Stolen 15th CE idol of Saint Thirumangai Azhwar from Tamil Nadu - government to retrieve it from England soon!!

 India being one of the oldest civilizations in the world, was  ruled by many dynasties of various religions, but it is still rich in culture and heritage. despite past looting and plundering.  As for the Hindu temples, amazing sculptures and artifacts during the Muslim rule many  of thems were damaged during war campaigns. between 12th and 18th  century When the subcontinent came under the British, they never destroyed places of worship, instead they  took away  lots of  intricate sculptures, artwork, bronze idols, etc back to England. Many of them particularly from the Hindu, Buddha and Jain ended in Museum  and other places for display. When the collectors of artifacts,etc  fell hard on time to tide over the financial difficulties, they would sell them for an attritive price.  

This way an amazing 15 the century bronze idol of  Vaishva Tamil  Azhwar saint of Tamil Desam,  Thirumangai Azhwar  ended in Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford. The university acquired it  from Sotheby’s auction house in 1967 from the collection of one J R Belmont (1886-1981) for £850. In the catalog from that auction, Sotheby’s reported the previous owner was  Dr. J.R. Belmont, a noted collector of art and antiques based in Basel, Switzerland. He had the most prestigious collections of Indian sculptures and artifacts from the 1950s onward.

saint Thirumangai Azhwar

Lotted by the british saint Thirumangai Azhwar

Above image: It is an astonishing piece of 15th century CE metal work of  great Vaishva Tamil  Azhwar saint. Standing at nearly 23 inches/ 60 cm as most of  his  idols depict his attributes  holding a sword and shield as this “stolen” idol has similar features.  The moot  question is how did the Ashmolean Museum come to own stolen goods?   Saint Thirumangai Azhwar (8th and 9th centuries)  initially worked as a military commander, a chieftain, and then a robbe under compelling circumstances.  Having became a devout Vaishnava, dedicated to god Vishnu to atone for his sins, he visited numerous Divya Desams and Vishnu shrines...........

Processional image of Thirumangai Azhwar//

Above image: The Thirumangai Azhwar (8th century CE; dated to the reign of the Medieval Chola king Parantaka I), the last of the 12 Azhwar saints of south India made substantial contribution to Vaishnavism. His Mangalasasana utsavam (festival) is a popular one and falls in the month of Thai (Jan–Feb). It is 11 Garuda Sevai  spectacular event at Thirunangur in Mayiladuthurai district of Tamil Nadu. In Hampi, Karnataka  Vitthala temple complex has a shrine dedicated to Thirumangai Azhwar..Image credit: Flicker. .....................

stolen Saint Thirumangai Azhwar idol

In the wake of an alert by an independent researcher in November 2019 last year, Sotheby alerted the Indian High Commission in London. The comparison of the photo archives of the IFP-EFEO (Institut Francais de Pondichery (they have the largest collection)  and the Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient) appears to show that it is one of a number of bronzes in collections in Europe and the United States.  The archival research had a photograph from 1957 of what seems to be the same sculpture in the temple at Sundaraperumal kovil village, near Kumbakonam and Thiruvidaimaruthur

Sundaraperumal kovil Temple near kumbakonam entrance with Gopuram

Above image: Sundararaja Perumal Kovil, Sundaraja perumal village, TN. Believed to have been built by demigod Indira who was relieved of a curse by God Vishnu,its original name was Soundararajan(Handsome person/king) and the village was known as Soundaraja Perumal Koil after the presiding deity. Subsequently, during the reign of Cholas it was called Sundara Chozha Vinnagaram and the temple was called Sundararaja Perumal.  

Moolavar in the sanctum appears in Nindra Kolam ( (standing posture) facing east; Utsavar is Sundararaja  Lord's consort Soundaravalli Thayar has a separate shrine. Similar to Azhagar Koilnear Madurai, is a shrine for Padinettampadi Karuppan ( Karuppan with 18 steps ) and is supposed to be the guard of the temple  This Karuppan offers security to the temple. Normally devotees worship him first before worshipping the main god...........   

Acceptingthe IFP-EFEO archive statement Sotheby's said  after establishing  the work’s provenance and authenticity of the idol as the original one stolen from the temple,.they would cooperate with the Indian government over repatriation. Efforts were in full swing by the appropriate authorities with help from the independent scholar (who blew the  whistle on the fake idol to establish the accurate provenance for the Saint Thirumangai Alwar idol.  

The sculpture in that photo was stolen and replaced with a fake replica in the early 1960s in the temple.  The auction house and the museum are answerable to the Indian government To avoid a barrage of legal wrangles. efforts are afoot to repatriate the idol from England through negotiation. 

Three more idols from the same temple according to TOI dated 9Sept. 2022 - Kalinganatha Krishna, Vishnu and Shridevi have been kept in Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, Kimbell Art Museum, Texas and Hills Auction Gallery, Florida in the USA.