June 11, 2005

Vijay Mallya & the re-acquisition of Indian artefacts

Posted at 2:18 pm in Similar cases

The Times of India has been following the actions of the wealthy Vijay Mallya as he tries to acquire treasures that once belonged to Tipu Sultan, but were taken from India by the British.
The articles are interesting, not just in the parallels that they draw to Elgin Marbles, but also in the almost identical arguments used against the return of artefacts to India.
The three articles fit into the categories of Θέση, Αντίθεση, Σύνθεση (the argument, the counter argument & the sum of the arguments – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – a phrase used by Nikos Kazantzakis in the book Αγγλία where he describes his visit to the British Museum)
In many ways though the cases are completely different; Vijay Mallya is an individual repurchasing items that left the country but have been made available at auction. There is dispute over the legality of how the articles left India originally & who they should belong to (as described in the first article). However, there was an opportunity for the artefacts to be re-acquired by India when they were auctioned on the open market – something that has never been a possibility with the Elgin Marbles.

Times of India

Tipu is the Sultan of Sotheby’s
IANS[ THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2005 08:10:49 PM ]
LONDON: Sixty-four artefacts belonging Tipu Sultan fetched ₤ 1.23 million after some hectic bidding at a controversial Sotheby’s auction.

The chief attraction, a gold-inlaid sporting gun belonging to 18th century Indian ruler and decorated with his signature, the roaring tiger, was sold for ₤ 100,000 to an anonymous telephone bidder.

The decorated gun was presented to Lord Cornwallis after the defeat of Tipu at Seringapatam in 1799.

The sale came amid strong protests by many people in India, as well as non-resident Indians.

They said the treasures were looted by the British at the Battle of Seringapatanam in 1799 – a defining moment in Britain’s colonial sweep of India – and ought to have been handed back to either the government of India or Tipu’s descendants who live in Kolkata.

All the items fetched well over their estimated price with hectic bidding on the floor and from telephone bidders.

Liquor baron and Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Mallya had announced before the sale that he was interested in buying objects but it wasn’t known if he was among the buyers.

The tremendous interest in the auction was evident from the very first item to go under the hammer, an officer’s sword and gilt-edged sabre with a tiger on the hilt, which fetched ₤ 13,000 – well over the estimated price of ₤ 4,000.

The artefacts included swords, porcelain tiger toys, bows and arrows, armbands, guns, tents and even a tiger paw taken from the legs of Tipu’s throne.

The sale was preceded by strong protests by NRIs, who registered their outrage by email and on NRI websites.

Websites such as Sulekha encouraged its members to write their protests to Sotheby’s.

“The Britishers, when they ruled India, virtually walked away with many rare artefacts and treasures from the various kings and empires,” the website said, adding: “It was literally a royal loot and scoot.”

However, there was no government move to either buy back any of the artefacts or try and block the sale. According to diplomatic sources, there is no government policy on the issue.

Times of India

TIMES VIEW: Drop demand for return of other antiques
[ FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 2005 12:31:00 PM ]

Now that liquor baron Vijay Mallya has bought Tipu Sultan’s treasures at an auction in London, there will be renewed demands to retrieve all the artefacts looted from India by its colonial masters. While this may be seen as a matter of national pride, all such attempts must be resisted. Multi-millionaire Mallya may have the wherewithal to house the legendary warrior-king’s memorabilia. After all, he forked out over two million dollars for them. But, our track record in preserving and protecting our past has been tardy to say the least.

Almost all our national museums are in a state of disrepair and lack adequate security mechanisms. Few of our museums possess even temperature regulatory devices which are necessary for the preservation of ancient artefacts.
Imagine the fate of the magnificent Badshahnama had it been in one of our museums. When it was brought to India a few years ago, the Mughal masterpiece was so well preserved that many felt it was a mercy that it was kept in a British museum.

Why should heritage and culture be location-specific? Irrespective of where they are kept, no one is in any doubt that works like the Badshahnama are proof of the genius of Indian artists. Similarly, we should drop this demand for the return of the Kohinoor diamond. Let it remain on the most photographed crown in the world.

Let’s face it, tourists don’t come to India to visit its museums. Our artefacts are best left where they will be kept in good condition and where the maximum number of people can see them. Our inability to take care of our antiques was on display after the first Festival of India during Rajiv Gandhi’s time. Priceless artefacts were transported abroad in such a shoddy manner that many of them came back irreparably damaged. Similarly, Tagore’s famous Nobel medal was stolen and has still to be retrieved. So let us preserve the vast treasures we still have and improve the condition of museums and heritage sites.

Times of India

COUNTER VIEW: Get back more Indian artefacts
[ FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 2005 12:16:05 PM ]

Vijay Mallya’s acquisition of several items belonging to Tipu Sultan, including his sword and cannons, is a belated attempt to bring back to India some of the treasures plundered by foreign invaders. Tipu’s possessions are, however, only a fraction of treasures looted by India’s colonial rulers, especially the British.

Though many would like to interpret British rule as a civilising mission, its early years were marked by indiscriminate plunder. Edmund Burke famously described the East India Company officials as birds of prey. Quite often, these looted treasures were divested of their origins and became identified with the person who had the gumption to cart it away to England. The Elgin marbles are an example of how a set of 2,500-year-old Greek sculptures bears the name of Lord Elgin, the man who removed it from the Parthenon.

It would be absurd to demand that artefacts, which have been taken out over centuries, be returned to India. Not only is the ownership of these treasures disputed — as with the Kohinoor — many of them were probably preserved for posterity by colonial administrators and collectors.

But wherever possible, every effort should be made to bring back Indian antiquities where they belong. This could be done through diplomatic pressure or with private collectors pitching in. Mallya’s efforts to set up a museum near Mysore showcasing Tipu’s belongings must be lauded. Tipu’s treasures are best viewed in a museum located in his former kingdom than somewhere in England.

There are, of course, those who argue that India does not have the right kind of museums or expertise to look after these precious items. But that is precisely what needs to be changed by upgrading existing museums and setting up new ones. And those who quibble about inadequate security must be reminded that pricel

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Possibly related articles

1 Comment »

  1. Rajeev said,

    04.16.10 at 6:43 pm

    What about all the riches that were relentlessly plundered from India by Ghazini and other Mughals (from Persia or wherever) right until the British came in. Why do we change names of roads named after Britishers, but not after Mughal rulers?

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment

We want to hear your views. Be as critical or controversial as you like, but please don't get personal or offensive. Remember this is for feedback and constructive discussion!
Comments may be edited or removed if they do not meet these guidelines. Repeat offenders will be blocked from posting further comments. Any comment deemed libellous by Elginism's editors will be removed.
The commenting system uses some automatic spam detection and occasionally comments do not appear instantly - please do not repost comments if they do not show up straight away