CHENNAI: In a major haul, sleuths from the Idol Wing of the State police recovered eight idols belonging to the later Chola era, worth over Rs 77 crore in the international market, from a small-time cinema production manager at West Mambalam here.
The seizure on Wednesday night, the third in a week, is the biggest haul in the last five years, said officials.
“Of the eight panchaloha idols we recovered, Perumal, Parvathi, Umayal Parameshwari, and a Shiva and Parvathi idol on a single pedestal, belong to the 10th Century. The other four idols, that of Vishnu, Sridevi, Boodevi, and Chakrathalwar, belong to the 13th Century,” Prateep V Philip, Additional Director General of Police, Economic Offences Wing, told mediapersons on Thursday.“Three of the idols have some beads and mangalsutra tied to them, suggesting that these were worshipped till recently before being stolen,” Philip told Express.
“There is a huge demand for artefacts belonging to the later Chola era in the US, Australia and European nations, where private art collectors are willing to pay millions of dollars for these idols,” he noted. He indicated that the idols were stolen from two famous temples in Vandavasi taluk of Tiruvannamalai district.
However, AG Pon Manickavel, DIG, Idol Wing said that there were no markings on the idols to establish the identity and the ownership.
The officials of the wing picked up Thanalingam (38), a native of Perambalur, while he was transporting the idols in an autorickshaw from West Mambalam to secluded spot for sale. He had worked as a production manager for a small-budget film that was released in November. Explaining the police operation that led to the seizure, Ashok Kumar Das, IG, Economic Offences Wing, said they were pursuing a specific input for the past three months and sent decoys posing as buyers to the smugglers to bring the idols out. “We are checking the idol burglaries reported in the past five years in Tiruvannamalai to find out the temples from which they were stolen,” added IG Das.
“Based on the demand for the artefacts, the kingpin fixes a price based on the antiquity and size of the idol. The network involved in smuggling often compete with each other, and these idols change hands at least four times before it is smuggled out of the country,” said an official privy to the investigation.