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Thursday, October 1, 2020

74 idols recovered from a Criminal's house in Pondy - what is our reaction !!

How often do you go to temples ? – and what did you do during Covid lockdown from Mar 20 to Sept 7 when Temples did not allow devotees – and how many times have you had darshan once Temples reopened ? – which is your native place ? – how often do you go there – what is the state of the Temple at that place > - which is your kulatheivam kovilm, when was your last visit ?

In Tamil Nadu, there are more than 40000 temples administered ! by HR&CE Dept ie., directly under the governance of the State Govt.  Why Temples should be administered by the State; why it is no for other religious places ? – and what exactly is administration ? – why so much of overheads and costs ? – why should the Department purchase luxury cars for use of officials and Ministers when at times repair of Temple rath takes months .. Q and more Qs – one would feel very sad. 

The Madras High Court in a recent judgment has held that any policy decision or such decisions that have serious financial implications on a Temple can only be taken by a "duly constituted board of Trustees". The Bench of Justice GR Swaminathan has clarified that an Executive Officer/ a Fit Person can only act as a "stopgap arrangement" to attend to the "day to day necessities" for a temporary period to tide over certain difficulties or contingencies.   The order was passed in a writ petition challenging the tender notification issued by the Executive Officer for providing house-keeping service in the Arulmighu Dhandayuthapani Swami Temple, Palani, and the institutions attached to it.  Just go to the famous temple near your place and check for yourself on – when did the duly constituted board of Trustees existed or at least there are proper officials – in most places, the Executive officer plays the dual role of Fit Person also .. .. sad state of affairs.

There was another case – wherein it was averred that the Kondal Kumarasubramanya Swamy temple situated at Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam, owned by the petitioner who were the trustees of the temple and administered the same. The daily practice of the temple to open the doors at 5.30 p.m., in the morning and closed at 8.p.m., in the evening. While being so, on 17.02.2020 the petitioner went to the temple to open the doors of temple but, he found that the gates were broken and realized that three idols viz., Lord Subramanya Swamy, Goddess Valli and Goddess Deivaanai were missing, the value of the theft is more than five lakhs. [why and how the belief of devotees on a temple idol is monetized – the moolavar idols are made of solid blackstone and would value lesser than the aimpon or golden vigrahas but belief is a totally matter altogether] He also found that the gold jewels and money kept in the steel cupboard had not been stolen.

The 2 Respondents were The Inspector of Police Sirkazhi and DGP Economic Offences Wing  stating that the first respondent did not take any steps to find out the accused persons and the complaint is pending on the file of the first respondent.   For investigation of idol theft cases the Government of Tamil Nadu is constituted a separate wing. The second respondent is headed the idol theft wing and have the jurisdiction to investigate the idol theft case. Therefore, the petitioner sought for transfer the investigation from the file of the first respondent to the second respondent.  The Court considering the   facts and circumstances,   directed to entrust the crime to the Jurisdiction of Idol Theft Wing and investigate the same.

Sadly – that statement would make hearts of believers bleed – vigrahams of Gods have been stolen from Temples and no action is taken by the authorities.  The HR&CE Dept which appoints officers and pays salaries to so many persons from out of the funds (not to speak of the wasteful expenditure and transfer of funds to many other schemes of Govt) would not effectively follow up the crime. In some cases, the idols are kept in vaults and safe-deposits or in some other bigger temples – what a travesty of justice !! – Believers right from the ages of Kings built Temples and placed Lords where they were to be worshipped – what purpose would be served by keeping the same idol (safe !) elsewhere !! –       and what right do the Department / officials have to administer when they are not able to keep the Temples safe !

In 1951 Annamuthu Padayatchi of Sivapuram, Thanjavur unearthed 6 idols viz., Natarajar, Thirugnanasambandar, Somaskandar, Pillaiar and two Amman from his field. The Collector of Thanjavur, handed over the 6 idols to the temple authorities of Sri Sivagurunathasamy Temple of Sivapuram as per G.O.Ms.No. 2987/Revenue Department dated 29.10.1953. The trustees of the temple wanted to repair the idols and this work was entrusted to Ramasamy Sthapathy of Kumbakonam in the year June 1954.   In the year 1956 Thilakar of Kuttalam and his brother Doss induced Ramasamy Sthapathy to part with the original Natarajar and 5 other idols and to substitute the same with fake idols. Thilakar dispatched the original Natarajar idol to Lance Dane of Bombay , an Art Collector, arranged by Doss who kept the idol for 10 years and sold it to Bomman Beharan of Bombay who in turn sold it to Menu Narang. Benn Haller of New York bought it for 6 Lakhs rupees in 1969 and sold it to Norton Simon Foundation for USD .9 Lakhs .. .. how sad !!

In all probability you would have read or skipped the news that appeared in Newspapers [Times of India & Indian Express] -  an  idol wing team of the Tamil Nadu police on Thursday raided a house on Roman Rolland Street in the former French quarters in Puducherry town and seized 74 antique idols.

The house belongs to Jean-Paul Rajarathinam. Of the 60 metal and 14 stone idols seized, Lord Nataraja and Goddess Ambal idols were about three-foot-tall, while others were between one and three feet in height. The artefacts may be more than 100 years old, said inspector general of police (idol wing CID) T S Anbu. They may have been stolen from various TN temples over the years, he said.

The officer said the team had seized documents dated 1976 claiming ownership of the idols, and the records will be checked for their genuineness. The seized items included deities of Ardhanarishara, Shiva and Parvathi and Alingana Pradosa Murthy, among others. Acting on a tip-off, the team, led by Superintendent of Police (Idol Wing CID) R Sakthivel, searched the house of Jean-Paul Rajarathinam for four hours based on a warrant issued by a special court. The SP said steps were on to identify the temples from where these idols could have been stolen.The idols would be returned to these temples, the SP said.

The ancestral house on Romain Rolland Street (opposite to the Department of Art and Culture) was searched in the presence of the owner Jean Paul Rajarathinam and the idols were recovered.  There has been no arrest of anyone in connection with the seizure in Puducherry, said Sakthivel. Incidentally, Rajarathinam is the brother of Marie Therese Anandi Vanina, 37, a French woman of Indian origin whose house on Frederick Ozanam Street, Colas Nagar, Puducherry was raided in 2016 by the idol wing CID and 11 antique bronze idols worth several crores of rupees were seized.  She was subsequently arrested by the idol wing CID in August 2019 in Chennai on charges of illegally exporting stolen antique idols and artifacts for several years from Puducherry to France. She and her husband Prabakaran, residents of France, allegedly used to stock the illegally procured artefacts and idols in their Puducherry house before shipping them to France via Colombo. Her grandfather Joseph de Condappa and father Gerold were antique dealers in Puducherry. After their demise, she and her brother reportedly split the share of the idols and she shifted her share from the house on Romain Rolland Street to her residence in Colas Nagar.

Idol theft cases were investigated by a small team of officials in CB-CID till the year 1980. In 1980s a  proposal was initiated by the Director-General of Police to re-organize the strength allotted for investigating the idol theft cases.  An Idol wing under EoW was formed for investigating cases of theft of idols.  

74 idols found in a criminal’s home – what is reaction ? – to which place, Temple, these idols belonged ? – when were they lost ? – did the authorities managing temples filed FIR and was there any follow-up at all ?  Sad is the state of affairs and it pains to see so many Gods at one place !

~a devotee with pain and anguish



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