Archaeology breakthrough: ‘India Jones’ tracks down hundreds of pieces of lost treasure

Budget robot for underwater archaeology

We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info

By day, S Vijay Kumar, 48, works as an executive for a Chennai – and Singapore-based shipping company. By night, however, the art aficionado and self-proclaimed “idol hunter” works to recover artefacts stolen from temples across India. By combining online detective work with a network of antiquities experts, “India Jones” has managed to track down hundreds of his home country’s missing artefacts from the catalogues of auction houses around the globe. His “last crusade” — pun intended — involved the return to India of an eighth-century bronze representation of Buddha that had been stolen more than six decades ago and had ended up in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum.

The identification and recovery of the statue was marked with a small ceremony in LA.

Mr Kumar told the Times: “This case is another important victory for our fight against the illicit trafficking of antiquities.”

The Buddha was among 14 bronzes stolen from the Archaeological Survey of India Museum in Nalanda, Bihar, back in 1961.

One other statue from this lost collection was recovered from London in late 2018 after it was spotted going under the hammer at auction.

Mr Kumar has also played an instrumental role in “Operation Hidden Idol”, an investigation by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement into the dealings of the Indian–American art dealer Subhash Kapoor that resulted in the seizure of hundreds of artefacts worth some $100million (£78.4million) in total.

Among these was a $5.1million (£4million), 900-year-old bronze statue representing Nataraja — the Hindu god Shiva in his form as the divine cosmic dancer — that was stolen from the dilapidated and locked-up Brihadeeswarar temple at Sripuranthan, Tamil Nadu, in 2006.

After it was stolen, the idol was smuggled to the US before being sold under a false provenance to the National Gallery of Australia, who has since returned the idol to India.

Mr Kapoor — who was arrested in Frankfurt, Germany by Interpol in 2011 — was charged with 86 felony counts relating to his antiquities dealings, but maintains that he is innocent.

According to Mr Kumar, his interest in India’s history began at a young age, when he was growing up in the village of Kolathur, near the temple town of Tirukoilur, in southern India.

He said: “It started off just with trips to temples and museums with friends and my grandmother, who introduced me to several books about art history written in Tamil […] about the history of many of these statues and artefacts. I was hooked.

“I realised much of our Indian art and heritage was not available, in the way it should be available, to the layman.

“It’s important that these works are studied in their own home context for me.”

As for his image as a latter-day Indiana Jones, Mr Kumar says that times have moved on.

He added: “That old style of foreign museums that take in ancient objects and educate people about them in a certain, narrow way have had their day.

“It’s important that these works are studied in their own home context for me.”

The history of colonialism, he said, plays a large role in his efforts to recover artefacts.

Study reveals risk of heart problems after Moderna or Pfizer vaccines [ANALYSIS]
Musk and Bezos have UK space sector ‘on their radar’ [INSIGHT]
Hepatitis warning as cases in children in UK surge [REPORT]

Mr Kumar added: “We chase a lot of artefacts and unsurprisingly a lot of them are ones taken from India in colonial times.

“And I don’t just mean the British, but there are a lot stuck in, for example, Danish collections.

“The Danish overlords way back when took plenty with them from India, including a pair of sapta matas that were ‘obtained’ from poor people for a paltry sum and a pair of spectacles.”

(The sapta matas, or saptamatrikas, are a group of seven mother goddesses in Hinduism.)

Fortunately, Mr Kumar said, collectors, dealers, museums and the public are — despite disagreements over high-profile artefacts like the Koh-i-Noor diamond and Parthenon Marbles — growing more open to the restitution of looted artefacts.

He concluded: “India itself has been lax in pursuing some of these artefacts but there is an increasing movement to repatriate objects and it should use that in its favour.”

Source: Read Full Article