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National Museum to hold exhibition of a single art object from Sep 19-Oct 6

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The National Museum here will hold its first ever exhibition of a single art object -- an exquisite 10th-century stone sculpture of the Yogini, the female emblem of India's mystical cult -- from September 19 to October 6.
 
The sculpture had been stolen from a temple in a sleepy village of Uttar Pradesh and landed in the hands of an art collector in Paris.
 
The musuem is now celebrating the homecoming of the 4.5-foot Vrishanana Yogini -- the nearly 400-kg sculpture of a female deity with the buffalo-shaped head.
 
“In the past, National Museum has organised exhibitions focusing on specific themes, but it is for the first time that it is holding an exhibition on a single artefact,” said Dr Venu V, the museum Director General. “Although the exhibition focuses attention on an object, there are multiple themes that underpin it.”
 
The exhibition will be jointly inaugurated by Culture Minister Smt. Chandresh Kumari Katoch and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid tomorrow.
 
Dr Venu said a major objective of the exhibition is to increase awareness of the fascinating history of Yoginis and the elaborate rituals of their worship. 
 
“More importantly, it aims to bring into spotlight the disturbing reality of the continued illicit trafficking of India’s priceless cultural artefacts into international markets,” he pointed out.
 
The majestic sculpture was pilfered from the temple at Lokhari village (Banda district) in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. It was then illicitly trafficked to France and acquired by a private art collector, Robert Schrimpf.  His widow, Ms. Martine Schrimpf, donated it to the Indian embassy in Paris in 2008.
 
During the visit of the Culture Minister to Paris early this year, the Indian embassy brought the matter to her notice, and she directed the National Museum to bring back the sculpture to India.
 
“The untiring efforts of the Indian embassy in Paris and of National Museum in Delhi resulted in the safe return of the Yogini sculpture to India in August this year,” Dr. Venu said.
 
The exhibition has been jointly curated by J E Dawson, Curator (archaeology), National Museum, and Anupa Pande, Dean, National Museum Institute. Numerous panels of texts, illustrations and photographs will provide  details about the history of Yoginis to   visitors.
 
“The return of Vrishanana Yogini marks a triumph of the country’s sustained efforts to get back its stolen antiquities. By holding the exhibition, we want to send an ethical message to the international community that would prompt a return of Indian antiquities,” said Ms Pande.
 
Echoing similar sentiments, Mr. Dawson said the exhibition is intended to create awareness among the people of the country so that they become vigilant about their surroundings and prevent cultural artefacts from being smuggled into international markets.
 
“We want to send a clear message to the people of our country that they should act as custodians of cultural heritage and should be vigilant of the illicit trafficking that may be taking place in their surroundings,” he added.
 
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About the stolen Yogini sculpture, he said the real problem was how to convince the French authorities about its Indian origin and establish the authenticity of the artefact. 
 
“Three things went in our favour: we established its authenticity on the basis of a book, Yogini: Cult and Temples — A Tantric Tradition, brought out by the museum in 1986, which carried its picture; the widow of the French art collector couldn’t tell the source of its acquisition; and the art collector’s donation letter executed through an attorney,” explained Mr. Dawson, who had to go to Paris to make a foolproof case for the return of the stolen sculpture.
 
Vrishanana Yogini, with a buffalo head and a female, sits against an unornamented stone slab in lalitasana. She holds a club in her left hand and a bilva fruit in her right hand. Her vahana or vehicle is a swan that pecks on the fruit. She has a chiselled body with full breasts, slim waist and rounded abdomen. Her eyes are half-closed in contemplation. The animal face has a serene and meditative expression. She is adorned with a necklace, heavy anklets, bangles and a girdle on her waist, which suggest tribal affiliations.
 
The yogini cult developed between 6th and 10th centuries, rooted in sacred texts like Skanda Purana, Agni Purana, Kaulajnananirnaya and in lists called yogininamavalis, a press release from the museum said.
 
Yoginis are a group of powerful female divinities, a blend of the divine and the demonic. They are worshipped in the totality of 64 or 81, seldom individually. They acquire formidable dynamism as goddesses who could impart magical powers to their worshippers, it said.
 
“The yoginis could be human, half-human or half-bestial in their forms. However, the bodies of the yoginis are always human. They have voluptuous bodies, full breasts, fold in their bellies, curvaceous hips and fleshy thighs. They are bejewelled and have elaborate coiffures. Their bodies exude sexuality. Yoginis may at once be alluring and repellent, formidable and salvation-giving goddesses,” explained Mrs Pande.
 
The Skanda Purana gives a list of sixty-four yoginis of which many have animal heads but always with female bodies.  Their divinity is expressed through weapons, haloes and multiple arms. They carry skull-cups, maces, clubs, tridents, books, flowers, spears, skull-garlands and curved knives.
 
India has been losing a large number of antiquities through illicit trafficking in cultural properties. The yogini temples, situated in isolated locations, have become easy target for local theft, which ensures their clandestine passage in the international market. For example, the yogini sculptures from Kanchipuram are now in leading museums across the world.
 
“The return of the Vrishanana yogini, in this context, is significant,” said Dr. Venu.
 
NNN
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