Oxford University to return 500-year-old sculpture to India

The almost 60cm-tall bronze statue had been on display at the university’s Ashmolean Museum.

Oxford University to return 500-year-old sculpture to India

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, southern central England. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Pramod Thomas

OXFORD UNIVERSITY will return a 500-year-old bronze statue of the Hindu saint Tirumankai Alvar to India, following a claim by the Indian high commission that the sculpture might have been looted from an Indian temple.

This 16th-century artifact, previously displayed at the Ashmolean Museum, depicts the Tamil poet and saint from South India.

The university’s council approved the claim on 11 March 2024, and the decision is now awaiting approval from the charity commission.

“On 11 March 2024 the council of the University of Oxford supported a claim from the Indian high commission for the return of a 16th-century bronze sculpture of saint Tirumankai Alvar from the Ashmolean Museum. This decision will now be submitted to the charity commission for approval,” said a statement for the Ashmolean.

In 2022, Oxford and Cambridge universities indicated their willingness to return collections of Benin bronzes following a request from Nigeria.

Over 200 artifacts were seized by British colonial forces in 1897 amid a violent trade conflict.

Thousands of these brasses and other items were taken and sold in London to offset the costs of the military expedition.

Last year, prime minister Rishi Sunak found himself in a dispute with Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who used an interview to advocate for the return of the Parthenon marbles.

Sunak accused Mitsotakis of attempting to “grandstand” over the issue after cancelling a meeting with the Greek leader.

Greece has long campaigned for the return of the Parthenon marbles, claiming they were illegally acquired during a period of foreign occupation.