In his nearly 50-year career, temple thief Nagaraj has robbed valuables from over 200 temples across the country. Nagaraj would get out on bail each time he was arrested, and strike again.
KG Halli police arrested him on Thursday after going through CCTV footage of Amba Bhavani temple in Kamakshipalya, where Nagaraj had stolen a gold chain from the deity on August 19. A background check revealed the range of his exploits.
Nagaraj, who went by the aliases of Khoja Nagaraj and Pakeezah, never touched a house or business establishment. Starting out on his first heist as a 16-year-old, he stuck to temples.
His first robbery was in a Mysuru temple, where he fled with the deity’s gold chain. Other targets were the Chamundeshwari temple in Mysuru, Krishna temple in Udupi and Ghati Subramanya temple in Doddaballapur.
Nagaraj’s modus operandi focused on gaining access to the sanctum sanctorum. “First, he would select the temple and offer puja to the deity. Later, he would approach the priest, saying he wished to work as a volunteer as part of his duty,” police said.
Nagaraj would also offer ‘tappu kanike’ (penalty) during the puja for the crime he would later commit.
For some time, Nagaraj would sweep around the temple, cleanse the premises, wash utensils and even guard devotees’ footwear. On occasions, he would ride up on a two-wheeler and ask the priest to perform puja for the vehicle. “Nagaraj would enter the sanctorum and run away with whatever gold ornaments he could lay his hands on,” police said. “It looks like he’s stolen from temples in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala but has evaded arrest there.”
However, only 200gm of gold has been recovered from him. Police are trying to trace the rest of the loot.