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Monday, September 16, 2019

Kallidaikurichi Nataraja returns by Tamil Nadu Express, flown from Oz


We go to temples ~ .. .. the administration of the Temple (managing the funds received and administering the various functional activities) lies with the Govt. – done through Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) – that way you have the State Govt celebrating the birth of ex-CM in Temples, though this activity would have absolutely no connection with the Temple, Lord, its devotees and more so, in respect of the donations offered in Hundis and other ways – as these are specific towards the temple and not for anything else. ~ and sadly there have been cases of Temple Idols the Murthis which are worshipped being stolen and taken to foreign countries as a show-piece. 

In the time machine, and an year back ! ~ shouts of சோழ மண்டலாதிபதி மாமன்னர் வீராதிவீரர் ராஜராஜசோழன் வருகிறார் -  பராக் ! பராக்!! !!  rant the air .. ..  to the delight of huge crowds.  It was a reverential home coming for the two icons of King Raja RajaChola, who built the Big temple at Thanjavur and his queen Lokamadevi, when they were brought by Idol wing police headed by Pon. Manikavel, IG, to the court which deals with idol theft cases at Kumbakonam on Friday, 1st June 2018. People gathered in large numbers and welcomed the icons by shouting “Raja Raja Chola Vaazhga” when they were brought by the police at Bhakthapri rountana at Kumbakonam for presenting before the court.

Down under, Kallidaikurichi is a dusty  town on the right banks of the Thamiraparani river in Ambasamudram Taluk of Tirunelveli district.  Like some other villages in Thirunelveli, this place too is steeped in tradition and is rich in heritage, but struggling to hold on to its past glories. Kallidaikurichi's Hindu shrines are of ancient temple architecture style, having high-rise gopurams (ornamental gateways of temples) with sculptures that herald the past glory of this region.  Muthuswami Dikshitar, the carnatic composer, whose songs abound with geographic and iconographic references, sings of the curative properties of the river Thamiraparani. To him, the Goddess at Tirunelveli, is Hima-saila-sutaa (daughter of the mountain snow). This town is located about 70 km north of Kanyakumari (Cape Comerin). The twin cities of Tirunelveli and Palayamkottai are about 35 km away.

This is no post on the Temple or its surrounding but of its idol – Swami Nataraja returning after 4 decades from Oz.    On Friday, it is stated that the platforms of Puratchithalaivar Dr MGR Central railway station was abuzz as Tamilnadu Express arrived.  It had brought back  16th century Nataraja panchaloha idol stolen from a Tirunelveli temple ~  still  the return of the lost idol could not rid hostility or smoothen divisions.Lord  Nataraja has completed a long journey overseas.  The idol, which belongs to a temple in Kallidaikurichi in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, was on Wednesday flown down to New Delhi from the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA)where it had been displayed for several years. It had been stolen from the Tirunelveli shrine in 1982.

Australian Press had written about this 600-year-old Dancing Shiva owned by the Art Gallery of South Australia, at Adelaide having been identified as stolen from India, with authorities  commencing a bid for its return.The statue is the first antiquity India has claimed from 24 potentially problematic pieces identified by AGSA in 2014.  Five years after suspicions were raised over the origins of the statue, Indian police this week linked it to a temple in the southern Indian city of Nellai, where a photograph shows it in place in 1958.It is understood the bronze, bought in 2001 with $436,000 in donated funds and weighing 100 kilograms, was reported missing in July 1982.

The Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) was not named in the police statement but its acting director, Lisa Slade, confirmed the statue was the one identified by Indian officers.The Art Gallery of South Australia has one of the largest art museum collections in Australia, comprising  of almost 45,000 works of art spanning 2000 years. Their collection includes paintings, prints and drawings, photographs and videos, textiles and clothing, ceramics, glass, metalwork, jewellery, furniture – a n d .. .. ‘sculptures’ what they call as work of art – to us ‘idol of Gods’. Their website claims that in  1939 the Gallery became the first Australian art museum to acquire a work by an Aboriginal artist and today, the traditional and the contemporary unite a diverse collection which includes desert paintings on canvas, bark paintings in ochre, photography, video, textiles, ceramics, glass and sculpture.

A team of police officers from the idol wing led by court-appointed special officer Pon Manickavel brought the packed and sealed idol by Tamil Nadu Express from New Delhi. The officer accused the state government of not extending his team cooperation and financial assistance in bringing back rare idols stolen from various temples in Tamil Nadu and housed in galleries abroad. “We have written to the state government seeking its support to bring back 20 stolen idols in art galleries in Australia, Singapore and other countries. But so far, we have not got a positive reply,” Manickavel told TOI.He said not less than 1,000 temple idols stolen from the State were currently being showcased in art galleries abroad. “We could not bring the Nataraja idol by flight as we did not get support from the government,” he said. Had there been support from the government, the first batch of 20 idols in Australia, Singapore and other countries could have been brought back to India, he added.

Around 7.10am on Friday, a musical band and artists playing the thavil and nadaswaram synchronized to drown the sound of train entering platform six at the Central station. Oduvars and priests sang Tamil hymns praising the deity. Emotions ran high as flowers were strewn over the sealed box containing the idol. It was placed on a table and a carpenter used tools to open it.After the idol was taken out of the box, head priest of the Kallidaikurichi temple M Krishnamurthi draped a silk veshti and towel around it before lovingly decorating it with flowers and garlands given to him by several devotees from Chennai. After a small pooja, a grand arati was performed with devotees and police officers singing Tamil hymns in praise of the deity.

The entrance to the Central station was crowded with people, eager to catch a glimpse of the idol and take part in the ritual.“We will take care of the idol once it reaches our temple and ensure its safety. We are excited to have our Lord back,” said Krishnamurthi. The statue was taken by road to Trichy. It will be presented in a Kumbakonam court before being taken home.

According to sources, the 600-year-old idol, weighing around 100 kg, was stolen after the doors of the sanctum sanctorum were broken open on July 5, 1982. Along with it, a 2.5-foot tall panchaloka idol of Sivakami, 1.5-foot tall Manickavasagar idol and 1-foot tall Sribali idol were also stolen.A complaint was filed by the then trustee of the temple, following which the Kallidaikurichi police had registered a First Information Report (FIR) on July 6, 1982. However, two years later the Kallidaikurichi police closed the case concluding that the idol was untraceable.

To the fortune of devotees,  a few years ago, the case was handed over to the court-appointed Idol Wing special team, led by Manickavel. After investigation, the case was reopened and taken up for investigation by the wing’s Additional SP Rajaram. The  idol which was kept in the gallery in Adelaide, Australia for 17 years was traced a year ago. As a result of the Idol Wing special officer and retired Inspector-General of Police A.G. Pon Manickavel’s persistent effort to bring the Indian heritage back to the country, the Australian authorities formally handed over the idol to officers of the wing in New Delhi on September 11 (Wednesday).  Mr PonManickavel revealed that after locating and convincing the Australian authorities and Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) by producing the records substantiating that the temple is the original owner of the idol with photographs taken before the theft of the idol, that the idol belonged to India, they agreed to return the idol. However, the Tamil Nadu State government refused funds to bring back the idol for the last 330 days.

Feeling happy on the return of Nataraja .. .. the return drowns the sorrow of the way of people, the burglary, the reaction, closure of file, the return by Tamil Nadu Express train and .. having to go to Court at Kumbakonam .. .. 

Before concluding, the Madras high court has granted interim stay on the lower court’s order cancelling bail for HR&CE additional commissioner N Thirumagal, an accused in the Kapaleeswarar temple idol theft case. She said the idol case was registered in 2018 and she was the second accused. She was granted bail later but the idol wing police filed an application seeking to cancel her bail, which was granted.

Away in the town of Lord Nataraja, a  wedding ceremony inside the 1,000-pillar hall of the historic Chidambaram Nataraja temple in Cuddalore district recently  has kicked up a row.  This is the first time a wedding was conducted in the 1,000-pillar hall of the 12th-century temple. The hall traditionally served as a sacred place for performing abhishegam for the presiding deity Lord Nataraja and Sivagami Amman during the Tamil months of Aani and Margazhi.

We the devotees, bow in obeisance to the Lord to protect us and ensure that we take all measures in protecting the glory of culture and our Temples.  .. .. and one would fail if not to mention the efforts of ayya Pon Manickavel ~ a real gem.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar
16th Sept. 2019.

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