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TN idol wing traces  stolen first Tamil translation of Bible from Thanjavur at London museum

- July 1, 2022

Chennai, July 1 (BPNS)

The Tamil Nadu idol wing has traced World’s first printed Bible which was printed 300 years ago and stolen from Thanjavur in the state to King George III museum in London.

Sources in the  idol wing told BPNS that the department  has commenced the process to bring the Bible back to India. An officer with the Idol wing told BPNS that the Bible was stolen from Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur in 2005 and is suspected to be the handiwork of a group of foreigners who had visited the library.

It may be noted that on October 10, 2005, the Deputy administrator of Serfoji Palace in Thanjavur filed a complaint with the Thanjavur west police station about the theft of the Bible from the library.

The police registered a case but there was no progress and in October 2017, E. Rajendran, administrator of the Saraswathi Mahal Library lodged a complaint with the Idol Wing of the Tamil Nadu police on the missing antique Bible. The idol wing promptly registered a case under section 380 of IPC ( theft in dwelling house) and investigation progressed.

After the progress was studied by the Director-General of Police (Idol Wing ), Jayanth K. Murali, a separate team under Inspector Indira was constituted in 2020. A detailed study of the registry of Saraswathi Mahal library was painstakingly undertaken by the team during the period of missing the Bible.

It was found that on October 7, 2005, the library had hosted a group of foreigners. DGP Jayanth K. Murali while speaking to media persons said,” We found that the visitors had come to India to attend a function to commemorate Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg, the Danish missionary who had printed the Bible.”

An officer with the Idol wing then scanned all the websites of  libraries and private collectors associated with Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg. After scanning through several websites of libraries and organizations of private collections of rare manuscripts connected with the Danish missionary, the idol wing stumbled upon at King George III museum which had thousands of pamphlets, manuscripts, and printed books.

The idol wing was able to find the stolen first Tamil translation of the Bible that was printed at a printing press in Tharangambadi in the 17th century.

The sleuths of the idol wing could match the Bible at King George III museum to that of the stolen Bible.

The department in a statement on Friday said “We hope to retrieve the Bible and restore it to the Saraswathi Mahal Library under the UNESCO treaty soon. The wing has initiated steps to restore the Bible to the library.”

It may be noted that the King of Denmark had sent Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg, a protestant missionary to Tamil Nadu. In 1706, he arrived in Tranquebar ( The anglicized name of Tharangambadi ) which was a  Danish colony close to Nagapattinam.

The protestant missionary translated the New Testament into Tamil in 1715. After the demise of Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg, another missionary Schwartz handed over the first copy of the Bible to Tulaji Rajah Serfoji, the then ruler of Tanjavur.

Tamil Nadu government had kept this antiquarian book as an exhibit at Saraswathi Mahal Library from where it was reportedly stolen in October 2005.

The idol wing in the statement also said, “The value of the Bible is further enhanced as the cover of this antique piece bears the signature of the then King of Tanjavur, Serfoji.”