The US on Tuesday returned to India over 200 stolen cultural artifacts, some dating back 2,000 years, estimated at USD 100 million, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi describing the cultural heritage as a great binding force in bilateral relationships.
"Usually relationship between the countries of the world are very often covered by the present. It is present that plays a big role, but sometimes heritage becomes important in the relations of two countries. Sometimes what cannot be done by living persons is done by idols," the Prime Minister said at a ceremony held at the Blair House for the return of stolen artifacts to India.
Speaking in Hindi, the Prime Minister said that in the last two years various countries have endeavoured to return India's stolen cultural heritage.
"Both governments and law enforcement agencies of these countries now have become more alert on trafficking of cultural artifacts and are not only working to prevent it but also to send it back to the place of its origin," the Prime Minister said.
"I am grateful to the United States and President (Barack) Obama for returning these treasures to India which join us to our past," he said.
"For some, these artifacts may be measured in monetary terms and could be in millions for them, but for the people of India, it is a part of our culture and heritage that joins us to our past, that joins us to our values," the Prime Minister said in his brief remarks.
Modi said many tourists don't want to see only modern sites, but also they want to see the rich history a place offers.
People are attracted to India for its ancient civilisation, he said.
Referring to the Indus Valley civilisation, he said tourists are now flocking to India to see towns dating back 5,000 years.
"There treasures are to be enjoyed by the entire world.
Technology can help us catch those indulging in illicit trafficking," the Prime Minister said.
Indian Ambassador to the US Arun K Singh said on Monday 12 artifacts have been returned and process has begun for the transfer of rest of the treasured artifacts.
Items returned included religious statues, bronzes and terra-cotta pieces, some dating back 2,000 years, looted from some of India's most treasured religious sites.
Among the pieces returned is a statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period (circa 850 AD to 1250 AD) stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai, which is valued at USD 1.5 million. Also included in the collection is a bronze sculpture of the Hindu god Ganesh estimated to be 1,000-year-old.