India wants Australia to return 'stolen' Hindu statues

A bronze figure of Shiva, as Lord of the Dance Image copyright NGA
Image caption The figure of Shiva, as Lord of the Dance, is thought to have been looted from a temple in India

India has requested the return of two ancient Hindu statues from galleries in Australia following allegations they were stolen.

The National Gallery of Australia has removed one of the statues of the god Shiva from display.

It was purchased for $5m (£3m) in 2008 from a New York dealer who is accused of looting antiquities.

The other, considered a lesser work, has also been removed from display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The dealer, Subhash Kapoor, is awaiting trial in India, where he is accused of looting statues and other antiquities in a multi-million dollar enterprise.

The National Gallery of Australia is suing Mr Kapoor and his company in New York, saying that they forged certifications about the statue.

It said that if proven, they would have been the victim of an audacious act of fraud.

It said in a statement that it had researched the 900-year-old bronze statue of a dancing Shiva for more than a year before agreeing to the purchase.

It is considered a superb example of bronze casting from the Chola period in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

It is one of 22 items bought by the gallery from Mr Kapoor's company.

The Indian government said the two statues had been exported in contravention of cultural property laws.

The museums are preparing to return the statues to India, according to reports in the Australian media.

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