Recently, the Government announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is bringing back 157 artefacts and antiquities from the United States to India. And the man who deserves all the credits is Vijay Kumar, as he has worked round the clock to bring back India’s artefacts to the soil that holds great importance to the national treasure.
Sanjeev Sanyal, a writer, and economist took to Twitter to applaud for Vinay’s role in hunting down India’s artefacts. He tweeted, “He is too modest to say this himself, but Vijay Kumar @poetryinstone had a big role in hunting down many of these artefacts. Many years of effort tracing these idols across the world. Well done!!!!!!!”
He is too modest to say this himself, but Vijay Kumar @poetryinstone had a big role in hunting down many of these artefacts. Many years of effort tracing these idols across the world. Well done!!!!!!! https://t.co/dvbNSrSRSF
— Sanjeev Sanyal (@sanjeevsanyal) September 25, 2021
PM Modi bringing back the artefacts
In a bid to strengthen efforts to combat theft, illicit trade, and trafficking of cultural objects, India was handed over the 157 artefacts by the US. An official statement said, “While nearly half of the artefacts (71) are cultural, the other half consists of figurines related to Hinduism (60), Buddhism (16), and Jainism (9).”
It includes a vast range of items ranging from the one-and-a-half metre bas relief panel of Revanta in sandstone of the 10th CE to the 8.5 cm tall, exquisite bronze Nataraja from the 12th CE.
Referring to the artefacts, the official statement said, “They largely belong to the period of 11th CE to 14th CE as well as historic antiquities such as the copper anthropomorphic object of 2000 BC or the terracotta vase from the 2nd CE. Some 45 antiquities belong to Before Common Era.”
Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, President ICCR, took to Twitter to show gratitude towards PM Modi. He tweeted, “We at @iccr_hq wholeheartedly thank PM @narendramodi for bringing back artefacts that are parts of our invaluable national treasure! Indeed, this too is a unique way of strengthening cultural relations, based on mutual respect and genuine good wishes. @poetryinstone @sanjeevsanyal. ”
We at @iccr_hq wholeheartedly thank PM @narendramodi for bringing back artefacts that are parts of our invaluable national treasure!Indeed,this too is a unique way of strengthening cultural relations,based on mutual respect and genuine good wishes. @poetryinstone @sanjeevsanyal pic.twitter.com/MEtpHMlg9h
— Dr. VINAY Sahasrabuddhe (@Vinay1011) September 25, 2021
Vijay Kumar, the man who brought back stolen idols and artefacts
There is a man who has been trying with all his might to bring back the treasures that belong to India. Meet Vijay Kumar, the founder of the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) India Pride Project (IPP), who has a passion for traditional arts and sculptures. He has been fighting a battle for the last 14 years to recover the sacred idols that were smuggled out of the country.
In 2011, when New York-based gallerist Subhash Kapoor was arrested for allegedly running a $100 million smuggling racket, it was Vijay who had helped Interpol to arrest the idol trafficker. Vijay believed that the Indian agencies’ crackdown is just the start of many skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard.
Vijay told, “We’ve been working against organised lifting mafia since 2008, helping out task forces and custodians worldwide, in terms of digging out evidence and securing criminal prosecutions.”
Thereafter, he researched on artefacts that led him to trace the evolution of the ardhanari form of sculpture. “I picked a personal favourite – the Vriddhachlam Ardhanari,” he says. To his surprise, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney had the idol. Vijay had said, “Back in Vriddhachalam, the Virddhagesevarar temple authorities were blissfully unaware that the idol they had was a fake.”
What rose him to popularity was the return of a Ganesh idol which was handed over by the US government to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2016.
In 2013, a member of the India Pride Project traced the 1,000-year-old Ganesha idol to the Toledo museum in Ohio. “We matched the idol’s blemishes to the photo archives of the French Institute at Puducherry,” Vijay said. The NGO then uploaded a YouTube video titled ‘Remover of Obstacles’. Thereafter, the Toledo museum returned the idol, saying that they did not want stolen objects.
Earlier in 2020, the bronze idols of Lord Rama, Lakshman, and Sita were brought back years after they were smuggled out. Vijay Kumar had told that “IPP approached French Institute of Pondicherry (FIP) and browsed through their photo gallery. They have photo-documented and archived 10 per cent of Tamil Nadu temples in the 1950s and 1960s. It contains lakhs of photographs of thousands of sacred idols. These photo archives have played a crucial role in retrieving the smuggled out treasures.”
A global group of volunteers who choose to contribute their uncompensated time, skills, and energy to the restitution of stolen art objects to India, IPP was co-founded by Vijay Kumar in 2013. The organisation recently grabbed headlines in July this year for contributing its research towards an investigation that resulted in the return of the eight statues and six paintings by the National Gallery of Australia to the Indian government.
— India Pride Project (@IndiaPrideProj) July 29, 2021
One of the volunteers from the organisation said “If you look at the industry that peddles heritage art, they strip an object’s emotional value away and sell it only for its functional or aesthetic value,” he told VICE. “I get emails from people from small villages, saying ‘we had this temple; when my grandparents died they did their shraadh (last rites) there; my parents got married there, but now the deity is not there anymore; can you help us get it back?’ They don’t look at it as a national crime or a heritage crime; it’s a personal loss.”
Artefacts smuggling in India
According to a report, it is very convenient for smugglers to take terracotta artefacts out of the country. Terracotta idols and pots are broken into pieces and transported from India to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Dubai, and through London and Switzerland to avoid detection. Many of these stolen items ended up in the Swiss Freeport. Since then, freeports have been providing looters a secure location to fence the stolen artefacts.
In a firm message to the smugglers, Vijay had once said, “It involves many conspirators and compliant individuals. Our biggest enemy is compliance. We want to make sure that the next time someone wants to buy an Indian idol or artefact, they know not to mess with us.”