India seeks return of 15th century Tamil statue in Oxford

Updated on Feb 23, 2020 12:11 AM IST
The museum, which bought the statue in a London auction in 1967, informed the Indian high commission in December that new research questioned its provenance. Indian officials thanked the museum for alerting the mission.
India has asked the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to return a 15th century bronze statue of Tamil poet Tirumankai Alvar(Ashmolean Museum/Twitter)
India has asked the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to return a 15th century bronze statue of Tamil poet Tirumankai Alvar(Ashmolean Museum/Twitter)
Hindustan Times, London | By

India has asked the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to return a 15th century bronze statue of Tamil poet Tirumankai Alvar, which was reportedly stolen from a temple in Kumbakonam in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu in the 1960s.

The museum, which bought the statue in a London auction in 1967, informed the Indian high commission in December that new research questioned its provenance. Indian officials thanked the museum for alerting the mission.

According to Rahul Nagare, first secretary, the mission had received a report from the Tamil Nadu police that “unambiguously shows that the original idol has been stolen and replaced with a fake one, and that the stolen idol is the same one that is presently with the Ashmolean”.

“Therefore, we have conveyed our formal request to them for restitution of the idol to India. The idol wing is now further investigating the matter about the original theft and subsequent smuggling out of the idol.”

A spokeswoman for the museum said: “The museum acquired the statue in good faith. According to the Sotheby’s catalogue the bronze was sold from the collection of Dr JR Belmont (1886-1981)”.

“We currently have no indication of how the bronze entered his collection and we are continuing to investigate with the support of the Indian high commission.”

Similar ancient Indian artefacts recovered in the UK have recently been returned to India.

On August 15, 2019, two items stolen from India were repatriated following a joint US-UK investigation: a limestone carved relief sculpture, originating from Andhra Pradesh, estimated to be dated between 1st century BC and 1st century AD; and a Navaneetha Krishna bronze sculpture, from Tamil Nadu, dated around 17th century AD.

On August 15, 2018, Scotland Yard returned to the mission a 12th century Buddha statue stolen from the Archaeological Survey of India’s museum in Nalanda, Bihar, in August 1961, and recovered in the UK.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

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