Three antique idols, including a Kalinganarthana Krishna, stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu’s Kumbakonam have been traced to museums/auction houses in the United States, the Idol Wing CID said on Thursday.
Bronze idols of Krishna, Vishnu and Sridevi of Kalinganarthana were stolen from the Arulmigu Soundararaja Perumal temple of Sundara Perumalkovil village in Kumbakonam.
According to the police, the idols of Krishna, Vishnu and Sridevi of Kalinganarthana were replaced with fake images in the temple about 60 years ago and it went unnoticed over the years.
After the investigation found that the idols were in museums/auction houses in the US, the wing submitted a paper seeking the return of all three to Tamil Nadu for restoration at the Soundararaja Perumal temple, Idol Wing DGP K. Jayanth Murali said.
While Kalinganarthana’s Krishna idol was traced to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, USA, Vishnu’s idol was found at the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas and Sridevi’s idol was found at the Hills Auction Gallery in Florida.
The investigation was initiated following a complaint filed on February 12, 2020 by Ka Raja, the managing officer of the Arulmigu Soundararaja Perumal Temple. In his complaint, the officer alleged that some miscreants had stolen Thirumangai Alwar’s idol and replaced it with a fake one.
During the investigation, Assistant Superintendent of Police P Chandrasekaran found that the idol was stolen around 60-65 years ago and replaced with a replica.
Meanwhile, an independent scholar informed the Ashmolean Museum that the Thirumangai Alwar idol in the museum could be a stolen idol based on an archival image of the idol in its possession and the presence of the same idol in the Sri Soundararaja Perumal Temple.
It was later revealed that in 1967 the Ashmolean bought the bronze statue from Sotheby’s in London for £850 from a collector named JR Belmont. And by the time Idol Wing submitted its paperwork to the UK to return the idol, the museum proactively decided to take steps to retrieve the idol, the statement said.
A few months ago, the Senior Curator and Conservator of the Department of Oriental Art, MK Landrus, was sent to Kumbakonam to confirm the travel of the idol from Kumbakonam to the Ashmolean museum through field investigations.
The theft of Thirumangai Alwar’s idol raised the suspicion of the Idol Wing and the wing decided to investigate the other missing idols from this angle. But by this time the three idols were in the Icon Center. The investigating officer sought the help of the Pondicherry Indo-French Institute to identify the images in the Icon Centre. After comparison, it was found that the idols of the Soundararaja Perumal Temple, believed to be in safe custody at the Icon Centre, were not genuine and the original idols were missing, the statement said. After a long, thorough search of various websites, the police finally found the three idols in several museums in the United States.