By Categories: Editorials, History

The green of the coconut grove was a soothing sight in the fierce noon sun that had started frying Keeladi, near Madurai.

The Harappan connection reported in the press but it was a misunderstanding.It is a misunderstanding.The size of the site can be compared to some Harappan sites but there is no real connection with Harappa. What was discovered was exciting in its own right. This was the first time a settlement—an urban habitat—had been excavated so completely in Tamil Nadu. That is a major find.

While most archeological explorations have some comparable contemporary sites, in Tamil Nadu this is perhaps the first excavated urban habitation going back 2000 years. The discovery was not accidental or a stroke of luck. It was a result of some systematic work.

Sangam literature—the ancient Tamil poetry—describes urban centers that were cosmopolitan in nature, doing business with other countries including Rome. Both contemporary North Indian inscriptions, as well as literature prior to the Sangam age have mentioned already established Tamil royal dynasties. So, any student of history would expect a lot of archeological sites to have come up in Tamil Nadu.

Unfortunately, only burial sites have come up so far and not a single settlement in the proper sense has been excavated.The reason is places like Madurai where interesting archeological discoveries may await beneath the surface have had continuous occupation. Today, they are busy cities. So, one has to depend only on temple inscriptions and literary evidence.

The archeologists decided to do excavations along the banks of Vaigai – the river that courses through Madurai till Rameshwaram. More than 100 locations is identified along the river bed and small but ancient villages near the vicinity of the river bank. It was through this methodology the archeologist arrived at Keeladi. And Keeladi did not disappoint them.

‘The central government is interested in history and archeology and facilitates such projects, otherwise they often remain pipe dreams for want of funds,’ the archeologist revealed.

An oven structure

Oven structure

There are small drainage systems made of terracotta that crisscross the buildings.

Madurai Kanchi, a Sangham literary work speaks of various artisans, goldsmiths, masons etc. working with wood, metals and beads.The Keeladi excavations and subsequent ones may provide us with a vivid picture of how the real Sangam society lived.

The eminent epigraphist S. Ramachandran pointed out the possibility of this site being related to some events mentioned in later day Saivaite legends which he explained could have come from an older core event – possibly the South Indian expedition of Kalinga king Kharavela which he undertook in the eleventh year of his reign (first century BCE).

However, at this stage these are all speculations. A lot of studies need to be done including carbon testing, study of possible pollen grains or other such materials from inside the pottery etc.

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