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Temple heist near capital
- Theft of rare Radha-Krishna idols spurs 8hr blockade

Idols made of ashtadhatu — an exceptional alloy of eight metals — were stolen from a centuries-old temple in a village, 10km from Ranchi, early on Friday.

The wee-hour heist at Madanmohan Radha Krishna Mandir in Boria village of Kanke block triggered a massive uproar, with angry residents blocking roads and shutting down shops for close to eight hours. Heavy police deployment became imperative till late afternoon.

The theft at the 350-year-old temple came to light around 7am when devotees arrived for morning prayers. The around 3ft idols of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha, roughly weighing around 70kg each, were found missing from the pedestal, while other puja paraphernalia remained undefiled.

Another Radha idol with a silver umbrella had remained untouched too. This had gone missing in the Sixties, but years later was bizarrely recovered from the nearby Potpoto River.

Ashtadhatu is a satwik (pure) alloy of gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead, tin, iron and mercury, mixed in roughly equal proportions. The process of making the alloy is difficult and hence ashtadhatu idols are rare. But, they are also durable. The idols last aeons without noticeable wear and tear. The natural rough finish is often polished for aesthetic appeal.

Rural SP S.K. Jha said they were investigating the theft, but were yet to make any headway. “It is a sensitive matter here. First, we had to pacify the very angry crowd of local residents. Now, we are hunting for clues, but haven’t laid our hands on any solid evidence yet.”

A sniffer dog pressed into service, however, helped recover the attire and garlands the Lord and his consort were wearing from Jumar River, 1.5km from the premises. Jha added that a forensic team had collected footprints and fingerprints from the temple too.

Recreating the crime, a junior officer said the unidentified criminals broke into the temple through the main grille gate to steal the idols. Before that they had jumped the 6ft boundary to enter the premises. “They were meticulous in execution of their plan. It seems they knew the geography of the temple in details,” he said, adding that caretakers living in quarters on same premises heard nothing.

While a phalanx of police guarded the temple premises till 3pm, senior administrative officials as well as Kanke MLA Ramchandra Baitha turned up to quell the prolonged protest, as burning tyres stalled traffic and downed shutters hampered business.

Baitha called the demonstration symbolic. “People only sat on roads and sang bhajans. Yes, many were angry, which was only natural. No one broke the law,” he said.

The MLA also supported the local hand theory. “The incident took place on a day the main priest, who lives inside the temple, is out of station. People who stole the idols knew this.”

Old-timers in the area maintained that this was the third theft in the history of the temple.

Septuagenarian Ram Kishore Sharma, a resident of Boria for 30 years, said: “In 1952, idols of Radha-Krishna and Durga were whisked away. In 1961, marble idols were placed, which were stolen two decades later. In the mid-eighties, the present ashtadhatu idols had been installed.”

He added: “We have requested police for speedy investigations and recovery of the idols, failing which we will launch more dharnas.”