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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Thirumangai mannan - at Ashmolean museum, Oxford, England

The Da Vinci Code enjoyed international success in the early 2000s. Presented as a work of fiction, the story told by Dan Brown goes beyond the imagination. The secrets revealed during the investigation by the main characters Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu make readers feel that they could be actual events.  There are many factual and fictional things mentioned in the novel of Louvre museum.  The Louvre   is the world's largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, France and is   located on the Right Bank of the Seine.

A museum  is an institution that cares for (conserves) a collection of artifacts and other objects of artistic, cultural, historical, or scientific importance.  The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is the world's first University museum. Its first building was erected in 1678–1683 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University of Oxford in 1677.  The museum reopened in 2009 after a major redevelopment. In Nov 2011, new galleries focusing on Egypt and Nubia were unveiled. In May 2016, the museum opened new galleries of 19th-century art.  The main museum contains huge collections of archaeological specimens and fine art. It has one of the best collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, majolica pottery, and English silver. The archaeology department includes the bequest of Arthur Evans and so has an excellent collection of Greek and Minoan pottery. The department also has an extensive collection of antiquities from Ancient Egypt and the Sudan, and the museum hosts the Griffith Institute for the advancement of Egyptology.

In our Srivaishnava sampradhayam, among the Azhwars – Thirumangai Mannan holds a special place.  In every brahmothsavam we have ‘Kaliyan vaibhavam’ whence the  Lord holds the reins of the golden horse –   Kaliyan who was a local chieftain  comes chasing on his ‘adalma’.  Neelan, (Kaliyan) –  who was later known by various other names as Parakalan, Kavilokha Divakaran, Nalukkavipperumal, AliNadan, Arrattamukki, Adayar seeyam, Kongumalar KuzhaliyarVel, Korra venthan and more  was a local chieftain’ who used to feed thousands everyday.  He had vowed to feed thousands of persons each day and also needed money to build temples.

Our Azhwar was  born in Thirukkuraiyalur (near thiruvAli-thirunagari)   and was named as neelan (an attribute of his complexion)   Thirumangai mannan’s disciples were  -Neermael nadappan, Nizhalil odhunguvan, Thaloodhuvan,  Tholavazhakkan.  Not finding enough resources he and his disciples  had to resort to robbery and Sriman Narayanan in his various Leelas chose to play with him, by getting robbed, making him realize his folly and turning him to his trusted devotee.  Kaliyan understanding the significance became Thirumangai Azhwaar and rendered Periya Thirumozhi;  in Naalayira Divyaprabandham, Thirumangai mannan has contributed  1137 hymns.   Neelan, ordained to listen  to the Ashtakshra mantra, becomes Thirumangai Azhwar.  In the photo of Azhwar on the small  horse, one can see him armed with sword and shield.   This divine act is recalled and as stated in the ‘sthala puranam of Thiruvallikkeni’ – Perumal and those accompanying Him lose their valuables.  The entire act is read out in a sanctimonious rite called ‘pattolai’ (literally the verses in palm leaves covered with silk).   After the enactment of this vaibhavam,  Kaliyan learns ‘Ashtakshara mantra’ and in the purappadu the opening of Periya Thirumozhi‘"வாடினேன் வாடி வருந்தினேன்" ~ is rendered.
above 2 photos @ thiruvallikkeni divaydesam

While we feel happy in having darshan of Alwar, Acaryas and Emperuman at various divyadesams and abhimana sthalams, the idols are meant to be kept in holy places (infact the places become holy because they are there) and worshipped – not elsewhere.  Sadly, some idols have been stolen, have found their way out of the country and are kept as show-pieces in museums abroad and in private places.  Tragic is the tale as in many cases, even the theft was not properly recorded and culprits too roam scot-free.  Govt has taken over temples, but are not maintaining them properly – stating security concerns, sometimes, idols of a particular temple are taken away and kept in some other temple / other places  - the heart of bakthas should bleed !! ~ now read this sad newsitem that appeared in The Guardian UK and many other mainstream media including Indian Express.

The Indian government has asked the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to return a 15th-century bronze idol that was apparently stolen from a temple in the 1960s. The Indian high commission in London said a formal request for restitution of the statue of Saint Tirumankai Alvar was made last Friday. The move comes after the Ashmolean informed the high commission last December of new research that questioned the provenance of the sculpture, which was bought by the museum from Sotheby’s auction house in London in 1967.

An independent scholar found a 1957 photograph in the French Institute of Pondichéry, that appeared to depict the same idol in the temple of Sri Soundarrajaperumal, in a village near Kumbakonam in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. That sculpture was stolen in the early 1960s.  The sculpture, which is almost one metre tall, depicts Tirumangai Alvar, one of the Tamil poet-saints of south India, holding a sword and shield. The venerated saint, who lived thousands of years ago, was a chieftain, a military commander, and a bandit before converting to the Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism.

Rahul Nangare, the first secretary of the Indian high commission in London, said it had received a report from police in Tamil Nadu that “unambiguously shows that the original idol has been stolen and replaced with a fake one, and that the stolen idol is the same one that is presently with the Ashmolean. “Therefore, we have conveyed our formal request to them for restitution of the idol to India. The idol wing is now further investigating the matter about the original theft and subsequent smuggling out of the idol.”

Nagare thanked the Ashmolean for taking proactive steps to alert the high commission and expressed hope that “other museums would follow the example in dealing with suspected stolen pieces of our cultural heritage”. He said the Ashmolean was carrying out further due diligence on the provenance of the sculpture, with a museum official scheduled to visit India shortly. A spokeswoman for the Ashmolean said there had been no claim against the sculpture. “The museum acquired the statue in good faith. According to the Sotheby’s catalogue the bronze was sold from the collection of Dr JR Belmont (1886-1981),” she said. Based in Basel, from the 1950s Belmont had  amassed one of the finest collections of Indian sculptures.  “We currently have no indication of how the bronze entered his collection and we are continuing to investigate with the support of the Indian high commission.” Other Indian bronzes once in the Belmont collection have fetched more than £490,000 at auction.

Deaccessioning the sculpture would require the approval of the art and archeology museum’s board and the vice-chancellor of Oxford University. The museum says that it was alerted to the origins of the ancient statue by an independent researcher in November last year, following which it alerted the Indian High Commission. "Research in the photo archives of the IFP-EFEO (Institut Francais de Pondichery and the Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient) appears to show the same bronze in the temple of Shri Soundarrajaperumal Kovil in Tamil Nadu in 1957," a statement from the Ashmolean Museum said on Monday.

Indian High Commissioner in the UK Ruchi Ghanashyam acknowledged the "proactive" move of the museum soon after and the matter was forwarded to the Indian authorities for follow up, with a formal request for the restitution of the idol sent to the museum earlier this month. "After we provided them the police report along with the formal request for restitution, Ashmolean have informed that they are now carrying out further due diligence with an official from Ashmolean also scheduled to visit India shortly.

A spokesman for the Indian High Commission says that on Friday it received a police report from Tamil Nadu that “unambiguously shows that the original idol has been stolen and replaced with a fake one, and that the stolen idol is the same one that is presently with the Ashmolean”. The next step is for the Ashmolean to work with the the scholar who first alerted them and the Indian authorities to establish a more accurate provenance.  Abhay Kumar Singh, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Idol Wing CID, stated here that  , “The idol has been missing from the Soundararajaperumal temple in Sundaraperumal kovil village near Kumbakonam since the 1960s. We traced the bronze idol to the Ashmolean Museum, London, after verifying the documentation of Hindu idols by the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP). The picture of the Thirumangai Azhvar idol, which was taken in 1957, matches with the idol kept in the museum.”

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
25th Feb 2020.

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