Chennai: When officials of the Tamil Nadu CID’s idol wing raided a house in Alwarpet on May 31 and found three men neatly packing idols in cardboard boxes for delivery abroad, they did not realise they were closing in on a big fish in the smuggling racket. Investigators recovered idols worth 110 crore from the house and launched a hunt for the owner, Deenadayalan, who eventually surrendered on June 3. Now, after interrogating the 85-year-old kingpin, more skeletons are tumbling out of his closet.
On Saturday, the law enforcement team raided his godowns in Venus Colony in Alwarpet and recovered at least 50 more idols – all dating to the early Chola period. An idol wing officer said, “We have got a court direction to raid two of his godowns. The raid is going to continue for two more days.” The police team is evaluating the stock of seized idols to ascertain the value of the property.
In recent idol theft cases, barring Subhash Kapoor of New York city, only small players like idol thieves — foot soldiers — or the next-in-line like the alleged agent of Kapoor, Sanjeevi Ashokan, have been arrested. But high-end players on the art circuit and gallery-owning smugglers have not been netted in Chennai until now. Incidentally, many of the 200 idols worth $100 million that were formally returned to PM Narendra Modi by the US government were seized from Kapoor’s warehouses and godowns. Indicating that they had shared evidence with state police in the Deenadayalan case, US homeland security department had told TOI that the arrest of Deenadayalan had “disrupted an important smuggling network in Tamil Nadu and throughout India.” “The investigation is going on the right track, and may lead to further arrests,” said a police officer.
After seeing one of the stone idols, R Nagaswamy, former director of Tamil Nadu archaeology department, confirmed to an investigation officer that it was at least 2,000 years old. The items seized in earlier raids by the idol wing included statues of Shiva in the form of Tripurantaka Murthy, Nardhana Ganapathi and Devi, as well as dozens of panchaloha and stone idols and paintings from the Chola and Hoysala period. Nagaswamy also confirmed that most of the seized idols belong to the Chola period.
Police officials are also probing Deenadayalan’s alleged role in smuggling an Ardhanarishvara idol from Virudhagireeswarar temple in Cuddalore district that was returned to India by Australia. A police officer said that if this is confirmed, it will establish Deenadayalan’s links with Subhash Kapoor, who sold the idol for $3 million to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia in 2004. Kapoor was subsequently extradited to India and is now cooling his heels in Puzhal prison.
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