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Prime Minister of India and Indian news outlets celebrate the repatriation of the Annapoorna statue

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: December 4, 2020 12:00 a.m.

The Annapoorna statue
The Annapoorna statue Figure of Annapoorna (Benares, India, 18th century), artist unknown, stone, 17.30 x 9.90 x 4.90 cm. Photo: Don Hall

The Prime Minister of India calls it, “… a matter of great pleasure for all of us.” 

The Times of India says, “Annapoorna idol’s return very pleasing: PM in Mann ki Baat.” 

The University of Regina’s announcement of its intention to repatriate an Indian statue more than 100 years after it was taken from that country has generated international media attention and high praise from government officials. 

Two weeks ago Dr. Thomas Chase, Interim President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Regina, met with Mr. Ajay Bisaria, High Commissioner of India over Zoom for a virtual repatriation ceremony for the a small statue of the Hindu goddess Annapoorna. The statue was part of the University of Regina's collection stewarded by the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Artist Divya Mehra brought attention to the fact that the statue had been wrongfully taken over a century ago while going through the MacKenzie’s permanent collection and preparing for her exhibition at the MacKenzie. 

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The virtual repatriation ceremony for the Annapoorna statue
Credit: Zoom screenshot


Since then, the statue’s repatriation has gained the attention of the Prime Minister of India, as well as several media outlets in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently tweeted about the Annapoorna statue being returned to India. The United News of India and The Times of India, among other news outlets, also published articles about the Annapoorna statue’s repatriation. 

“Every Indian will be proud to know that an ancient idol of Devi Annapurna is being brought back from Canada,” says Modi in a video on his official Twitter account. “I am grateful to the Government of Canada and all others who helped in accomplishing this noble mission.” 

When the current administration at the University and the MacKenzie Art Gallery were alerted to the documentation which revealed the statue as an object of culture theft, both institutions committed to take taking appropriate action. 

“We can neither change nor deny the manner in which the Annapoorna statue was taken from its home city more than a century ago, but I am thankful that we are playing a role in returning this important artifact to Varanasi,” says Chase. “It is wonderful to see how much this repatriation means to the people of India, and how much good will it has created between our two countries.”   

The statue was part of the original 1936 bequest by Norman MacKenzie, the gallery’s namesake. 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.

Dr. Siddhartha V. Shah, Curator of Indian and South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum, identified the statue as the Hindu goddess Annapoorna. 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. She is celebrated by her devotees as one who nourishes and strengthens the body through food, and the soul through enlightenment. 

Watch the full virtual repatriation ceremony for the Annapoorna statue on YouTube here.

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