Discovery, near Vadalur, opens new chapter in research

Three potsherds with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions have been discovered in an urn burial site at Marungur, 17 km from Vadalur in Cuddalore district.

The broken pots with the inscriptions were placed in urns that could have contained the bodies of the dead or their bones. “This is the first time that such inscribed pots, with Tamil Brahmi letters, placed as grave goods in urn burials, have been recovered from any archaeological site in Tamil Nadu. This opens a new chapter in archaeological research in the State,” say three specialists in Tamil Brahmi inscriptions. They are K. Rajan, professor of History, Pondicherry University; Y. Subbarayalu, head, Indology, French Institute of Pondicherry; and V. Vedachalam, retired senior epigraphist, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department.

Such inscribed potsherds carrying personal names were earlier found at habitational sites at Arikamedu in Puducherry, Kodumanal near Erode, and Azhagankulam in Ramanathapuram district, but rarely at burial sites. Only two cist burials at Kodumanal and Porunthal in Dindigul district have yielded potsherds with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions. But Marungur is an urn burial site.

It was J.R. Sivaramakrishnan, a lecturer in History, Annamalai University, who first noticed and collected the potsherds when an earthmover dug up the soil for strengthening the Vadalur-Panrutti Road at Marungur. Three red-ware urns with capstones were exposed, but the earthmover smashed the urns and the capstones. The potsherds with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions were inside three different urns. Several grave goods (pottery) were exposed along with the urns.

Of the three potsherds, one can be nearly fully assembled, and it has five Tamil Brahmi letters reading ‘a-ti-y(a)-ka-n.' This could probably be read as ‘Atiykan.' As the front portion of the potsherd is broken, the preceding word, if any, is not known. The second potsherd has four letters, of which two are Tamil Brahmi, reading ‘a-m.' The remaining two are graffiti marks, resembling the Indus script, says Dr. Rajan. The front portion of the potsherd is missing.

The third has three letters, reading ‘ma-la-a,' and the end portion has not been found. “It looks as if all the three inscriptions are personal names. Palaeographically, the inscriptions may be dated to the first century B.C.” say the three specialists.

For the first time, in the lower Cauvery delta, Tamil Brahmi letters inscribed on pots were found in an urn burial site in an insignificant village in Tamil Nadu, says Dr. Rajan. “The discovery conveys, in clear terms, that buried grave goods also carried inscribed pots. Besides, it shows literacy had reached interior villages in the first century B.C. itself. The names inscribed on the pots were, perhaps, the names of the dead persons whose bodies were kept in the urns.”

Others who examined the potsherds were N. Alagappan, head of the Department of History, Annamalai University; S. Kannan, P. Kalaiselvan and E. Manamaran.

There are a number of references to urn burials in Sangam poems. At Marungur, there is also an early historic habitational mound, called ‘Erikaraimodu' and ‘Pidarikollai' that yielded black and red ware, bricks and terracotta artefacts on the southern side of the village. A preliminary survey suggested that Marungur must have existed from the first century B.C. A planned excavation may yield important data on the urn burial culture and its relation to the early historic Tamil Nadu, as the site seems to be rich in inscribed pottery, say Dr. Rajan and Dr. Vedachalam.