A set of three idols of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu decades ago, were returned to the Indian government on Tuesday after a collector voluntarily offered to return it to uncover their true history.

The theft dates back to 1978 and led to an investigation by the Tamil Nadu Police Idol Wing in conjunction with colleagues from the London Metropolitan Police.

The anonymous collector, who had acquired the statues in good faith, was told of their questionable provenance by Met police.

After matching them with archival photographs from the 1950s kept at the French school in Pondicherry, it was proven that the idols in his possession were those belonging to the Vijayanagara period and stolen from the Sri Rajagopalaswami temple in Ananthamangalam in the Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu.

In a ceremony held from India House in London, in accordance with the limit on gatherings due to COVID-19 restrictions, priests at Sri Murugan Temple in London held a short religious ceremony for their transfer to India.

“On behalf of the Indian government, I hope this inspires museums and collectors to carefully examine and verify their collections and help us restore deities belonging to the Indian people and revered for centuries,” said Indian High Commissioner to the UK Gaitri Issar Kumar.

The British collector behind the surrender, who chose to remain anonymous, has been described as a lover of Indian art and culture.

Addressing the virtual event, Tamil Nadu state government officials praised his voluntary intervention and expressed hope that no further action will be taken against him.

Culture and Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel, connecting to the event virtually from Delhi, praised the repatriation of the statues, which he said were among more than 40 “priceless” stolen items restored in India since 2014.

( As reported by Newstube)

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