An ancient idol of Goddess Annapurna, brought back to India after over a century from Canada, would begin an over 800 km journey from Delhi on November 11 for its original location — the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, where it is scheduled to be placed on November 15, said Minister for Tourism, Culture and DoNER G Kishan Reddy. The five-day ‘Shobha Yatra’ will see Uttar Pradesh ministers accompany the idol, which was received by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on October 5.
In Lucknow, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said in-charge ministers of each district on the idol’s route will accompany the yatra in that district. The ASI will ascertain security arrangements at the idol’s original location before handing it to temple trustees.
In one of the episodes of Mann Ki Baat last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the ancient Annapurna idol, stolen from India about a century ago, was being brought back.
“Every Indian would feel proud to know that an ancient idol of Maa Annapurna is being brought back from Canada to India. This idol was stolen from a temple of Varanasi [Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency] and smuggled out of the country around 100 years ago…” he said.
Annapurna is the goddess of food. The 18th-century idol, carved in the Benares style, was part of the collection at the MacKenzie Art Gallery at the University of Regina, Canada. “As a university, we have a responsibility to right historical wrongs and help overcome the damaging legacy of colonialism wherever possible,” said University of Regina’s Vice-Chancellor Thomas Chase.
In 2019, Winnipeg-based artist Divya Mehra, while researching for an exhibition, came across a Lord Vishnu idol which struck her as female; it was holding a bowl of rice. Looking into records, she found the sculpture was stolen from a temple in 1913.
Siddhartha V Shah, Curator of Indian and South Asian Art at Peabody Essex Museum, US, confirmed it was of Annapurna who holds a bowl of kheer in one hand and a spoon in the other.
Mehra’s research showed that the idol’s owner, lawyer Norman MacKenzie, had seen the statue during an India trip in 1913 where someone stole it for him from a temple on the riverbank in Varanasi.
Mehra spoke to John Hampton, interim CEO at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, and requested that the statue be repatriated. The gallery agreed. After reading about the discovery of the stolen statue, the Indian High Commission in Ottawa and the Department of Canadian Heritage reached out and offered to assist with the repatriation. The idol was expected to land in Delhi in December 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic delayed its return.