Theft of Hindu temples' antique idols - Tamil Nadu is haven for idol smugglers due to Government negligence!!

Stolen idol of nataraja, retrieved from Australia.

Stolen Hindu God idols,Nataraja,Ganesa, etc deccan Chronicle

World over there are all kinds of art and jewelry thieves who specialize in a particular field of operation in which they have a flair. For example some are interested  in rare and famous  paintings by well-known people, antiques of immense value  and rare artifacts,  while others are in valuable gemstones and jewelry of superb workmanship. Until  few decades ago one item that had been left out by the greedy and grasping smugglers  and thieves was the Indian temple treasures, particularly of South India. Accessing temple jewelry is a risky thing, so since 1970s  thieves and smugglers have paid serious attention to artistically made Hindu temple metal idols of  deities of great antiquity, dating back to more than 200 to 1000 plus years. Besides  their age of creation, they are made of five metals (in Tamil Iyemon) of superb quality, consisting of gold, silver copper, tin, zink  and lead  in specified proportion. Some argue bronze is not included. 

Since ancient time, especially in Tamil Nadu the practice of making Panchaloga(m) has been around being pursued by some hereditary families of sthapathis. and they mostly concentrated around Swamimalai and Nachiyar Kovil towns near Kumbakonam. For generations they;ve engaged in brass idol making, lamps of different types, etc.
It is the right metallurgical process and correct mixing of metal play a vital role in the quality of idols, for they give them durability and longevity and ever after several hundred years, they do not lose either their shine or overall quality, looking good as if they were made recently. Most importantly they are handcrafted after undergoing laborious metallurgical process. Such Hindu temple  metal idols of historical value  fetch a bundle on the international market. 

In  South India, particularly Tamil Nadu, there is not even a small village or hamlet that does not have a Hindu temple. In small villages there are hundreds of small Hindu temples that are in poor state for several reasons such as paucity of funds, lack of consensus among the local communities  to get the temples renovated and poor response from the Government agency. These temples carry many valuable idols of deities and sub deities that lie neglected. Though they are well secured and kept safely in the temple premises, considering their isolated locations, lack of extra security precautions, strong rooms, etc  thieves target such temples, sometime in collusion with local thugs or antisocial people. 

Though more than 1200 idol theft cases are pending before the Judiciary courts in Tamil Nadu state  less than 60 have been solved so far. The crux of the problem is once the idol is stolen, it keeps changing hands and places. Besides jurisdiction problems, for the tailing cops, the trail is  so long, at the fag end they become fatigued and lose the last thread that may lead them to the culprits. So, Countless cases  either go cold or remain unsolved due to loss of solid evidence or poor lead. In many cases, the kingpins of such operations remain Scott-free and as the punishment and investigations are not intense, in the absence of proper deterrent, they tend to steal temple idols, etc without any fear. In many cases, if eye witnesses come forward to give valid evidence before court, they run the risk of facing threats to their families  as well by the local dada's henchmen! 

"Global Financial Integrity, an advocacy group based in Washington, has estimated the illegal trade of art and artifacts to be worth about Rs 40,000 crore a year. And, Indian idols are much in demand. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 4,408 items were stolen from Indian temples between 2010 and 2012. In the past two decades, only 2,913 idols and antiquities have been traced to museums abroad. In 2011, UNESCO estimated that 50,000 idols and artefacts had been stolen from India till 1989. The number, apparently, doubled and tripled over the years..............According to conservative estimates, in any given decade starting from the 1950s, the number of idols smuggled out of India was between 10,000 and 20,000, and the worth was about Rs 20,000 crore.“ Next to human and drug trafficking, art is the most profitable business,” says Prateep Philip, additional director general of police, Tamil Nadu’s economic offences wing. (vide:https:// www.
In the case of temple idol theft, it is not a commercial conspiracy and theft, but it involves theft of national art and treasures of immense value. At stake is our national pride and dignity. Such thefts assume an ugly color and national importance because divinity is involved and the crime takes place on the premises of temple.

The following are some news items on idol thefts from Tamil Nadu:

01. Two panchaloha idols worth crores of rupees were found abandoned in an unused well in a private property here on Sunday evening. The idols of Ganapati and Murugan weighing  16 kg and 15 kg respectively are from a Tamil nadu temple. They are worth crores of rupees,” said Malayinkeezhu sub-inspector Riyas Raja.  The one-acre property owned by one Bhaskaran Nadar is  near the Block Office at Maniyaravila on the Malayinkeezhu-Ooroottambalamroad. 
http://www.newindianexpress. com/cities/thiruvananthapuram/2014/mar/17/Two-Panchaloha-Idols-Found-from-Well-587242.html
Idol & art thief Subhash Kapoor,

02. A Ganesha idol at the Toledo Museum of Art (Ohio, USA) that was likely stolen from the Sivan temple in Ariyalur in central Tamil Nadu may well find its way back soon. The museum got the idol from international art thief Subhash Kapoor, who was extradited to India and is currently being tried in Tamil nadu.  The Museum is ready to return the statue if there's reasonable evidence to prove its origin.  Mar 18, 2014,

03. Subhash Kapoor, the idol thief and the New York-based art dealer, is being tried in Jeyamkondan for smuggling 18 idols from Varadharaja Perumal temple in Suthamalli, Ariyalur. Kapoor is running an international racket, dealing with stolen hundreds of antiques and temple idols from India. Updated: Mar 17, 2014

04. Three Kapoor statues from Tamil Nadu still with NGA. The Australian government is reportedly considering returning the stolen Nataraja idol in Canberra National Gallery of Art (NGA). But there are at least 20 other artifacts from India that NGA bought from art thief Subhash Kapoor who is now undergoing trial in Ariyalur. Out of these, three artifacts – one bronze idol, one stone structure and two granite items – are from Tamil Nadu and were bought in 2005, three years before the Nataraja idol was purchased.... Mar 31, 2014,

05. Village keeps its faith as it awaits Nataraja's return from Australia.
For other Sripuranthan residents, the return of the statue would be a personal triumph and a religious occasion, but to Kasi, it would also give a sense of closure. Since his house is close to the temple, villagers and even the police initially suspected his involvement in the theft. Mar 31, 2014,

06. Two antique idols with archaeological significance were seized by sleuths attached to the Special Intelligence and Investigation Branch (SIIB) of Tuticorin Customs.  One stone idol weighing 17 kg and a metal idol of 1.48 kg were found concealed in coconut bags, Assistant Commissioner (SIIB), Custom House, Tuticorin, Piyush Bharadwaj, said here on Wednesday. May 14, 2015.

07. Tiruvannamalai Temple Gets Centuries-old Panchaloha Idols Back.
 Chennai: A six-century-old Athi Kesava Perumal temple in a village in Tiruvannamalai district got back its three main idols stolen earlier this year. They were worth Rs 30 crore in the international market.The idols were recovered after the Idol Wing trapped and arrested a small-time production manager and recovered eight antique idols from him in an operation, which was the biggest haul in the past five years.
On June 17, four idols-Perumal, Sridevi, Boodevi, and Sakkarathalvar-which were part of the loot recovered, had been returned to Prasanna Venkateshwara Perumal temple in Paiyur village, which lies only 2 km away from Athi Kesava Perumal temple.June 27, 2015.

08.  Ancient Idol of Lord Nataraja Stolen From Temple in Tamil Nadu.
A precious and ancient idol of Lord Nataraja was today found stolen from the Korukkai Veera Teswarar temple near Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu, police said. The temple being managed by the 'Dharmapuram Adheenam' is 1400 years old. The consecration of the temple was performed in 1959 by Adheenam himself.
.July 14, 2015

Kapoor's loot.

The news items mentioned above form just a tip of the ice burg.  There is no smoke without fire. It shows the collusion and nexus between  temple officials,priests i some case and the notorious  idol thieves and smugglers  Stealing and smuggling of sanctified Hindu temple idols is an act of blasphemy,  besides it is crime against our nation’s cultural and historic heritage. A perusal of news items in the media over the temple idol theft shows that  that our country has been losing antique items far more frequently than it has got them back. India signed the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property. The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, too has provisions for regulating trade in antiques.  As to the retrieval of Indian art objects stolen or illegally exported to other countries, what we need  is a better coordinated and concerted approach.  

The ASI as the primary agency  must come up with better strategy to  prevent thefts in places of worship and the state temple administration should cooperate with the central agency and introduce severe punishments to the culprits  and their accomplices in stealing and smuggling temple idols or any artwork of national or historical importance. Loss of our long cherished heritage is painful, more frustrating is a small section of natives - mostly atheists and anti  national get involved in large numbers.