In a positive development, a Canadian University has decided to return an ancient idol of Goddess Annapoorna back to India in a bid to correct historical wrongdoings and the damaging legacy of colonialism. The idol belongs to Goddess Annapoorna, the deity of nourishment and queen of Varanasi. The idol is depicted as holding a spoon in one hand and a bowl of kheer in the other.
As per reports, the idol was stolen from a shrine in Varanasi about a century ago and was kept at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in the University of Regina. In a statement of Thursday, the University said that it was brought to the attention of the varsity by artist Divya Mehra while scourging through the permanent collection of journalist and historian Norman Mackenzie, the art gallery’s namesake. She had pointed out that the idol had caught the eye of Mackenzie during a trip to India in 1913. On learning about his desire to possess the idol, a man stole it on his behest from a shrine near the Ganga river in Varanasi. The University then decided to take the appropriate decision to undo the cultural theft.
University decides to return idol voluntarily
Following a virtual repatriation ceremony on November 19, Vice-Chancellor and Interim President of the University Dr Thomas Chase met Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Ajay Bisaria, to officially repatriate the idol. The ceremony was attended by representatives from Canada Border Services Agency, MacKenzie Art Gallery, and Global Affairs Canada. While speaking on the development, Ajay Bisaria said, “We are delighted that this unique statue of Annapoorna is on her way home. I am grateful to the University of Regina for their proactive engagement for the return of this cultural icon to India. The move to voluntarily repatriate such cultural treasures shows the maturity and depth of India-Canada relations.”
Official statement by University officials
“As a university, we have a responsibility to right historical wrongs and help overcome the damaging legacy of colonialism wherever possible. Repatriating this statue does not atone for the wrong that was done a century ago, but it is an appropriate and important act today. I am thankful to the MacKenzie Art Gallery, the Indian High Commission, and the Department of Canadian Heritage for their roles in making it possible,” Vice-Chancellor Chase stated.
Curator of the President’s Art Collection from the University of Regina, Alex King, stated, “The repatriation of the Annapoorna is part of a global, long-overdue conversation in which museums seek to address harmful and continuing imperial legacies built into, sometimes, the very foundations of their collections. As stewards of cultural heritage, our responsibility to act respectfully and ethically is fundamental, as is the willingness to look critically at our own institutional histories,” said Alex King, Curator/Preparator, University of Regina President’s Art Collection.