Australia to return 'stolen' Hindu statues to India

A bronze figure of Shiva, as Lord of the Dance The figure of Shiva, as Lord of the Dance, is thought to have been looted from a temple in India

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott will return to India two ancient Hindu statues displayed in Australia, but allegedly stolen from Indian temples.

Mr Abbott will hand over the statues to Indian PM Narendra Modi when the two meet in Delhi on Friday.

The two sculptures are of god Shiva, a member of the Hindu holy trinity.

Galleries in Australia removed them from display earlier this year following allegations that they were part of an audacious art fraud.

Returning the sculptures "is testimony to Australia's good citizenship on such matters and the importance with which Australia views its relationship with India", the AFP news agency quoted Mr Abbott's office as saying.

The National Gallery of Australia had purchased a statue of Nataraj - the dancing Shiva - for $5m (£3m) in 2008 from a New York dealer who is accused of looting antiquities.

The other sculpture - of Ardhanariswara, which fuses Shiva and his consort Pravati in a half man-half woman form - considered a lesser work, was bought by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The 900-year-old bronze statue of Nataraj is considered a superb example of bronze casting from the Chola period in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Dealer Subhash Kapoor, whose sold the sculptures, is awaiting trial in India, where he is accused of looting statues and other antiquities worth millions.

The Indian government said the two statues had been exported in contravention of cultural property laws.

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