CHENNAI:The idols sculpted by artisans of ancient Tamil Nadu hold a special charm all across the world - a fascination that has made smuggling of these idols a lucrative trade profitable enough to lure even a Tamil film director.
According to officials and experts whom Express spoke to, these are idols stolen from derelict temples from across the State, where they are lying in ruins without much apparent value - material or spiritual. But as they cross borders, these neglected idols are much sought-after by private collectors and even museums across the developed world, who are ready to shell out substantial amounts to acquire the artefacts.
As these precious idols are exported after declaring them as ‘handicrafts with no antique value’, the Idol Wing Criminal Investigation Division has mooted exhaustive measures, including the formation of Joint Clearance Certification scheme, for export of handicrafts in order to protect the antique idols.
Sources said the Economic Offences Wing has already written to the higher authorities to make it mandatory to obtain Clearance Certificate issued by three agencies - Archeological Survey of India (ASI), Idol Wing, and Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) - before exporting handicrafts.
“Some say handicraft export will be hit by red tapism if we enforce the joint clearance certification scheme. But that is not true,” said a senior official. The wing has suggested that Customs give a window of 24 hours for each department to clear the application, with the condition that if they fail to clear it in three days, it could be considered as clean and may be exported. “No agency requires more than 24 hours to decide whether the particular work of art, be it metal or stone sculpture, is of antique value. The system will also have integrated online portal wherein the status requests can be tracked on real-time,” the official added.
Some suggestions to safeguard idols include engraving the native State, the historical era it belongs to, the antiquity and other such information. “If such details are engraved in metal over the idols, it will not affect or alter the original qualities including its antiquity,” said another police official.
Following a directive from the Idol wing, officials in all 32 districts undertook risk assessment and listed 45,000 temples under three risk categories - high, medium and low - and conveyed the details to HR & CE officials. They have also been advised to get antiquity certificate from ASI.