Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel on Tuesday handed over 13th-century bronze idols —of Ram, Lakshman and Sita — which were recently repatriated from the UK to the Tamil Nadu government at the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) headquarters in Delhi.
These artefacts, stolen from a temple in the state more than 40 years ago, were handed over to the Indian High Commission on September 15 by the London Metropolitan Police, via a digital event, but they landed in India this week. The idols are believed to be masterpieces of Indian metal art and vary between 74 cm and 90 cm in height.
Patel said that the government has been able to retrieve 40 antiquities from foreign countries between 2014 and 2020, while only 13 antique pieces were repatriated to India between 1976 and 2014. “The return of another 75-80 stolen antique pieces is in the pipeline, but the legal process takes a long time. The origin of these idols could be proved with much ease since there was ample photographic documentation.” He also put the onus on the respective state governments and trusts to keep antiquities in safe custody so that such situations don’t arise in future.
As per photographic evidence from 1958, these idols belong to the Sri Rajagopal Vishnu Temple built during the Vijayanagara period in Tamil Nadu’s Nagapattinam district. As per the police probe, these were stolen in November 1978 and could not be found in the custody of thieves who were nabbed later.
The idols are now likely to be handed back to the temple management, where they will be put on display after 40 years, said an official from the Tamil Nadu government’s Idol Wing.
Patel also announced that as a part of the commemoration ceremony of 75 years of India’s Independence, those working on the themes of the independence movement, life of freedom fighters, Indian traditions and culture, folk arts and heritage, and other issues of national importance, will be exempt from payments of fee for shooting at most ASI-protected monuments between December 25, 2020, and August 15, 2021.
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