Mughal-era artefacts seized from antique smuggler's secret SoBo godown

The godown was camouflaged as an abandoned mezzanine floor in Byculla building, but cops found several architectural artefacts stashed there

These ornate wooden columns are thought to belong to the Shahjahani style of architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries
These ornate wooden columns are thought to belong to the Shahjahani style of architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries

Four days after alleged antiques smuggler Vijay Nanda was arrested and his Gamdevi home was raided, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) also raided his secret godown in Byculla and found yet more ancient artefacts stashed there.

Also read - Mumbai Crime: Indian heritage looter nabbed in Gamdevi

This time, the officers found Mughal-era architectural artefacts - 12 ornately carved wooden columns with floral pilasters, 12 wooden archways with carvings of birds and flowers on them and 12 wooden pedestals. They are thought to belong to the Shahjahani style of architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries.

All the items were found packed neatly in a ready-to-ship condition
All the items were found packed neatly in a ready-to-ship condition

“Similar styled columns have are also found in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture of the 19th century. The recovered columns appear to be the part of a grand haveli in Gujarat or Rajasthan. Actual identification would be possible only by matching them with photographs from local historians,” said a DRI official.

Hidden away
The godown had been camouflaged as an abandoned mezzanine floor in the industrial estate. But during the search operation, the officers recovered antique wooden sculptures and carvings. All the items were found packed neatly in a ready-to-ship condition. The officials are now investigating whether Nanda’s recent arrival in the city from US was to ship out these packed artefacts.

“We had suspected that something was hidden there, but could not search it earlier as Nanda denied that he had the keys. Even during interrogation, he stated that the godown was vacant and he had lost the keys following his arrest. He did not mention these antiques in his confessional statement either. The wooden antiquities have been seized under provisions of the Customs Act, 1962. Assistance is being sought from experts from the Archeological Survey of India and further investigations are in progress,” said a senior officer.

Loot worth billions
During the earlier raid at Nanda’s home, officials had seized 11 sculptures and artefacts, including six large sculptures, believed to have been stolen from East and South India temples and amounting to billions of dollars. Sources in the DRI said Nanda is believed to have sold heritage items across Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong and European and Middle Eastern countries. He would deal in stolen or vandalised sculptures from various temples across eastern and southern India. He would then legitimise them by forging Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) certificates and creating other fake documents. Nanda ran as a furniture and garment business as a front, and he would smuggle the antiques out of India by concealing them in furniture or handicraft consignments. He would then sell them through auctions to art galleries, private collectors and museums. His syndicate also allegedly smuggled Gupta Era gold coins, Post-Mauryan terracotta figurines, Rajputana swords and daggers, Chola bronzes and Tibetan statues.

Hidden in the godown
>> 12 ornately carved wooden columns with floral pilasters
>> 12 wooden archways with carvings of birds and flowers
>> 12 wooden pedestals

250
Number of antiques Nanda is suspected of having sold

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