Efforts on to bring back Chola royal charter

 thehindu.com  10/18/2020 19:43:13 

A royal charter or a sasana of the Chola kings, lost 300 years ago from Tamil Nadu, is now being preserved in the Leiden University in the Netherlands. Commonly referred to as the Leiden plates, it was issued by the kings to a Buddhist vihara.

With the Netherlands relooking at its colonial collections, and planning to return over 10,000 artefacts to the source nations or former colonies, art enthusiasts say it is time for India to make efforts to get the crowning glory of the Cholas back.

The charter has two sections  one in Sanskrit and another in Tamil  and the 21 copper plates are held together by a massive bronze ring bearing the regal seal of Rajendra Chola. They also deal with the geneology of the Chola dynasty and the reign of king Rajaraja I (985-1012 AD), the father of Rajendra Chola (1012-1042 AD). It proclaims that 26 villages bordering Anaimangalam were donated for a Buddhist shrine (vihara), known as Chulamanivarmavihara, built by the Malay king of Sriwijaya in Nagapattinam, a port town on the Coromandel coast, said S. Vijay Kumar, art enthusiast and co-founder of the India Pride Project.

The provenance states that the copper plates were donated in 1862, by successors, to the estate of professor Hendrik Arent Hamaker. This charter and another one were brought from India by Florentius Camper, minister of faith in Batavia, in 1703-1712. Recently, a colonial repatriation committee in the Netherlands asked Dutch museums to return artefacts stolen by colonists to countries such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Some museums have decided to return more than 1,00,000 exhibits, taken by force, during the colonial times.

The legal case for the restitution of the two Leiden grants are unclear, as the circumstances around how Mr. Camper obtained them from India and brought them to Leiden in 1700 are not available, said Mr. Kumar. However, India should appeal to the Netherlands for the return of these important plates, especially considering the recent initiative of the select committee, advising the Dutch government to return colonial collections to the erstwhile colonies, since the case of the Leiden plates is no different from the objects returning home, he said. We hope they are returned, so they can be displayed, rather reunited with Rajendra Cholas grand edifice in the Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple, he said.

The charters are seen as testimony to how the Buddhist centre of learning and spirituality flourished, benefiting from the benevolence of king Rajaraja, who built a Brihadeeswara temple in Thanjavur. The copper plates are an important evidence on the history of the Chola period. They also talk about the conquests, accomplishments and expeditions to the far east, retired archaeological officer C. Santhalingam said.

Thangam Thennarasu, DMK MLA and former School Education Minister, said, Since they are returning artefacts to the source nations, it is the right time for the State and the Centre to take steps to retrieve them. We call the charters Anaimangalam copper plates.

Anbil plates are also very important. They give a lot of information about Chola history. No one knows its present location. The government should find their current location and retrieve them, said Mr. Thennarasu.

Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture Minister Ma Foi K. Pandiarajan told The Hindu, We are seized of the matter and have taken steps to retrieve the precious copper plates from the Netherlands. We have requested the Union Ministry of Culture to expedite the process, he said.

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