Tamil Nadu stops auction of stolen Nataraja idol in France  

The rare variety bronze idol was suspected to have been stolen from Kayathar in Thoothukudi district half a century ago

December 15, 2022 09:03 pm | Updated December 16, 2022 04:54 pm IST - CHENNAI

The officers of the special wing came across the auction notice issued by Christies.com, France, listing a bronze ‘Shiva Nataraja’ idol for auction on December 16, 2022 at a bid price of €2,00,000 to €3,00,000 (₹17.6 crore to ₹26.4 crore approximately).

The officers of the special wing came across the auction notice issued by Christies.com, France, listing a bronze ‘Shiva Nataraja’ idol for auction on December 16, 2022 at a bid price of €2,00,000 to €3,00,000 (₹17.6 crore to ₹26.4 crore approximately). | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement 

The Idol Wing CID (IWCID) of the Tamil Nadu police on Thursday successfully stopped the scheduled auctioning of a bronze idol of Nataraja by Christies.com, France. The rare variety bronze idol was suspected to have been stolen from Kayathar in Thoothukudi district half a century ago.

The officers of the special wing came across the auction notice issued by Christies.com, France, listing a bronze ‘Shiva Nataraja’ idol for auction on Friday at a bid price of €2,00,000 to €3,00,000 (₹17.6 crore to ₹26.4 crore approximately). The bronze idol belongs to the Vijayanagara period — 15th-16th century.

Director General of Police, IWCID, K. Jayanth Murali said, “As the idol was listed as belonging to Tamil Nadu, we decided to examine it when we came across an image taken in 1958 by the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), which bore resemblance to the idol of Nataraja listed for auction in France. IFP photo records confirmed that the listed idol was a stolen one. After examination by an expert, we sent the records to the auction house through authorities concerned to stop the bid. Our efforts succeeded and the proposed auctioning has been stopped.”

Stolen in 1972

The IFP image of the Nataraja idol was taken in 1958 in Kothanda Rameshwara Temple, Kayathar, Kovilpatti, now in Thoothukudi District (earlier in composite Tirunelveli district). The HR&CE (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments) Department records reveal that the idol was stolen in 1972 and was not recovered thereafter. As 50 years have passed by since the theft, there seems to be difficulty in tracing the First Information Report registered regarding the theft.

According to the officer, enquiries with the village elders revealed that the Nataraja idol and some other idols were stolen from the temple by some miscreants. The other idols were recovered. Some of the village elders who were shown the image of the Nataraja idol, along with other random Nataraja idols, were able to exactly recognise the image on the Christies.com website, the officer said.

The records of the HR&CE Department too clearly establish the idol was stolen in 1972 and the Kovilpatti police station Loose Leaf Index has entries to establish the same. “We have now insisted that the idol should be returned to India as we have adequately established the ownership as required under the UNESCO Convention of 1970,” said Mr. Jayanth Murali.

The French authorities also confirmed to their Indian counterparts about the stopping of auction on Thursday.

The bid price in Indian rupee was corrected post publication.

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