Stolen Chola-era Buddha idol of Tamil Nadu in the U.S - a challenge for the TN idol Wing Police

Stolen Buddha from Arpakkam,

Stolen Buddha from Arpakkam, TN

The thefts of rare and antique idols and artifacts from various indian states have been going on and in the past one and half decades there has been a spike in the idol thefts. India being a vast country, theft of idols is a menace and safety measures are in countless temple, they are not good enough to prevent theft. The right deterrence is severe action and punishment to the culprits and art dealers who are behind the thefts in the places of worship. Retrieving stolen idols from overseas museums, art galleries is a time consuming work for the officials. This is true of the stolen Buddha idol from a Tamil nadu village primarily because of absence of police complaint and preliminary investigation report into the theft.   

The idol of  seated Buddha, belonging to the Chola-era (about 1000 years old) was stolen  20 years ago from  Arpakkam village near Kancheepuram town, Tamil Nadu and though the theft had not been either reported or investigated as part of routine procedures,  the  antique idol was stuck in the USA, awaiting return to India. The Inol Wing of TN submitted relevant papers to  retrieve the idol from the US.

The stolen idol was unexpectedly  first spotted at an exhibition in Singapore in 2007 and it was on   Buddhism in India, China and South East Asia  organised by the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), Singapore. On display there was an antique idol with  description Nagapattinam Buddha’ that was on loan from Art of Past, an art gallery owned by Subhash Kapoor. The NYC based art gallery sold several Indian artefacts to the ACM and after the exhibition was over the Buddha idol was returned to New York city. The idol was  featured in the Art of Past 2010 catalog with reliable historical record as an important exhibit in the Asian Civilisations Museum from November 2007 to March 23, 2008. 

Emphasizing the historical value of this old and rare idol, Kapoor hiked up the price tag to USD 2 million and put it on the international market. The Indian cops were already tailing him as he was a well-known Indian art smuggler with international links and in the later years he was indicted in many illegal smuggling of rare Indian antiques and temple idols in particular, from Tamil Nadu. 

Homeland Security in 2012 chipped in and seized the so called Nagapattinam Buddha. Unfortunately, in the absence of clear evidence of theft, the Indian authorities were unable to get the Buddha idol back to its original place in India.

According to S. Vijay Kumar, art enthusiast and co-founder of India Pride, said,  the vital proof is in the image of the Buddha   in a 2001 book titled ‘Arignar Parvaiyil Boutham’, authored by T. Rajagopalan and has requested the Idol Wing of TN to recover the two idols stolen from Arpakkam village that has three heritage sites - all over 1000 years . Shiva, Vishnu and jain temples and the three granite idols of Buddha were on the premises of Vishnu temple.  Steps are being taken to safeguard  two other Buddhas . ASI had a plan to resurvey this area  to unearth more artifacts that might lie hidden near the temples.   The Idol Wing  was in touch with the Homeland Security and were making efforts to bring the idol back home as early as possible.