3 idols stolen from TN temple over 40 years ago retrieved from UK

The British police on Tuesday handed over to India ancient idols of Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita that were stolen from Tamil Nadu in 1978, as part of growing efforts to return artefacts of India’s cultural heritage from across the world.

The online event was attended by Union minister of culture and tourism Prahlad Singh Patel, Tamil Nadu chief secretary K Shanmugam, DGP J K Tripathy, ADGP, idol wing CID, Abhay Kumar Singh and Co-Founder of India Pride project S Vijay Kumar. The idols believed to be dating back to the 15th century were traced to London after the idol wing CID reopened the case after several years.

“The quest started four years ago when our routine checks on web pages of dealers of Indian art threw up a rather interesting profile of a UK dealer. BADA profile (British Antique Dealers Association) web page showed a rather superlative example of a standing Vijayanagara Bronze,” he said.

The idols, being sent back to Tamil Nadu, were stolen from a temple built in the Vijayanagar period in the Nagapattinam district. They were voluntarily handed over to the police by an unidentified UK-based collector when informed that they were stolen property. Information from S Vijay Kumar of the India Pride Project helped trace and identify the idols, officials said.

Patel said that only 13 antique items were returned to India between 1947 and 2014, but after that, more than 40 such antiquities have returned home. “Efforts are also on to return one idol from the British Museum”.

The theft dates back to 1978 and led to an investigation by the Idol Wing of the Tamil Nadu Police working along with colleagues in the Metropolitan Police in London.

The unnamed collector, who had acquired the statues in good faith, was informed about their dubious provenance by the Met Police.

After matching them up with archival photographs from the 1950s held at the French School in Pondicherry, it was proved that the idols in his possession were those belonging to the Vijayanagara period and stolen from Sri Rajagopalaswami Temple at Ananthamangalam in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu.