Bringing Back Our Looted Heritage

It is a strange dichotomy that the same Christian West which denounces Hindu murti-puja (termed asidol worship’), has for centuries stolen our priceless cultural heritage to be displayed in their museums or in private collections. So on the one hand while Hindu culture is ridiculed and demonized, its artifacts are taken out of the country and confined to scholarly museums as representatives of a ‘dead culture’.

It is in this context that the recent recovery and repatriation to Bharat of hundreds of priceless murtis and other artifacts, through efforts of private groups like The India Pride Project, individuals like twitter user @poetryinstone and the current Modi Government, is a heartening development.

A lot of credit for the recent success in restituting priceless murtis and other artifacts goes to The India Pride Project, a group who’s mission is ‘Bringing home our Gods – Restore the nation’s pride through restoring its culture‘. This group of individuals uses their varied skills in art, archaeology, history, investigative reporting and chartered accountancy to identify and track looted Bharatiya antiquities and then engage with Bharatiya missions abroad and other stakeholders to prosecute art smuggler criminals & buyers of  stolen goods.

The recent visit of PM Narendra Modi to United States has resulted in the US Government announcing the return of more than 200 priceless cultural artifacts to Bharat, which were stolen or removed from various religious and heritage sites.  

Narendra Modi
Ancient Artifacts returned by US to Bharat, Source

The artifacts include an ancient bronze sculpture of Bhagwan Ganesha, a Jain figure of Bahubali and many terracotta figures, some of which are said to be more than 2000 years old. The value of all the artifacts has been estimated to be well over $100 million.

PM Modi appreciated the move by the US Government to return these invaluable artifacts in a series of tweets posted by Vikas Swarup, Spokesperson, External Affairs Ministry :

Narendra Modi
MEA Spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweets on behalf of PM Shri Narendra Modi, Source

Later in his statement given to IANS, he said : “We are very grateful to the government of the US and the President for returning a part of our culture. This heritage inspires us for the future. Usually it’s the present that brings nations together, but sometimes it’s the heritage that brings two nations closer. Over the past two years, various countries have endeavored to return India’s stolen cultural heritage.”

PM Modi’s quest for bringing back Bharat’s heritage started way back in 2003. Since then he has successfully recovered hundreds of precious heritage artifacts from all around the world and restored them back to Bharat-

  • In 2003 when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat he visited Geneva and brought back the ashes of freedom fighter Shyamji Krishan Varma.
  • In 2014, during a visit to Australia, PM Modi ensured return of an 11th century Nataraja murti from the Chola dynasty and an Ardhanarishwara statue from 10th Century. Both the artifacts were stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu and smuggled into Australia where they were later auctioned.
  • In his visit to Canada in 2015, he brought back a 900 year old sandstone sculpture called- “Parrot Lady” which was stolen from the temple of Khajurao.
  • Later that year, Germany returned a 10th century stolen statue of Goddess Durga. The statute of Goddess Durga in Mahishasurmardini avatar was stolen from a temple in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990’s when the terrorist insurgency there was at an all time high.

These rare cultural artifacts are our heritage and an evidence of the ancient civilization which still exists in the holy land of Bharat. Getting these artifacts back is not just an academic exercise, but something which can inspire future generations to touch the same dizzying civilizational heights which gave rise to such works of art. In the words of the India Pride Project team –

For thousands of years, our Gods have been looted.
Nobody has bothered to bring them back.