A 17th-century idol of Lord Raghunath worth crores of rupees was stolen from a temple on the premises of the Kullu Palace in Kullu town’s Sultanpur locality on Tuesday morning.
The idol, made of ‘ashtadhatu’ (a combination of eight metals, including gold and silver), is about three inches long and weighs around 500 gm.
It was in the wee hours that temple priests Pappu and Hemraj noticed the theft and informed Dhanvender Singh, son of Kullu MLA Maheshwar Singh - who is the principal guardian of the deity.
The matter was later reported to the police, who found that the thieves had taken away the main idol of Lord Raghunath (Lord Rama) from the temple along with idols of Lord Ganesha, Hanuman, Narsangh and Salig Ram. About 10-kg silver ornaments and 1-kg gold ornaments, valued at Rs 32 lakh, were also found missing.
The police discovered that the thieves entered the sanctum sanctorum after breaking into the roof from the rear side. “Thieves used a rope to reach the rooftop,” Kullu superintendent of police (SP) Surinder Verma said.
“It’s a sad day for us. The idol was invaluable for us,” said Maheshwar, scion of the erstwhile ruler of Kullu. Maheshwar, who was in Dharamsala to attend the winter session of the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha, immediately returned after knowing about the incident.
“The temple was fitted with a closed-circuit TV camera, but the thieves broke in through the roof on the rear side,” he said.
A stray dog was found dead at the rear of the temple. The police suspect that the thieves gagged the barking dog to death.
“We have set up nakas across the district. Intensive checking of vehicles is being conducted,” the SP said.
As soon as the news of the theft spread, local residents gathered outside the temple. They also recited the Ramcharitmanas to seek divine intervention for catching the culprits. Thieves had also struck at the Lord Raghunath Temple in January this year and decamped with 43-kg silver, valued at more than Rs 23 lakh. The police said the modus operandi was the same in both cases.
Lord Raghunath is the principal deity of Kullu district and is highly revered by local residents. The lord’s main idol was brought from Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama, by rulers of Kullu in 1637.
It is said that in the 17th century, Raja Jagat Singh of Kullu, after having committed a wrong, sent a senior courtier to Ayodhya to bring a statue of Lord Raghunath. In atonement, the king then had ‘charanamrit’ (‘holy nectar’) of the idol for 42 days and was thus freed of the curse of a Brahmin, Durga Dutt. This temple was then built by Jagat Singh to keep the idol.
127 temple thefts since 2013
In the past decade, 150 temples and monasteries across Himachal Pradesh have been targeted by burglars. There are more than 30,000 places of worship across the state. Going by government records, precious items valued at Rs 1.12 crore were stolen from the temples from January 1, 2013, to November 1, 2014. During this period, 127 cases of temple thefts were also registered.