India to get back ‘smuggled’ Annapurna idol from Canada: How it was tracked

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December 01, 2020 11:51 AM

The 18-century idol built following the Benaras style of art had so long been an exhibit at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, an art museum in Canada that showcases the private collection of the Regina University.

annapura idol, stolene artefacts from india, university of Regin in canada, MacKenzie Art Gallery, repariation of Indian artefacts, annapoorna idol stolen from Varanasi, Mann ki Baat, Narendra ModiStatue of Annapurna officially repatriated to India (Source: University of Regina)

There are several remarkable national artefacts that have been returned or on its way to way back to its origin country from across the world. An addition to the list is the Annapurna idol that was mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the November 29 episode of ‘Mann Ki Baat’. The ancient idol was stolen from India is being brought back from Canada. It was smuggled out of India during the colonial era.

Modi announced that it is returning to India 100 years since it was stolen from a temple in Varanasi (PM’s Lok Sabha constituency), sometime in or around 1913. Calling it a ‘priceless legacy’ he said that is will be a matter of ‘great fortune’ that the idol will be returning to its home. He also recalled how like the Annapurna idol, many Indian artefacts and representatives of the country’s heritage were victims of the ‘international gang’.

How the stolen ‘Annapurna’ idol was traced in Canada

Annapurna, also called ‘Annapoorna’ is known as the goddess of food and nourishment. She is also known as the manifestation of the goddess Parvati, partner to Lord Shiva.

The 18-century idol built following the Benaras style of art had so long been an exhibit at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, an art museum in Canada that showcases the private collection of the Regina University. Last year when an Indian origin artist Divya Mehra was asked to stage an exhibition at the museum, she started digging deep into the history of the art forms showcased there. One sculpture that she initially thought to be Lord Vishnu in her female avatar, holding a bowl of rice pudding had resemblance with a stolen sculpture from a temple in Varanasi in 1913. The art piece was acquired by lawyer Norman MacKenzie and the became an exhibit of the museum.

Siddhartha V Shah, Curator at Peabody Essex Museum for the Indian and South Asian Art section was invited, who identified the statue and confirmed it was indeed smuggled from Varanasi and is an idol of Lord Annapurna, not Shiva. Mehra’s research further established that MacKenzie’s has his eyes on this statue since he visited India in 1913. When. A stranger overheard his liking for the art piece he stole it from a temple by the riverbank of Varanasi and sold it to him.

How the statue will be returned to India

The interim CEO of the art gallery on knowing about the statue’s history from Mehra agreed to be being repatriated. After reading about the statue. The Indian High Commission in Ottawa, Canada then stepped in and offered to assist in the process of sending back the artefact with the help of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Thomas Chase, VC of the University of Regina said that they have a responsibility of rectifying the wrongs done in history and help in repairing the damage colonialism has caused. He further pressed that repatriating is not equivalent to reversing the wrong done a century ago, but is an ‘important’ and ‘appropriate’ act today. The virtual repatriation ceremony of the idol was held on November 19.

When will the idol reach India?

Sources from the Archeological Survey of India, who are the conservator of all repatriated artefacts informed that the idol will return by mid-December. The process will undergo thorough verification and documentation before deciding on its future home. According to the PM, the idol will go back to its original home in Kashi. And the ASI will take care of the security arrangements and finalizing on where it will be placed before handing it over to temple trustees.

Other repatriated objects from the West

Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel recently handed over the custody of a bronze idol of Lord Rama, Lakshman and Goddess Sita to the Tamil Nadu government after bringing it back firm the UK. He has also put the onus of their safe custody to the respective state’s government to avoid any future situation of theft.

In the last six years, the government was able to trace back 40 antiquities from various countries that were stolen in between 1977 and 2014. According to ASI records, 13 of them were brought back to India. Patel assured another 75-80 antiques is set to return to India after the prolonged legal battle of repatriation.

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