According to historian and epigraphist Kudavayil M Balasubramanian, when the idols are unearthed, it is the duty of the person to contact the local revenue department. However, these officials often do not appreciate the value of these artefacts and merely dump them in godowns, like any everyday commodity.
“These idols cannot be identified correctly, without expert opinion. Since the officials are not aware of the value of the idols, they place them in showcases in the museums which makes the task of smugglers easier. Many such idols have been stolen soon after keeping them in the showcases,” Balasubramanian claimed.
When asked about the effectiveness of the state government’s icon centres meant for safe keeping of temple idols, Kudavayil Balasubramanian pointed out that a lack of cooperation between the several departments involved in recovering and maintaining the idols, is a weak link.
“These antiques should be kept under one department-either by the museum or the archaeological department - only then can the responsibility remain focused,” he said. Shockingly, almost all the temples across the state do not have any photographic record of the idols located in the temples.
“Presently, the temples in Tamil Nadu depend on the French Institute of Indology in Puducherry for identifying the idols. The institute used to possess an anthology of the antiques and valuables located across the State,” the historian added. Once proper documentation of these ancient treasures is maintained, the recovery of stolen antiques would be easier.
Rajendra Chola period inscription
Icon centre at Thiyagaraja Swamy temple
The famous dancing Nataraja idol stolen from the ancient Sripuranthan temple in Ariyalur, is all set to return to its original abode, after it was stolen from the temple and found its way to National Gallery of Australia. As many as 3,910 idols are kept secure and locked at the Icon centre located inside the Thiyagaraja Swamy temple in Tiruvarur. Although the valuable bronze idols collected from all over Tamil Nadu were collected and kept at Tiruvarur temple earlier, a fully fledged Silaigal Padhugappu Mayyam (icon centre) was opened on October 11, 1986. The centre located near the western entrance of the temple is guarded round the clock by the police personnel.
If you come across abandoned idols
An individual cannot excavate anything, unless he/she is certified either by the state or central government departments. If one locates any abandoned idol, he/she should contact the local revenue department officials, the village administrative officer or the person in-charge of the archaeological department of the respective district or the local police, who would visit the spot and take custody of the idols recovered. It is illegal for an individual to keep the idols.
Third phase of Keezhadi excavation
In April this year, Union Minister for Culture and Tourism Mahesh Sharma, said that Rs 40 lakh has been earmarked for the third phase of excavation at Keezhadi archaeological site in Sivaganga district. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had excavated a major, ancient settlement in Keezhadi, which threw light on the ancient Tamil civilisation, believed to be over 2,500 years old. The excavation commenced in June 2015 and in the first phase as many as 42 pits of 10.5 metres depth were dug. Over 600 artefacts were unearthed in the first phase, including glass beads, palmleaf manuscripts, etc. The second phase commenced in January 2016, throwing up 5,000 artefacts. The third phase commenced in May this year.