Temple Idol Thefts On The Rise In Odisha

Bhubaneswar: The Odisha chapter of INTACH, a non-profit outfit espousing the conservation of heritage sites and antiquities, urged the government for framing a holistic policy and taking legal measures to counter with the rising cases of theft of idols from temples.

The INTACH’s Odisha convener Amiya Bhusan Tripathy, who is also the former police chief of Odisha, lamented that there is an absolute lack of awareness and gross apathy regarding the intrinsic value of antique idols that represent the rich cultural heritage of the state.

The prevailing laws intended to prevent idol thefts and burglary are inherently ineffective and a holistic national heritage protection policy and system should be put in place, he said.

There is no objective database of antiques – both stone and metallic idols — in the approximately 22,000 ancient places of worship in Odisha, Tripathy said on Friday at the annual state conveners’ conference of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

More than 95 per cent of the antique idols in these temples remain legally unregistered as the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities remains incomplete, he added.

Asserting that the present laws for protecting antiques are weak, Tripathy said new legislation and amendments are a need of the hour and the police should have a separate wing to deal with such crimes.

INTACH’s state project coordinator and historian Anil Dhir, who recently published a report on the ‘Antiquities of the Prachi Valley’, said more than 300 valuable idols were found missing in different places during his survey.

Idols which were photographed and documented by scholars in the last three decades have vanished, he said.

Nearly 48 cases regarding missing idols were filed in different police stations of the Prachi Valley in the last decade and only one recovery was made, Dhir noted.

There were 20 cases of idol theft in the last decade in Bhadrak, but not a single recovery was made, said Digamber Mohanty of the non-profit’s Bhadrak district chapter.

Seeking adoption of methods as per international norms, Dhir said metal idols should have laser markings and the stone ones should have metallic engravings as evidence of ownership.

There have been many instances where recovered stolen idols could not be traced back to their original places, and are lying in different police stations and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) godowns, Dhir said.