Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stolen Antiquities ...

A remark by my daughter and the editorial in today’s paper on stolen antiquities prompted this post. The children had been to the Tower of London and they felt that they had paid a stiff entrance fee only to view the crown jewels of which most were from our country!

The editorial in The Hindu was about the reinstallation of the 1,700-year-old Aksum Obelisk that was recently completed at the world heritage site of Aksum in Ethiopia. The Italians returned the obelisk that was taken to Rome by the Italian troops. After successful mediation by UNESCO, the Italian Government returned the obelisk and also paid for the transportation and the reinstallation. The article states that not all stolen properties would have such happy endings.

On our visit to London we spent time at the British Museum and browsed the different galleries where some of the priceless antiquities that were seized from the different colonies where the British ruled are on display.

As the value of the antiquities is being recognised it is not surprising that illegal smuggling of some of the stolen treasures is on the rise and these find their way into private collections and shockingly into some renowned museums. Laws are thus being put in place to put a check to this. There are some like Michael Kremer, a Harvard economics professor and Tom Wilkening, a graduate student at MIT who suggest that instead of flatly banning the export of antiquities they should allow them to be rented. Their argument is that a poor country may not have the money or the know how to dig up, catalog and store the artefacts. And this might further encourage the smugglers to gain easy access to them. And they feel a leasing arrangement might infact protect the treasures! Interesting thought!

That aside, in our very own neighbourhood we have the Salar Jung Museum , where we have the largest one man collection in the world on display. The amazing collection is worth a view. It has been rumoured that when the collection was shifted from the original building which was in a dilapidated condition a lot of artefacts went missing. The Museum is one of the better maintained ones in the country. In comparison the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur is a let down. The building itself is beautiful and imposing. Alas, the maintenance so poor. The beautiful collection of exhibits have no adequate lighting, birds fly at will and dirty the place, there are layers of dust on the glass counters, the description boards are pathetic.

All that taken into account, I know it may seem unpatriotic but some of our treasures are infact taken care off in a befitting manner and admired by so many at the British Museum. And to top it all entrance to the Museum is free! Until we learn to respect and take care of our heritage, we can leave it to the British to do this for us.
In return maybe they should give us a concession on the entry fee at the Tower of London.


  1. The museums here are really interactive and informative. There is so much you can do apart from just being pushed by the crowd. And it does make you feel better that our treasures are getting the treatment they deserve. The musuems, libraries which are archives for many many old manuscripts, letters should be taken care of better. Even if it is a building/ fort/temple - instead of breaking it down or painting it a ghastly green all in the name of restoring it by the ASI. We can do with some lessons in taking care of what we value better.

  2. Hi there!!

    Wonderful to see your comment on pink blankie!

    Visited your blog today...Wonderful stuff you write about. I cannot agree with you more on the stolen antiquities post. I was at the exact same spots this summer - tower of london and British Museum, and same thoughts went through my mind...I've been to museums in Jaipur too. We definitely need more resources put in to take care of our museums..I wanted to go to the Chennai museum in Egmore this summer. Couldnt find the time. Nice information you've shared here...Keep them coming! :-)

    thank you!


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