Septuagenarian Dr. K.V. Raman, for whom archaeology has been a way of life.

The wealth of detail and factual accounts in Dr. K.V. Raman's book on the Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kanchi, will surely impress the reader. It's all there! From the list of offerings in the 17th century that was gifted as maha neivedyam (we still eat the same type of food!) to the temple to the notes on some of the unusual sculptures! I was delighted to note that the author lives in Madras and visited him to discuss archaeology, history and other connected subjects.

K.V. Raman was born in Chingleput in 1934. His father, K.V. Parthasarathy Iyengar, was an advocate, and some of his proficiency has been passed on to his son. Dr. Raman cannot remember what got him interested in archaeology and temples but among the first exciting events in his life was the joy he felt when his articles were published in the Modern Review and the Indian Review.

Dr. Raman recounts with great fondness his time at the Madras Christian College. “Dr. A.J. Boyd, Prof. McNicol and Dr. Chandran Devanesan among others, gave me a firm grounding in empirical research, the need to focus on facts and approach anything with a method. These qualities have stood me in good stead throughout my life,” he says.

He joined the Department of History & Archaeology, University of Madras, in 1955, and his thesis for M. Litt is a book that anyone associated with Madras has to possess a copy of. The thesis titled, ‘The Early History of The Madras Region,' traced through inscriptions the history of all the villages that are within the city of Madras today. “Now commuting is easy but in those days, places such as Velachery, Kodambakkam and Thiruvanmiyur were difficult to get to, with buses that were infrequent.” I try my best to conjure up a vision of these villages being sleepy, quiet and sparsely populated but give up after the best of efforts!

His thesis for PhD on the Varadaraja Temple is sadly out of print as are most of his other books, such as, his History of the Pandyas in Tamil. Dr. Raman's passion became his profession in 1957 when he joined the Exploration Wing of the Archaeological Survey of India, Southern Circle. . His first explorations were on the banks of the Vaigai and Guntar rivers. They found many pre-200 BC sites on the banks, in what are now small villages.

Exciting excavation

In 1960, he completed the course from the first batch of the School of Archaeology, now called the Institute of Archaeology. The learning served him well in what he considers the most exciting of his excavations - Poompuhar. It was called Kaberis Emporian in the 1st century ACE Roman chronicles. He and the team found several beads, pottery shards and a rare Buddha Vihara foundation, all from the last three or the first three centuries of the Christian era. The Buddhist Vihara and the small bronze image of the Buddha were unique finds.

“The tragedy is that despite rich literary evidence, most of the buildings of the first few centuries did not have stone foundations and were built of brick and wood. They were broken down for use during later times and that is why it is difficult to find intact structures,” he says.

In such a long and distinguished career and with close to 100 publications that include books and articles, is there something he has left undone? “It's hard to say,” he says and noticing my persistence, adds , “I wish we could excavate Madurai more, it is after all among the most ancient cities still inhabited but with so much of construction now, it isn't easy.”

His other books include, ‘Uraiyur,' ‘Sculputural Art of Tirupati temple' (the mandapam itself has disappeared), ‘Arikemedu Excavations'(co-authored) and ‘South East Asia Art.' Many of his former colleagues and students recently presented him with a felicitation volume in his honour.

(pradeepandanusha@gmail.com)