Missing for nearly 60 years, a 12th-century statue of Buddha was returned to India by the UK government in a ceremony on Wednesday (15 August 2018).
The bronze Buddha with silver inlay was one of 14 effigies looted from the Archaeological Museum in Nalanda, Bihar in eastern India, in 1961. Historically attributed to colonials, such thefts of valuable artefacts from India are still perpetuated by smuggling rings.
Before first arriving in London to be sold by an antiques dealer, the Buddha is said to have changed hands several times. The current owner and dealer were alerted to the illicit status of the object when the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art and the India Pride Project identified it at a trade fair in March 2018.
Both the owner and dealer cooperated fully with subsequent investigations by the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit and agreed to return the statue to India. At Wednesday’s ceremony, which coincided with India’s 72nd Independence Day celebrations, officials from the Met and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport handed over the artefact to the Indian High Commissioner Y.K. Sinha.
Detective Constable Sophie Hayes of the Met’s Art and Antique unit confirmed that neither the statue’s owner nor the dealer who was offering it for sale were aware of the object’s history and had not committed a crime. She said the case “has been a true example of co-operation between law enforcement, the trade and scholars”.
UK Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, Michael Ellis said the return of the missing Buddha highlighted “how law enforcement and the London art market are working hand in hand to deliver positive cultural diplomacy to the world”.