A 75-year-old archaeologist catches artefact smugglers sitting on his computer
◾Indian artefacts are stolen, smuggled and sold abroad for millions of dollars
◾Prof Kirit Mankodi, a retired archaeologist from Pune, traces stolen artefacts
◾He also provides details of existing artefacts to prevent their sale in case they get stolen
itting at a computer in his drawing room, this 75-year-old is busy surfing through various news reports across the globe. While he brushes away most of them, the ones with reference to any archaeological monuments immediately catch his attention. Similarly, magazines on arts and sculptures are on top of his daily reading list.
His eyes glitter, if a familiar sculpture is spotted. And then he begins a meticulous investigation about the sculpture, which ends only when the details about its origin and ownership are shared with Indian and international investigation agencies.
Meet Prof Kirit Mankodi, a retired archaeology teacher, now protector of India's rich heritage. Mankodi has been working to trace stolen sculptures from India for over a decade now. After his retirement as professor of archaeology at Deccan College, Pune, in 2005, Prof Mankodi took it upon himself to trace treasures stolen from India and sold abroad.
"Mankodi has been working to trace sculptures stolen from India for over a decade now"
"India has the richest archaelogical heritage, which can't be matched by any other country. Thousands of valuable sculptures have been stolen from the country over the ages. I think, as an archaeologist, it's my duty to trace them and facilitate their retrieval," Mankodi says.
He embarked upon this "mission" when 2 sculptures were stolen from an ancient temple in Rajasthan in 2009. One of the sculptures was later advertised in an art magazine for sale. "It was a major blow for me, since I was actively involved in the excavation of the temple at Atru in Rajasthan. And the sculptures were stolen from right under my nose! I couldn't have remained silent, so I began tracing it," Mankodi recalls.
It turned out that the sculpture was advertised for sale in an art magazine by a London based businessman. When he came across the advertisement, Mankodi alerted the authorities at the Archaeological Survey of India, who passed on the information to Interpol and the US Department of Homeland Security. "They raided the London showroom, only to find that the sculpture has been moved from there. It was later traced in New York. The government of India has now initiated the process to retrieve the sculpture," Mankodi said.
Mankodi has also traced 2 sculptures stolen from the Atru temple in Rajasthan. "The sculptures of two amorous couples, known in Indian art as Mithunas, were stolen from the ruins we had excavated at Atru. The first theft was on 23 April, 2009 while the second sculpture was stolen 5 months later. Surprisingly, the sculpture was advertised in the Hong Kong based art journal Arts of Asia in March 2010 issue on page 61. A London based businessman had advertised it. The sculptures were valued at US $2 million each. I immediately alerted the ASI authorities and the Indian High Commission in London was also alerted," Mankodi said.
"Both sculptures were recovered with the help of the US Department of Homeland Security and Interpol and handed over to the government of India in January 2014," Mankodi narrates. "It is a matter of immense satisfaction that I could trace and retrieve the sculptures stolen from the temple since I was part of the excavation team," he adds.
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews|8 February 2016