Three antique idols stolen from temple in Ulundurpet 11 years ago, recovered from art collector’s house in Chennai

Police found a total of seven antique idols at the home Shobha Durairajan; they said three have been ascertained as belonging to the Adhi Kesava Perumal Temple in Ulundurpet.

December 12, 2022 12:34 pm | Updated 04:56 pm IST -  Chennai

Three of the idols that have been ascertained to belong to a temple are being returned, while the history of the other four is being looked into, police said

Three of the idols that have been ascertained to belong to a temple are being returned, while the history of the other four is being looked into, police said | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Idol Wing CID (IW-CID) of the Tamil Nadu Police have seized three antique idols that were reportedly stolen from the Adhi Kesava Perumal Temple in Ulundurpet, Kallakurichi district a decade ago, from an art collector’s house in Raja Annamalaipuram, Chennai. 

Idol Wing police, while perusing a list of persons who had registered antique idols with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), came across a woman art collector in Raja Annmalaipuram, Chennai, who had registered six antique artefacts which appeared to be stolen from temples. 

A special team of police personnel from the Idol Wing police conducted a search operation at the premises of the art collector, Shobha Durairajan, 52, and found seven antique idols in her possession: Adhi Kesava Perumal, Sree Devi, Bhoodevi, Asthira Devar, Amman, Veera Bhadra and Mahadevi.  

Ms. Durairajan told the police team that collecting antique artefacts was her hobby, and she had purchased the antique idols from a man, Deenadayalan of the Aparna Art Gallery in 2008 and in 2015. She produced receipts for some of the idols found, and documents disclosing the registration of all idols with the Archaeological Survey of India. However, the idols of the standing Perumal and Sree Devi had the name Adhi Kesava Temple, Ulundurpet, a telltale clue, inscribed on the artefacts’ bases, said police.      

Temple burglary in 2011

Following this clue, the police team immediately proceeded to Adhi Kesava Temple in Ulundurpet. When they enquired with the temple staff, they were told about a burglary at the temple on the night of July 10, 2011, during which three idols, Adhi Kesava Perumal, Sree Devi and Bhoodevi, had been stolen.

The Ulundurpet Police had registered a case of burglary based on the complaint of the archagar of the temple, Sreeshylam, in 2011. The local police, after investigation, had closed the case as unsolved in 2013. However the police team has now reopened the case and transferred it to the IWCID from Kallakurichi district, for investigation   

An expert, after examining the idols, confirmed that the photos of the idols brought from the temple and those found during the search at the premises in R.A. Puram were the same. An investigation revealed that the owner of the stolen idols Ms. Durairajan, had registered the Standing Perumal, Sree Devi and Bhoodevi with the ASI, Shimoga in 2013. The owner had no receipt for these idols although she had receipts for the remaining idols which were signed and issued by the late Deenadayalan. The ASI Shimoga, after an inspection, had certified all three idols (for which there were no receipts) to be more than 300 years old. 

History of other idols being probed

The Idol Wing is now investigating the remaining four idols and attempting to trace the temple to which they may belong. The remaining four idols, unlike the other three, were registered with the ASI in Chennai in 2008. The theft of these idols may therefore have happened prior to 2008. The images of the four remaining idols are being submitted to the HR&CE for identification of the temple they may have come from.

Director General of Police, IWCID, K. Jayanth Murali said the investigation revealed the involvement of Deenadayalan (since deceased) in this case. Ms. Durairajan, the purchaser of the idols is culpable for possession of stolen antique idols of temples. The involvement of the other accused in this case is being investigated. To get to the bottom of the truth, the  staff of the Aparna Gallery stated by Deenadayalan will be questioned next, he said. 

The Idol Wing is planning to hand over the three idols of Standing Perumal, Sree Devi and Bhoodevi to the Adhi Kesava Perumal temple shortly. This is probably the first time the Idol Wing is restoring locally stolen antique idols of a temple after recovering them, he added.  

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