A total of four bronzes from the Vijayanagara period, which lasted from the 14th to the 17th century, were stolen in 1978 from a temple dedicated to the god Vishnu in Nagapattinam.
The thieves were convicted in India at the time but it was only in 2019 that three of the statues were found, when the Indian High Commission in London discovered that one of them was being offered for sale by a UK-based dealer.
Alerted by the embassy, the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit investigated and was able to establish that the dealer had purchased the item in good faith.
Once he had been shown evidence that the bronze had been stolen, he voluntarily handed over the sculpture, and identified two additional ones from the same group, the police said. All three will now be returned to their homeland.
The Indian High Commission tweeted photographs of the statues, taken during a formal handover to the government of Tamil Nadu, describing the event as an “auspicious moment”.
The Metropolitan Police said it was proud to have been involved in the return of the bronzes to India.
“Not only are they beautiful and historically significant, they are of course of religious importance so it’s particularly gratifying that they are to be returned to the temple from which they were taken,” said Detective Chief Inspector Tim Wright in a statement.