The idol wing of Tamil Nadu police has registered FIR against 11 people, including Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment senior officials in connection with the theft of six Panchaloha idols from two temples in Thanjavur District
TS Venkatesan from Chennai
Like the proverbial ‘fence eating crops’, it has to come to light that the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR &CE) officials, who are mandated to protect the rare idols of Temples under their control, have indulged in stealing them for monetary gain. The State idol wing CID of the state police has registered a case against 11 people, including seven HR & CE department officials, in connection with the theft of six panchaloha idols, date back to nearly 1,500 years, from two temples in Thanjavur district, including Pasupatheeshwarar temple at Pandanallur near Thiruvidai Marudhur. It is to be noted that this is for the first time that HR&CE officials have been booked in an idol theft case. Earlier, two cops including a Deputy Superintendent of Police were arrested in connection with an idol theft that took place in Madurai in 2008.
The Madras High Court recently re-appointed Inspector General of Police A G Pon Manickavel as investigation officer in idol theft cases handled by the idol wing CID though he had been transferred as IGP, railways. Pon Manickavel and his team has swung into action and managed to identify idol smugglers and those who helped them stealing the idols from the Pasupatheeshwarar temple, and Idumbeshwarar temple at Shri Rangarajapuram, in Thanjavur District.
Preliminary inquiries revealed that HR&CE officials failed to bring the missing of the idols to their seniors’ attention. Inquiries revealed that K Kamaraj, executive officer of Pasupatheeshwarar Temple in Pandanallur, found that idols of Vinayagar, Pushpakarani, Valli, Deivayani, Amman of the Pandanallur temple, and a Vinayagar idol of Idumbeshwarar temple were missing in 2013. However, he did not report this to his seniors.
In a report submitted before the Madras High Court, the idol wing CID police officers said they had registered a case against 11 HR&CE officials, including Gajendran, Joint Commissioner of HR&CE in Mayiladuthurai, Gnanasekaran, Assistant Commissioner of HR&CE in Kumbakonam, K Kamaraj, Executive Officer of Pasupatheeshwarar temple, K Raja, head clerk of the Pasupatheeshwarar temple, Sekar Gurukkal and Jagatheesh Gurukkal, and a temple employee, apart from the trustees of the Pasupatheeshwarar temple Pasupathi Pillai, Manohar Pillai, Ramachandran and Saravanan.
Based on the complaint of R Venkataraman, 62, a resident of KK Nagar, the idol wing CID registered a case under the IPC Sections 457 (2) (trespass), 380 (2) (theft) and 202 (Intentional omission to give information of offence by person bound to inform).
Need Specialised Conservation: UNESCO Report
A six member UNESCO expert team carried out an inspection on the directions and the orders of Madras High Court. It found among other things, that idols and sculptures at a 1,000-year-old temple were vulnerable to theft. They also found several unauthorised structures on temple premises. In its report, the team said many historic temples across Tamil Nadu taken care by the HR&CE department are now in ruins. The report indicates that officials of the department have neglected the gross violations of rules and inexperienced conservation efforts that led to the “massacre” of ancient temples, leading to encroachment and destruction of ancient artefacts. “The quality of conservation work at the temples assessed during the mission varied to a large extent with some good examples, some mediocre works and some shocking scenes of demolition and massacre of historic temples,” the report said. The team was shocked to find a VIP guesthouse with a toilet in the prakaram (compound) of the famed Sri Arunachaleswarar Temple in Tiruvannamalai.
Temple Car on Sale
Antique lovers were shocked to know that a wooden temple car had been put on sale on social media. According to media reports, a Mumbai-based businessman dealing in restored furniture has put on sale a wooden chariot. It is learnt that it could be about 100 years old. Rajkumar Jain, the businessman, has displayed the chariot measuring 11ft x 11ft on the premises of his Mumbai shop Anemos in Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel. He showed a letter by a `Government-approved valuer of works of art” to justify the price tag ¬Rs 96 lakh. He was alleged to have procured the chariot, restored in parts, from an `anonymous” antique dealer from a Tamil Nadu village. He also assured the buyers that the same could be transported anywhere, even abroad to leading auction houses but after obtaining a “no objection certificate” from the ASI”s antiquity wing.
While the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 prohibits export of antiquities of more than 100 years old, authorised valuers provide a wide range of reference period while certifying them. TN HR and CE officials, the custodians of temple art and treasure, said they were unaware of the antecedents of the chariot.
A Hindu Munnani leader said it all started during the so-called Dravidian movement. He said the cadres who are non believers, were accommodated in Temple managing committees as officers. He said they were ones, who were looting the treasures, cash and jewels from offertory, assets of the temple. “Our demand to free the Hindu temple administration from the HR & CE and to set up a separate board on the lines of Wakf Board fell on deaf ears,” he added.