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  • Camille Basso

Counterfeit Shiva statue on display at a temple in India

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

In the Korukkai Veerateeswarar temple in India, an ancient statue of Shiva was replaced by a counterfeit for several years. The replica was found thanks to an extensive investigation by the Tamil Nadu police and the arrest of international traffickers.

Doris Wiener and Nancy Wiener are particularly well known to American and Asian authorities. In the 1980s and 1990s, Doris Wiener, together with her daughter Nancy, led a major traffic in art objects and archaeological treasures from Asia. Doris died in 2011, but the authorities never caught her.

However, in 2021, Nancy Wiener pleaded guilty in New York Supreme Court to conspiracy and possession of stolen property related to treasures looted in India and Southeast Asia. Nancy Wiener was forced to close her Manhattan art gallery and pay $1.2 million in damages. Since then, the American and Asian authorities have been trying to track down the goods she sold to various museums and collectors, so that they can be returned to their countries of origin.

The Tamil Nadu police were able to trace a stolen Shiva statue from the Korukkai Veerateeswarar temple and link it to the smuggler. The Indian authorities' specialised squad -the Idol Wing- carried out an authenticity check on the 35 statues in the temple and discovered the forgery.

The real Hindu idol, a supreme figure of yoga, knowledge and music, is part of a collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio. The 80 cm high statue weighs about 40 kilograms. Experts have dated it to between the 9th and 13th centuries. According to the Cleveland museum's website, the idol was sold to them in 1971 by the Doris Wiener Gallery, without any indication of its original provenance. For the time being, the museum has not given any details about the acquisition of the object or its return to the Korukkai Veerateeswarar temple.

When Nancy Wiener was arrested in 2016, several objects she had inherited from her mother were smuggled out by Subhash Kapoor. In 2022, the criminal was sentenced to 10 years in prison for trafficking in Kumbakonam, India. However, many of the Wieners' possessions have yet to be recovered by the authorities or returned to their country of origin.


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