UNITED KINGDOM, September 19, 2020 : Three bronze sculptures stolen from a southern Indian temple more than 40 years ago were found in the UK and returned to Indian government officials this week. The bronze sculptures represent some of Hinduism’s most revered Deities — Lord Ram, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman, all part of the same set of statues. They belong to a 15th Century temple built during the Vijayanagara empire, located in Anandamangalam village in Tamil Nadu state, and were stolen in 1978. Vijayanagara was once one of the most important trading centers in the world.
It’s taken years of work by a group of art enthusiasts, investigations by police teams in two countries, and efforts from Indian diplomats in the UK, to help bring them back. Four years ago, a photograph of one of the sculptures was spotted on the website of the British Antique Dealers’ Association by a member of India Pride Project, which works to bring stolen statues back to India. S. Vijaykumar, who co-founded the project says: “We got leads [which took us] to districts and temples with similar styles, but we could not come up with any firm matches for three years.” They restarted their search, and found a crucial piece of the puzzle in the archives of the French Institute of Pondicherry in southern India. A photograph taken on 15 June 1958, showed the full set of statues in the Sri Rajagopala Swamy Temple in Anandamangalam village. Armed with evidence, the group approached the High Commission of India in the UK.