan and Queens, and virtually all of it contraband from India. American museums have begun returning possibly stolen artifacts to India. Museums from Hawaii to Massachusetts have handed over items bought from Kapoor’s defunct business, Art of the Past, which was on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

Another 15 American museums have been identified as holding items obtained from Kapoor
February 5, 2016. The special court in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu falls silent. No one answers to “Subhash Chandra Kapoor”, the court officer looks at the prosecutors and police officers. They explain that he is being brought from the Puzhal prison in Chennai, his home since 2012. The court is adjourned.

In a while, a police van enters. Policemen escort a balding, fair man in his 60s, whose face is covered with a blue cotton towel. Though this was his first visit in handcuffs to Kumbakonam, Kapoor has known the temple town closely for many years. This was, after all, a major source for his colossal antique business. On March 11, US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized two more stolen Indian sculptures, dating back to the 8th and 10th centuries from auction house Christie's in New York. Though the Homeland Security Investigations seized 2,622 objects from his warehouse, only 18 idols have been mentioned in the two cases registered by the Tamil Nadu police.

Every day, Kapoor has bread, a cup of rice and five pieces of fried fish.

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