The premises of the British Museum alongwith it’s grandeur constitutes remnants of almost two million old history of human civilisation. Now no matter how imposing it seems the reality lies in the fact that numerous artefacts of the third world which were acquired and abducted throughout Britain’s imperial past still resides under the English roof. India is one of those nations which was stripped off it’s resources and culture during those 200 years of colonial rule. Culture and history was a tool for the british empire and was primarily included in the colonial lists of investigative modalities. India was equivalent to a museum for British museums, botanical gardens, zoos etc. Decades after attainment of freedom and evaporation of structural colonialism the temporization of the British government in repatriations of the remnants acquired and pilfered from India suggests how cultural effects have been ignored or displaced into the logic of modernisation and capitalism. It suggests their ignorance towards the brutality of their ancestors exercised in the third world nations in history.
A number of Indian relics resides under the roof of the British Museum. Some of them are:
A magnificent buff-coloured sandstone sculpture dating back to AD 1000 with the height of 165.10 cm, combining two hindu gods vishnu(hari) and shiva(hara). Appeared in the classical period after sectarian movements. The right half is depicted as shiva and the left as vishnu. The sculpture is likely to come from Khajuraho, Madhya pradesh, India. Bought by John Bridge and donated to the museum in the year 1872 after his death.
An 18th century automation or mecanical toy created by Tipu Sultan , the ruler of kingdom of Mysore in India. The toy shows a tiger savaging a near life size european man. The mechanisms make one hand of the man move emitting a wailing sounds and grunts from the tiger.
THE SULTANGANJ BUDDHA
Though later rechristened as Birmingham Buddha after being dicovered by a British railway engineer EB Harris in the year 1861 in Sultanganj, India and shipped to Birmingham collection in 1864. It is a depiction of Siddhartha Gautama dating back to 7th century. It is a metal statue with a length of two metres and weighing 500 kg. It is the only remaining metal statue of this size from Gupta art.
THE AMRAVATI MARBLES
This is a series of 120 sculptures and inscription in British Museum from the Amravathi Mahachaitya in Amravathi, Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. Made of limestones, dating back from 1st century BCE to 8th century BCE. These marbles are also called Elliot marbles as they have been associated with Sir Walter Elliot in 1840s.
My primary purpose of writing this article is to resurrect the prolonged yearning of Indians to witness the physical presence of those relics which confines centuries old histories of the Indian civilisations. The arguements put forward against the repatriation requests by several professors concurs that history has been full of violence in the entire world and we cannot judge the past through the eyes of 21st century and hence repatriations is not justified instead virtual scanned images can be displayed online for people to see from wherever and whenever they want.
For a moment this might seem a logical idea but my views echoes with the fact that these remnents are not just sculptures or artefacts. Every purloined structure they possess has innumerable folklores behind it’s formation and existence . After looking at the sandstone sculpture of HariHara kept in the British Museum an Indian commoner would comprehend the significance behind unity of vishnu and shiva discussed in texts of Advaita vedanta school of hindu philosophy better than hundreds of British or European travellers.
Many requests has been made by India for repatriation of their artefacts which has been declined and in most cases ignored by British Museum associations and the government. Several African and South Asian nations are still struggling to persuade these western museums to return their antiquities and yet are kept deprived of their historical identity. After so many decades should this be still counted as just a purloin of cultural heritage or as a civilisational threat?