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HomePoliticsIndiaAnnapurna murti that Yogi reinstalled in Varanasi has a long history

Annapurna murti that Yogi reinstalled in Varanasi has a long history

Norman MacKenzie, a Canadian lawyer and patron of the arts, had taken the murti of Annapurna to his home country after his 1913 trip to India

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath installed this week a murti (consecrated idol) of Goddess Annapurna at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi. Retrieved more than 100 years after it had been stolen from the city, the murti has an even older history.

‘Queen of Varanasi’

The 18th-century idol of height 17x9x4 cm depicts Annapurna carrying a bowl of kheer in a hand and a spoon in the other. Annapurna literally means “one who ensures the devotee is never short of food”. 

The Annapurna murti carries great significance for Hindus, especially the inhabitants of Varanasi. She is worshipped not only as the goddess of food and nourishment but also as a manifestation of goddess Parvati, the consort of Shiva, one of the three main deities of the largest Hindu sects — Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakta — and is called the “Queen of Varanasi” as the city is Shiva’s home as per the inhabitants.  

The goddess has a temple dedicated to her in Varanasi: the Annapurna Devi Mandir. 

Like many other relics of hers found today, the murti now installed at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple depicts the goddess wearing large round earrings and a necklace. 

How Annapurna murti was stolen, found

Norman MacKenzie, a Canadian lawyer and patron of the arts, had taken the murti to his home country after his 1913 trip to India. At the time, the murti was located at a shrine on the riverbank of the Ganga in Varanasi. MacKenzie’s art collection later partnered with the University of Regina, Canada, and established the Norman MacKenzie Art Gallery in 1953 to exhibit works from his collection. 

Winnipeg-based artist Divya Mehra brought attention to the fact that the statue had been stolen from India over a century ago — while studying MacKenzie’s collection during the preparation for her exhibition “From India to Canada and Back to India”.

In the course of her research, Mehra found that “a stranger had overheard MacKenzie’s desire to have the statue, and stole it for him from its original location a shrine on the stone steps on the riverbank of the Ganga at Varanasi, India”, the university website says.

Curator Siddhartha V Shah of the Indian and South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum identified the statue as the Hindu goddess Annapurna. 

Return delayed due to pandemic 

The virtual ceremony was held on 19 November 2020, with the university officially handing over the statue to India’s High Commissioner to Canada Ajay Bisaria. However, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) received the murti not before 15 October after a long delay due to the pandemic. 

On 11 November, the Union Ministry of Culture formally handed over the murti to the government at a ceremony held at New Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art. 

Speaking on the occasion, G Kishan Reddy, Union Minister For Culture, Tourism and Development of North Eastern Region, said, “The Prime Minister is striving to protect the rich heritage and culture of the country. Soon, the antiquities of various other states will be returned to the respective state governments which include two idols to Tamil Nadu and one to AP and one to Rajasthan.”

Reddy said: “Since 1976, 55 idols have been returned to India. Seventy-five per cent of the idols that have been returned were done so during the tenure of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. Out of the 55 antiquities, 42 were returned after 2014 with the Annapurna Devi being the last addition to this.”

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