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Puducherry: Karaikal temple authorities lodge a complaint for theft of 8 antique idols six decades ago, 2 traced to a museum in New York

Eight antique idols of Hindu deities Rama, Sita, Hanuman, Narsimha, Sakkarathalvar, Thirumangaiazhvar, and Ammbal went missing from the temple between 1959 and 1962, but no complaint was lodged earlier

In an interesting turn of events, the temple administration of an ancient Hindu temple in Puducherry has filed a complaint about 8 antique idols that were stolen 60 years ago.

M Elangovan, the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Sri Varathraja Perumal temple in Melakasakudi, Nedungadu in Karaikal district, stated in his complaint filed at the Nedungadu Police Station that he took over as chairman of the board of trustees in 2015. He claimed that ex-board members informed him that eight antique idols of Hindu deities Rama, Sita, Hanuman, Narsimha, Sakkarathalvar, Thirumangaiazhvar, and Ammbal went missing from the temple between 1959 and 1962.

He also stated that no formal complaint was filed back then and till now and that the stolen idols were replaced with replicas in order to maintain the continuity of Pooja rituals and services for the devotees. Elangovan added in the complaint that the current members of the board were also unaware of the theft and that they recently got to know about the same.

The Nedungadu police filed a case against unidentified people under Section 379 (punishment for theft) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and initiated an investigation after the complaint was registered.

Vijay Kumar, the co-founder of India Pride Project (IPP) told the Times of India that IPP has been working on this case for over four years. He also expressed joy over the complaint filed by the board of trustees. 

Notably, two of the stolen idols have been traced to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City by the India Pride Project. The US museum acquired those idols after the 1970 UN convention on the means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Reportedly, the other idols are also in the USA.

In a series of tweets, Vijay Kumar shared pre-theft in situ pictures of the stolen Hanuman and Narsimha idols and matched them with those displayed in the Metropolitan museum. 

“wheels of justice finally…@metmuseum matched to theft at Mel Kasakudi temple Karaikkal,” tweeted Kumar.

Vijay Kumar urging the Metropolitan museum to return the idols of Hindu deities to India said, “Since the United States is also a signatory of the 1970 UN Convention, we expect the museum to do the right thing and restore the idols back to India.”

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