The Idol Wing, a special unit within the Tamil Nadu police department tasked with recovering looted artifacts, has recovered 55 Hindu idols that are believed to have been looted from temples across India.
The 300-year-old sacred objects are believed to date back to the 9th or 10th century C.E. They were traced by authorities to a home in the city of Chennai belonging to the collector Shobha Durairajan, who has already been the source of several other recovered antiques.
“On Wednesday, we received a tip-off, following which a special team conducted searches at the house,” the director general of the police’s criminal investigation department Shailesh Kumar told .
At the end of last year, the Idol Wing recovered another seven missing idols at Durairajan’s home after she had unwittingly registered six other relics on the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), arousing suspicion.
Durairajan claimed to have acquired all her idols from the late accused smuggler Deenadayalan via his Aparna Art Gallery between 2008 and 2015, though she was only able to prove this with receipts in four cases. The dealer set up his gallery in 1958 but some 60 years later, in 2016, the Idol Wing seized over 830 precious objects from his possession and Deenadayalan confessed, helping authorities trace down a further 254 idols. He died last year aged 83.
While the ASI works to reunite these precious artifacts with their temples of origin, the authorities plan to clarify the exact involvement in their illegal looting of both Deenadayalan and Durairajan, who is currently residing in the U.S. but will return to Chennai in September.
As police chief, Sylendra Babu, told reporters, “we will investigate who was involved in the theft and nab them.”
According to Babu, 1,541 bronze and stone antique idols have been recovered by the Idol Wing since its inception. They are being kept at 19 designated icon centers.