When destroyers proved to be the saviours

Forensic expert P. Chandrasekaran credits termites as unifiers of Pathur Nataraja with his consort

August 27, 2012 01:13 am | Updated November 16, 2021 11:10 pm IST - CHENNAI:

Lord Nataraja of Pathur Viswanathaswamy Temple in Thanjavur district.  Photo: Special Arrangement

Lord Nataraja of Pathur Viswanathaswamy Temple in Thanjavur district. Photo: Special Arrangement

Their ever-hungry stomachs have devoured many an unknown ancient literary works and other knowledge preserved in palm-leaves for centuries. What great scholars such as U.V. Swaminatha Iyer could restore was only the remnants that escaped their drooling mouth.

Strangely, white ants or termites, the destroyers, proved to be saviours in the case of Tamil Nadu getting back the 1500-year old Pathur Nataraja idol from London.

‘Kazhavupona yen Kadavulum Kaanamalpona yen Kaathaliyum’, a book by noted forensic expert P. Chandrasekaran throws up interesting facts in explaining how the “exploratory termite galleries” became invaluable evidence in the case.

The work of fiction, based on facts, was released on Sunday.

“The Royal Court of Justice accepted traditional knowledge as evidence along with forensic findings in this case,” said Mr. Chandrasekaran, former director of Forensic Department, who made many breakthroughs including in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

The Nataraja and some other idols belonging to Pathur Viswanathaswamy Temple in Thanjavur district were accidentally unearthed in 1976 and the person who found the idols buried them at another site. He later sold the Nataraja idol for Rs.500.

When an alert about the smuggling of the idol was issued, Scotland Yard Police responded, saying that an idol in the archaeology research department of Oxford University possessed all the features of the missing idol.

It had been bought by Canada-based Bumper Development Corporation which had sent the idol for restoration.

“Owner of the Corporation had paid 3,00,000 pounds for the idol. When I asked him why he would pay such a huge amount, he said there was no price too high for the effulgent bliss manifested by the idol,” recalled Mr. Chandrasekaran.

Mr. Chandrasekaran said when the idols were reburied, they were covered with haystack and termites targeted haystack and in the process left termite galleries on the idols.

“I came to the conclusion that the Nataraja idol also should bear the trace of these nest galleries. Though the idol was cleaned a couple of times, fortunately the lower part of the idol was left untouched and I spotted the traces of termite nest. Subsequently, I established my case based on that evidence and won,” Mr. Chandrasekaran said while acknowledging the good work done by J. Ramakrishnan who then worked as the Superintendent of Police of the Idol Wing.

The team involved in the case first used iconometric tests. There were idols of two consorts of Nataraja that had matching measurements in the iconometrics tests and it was a challenge to single out which was the primary idol.

While dealing with the issues, Mr. Chandrasekaran launched into story telling, using a fictional heroine to give guidelines in moving further in resolving the case.

Paru, the heroine of the book, tells him that one idol normally finds its place in the left side of Nataraja and other idol could be a separate deity, placed normally near Pitchandavar, an incarnation of Lord Siva.

“In fact the then High Commissioner of London P.C. Alexander filed a case on behalf of Sivakami, the consort of Nataraja in the court,” Mr. Chandrasekar said.

According to legend, Paravathi came dancing all the way from Himalayas to Chidambaram where the artisan had created the idol with a structure that suited a dancer.

“On the other hand, the other idol has a slightly portly waistline, proving beyond doubt who the real consort was. When I pointed this out to the Judge Ian Kennedy, he agreed and the defence counsel also concurred,” said Mr. Chandrasekaran, while stressing the need for indexing our ancient idols and jewels.

He reasoned that an inventory of idols and jewels would serve no purpose as one could always create fake ones and replace the ancient with the new; the original with the fake.

“Indexing through macro-photograph is the best method to save these idols from being smuggled,” he said.

Each bronze idol is unique as they always bear some mild imperfection and defects inadvertently left behind by the artisan. “But they are also a boon in saving the idols,” he said.

He proceeded to buttress his argument by exhibiting the flawed beauty in a collection of look-alike idols that could be differentiated only by a discerning eye.

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