The temple raiders

13 Sep 2012 9:17 PM | Anonymous

The temple raiders
Kapoor’s case is not the first Indian smuggling scandal. In 2003, a vast network of thieves was uncovered

Cordelia Jenkins  |   Arundhati Ramanathan
     First Published: Wed, Sep 12 2012. 11 13 PM IST
Ariyalur, Chennai: By the time the new security gate arrived at the Brihadeeswara temple in the summer of 2008, nobody in Sripuranthan, a small village in central Tamil Nadu, had been inside Shiva’s temple for decadesundefinedor so the villagers believed.

Although anyone could walk into the stone-walled enclosure, open as it was on one side to the wide bed of a dried-up lake and on the other to the village, the doors of the temple itself had been locked since the mid-1970s. Around that time, the villagers recalled, the local priest had packed his things and left for Chennai, fed up with his meagre salary, and the government had taken over the temple’s guardianship. Since the old priest’s departure, nobody had shown much interest in the temple, except for truant schoolchildren, who would climb its crumbling walls, riddled with the roots of peepul saplings, to hide in the crevices of the great dome.

There was also the problem of the killer bees.

Over the past few years, a rumour had begun to spread about a deadly strain of bee living inside the temple, deterring devotees who might otherwise try to open the wooden doors and visit the gods locked up inside. Nobody could remember where they heard the bee story first, but the older villagers still recalled a few details about the statues of the deities that lined the temple walls: idols representing Ganesha, Chandrasekara, as well as the saint Sampanthar, a couple of sinuous Sivagami devis and, finest of all, a bronze Nataraja depicting Shiva in his cosmic dance. The idols were more valuable than the villagers knew, 11th and 12th century Chola-era bronzes that could sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the more salubrious environs of auction houses on the other side of the world.

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