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TN idol wing traces 3 bronze idols stolen from Kumbakonam temple to US museums

- September 9, 2022

Chennai, Sept 9(BPNS)

Tamil Nadu idol wing traced three bronze idols stolen from Soundararaja Perumalkovil village temple near Kumbakonam 60 years ago have been traced from museums and auction houses in the United States.

It may be noted that on February 12, 2020, Ka Raja, Executive officer of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department, administering the temple lodged a complaint with the idol wing of the Tamil Nadu police.  In the complaint, Raja stated that an antique idol of Thirumangai Alwar was stolen from the temple by robbers and was replaced it with a fake one.

The executive officer, in the complaint, stated that it was believed that the idol was stolen between 1957 and 1967. The idol was traced to Ashmolean museum in Oxford, UK and an independent researcher informed the museum that the idol could be a stolen one. Later it was found that the Ashmolean museum had bought the idol at an auction by Sotheby’s in London for 850 pounds from a collector, J.R. Belmont.

After this idol was traced to the Oxford museum, the Idol wing suspected that other idols in the temple could be faked and commenced investigation.

DGP, Tamil Nadu idol wing, Jayanth Murali while speaking to media persons said, “ We investigated other idols at the temple and could find that the idols were shifted to the Icon Centre (for safe keeping)”.

The Idol wing investigating officer approached the French Institute of Pondicherry (FIP) for the images of the idols and compared it with the images of the idols at the Icon centre that were kept for safekeeping. The photos of the three idols taken from the icon centre, Kalinganarathna Krishna, Vishnu and Sridevi looked different from the images obtained from French Institute of Pondicherry.

Idol wing DGP said that the three idols at the Icon centre looked modern replicas of the original idols which raised the suspicion that the idols at the Icon centre probably had been stolen. Experts also confirmed that the idols were stolen.

The Kalinganarathna Krishna idol was traced to Asian Art Museum, San Francisco,  Vishnu idol to Kimbell Art Museum, Texas and the Sridevi idol to Hills Auction Gallery, Florida.

Jayant Murali said that the Sridevi idol was auctioned by Hills Auction Gallery and that the idol wing has taken steps through proper channels to recover the idols.