Retrieved idols receive rousing welcome

The ancient panchaloha idols of Raja Raja Chola and his royal consort Lokamadevi received a rousing welcome from Tamil scholars and art enthusiasts on Thursday at the Central Railway Station.

The idols, worth over ₹150 crore, which were stolen from the Big Temple in Thanjavur six decades ago, were brought by the Inspector General of Police A. G. Pon Manickavel and his colleagues in the Idol Wing of State police on Thursday after retrieving them from Calico Museum and Sarabhai Foundation galleries in Ahmedabad.

Mr. Manickavel said, “The icons will be produced in court. Within three days, we will restitute them to the place from where they were stolen. So far no one has been arrested in the case and investigation is on to trace the persons involved in the crime.” Several attempts were made in the past to bring back the idols. A high-level delegation visited the Calico Museum in 2010 to request for a loan of the idols to grace the occasion of the 1,000th year of the Big temple, which the museum turned down citing lack of concrete proof/evidence.

Cut-off year

S. Vijaykumar, art enthusiast based overseas, said that most museums and dealers claim protection under the 1970 UN Convention, on the assumption that any purchase with provenance prior to 1970 is secure from restitution. “A stolen object remains a stolen object for ever and Chola bronzes are meant for worship inside temples as their original creators intended them to be and not as show piece curios to be exhibited in glass cases in museums.”

Appealing for documentation of artefacts in the temples, he said, “We know that this is only the tip of the iceberg with regard to unreported theft of idols from Tamil Nadu and India, but surely it is a watershed moment. We have several such stolen idols still waiting for action — bronzes stolen from Sirkazhi, Sivan Koodal, Veeracholapuram and Punnainallur from where the thefts are slowly coming to light. With such superlative support from the Idol Wing, we are sure to secure many more such proud restitutions in the coming years.”

A. Srivatsan, professor of architecture, said, “This is a major restitution of antique idols within the country for the first time. Such restitution by museums or private collectors inside the country will give the impetus to verify the provenance before accepting any icons or artefacts in future.”

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 11:01:07 PM |

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