India with its ancient glory of rich cultural and artistic traditions has been a point of interest for many. Archeologists, historians, epistemologists and others have always been fascinated with the centuries-old cultural and artistic traditions of India. Whether it be the temples of Khajuraho constructed in the 9th and 11th century CE by the Chandelas or the beautiful sandstone sculpture of Didarganj Yakshi, which dates back to the 3rd century BCE, different art forms in the Indian subcontinent have been a great matter of curiosity and value.
India’s cultural treasures which catalyzed the cultural progress in the Indian subcontinent, have been at the receiving end of the greed of foreign powers and individuals. From Mughals to the British, continuous disregard and malafide intention for Indian art has been the norm for most of the part. Different religious and political ideologies led to perpetual desecration and illegal smuggling of Indian art forms for centuries. This constant loot of art forms has stripped India of its Pride.
Today hundreds of sophisticated and well organized criminal groups exist, which operate in this depressive and lucrative business of smuggling stolen artifacts. Stolen ancient Indian sculptures, manuscripts and others find their way into international markets where they are sold for millions of dollars. From Khajuraho alone, over a hundred erotic sculptures had been stolen during 1965-1970. A total of about 70,000 artifacts have been reported as stolen, out of which only about 4,900 are under the possession of supportive foreign authority.
Different initiatives which aim to bring these illegally smuggled artifacts back to their original home are active and have been successful in recovering significant artwork from the international networks. The India Pride Project, an initiative to bring back stolen artifacts has provided data that over hundreds of sculptures have been brought back to India in the last 5 years under Modi government, which is well above the average of the past few decades. This includes the ‘Lingodhbhavamurti‘, a granite sculpture depicting an iconic representation of Lord Shiva which dates back to the Chola dynasty and 12th century, currently valued at USD 225,000 or more than 1.5 crore rupees. The statue was fortified after the American owner was presented with the evidence of the artifacts were previously stolen from India.
— Anuraag Saxena (@anuraag_saxena) March 10, 2019
A high number of returned artifacts indicate towards the efforts of the Modi government, which when combined with groups like India Pride Project, have accelerated the process of return of stolen artifacts to their original home. In 2016, PM Modi had attended an event for the return of idols in the US. The event marked the beginning of the process of returning more than 200 stolen cultural objects back to India, where PM Modi mentioned that “return of heritage can prove to be a binding force in bilateral ties.”
As a nation, we have to strive towards reclaiming our stolen heritage and returning our pride. Involvement of experts, efforts to diminish demands, and generating enthusiasm towards returning of stolen heritage is the way ahead. Initiatives by the Modi government are great steps ahead towards reclaiming the lost Indian heritage as art is the soul of the society and nation.