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First Tamil Bible stolen from Tanjavur traced to London museum

300-year-old Tamil Bible was written by Danish missionary Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg in 1715 and printed at a press in Tamil Nadu

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The Tamil Nadu Police’s Idol Wing has traced the world’s first printed Bible translation in Tamil, stolen from the state’s Thanjavur district, to the King George III Museum in London.

It is 300 years old.

Sources in the Idol Wing told IANS that the department has commenced the process of repatriation of the retrieved relic.

A spokesperson of the Wing said that the Bible was stolen from Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur in 2005 and the theft is suspected to be the handiwork of a group of visitors.

The deputy administrator of Serfoji Palace in Thanjavur filed a complaint about the theft with the Thanjavur West Police Station on October 10, 2005 and a case was registered. No progress was made towards solving the case.

Subsequently, on October 2017, Saraswathi Mahal Library administrator E. Rajendran lodged a complaint with the Idol Wing. A case was registered.

The Director General of the Idol Wing Jayanth K. Murali revealed,  “Investigations showed that on October 7, 2005, the library had hosted a group of foreigners. They had come to India to attend a function to commemorate Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg, the Danish missionary who was responsible for the creation of the Tamil Bible.“

A search of worldwide collections associated with Ziegenbalg manuscripts revealed the missing item was held at King George III Museum.

The first ever Tamil Bible was printed at a press in Tharangambadi in the 17th century.

“We hope to retrieve the Bible and restore it to the Saraswathi Mahal Library under the UNESCO treaty soon. The Wing has initiated steps to restore the Bible to the library,” the Idol Wing said.

Ziegenbalg arrived in Tranquebar (the anglicized name of Tharangambadi), which was then a Danish colony close to Nagapattinam, in 1706. He was was sent to Tamil Nadu by the King of Denmark.

The Protestant missionary translated the New Testament into Tamil in 1715. After his demise, another missionary Schwartz handed over the first copy of the Bible to Tulaji Rajah Serfoji, then the ruler of Tanjavur.

The earliest Tamil Bible (Source: IANS)

The Tamil Nadu government had kept this antique as an exhibit at Saraswathi Mahal Library.

The Idol Wing, in its statement, also said: “The value of the Bible is further enhanced as the cover of this antique piece bears the signature of the then King of Tanjavur, Serfoji.”

The Idol Wing was launched in 1983 to seek out Indian antiquities stolen from the country and sold overseas. Many items including statues have since been repatriated from many countries, including Australia.

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