Glasgow Life Museums will become the first museum service in the UK to repatriate objects to India after signing an agreement with the High Commission of India.
The trust has transferred ownership of seven antiquities to the Indian authorities, include a ceremonial Indo-Persian tulwar (sword) believed to date from the 14th century and an 11th century carved stone door jamb taken from a Hindu temple in Kanpur.
Six of the objects were removed from temples and shrines across different states in Northern India during the 19th century. The seventh was purchased following a theft from the owner. All of the artefacts were gifted to Glasgow’s collections.
A ceremony was held at Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum today to mark the transfer, with dignitaries from the Government of India and Archaeological Survey of India in attendance. The delegation then went to view the objects at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre.
Glasgow Life has been working on the repatriation of the Indian artefacts with the High Commission of India in London since January 2021.
The ceremony comes after Glasgow City Council approved a recommendation made in April by the cross-party Working Group for Repatriation and Spoliation to return 51 items to India, Nigeria and the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux tribes in South Dakota, US, in what will be the largest ever repatriation from a Scottish museum.
Sujit Ghosh, acting high commissioner for the High Commission of India, said: “We are delighted that our partnership with Glasgow Life has resulted in a decision to restitute Indian artefacts from Glasgow museums to India. These artefacts are an integral part of our civilisational heritage and will now be sent back home. We express our appreciation to all the stakeholders who made this possible, especially Glasgow Life and Glasgow City Council.”
Duncan Dornan, head of museums and collections at Glasgow Life, said: “Glasgow has led repatriation efforts in the UK since 1998, when the city agreed to return the Lakota Sacred Ghost Dance shirt to the Wounded Knee Survivors’ Association. The transfer of ownership of the Indian antiquities symbolises a significant step for Glasgow, with the city continuing its positive repatriation history by ensuring these cultural artefacts are placed back in the hands of their legitimate owners.
“Credit must be given to the High Commission of India and British High Commission for their cooperation and support. We look forward to continuing our work with the Indian authorities to deliver the safe return of these artefacts.”
Among the other objects in line for repatriation are 19 Benin bronzes that were confirmed to have been taken from sacred sites and ceremonial buildings during the British punitive expedition of 1897. Glasgow Life welcomed a delegation from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments to Kelvingrove in June to discuss the transfer.
Meanwhile, 25 Lakota and Oceti Sakowin ancestor and cultural items – which were sold and donated to Glasgow’s museums by George Crager, an interpreter for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show who visited the city in 1892 – will be handed back to the Cheyenne River Sioux and Oglala Sioux tribes of South Dakota.