A dancing Shiva statue currently owned by the Art Gallery of South Australia has been identified as stolen property by the Indian government.

Indian government officials are now working to have the statue returned. The Australian Broadcasting Company reports that the investigation conducted by investigators from India determined that the 600-year-old statue from the Southern Indian city of Nellai.

Photographs published by ABC show the statue inside the temple in 1958. The network also reported that officials believe the statue was one of four taken from the site after a break in and subsequent robbery in 1982.

The Dancing Shiva statue is made of bronze and about 100 kilograms (which is 220 pounds). The temple in Nillai had reported the statue missing in 1982, but police in Southern India closed the case two years later without naming any suspects. Lisa Slade, the acting director for the Art Gallery of South Australia, said the museum will not challenge a repatriation claim.

“We haven’t received any formal repatriation requests yet. Obviously when we do, and in whatever form they come, then we will act upon those immediately,’’ Slade told Adelaide Now. The gallery’s Asian art curator James Bennett traveled to Tamil Nadu last year to look into the statue’s history. The museum had purchased the statue in 2001 with $436,000 in donated funds.

A press release from the museum after the acquisition described the Shiva as “the most beautiful and important Indian sculpture to be given to an Australian gallery.”

The director of the museum at the time, Ron Radford, was effusive in his praise of the statue. “It is the only complete early Indian Dancing Siva in an Australian public collection and is an outstanding addition to the Gallery’s Asian collection,” he said in September 2001. “Indeed it is one of the finest sculptures in the Gallery from any culture and is destined never to be off display.”

Questions about the idol’s origins first came up in 2013 and the museum stopped displaying it the following year. While the statue was a gift to the museum by Diana Ramsey, a longtime supporter and patron of the museum, investigators began looking into how the statue ended up in Australia. As ABC reports, “The piece was bought through London art dealers Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch, acting on behalf of an unnamed Greek collector who claimed to have bought it in the 1970s.”

The dancing Shiva is one of several South Asian works in Australia whose origins and legal status are being questioned. Three statues from the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra were sent back to India in 2016 and a Buddha statue worth $1 million was repatriated the previous year after it was determined that it had been stolen from an archeological site.

“This new evidence means the NGA cannot legally or ethically retain these works,” National Gallery of Art director Gerard Vaughan said in 2016 of the Canberra museum’s art. “Returning them to India is unquestionably the right thing to do.”


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