NAGAPATTINAM: The Tamil Nadu Idol Wing CID has traced a 1,000-year-old idol of a Chola queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, which was stolen from Sri Kailasanathaswamy Temple of Sembiyanmadevi village, to a museum in the United States.
Steps have been initiated to bring back the idol. The Idol Wing CID identified the three-and-a-half-foot tall 10th century idol at Freer Gallery of Arts in Washington DC. “We are working to bring the idol back to our country at the earliest and restore it to the temple under UNESCO treaty,” said K Jayanth Murali, DGP of Tamil Nadu Idol Wing CID.
Sembiyan Mahadevi was a title conferred to queens of Chola kings. The most prominent of them was the wife of Gandaraditya Chola, mother of Utthama Chola and grandaunt of Rajaraja Chola I. She had built several Saivite temples in and around the delta region, including Sri Kailasanathaswamy Temple in Nagapattinam district.
The village was named after her. Officials said unknown persons had stolen the idol sometime before 1929. The Freer Gallery of Art purchased it from archaeologist Hagop Kevorkian for an undisclosed price in 1929. Hagop Kevorkian died in 1962.
The Idol Wing CID is investigating how Hagop Kevorkian got hold of the idol. The investigation began after advocate E Rajendran complained at Velankanni police station in 2018 about the theft of the idol. He claimed to have visited Freer Gallery of Arts in 2015 and seen the idol. In his complaint, he alleged the idol was stolen around 1958 which was disputed by the Idol Wing.
Plaint claims nexus between idol thieves, dept
According to the Idol Wing CID, Rajendran’s complaint implied that the HR&CE department was hand-in-glove with persons who stole the idol. “We know the idol was stolen before 1929 and not in 1958. Since the HR&CE Department did not exist around 1929, we are ruling out its involvement,” Jayanth Murali said. The official said the stone idol in the shrine at Kailasanathaswamy temple was made after the theft of the original idol.
TNIE spoke to Sembiyanmadevi residents, most of whom were dumbfounded by the reports. “We used to hold a special festival every year on Chithirai Pouranami for our ‘Queen’ where all married women present her with sarees.
Yet, we did not know that the original idol was stolen,” said S Suresh. The villagers, however, were relieved on learning about the discovery of the idol and are in awe of its make and ancient history. N Gnanasabapathi, a 50-year-old priest, said,
“There were differences in temple administration methods before and after Independence. So, owing to communication gap, many of us (priests) were not aware of the idol going missing. We are very happy to welcome back the idol.”