Hundreds of ancient idols and artefacts carved out of wood, stone, bronze and other metals are reportedly lying out in the open at the premises of the CBI-CID’s Economic Offence Wing in Guindy, Chennai.
As per a report in The Hindu, the Tamil Nadu government’s Idol Wing police has its offices at the CBI-CID’s EOW building. The artefacts and idols, seized over the years by the Idol Wing from different locations have simply been dumped on the premises at the mercy of the elements.
The artefacts include centuries-old stone sculptures, idols, stone pillars, wooden artefacts, ‘vahanas’ or ritual vehicles, and other antiquities. They have simply been dumped in the open garages and ground of the building premises. As per the report, the artefacts are separated from the Adyar river by just a wall.
The report further states that the artefacts include seized antiquities from several Idol Wing raids over the years. Among these are over 800 stone sculptures that the Idol Wing had recovered in 2016 from the godown and gallery of antique dealer G Deenadayalan in Alwarpet.
Following the Alwarpet raid, 200 wooden artefacts had been recovered from an associate of Deenadayalan in Kuchikadu on the outskirts of Chennai.
These artefacts were seized when the legendary officer AG Pon Manickavel was the Inspector General of the Idol Wing police.
As per The Hindu report, there are several legal and bureaucratic hurdles before the artefacts and idols can be handed over to the rightful owners or custodians. The Idol Wing cannot hand them over before the court trial is over and the trials usually take years.
The Idol Wing has managed to restore some stolen idols in their rightful place after completing the due legal procedure. The famous Kallidaikurichi Nataraja idol was retrieved from Australia and was finally returned to the Sri Kulasekaramudaiyar Temple. Similarly, some idols from the Tanjavur Brihadeeshwara temple that were recovered from the Sarabhai Museum were also restored. However, hundreds of artefacts are still waiting for the completion of legal procedures.
Bureaucratic Red Tape
AG Pon Manickavel, who has been made the special officer of the Idol Wing by court order after his retirement, has been quoted by The Hindu as saying that the government museum at Egmore has refused to allocate space to house the artefacts. Other efforts to procure shelter for the artefacts are also tangled up in departmental process and paperwork.
A Times Of India report in March this year had mentioned how the government museum at Egmore had asked the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR & CE) department to provide strong rooms for the over 410 artefacts dumped on their campus by the Idol Wing police.
Unable to find a suitable place for the artefacts, the museum had finally asked the HR & CE department to take the artefacts back as they needed the space for development work.
Some experts have suggested that just as the ASI has opened a special museum in Delhi’s Purana Quilla for seized artefacts, the Tamil Nadu government should also do something similar.