Bloggers on the trail

Print edition : January 24, 2014

A REPORT posted on www.chasingaphrodite.com, a blog that claims to be on the hunt for looted antiquities in world museums, details how Subash Chandra Kapoor and his accomplice Sanjivi Ashokan had operated. The blog is written and maintained by Jason Felch, an award-winning investigative reporter at Los Angeles Times, and focusses especially on corruption in the art world. (Felch and Ralph Frammolino, also from Los Angeles Times, wrote the acclaimed book Chasing Aphrodite, on looted antiquities and the thriving art black market, which made the final shortlist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2006.)

The October 14, 2013, post in the blog says: “Ashokan identifies bronze idols of Chola period in disused temples in Tamil Nadu after browsing through the pages of books… and other research-based materials on idols. He would employ a crew that would include local history-sheeters.” To instil fear among villagers and devotees, the local accomplices, the blog says, would spread rumours that the targeted temples were susceptible to attacks by deadly bees.

The blog, which is followed closely by the Cyber Crime Wing of the Tamil Nadu Police, claims to have “revealed” in July 2013 the theft of a 1,000-year-old Indian stone sculpture of Lord Arthanareeshwarar from the Virudhagirishwarar temple in Vriddhachalam, some 200 kilometres from Chennai, and its sale to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, allegedly for $(U.S.)300,000. The statue, which was profiled by the French Institute of Pondicherry in 1974, surfaced at the Australian museum in 2004. The Tamil Nadu Idol Wing police have filed the first information report in this case, including Kapoor as an accused.

Another report posted on the same blog claims that Kapoor sold the 11th century Chola bronze sculpture of Uma Parameshwari to Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum for $(U.S.)650,000. “We have sought information on this from the museum management to prepare a complaint against Kapoor though an FIR has already been filed in the case,” said the DIG.

Another blog, http://poetryinstone.in, is run by Vijay Kumar, a Singapore-based “sculpture culture profiler” of Tamil Nadu temples. It has run exclusive reports with exhaustive details on antique idols that have been stolen from the Sripuranthan and Suthamalli temples. “My objective is to make the people aware and appreciate the importance of our hoary tradition, which we inherit and own,” he told Frontline.

He pointed out that Kapoor’s “Saundarya”, a 2011 catalogue of his Art of The Past gallery, besides boasting of artefacts from Rajasthan and Bihar and from Nepal and Thailand, showcased rare bronzes from Tamil Nadu. The visuals of the Uma Parameshwari bronze, which surfaced at the Singapore museum, were featured in it.

The catalogue, printed in Hong Kong, also exhibited photographs of Lord Nataraja, an 11th century bronze and 89.5 cm tall, in his cosmic dance. Kapoor’s close associate, Aaron M. Freedman, and Jennifer M. Moore were credited with the text. The catalogue also listed the granite sculpture of Lord Chandeshwara Nayanar, also belonging to the 11th and 12th century Chola period. Vijay Kumar said that among the idols stolen from the Suthamalli and Sripuranthan temples were two Nataraja bronzes. Since the idols in the Suthamalli temple carry the Tamil engraving “Suthavalli”, Kapoor was not able to dispose them of easily, Vijay Kumar claimed.

R. Ilangovan

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