Canada is set to return a stone statue of goddess Annapurna to India, which may have been stolen and transported to the country over a century back. Experts have opined that the 18th-century statue was originally from Varanasi. However, it was later added to the collection housed at the University of Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery.
As a part of the process, the statue was handed over by the interim president and vice-chancellor of the University of Regina, Thomas Chase, to India’s high commissioner to Ottawa, Ajay Bisaria in a virtual repatriation ceremony held on November 19. According to a press release, it was Indian artist Divya Mehra who, while going through the MacKenzie’s permanent collection, initially brought the attention to the fact that the statue was “wrongfully taken” from India over a century ago.
“When Mehra researched the story behind the statue, she found that MacKenzie had noticed the statue while on a trip to India in 1913. A stranger had overheard MacKenzie’s desire to have the statue, and stole it for him from its original location – a shrine at stone steps on the riverbank of the Ganges at Varanasi, India,” the University revealed.
Later, Dr Siddhartha V. Shah, Curator of Indian and South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum, identified the statue as the Hindu goddess Annapoorna from her ‘female physical characteristics’. “She holds a bowl of kheer (rice pudding) in one hand and a spoon in the other. These are items associated with Annapoorna, who is the goddess of food and the queen of the city of Varanasi,” he said. He also added that the goddess is celebrated by her devotees across India, as a deity who nourishes and strengthens the body through food, and “the soul through enlightenment”. After reading about the discovery of the stolen statue, both the Indian High Commission in Ottawa and the Department of Canadian Heritage reached out and offered to assist with the repatriation.