New evidence may help recover idol

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Villager in Sripuranthan has a 30-year-old photo taken during festival

A framed copy of the photograph of the stolen Nataraja idol.Photo: Special arrangement
A framed copy of the photograph of the stolen Nataraja idol.Photo: Special arrangement

CHENNAI: Villagers in Sripuranthan, who have been lamenting the theft of the 1000-year-old Nataraja idol from their temple, have something to cheer. The prospects for the return of the idol, now displayed in Australia, improved further this week.

The Idol Wing of the Tamil Nadu police has alleged that Subhash Kapoor, a U.S.-based antiquities dealer, masterminded the theft of the idol from Sripuranthan in Ariyalur district.

Using a photo provided by the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), it was able to visually match it with the one exhibited in the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra, which bought the Nataraja from Kapoor for US $ 5 million.

Other than the photo provided by the IFP, the investigators did not have any supportive photographic evidence. The documents provided by Kapoor to the NGA stated that the Nataraja idol was in an art shop, in Delhi, and a Sudanese diplomat bought it in 1970 before selling it to Kapoor.

Claims strengthened

The villagers have now come up with the 30-year-old photograph to strengthen their claims over the idol and refute Kapoor’s version.

Govindarajan, 75, is a farmer living in Sripuranthan. Like others in the village, he knew the broad contours of the idol theft case, but not the details. Hence, he never realised the importance of a picture he had. Mr. Govindarajan got a copy of the photograph of Nataraja with his consort about 30 years ago and has been holding it with reverence in his house since then.

When he heard that the investigators were looking for supportive evidence to strengthen the idol theft case, he realised that the photo he had would be helpful and handed it over to the police.

Mr. Govindarajan told The Hindu over the phone from Sripuranthan that “30 years ago, during an important festival, the temple organisers brought a photographer from Kumbakonam and took pictures of the idols.”

He added that though he knew that the stolen idol was sold abroad, he was not aware that it had reached Australia. Govindarajan is sad that the village lost the deity and wishes that it returns quickly.

When this correspondent contacted the Idol Wing, DSP Ashok Natarajan, chief investigating officer, confirmed that they had received the photo.

He said that the Nataraja in the photo visually matches with the one in NGA. The police are investigating and are also enquiring about the of the goddess idol in the photo, which was also stolen along with the Nataraja.




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