Kohinoor and the many Indian artefacts looted by the West, on display in world museums now

Sushim Mukul
Sushim MukulMay 19, 2023 | 17:22

Kohinoor and the many Indian artefacts looted by the West, on display in world museums now

London's Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses the biggest collection (over 40,000) of Indian artefacts outside of the subcontinent.

The Kohinoor, a symbol of British loot, is the name that pops up while talking about antiquities - idols, gems, jewels, weapons, and other artefacts taken away from India unethically.

PM Narendra Modi, while addressing at the inauguration of the International Museum Expo 2023 in New Delhi, on the occasion of International Museum Day on Thursday (May 18) said that 240 ancient artefacts were brought back to India in the last 9 years. He also urged collectors and museums around the world to return artefacts that are rightfully ours.


Beyond Kohinoor, there is a long list of such splendid specimens of Indian art that were taken away for studies, smuggled out or simply looted from India, and are now proudly displayed in the galleries and museums of the Western world.

Amaravati Marbles

A relief showing Siddharth's departure from Kapilvastu. (Photo Credit: British Museum)

On the bank of Krishna, in Andhra Pradesh, used to be a stupa from the Mauryan times, with marble railings better ornamented than the ones in Sanchi, depicting various events from Buddha's life. After its discovery, some of the ruins were shifted to the Madras Museum, while the remaining made way to England. These railings today are housed in the British Museum's India: Amaravati gallery.

Sultanganj Buddha

The remarkable over-life-sized, seven and a half feet pure copper Buddha statue from the late Gupta period from Sultanganj, Bihar is probably the only surviving metal statue of the period. Weighing over 500 kg the statue is now placed as a centrepiece in Birmingham Museum's faith gallery. Within a couple of years of its discovery, the piece was sent to Birmingham, financed by a former mayor of the city.

The Sultanganj Buddha has the distinction of being one of the biggest casted statues pre-renaissance. ( Photo Credit: Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery)

Charter of Rajendra Chola

The Tamil and Sanskrit inscribed charter(sasana) on 21 copper plates, bound together by a bronze ring issued by Rajendra Chola, remains a remarkable possession of Leiden University Library in the Netherlands. The plates mention Chola's Vaishav ancestry and gifts and donations made by Chola kings to Buddhist viharas and a Malayan king. The plates have played a significant role in the reconstruction of the religious and maritime history of the period.

As The Netherlands started to return artefacts to its former colonies, Indians also demanded back the charter.
(Photo Credit: Leiden University Libraries Digital Collections)

Maharaja Ranjit Singh's throne

The lotus-shaped grand throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, crafted for state gatherings was decorated with gold sheets. After  Punjab's annexation by the East India Company in 1849, the throne was taken out of Lahore to London and eventually passed to the Victorian and Albert Museum. Many Sikh organisations, with Indian Government's support, tried getting it back to India, but the museum denied it.

The majestic golden throne was built by a goldsmith, Hafez Muhammad Multani, between 1805 and 1810.
(Picture credit: Victoria and Albert Museum )

Loots of Robert Clive

The man said to have laid the foundation of British rule in India after the victory at Palassey in 1757, Robert Clive, is also known for his voyage back home with ships full of Indian statues of Gods, hookahs, swords, paintings, textiles, gold, ceremonial armour and jewellery. Loots of Clive and his son (Edward Clive) are now housed in Powis Castle in Wales. Although a board at the museum acknowledges the rob, is that enough? Photography is not allowed inside the museum.

After the death of Tīpu Sultan at Seringapatam, the British army captured the city and claimed his treasury,
including valuable objects and artefacts.
Some of these items are currently housed at the Clive Museum in Powis. (Picture credit: Unsplash)

In the recent past, we have had instances of Western museums and governments returning a number of artefacts wrongfully taken out of India. India too has been increasingly vocal about the claim.

With Rishi Sunak as the PM, that could have resulted in the absence of the Kohinoor from the crown of the Queen Consort during the recently concluded coronation. On the other hand, Kohinoor will be displayed as a ‘symbol of conquest’ in the new Tower of London display beginning May 26, 2023.


This still doesn't answer "When do we get our stuff back?"

Last updated: May 19, 2023 | 17:22
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