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19th century painting stolen from India, traced to U.S. museum

  • Published
    22nd Jul, 2022


A rare 19th century painting of Raja Serfoji and his son Sivaji, which was stolen from Saraswathi Mahal, Thanjavur, a few years ago, has been traced by Idol Wing CID police to the Peabody Essex Museum in USA.

Historical Background

  • The rulers of Thanjavur had been devoid of absolute power during the British Raj in India.
  • Raja Serfoji had placed by the British on the throne over his step brother Amar Singh died in
  • His only son Sivaji ruled until 1855.
  • As there were no male successor in the kingdom, Thanjavur became a part of Lord Dalhousie's infamous 'Doctrine of Lapse', and it got absorbed into British-ruled Indian provinces.

What is Doctrine of Lapse?

  • The Doctrine of Lapse was an annexation policy followed widely by Lord Dalhousie when he was India’s Governor-General from 1848 to 1856.
  • The Doctrine of Lapse was an annexation policy extensively applied by East India Company in India until
  • The doctrine stated that any princely state under the vassalage of the company will how its territory annexed should the ruler of the said state fail to produce an heir. The doctrine and its application were regarded by many Indians as illegitimate.
  • The Doctrine of Lapse was one of the underlying factors that led to the revolt of 1857.


  • According to some historians, the painting of Raja Serfoji and his son, was probably painted between 1822 and 1827 and kept in the Saraswathi Mahal. 
  • In 1918, the Saraswathi Mahal Library was opened to the public.
  • Efforts were made to microfilm and catalogue the contents in 1965 when Indira Gandhi, who was then Information and Broadcasting Minister, sanctioned the fund for the library's development.
  • Despite this, there exists no record to show the disappearance of the painting from the mahal. 
  • The painting was purchased in 2006 from an international antique dealer Subash Kapoor who was arrested by the State police in 2011 on charges of smuggling several antiques/artefacts.  
  • In 2006, the painting was sold to Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in USA. PEM is one of several major art institutions worldwide that had purchased items from India.

Significance of Ancient Indian Art forms

  • Painting is one of the most delicate forms of art giving expression to human thoughts and feelings through the media of line and colour.
  • Many thousands of years before the dawn of history, when man was only a cave dweller, he painted his rock shelters to satisfy his aesthetic sensitivity and creative urges.
  • Among Indians, the love of colour and design is so deeply ingrained that they created paintings and drawings even during the earliest periods of history for which we have no direct evidence.

Indian Painting Principles

  • India of the 1st century BCE had seen the evolution of the ‘Shadanga’ or the Six Limbs of painting, which are considered as the prime principles of the art even today.
  • These limbs were actually six different points which emphasized what all artists needed to infuse in their artworks to achieve greater effectiveness and appeal.
  • These ‘Six Limbs’ have been translated as follows: ?
    • Rupabheda: The knowledge of appearances. ?
    • Pramanam: Correct perception, measure and structure. ?
    • Bhava: Action of feelings on forms. ?
    • Lavanya Yojanam: Infusion of grace and artistic representation. ?
    • Sadrisyam: Similitude. ?
    • Varnikabhanga: Artistic manner of using the brush and colours.

These principles were found even in Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra.

The subsequent development of painting by the Buddhists indicates that these ‘Six Limbs’ were put into practice by Indian artists.

They are the basic principles on which the painting as a art was founded.

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