Thursday February 22, 2018

Sacred Indian art is seen more as “Art” than as “Sacred” in the art market: Dr. Donna Yates

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By Nithin Sridhar

Hundreds of arts, antiquities, sacred icons, and sacred idols are stolen every year from across the world. Many of them make their way into various museums and galleries as legitimate pieces of art and antiques.

In India, every other week some idols from remote temples are stolen and shipped out of the country. These idols are not just icons of the past, having antique values, but they are the abode of the living deities. Hence, when these idols are stolen, there is not just a loss of artifacts having rich history and heritage value, but there is also a loss of “living” icons through which the common people connect with their Gods, having invoked the presence of Gods into those icons and idols.

Hence, this theft and trafficking of sacred art, is not just a theft of art or antique but is also a theft of sacredness, a theft of the abode of the Gods that people worship.

But, in the art market, says Dr. Donna Yates,Sacred Indian art is seen more as “Art” than either “Sacred” or “Ancient”. This is an important distinction. If you remove it from its sacred context, you don’t have to think about the cultural loss experienced by the people who no longer have the holy object in their temple. It is just art, nothing else.

If you don’t think of it as “ancient” or as “antiquity” (even if it is a thousand years old), you don’t have to think about the destruction of archaeological sites or the laws broken to get the statue to you. I think a lot of classification on the art market is to remove the real context of the pieces, to make them art above everything else.

Dr. Donna Yates is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow, who is currently visiting Nepal till 19 July, to observe heritage site security measures following the country’s April earthquake.

In an exclusive interview with NewsGram, Dr. Yates said: “I am seeing some form of sacred art theft nearly every other day and this is excluding theft of, say, donation boxes. I am talking about theft of idols, jewelry on idols, or sacred decorative elements in temples. Yes, there are a lot of big and small temples in India, but that is still quite a lot of theft.”

Also Read: Full Interview with Dr. Donna Yates

When asked, what made her to take interest in sacred arts thefts in India, Dr. Yates told that when she was researching on the thefts of sacred arts in Latin American churches, she searched for other places having similar thefts.

Places where you have many sacred sites, a lot of sacred art, and a specific type of security issue: that the sites must be accessible for common people to use them. You can’t just remove the sacred art or lock the door at all times because that would mean that people cannot worship their gods. That brought me to India and Nepal: it is exactly the same issue as Latin American churches.”

Source: http://www.tneow.gov.in
Source: http://www.tneow.gov.in

Regarding the modus operandi of the art thieves, Dr. Yates shared that, though each smuggling network is different, usually the middle men let it be known in the market that they are in look out for certain kinds of artefacts and the thieves steal those items for them. Then the small objects are often taken out of the country by sending them through post or taking them in person as tourist souvenirs.

But, when it comes to big items, she said: “you need a big and sophisticated operation. It is worth looking into Subhash Kapoor for this as his operation was truly shocking. He would export the art, routing the items through several ports so that they would pick up a paper trail. He listed them falsely on export and import documents (once as stone garden furniture I believe) and would eventually make up false histories, and false paperwork that he would present to museums.

Citing the example of the Nataraja statue which was stolen from Tamil Nadu and then sold to National Gallery of Australia (but is now back in India), Dr. Yates adds that:

The thieves who were contracted to steal the piece were paid about 6000USD. The National Gallery of Australia paid the dealer Subhash Kapoor 5.5 million USD! Thus the people at the bottom who took all the risk were paid the least, but the man at the top who could portray the object as ‘clean’ and a ‘safe buy’ was able to command a very high price.

When asked to shed light about provenances that are so easily falsified by shady dealers and used to fool museums and galleries, Dr. Yates said: “Well I think the biggest issue when it comes to provenance is that we do not have an international system of import and export permits for art like we do for, say, wildlife. Because each country has different standards when it comes to art import and export, middlemen and traffickers can game the system.

Listing out the measures that can be taken to prevent art thefts, Dr. Yates stressed on the need to involve the local community and to properly document the sacred icons. She said:

A focus on community involvement in the documentation of art within sacred sites (not just someone from the government or the ASI coming in and doing it), which would accompany community level discussions about both protection of these sites and the realities of the art market is very necessary.

An object that has been properly documented is very difficult to sell on the art market. Even buyers who are willing to buy stolen objects don’t want to spend money on objects that are easily shown to be stolen. Presenting this to communities and then having them help with photographing, measuring etc. of art could go a long way.”

The interview ended with Dr. Yates sharing her experience regarding her interactions with Indians on Twitter: I have found that the Indian community online is one of the most active and passionate community about this topic. I am not saying that people in other parts of the world don’t care about their sacred art, they very much do. But over the past year I have had such passionate and positive response from people in India about this research that I am very encouraged. For heritage protection, it is important that preservation reflect the needs and desires of the people and it seems that India is very passionate about protecting its heritage. I love it!

Read Full Interview with Dr. Donna Yates

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Mesmerising Temple Towns Near Bangalore

Due to a large influx of people from all over the world into the city, Bangalore is now a melting pot of culture and attracts people from various walks of life

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The center of India's high-tech industry, the city is also known for its parks and nightlife.
The center of India's high-tech industry, the city is also known for its parks and nightlife. Wikimedia Commons
  • Bangalore often referred as the Garden City and Silicon Valley
  • The city is also home to many temples that are regularly flocked by devotees

Bangalore is endowed with many titles that capture the essence of the city. Garden City and Silicon Valley are often used to refer to this culturally rich city. Due to a large influx of people from all over the world into the city, Bangalore is now a melting pot of culture and attracts people from various walks of life. The city is also home to many temples that are regularly flocked by devotees. Apart from these, there are quite a few places of worship around Bangalore that are worth a visit.

Bangalore taxi service is available to anyone wishing to make a journey to these temples.

Ghati Subramanya

Located on the outskirts of Bangalore, at distance of 60 km from the city, Ghati Subramanya temple has Lord Karthikeya as its primary deity. The temple also houses idols of Lord Narasimha and the idols of both these deities are believed to have emerged from the earth.

Subramanya temple has Lord Karthikeya as its primary deity.
Subramanya temple has Lord Karthikeya as its primary deity. Wikimedia Commons

The temple has a history that dates back to almost 600 years and is believed to be developed under the Ghorpade rulers of Sandur. Devotees believe that when couples having trouble conceiving take a vow at this temple, they will be blessed with children.

Also Read: These 5 Ancient Temples are Believed to be the Oldest in India

Chamundi Temple

Chamundi temple, located on the famous Chamundi Hills is a popular temple in Mysore and is visited by devotees and tourists alike throughout the year. The temple is located about 160 km from the city of Bangalore, which makes it a little over a 3-hour drive from the city.

The temple also has a flight of one thousand steps which were built in 1659 and leads to the summit of the 3000-foot hill.
The temple also has a flight of one thousand steps which were built in 1659 and leads to the summit of the 3000-foot hill. Wikimedia Commons

The temple is also believed to be one among the 18 Shakti Peethas. The construction of the temple is credited to the Hoysala rulers, who reportedly built it in the 12th century. However, the tower of the temple is believed to have been constructed by the Vijayanagara rulers in the 17th century. The temple also has a flight of one thousand steps which were built in 1659 and leads to the summit of the 3000-foot hill. The temple also has several idols of Nandi, but the biggest one is the one situated on the 800th step. This idol of Nandi is about 15 feet in height and 24 feet in length.

Also Read: Top 10 Famous Hindu Temples of Tamil Nadu

You can book cabs from Bangalore to Mysore to visit this marvellous temple perched on the top of the hill.

Kotilingeshwara

The Kotilingeshwara temple is located 96 km from the city of Bangalore, in the district of Kolar. You can reach the place in around two and a half hours by road. The temple is famous due to its huge lingams (Shiva idol), which is the largest lingam in the entire world, which stands 108 feet tall.

The Kotilingeshwara temple is located 96 km from the city of Bangalore, in the district of Kolar.
The Kotilingeshwara temple is located 96 km from the city of Bangalore, in the district of Kolar. Wikimedia Commons

The temple has ten million lingas as indicated by its name, where ‘Koti’ stands for crore or ten million. These were installed by Bhakta Manjunatha, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva with the help of Maharaja Ambikeshwaravarma and his family. Bhakta Manjunatha, born to a pious Shaiva family was an atheist who did not believe in Lord Shiva. He is believed to have insulted Lord Shiva ten million times. The ten million lingas installed by him were done as an act of repentance of this after he came to realize the divinity of Lord Shiva.

Also Read: 7 Most Famous Temples to Visit in Uttar Pradesh

All these temple towns are located at a short distance from the city of Bangalore and can be easily accessible in a taxi.