The probe by officers of Idol Wing CID police into the theft of a Ganesha idol stolen 50 years ago led to chance discovery of 11 more antique idols stolen from the temple. Interestingly, the temple staff were unaware of the theft until the officers of Idol Wing reached the temple and began investigation.
The Idol Wing began investigation recently following a complaint by Balu, a resident of Thirukkuvalai Taluk. He alleged that an antique Ganesha metal idol which was worshipped once at Arulmigu Pannaka Parameswara Swamy Temple in Pannatheru in Nagapatinam district was missing.
As neither the temple nor the residents had any images of the Ganesha idol that was stolen 50 years ago, police officers of the special wing decided to approach the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), a research centre in Puducherry which has a collection of 1,40,000 photographs of temples and historical structures in south India. IFP had taken pictures of idols kept in 1959 and had its collection.
During scrutiny of images, the investigation officer learnt that eleven other idols namely - Somaskandar, Chandrasekhara Amman, Devi, Astiradevar, Pidari Amman, Navagraha Surya, Boghasakthiamman, dancing Sambandhar, Chandrasekhar with Chandrasekhar Amman, standing Chandrasekhar and standing Vinayakar were stolen from the temple 50 years ago, besides the Ganesha idol.
A senior police officer said: “Interestingly, even the temple staff did not have a list of the idols in their records and the devotees too had no clue. Our investigation revealed that the idols were stolen from the temple over a period of time, with the connivance of those entrusted with the affairs of the temple. Soon, an ongoing investigation will reveal the truth.”
The Investigation officer first traced the idol of Devi to the Sotheby's, New York which had acquired the 48.3 cm tall idol between 1970 and 1973. The auction house recently sold it for US$ 50000 (Rs. 39, 98,575).
During further investigation, one out of the two bronze Vinayakar idols that were stolen from the temple was traced to the Norton Simon Museum, U.S., said the investigation officer Indira. The standing Vinayakar idol came into the possession of the museum in 1972, which the IFP had photographed in 1959.
Police said inputs from heritage enthusiast and co-founder of India Pride S. Vijay Kumar corroborated the investigating officer's findings. The idol that belongs to Madurai Adheenam is about 1.5 feet tall and 1 foot wide, is exquisitely carved and is reported to be worth ₹3 crore in the international market.
"Our initial investigation indicates the involvement of Subash Kapoor in this case. The investigation is also being expedited to achieve breakthrough in tracing the remaining ten idols," said Director General of Police, Idol Wing CID K.Jayanth Murali.