Antique bronze idols of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, stolen from a temple in Nagapattinam in the 1970s and recovered from a private collector in London in September, were handed over to the Idol Wing of the Tamil Nadu police by Union Minister of Culture and Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Abhay Kumar Singh, Additional Director-General of Police, Idol Wing CID, received the idols, which will be handed over to the temple at Anandamangalam.
The investigation into the theft of idols was taken up after India Pride Project, a group of art enthusiasts that uses social media to identify stolen artefacts from Indian temples, alerted the High Commission of India in London. The NGO said the idols of Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman were stolen from the Rajagopalaswamy Temple (built during the Vijayanagara period) and smuggled to the U.K.
Photo-documentation of the sculptures was done at the temple in June 1958, and the idols were suspected to be stolen later.
Once the idols were verified with the relevant records, the High Commission took up the matter with the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police Service, London, as well as the Idol Wing of the Tamil Nadu police. The Idol Wing sent a comprehensive report, confirming that the theft had taken place on November 23-24, 1978, at the temple, and some criminals were also caught. Based on the photo, the idols were examined and they were found to be the same ones that had been stolen from the temple.
A detailed report was sent to the High Commission after proper verification, Mr. Singh said, thanking the authorities for their steps to recover the idols.
The Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police Service investigated the matter. Based on the information and documents handed in, it contacted the owner of the idols and conveyed the High Commission’s request for their return. The collector had bought these idols from an unknown dealer; hence, no prosecution was initiated. Subsequently, Metropolitan Police Service handed over these idols to the High Commission. The bronze idols of Rama and Lakshmana and Sita are the masterpieces of the Indian metal art. They are 90.5 cm, 78 cm and 74.5 cm in height respectively. Stylistically, they are datable to the 13th century AD. The total count of antiquities recovered from foreign countries stands at 53, of which 40 have been brought back since 2014.
S. Vijay Kumar, founder of India Pride, said, “This case underscores the urgent need to reopen all closed cases of idol theft that have not been followed up because of the stated reason that the idols were untraceable since the 1950s. If the police and the HR&CE Department can help with even the basic details of such antiquities, we are sure we can track many more such stolen idols.”
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