The Lingodhbhava murti, literally a representation of emergence of the Linga, or Shiva Manifesting within the Linga of Flames is a 45 inch-tall, 16 inch-wide granite sculpture made around 1150 C.E. during the Chola dynasty, in Tamil Nadu in south India.
The sculpture depicts a contest between the Hindu gods Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. The large four-armed figure of Shiva is seen emerging from a pillar of fire while Brahma, taking the form of a hamsa (swan), attempts to reach the top of the fire and Vishnu, in the form of the boar Varaha, roots for its base. Unsuccessful in their attempts to reach the ends of the fire pillar, Brahma and Vishnu were humbled and bowed to Shiva. Depictions of the scene, which is described in Hindu purana texts from the 8th century C.E., are typically found behind the primary shrine image of Vishnu in the first precinct of South Indian temples.
The sculpture was purchased from Art of the Past gallery in New York City by the Art Fund of Birmingham, using funds donated by the estate of Alston and Eivor Callahan in 2008. It was placed on indefinite loan to the Birmingham Museum of Art, where it was displayed as part of the museum's Asian collection.
On April 16, 2011 Subhash Kapoor, owner of Art of the Past, was invited to Birmingham to give the annual "Eivor And Alston Callahan Asian Art Lecture". His talk was entitled "What is art?: Through the eyes of a collector, dealer and connoisseur."
Later that same year, Kapoor was charged in India with smuggling antiquities which were acquired illegally and falsifying documents in order to be able to sell them, allegedly reaping more than a hundred million dollars. He was arrested on October 30 in Frankfurt, Germany and extradited in July 2012 to India to stand trial. Evidence suggested that the Lingodhbhava murti, valued at around $225,000, was acquired by Kapoor from a theft ring which stole statues from a temple in Tamil Nadu in the early 2000s. In 2015 the Birmingham Museum of Art was notified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the sculpture was likely removed from India illegally, and began preparing to repatriate it.
Pursuant to a search warrant issued by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the Lingodhbhava murti was removed from exhibit in August 2018 and transported to New York be processed as evidence of Kapoor's criminal activities. It was formally presented to the Republic of India at a ceremony in New York on September 4 attended by museum director Graham Boettcher, U.S. Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, Homeland Security Investigations agent-in-charge Angel Melendez, and Indian Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty.
- Birmingham Museum of Art: Guide to the Collection (2010) London, United Kingdom: Giles ISBN 9781904832775
- Huebner, Michael (April 12, 2011) "Callahan Lecture to feature art dealer Subhash Kapoor." The Birmingham News
- Pogrebin, Robin & Kevin Flynn (July 27, 2012) "Museums Studying Dealer’s Artifacts" The New York Times
- "Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Returns Pair of 12th Century Statues to The Republic of India" (September 4, 2018) Manhattan District Attorney’s Office press release
- Edgemon, Erin (September 5, 2018) "Birmingham museum returns stolen sculpture to India." The Birmingham News
- "U.S. Returns Two 12th Century Statues Smuggled From India." (September 7, 2018) Little India
- Birmingham Museum of Art website