The Tamil Nadu Police’s Idol Wing traced three bronze murtis, stolen from Soundararaja Perumalkovil village temple near Kumbakonam 60 years ago, to museums and auction houses in the US.
On February 12, 2020, Ka Raja, Executive Officer of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department which administers the temple, lodged a complaint with the Idol Wing, complaining that an antique murti of Thirumangai Alwar was stolen from the temple and replaced with a fake one.
The executive officer, in the complaint, stated that it was believed that the murti was stolen between 1957 and 1967. The murti was traced to the Ashmolean museum in Oxford and an independent researcher informed the museum that the murti could be a stolen one. Later it was found that the museum had bought the murti at an auction by Sotheby’s in London for 850 pounds from collector, J.R. Belmont.
After this, the Idol Wing suspected that other murtis in the temple could be faked and commenced investigation.
“We investigated other idols at the temple and could find that the idols were shifted to the Icon Centre (for safe keeping),” DGP, Idol Wing, Jayanth Murali, told media persons.
The Idol Wing investigating officer approached the French Institute of Pondicherry (FIP) for the images of the murtis – of Kalinganarathna Krishna, Vishnu and Sridevi – and compared it with the images of the murtis at the Icon centre that were kept for safekeeping, and found they were different.
The DGP said that the three murtis at the Icon Centre looked modern replicas of the original murtis which raised suspicions that they probably had been stolen, and experts confirmed this.
The Kalinganarathna Krishna murti was traced to Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, the Vishnu murti to Kimbell Art Museum, Texas, and the Sridevi murti to Hills Auction Gallery, Florida.
The DGP said that the Sridevi murti was auctioned by Hills Auction Gallery and that the Idol Wing has taken steps through proper channels to recover the murtis.
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