March 27 marked the third year after the half-foot Sivalinga, made of green stone believed to be emerald, went missing from the Adi Sankara Janmabhoomi Temple at Kalady in the rural Ernakulam district.
The State Police had responded by creating a Temple Theft Investigation Special Team (TTIST) soon after this burglary and this special team could crack many other cases. But the idol from Kalady continues to elude the force.
The idol was brought from the Sringeri Math in 1910 and is believed to be more than 500 years old. But investigators could not find any authentic document to date it. Some silver utensils used in the temple and the collection box at the tomb of Saradamba, mother of Adi Sankara, were also stolen along with the idol.
The TTIST officials traced the links to Sanjivi Asokan, a Chennai-based antique dealer, and questioned him while he was in the custody of Tamil Nadu Police, but the investigation did not progress. A senior member of the TTIST recalls that during interrogation, Sanjivi Asokan referred to his regular interactions with Subhash Kapoor, the US-based antique dealer, who has been extradited to India.
“There is only a suspicion that the idol might have reached Subhash Kapoor, and we do not have any specific information. Evidences at the scene of crime pointed to the involvement of a professional hand. That is why we wanted to question Kapoor, while he is in Tamil Nadu police custody,” K. Padmakumar, Inspector-General of Police, Kochi Range, told The Hindu .
The TTIST team has cracked more than 45 temple theft cases and 335 other property cases and arrested 45 people in connection with different temple theft cases. Among the idols recovered were Navapashanaganapathy, another emerald Sivalingam and a Panchaloha Ganapathy in cases registered at Angamaly; an idol of Sreebhadrakali in a case at Vaikom; another of Sree Hanuman in Bekal; a 60-kg Narasimhamoorthi and a 20-kg Panchaloha Balibimbam in Hosdurg; and an idol in a case registered at Perinthalmanna.
However, the TTIST was restructured as a Special Investigation Support Team in 2012 to assist local police in property crime investigation. “After the restructuring, only a couple of major temple thefts were reported, one at Bhagavathy Temple, Kalloorppara and Sree Krishna Swami Temple at Mavelikkara. While the case at Mavelikkara has been cracked and suspects arrested, we have made significant progress in the first case too,” said P.N. Unniraja, Superintendent of Police, Crime Branch, who heads the team now.