Post News Network
Bhubaneswar, Sept 15: A recent spate of thefts of six brass idols, silver coins and four golden eyes of gods and goddesses from the Lakshmi Narayan temple near Dumduma in the city has sent alarm bells ringing about the security preparedness in temples across the state.
The fact that many of these presumably ‘local thefts’ of temple antiques, idols, art and craft often land in foreign lands has magnified the problem at hand.
An art dealer in Madison (US) was spotted March 17 this year selling a stolen 29-inch black stone statue from Orissa belonging to the 9th century. Earlier this year, six antique idols were stolen from Barahanath temple in Jajpur district under the very nose of the authorities. There are several other cases too. According to experts, they indicate to an organised art smuggling racket in action.
Temples and monuments prescribed under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are managed by the latter in all states and those not-listed under ASI are managed by the state archaeology department. The state tourism and culture department aids these sites by creating amenities there and supporting them through funds or other tangible support and value addition.
Sources said at many noted monuments like Rajarani temple (under ASI list), parts of the sculpture on its wall have been neatly carved out pointing to a possible smuggling angle. Many from the department itself admit that a few smuggling cases did take place in these places during 1960s-70s but after the government scrutiny and stringent action, they became fewer.
Sunil Patnaik, an expert in archaeology, says the laws now have made it tough for smugglers to execute their jobs. “Now it is very difficult to smuggle any art and heritage products from anywhere. The monument attendants appointed by ASI or state archaeology department guard such properties. Also, archaeology experts are often deployed at ports, airports and other entry and exit points to check illegal smuggling,” said Patnaik who is now the secretary of Orissa Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies.
According to ASI officials, the dealers need certification from the department to take a heritage material from any exit point. They also say that beyond the monument attendants, the local police also help in investigating cases of thefts and bust such local conduits. When asked about some recoveries from international markets, they say it could be a result of taking some idols scattered outside the premises of heritage sites.