A panchaloha idol of Lord Nataraja, which was stolen from a temple in Kallidaikurichi in Tirunelveli in 1982, returned to Tamil Nadu to a grand reception at MGR Chennai Central railway station on Friday morning.
It was taken in a procession and poojas were performed. Many offered worship, turning the busy railway station into a place of worship.
Later, the idol was taken by road to Kumbakonam, where it would be produced at a special court for idol theft cases, before it is handed over to the temple.
The idol, along with three others, was stolen from the ancient temple. After the Nataraja idol was traced to a museum in Australia, the sleuths initiated steps to get it back. Officials noted that there were more stolen idols in foreign countries like the US, Australia and Singapore, and efforts were on to retrieve those artefacts back.
The two-and-a-half-foot idol was stolen on July 5, 1982, from the Kulasekaramudayar Aramvalartha Nayaki Amman temple at Kallidaikurichi in Tirunelveli district, and was smuggled out of the country. The nearly centuries-old idol, weighing around 100 kg, was stolen after breaking open the doors of the sanctum sanctorum.
Along with the Nataraja idol, panchaloha idols of Sivakami, Manickavasagar and Sribali Nayagar were also stolen.
Though the local police registered a case, it was closed two years later after the police said the idols could not be detected. A couple of years ago, the case was handed to Idol Wing headed by Ponn Manickavel. After the investigators repeatedly wrote to Australian authorities and Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) where the idol was in display for 19 years, they agreed to return it, police noted.
Talking to reporters at the railway station, Ponn Manickavel said he spent his pension money to bring the idol back to Chennai. ‘’We have no funds...we used our own money for train travel,” he said. He charged that some officials were giving wrong report to the State government against the Idol Wing team and no fund was allocated despite court orders.