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Art, Culture & Architecture

TN idol wing moves to bring back antique idol from US gallery

The Hawk
July28/ 2022

Chennai: The idol wing of the Tamil Nadu police has initiated steps to bring back an exquisite idol of Chola queen Sembiyan Mahadevi that was allegedly stolen from a village temple in Nagapattinam around a century ago. The idol has been traced to the Freer Gallery in the US and an old complaint about the stolen idol is being used to bring it back.

Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi was worshipped as the avatar of Goddess Parvati in the Sembiyan Mahadevi village temple that is about 25 km from Nagapattinam. The issue had come to light after social activist and lawyer G. Rajendran spotted the idol at the Freer Gallery in 2015 and lodged a complaint in 2018.

In his complaint, Rajendran said that he found a metal sculpture at the art gallery with a note below the pedestal saying Sembiyan Mahadevi, Chola dynasty, 10th century, Tamil Nadu ,India. The metal sculpture, according to Rajendran, was 3.5 feet in height.

A senior officer with the idol wing told IANS that Rajendran in his complaint stated that after he came back from the US, he went to the Sembiyan Mahadevi village in Nagapattinam and on enquiry found that the old idol at the Kailasanatha Swamy Sivan temple had been replaced by a replica. He learnt that this copy of the idol was commissioned in 1959 by the then Executive Officer of the temple.

Tamil Nadu idol wing DGP Jayant K. Murali, while speaking to the media said "We came to understand from the Freer Gallery after contacting them that they had purchased the sculpture from Hagop Kervakian, an art collector who had passed away in 1962. We have now commenced a probe as to how this person got hold of the idol and the price he had paid for it. We have also sought the assistance of Homeland Security in the US to unearth his links with other art collectors as he had sold several antiquities and art collections from across several countries including India in the US."

The idol wing police have already got the stone inscriptions in the Kailasanatha Swamy temple deciphered using the epigraphy branch of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Murali told IANS that, "We found that the theft has occurred before 1929 and we have ruled out the involvement of the HR&CE department as it was formed after 1929." He added, "We have also found that the existing idol at the temple which is one and a half feet tall is fake."

Sources in the idol wing told IANS that the probe will cover who stole the idol, to whom it was handed over and how it reached Hagop and how he had shipped it.