Wednesday, 2 June 2010

India's campaign to retrieve captured heritage treasures

Indian authorities have announced they will try to recover and retrieve thousands of allegedly looted objects held in Western museums.

The head of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Dr. Gautam Sengupta, told The Independent that the list of his country’s treasures held abroad was “too long to handle” and there was a need for a “diplomatic and legal campaign” for their restitution from institutions including the British Museum, the Royal Collection and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Among the items that are being targeted for retrieval are the Koh-i-Noor diamond “presented” to Queen Victoria in 1849 by Dilip Singh, the youngest son of Ranjit Singh, the Maharaja of Lahore. Critics say the stone, part of the Crown Jewels, could not have been willingly surrendered and was plundered by then British governor general, Lord Dalhousie.

Another item is the Sultanganj Buddha, named after the town in northeastern India where it was found, was dug out of an abandoned Buddhist monastery in 1861 along with other priceless artefacts under the direction of E B Harris, a pith-helmeted functionary of the British Raj.

Within months, the 1,500-year-old bronze statue was shipped to Britain after a Birmingham industrialist, Samuel Thornton, secured it for 200 pounds.

Now the so-called “Birmingham Buddha” is one of the artefacts at the top of a list of “stolen treasures”.

Then, according to The Independent, is the Amravati railings, a series of limestone carvings dating from around AD100, acquired from a Buddhist temple in Andhra Pradesh by Victorian explorers.

And, there is the Saraswati idol, a sculpture of the Hindu deity from the Bhoj temple.

Dr. Sengupta said India is looking to join a campaign with the support of UNESCO, the United Nations body set up to preserve global heritage, alongside other countries with longstanding complaints about the foreign ownership of their artistic riches, including Egypt and Greece.

“As efforts so far to reclaim stolen treasures have proved futile, UNESCO support is required for launching an international campaign to achieve this end. Not only India, various other countries like Mexico, Peru, China, Bolivia, Cyprus and Guatemala also the voiced the same concern to get back their stolen and looted antiquities and to join the international campaign,” Sengupta added.

While underlining the need to be “realistic” about the chances of large numbers of items being returned, Dr. Sengupta said a list of “unique items” that should be returned to their home countries was being drawn up by each of the participating countries.

“Once this list is ready, these countries will jointly initiate a series of steps, including a diplomatic and legal campaign to get back the lost treasures,” he added. (ANI).

London/New Delhi, June 1 (ANI)


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