Missing Chola queen Sembiayan Mahadevi's idol traced to US Museum

Chola queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, whose husband reigned 949-57 CE, was widowed at an early age and was a highly respected patron of the arts who devoted most of her life to temple commissions.
Chola queen Sembiayan Mahadevi's idol
Chola queen Sembiayan Mahadevi's idol

CHENNAI: A 10th-century idol of Chola queen Sembiayan Mahadevi, which is believed to be vanished from Kailasanathar Shiva temple in Sembiayan Mahadevi village nearly 100 years ago in Nagapattinam, has been possibly traced to Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC, by the Idol Wing, said a press note.

The idol which is three and a half feet tall was used as a procession deity in the temple.

Interestingly Sembiayan Mahadevi, grandmother of Raja Raja Cholan, is a character in the famous novel Ponniyin Selvan, which has been made into a movie by Mani Ratnam.

Chola queen Sembiayan Mahadevi's idol
TN Idol Wing traces 19th-century Serfoji painting to US museum

The Tamil Nadu Idol Wing, which began the investigation based on a complaint from E Rajendran, however, said that HR&CE officials have nothing to do with the disappearance of the temple as it vanished much before the establishment of the department.

Chola queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, whose husband reigned 949-57 CE, was widowed at an early age and was a highly respected patron of the arts who devoted most of her life to temple commissions.

During her lifetime, special celebrations marked her birthday in the Shiva temple in the town of Sembiyan Mahadevi, named after her, and a member of the royal family, probably her son, presented the metal portrait of the beloved queen in her honour. The Idol Wing believes that the image of the idol is probably that same sculpture.

"This highly stylised image could be an example of the blurring of lines between royal and divine in ancient Indian art. While the pose reminds one of the Goddess Parvati, featuring a tall, svelte image with drapery

clinging to her lower limbs, but individualised, it seems to resemble Sembiyan Mahadevi due to the shape of her face, pursed lips and a long nose," said a note from idol wing.

"Further, the complainant in his complaint has stated that the occurrence of theft of the idol took place after 1959. Still, our investigation reveals that the theft of the idol from the temple by unknown miscreants occurred before 1929 as the Freer Gallery of Art purchased the idol from Hagop Kevorkian in New York 1929 for an undisclosed price.

Hagop Kevorkian died in 1962. From whom and how Hagop Kevorkian acquired the idol is still a matter of investigation. As the HR& CE department did not exist before 1929; the involvement and role of the HR&CE department in the theft have been ruled out," the idol wing noted.

The Idol Wing investigation also confirmed that the existing idol of Sembiyan Mahadevi at the Shiva temple is fake and hopes to retrieve and restore the same to the Sembiyan Mahadevi Kailasanathar temple under the UNESCO treaty soon, said Jayanth Murali, DGP Idol Wing.

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