T.N. team to recover 16 antique idols from Singapore museum

Published - April 30, 2023 12:00 am IST - CHENNAI

The idols were stolen from Tamil Nadu temples in the 1970s.

The idols were stolen from Tamil Nadu temples in the 1970s. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Idol Wing-CID and other authorities are preparing to recover 16 high-value antique idols from the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore. They were stolen from Tamil Nadu temples in the 1970s and recently traced to the museum. A few of them were sold by antique dealers.

Shailesh Kumar Yadav, Additional Director-General of Police (ADGP), Idol Wing-CID, told The Hindu, “We are in the process of recovering them following a letter to the Indian High Commission in Singapore, which was forwarded to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). A special team, comprising officers of the Idol Wing, the ASI and the Union Ministry of Culture, will visit Singapore soon to identify the idols and establish ownership.”

The list included a Hanuman bronze idol, which was stolen from the Rajagopalaswamy Temple (built during the Vijayanagara period) at Anandamangalam in Nagapattinam district; the idols of Somaskandar, Sambandar and Ganesha from the Sivakozhundeeshwarar temple at Sivan Koodal near Sriperumbudur; and 12 idols belonging to other temples in the State.

Mr. Yadav said, “We prepared a proposal under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), proving the Tamil Nadu government’s ownership of the stolen idols for their repatriation to the State. We hope to retrieve the idols and restore them to the temples concerned and have all of them re-consecrated soon. Our team will go with documentary proof and other evidence...”

Originally, an investigation began into the theft of the idols at the Rajagopalaswamy Temple after an alert sent by India Pride Project, a group of art enthusiasts who uses social media to identify stolen religious artefacts from Indian temples and secure their return. The investigation revealed that four antique idols — of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman — were stolen from the temple in 1978 and smuggled out to the United Kingdom. A photo-documentation of three metal sculptures was done in June 1958 at the temple and was suspected to be stolen later.

When Additional Director-General of Police Abhay Kumar Singh was heading the Idol Wing, the idols were verified with records and the matter was taken up with the Art and Antiques Unit of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. In 2021, the Rama, Sita and Lakshmana idols were recovered from a private collector in London. Only the Hanuman idol remained to be retrieved.

S. Vijay Kumar, co-founder, India Pride Project, said a photograph of the Somaskandar idol of the Sivan Koodal temple from the book, South Indian Images of Gods and Goddesses, written by H. Krishna Sastri and published in 1916, offered evidence of a match with the idol at a museum in Singapore.

In 2014, following a report posted as a blog, the Asian Civilisations Museum released the full list of artefacts it had purchased from the disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.

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