"Returning the sculptures is a testimony to Australia's good citizenship on such matters and the importance with which Australia views its relationship with India," Mr Abbott's office has said.While the move made for warmer Australia-India ties, the repatriation of the stolen Indian antiquities puts the spotlight on a larger issue: plunder of such historic artefacts.
The bronze statue of Nataraja was acquired by NGA in 2008 for US.1 million (about S million) from Subhash Kapoor, who ran the Art of the Past gallery in New York.
Kapoor, an American citizen born in India 63 years ago, was arrested in Germany in 2012 and extradited to India on charges of burglary and smuggling of Indian antiquities.
There is also a warrant for his arrest in the United States on charges of possessing stolen property, with investigators having seized more than US million worth of Asian antiquities from storage units in Manhattan linked to him.
The illicit trade in cultural property has been flourishing.
In 2007, seeking to tighten its legislation on the protection of cultural objects, the German government noted that although it is "common practice for museums not to purchase cultural objects of indeterminate provenance", the fact remains that "illegally excavated or illicitly exported cultural treasures are still being bought and sold".
The NGA's Asian art collection holds about 5,000 items.