Subhash Kapoor: Art Dealer by Day, Idol Thief By Night

How the prolific antiquities trafficker hatched a scheme to smuggle hundreds of millions of dollars of Asian artifacts — and succeeded.

Sushmita Pathak

January 10, 2023

Subhash Kapoor: Art Dealer by Day, Idol Thief By Night
Subhash Kapoor, the Indian-American art smuggler, has received worldwide notoriety (The Juggernaut)

One night in January 2006, Rathinam and Kaliaperumal broke into the ancient Sivan temple in Sripuranthan, Tamil Nadu. The temple, built during the Chola dynasty in southern India between the 9th and 13th centuries, had fallen into disrepair and hadn’t seen worshippers in 10 years. But, for hundreds of years, eight idols of Hindu deities had resided there — that is, until the arrival of the duo. Over the next few months, the thieves made several such clandestine trips to the temple, repeating the process until the temple was completely godless. Their haul included a four-foot tall bronze Nataraja and a standing Ganesha idol. More than two years later, when government officials tasked with safeguarding idols in ancient temples arrived in Sripuranthan to move the idols to a more secure location, villagers insisted they would look after the idols themselves. It was only then that they realized that there were no gods left to guard.