Page 8 - Science India August 2022
P. 8

Swatantrata ka Amrut Mahotsava
  the British Raj (including the East India
wax technique. According to publicly Company’s rule) in India (including first
available data, the inside of the statue phase in Bengal) was a saga of a great
is made of clay, mixed with rice husks, loot from natural resources to artefacts.
which allowed radiocarbon dating. The history of the British loot of In-
The surface of the statue is now dark dia’s cultural treasures under the wide-
but it may have been brightly polished sweeping excuse of colonialism is so
and light, almost gold, in colour in its encyclopedic that it will always remain
original avatar; it is referenced from the impossible to give a complete account
mention of the Buddha statues in Bud- of all that India lost to its colonial mas-
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain dhist scriptures of the period. The pres- ters, to be displayed with pride in their
ent dark shade owes to long period of museums.
exposure to atmospheric agents.
The sheer size of the statue speaks Recently, the city of Glasgow in
volumes of the scientific acumen of the Scotland, UK, held a ceremony on 19
metal workers of India of the period, August to officially repatriate seven In-
the metallurgical science and skill that dian cultural artefacts looted during the
perhaps had parallels in only very few colonial rule. All the seven objects that
English engineer EB Harris with the
parts of the world in that age.
will soon return to India, were looted
Sultanganj Buddha, 1861-62
from sacred places, such as temples and
shrines, and given as gifts to the Scottish
city’s museum collections.
ceal the statue after it had been removed
There is no reason why the Sultanganj from its place. Harris had the gargan-
While this is a drop in the ocean of
Buddha — along with every other In- tuan statue transported to Birmingham
British loot of India’s cultural artefacts,
dian artefact stolen by colonial Britain with the help of a businessman from the
and it will be several years before aware-
— should not be brought back to where city, who offered it to the then-proposed
ness is raised enough for the former
it belongs. There have been attempts Birmingham museum.
colonisers to feel responsible for their
by the residents of Sultanganj to raise past actions and return the heritage
The statue is dated between 500 and
awareness about bringing back the heri- where it belongs, this edition of Science
700 AD, corresponding to the Gupta pe-
tage wrongfully lying in Birmingham, India would like to focus on a cultural
riod of Indian history; it specifically re-
but those have been feeble attempts that artefact that is also one of the prime
lates to the transition period from Gupta
have not garnered sustained national at- examples of ancient India’s scientific
era to the Pala era in present-day eastern
tention as yet. It’s time the citizens of prowess.
India. It is 2.3 m high (7.5 feet) and 1 m
It would not take a wild guess to re-
this country — and not just Sultanganj wide (3.2 feet) and weighs over 500 kg.
alise that the object in question is the
— woke up to raise their united, deter- Made completely of copper, it is perhaps
magnificent Sultanganj Buddha.
mined voice to ask Britain to give India the only remaining metal statue of any
its heritage back.
size from the seminal Gupta period.
Throughout former colonies, voices A prized possession of the Birmingham
are being raised, demanding England to right its historical wrongs. Earlier in Au- Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham
The Sultanganj Buddha — a dark metal
gust, London’s Horniman Museum and statue of the standing Buddha in the
in the UK, Sultanganj Buddha is an ex-
Gardens, agreed to return the famous Abhaymudra pose — is not just a mag-
quisite statue of Lord Buddha that was
Benin Bronzes (a set of 72 artefacts) found in Sultanganj— nearly 28 km
nificent work of art but is spectacular
looted by Britain in the late 19th century for the scientific process with which it
from Bhagalpur in Bihar, in 1861-62,
from its then colony, Nigeria.
was created. It is perhaps the only metal
during the construction of a railway sta-
tion by the colonial British government.
statue of the Buddha of such a size from
India, too, must bolster its desire to that period, which involved massive
reclaim its heritage. There wouldn’t be According to data available in pub-
amounts of copper. Complete with the
a better time to do this than now as In- lic domain, the statue was discovered
by EB Harris, a railway engineer, while
robe, the statue was cast in pure, unre-
dia currently enjoys an increasing heft in the global political dynamics, which the digging work was in progress for
fined copper by the cire perdue or lost
would go a long way in putting pres- the East India Railway. He published
a detailed account of the discovery ac-
The Sultanganj Buddha
sure on Britain to wash off its colonial sins. A widespread campaign needs to cording to which he stumbled upon the
statue is dated between
be launched.
right foot of the Buddha statue ten feet
500 and 700 AD, the Gupta
under the surface, beneath a floor he
*The writer is Editor, period of Indian history
considered to have been used to con-
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