The British police on Tuesday handed over to India ancient idols of Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita that were stolen from Tamil Nadu in 1978, as part of growing efforts to return artefacts of India’s cultural heritage from across the world.
The handover ceremony at India House was attended by officials of the Metropolitan Police and remotely by Union minister for culture and tourism Prahlad Singh Patel from New Delhi, as well as officials in Chennai.
The idols, being sent back to Tamil Nadu, were stolen from a temple built in the Vijayanagar period in the Nagapattinam district. They were voluntarily handed over to the police by an unidentified UK-based collector when informed that they were stolen property. Information from S Vijay Kumar of the India Pride Project helped trace and identify the idols, officials said.
Patel said that only 13 antique items were returned to India between 1947 and 2014, but after that, more than 40 such antiquities have returned home. “Efforts are also on to return one idol from the British Museum”.
Indian high commissioner Gaitri Kumar called it an “auspicious day” and thanked the police for their efforts to recover the idols.
She recalled recent instances when idols stolen from India were recovered and repatriated to India by the mission.
Detective chief inspector of the Metropolitan Police Tim Wright said: “The Metropolitan Police are proud to have been involved in the return of these Chola bronzes to India. Not only are they beautiful and historically significant, they are of course of religious importance, and therefore it is particularly gratifying that they are to be returned to the temple from which they were taken”.
Indian officials said renewed impetus in recent years to the protection of India’s cultural heritage has led to coordinated action by various agencies, including the ministry of external affairs, Archaeological Survey of India and law enforcement agencies such as the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.
Successful restitutions have taken place in recent years from various countries including Germany, France, Australia and the US, while work is ongoing on more such items. The high commission in London has so far repatriated the following idols:
> The Bramha- Brahmani sculpture, stolen from the world heritage site Rani-Ki Vav, was returned to the Archaeological Survey of Inida in 2017. It has found a prominent place in the Purana Quila museum in Delhi.
> On August 15, 2018 a 12th century bronze statue of Gautam Buddha was restituted to the high commission by the Metropolitan Police.
> On August 15, 2019, two antiques – a 17th century bronze idol of Navanitha Krishna and a 2nd century limestone carved pillar motif were returned to the high commission by the US embassy in London.
> On July 29, 2020, the Natesha Shiva statue stolen in 1998 from the Ghateshwar temple in Baroli, Rajasthan was repatriated to the ASI.