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Mystery emerges from DuPage River
St. Charles man finds discarded, broken statues of Hindu gods
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

St. Charles resident Mark Coleman is seeking the original owners of two marble statues of Hindu gods that he found in the DuPage River.

 

Stephanie Janisch | Staff Photographer

Much of a marble statue found in the DuPage River is intact save three pieces that St. Charles resident Mark Coleman removed from the river bed to clean up and return to the original owner.

 

Stephanie Janisch | Staff Photographer

St. Charles resident Mark Coleman found marble statues of Hindu gods in the DuPage River by the Plainfield/Naperville Road bridge. At top right is a portrait of Hindu gods Shiva, his wife Parvati and their son Ganesha. In the background is Hindu goddess Durga.

 

Stephanie Janisch | Staff Photographer

The Hindu goddess Durga is depicted here riding a tiger.

 

This is a portrait of Hindu gods Shiva, his wife Parvati and their son Ganesha.

 

These marble heads of a Hindu god and goddess were retrieved from the DuPage River by Mark Coleman of St. Charles. Most of the statues remains embedded in the river.

 

Stephanie Janisch | Staff Photographer

Mark Coleman of St. Charles holds up a marble statue of the Hindu goddess Durga seated on a tiger he found in the DuPage River.

 

Stephanie Janisch | Staff Photographer

This marble statue of Hindu gods was found in the DuPage River.

 

Stephanie Janisch | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/17/2009 12:01 AM

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Embedded in the sand and gravel bed below the tranquil surface of the DuPage River, an Eastern treasure rests unbeknown to motorists speeding over the Plainfield/Naperville Road bridge.

Submerged in knee-deep water, its presence alters the river's flow, causing ripples that shimmer in the bouncing sunlight.

A passing canoeist could easily miss the two moss-covered, ornate white marble statutes - Hindu religious icons - that likely once graced a temple or home shrine, now cast away among river weeds and fishes.

As Mark Coleman and his son, Joseph, paddled downstream on Labor Day, though, something caught Mark's eye and they spun the canoe around for a closer inspection.

"I just saw something that didn't belong in the river," said Coleman, 60, a St. Charles resident and senior vice president of Coleman Land Co.

Jutting out of the water was a tiger's tail, though not immediately recognizable as that due to the discoloration of the marble.

One of the statues showed a woman with multiple arms, hands adorned by gold bracelets with painted fingernails, riding a tiger. Coleman would later learn that in Hinduism, the tiger is the vehicle used by the goddess Durga, generally considered to be a form of the divine feminine force.

A second statue depicting the Hindu god Shiva, his wife the goddess Parvati, and their son Ganesha lay beside it.

Pieces of both statues were missing, including the heads of Durga and Shiva and some hands, which Coleman recovered a few feet downstream and took home to clean up.

Each head alone weighs about 10 pounds and is roughly the size of a cantaloupe. The statues, which appear to be handcrafted out of solid marble, are roughly 2 feet wide and 2 feet tall, likely weighing hundreds of pounds. An equally heavy rectangular marble base also had broken off.

Surely, this was the work of vandals, Coleman thought to himself studying the statues, which had to have been flung from the bridge 20 feet above.

Though Coleman has no idea what the figures represent, intrigued by his exotic find, he was eager to know whether the icons had been stolen from an area temple.

"My imagination was piqued," Coleman said. "That's not like something every day you'd find in a riverbed. And it saddened me. If, in fact, it was perpetrated on somebody, whoever that might be might appreciate recovering some of the pieces. I don't know if it's restorable - I highly doubt it. It's obviously more valuable intact."

None of the area Hindu temples questioned about the statues reported missing any icons.

It's possible the Durga statue was cast into the river as part of a religious ceremony, said Tracy Pintchman, a professor of religious and Hindu studies in the theology department at Loyola University.

"Every fall, there is a celebration in Hinduism called Navaratri," Pintchman said, during which icons are made of Durga to glorify the goddess who vanquishes demons, and are cast into water.

Pintchman said another possibility is the icons had outlived their usefulness in temples and had been ceremoniously disposed off after "a ritual is done to dismiss the deity from the icon."

"Traditionally, one of the best ways to dispose of an icon once it's no longer housing a deity is to immerse it in a body of water because water is nonpolluting," she said. "Even though the deity is no longer in the icon, you still would not want to toss the icon into the garbage."

The owners of the pieces may not want to reclaim them, said Bhimal Reddy, president of the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago in Lemont.

"Once it is broken into pieces, we don't touch it anymore," Reddy said. "Even if a small fingertip breaks off, we cannot keep it in the temple."

Reddy surmised the statues likely were part of someone's home shrine and were discarded in the river because they were broken. According to Hindu scriptures, the proper way to discard a broken religious icon is to immerse it in a river, lake or ocean, Reddy said.

"A broken idol, they have to get rid of it very quickly," he said. "It has to be discarded in a ceremonial way."

The best thing to do is to leave the statues where they lie, Reddy said.

• Send tips on where the icons came from to mkrishnamurthy@dailyherald.com, or call (847) 427-4489.

Mystery: Disposing icons into body of water is tradition