The Himachal Pradesh police on Friday recovered the 17th century priceless idol of Raghunath along with four other idols that were stolen from a temple in Kullu on December 8 last year.
The ‘ashtadhatu’ Raghunath idol was found at Bajaura on the outskirts of Kullu along the Mandi-Kullu national highway. "It was hidden under a pile of rocks, while the idols of Ganesha, Hanuman, Salig Ram and Narsingh were found near Vipasha market in Kullu," said director general of police Sanjay Kumar.
About 10 kg of silver ornaments and 1 of kg gold ornaments were also found missing.
The police had set up a special investigating team headed by additional DGP (law and order) Sanjay Kundu to track the stolen idols. The team included Kullu superintendents of police Surinder Verma and Abhishek Dhullar.
Police showing the recovered idols. HT Photo
How case was cracked
The police had rounded up more than 500 people suspected of being involved in the theft. The police team also scrolled through more than 1,000 mobile numbers that were active on the night of the theft.
Besides, the government had announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh for information leading to the recovery of the idols.
The police later released images of three suspects whose faces were captured on the CCTV camera installed inside the temple premises. According to sources, the police zeroed in on one of them, reportedly a Nepalese national, who had visited the temple several times before the incident. The police also found a copy of a Hindi newspaper that the man was carrying in the CCTV footage.
"His frequent visits to the temple raised our suspicion. A local shopkeeper identified the suspect when he was shown the footage. He said the man had visited his shop to buy batteries for a flashlight and while shopping had revealed his phone number that the shopkeeper noted down," said a police official associated with the investigation.
The police then sought records of call details on the phone from cellular operators. The call logs revealed the phone had remained active for some time before being switched off.
The main accused had been shuttling between Himachal Pradesh and neighbouring Haryana before making his way to Nepal.
The police then sought the assistance of central intelligence agencies to track the cell number in Nepal. They learnt the key suspect had been sighted at the Nepal border on December 16 and was detained by the police in the neighbouring country. It was through the information passed on to them that the Himachal police were able to find the hidden idols.
The investigations revealed the prime suspect had carried out the main operation on his own.
Meanwhile, Maheshwar Singh, the chief guardian of the Raghunath idol, expressed gratitude after the case was solved. "I’m grateful to the state’s residents, government and the police for finding the stolen idols," he said.
Lord Raghunath's idol was recovered from Bajaura area of Kullu. HT File Photo
The Raghunath idol, made of ‘ashtadhatu’ (a combination of eight metals, including gold and silver), is about three inches long and weighs 500 gm.
Lord Raghunath is the presiding deity of Kullu district, where more than 300 deities gather annually on Kullu Dushera in his honour.
Kullu’s cultural ethos largely revolves around the deity, whose idol was brought from Ayodhya in 1637 and installed at the temple by then ruler Raja Jagat Sukh