TN police track three more stolen idols, including Nataraja

Updated on Dec 31, 2022 12:17 AM IST

The stolen figurines include a bronze Nataraja idol kept for sale at Christie’s auction house in France, a metal statue of a couple embracing was found in Sotheby’s catalogue, and a granite Buddha statue kept in a gallery in New York

When the Christie’s auction house in France listed bronze Shiva Nataraja idol for sale on December 16. Tamil Nadu police’s idol wing informed authorities in India and abroad, and stopped the auction. (PTI)
When the Christie’s auction house in France listed bronze Shiva Nataraja idol for sale on December 16. Tamil Nadu police’s idol wing informed authorities in India and abroad, and stopped the auction. (PTI)
By, Chennai

The Tamil Nadu police’s idol wing has tracked three more idols stolen from the state and smuggled to different places in France and New York, officials in the know of the matter said on Friday.

The stolen figurines include a bronze Nataraja idol kept for sale at Christie’s auction house in France, a metal statue of a couple embracing was found in Sotheby’s catalogue, and a granite Buddha statue kept in a gallery in New York.

When the Christie’s auction house in France listed a bronze Shiva Nataraja idol for sale on December 16 for a price of 300,000 Euros, the Tamil Nadu police’s idol wing on getting information flagged the issue. The idol was the same one stolen from a temple in Kovilpatti in Thoothukudi district in 1972, said police.

The authorities in India and abroad were informed and the auction of the Nataraja idol was stopped. Director general of police (idol wing) Jayant Murali tweeted about the incident and also contacted the Indian ambassador to France, Jawed Ashraf, over phone. Christie’s stopped the auction.

According to the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) records, the Nataraja idol was stolen in 1972 but is yet to be recovered.

To prove it, the wing came compared the idol kept for auction in France to an image taken in 1958 by the French Institute of Puducherry (IFP), which appeared similar. “We, therefore, sent the web image obtained from the Christies.com website along with the IFP image to an expert for comparison. The expert, after the examination, orally first and in writing later, informed us that both pictures are of the same idol,” the department said, adding that they have established the ownership as required under the UNESCO Convention of 1970. The wing hopes to retrieve the idol and restore it to the Akilandeswari Sametha Gotanda Ramaswamy temple in Kovilpatti soon.

In case of the metal statue of a couple embracing — Chandrasekhar and his wife Chandrasekhar Amman — the figurine was stolen from Perambalur district in 1961. The idol wing has been looking for the idol with the various artefact collectors, and museums, said an official in the know of the matter. They finally traced it to a catalogue of Sotheby’s in the UK under the name ‘Indian and South east Asian Art’.

But then they found that it had been sold to a buyer in March 1998 for 85,000 US Dollars. The idol wing is preparing papers to submit to the USA to identify the buyer from 1998, confiscate it and return the idol to India.

In the third case, a large stone granite Buddha in a sitting pose was stolen on the night of November 2003 from the 1400-year-old Adhikesava Perumal Temple in Kancheepuram district. During police probe, it was revealed that international idol smuggler Subhash Kapoor was behind the theft. He was convicted on November 2 for his crimes in Tamil Nadu. The Manhattan district attorney had seized the Buddha from his home and kept it in their warehouse. Kapoor, a former Manhattan art dealer has been in Trichy jail since 2011.

To corroborate their findings, the idol wing, took the aid of independent art detective S Vijay Kumar who is an expert on the subject and also published in 2018 a book titled, The Idol Thief: The True Story of Looting India’s Temples detailing the story of Kapoor’s crimes. Kumar also gave the investigators a copy of the Art of Past Catalog of September 2010 which had the images of the Buddha. “It was further learnt that the idol had been seized from Subash Kapoor’s gallery in New York by the district attorney’s office in Manhattan and is now available in their warehouse,” the idol wing department said.

In January first week the TN police’s idol wing will be submitting papers to bring it back.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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