Plans to reacquire Sri Lankan archaeological and religious artifacts housed in foreign museums are underway after the government approved a proposal by Urban Development and Sacred Area Development Minister Dinesh Gunawardene.
The minister told The Sunday Times this was in accordance with the report of a Presidential Commission which had recommended steps to reacquire religious relics taken out of the country during the colonial period. This is to be done through bodies such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
“During the colonial period, archaeological treasures belonging to various religious institutions were taken away. There is a UNESCO understanding that that these items should be returned to their countries of origin,” Mr. Gunawardene said.
|Sri Lanka’s Tara Devi statue at the British Museum
Details of such items taken from Sri Lanka were disclosed at hearings of the presidential commission appointed to look into matters relating to the Buddha Sasana.
Former Archaeology Commissioners who served in the colonial days had recorded in their journals details of artifacts taken out of the country, the minister said.
“Belongings of various kings and national leaders such as King Sri Wickramarajasinghe and Veera Keppetipola, works of art and other items have been taken away. These lie in various institutes in other countries, especially in Western Europe. We’re trying to bring these items back,” he said.
A committee comprising secretaries to the ministries of Urban Development and Sacred Area Development, Cultural Affairs and National Heritage, Religious Affairs and Moral Upliftment and Foreign Affairs has been appointed to draw up the plan within three months.
Cultural Affairs and National Heritage Secretary G. L. W. Samarasinghe said there were many such items at the British and the Netherlands museums. “The statue of Tara Devi, said to be one of the world’s five best statues is one such item. There are many more. It is a great idea to try and bring these back to the country,” he said.
A Catalogue of Antiquities by Dr. P. H. D. H. de Siva available at the National Museum Library in Colombo lists out the vast number of Sri Lankan artifacts housed in foreign museums across the world.
According to the catalogue, a valuable ivory casket from the 16th century during the reign of King Buwaneka Bahu is on display at a museum in Munich, Germany. The casket is made of ivory and also consists of gold, rubies and sapphires, the catalogue states. Another German museum in Berlin houses 154 Sri Lankan masks, it added.
Several key museums in Britain have become home to many ancient artifacts from Sri Lanka. Dr. De Silva’s catalogue states that a large