CHENNAI: In a country where politicians and public alike go on a vanity parade about its ancient ‘cultural richness’, it can be said little has been done to preserve it. The number of artefacts being smuggled out and finding home in foreign art galleries over the years bears testimony to it. On June 7, the US announced it would return more than 200 pieces of artefacts to India when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the country.
Around the same time, closer home, the Idol Wing-CID of the State police were a week into an operation that would result in a haul of more than 250 idols and ancient paintings from the properties of a Chennai-based ‘art dealer’, who was arrested on June 21.
G Deenadayalan (84), the art dealer, is now cooling his heels in the Central Prison at Puzhal – the same jail complex which houses Deenadayalan’s most illustrious buyer Subash Chandra Kapoor, who was arrested at Frankfurt airport and extradited to India in 2011. The octogenarian was booked under the Antiquity and Art Treasures Act, 1972.
Deenadayalan, police believe, is one of the three important operators of Subash Kapoor, a high-profile Indian American antique smuggler, who ran a gallery in New York. The other being Sanjeevi Ashokan, who helped Kapoor smuggle out a bronze Natarajar idol from Sripuranthan Temple in Ariyalur district.
Deenadayalan surrendered to the police on June 3, four days after the idol wing raided his house on Murray’s Gate Road in Alwarpet. “He was at Bengaluru with his daughter when the raids were conducted. After we issued summons to appear with his counsel and show documents for the seized idols, he surfaced,” said an investigating officer.
What turned the idol wing’s attention towards Deenadayalan is a story in itself. A G Pon Manickavel, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Idol Wing-CID, was in Chittoor on High Court orders to conduct investigation about a botched-up police investigation, in which a man, who, the police claimed, was dead, turned up alive. “I received inputs while in Chitoor about the racket operating from Chennai. I was told about idols being loaded onto trucks from a bungalow in Alwarpet and I alerted my team to check on it,” the IGP said.
The sleuths, posing as policemen on passport verification drive, entered the house and after confirming the presence of antique idols, made the first round of seizures on May 30. That’s when the focus shifted towards Deenadayalan, a native of Kadappa in Andhra Pradesh, who set up an art gallery in Chennai in 1965. Police say that he had never obtained licence to run one in Chennai. Eventually, the art connoisseur and collector would transform into a temple raider and a smuggler, with part of a racket transcending continents, with mind-boggling finances. The money involved is too high.
Deenadayalan was treated generously by Subash Kapoor. “He was paid `1.3 crore for smuggling a Konkani (Goan) painting,” the IG said. An idol which he smuggled out was valued at $25 lakh (`16 crore approx) at Subash’s art gallery, it was found.
The octogenarian, however, is not new to police investigations. In 2005, he was named as one of the accused in an idol theft case reported at Narumpoothanar temple in Palavur in Tirunelveli district. The theft was orchestrated by a jewellery shop owner, who was eventually murdered. “Deenadayalan evaded arrest by seeking an anticipatory bail. The case is still under trial,” said an officer with the Idol Wing.
Eleven years after that, his name has surfaced only now. The idols recovered from him belonged to temples from across the State and a few are from temples in Karnataka and Amaravati region in Andhra Pradesh.
An export clearance from the Handicrafts Department is obtained easily by the likes of Deenadayalan, who use the same to ship antique materials out of the country. It is illegal to export antique items and most of the idols that Deenadayalan shipped were more than 1,500 years old, police said, adding that meetings with clients and transactions were usually conducted in Bangkok.
The process went on and no one was in the know until Deenadayalan’s arrest. The strength of Idol Wing unit is not inspiring either – an eight-member team to investigate stolen idols from temples across the State. Deenadayalan’s arrest led to the arrest of one more associate – Lakshmi Narasimhan on Friday. Nine panchaloha idols were seized. “He runs a gallery spread on a half-acre land in Kuchikadu, an interior village off Mahabalipuram,” Pon Manickavel said.