On March 9, the long arm of the law finally caught up with Kerala man Sanjeevi Ashokan who had been on the run for 22 years. He was arrested for his role in the theft of 1500-year-old idols from the Veeravanallur temple in Tirunelveli district. The idols had found their way to a gallery in Australia thanks to Sanjeevi’s links to international smuggler Subash Kapoor.
Based on a tip off, the idol smuggler was nabbed at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu and presented to the local Judicial Magistrate. Sanjeevi, the main accused, was then remanded to judicial custody at the Trichy central jail.
In 1995, idols of the two ‘Dwara Balagars’ or mythological gatekeepers of Vishnu’s abode were found missing from the Munreswaramudaiyar temple in Veeravanallur. The police who investigated the theft closed the case soon after, terming it untraceable.
In November last year, the Idol Theft Prevention Wing in Tamil Nadu re-opened the case. The Idol Wing police arrested Lakshmi Narashiman, 53, of Mahalingapuram in Kancheepuram district, and brothers R Omaidurai, 68, and Annadurai, 59, of Mylapore, Chennai. They were believed to have played a key role in selling the idol to Subash Kapoor, who in turn, sold it to the National Gallery in Canberra.
According to a report in The Hindu, the idols were worth nearly Rs 5 crores. The case was reportedly cracked with the help of the gallery in Australia that confirmed the origin of the idols. A request from the Idol wing to transport the idols from Canberra to Tamil Nadu was previously accepted by the gallery last year.
Subash Kapoor was arrested and lodged at the Puzhal jail in 2012 following his extradition from Germany. Kapoor's wide antique smuggling network stretched across South East Asia, Dubai, and the US.
Earlier this month, the Idol Wing registered a complaint that two ancient bronze idols of Emperor Raja Raja Chola and his consort Lokmadevi have been stolen from Brihadeeswarar temple in Thanjavur. The idols reportedly went missing 50 years ago.
Speaking to TNM, the Economic Offences Wing, of which the Idol Wing is a part, confirmed that the idols were at the private Calico Museum in Ahmedabad.