The Maragathalingam idol that was reported stolen from the Maruntheeswarar Temple at Thiruthuraipoondi in Thiruvarur district early this year was recovered intact from a two-member gang here on Monday.
The priceless idol weighing 990 grams and made of pure emerald belongs to the Chola period. It would soon be handed over to the temple through the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment department, Additional Director General of Police (Economic Offences Wing) G. Thilakavathi said.
According to police sources, the Maragathalingam idol was stolen from the temple on the night of February 19 by a gang that gained entry by forcing open the rear entry. While the burglar alarm was not working, the lone guard attached to the Temple Protection Force was at the main entrance.
Considering the significance and antique value of the idol, a special team led by the Inspector, Idol Wing Police, I. Khader Basha was formed to investigate the case. Besides looking for the accused persons in neighbouring States, the team conducted intensive raids at Pattukottai, Vedaranyam and Muthupettai areas.
On a tip-off that some persons had gone to Chennai to sell the idol, police mounted surveillance at the Koyambedu bus stand here and intercepted two persons who were found to be moving about in a suspicious manner. The duo was identified as A. Ramesh (30) of Pattukottai and P. Senthil (29) of Valangaiman. A search on Ramesh revealed the Maragathalingam.
“The accused had planned to sell the idol through some agents here. We are on the lookout for others involved in the case. The temple authorities have identified the idol. Ramesh, who was arrested on charges of attempting to burn a police jeep in Muthupettai, met Senthil in the Tiruchi central prison where they conspired to steal the Maragathalingam,” Mr. Basha said.
The accused stayed in Thiruthuraipoondi for about 20 days to study the temple activities and topography. After stealing the idol, they remained undercover for sometime fearing police action. The two suspects used fake photographs and address proof to procure 13 SIM cards. “All those involved in this case were accused in murder or theft cases in Thanjavur. We are investigating the possibility of this gang’s involvement in the theft of another Maragathalingam idol in 1992.”
Ms. Thilakavathi said HR and CE officials were told to strengthen the Temple Protection Force. “We have asked them to go for recruitment through the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission. Those inducted into the Temple Protection Force should undergo training in martial arts, weapon handling and basic investigation. Surveillance cameras are being installed in major temples,” she added.