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Indian Art Objects as Loot

  • Richard H. Davis

Extract

Let us imagine a graceful bronze image of Dancing Śiva before us. It was perhaps created by a Cola artist in eleventh-century Tamilnad to be installed in a temple to receive offerings of worship, and to parade around the town in a ceremonial palanquin on festival days. From there, this image might have followed any of several paths to stand before us now in a North American museum. Perhaps it was buried under a banyan tree in the fourteenth century when invading Islamic armies, feared for their iconoclasm, marched through the Kaveri delta on their way to Madurai. It could have been disinterred in the nineteenth century, during British rule, by a Tamil workman on a road crew, who showed it to the civil engineer, who brought it to the attention of the District Collector, who passed it on to the Director of Archaeology. In the twentieth century, perhaps, when an international market developed for such objects, it might have ended up in an auction room, a cosmic dance sold to the highest bidder. Or a government expert on culture might have selected it, after its long hibernation in the basement storehouse of its temple, as an image worthy to travel abroad as an ambassador of independent India in the international diplomatics of traveling exhibitions.

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