ANDHRA PRADESH

Documents provided to U.K. to retrieve stolen idol

Perfect match:Thirumangai Azhvar bronze idol traced to London Museum.Special Arrangement

Perfect match:Thirumangai Azhvar bronze idol traced to London Museum.Special Arrangement  

Idol Wing CID seeks restitution of 16th century bronze

The Idol Wing CID police has furnished documents through the Indian High Commission, London, to the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, U.K., requesting the restitution of a 16th century bronze idol of Thirumangai Azhwar.

The idol reportedly went missing from a temple near Kumbakonam half a century ago.

In November 2019, an independent scholar brought new research to attention, relating to the provenance of an Indian 16th century bronze of Saint Tirumangai Azhwar, which was acquired by the Ashmolean Museum from Sotheby’s in 1967. Research in the photo archives of the IFP-EFEO (Institut Français de Pondicherry and the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient) appears to show the same idol in the Soundarrajaperumal temple near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu in 1957.

“Although there is currently no claim against the object, the museum officially brought the matter to the attention of the Indian High Commission in December last year requesting any further information (including possible police records) that would aid us in establishing the work’s provenance and noting that we were open to holding further discussions around the possible repatriation of the sculpture,” said a statement from the museum.

The museum acquired the statue in good faith in 1967, it said.

According to the Sotheby’s catalogue, the bronze was sold from the collection of collector Dr. J.R. Belmont (1886-1981). “We currently have no indication of how the bronze entered his collection and we are continuing to investigate with the support of the Indian High Commission,” added the statement.

Additional Commissioner of Police, Idol Wing, CID, Abhay Kumar Singh told The Hindu: “The Ashmolean Museum had taken a proactive step on its own and contacted the High Commission in London seeking more details of this case. The investigation report has now been sent to the High Commission.”

Rahul Nangare, First Secretary, High Commission of India, London, told The Hindu : “We thank the University of Oxford and Ashmolean for taking proactive step in this matter and hope other museums and galleries would follow your example and take a similar proactive approach in dealing with suspected stolen idols and pieces of our cultural heritage.”

He added that the Ashmolean has informed the High Commission that one of their officials is planning to visit the IFP archives as well as the Tamil Nadu temple to verify the details shortly.

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