Balaji idol stolen from Karnataka seized in Tamil Nadu. Temple Pujari sold it to an Advocate five years ago

Mandya temple murti of Balaji stolen, surface in Gobichettipalayam

Mandya temple murti of Balaji stolen, surface in Gobichettipalayam
Mandya temple murti of Balaji stolen, surface in Gobichettipalayam

Financially strapped Pujari sold the Murti to an Advocate

Tamil Nadu Police seized an idol of Lord Balaji, stolen from a temple in Mandya in Karnataka, was seized from a house in Tamil Nadu‘s Gobichettipalayam on Wednesday. A search by the Idol Wing sleuths led by Inspector Elango under the supervision of Additional DSP Central Zone Balamurugan, who posed as antique idol smugglers, led to the recovery of the Balaji idol, the Idol Wing police said. A probe found that the Balaji idol was stolen a few years ago from a temple in Mandya by the temple pujari and sold to an advocate from Gobichettipalayam.

As part of an effort to recover stolen antique idols, the Idol Wing unit masqueraded two sub-inspectors “as wealthy idol smugglers.” Both began scouting for stolen idols and on November 4, the two SIs viz. Pandiarajan and Rajesh were approached by a broker at Avinashi road in a coffee shop. During a conversation with the undercover police, the broker revealed that he obtained a 600-year-old antique Balaji idol from an old friend. He could arrange to sell it to them for Rs.33 crore. “When the Idol Wing officers showed interest in buying the idol, he promised to show them the antique idol the next day,” Idol Wing DGP K Jayanth Murali said.

As promised, the broker led them to the house of an advocate, residing at VIP Muthu Nagar, Nagarpalayam, Gobichettipalayam, and showed them the Idol. Police officers pretending as antique buyers requested the broker to allow them to test the idol before buying it to ascertain its antiquity.

“They visited the seller’s residence the following day, on November 6, and carried out some make-believe tests. They informed the seller that the Balaji idol was worth only Rs.15 crores in their estimate,” the DGP said in the release.

Seller climbs down from 33 cr to sell at 15 cr

After intense bargaining, the advocate agreed to sell the idol for Rs.15 crore, and the SIs promised to come back the next day with the amount to procure the idol. The Idol Wing worked out a plan to conduct a search and accordingly the two Sub Inspectors (pretending as buyers) appeared at the advocate’s house carrying a briefcase. When the advocate brought the Balaji idol, Inspector Elango and his team “swooped on him and seized the idol.” The advocate, realizing that the police had surrounded him, offered no resistance and meekly allowed the Idol Wing police to take custody of the idol.

How it happened

During interrogation, the advocate admitted that he was working as a junior advocate. His senior knew a pujari at a temple in Mandya. The priest was in a bad financial condition and requested that money be arranged for him and in return, he promised to arrange an antique idol worth several crores of rupees in the international market from the temple where he was then working. The details of the temple and the identity of the priest are not known as the senior advocate died in 2018. Prior to his death, in 2017, when he was bringing the idol to Tamil Nadu, his car was stopped by the Karnataka police on suspicion and found the idol of Balaji was in his car.

As he did not have papers nor offered a proper explanation for possessing an antique idol that appeared to belong to some temple, the Karnataka police confiscated the idol and registered a case of theft against the advocate. The Karnataka police completed the investigation and filed a charge sheet. While the case was in progress, the advocate visited Kumbakonam and forged a fake bill and produced it in the court, and was acquitted. After obtaining the Balaji idol from the court he took it to Gobichettipalayam, where he decided to sell the idol for Rs.50 crore.

In 2021, the junior advocate reduced the idol’s price to Rs.33 crore on the advice of one of the brokers, the release explained. In November, Sub Inspects (Rajesh and Pandiarajan) disguised themselves as “wealthy idol smugglers” to seize the idol. When they met one of the brokers on November 4, the broker showed them the idol of Balaji, which the special party of the Idol Wing eventually seized and registered a case. The seized idol, weighing 22.8 Kg, 58 cm in height, and 31 in width, was produced in the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate court, Kumbakonam.

Do not steal Murtis!

The previous week, New York-based Art Gallery owner Subhash Chandra Kapoor was convicted in a court in Tamil Nadu for 10 years for smuggling Idols. Kapoor was arrested in Germany based on an Interpol Red Notice in 2011 and handed over to India the next year. Kapoor and his five conduits were convicted in the Udayarpalayam burglary and illegal export of 19 antique idols valued over Rs.94 crore to the Art of the Past Gallery in New York.[1]

[With PTI inputs]


[1] Tamil Nadu temples Idol smuggler & New York-based art gallery owner Subhash Chandra Kapoor convicted for 10 yearsNov 02, 2022,

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