The US has returned over 200 cultural artifacts worth Rs 668 crore, at a ceremony in the presence of visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.
PM Modi with US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch indianexpress
The stolen artifacts returned by US Department of Homeland Security include religious statues, bronzes and terra cotta pieces, some dating back 2,000 years, looted from some of India’s most treasured religious sites.
External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted:
Among the pieces returned is a bronze sculpture of Lord Ganesh estimated to be 1,000-year-old. Another is a statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period (circa 850 AD to 1250 AD) stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai, which is valued at $1.5 million.
The returned artifacts also include a Jain figure of Bahubali, a Buddha idol and a female figurine.
“For some, these artifacts may be measured in monetary terms but for us this is beyond that. It’s a part of our culture and heritage,” the Prime Minister said.
The artifacts that speak to India’s astounding history and beautiful culture are beginning their journey home, US Attorney General Loretta E Lynch said. “It is my hope – and the hope of the American people- that this repatriation will serve as a sign of our great respect for India’s culture; our deep admiration for its people; and our sincere appreciation for the ties between our nations,” she said.
“Protecting the cultural heritage of our global community is important work and we are committed to identifying and returning these priceless items to their countries of origin and rightful owners,” said Secretary of US Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.
“It’s the responsibility of law enforcement worldwide to ensure criminal smuggling organizations do not profit from the theft of these culturally and historically valuable items,” he said.
The majority of the pieces repatriated in the ceremony were seized during Operation Hidden Idol, an investigation that began in 2007 after Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) special agents received a tip about a shipment of seven crates destined for the US manifested as “marble garden table sets”. Examination of the shipment in question revealed numerous antiquities. This shipment was imported by Subhash Kapoor, owner of Art of the Past Gallery, who awaits trial in India.