Sunday, August 1, 2010

New finds of old temples enthuse archaeologists

Some recent discoveries have archaeologists excited, as the archaeology excavations may have well unearthed some of the oldest temples in the state. Experts are particularly thrilled about the discovery of the Subramanya shrine in Saluvankuppam and the Veetrirunda Perumal Temple in Veppattur near Kumbakonam.

T Satyamurthy, retired superintendent archaeologist at the Archaeological Survey of India and founder of REACH Foundation, says, "The post-tsunami discovery of the Subrahmanya shrine at Saluvankuppam is unique. On the basis of available evidence like the brick size, orientation and other factors, this structure immediately antedates the Pallavas. This is the earliest brick temple in Tamil Nadu identified as of now. No temple of such nature is reported from south India."

The site is not new, and among the protected monuments at Mamallapuram was a boulder located about 2 km from the Shore Temple, as it was found to contain a Tamil inscription of Kulothunga III dated to 1215 AD. Satyamurthy credits the December 2006 tsunami with revealing a second and older inscription on the boulder.

Satyamurthy says, "The retreating waves of the December 2006 tsunami dragged about three feet of sand covering the rock on the seaside. This uncovered an inscription of Rashtrakuta king Krishna III, which can be dated back to 976 AD. Exploration of areas around the boulder revealed a sand mound, leading to the discovery of a brick temple." Further archaeology excavation revealed the discovery of two pillars bearing the inscription of Dantivarman and Nadivarman III between 813 AD and 858 AD.

He says that the temple itself has undergone three stages of construction. "Originally the temple was constructed during the pre-Pallava period and after a devastating tidal wave it was restored by the Pallavas by adding stone slabs over the plinth. After devastation, it was rebuilt by the Cholas by adding huge dressed stone blocks. This structure was also found destroyed by another catastrophe," he says.

Carbon-14 dating done by Reach Foundation on the paleo-tsunami evidences, comprising sea shells and debris, near the site show that they had been deposited in different periods between 405 AD and 564 AD and between 1019 AD and 1161 AD. The materials have been sent for independent C-14 dating. Results are awaited.

Satyamurthy says that the Veetrirunda Perumal Temple discovered in Veppattur, some 8 km south of Kumbakonam, is a contemporary of the Subramanya shrine. Satyamurthy cites the evidence to indicate that the temple belonged to the pre-Pallava period. Here the brick sizes are those used in the pre-Pallava era. The site has three types of paintings, belonging to different periods. The temple only has a side

access and no direct access, a feature seen only at pre-Pallava Buddhist temple sites. It also has openings in all four cardinal directions.

Satyamurthy says that according to the Seven Pagoda theory more such discoveries are likely. "Several small mounds have been seen around the area. There is a high likelihood that excavations will turn up three or four more such discoveries," he says.

However, not everyone agrees that it predates the oldest known temples in the state. R Nagaswamy, former director, Tamil Nadu Archeology Department, says, "With no actual evidence or verifiable data, it is hard to acknowledge this discovery. I feel more scientific data is needed to substantiate this claim. If the Subramanya shrine had been an important place of worship, there would have been some reference of it either in the local tradition or in literature."

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