India bids to get back lost treasures

India is seeking UNESCO support to recover its priceless antiquities that were once taken away.

Updated: May 19, 2010, 12:14 PM IST

Kolkata: India is seeking UNESCO support for
an international campaign to recover its priceless antiquities
that were once taken away from the country in foreign
invasions, a senior official of the Archaeological Survey of
India said.

"As efforts so far to reclaim stolen treasures have
proved futile, UNESCO support is required for launching an
international campaign to achieve the end," ASI Director
General Gautam Sengupta said.

Sengupta, who attended the Cairo conference of
archaeological heads of countries last month, said India had
expressed its wish to get back the stolen treasures like the
exquisite Kohinoor, taken away by the British and now in the
Tower of London, besides Birmingham Buddha, Amravati railings,
Saraswati idol (stolen from Bhoj temple) and many other lost

He said the whereabouts of fabled Peacock throne, looted
during raid by Nadir Shah and taken to Persia, were not
immediately available.

"Information is that most of the precious antique items
which we lost in raids, attacks or loots during foreign
invasions in the pre-independence period are spread over
museums, mostly in European countries," he said.

Sengupta said the Cairo conference called for a suitable
international law to ban export or ownership of stolen
antiquities acquired after 1970.

This would help in preventing acquisition of stolen
treasures of any particular country.

The ASI chief said Egypt had incurred huge loss in terms
of stolen antiquities, which it desperately seeks to get back.

"Not only India, various other countries like Mexico,
Peru, China and Bolivia, Cyprus and Guatemala also voiced the
same concern to get back their stolen and looted antiquities
and to join the international campaign," Sengupta said.

The Peacock throne inlaid with precious stones was
created in the 17th century for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who
had placed the Kohinoor diamond and kept it at the Diwan-i-aam
in his imperial capital of Delhi.

It was taken away by invader Nadir Shah to Persia in 1739
and after his assassination in 1747 the original throne was
lost in the chaos that ensued.

The Saraswati image is believed to have been at a temple
at Bhojsala set up by Raja Bhoj (1010-1053), a Parmar king who
spent his life institutionalizing culture, creating knowledge
banks and developing centers for art and spirituality, in the
town of Dhar in Madhya Pradesh.

The image is now at the British Museum in London.

The Birmingham Buddha, the largest surviving Buddha image
of ancient India, was discovered in 1861 from the site of a
monastery at Sultanganj in Bihar during a railway
construction. It is now at the City Museum and Art Gallery in

The Amravati railings belong to the Amravati stupa of
Andhra Pradesh built between the second century BC and third
century AD.

In the late 19th century most of the main Amravti
sculptures were taken away from the site and sent to museums.
Many are in the British Museum.