BANGALORE: The city police on Saturday nabbed three men trying to sell antique idols believed to be at least 10 centuries old.
The Central Crime Branch (CCB), which recovered the idols, suspects the gang is connected to an international network. If the idols are genuine, they are from the Chola era, police said. “The gang started from Tamil Nadu, went to Chandrapur in Andhra Pradesh, and from there proceeded to Belgaum. They came here in an attempt to find buyers,” said Hemant Nimbalkar, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime).
The alleged smugglers, Sudhir Shamkumar and Pundalik Kalabhant from Belgaum, and Ravi Gangadhar from Maharashtra, are in police custody.
Following a tip-off at 4 am, the police swung into action. “We sent two constables, pretending to be buyers, to Dhanvantri College. The idols were in the car, and the gang asked for `32 crore,” Nimbalkar said.
A team from the Archaeological Survey of India will be asked to assess the idols to confirm their period, value and history.
Meanwhile, CCB is keen to interrogate the arrested men and get to the bottom of the racket, Nimbalkar added. “We are not clear where or how the idols came into their possession, but we know they began their journey from Tamil Nadu,” he said.
The idols include a rare dancing Shiva (performing a gentle form, not the Thandava or the dance of destruction), for which the gang sought `12 crore. They wanted `10 crore each for the other two idols of goddesses. The idols are made from alloy of five metals, including copper, iron, silver and gold, police said.
Lathashree K S, public archaeologist, told Express “the stylistics definitely resembles bronzes from Chola dynasty.”
The single idol is not common. It is a form of Shiva typically found accompanied by the Devi and Nandi (his vehicle, the Bull). “I think there are only two or three of these. It also has a patination that is different from the two Devis,” she said.
She suspected the Devis are from separate panels. “The facial features are quite distinct. This form of the Devi is also referred to as Bhoga Shakti (revered for the benefit of auspiciousness),” she explained.
Lathashree believes it is possible the three idols were removed from different places or from a single storage godown.
“I have not found such images in commonly found books on the Chola bronzes. I am not sure if they have been removed from an official museum. I am guessing they were stolen from a temple godown, but that is a matter for investigation,” she said.