Culture Minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid Thursday inaugurated an exhibition in the national capital celebrating the homecoming of a stolen 10th-century stone sculpture of the Yogini.
The 4.5-foot tall Vrishanana Yogini -- the nearly 400-kg stone sculpture of a female deity with the buffalo-shaped head, estimated to be over 1,000 years old -- was stolen from a temple in Lokhari village in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh.
It was trafficked to France, where a private art collector, Robert Schrimpf, acquired it. The man's widow, Martine, donated it to the Indian embassy in Paris in 2008.
"India will step up its efforts to bring back artefacts that have been illicitly trafficked out of the country," Khurshid said, while he jointly with the culture minister inaugurated the exhibition "Return of the Yogini", at the National Museum.
"We should bring back our stolen antiquities. The government will provide all the support in the endeavour," he added.
"It takes a lot of effort to ensure the return of pilfered antiquities," Khurshid said, hailing the sustained endeavour of the Indian embassy in Paris and the National Museum to bring the 'Yogini' sculpture back home.
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 ferry the stone sculpture back to India.
"We have received information on some objects that can be brought back, but it will need sustained effort from the Indian missions and the Ministry of Culture," she said.
Katoch said the return of the 'Yogini' was the first significant step in the recovery of India's lost artefacts.
This is also the first time the museum is holding an exhibition of a single art object.
According to Venu V., director general of the museum, the major objective of the exhibition is to increase awareness of the history of Yoginis and the elaborate rituals of their worship.
"Yoginis are a group of powerful female divinities, a blend of the divine and the demonic," he said, adding they were believed to possess infinite mystical powers such as the power of transformation and granting wishes.
The exhibition has been jointly curated by J.E. Dawson, curator (archaeology) of National Museum, and Anupa Pande, dean of the National Museum Institute.
Numerous panels of texts, illustrations and photographs providing details about the history of Yoginis are at display together with the famed statue. The exhibition is on till October 6.