The saga of the elephant headed God – Sripuranthan Ganesha

Sripuranthan Ganesha was identified in a museum in Toledo, Ohio after much research

Sripuranthan Ganesha was identified in a museum in Toledo, Ohio after much research
Sripuranthan Ganesha was identified in a museum in Toledo, Ohio after much research
In recent times there has been a spurt in the attention on ‘India’s stolen heritage’. With several countries returning India’s heritage to PM Modi, it is but natural that both media and the public at large would talk about it. US repatriated more than 200 stolen artefacts whose collective value is estimated to cross $ 100 million in June this year. Among this stash is a bronze idol of Lord Ganesha whose significance we shall learn later in this article.

This repatriation by several countries is a victory to the team members of India Pride Project (the successor of the blog www.poetryinstone.in) who have been striving to create awareness among the public in general and the concerned authorities in particular about the value of these priceless possessions that ought to rightly be in its place of origin. We have been studying several such cases in this series including that of Sivapuram Somaskanda, Kailasanatha Gauri and Sripuranthan Nataraja among others. Our scope is limited to examining their significance and tracing their journey from temples in India to art-houses throughout the world. This is an attempt to create awareness and interest among the masses for India’s rich cultural heritage. Each of us has a duty to preserve our heritage for the generations to come.

Crime and criminal in the limelight
In the earlier articles of this series we learnt about the modus operandi of the smugglers. A quick recap of the procedure is in order here. Small time thieves were employed to steal the original bronzes from the temples and replace them with fake ones. The idols were shipped to Hong Kong where fake documents were created for the same. The artefacts were then dispatched to US, UK and other European nations.

Heritage artefacts have a huge market worldwide and often museums end up purchasing such precious products, with or without the knowledge of them being stolen. Strong diplomatic ties are one of the main reasons why we are seeing a higher number of repatriation at present than any time before. What really opened the floodgates was the arrest of Subhash Kapoor; New York based art dealer and owner of ‘Art of the past’ gallery. His arrest brought into limelight an international smuggling racket than ran into $100 million dollars (Source: Wikipedia).

Identifying Ganesha
Among the several bronzes that have been returned by USA is a 1000 year old Ganesha idol. The team made a comparative study of the images obtained from the idol wing and that of the Ganesha idol then housed at the Toledo Museum, Ohio, United States. As in most cases the quality of the original picture was not very good which made identifying the artefact that much more difficult. One of the reasons why most of our ancient treasures go untraced for several years is the lack of documented and photographic evidences for the same.

Nevertheless the team was able to identify and match certain features which proved it beyond a shadow of doubt that the bronze Ganesha was none other than the one which belonged to Sripuranthan temple. The ornamentation on the hands, base pedestal and loin cloth all fitted to a tee. However, the biggest giveaway was the slight blemish on the trunk. This clinching piece of evidence helped the team to make a case for the repatriation of this valuable centuries old Ganesha idol.

A tale of negligence
Early in our series we dealt with several issues that plague the identification and return of Indian heritage smuggled and sold abroad. One of the most important reasons for the apathy among the officials, besides the trademark Indian ‘CHALTA HAI’ attitude is the lack of a dedicated department to deal with such thefts. In the absence of an official department no one seems to be stepping up and taking responsibility.

The team brought to light the presence of the bronze Ganesha at Toledo Museum and after Subash Kapoor’s arrest the Museum conducted its own investigations. It then made efforts to contact several Indian authorities to obtain details of the idol and its theft. It is indeed unfortunate that the Museum did not receive any response from the concerned authorities. Such apathy and negligence on the part of custodians of India’s heritage is appalling to say the least. Unless we respect our heritage we cannot expect others to do so.

Getting the lord back home
The continued efforts of the team did not get wasted and on September 22 last year the Toledo Museum issued a statement announcing the return of the idol to India along with three other heritage artefacts. In keeping with its announcement the idol was returned along with several other valuable artefacts when PM Modi visited the US in June this year.

Many precious artefacts have been stolen, smuggled and sold abroad. Although there is no proper figure as to the number of such stolen artefacts, the general agreement is that it could run into thousands. In the recent past we have seen several countries returning a number of those heritage items. This is, however, just the tip of the iceberg and we have a long way to go. So while we rejoice the repatriation of these Gods let us not forget several others beg for our attention as well.

Links for further study:

  1. http://poetryinstone.in/lang/en/2013/11/05/kapoor-files-art-of-the-loot-part-9-toledo-ganesha

  2. http://poetryinstone.in/lang/en/2014/02/20/kapoor-files-art-of-the-loot-part-13-the-plight-of-the-abandoned-toledo-ganesha

  3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/US-museum-to-return-Ganesha-idol-stolen-from-TN-by-Kapoor/articleshow/49147360.cms

  4. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/us-returns-200-artifacts-worth-100-million-to-india/articleshow/52634085.cms

Latha Iyer

Latha is a content writer, with a Masters degree in Arts (History) and currently blogs in several sites such as saffronkoffee.wordpress.com and indiancoffeebeans.wordpress.com.

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