India has formally demanded from Britain the return of a 15th-century Bronze murti which was believed to have been stolen from Tamil Nadu and eventually made its way to a UK museum through auction.
The Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford acquired the figurine of Saint Tirumankai Alvar from Sotheby’s auction house in 1967 from the collection of a collector named J R Belmont (1886-1981).
The murti is believed to have been stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu, after which it was auctioned at an auction in London, and finally, the murti was eventually found at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford University. (Ashmolean Museum) arrived.
According to the museum authorities, when informed about the origins of the murti in November last year by an independent researcher, it alerted the Indian High Commission and initiated the verification process.
A statement released by the Ashmolean Museum said that the research from the photo archive of IFP-EFEO (Institute Française de Pondicherry and the Ecol Française d’Extreme Orient) appears to show an uncanny resemblance to the bronze in the temple of Shri Soundarrajaperumal Kovil in Tamil Nadu in 1957, confirming murti’s provenance.
“It was informed to the Ashmolean Museum that the bronze is similar to the number of bronzes in collections in Europe and the United States identified by the aforesaid researcher through the IFP-EFEO archive,” the statement said.
The Museum claimed that it had no inkling as to how the bronze entered its collection, adding that investigations are underway with the help of Indian High Commission. The Museum said that the murti was acquired in “good faith” in 1967.
Though no claims were made against the statue, the Museum proactively brought the matter to the attention of Indian High Commission on December 16 last year by seeking more information, possibly police records to establish the figurine’s origins.
Acknowledging the Museum’s request, Indian High Commissioner in the UK Ruchi Ghanashyam forwarded the matter to the Indian authorities with a formal request for restitution of the murti sent to the Museum earlier this month.
The First Secretary (Trade) at the Indian High Commission in London said that that the police report furnished by the Idol wing clearly shows that the murti as found in the IFP archives was stolen and replaced with a counterfeit one and that the stolen statue is in Ashmolean Museum’s possession.
“After we have tendered them a formal request for restitution and provided them with the police report, the Museum has informed us that they are carrying out further due diligence, with an official from Ashmolean also scheduled to visit India shortly. We have asked them to speed up the process so the final decision can be taken without any further delay,” he said.