In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security of the United States of America, received a tip: a shipment of seven crates labelled ‘marble garden table sets’ were making their way to the United States and were believed to contain anything but ‘marble garden table sets.’
Examination of the shipment revealed a wide array of Indian antiquities and priceless treasures, and thus began Homeland Security’s Operation Hidden Idol.
Over the years, as a result of a massive collaborative effort between Homeland Security, the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, the U. S Customs officials as well as federal prosecutors, more than 200 Indian antiquities and cultural artefacts have been recovered.
These include a statue of the Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola Period, Saint Manikkavichavakar, stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai and a 1,000-year-old bronze sculpture of Lord Ganesh. Terra-cotta pieces from India’s treasured religious sites have also been recovered and are believed to be more than 2,000 years old. Estimates place the value of the stolen artefacts at $100 million.
On the 6th of June, U.S Attorney General Loretta Lynch, on behalf of the U.S. Government returned these artefacts to Prime Minister Modi in a ceremony in Washington D.C.
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“More than 200 antiquities and cultural artifacts that speak to India’s astounding history and beautiful culture are beginning their journey home. It is my hope – and the hope of the American people – that this repatriation will serve as a sign of our great respect for India’s culture; our deep admiration for its people; and our sincere appreciation for the ties between our nations,” Lynch said.
PM Modi said “I am grateful to the United States and President Obama for returning these treasures to India which join us to our past. For some, these artifacts may be measured in monetary terms and could be in millions for them, but for the people of India, it is a part of our culture and heritage that joins us to our past, that joins us to our values.”
12 artifacts have already been returned and the process to transfer the rest has been put in motion.