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Roving Periscope: Oxford varsity to return 500-year-old statue ‘stolen’ from India

Roving Periscope: Oxford varsity to return 500-year-old statue ‘stolen’ from India

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Five years ago, renowned economist Utsa Patnaik and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor revealed that the British Empire, which systematically plundered the Indian subcontinent and pauperized its people, siphoned off their proverbial wealth to the tune of USD 45 trillion (9.2 trillion pounds) between 1765 and 1938. Besides, the British also took away innumerable priceless artifacts from India some of which they sold in international markets.

The Wheel of Karma has now turned the full circle. Last year, India replaced Britain as the fifth-largest global economy. The East India Company, which colonized India from 1765 to 1857, is now owned by an Indian-born entrepreneur Sanjiv Mehta. Britain also got its first Indian-born Prime Minister in Rishi Sunak in October 2022…

Most nations now want to keep India, the contemporary rising sun, in good humor. That is why some of the stolen Indian artifacts are finding their way back home. Between 2003 and 2023, some 324 antiquities returned to the country of their origin. After an initiative taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the US also returned 105 trafficked antiquities to India in 2023.

Now, the United Kingdom’s Oxford University is set to return to India a 500-year-old bronze idol of a famous saint, believed to be stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu.

“On 11 March 2024, the Council of the University of Oxford supported a claim from the Indian High Commission for the return of a 16th-century bronze sculpture of Saint Tirumankai Alvar from the Ashmolean Museum. This decision will now be submitted to the Charity Commission for approval,” the museum said, according to the media reports.

The 60cm-tall statue of Saint Tirumankai Alvar was acquired by the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford from Sotheby’s auction house in 1967 from the collection of one Dr J.R. Belmont (1886-1981).

The museum said it informed the Indian High Commission in London after an independent researcher alerted it in November 2023 about the origins of the ancient statue.

Ashmolean Museum, which holds some of the world’s most famous art and archaeology artifacts, said it acquired the statue in “good faith” in 1967.

Many more stolen artifacts are likely to return to India.

In August 2023, a limestone carved relief sculpture, originating from Andhra Pradesh, and a “Navaneetha Krishna” bronze sculpture originating from 17th century Tamil Nadu, were handed over to the Indian High Commissioner to London following a joint US-UK investigation involving Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Unit.


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