Temples without security

Print edition : January 24, 2014

A view of the entrance to the Varadaraja Perumal temple at Suthamallli in Tamil Nadu's Ariyalur district covered with overgrown vegetation. At least 20 idols dating to the 11th century were stolen from here between 1984 and 2008. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The "moolavar" (presiding deity) and his consorts in the Varadaraja Perumal temple at Suthamallli in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Security at the Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple at Suthamalli village in Ariyalur district is grossly inadequate, according to the Idol Wing police, and it has been so for a long time. This was despite the fact that the temple housed 20 priceless antique idols—all belonging to the later Chola Period (A.D. 1070-1279). Its iron-grilled gate was found rusted and was removed effortlessly by the thieves.

When Frontline visited the Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple at Suthamalli, it found a woman was living inside the temple, which was surrounded by wild vegetation. The 60-year-old woman gave her name as Swarnalatha. The temple houses a more-than-life-size “moolavar” (main deity) in standing posture and his two consorts, all in black stone. It had little else to boast of. “Thieves had stolen [the] bronze idols [in the temple]. No official, barring the police, had come to the temple so far,” the woman said.

The Brahadeeswarar temple in Sripuranthan, also in Ariyalur district, was also a picture of neglect. In fact, people in the village claimed that the temple had not witnessed daily poojas for a long time even before the thefts came to light.

No Temple Protection Force personnel were posted at these two temples and there was no watchman for the Suthamalli temple. A watchman at the Sripuranthan temple was an elderly person with no regular wages.

“The priest of the Suthamalli temple had not received wages for months and hence had abandoned it. Photographic evidence of stolen idols was not available with the Executive Officer concerned of the HR & CE Board in Ariyalur. We had to seek the assistance of the French Institute of Pondicherry, which supplied photocopies of a few of the stolen idols so that we could pursue our investigation,” Idol Wing DIG Ponn Manickavel said.

Most of these temples do not have closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, and even if they do the cameras are old and of outdated technology incapable of recording anything significant.

R. Ilangovan

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