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Aug 02 2017 : The Times of India (Chennai)
 
Antique smugglers' mantra: Raze temples, strike gold
 
 
 
Illegal Demolition Of Ancient Temples Facilitates Theft Of Engraved Pillars, Walls & Chariots
Plundering of temples for rare icons is passé. It's ripping of temple parts in collusion with their `custodians' that is now causing concern. As shrines across Tamil Nadu are plundered for rare idols, demolition of temples in the name of restoration has facilitated theft of inscribed and medieval sculp tures engraved within pillars and walls and chariots, va hanas (vehicles of the gods) and idols. These ancient parts are now being parcelled and shipped abroad to be auctioned for a huge price.

A chariot, possibly an an tique from an old temple in Tamil Nadu, found its way to a store in Mumbai. Antique dealers provide authentication letters that give a wide reference range. Rajkumar Jain of Anemos, who purchased the chariot from an “anonymous“ dealer, told this journalist, who initially posed as a potential buyer, “The chariot is estimated to be 90-125 years old as per experts, and certification for the same can be provided to you.“

A senior Directorate of Revenue Intelligence officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told TOI, “This is a regular modus operandi of art dealers and valuers. They give a wide reference range to circumvent the law.“ When asked if the rath could be exported, Jain replied, “We might need to get an NOC from the antiquities department (of Archaeological Survey of India).“

Internet market places like ebay and online antique shops in Hong Kong and Thailand are busy today, blatantly selling pieces of Indian heritage, said S Vijaykumar, a heritage enthusiast, who helps to track stolen idols. “Quite often we think the illicit trade in antiquities is restricted to big ticket Chola bronzes in high-end art auctions. But, there is a much larger illicit market in low-end artifacts comprising temple chariots, vahanas, temple lamps, utensils, Tanjore paintings and even antique temple jewellery,“ said Vijaykumar, who is based in Singapore.

Last year, the Madras high court cracked down on brutal demolitions of ancient temples, managed by the staterun Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department, in the name of restoration. It constituted a panel of experts and appointed an amicus curiae, former advocate general P S Raman, to head it. The court also suggested that an UNESCO team advise the state gov ernment on restoration and strengthen ing of crumbling temples.

“But, even after the court action, temples are being pulled down indis criminately. The demolition of the 500-year-old Nageswara Swamy temple at Unjalur near Erode and the 1000-year old Chola-era Naganathasamy (Shiva) temple are examples,“ said temple his torian and epigraphist R Nagaswamy.

It is shocking that the Naganathasamy temple in Manambadi village near Kumbakonam was pulled down six months after the state government de clared it an ancient monument. The engraved slabs gradually disappear over the years, said Nagaswamy .

“During our documentation visits to sites, we shudder at the treatment meted out to these treasures -many more than 150 years old and classic testaments to the wood craft of our ancient craftsmen,“ said Vijayakumar. Temple authorities purposely let them lie in the open in dilapidated sheds. Though exposed to the elements, the damage is superficial. Some managers then declare the vahana or chariot to be damaged beyond repair and obtain permission to auction them. The auctions are rigged so that a particular cartel bids a n d at d i r t ch e ap p r i c e s, s a i d Vijayakumar. Former idol wing chief A G Pon Manickavel, recently transferred to Railway, said ancient temple pillars with images had been part of 85-yearold smuggler G Deenadhayalan's collection. They were seized and now rot in the Chennai museum.

A Unesco team, led by its section chief and programme specialist for culture Moe Chiba and including courtapproved architect Shikha Jain visited 33 ancient temples that faced risk of demolition. The team is expected to submit a report soon. Email your feedback with name and address to southpole.toi@ timesgroup.com

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Aug 02 2017 : The Times of India (Chennai)
 
7 HR&CE officials among 11 booked in idol theft case
Chennai:
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
 
 
 
The idol wing CID of the state police has registered a case against 11people, including seven Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) department officials, in connection with the theft of six panchaloha idols from two temples in Thanjavur district, including Pasupatheeshwarar temple at Pandanallur near Thiruvidai Marudhur.

The priceless idols date back nearly 1,500 years, said sources, adding that this was the first time HR&CE officials have been booked in an idol theft case.

The Madras high court recently re-appointed inspector general of police A G Pon Manickavel as investigation officer in idol theft cases handled by the idol wing CID in spite of his being transferred as IGP, railways.

Pon Manickavel, who now holds additional charge as investigation officer in the idol wing CID, and his team swung into action and managed to identify idol smugglers and those who helped them stealing the idols from the Pasupatheeshwarar temple, and Idumbeshwarar temple at Shri Rangarajapuram, in Thanjavur district.

Preliminary inquiries revealed that HR&CE officials failed to bring the missing of the idols, said to be worth several crores of rupees, to the notice of their higher-ups. Inquiries revealed that K Kamaraj, executive officer of Arulmigu Shree Pasupatheeshwarar Temple in Pandanallur, noticed that idols of Vinayagar, Pushpakarani, Valli, Deivayani, Chandrasekar Amman of the Pandanallur temple, and a Vinayagar idol of Idumbeshwarar temple were missing in 2013. However, he failed to report this to his senior officers and gave a clean chit to the then HR&CE commissioner.

As the officer didn't even lodge a complaint at the local police station, he has been deemed to have been deeply involved in the case.

In a report submitted before the Madras high court, the idol wing CID police officers said they registered a case against 11 CE officials, including Gajendran, joint commissioner of HR&CE in Mayiladuthurai, Gnanasekaran, assistant commissioner of HR&CE in Kumbakonam, K Kamaraj, executive officer of Pasupatheeshwarar temple, K Raja, head clerk of the Pasupatheeshwarar temple, Sekar Gurukkal and Jagatheesh Gurukkal, and a temple employee, apart from the trustees of the Pasupatheeshwarar temple Pasupathi Pillai, Manohar Pillai, Ramachandran and Saravanan.

Based on the complaint of R Venkataraman, 62, a resident of K K Nagar, the idol wing CID registered a case under the IPC Sections 457 (2) (trespass), 380 (2) (theft) and 202 (Intentional omission to give information of offence by person bound to inform).

02_08_2017_001_043_006.jpgAug 02 2017 : The Times of India (Chennai)
 
Ancient temple chariot from TN on sale for Rs 96L
Chennai
 
 
 
 
India's heritage, at least parts of it, seems to be on sale on social media.

AMumbai-based businessman dealing in restored furniture has put on sale a wooden chariot usually associated with old Tamil Nadu temples.Some experts say it could be about 100 years old. Rajkumar Jain, the businessman, has displayed the chariot measuring 11ft x 11ft on the premises of his Mumbai shop Anemos in Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel.

He also flaunts an authen tication letter by a `government-approved valuer of works of art' to substantiate the price tag ­ `96 lakh.The source of the chariot, restored in parts, is an `anonymous' antique dealer from a Tamil Nadu village.

This journalist posed as a potential buyer and was informed by Jain that the chariot could be transported anywhere, even abroad to auction houses like Sotheby's or Christie's, but after obtaining a `no objection certificate' from the ASI's antiquity department. On where he sourced the chariot from, Jain, in an e-mail, told the journalist, before she identified herself, “Temples are very discreet when they dispose such artifacts. They deal through their preferred agents and choose to remain anonymous.“

He added later that he got the chariot in several parts, packed into a few gunny bags and later reassembled.

While the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 prohibits export of antiquities of more than 100 years old, authorised valuers provide a wide range of reference period while certifying them. In the case of the chariot, Anemos provides an authentication letter signed by former curator of Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay Shridhar Andhre, a government-approved valuer of works of art.Andhre says from its style and form, the chariot “appears to be of South Indian origin, perhaps from Tamil Nadu, of about 75 to 100 years old“.

Officials of Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments department, the custodians of temple art and treasure, said they were not aware of the antecedents of the chariot. While HR & CE chief Stapathi M Muthiah is yet to `see' the picture of the chariot sent to him on Whatsapp several days ago, commissioner Veera Shanmuga Moni told TOI, “It could be of recent origin and it is possible that the donors who built this car (chariot) abandoned the project half way through and disposed it off. I can verify and give the correct version only if I know its place of origin.“

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