Yogini Chamunda and Yogini Gomukhi idols, both stolen from a temple in Lokhari, Uttar Pradesh, in northern India between the late 1970s and early 1980s were recently recovered by the High Commission of India in London with the efforts of India Pride Project and Art Recovery International.
Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar unveiled the idols at a repatriation ceremony at India House in London this week and said he looked forward to their return home.
Dr Jaishankar said: “It is important today, as we look to appreciate each other's culture, to ensure that cultural exchanges are legal, transparent and rules based.
“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.”
The term '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 thought to have contained 20 Yogini statues, depicted as beautiful women with the heads of animals. In the 1970s, the temple was targeted by a group of looters who are believed to have operated out of Rajasthan and Mumbai, 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.
Chris Marinello of Art Recovery International said: “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.
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“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.”
Jaspreet Singh Sukhija, First Secretary – Trade and Economic 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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