Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American

U.S. to Return 1,000-Year-Old Stolen Apsara Sculpture to India

Halebidu temple, Karnataka (Representational Image)

India will be soon getting back a 10th century stone sculpture called the “Apsara” that is currently displayed at a museum in Los Angeles in the United States, the Pioneer reported, citing sources in the Indian culture ministry.

The 1,000-year-old sculpture was stolen in 1998 from a Shiv temple at Badoli village in Sikar, Rajasthan. Sources told the newspaper that it was decided that the sculpture would be returned after extensive discussions with the United States government.

An apsara is a character in Indian mythology. She is a celestial singer and dancer married to the Gandharvas, celestial musicians.

“Presently, Apsara statue is kept in a U.S. museum and soon officials from the ministry of external affairs and the culture ministry will travel to the United States to work out details to bring the antiquity back to India,” the report quoted a source as saying.

The sculpture will be among 18 valuable antiquities brought back to India in the last three years from the United States in adherence to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was created in 1970 due to increasing thefts from museums and archaeological sites.

On March 22, 2018, Minister of Culture Mahesh Sharma told the Lok Sabha in a written reply that 27 antiques have been retrieved from foreign countries, out of which 11 belong to Tamil Nadu, in the last three years.

“Whenever any illegally exported objects and antiques of Indian origin surface in a foreign country, efforts are made through Indian missions abroad for their retrieval,” he said.

Among the antiquities returned are a stone sculpture of Brahma and Brahmani from Britain; stone image of goddess Durga, a sandstone image of Nataraja and a metal image of Bahubali from the United States; seated Buddha from Australia; and Parrot Lady from Canada. One each from Germany, Singapore, the Netherlands, and France was also recovered.

The United Kingdom will also be returning a Nataraja sculpture soon.

“The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is making all efforts to recover stolen antiquities from abroad. Till date, the ASI has recovered 18 antiquities from various countries,” Sharma added. Most countries returned the antiques voluntarily while some were returned only after a lawsuit, he said.

The then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott returned a 900-year-old bronze Hindu “dancing Shiva” during his trip to India to finalize a deal providing Australian uranium to the country in 2014. Australia also returned in 2014 the Ardhanariswara, which was stolen from Tamil Nadu.

The 900-year-old Parrot Lady was handed over by the then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in 2015.