The exhibition showcasing 26 repatriated Indian antiquities, put up at the Khajuraho G20 culture group meeting, would now be displayed in the national capital in a bid to keep the spotlight on the prevention of illicit trafficking of antiquities.
The exhibition titled “Re(ad)dress: Return of Treasures” includes historical gems like the 12th century Dancing Ganesha, a stone sculpture from Central India that went missing but was repatriated from the U.S. in 2021; the 11th century marble figurines of Brahma and Brahmani from Gujarat, fetched back from the United Kingdom in 2017; and the Yaksha, Amin Pillar from 2nd century B.C., which had gone missing from Haryana, but was later discovered in the U.K. and repatriated in 1979-80.
The presentation was an effort to bring focus on the need for ‘Protection and Restitution of Cultural Property’ which was the theme of the first G20 Cultural Group meeting held in Khajuraho last month. It would be put on display in the capital in early May.
The repatriated Indian antiquities were exhibited and each of their stories narrated to the G20 delegates in Khajuraho in a display by none other than the 900-year-old ‘Parrot Lady’ of Khajuraho— the sandstone sculpture of a woman holding a parrot which was brought back to India from Canada in 2017. It is the `Parrot Lady’ who takes viewers through the exhibition while talking about her love for the homeland and her longing to be back.
Preserving cultural heritage
The Idea is to avoid loss of cultural heritage due to conflict and illicit trafficking, facilitate alternate dispute resolution and develop capacity building mechanisms like museums for their preservation and upkeep.
According to a senior official of the Archaeological Survey of India, which is the nodal agency for dealing with antiquities, 244 stolen or missing artefacts have been repatriated to India till date.
The artefacts cover a time span from 3rd millennium BCE to the 19th century CE. Significant among the retrieved antiquities are exquisite bronze sculptures such as that of Lord Ram, Lakshmana and Sita, Navneetha Krishnan, Nataraj, Saint Manikkavachaka and intricately carved stone sculptures, such as the recently repatriated sculpture of Devi Annapurna. The collection includes antique objects such as humped bulls, toy-cart, rattle, spouted-vessel, and female figurines — all predate the historical period of the chronology of the Indian subcontinent.
The ASI depends on various means to trace such antiquities including research scholars, crowd-sourcing and monitoring auction houses across the globe.