3 priceless idols of Lord Ram, Maa Sita and Laxman from the Vijayanagara period, stolen from a Vishnu temple in Tamil Nadu in 1978 have been handed over to the Indian consulate in London by the British police.
A formal ceremony was held at the India House, the Indian High Commission building in London to commemorate the occasion. It was attended by the officials of the Metropolitan Police, the staff at the India House and remotely by Union Minister of Culture and Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel via video conferencing, said a report in Hindustan Times.
It is important to note that a traditional puja of the deities was also performed during the ceremony by a Hindu priest.
Auspicious moment as 3 more priceless statues of Vijayanagara period stolen from Vishnu temple, Nagapatinnam in 1978, recovered by @HCI_London with support of #MetPoliceLondon, restored to Govt of Tamil Nadu in presence of Hble Union Min for Culture&Tourism Shri @prahladspatel. pic.twitter.com/XRmzQIkWG6— India in the UK (@HCI_London) September 15, 2020
The return of these idols are a part of the growing efforts from the Indian government to bring back stolen and smuggled artefacts of India’s cultural heritage. Minister Prahlad Patel stated at the event that between 1947 to 2014, only 13 items were returned, but as a result of growing efforts by the government and increasing awareness and understanding, over 40 artefacts have been handed over to India by foreign nations after 2014.
Significance of the idols
As per a report in Swarajya, the idols are known as Anandamangalam Rama, Laxmana and Sita. They are exquisitely crafted bronze idols from the Vijayanagara period. S Vijay Kumar of the India Pride Project has written in the report that the presence of these idols was first confirmed last year when a volunteer sent a photograph. The photographs were matched with those of the stolen idols from the Sri Rajagopala Swamy temple, Anandamanglam, Mayuram Taluk, Thanjavur District.
With the help of officials fro Tamil Nadu government’s idol wing, Indian Embassy in London and ASI the identity and origin of the idols were confirmed. Rahul Nangare, the First Secretary, High Commission of India, London had reportedly reached out to the dealer who was reportedly unaware of their stolen status. The dealer, after understand the nature and the importance of the idols, reportedly agreed to hand them over.
The India Pride Project has stated that there is another Hanuman idol of the same group that is currently displayed at a museum in South East Asia.
The idols will now be brought back to their home temple to be worshiped.
In 2018, the London Police had handed over a 12th century Buddha statue that was stolen from the ASI museum in Nalanda in 1961.