Chennai

Catching up with a master smuggler

As the officers of the Idol Wing continue to unearth more idols, artefacts, and paintings, they continue to be puzzled by the vast network that the 84-year-old G. Deenadayalan used to ‘smoothly’ smuggle these antique idols worth several hundreds of crores to foreign buyers while staying out of the clutches of law enforcement.

Their key aims while investigating Deenadayalan were to trace the modus operandi, identify the network of idol thieves, expose the loopholes that the smugglers use to bypass the law, and recover all such stolen idols and artefacts.

Idol wing officials are stunned at how these ancient idols, supposed to be more than 1,000 years old, could have been sent abroad, despite the Antiquities Act. They suspect Deenadayalan bypassed the mandated process of taking antique certificates issued by the Registration Officer of the State Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). They were packed and sent off as handicrafts, without any certification.

Inspector General of Police (Idol wing) A.G. Pon Manickavel told The Hindu that Deenadayalan had a perfect seller-buyer relationship with the notorious idol smuggler Subhash Kapoor. The accused, running art galleries in various places, had been able to function because of his ‘network’ to ship the antique idols as handicraft items in big containers. He said, in one instance, a senior official of the Handicrafts department even recommended to port officials that crates carrying these idols need not be checked as they were only handicrafts items.

According to Mr. Manickavel, the idol smuggling racket would not have been busted but for the timely action by team members deputed to visit Murray’s Gate Road, Alwarpet on the night of May 30, based on a tip-off by an informant. Incidentally, the informant had earlier provided a tip-off about Deenadayalan, but on verification, that turned out to be a false alarm. Despite this first failure, when the tip-off came, a senior official was deputed to the house where the three employees were seen packing a Vishnu idol, bringing the smuggler’s extraordinarily long run to an abrupt end.

The officials of the Idol Wing said they had not seen any computers in the three places where the search is on, but have seized several bank documents and a diary with notings by Deenadayalan. This will be submitted to the Enforcement Directorate to find the funding network and the people involved in this racket. In the meantime the officials of the Idol Wing plan to inspect other art galleries owned by Deenadayalan in the city and Bangalore.



A racket hidden in plain sight



His reputation as a dealer of handicrafts seems to have given Deenadayalan, in whose house several hundreds of antique idols stolen from temples were recovered, the perfect cover. He did not even make an attempt to conceal the crates of idols, but left them lying strewn around his house, and godown. Even when neighbours saw idols come in frequently, they presumed it was what he did for a living.


So, they remained unaware until the recent raids that a house in their midst was the never centre of a big racket that plundered temples, with some of the idols and artefacts estimated to be least 1000 years old.


Not surprisingly, they also knew very little about G. Deenadayalan. “I would see him only during his morning walk when he was always unaccompanied,” said C. Rajan of Assam, a watchman at an apartment complex near the racketeer’s house. Mr. Rajan said he knew Mansingh, the 58-year-old domestic help of Deenadayalan, but neither would speak about their employers or jobs.


Hailing from Nepal, Mansingh, now in judicial custody, was with his employer for nearly 30 years. He shifted to the Murray’s Gate Road home of Deenadayalan when he bought it about 10 years ago. Deenadayalan’s home is stacked with stone and panchaloha idols in addition to temple paintings that are framed.


His rented godown – a little distance away on Venus Colony Second Cross Street — too is filled with idols. One of them that immediately grabs a visitor’s attention is a stone idol of Vinayagar with an exquisitely carved crown and three serpents around the stomach. This is reported to be from a temple in Karnataka, sources said. The idols are now being properly arranged and numbered.


K.Ganesan, a building demolition contractor from Karapakkam, who had actually come to the area to check if the news reports about the idols seizure were true, was shocked at the manner in which the idols were strewn around Deenadayalan’s home and godown and wondered how such a brazen crime could go unchecked.


P. Ramachandran, a driver, and D. Kamalakannan, watchman at an apartment complex nearby, are more familiar with the locality as they have been working there for over 15 years, but they too knew very little about the Deenadayalan household. “We have seen the idols but never thought they would be stolen from temples,” Mr. Kamalakannan said.


According to Mr. Ramachandran, the compound wall of the house had collapsed about a month ago and a new, taller one was built in its place. He said that patrol policemen would be present during the morning and evening rush hours near the intersection of Murray’s Gate Road and Seshadri Road. Families living in independent homes and apartments either knew nothing about what was happening in Deenadayalan’s home or preferred not to speak about him to the media.




Prominent idols stolen

Temple: Sundareswarar, Location: Suthamalli, Ariyalur
Idols stolen: Sivagami Amman, Natarajar, Somaskandar, Valli, Asthiradevar, Subramaniyar

Temple: Brihadeeswarar, Location: Sripuranthan, Ariyalur
Idols stolen: Chandrashekhar, Narthana Krishnar, Sambanthar, Amman, Vinayagar, Natarajar


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