The return of a 12th century CE bronze murti of Bhagwan Nataraja, after a long drawn legal battle, to Tamil Nadu from London, had created a sensation at the time. Archaeologist R. Nagaswamy, who passed away in Chennai on Sunday, was the main witness in the case in the London court and it was the first time that a state had won a case like this in a foreign court.
The testimony of R. Nagaswamy is considered one of the major factors that led the court to conclude in April 1989 that the Chola era bronze murti was stolen from the Kashi Vishwanath temple at Pathur in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu.
The murti was found to be smuggled from Bharat in 1976 and was in possession of a Canadian company which testified before the court that it had bought the murti in ‘good faith’ from a dealer in 1982.
Scotland Yard, the premier police agency of the United Kingdom, subsequently seized the murti from the Canadian company that sued Scotland Yard for illegal seizure, and a protracted legal battle commenced.
Scotland Yard, in association with the Government of India and the Government of Tamil Nadu, had to establish that the murti was stolen from the temple.
Interestingly during the argument, it was found that termites had used the soil from Pathur in Thanjavur to build their nests at the bottom of the murti. The evidence provided by the termites in the British court could not be countered and established the origin and identity of the murti as one belonging to Pathur.
During the argument, the British judge Ian Kennedy had described Nagaswamy as an unequalled expert in his subject and also an acknowledged expert on Chola bronzes.
In May 1991, the House of Lords, the highest court of appeal in Britain, refused the Canadian company leave to appeal against the judgment of the court. In August 1991, the bronze murti of Bhagwan Nataraja was formally handed over to the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J. Jayalalithaa at Fort St George by the then Indian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, L.M. Singhvi. Nagaswamy was honoured on the occasion.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had on Monday paid tributes to Nagaswamy on its social media handle.
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