T.N. Police’s Idol Wing claims ownership of Kala Samhara Moorthy idol auctioned in U.S.

The bronze idol was stolen over 50 years ago from Sri Kasi Viswanatha Swamy Temple in a Orathanadu village.

Updated - September 22, 2022 05:42 pm IST

Published - September 22, 2022 04:13 pm IST - CHENNAI

The bronze idol of Kala Samhara Moorthy also known as Tripurantaka Murthy.

The bronze idol of Kala Samhara Moorthy also known as Tripurantaka Murthy. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Idol Wing CID Police has taken a major step to retrieve an idol that was stolen from a temple in Thanjavur district 50 years ago and later auctioned off by Christie's in the United States.

In this regard, the special wing of police dispatched legal documents establishing the ownership of Tamil Nadu over the bronze idol of Kala Samhara Moorthy also known as Tripurantaka Murthy. The bronze idol was stolen over 50 years ago from Sri Kasi Viswanatha Swamy Temple, Muthammal Puram village, Orathanadu taluk in Thanjavur district, by replacing it with a fake replica.

Originally, on November, 6, 2020, G. Suresh, executive officer of the temple submitted a complaint to the Idol Wing CID, Chennai stating that the antique Kalasamharamurthy metal idol belonging to Sri Kasi Viswanatha Swamy Temple, Muthulapuram Village, had been stolen and dishonestly misappropriated. He further stated that as the original idol had been replaced by a fake replica 50 years ago and requested the Idol Wing to conduct the necessary investigation and recover the stolen idol.

Accordingly, the Idol Wing, on receiving the complaint from the executive officer, registered a case and U.Muthuraja, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Idol Wing CID, Kumbakonam, was nominated as an investigation officer.

The investigating officer visited the crime scene and examined the de-facto complainant, the executive officer and witnesses. He obtained the list of modus operandi of criminals from the district crime records bureau and verified their complicities. But no fruitful leads emerged from it.

The investigator, therefore, approached the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) and went through the photos of the idols taken and documented by them from the temple. After obtaining the pictures of the idols of the temple, the wing formed special teams to search for the idols worldwide in the museums/art galleries. After an extensive search, the Idol Wing was able to locate an idol looking similar to the missing idol on the website of Christie’s.com — an auction house engaged in selling artefacts.

Director General of Police (DGP), Idol Wing CID, K. Jayanth Murali said, "An antiquarian, after examination, issued an expert comparison report confirming the fact that both the photo images of Kala Samhara Moorthy taken by IFP and the image of the idol downloaded from the website of Christies.com were the same image and the metal idol kept at the temple was a fake."

"Given the indisputable facts, we are duty bound to take necessary steps for the retrieval of the antique. So we prepared and submitted legal papers of request to the US authorities for repatriation of the antique bronze idol under the existing Agreement between the Republic of India and the USA concerning Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. The United States Department of Homeland Security will recover from the individual and repatriate, said Mr. Murali.

The rare and magnificent bronze figure is 82.3 cm and belongs to the Chola era. According to Christie's website, the price realised for the stolen idol was ₹4,350,000.

S. Vijaya Kumar, art enthusiast and co-founder of India Pride said, “We spotted this in an online auction in 2020 and worked on matching it from the IFP. The bronze’s provenance is linked to dealer William H.Wolf. He sold it to The James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection which in turn sold through Christie’s to an individual collector. We understand the bronze was sold for $4.35 million by Christie’s.

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