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Oxford University will return a stolen 500-year-old bronze idol to India

June 11, 2024

Oxford University’s prestigious Ashmolean Museum has agreed to repatriate a significant artifact: a 500-year-old bronze statue of Saint Tirumankai Alvar, believed to have been stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu, India. This decision, announced in a statement by the museum, follows the University Council’s support for a claim made by the Indian High Commission on March 11, 2024. The approval for the statue’s return is now pending confirmation from the Charity Commission.

Acquired in 1967 from the renowned auction house Sotheby’s, the 60 cm-tall statue was part of the collection of Dr. J R Belmont. The museum was alerted to the statue’s potentially dubious origins by an independent researcher in November of the previous year, prompting them to reach out to the Indian High Commission.

The Indian government formally requested the repatriation of the bronze idol, suspecting it to have been unlawfully removed from a temple in Tamil Nadu before finding its way into the UK through auction. The Ashmolean Museum, home to a plethora of world-renowned art and archaeological treasures, asserts that it acquired the statue in “good faith” over five decades ago.

This development aligns with a broader trend of returning stolen Indian artifacts from abroad. Notably, in August of the preceding year, a joint US-UK investigation led to the repatriation of a limestone relief sculpture from Andhra Pradesh and a 17th-century bronze sculpture of “Navaneetha Krishna” from Tamil Nadu. These artifacts were returned to the Indian High Commissioner to the UK following an investigation involving Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Unit.

The decision to return the bronze idol underscores a growing awareness and commitment to rectifying historical injustices in the realm of cultural heritage. It reflects a collaborative effort between nations to uphold ethical standards in the preservation and restitution of cultural artifacts, acknowledging the significance of these objects to their rightful communities and cultural legacies.

Also read: Himachal Pradesh: Farmer’s daughter bags Oxford University scholarship

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