Oxford University to return Hindu saint sculpture to India

Oxford University is to hand back a sculpture of a Hindu saint to India.

The 500-year-old bronze, which depicts Tirumankai Alvar, had been on display at the university’s Ashmolean Museum.

A claim for the sculpture was made through the Indian High Commission.

Tirumankai Alvar was a Tamil poet and saint from south India.

Statue of Tirumankai Alvar
The statue of Tirumankai Alvar (Alamy/PA)

It is believed the bronze may have been looted from an Indian temple.

A statement for the Ashmolean said: “On March 11 2024 the council of the University of Oxford supported a claim from the Indian High Commission for the return of a 16th-century bronze sculpture of saint Tirumankai Alvar from the Ashmolean Museum.

This decision will now be submitted to the Charity Commission for approval.”

It comes after Oxford and Cambridge universities said in 2022 that they could return collections of the Benin Bronzes after Nigeria requested them.

More than 200 artefacts were looted by British colonial forces in 1897 in response to a violent trade dispute.

Several thousand brasses and other artefacts were taken by the British and sold in London to recoup the costs of the military mission.

Last year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was involved in a spat with the Greek prime minister after Kyriakos Mitsotakis used an interview to push for the return of the Elgin Marbles.

Athens has been campaigning for decades for the return of the artefacts.

The country has long claimed they were illegally acquired during a period of foreign occupation.