External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday presided over a repatriation ceremony in London for two 8th-century temple idols stolen from India and discovered in England recently.
The Yogini Chamunda and Yogini Gomukhi idols, stolen from a temple in Lokhari in Uttar Pradesh between the late 1970s and the early 1980s, were recovered by the High Commission of India in London with support from India Pride Project, and Art Recovery International.
Mr Jaishankar unveiled the idols at India House on the final day of his five-day visit to the UK and said he looked forward to their return to their home country.
“It is important today, as we look to appreciate each other’s culture, to ensure that cultural exchanges are legal, transparent and rules-based,” said Mr Jaishankar.
“Where there have been deviations, whenever these are corrected I think this is something of great importance, not just in this case, but as a message that this is a practice which is not acceptable in this day and age,” he said.
‘Yogini’ refers to female masters of the yogic arts with 64 divine Yoginis worshipped as goddesses at Yogini temples such as Lokhari. The term is slightly ambivalent as it applies both to the goddesses and adept worshippers, who were believed to be able to take on some of the goddesses’ powers by performing secret rituals before the statues.
The Lokhari temple is believed to have 20 Yogini statues, depicted as beautiful women with the heads of animals.
In the 1970s, the temple was targeted by a group of robbers who are believed to have operated out of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, smuggling goods into Europe via Switzerland. An unknown number of statues were stolen, with others being broken and the remaining unharmed statues subsequently removed and hidden by local villagers.
“This is the fifth time we have been able to return important pieces of cultural heritage to India – in Milan, Brussels, and London three times. We work closely with the India Pride Project and when they identify one of these, we step in and negotiate with the possessors in an effort to reach an amicable resolution,” said Chris Marinello of Art Recovery International.
Jaspreet Singh Sukhija, First Secretary, Trade and Economics at the Indian High Commission in London, has been working on the restitution of these idols with the India Pride Project, an organisation that works on restoring India’s lost artefacts.
“Part of the objective of what we seek to do in these occasions is to find some acceptable and amicable solutions to enable our heritage to go back to where it is most appropriate, where it comes from and where it is most appreciated,” said Indian High Commissioner to the UK Vikram Doraiswami.
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