Oxford University to return bronze sculpture of Hindu saint to India

LONDON (AP) — Oxford University has agreed to return a 500-year-old bronze sculpture of a Hindu poet and saint to India, the university’s Ashmolean Museum said.

The Indian High Commission in the U.K. made a claim four years ago for the bronze figure of Tirumankai Alvar that was allegedly looted from a temple.

Vijay Kumar, co-founder of India Pride Project, which seeks to reclaim stolen religious artifacts, said worshippers have something to cheer.

“We saw COVID delays and procedural drama between British and Indian authorities on what should have been an open and shut case,” Kumar told the Times of India on Sunday. ”But we have been voicing our opinions on social media and we are almost there.”

The planned repatriation comes amid a push by foreign governments, including Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, as well as Indigenous peoples from North America to Australia, seeking to reclaim precious antiquities looted or acquired by questionable means during the heyday of the British Empire.

Oxford agreed two years ago to return nearly 100 Benin bronzes to the Nigerian government that were looted in 1897 when British soldiers attacked and occupied Benin City as Britain expanded its political and commercial influence in West Africa.

The return of those items has been held up by the Charity Commission, a regulatory body in England and Wales that decides if returning art undermines an organization’s charitable mission. The Indian bronze will also need the commission’s approval.

The Ashmolean said it reached out to the Indian High Commission in 2019 after research from photo archives showed the bronze in a temple in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu in 1957.

The museum issued a statement saying the university council supported the return of the item in March.

The museum said it bought the statue at Sotheby’s in 1967. It said it didn’t know how collector Dr. J.R. Belmont had acquired it.

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