Deities vanish as smugglers whisk away idols

The deities are no more gracing the “land of the gods”, as Himachal Pradesh is known. They have been silently whisked away by antique smugglers.

The theft earlier this week of six ancient idols and antiques worth over Rs 1.50 crore from a three-century old Bondra ‘devta’ temple at Bachunch village near Rohru town, some 120 km from here, has once again put the spotlight on the treasures lying vulnerable in hundreds of temples and monasteries.

Police say it’s one of the biggest heists in a religious place in the recent past. In the past 15 years, at least 100 thefts from temples have been reported, over 20 of them notable ones.

The police suspect the involvement of Nepalese migrants in connivance with foreign antique smugglers. “It’s a serious issue. We will certainly soon implement some foolproof security arrangement in all the prominent temples and monasteries,” additional director general of police (law and order) Sanjay Kumar said.

He said directions would be issued to the temple and monastery committees to put up iron grills where the idols and ornaments are kept. “We will even convince them to install CCTV cameras and burglar alarms in the temple premises,” he added.

Despite a large number of thefts, the state has no policy on preserving antiques, an official said.

“No proper stocktaking or verification of antiques lying in various religious places has taken place for quite some time. No one knows as to what all is there in our inventory,” said an official of the state’s language, art and culture department, which looks after important temples.

Antique idols and valuables worth Rs 33.83 lakh were stolen from temples between 2008 and 2011, of which stolen property worth Rs 5.49 lakh was recovered, then chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal told the Assembly in a written reply on April 5, 2011.

He admitted in the assembly that the government had not framed any separate policy to prevent thefts from temples. Police officers say with the linking of roads in the interiors and opening of new areas for tourists, temples located there have become more vulnerable to theft.

Earlier in September 2009 seven antique idols were stolen, most of them made of silver, from the Keem temple near Rampur town in Shimla. Less than a week before this, five 17th century bronze idols were stolen from a temple in Nahan town.
In 2008, two ancient idols were stolen from the Shoolini temple in Solan town.

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