France stops auction of 500-year-old stolen TN idol after DGP flags issue

On Tuesday, Director General of Police K Jayanth Murali had tweeted seeking immediate halt of the auction.

Published: 16th December 2022 02:06 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th December 2022 02:06 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  Two days after Tamil Nadu  Idol Wing CID chief K Jayanth Murali put out a tweet regarding auctioning of a 500-year-old Nataraja idol in France, an auction house in Paris has cancelled the bidding scheduled for Friday.  The idol was stolen from a temple in Kovilpatti in 1972.

After the wing notified the state government about the auction, the information was passed on to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and the case was taken up with French authorities by the Indian Embassy in France, sources said.  

The auction house, Christie’s, had put out a notice on its website regarding the auction of the idol last week and the bid price was fixed at 2,00,000 to 3,00,000 Euros (approximately Rs 1.76 crore to Rs 2.64 crore).

On Tuesday, Director General of Police K Jayanth Murali had tweeted seeking immediate halt of the auction. “STOP AUCTION, Return it to us. This is stolen from India, TN,” Murali had tweeted tagging ‘Antiquities Coalition’, which runs an international campaign against cultural racketeering, and the Archeological Survey of India.

According to sources, the Indian Ambassador to France, Jawed Ashraf, told Murali that the auction house has withdrawn the auction and steps are on to bring the idol back to India. Murali told TNIE that the state police’s idol wing established communication through diplomatic channels to stop the auction. 

Idol was stolen from temple in Thoothukudi

“Tracking the person (successful bidder) after auctioning and then retrieving the idol is a long process. If the auction house has a stolen idol, based on UNESCO Heritage Treaty, they are mandated to return the antique to the home nation,” Murali said.

The idol, which belongs to Sri Kothanda Rameshwara Temple at Kayathar in Kovilpatti in Thoothukudi district, was stolen 50 years. The bronze idol belongs to the Vijayanagara period (15th-16th century).
Last week, officers of the wing found the idol listed for auction.

They then crosschecked the details with the images of the idols available with the Indo-French Institute (IFP), Puducherry. The images were found to be similar. “The picture on the Christie’s website and image received from IFP are of the same artefact,” an official, quoting experts, said.

The IFP image of the idol was taken in 1958 and the HR&CE department records reveal that the idol was stolen in 1972. While officials of the wing were not able to trace the FIR registered in 1972 in Kovilpatti police station, they found an entry in a station record that established the theft incident.


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