Oxford University to Return 500-Year-Old Statue to India: Stolen from Tamil Nadu Temple in 16th Century

Oxford University to Return 500-Year-Old Bronze Statue to India

Britain’s Oxford University is set to return a 500-year-old bronze statue to India. According to news agency PTI, this statue is of Saint Tirumangai Alvar, which was stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu during the 16th century. Saint Tirumangai Alvar was the last of the twelve Alvar saints of South India.

Currently, the statue is housed in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford University, where it can be viewed for an entry fee of around 1800 rupees. The statue of Saint Tirumangai Alvar is 1 meter tall. It was placed in Oxford University in 1967 by Dr. J.R. Belmont.

The Indian High Commission in Britain provided evidence to Oxford University on March 11, 2024, proving that the statue belongs to a temple in Tamil Nadu. Following this, Oxford University has stated that the statue will be returned to India after an investigation. The statue will now be presented to the Charity Commission, which will make the final decision on its return.

How It Was Discovered That the Statue Was Stolen from India

The Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University reported that a scholar discovered a photograph in 1957 at a French institution in Puducherry. This photograph showed the same statue housed at the Sri Soundararajaperumal Temple in Tamil Nadu, which is now in London. It was suspected that the statue was stolen around the 1960s.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a researcher conducted a study on the statue, which confirmed its origins. This information was provided to the Indian High Commission in 2019. The Indian High Commission then shared this information with the Government of India, after which evidence regarding the statue was collected.

Bronze from 1957 Matches the Statue at the Tamil Nadu Temple

During the investigation, bronze from 1957, which was used to create the statue, was found at the Tamil Nadu temple. Following this discovery, India presented evidence to Oxford University and appealed for the return of the statue.

Representatives from the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University stated that they were unaware the statue had been stolen from India. According to a report by British media outlet The Guardian, the statue is approximately 1 meter tall and depicts Saint Tirumangai Alvar holding a sword and shield.

Who was Tirumangai Alvar?

Tirumangai Alvar was the last of the twelve Alvar saints in South India, associated with the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. He is considered one of the most scholarly Alvars and is regarded as the best in composing poetic meters. He earned the title “Narkavi Perumal,” meaning a distinguished poet.

As a revered saint-poet in Vaishnavism, Tirumangai Alvar initially practiced Shaivism, Buddhism, and Jainism before converting to Vaishnavism. He was also well-versed in texts such as Naladiyar, Tirukkural, Sangam literature, and Jain literature.

Britain Holds 80,000 Indian Artifacts, Including the Kohinoor

In August 2023, a limestone sculpture from Andhra Pradesh was returned from Britain to India. Following this, a 17th-century ‘Navneet Krishna’ bronze statue, stolen from Tamil Nadu, was handed over to the Indian High Commissioner in Britain after a joint US-UK investigation.

During the British colonial period, many valuable sculptures, artifacts, diamonds, and gems were taken to Britain. Often, these items were given as gifts to British officials and the royal family. Among these was the Kohinoor diamond. Since gaining independence, the Indian government has successfully repatriated several such items.

Statistics indicate that the British Museum holds over 80,000 Indian heritage items. These priceless artifacts generate approximately 3,000 crore rupees annually for Britain.

Niyati Rao

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