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Late medieval Vishnu idol, seized from smugglers, handed over to ASI

The statue is among 101 such antiquities seized by Customs and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) which were simultaneously handed over to ASI across seven locations in the country.
Last Updated 29 February 2024, 14:26 IST

New Delhi: A late medieval period bronze statue of Vishnu which was stopped from being illegally smuggled by Bangalore Customs officials was on Thursday handed over to the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The statue is among 101 such antiquities seized by Customs and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) which were simultaneously handed over to ASI across seven locations in the country.

The Vishnu idol, in his Perumal avatar, was going to be illegally exported in July 2021 as a courier consignment from Tamil Nadu to Malaysia, but was intercepted by Bengaluru Customs who detected oxidation in the bronze item declared to be in new condition.

A photo of the Vishnu idol that was handed over.

A photo of the Vishnu idol that was handed over.

Credit: Special Arrangement

Other antiquities include an Uma-Maheshwari panel from the 11th century and a lintel part of a temple dating to the 12th century that depicts Vishnu and his consort as well as five saptamatrikas.

A photo of the lintel depicting Vishnu with his consort and five saptamatrikas.

A photo of the lintel depicting Vishnu with his consort and five saptamatrikas.

Credit: Special Arrangement

Some of these antiquities will now be on display at the National Museum. The handovers took place at Bengaluru, Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar, Delhi, Guwahati, Mumbai and Pune.

Sitharaman said that in the last 10 years, India has been able to repatriate several rare coins and antiquities, including “panchaloka vigrahas”, and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked for these antiquities repeatedly in his bilateral negotiations.

“Some of the efforts include calling ASI, at the last minute, to check the veracity of what is being taken away. They need to be in this country for us to respect them and value them,” Sitharaman said.

Some of the significant antiquities that were handed over include a palm leaf manuscript of 155 leaves composed in classical Champu with metres and rhythms in the modern Odia script and language; a manuscript if 17 leaves made of hand-made paper written in Devanagari script that contains Buddhist texts. These were seized in the year 2019 and 2020 before they were to be smuggled to Spain and France respectively.

The government in a release said that Indian Customs and ASI have been collaborating over the years to “secure and preserve” antiquities. Officials said that though many of these antiquities were repatriated or intercepted over the years, a formal handover had not taken place.

Unauthorised export of antiquities is prohibited under the provisions of the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972.

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(Published 29 February 2024, 14:26 IST)

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