Oxford University to return bronze statue of Hindu saint to India


LONDON (AP) — The University of Oxford has agreed to return a 500-year-old bronze statue of a Hindu poet and saint to India, the university’s Ashmolean Museum said.

The Indian High Commission in Britain filed a claim four years ago for the bronze figure of Tirumankai Alvar that was allegedly looted from a temple.

Vijay Kumar, co-founder of the India Pride Project, which aims to recover stolen religious artefacts, said worshipers have something to cheer about.

“We saw COVID delays and procedural drama between the British and Indian authorities on what should have been an open and shut case,” Kumar told the Times of India on Sunday. “But we voiced our opinions on social media and we are almost there.”

The planned repatriation comes amid pressure from foreign governments, including Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, as well as from indigenous peoples from North America to Australia, who want to reclaim priceless antiquities dubiously looted or stolen during the heyday of the British Empire acquired.

Oxford agreed two years ago to return to the Nigerian government nearly 100 Benin bronzes, which were looted in 1897 when British soldiers attacked and occupied Benin City as Britain expanded its political and commercial influence in West Africa.

The return of these items is being stopped by the Charity Commission, a regulatory body in England and Wales that decides whether the return of art undermines an organisation’s charitable mission. The Indian bronze also needs the committee’s approval.

The Ashmolean said it contacted the Indian High Commission in 2019 after research from photo archives revealed the bronze was in a temple in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu in 1957.

In a statement, the museum said that the university council supported the return of the object in March.

The museum said it purchased the statue from Sotheby’s in 1967. It said it did not know how collector Dr. JR Belmont had acquired it.

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