Centre hands over 10 stolen idols to Tamil Nadu

Six of the idols were retrieved from the U.S. and four from Australia 

June 01, 2022 09:51 pm | Updated 10:19 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Union Ministers G. Kishan Reddy and Arjun Ram Meghwal hand over a retrieved idol  to Tamil Nadu DGP C. Sylendra Babu during a ceremony in New Delhi on June 1, 2022.

Union Ministers G. Kishan Reddy and Arjun Ram Meghwal hand over a retrieved idol to Tamil Nadu DGP C. Sylendra Babu during a ceremony in New Delhi on June 1, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

Ten idols dating back to the 10th Century CE that were stolen from Tamil Nadu temples, starting from the 1960s till 2008, were on Wednesday handed over by the Centre to the State government at a ceremony in New Delhi 

The Union Culture Ministry, which along with the Ministry of External Affairs had retrieved the idols from the United States and Australia in 2020, 2021 and 2022, handed over the antiquities to Tamil Nadu Director-General of Police C. Sylendra Babu. 

The returned antiquities included two stone sculptures of Dwarapalas dating back to the 15th-16thCentury CE that were stolen from a temple in Tirunelveli district in 1994, according to the Culture Ministry. Both the sculptures were retrieved from Australia in 2020. Two metal idols of Kanakalamurti and Nandikeshava stolen from Narasinganadhar Swamy temple in Tirunelveli district in 1985 were retrieved from the U.S. 

A bronze sculpture of Nataraja dating back to 11th-12thCentury CE that was stolen from the strong room of Punnainallur Arulmigu Mariyamman Temple of Thanjavur district between 1966–77 was found in the Asia Society Museum located in New York, as also the bronze idols of Siva and Parvati belonging to Vanmiganadhar Swamy Temple in Thanjavur district from a museum from Indiana. 

The Idol wing, through the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), successfully retrieved the idols of four-armed Vishnu and Sri Devi which were stolen from the Varadharaja Perumal Temple of Suthamally village in Ariyalur district. Both these idols were also kept in a museum in New York. 

The two metal idols of saint Sambandar in child form, of which one idol was stolen from the Sayavaneeswarar temple of Nagapattinam district, and the other yet to be identified to which temple were returned by the Australian government. 

In total, eight bronze and two stone sculptures were returned. Six of the idols were retrieved from the U.S. and four from Australia. 

‘All credit to PM’

Speaking at the ceremony, Union Culture Minister G. Kishan Reddy said the Narendra Modi government had brought back 238 stolen antiquities in its eight years in office, as opposed to 13 in the period from Independence till 2013. He said Mr. Modi’s personal relationships and warm ties with world leaders had helped in the process. “All the credit goes to our Prime Minister,” Mr. Reddy said.

The Minister added that there was a plan to return retrieved antiquities to their home States. “Our attempt has been to position culture in our lives rather than in museums,” he said.

Minister of State for Culture and External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi earlier said there was a large transnational smuggling racket and that there were security issues at some temples. She said the process to bring back the antiquities was a result of “cooperative federalism”.

Earlier in the event, Mr. Babu said the value of these antiquities had sky-rocketed in recent years. He said the Idol Wing of Tamil Nadu had been set up in 1983 to investigate cases of theft of idols over ₹5 lakh in value and had retrieved 878 idols so far. While the eight bronze sculptures were displayed at the ceremony, Mr. Babu said the two stone sculptures weighed 290 kg and 330 kg and could not be brought on stage. He said arrangements were being made to transport them to Chennai.

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