British Museum shares image of sandstone sculpture of Harihara, Indians demand it is returned back

Any Indian who whenever walks into the British Museum will be undoubted, forever reminded of how his or her past has been brutally clawed away and appended to British history, now on display for tourists from around the world to gloat over.

Recently the British Museum on Twitter uploaded an image of an Indian sandstone sculpture displayed in their Museum which attracted a lot of resentment from Indians demanding it to be returned back as it is part of Indian heritage.

This spectacular sculpture mentioned is 1000 years old and depicts ‘Harihara’ in its center. Harihara is the fused representation of Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara) from the Hindu tradition. Also known as Shankaranarayana (“Shankara” is Shiva, and “Narayana” is Vishnu), Harihara is thus revered by both Vaishnavites and Shaivites as a form of the Supreme God.

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Harihara is also sometimes used as a philosophical term to denote the unity of Vishnu and Shiva as different aspects of the same Ultimate Reality called Brahman. This concept of equivalence of various gods as one principle and “oneness of all existence” is discussed as Harihara in the texts of Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy.

For decades people have seemed to remain complacent about the display of their national treasures in the British museums, but not anymore. Lately, Indians are being strident in their opinions and demanding it to be returned back.

Twitterati poured with similar opinions demanding the Indian Heritage to be returned back to India.

Amongst the other Indian artifacts Britain flaunts is the Relief from the side of the Amaravati stupa. The story of Amravati is just one among the many such art objects that have been transplanted to British museums from India by British colonial officers.

A celebrated relic kept in the Victoria and Albert Museum is “Tipu’s Tiger”, a mechanical toy created for Tipu Sultan and acquired by East India Company officials after the siege of Seringapatam in 1799 wherein the company won over the kingdom of Mysore.

Not just the Kohinoor, there are several other artifacts that were also stolen by the British from India.

After the last king of Mysore died fighting the British, they took away the ring and sword of Tipu Sultan. Though the sword eventually returned to India in 2004 after Indian Liquor Baron Vijay Mallya bought it at an auction for Rs 1.57 crore, his ring still remains in the UK.

The Sultanganj Buddha, over 2m tall and weighing over 500kg, it is the largest known complete Indian metal sculpture kept at the Birmingham Museum.

It’s time that we regard theft of Antiquities not merely as a cultural theft, which is a huge issue in itself, but also a civilizational threat and a threat to the very existence of our nation.

Earlier in 2016, as a part of ‘Operation Hidden Idol,’ raids and seizures were made at the Asia Art Week in New York which sought to curb the flow of smuggled cultural products into New York. Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., had condemned the auctioning of smuggled cultural artefacts. He said, “Those who peddle historic relics with no consideration for how they were acquired are active participants in the laundering of stolen property.” He went on to add, “It is not only unethical but unlawful.”

Prime Minister of Modi is the first Indian head of government to demand stolen Indian heritage from the U.S, Canada, Germany, and other countries. The USA handed over 200 ancient artefacts to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the States but only 11 have come back to India thus far. However, the new Antiquities Bill proposed by his government in 2017 appears rather weak when compared to global standards.

The government should make stringent laws and make sure that the looted Indian Heritage is restored back promptly. On a deeper level, we owe it to our ancestors that we return the memories of their tradition and their endeavours to those who would truly treasure them and worship them and not abandon them in the hands of those who would treat them as merely decorative pieces.


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