A 1000-year-old sculpture of a yogini with a buffalo head was donated by a French woman called Martine Schrimpf in 2008 to the Indian embassy in Paris. Her husband Robert Schrimpf was an art collector and had acquired the scultpture from an unnamed source.
Carbon dating and other tests conducted on the 400 kg, 4.5ft-high sculpture at the Indian embassy in Paris confirmed that the sculpture is from the 10th century.
In the tantric tradition, yoginis are anti-brahmanical figures who punish those who make caste distinctions and are appointed by Shiva as protecters of the tantric kula tradition.
Records in historical publications note that a yogini statue was reportedly stolen from a Yogini temple at a small village Lokhari in Mau sub-division of Banda district of Uttar Pradesh between 1983 and 1992. It is believed to have landed up in an antique shop in Mumbai in 1992.
But the National Museum experts say that the yogini from Paris is originally from Ranipur-Jharial in Orissa and is an exact match of the photo in a publication called “Yogini: Cult and Temples- A Tantric Tradition” by Vidya Dahejia. Dahejia also states in the publication, that the remains of the yogini temples are scattered over north India in remote sites that are difficult to access.
Dahejia adds, “People generally refer to the yoginis in hushed tones, if at all they mention them.”
The Indian embassy played a key role in getting the statue back to India. The Indian ambassador to Paris, Arun K. Singh, told HT that establishing the genuineness of the statue was a very important step.
Singh said, “The French authorities were very cooperative and we are very happy that the statue is sent back to India and will be now housed in the National Museum”.
India has stringent domestic laws under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 to regulate the export of objects that are more than 100 years old. India is also a signatory to the 1970 Unesco Convention, that aims at curb illicit trafficking of cultural property.
The Yogini Vrishanana will be on display in a show called ‘The Return of the Yogini’ at the National Museum from September 19 to October 6.