The Idol Wing-CID said the idols had been stolen and replaced by fakes; it has now sent legal documents establishing the Tamil Nadu government’s ownership of these antiques, for repatriation
The Idol Wing-CID has traced two Chola-era bronze idols that were stolen about 50 years ago from the Vishwanatha Swamy Temple at Alathur in Tiruvarur district and smuggled to the United States. It has sent legal documents to the appropriate authorities establishing the State ownership of these antiques.
The Idol Wing traced the Somaskandar idol to the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and the Dancing Sambandar idol to the Christies auction company in the USA. The Dancing Sambandar idol was sold off by Christies in 2011 for USD 98,500, equal to ₹81,54,893.80.
The police investigation began in 2017, after an officer of the Department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) lodged a complaint with the Vikrapandiyam police station that three antique metal idols — Vishnu, Sridevi and Bhudevi belonging to the Vishwanatha Swamy Temple — had been burgled by unidentified persons. The investigation by the Idol Wing led to their detection at the Los Angeles County Museum and steps were taken to retrieve them.
However, further investigation revealed that the miscreants had stolen the original idols and left behind replicas in their place. Temple officials then suspected that the six other idols, still remaining in the temple, could have met with a similar fate, and they requested the Idol Wing to investigate further.
Recently, the Idol Wing traced the idols of Yoganarasimha and Ganesha, belonging to the temple, to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. Now two more antiquities — the Somaskandar and Dancing Sambandar — have been traced as well.
Idol Wing Director-General of Police, K. Jayanth Murali said, “Our investigation has revealed that the two idols displayed in the Freer Gallery of Art and the one auctioned by Christies.com were stolen from the Vishwanatha Swamy temple, about 50 years ago, and were replaced with replicas that are available at the Thiruvarur Icon Centre. Based on the findings of our investigation, we have prepared and submitted papers claiming the Tamil Nadu governments’ ownership of the idols for onward transmission to the U.S., in order to gain repatriation of these artefacts.”