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India gets back stolen stone idols of Yogini Chamunda and Gomukhi

The Yogini Chamunda and Yogini Gomukhi idols were stolen from a temple in Lokhari, Uttar Pradesh, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recovered with support from the High Commission of India in London, India Pride Project, and Art Recovery International, the idols were unveiled at India House on the final day of Jaishankar's UK visit

India gets back stolen stone idols of Yogini Chamunda and Gomukhi
First Published Nov 16, 2023, 8:04 AM IST

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday presided over a repatriation ceremony in London, marking the return of two 8th-century temple idols, Yogini Chamunda and Yogini Gomukhi, which had been stolen from a temple in Lokhari, Uttar Pradesh, between the late 1970s and early 1980s. The recovery of these artefacts was accomplished through the collaborative efforts of the High Commission of India in London, the India Pride Project, and Art Recovery International.

In a ceremony held at India House on the concluding day of his five-day visit to the UK, Jaishankar unveiled the idols and expressed his anticipation for their return to their country of origin. During the event, he emphasized the importance of ensuring that cultural exchanges are conducted legally, transparently, and in accordance with established rules. 

Jaishankar highlighted the significance of correcting any deviations, not only in the specific case of the recovered idols but as a broader message against practices deemed unacceptable in the contemporary era.

The term 'Yogini' pertains to female masters of yogic arts, with 64 divine Yoginis worshipped as goddesses at Yogini temples like the one in Lokhari. The Lokhari temple originally housed 20 Yogini statues, depicting beautiful women with animal heads. 

In the 1970s, the temple fell victim to a group of robbers believed to have operated from Rajasthan and Maharashtra, smuggling stolen goods into Europe through Switzerland. The thieves pilfered an unknown number of statues, some were shattered, and the remaining undamaged ones were secretively relocated and concealed by local villagers.

Chris Marinello of Art Recovery International, involved in the restitution process, highlighted that this was the fifth instance of returning significant pieces of cultural heritage to India. The collaborative efforts, spanning Milan, Brussels, and London on three occasions, underscore the importance of working closely with organizations like the India Pride Project in identifying and reclaiming such artefacts.

Jaspreet Singh Sukhija, First Secretary, Trade and Economics at the Indian High Commission in London, has been actively engaged in the restitution process alongside the India Pride Project, an organization dedicated to restoring India's lost artifacts. 

Indian High Commissioner to the UK Vikram Doraiswami emphasized the objective of finding acceptable and amicable solutions during such occasions to facilitate the return of heritage to its rightful place of origin, where it can be most appropriately appreciated.

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