Regina University Returns Statue Of Annapoorna Stolen From India

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Figure of Annapoorna (Benares, India, 18th century), artist unknown, stone, 17.30 x 9.90 x 4.90 cm. (Photo: Don Hall - University of Regina)

REGINA: The University of Regina is returning to India a unique statue of Hindu Goddess Annapoorna that was stolen from a temple in Varanasi over a hundred years ago.

The statue was part of a 1936 bequest by Norman MacKenzie, and which became part of the University’s Mackenzie Art Gallery.

It was Winnipeg-based artist Divya Mehra who found out that the statue had been brought to Canada after it disappeared in Varanasi. The story goes that Mackenzie was on a trip to India when he saw the statue in a temple and bought it from a local thief.

The shrine is located on the banks of the Holy Ganges. A virtual repatriation ceremony was held on November 19 with the University’s Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Dr Thomas Chase and the High Commissioner of India to Canada Ajay Bisaria present along with other university officials.

“We are delighted that this unique statue of Annapoorna is on her way home. I am grateful to the University of Regina for their proactive engagement for the return of this cultural icon to India,” Bisaria said.

“The move to voluntarily repatriate such cultural treasures shows the maturity and depth of India-Canada relations.” Annapoorna is the Hindu Goddess of Food and Presiding Deity of the ancient city of Varanasi. The University statement said the ‘Annapoorna is celebrated by her devotees as one who nourishes and strengthens the body through food, and the soul through enlightenment.”

The statue shows the Goddess holding a bowl in one hand and a spoon in the other. The statue was identified by Dr Siddhartha V Shah, Curator of Indian and South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum.

“The repatriation of the Annapoorna is part of a global, long-overdue conversation in which museums seek to address harmful and continuing imperial legacies built into, sometimes, the very foundations of their collections. As stewards of cultural heritage, our responsibility to act respectfully and ethically is fundamental, as is the willingness to look critically at our own institutional histories,” said Alex King, Curator/Preparator, University of Regina President’s Art Collection.

“As a university, we have a responsibility to right historical wrongs and help overcome the damaging legacy of colonialism wherever possible,” said Chase.

“Repatriating this statue does not atone for the wrong that was done a century ago, but it is an appropriate and important act today. I am thankful to the MacKenzie Art Gallery, the Indian High Commission, and the Department of Canadian Heritage for their roles in making it possible,” the vice-chancellor said.

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