Whisked Away to Canada, 100 Years Ago, 18th Century Annapurna Idol Finds its Way Back to Varanasi

By: Jhanvi Mishra
15 Nov 2021 11:13:24 PM CSMC, Chitkara University, Punjab

An 18th century Annapurna idol, recently repatriated from Canada, was restored to its shrine at Varanasi’s Kashi Vishwanath Temple following religious ceremonies earlier on Monday, under the aegis of the Uttar Pradesh government, ANI reported.


Speaking at the event where the Union had handed the idol over to the UP government, Minister of Tourism G Kishan Reddy told the media, “Owing to the efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the idol of Goddess Annapurna, which was stolen over a century ago, has finally returned to India. Soon, the antiquities of various other states will be returned to the respective state governments. Two idols will be sent to Tamil Nadu, one to Andhra Pradesh and one to Rajasthan.”


Annapurna is the goddess of food. The 18th-century idol is carved in the Benares style and measures 17x9x4 cm. It was part of the collection at the MacKenzie Art Gallery at the University of Regina, Canada. “As a university, we have a responsibility to right historical wrongs and help overcome the damaging legacy of colonialism wherever possible,” Vice Chancellor Thomas Chase said to The Indian Express.



Two years ago, while researching for an exhibition, Winnipeg-based artist Divya Mehra came across what was categorised as a Lord Vishnu idol, which struck her as female. The figure was holding a bowl of rice. Looking into records, she found the sculpture was stolen from a temple in 1913.


Siddhartha V Shah, curator of Indian and South Asian Art at Peabody Essex Museum, US, confirmed to Mehra that the statue was indeed that of Annapurna, who holds a bowl of kheer in one hand and a spoon in the other.


Mehra’s research showed that the idol’s former owner, lawyer Norman MacKenzie, had seen the statue during an India trip in 1913. Someone stole it for him from a temple on the riverbank in Varanasi.


The statue began its journey home last year, with its virtual repatriation ceremony on November 19. The idol was expected to land in Delhi in the middle of December 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its return. A thorough verification and documentation were carried out, after which a decision was taken about its final custody. 


The ancient idol was received by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on October 15. It began its journey from Delhi to Aligarh on November 11, from where it travelled to Kanauj on November 12 and /

Ayodhya on November 14. Finally, in a ceremony earlier today, it was placed at its shrine in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.


Between 2014 and 2020, the Union government has retrieved 40 such antiquities from various countries. According to ASI’s records, between 1976 and 2014, the Centre had repatriated 13 antique pieces to India. Minister of Commerce Anupriya Patel had said that the return of another 75-80 stolen antiques is in the pipeline, but the legal processes take a lot of time.

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