To protect idols in temples and prevent its thefts, the Idol Wing CID of the Tamil Nadu Police has proposed a State-level idol records bureau.
This comprehensive system, when implemented, would contain detailed inventory of idols and help keep track of various theft cases. The idol wing has also recommended that export clearance for handicrafts should be tightened and temples should inscribe names of the deities, place and period on the idols.
Prateep V. Philip, ADGP, Idol Wing, told The Hindu that many stolen idols are smuggled as newly made handicrafts. “The process of issuing permits for exporting handicrafts has to be reviewed and must involve idol wing when it comes to assessing antiquities and suspected handicrafts,” he added. Mr. Philip explained that a State-level records bureau would contain physical details and unique identifiable descriptions of idols.
The idol wing has written to the government regarding these proposals, which also include inscribing the name of the temple and place on the idol. Use of infrared marks that would show up when lights were flashed was also under consideration, police sources said.
To begin with, police officers in all districts would liaise with the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR and CE) to asses the risks facing the temples. The police sources said at present many temples were vulnerable.
However, some of these measures to protect idols face impediments. The documentation of idols is incomplete and even after 40 years only a fraction of them has been properly registered as antiquities.
There is no clear assessment as to how many idols totally exist in temples. While the HR and CE estimates about 50,000, the idol wing thinks that there are at least four lakh idols. The State Department of Archaeology, which has been registering artifacts that are more than 100 year old since 1974, has only 43,839 antiquities in its list. Bulk of this could be idols, but there are no clear figures.
The HR&CE Department has now instructed temple officials to physically measure, weigh and record detailed descriptions of idols in a standard format. They have also asked them to register the idols as antiquities with the State Department of Archaeology. This registration is necessary to obtain unique identification numbers and officially record the details, which can help recover the idol if stolen.