Saturday, June 15, 2024

Leiden Plates or Chola Dynasty Plates – A Quest for Cultural Repatriation

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Since 2012, Bharat has been staking ownership claims to repatriate the Chola Era Plates stowed in the Netherlands’s Leiden University. Commonly referred to as the Leiden Plates, these Chola dynasty copper plates carry the history of Rajaraja Chola or Ponniyan Selvam. The plates even find mention in the Ponniyan Selvam written by Kalki!

UNESCO has a committee, ICPRCP, that reviews claims of ownership by nations and enables dialogues for repatriation. This committee’s 24th session accepted India’s letter to include Chola Era Copper Plates as Bharat’s cultural property in October 2023. The session found that the claim of Bharat as a nation of origin was valid. As of November 2023, this UNESCO committee encouraged the Netherlands to negotiate with India regarding the claim and subsequent return of Ponniyan Selvam’s legacy. Let’s explore this marvel of the 11th-century Chola Dynasty and the obstacles in its journey home! 

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Leiden Plates or Chola Dynasty Plates

A world treasure of great weight: the charter of King Rājendra Chola I - Leiden Special Collections Blog
PC Leiden Special Collections Blog

While the copper plates preserved in the Library of Leiden University are referred to as the “Leiden Plates,” they carry the legacy of a great Tamil dynasty. These Chola dynasty plates are a royal charter or sasanas of Rajaraja Chola-I (r. 985-1012 AD). The purpose of the plate is to commemorate the patronage of Buddhist Vihara by the Chola King!

This 11th-century artifact lists the names of concerned people, resources, and revenues granted by King Rajaraja Chola-I to support the vihara built by a distinguished king from the Malay region in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu. The plates are divided into two sections: one in Sanskrit and the other in Tamil.

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The Sanskrit Section

Mystery of a royal grant - Frontline
PC Frontline – The Hindu: The Chola Seal

The Sanskrit section is inscribed on five plates. They delve into the genealogy of the Chola dynasty. It begins with praises of Bhagwan Vishnu. Thereafter, it lists the names of divine ancestors that present the Chola dynasty’s claim to long-standing dynastic legitimacy.

The Tamil Section

The Tamil section recounts the reign of Rajaraja Chola-I. Moreover, it says that in the 21st year of his reign, the king pledged the entire revenue of a village and its land to help build a Buddhist shrine or vihara. This Vihara, constructed by the Malay king of Sriwijaya in Nagapattinam, is a testament to the transregional connections between nations. Moreover, it shows that Bharat was at the very heart of the cultural exchange during the Chola era.

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The Journey of Chola Dynasty Plates

File:UniversiteitLeidenLogo.svg - Wikipedia
PC Wikipedia

The Chola Dynasty Copper Plates or Leiden Plates have an intriguing provenance. Donated to Leiden University in 1862 by the successors of Professor Hendrik Arent Hamaker, the Chola Dynasty Copper plates’ are Bharat’s legacy. Originally, they were brought from India by Mr. Florentius Camper. Mr. Camper was a minister in Batavia from 1703 to 1712. Later, the plates were inherited by Johanna Camper who was married to H.A. Hamaker. Their descendants donated the plates to the university.

UNESCO's action to promote new forms of agreement and cooperation for the return and restitution of cultural property | UNESCO
PC UNESCO

The Government of India has actively pursued the return of these culturally significant artifacts. On 30th October 2023, the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of India to UNESCO formally requested the inclusion of the Chola Dynasty Copper Plates in the agenda of the 24th session of the ICPRCP. This request emphasized the plates’ cultural significance and their role in showcasing the rich history of Tamil culture during the Chola era.

The ICPRCP acknowledged the claim and asked concerned nations to engage in constructive dialogue for the same. Bharat’s request for repatriation highlights the contentious issue of ownership. The plates, now housed in the Library of the University of Leiden, are a part of India’s cultural heritage and pride. However, their journey to the Netherlands is a big ethical and legal question about the rightful custodianship of such artifacts.

https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000389873 Refer Pg 5, Pt 35 – 37; Pg 7 – Pt 10

Reclaiming Bharat’s Culture

He is the KING OF KINGS' - As a staggering administrator, intense warrior, a magnanimous philanthropist, and a lover of beautiful art and architecture, Raja Raja Cholan is an inevitable character in
PC Satyaagrah

The Chola era (985-1014 CE) represents a golden period in Tamil culture. This period marks the architectural brilliance, administrative prowess, and extensive patronage of the arts and religion. The copper plates from Ponniyan Selvam’s reign, collected from Anaimangalam village near Nagapattinam, serve as invaluable records of this illustrious past. They are proof of Bharat’s legacy as a global power of consequence.  

A common saying is that if you want to witness Bharat’s history, go to Europe! It implies that foreign museums or private collections abroad house most of Bharat’s historical artifacts. Thus, the official UNESCO acceptance of India’s claim to Leiden Plates or Chola Dynasty Copper Plates is not just a matter of cultural repatriation. It signals that Bharat is ready to reclaim the loot taken from its land under colonial oppression.

Thus, if India successfully repatriates these plates, it would set a precedent for other cultural artifacts held overseas. It would also highlight the growing recognition of the importance of cultural heritage and the need for ethical considerations in the custodianship of historical artifacts. As India continues its efforts to bring back its cultural treasures, the international community must address the issues of legal ownership, heritage, and historical justice. Let’s hope that India’s growing influence on the global stage is able to influence the return of its legacies!

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