Oxford University has agreed to return a 500-year-old bronze statue of Saint Tirumankai Alvar, believed to have been stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu, to India. This decision follows a claim from the Indian High Commission, which the University Council supported on March 11, 2024.

In February 2024, it was discovered that the idol of Thirumangai Alvar at the Soundararajaperumal Temple was a replica, with the original being identified at the Ashmolean Museum in London. The investigation, led by Deputy Superintendent of Police P Chandrasekaran, involved field visits and comparisons with historical photographs from the Indo-French Institute in Puducherry. This revealed that three other idols—Kalinganarthana Krishna, Vishnu, and Sridevi—had also been replaced with fakes.

Authorities have traced these stolen idols to various locations: the Kalinganarthana Krishna idol is at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Vishnu idol at the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas, and the Sridevi idol at the Hills Auction Gallery in Florida.

Details of the Idols:

The investigation began after a complaint on February 12, 2020, from Ka Raja, the executive officer of the Arulmigu Soundararaja Perumal Temple, alleging the theft and replacement of the Thirumangai Alvar idol.

An independent scholar informed the Ashmolean Museum about the suspected theft based on archival images. The museum, upon verifying the information, found that it had acquired the idol in 1967 from Sotheby's in London for £850, purchased from a collector named J R Belmont. Following the Idol Wing's submission of evidence to the UK, the museum took proactive steps to return the idol. They sent M K Landrus, a senior curator, to Kumbakonam to confirm the idol's origins through field enquiries.

This incident has raised concerns about the authenticity of other idols, prompting further investigations by the Idol Wing.

Source / Image Credit: Economic India, Zee News