Museum in Scotland holds ceremony to repatriate Indian artefacts

Six of the objects were removed from temples and shrines across northern India during the 19th century

Museum conservator Stephanie De Roemer holds the Indo-Persian sword during the transfer of ownership ceremony at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. Getty Images
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Glasgow held a ceremony on Friday to officially repatriate seven Indian cultural artefacts looted during British colonial rule, calling it a first for a UK museum service.

The artefacts taken from India in the 19th century will be returned home after an agreement was reached with a museum in Scotland.

The items include a ceremonial Indo-Persian tulwar, a sword believed to date back to the 14th century, and an 11th-century carved stone door jamb taken from a Hindu temple in Kanpur.

The agreement comes as Egypt launches a new push for the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum in London.

There has been a change of thinking in the museum world that has led more and more countries' treasured cultural items, often taken in times of conflict or colonisation, to be returned. But this is still far from the norm.

The British Museum, for example, currently possesses the Parthenon Marbles, which Greece has for decades demanded be returned. German and French museums have already sent back some items to Greece.

Glasgow Life, the organisation that manages the Scottish city’s museum collections, welcomed dignitaries from the High Commission of India for a ceremony at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum where they transferred ownership of the artefacts.

Guests look at the ceremonial Indo-Persian sword. AFP

“The transfer of ownership of the Indian antiquities symbolises a significant step for Glasgow, with the city continuing its positive repatriation history by ensuring these cultural artefacts are placed back in the hands of their legitimate owners,” said Duncan Dornan, head of museums and collections at Glasgow Life.

Glasgow Life said it was the first museum service in the UK to repatriate artefacts to India.

Six of the objects were removed from temples and shrines in different states in northern India during the 19th century, while the seventh was purchased after it was stolen from the owner.

All seven artefacts were given as gifts to Glasgow’s collections.

Sujit Ghosh, acting Indian high commissioner, welcomed the return of the items.

“These artefacts are an integral part of our civilisational heritage and will now be sent back home,” he said.

“We express our appreciation to all the stakeholders who made this possible, especially Glasgow Life and Glasgow City Council.”

Glasgow Life said it has been working on the repatriation of the artefacts, alongside the High Commission of India in London, since January 2021.

“The agreement reached with the government of India is another example of Glasgow’s commitment to addressing past wrongs and remaining transparent when explaining how objects arrived in the city’s museum collections,” said group chairwoman Bailie Annette Christie.

The city is also set to return a number of other items to countries around the world, including 19 bronze pieces to Nigeria.

This process began when it was established that the artefacts bound for Nigeria — acquired as gifts and bequests as well as from auction houses — were taken from sacred sites and ceremonial buildings during the punitive Benin Expedition of 1897.

About 25 Lakota and Oceti Sakowin ancestral and cultural items — sold and donated to Glasgow’s museums by George Crager, an interpreter for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show who visited the city in 1892 — will also be handed back to the Cheyenne River Sioux and Oglala Sioux tribes of South Dakota in the US.

Some of these objects were taken from the Wounded Knee Massacre site in December 1890, while others were personal items belonging to named ancestors or are ceremonial artefacts.

Updated: August 19, 2022, 6:00 PM