The return of a 900-year-old statue of dancing Shiva stolen from the ancient Brihadeeswarar temple of Sripuranthan, TN is an interesting one. The sensational recovery created as much excitement as one would get watching a James Bond thriller.
The Dancing Shiva is a unique idol native to Chola Nadu. The cosmic dancer does a dual job by way of joyful dancing and beating tamaru (small drum) in his hand, symbolic of destruction of the universe on one side and creation of new lands and lives on the other. The dance is a perpetual one to sustain the universe and to keep all the natural processes going uninterrupted. In this role Lord Shiva does maintain a perfect balance between aggredation and degradation - creative and destructive natural forces acting on the universe.The dance of Shiva in Tillai (Chidambaram, TN) forms the motif for all the depictions of God Shiva. As you may know, it is the symbol of Indian culture and heritage.
What is so special about Sripuranthan Nataraja Idol? Like many Hindu idols of deities, this particular one is a valuable one because of its metal content and age. Idols of this kind belonging to Chola period fetch huge sums on the international markets. Some
money minded people who are neither patriotic nor attach cultural and ethical significance to objects of venration and worship
are the main culprits who entice the Indian thieves to lift the
age old idols of Hindu gods from temples. One Subhash Kapoor,
the owner of an antique art gallery in New York was the brain
behind the stealing of eight idols from the Brihadeeswarar
temple at Sripuranthan in 2008, 18 idols from the Varadharaja Perumal temple, and in 2010, 6 panchaloha idols from Chozeeshwarar temple at Vikiramangalam.
Subhash Kapoor, who owned an Indian art dealership called 'Art of the Past' in Manhattan, USA, had wide international contacts, supplying antique Indian artifacts.
In 2006, on his visit to Tamil nadu, Kapoor established
a contact with a local leader of thieves and this gang stole Nataraja and Uma Mashewari, Vinayagar, Devi, Deepalaksmi, Chandrashekarar, Sampanthar and Krishnar idols from the dilapidated Brihadeeswarar temple at Sripuranthan.
As the Puja protocol is stopped long ago, with no visitors, the temple was in bad shape ridden with poisonous bugs, critters, etc. The thieves starting in 2006 broke open the temple on three occasions and stole the idols.To avoid suspicion, they glued the temple locks as if they were not tampered with. They made the original idols look like just replica and got clearance from the Indian custom officials to be sent to Kapoor in New York. Kapoor on his part, hoodwinked the US Customs officials and got a certificate from the Art Loss Register (ALR) stating that the Nataraja idol was not on the stolen artefact's register.
Following accusations of illegal dealing, Kapoor's gallery was raided by Homeland Security, USA and stolen artwork worth 100 million dollars was seized. Subhash Kapoor was arrested in Germany and extradited to India to face trial. As of 2016, he was in the Puzhal Central Prison, near Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India. It is said his prison term will be maximum - 14 long years.
|Mills of God. Wikipedia|
|Sripuranthan Nataraja idol. Tamilnadu Tourism|
waist cloth of shiva merged with the 23rd and 24th flame, 3rd flame slightly damaged, 12th and13th flame damaged,17th flame damaged and flowing hair damaged.
In March 2016, the Natarajan idol was re-united with its consort Uma Parmeshwari, at the ASI Icon Centre, Kumbakonam, after nearly 8 years. In the wake of Kapor's arrest, many idols were retured to India by the museums across the world. In June 2016, the United States returned nearly 200 antiques to the Indian Government, in the presence of the visiting Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi at Washington DC. Indeed, a good gesture on their part. Quite interesting to note among the stolen items is the return of the antiques from the Chola period (850 AD to 1250 AD), The bronze idol of Tamil Shaivite poet Manikkavacakar Tamil Shaivite poet Manikkavacakar stolen from the Sivan Temple in Madras and the 1000 year old Sripuranthan Vinayagar which was displayed at the Toledo Museum of Art.