Theft of Hindu idols in Tamil Nadu and safety precautions taken by the state government and ASI

stolen ancient Hindu idols. smuggled abroad. Times of India
I have neither read any media news  nor heard of  large scale theft of idols of Hindu deities in other parts of India other than Tamil Nadu, a haven for idol thieves and smugglers.
Temple thefts do occur in other states in India  and it is not on a scale that we find in Tamil Nadu where the temple officials wantonly commit the crime, unmindful of the sanctified place, involving divinity revered by the Hindu devotes. The nabbing of a two member gang for idol theft by Rachakonda police, Telengana  and the Panchkula temple (Haryana state)  jewelry theft may  be worth  mentioning.  The large scale theft of  ancient temple metal idols steeped in history  in the last one decade or so in Tamil Nadu is a sad news and, the culprits in most cases, operate in collusion with  the  shameful officials of the HR & CE - Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment, an arm of the  Tamil Nadu government that controls more than 37,000 Hindu temples, their antique and valuable  jewelry collections, and vast movable and immovable properties.  In 1923, during the colonial rule. Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act was passed by Madras Presidency.  It was in 1925, the Government constituted "The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board" consisting of a President and two to four Commissioners nominated by the Government to function as a statutory body.  In 1960, modifications were made  and  it became The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department  (HR & CE) by Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act XXII of 1959 which came into force with effect from 1 January 1960. It was the Justice party that ruled the government then   first put the  Hindu temples under the government control and this was done to avoid mismanagement of temple properties, etc by certain local unscrupulous, influential  rich men.  
In the last few years several higher-ups in the HR & CE department had hoodwinked the public and stolen highly valuable idols and jewelry worth crores of rupees from the holy temples. They  were meant for the international market for a hefty price. The officials who  are supposed to be the guardians and custodians of the Hindu temples, have turned to be much worse than Sicilian mafiosi, swindling public properties for personal gains. Good examples are the temple jewelry of Uppiliappan kovil (near Kumbakonam: vide The Hindu, dtd. 8 April 2016) that were replaced with fake ones and    Kanchipuram Ekampareswarer temple (vide 'Swarajya', dtd 15 March 2019) where  the officials tampered with  two essential utchavar idols weighing  110 kg gold and  misappropriated  the gold.  The unpalatable matter is both criminal offenses  were committed by senior officials of HR & CE, in the latter case, the culprit was the former HR & CE commissioner. In both cases the  offenders and their accomplices are behind the bar. Thanks to the crime branch of the Tamil Nadu Government for their sweeping action to bring the cheats to face punishment.  No doubt there are   countless dedicated  and god-fearing staff in the HR & CE, because of a small  group of wolves who seem to have atheist orientation, the entire department has earned the displeasure of the Hindu community in this state. It is unfortunate that people and media reports point out that such people who steal temple properties and idols have neither scruples nor  have respect for the Hindu religion. These offenders who are  believed to be anti- Hindu or not religious  are responsible for losing our  valuable ancients treasures that carry heritage value.In this regard, they are as bad as anti nationalists. In the case of icon center at the Tyagaraja Swamy temple, Tiruvarur, though  officials installed an elaborate system to safeguard the precious idols,  some  temple staff  remain as vulnerable as ever and thefts do occur. So, when the idols of different temples are taken out  and brought back after  temple festivals at the respective places,  elaborate check is made with the help of temple priests and others by the security officers from the Idol Wing CID and ASI. Besides, they also verify the antiquity of the idols from the knowledgeable priests. Somasundara Gurukkal, the priest of Thirukottaram temple mentioned about his temple idol, "This is Villendhivelan. Lord Muruga is holding a bow and such depiction could be seen in very few temples". It is a rare  ancient idol. About the Nataraja idol he said, ''We have a Nataraja statue bigger than what is in the sanctum sanctorum of the Chidambaram temple''.  This is routinely done at the icon center to keep an eye on the idol.

As for the Idumbeswarar temple near Kumbakonam, for instance, an old temple priest  of that temple was shocked when he found the ancient Manickavasagar idol  had been replaced by a replica made just a few years ago. Likewise, in Pandanallur, 62 idols in the Pasupatheeswarar temple  built by Chola King Kulotunga-I, had been been found to be of recent origin. What happened to the ancient metal idols. They disappeared over a period of time and the lethargic  temple officials would have been either careless or purposely overlooked the offense.  Well-known Archaeologist R. Nagaswamy has noted, “Pandanallur is referred to as Viruthiraja Payankara Vazhanadu. The term speaks for its wealth. How could idols, less than 100 years old, gain entry into such an ancient temple?”.

Responding to the  the directives of a Division Bench of the Madras High Court, comprising Justices R. Mahadevan and P.D. Adikesavalu, on a petition filed by Mr. Pon Manickavel, the Idol Wing-CID and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are checking the antiquity of idols that are currently stored at the Icon Centre in Thiyagarajaswamy temple in Tiruvarur. Advanced X-ray fluorescence analyzer (XFR) and other techniques are used by the Central government scientists to  find out the composition  of the metal idols and their age. Idols with more bass mean they are from different periods. Normally, copper is the main component, followed by tin, lead. zinc and traces of iron and phosphorus. The results are obtained in a jiff to find out whether the ancient idols are real one or tampered with by the crooks. The good news is last year in June, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had begun to take the first step in the right direction to put down the plundering and tampering of temple idols, jewels, etc by starting the headcount of more than one lakh (100000) ancient metal idols kept at various temples. The ASI needs additional staff to carry on this mammoth survey as it is a time-consuming one.