Study Tour of INTACH Tamil Nadu to Then Paandi Nadu was a great learning experience

Everyone makes hue and cry about preserving ancient history, heritage and culture. But who actually cares to take it to the logical end by teaching or recording the importance of our rich history for posterity? INTACH Tamil Nadu Chapter thought on these lines and took theinitiative to conduct a study tour on the trails of Tamiraparani, replete with abundant history.

For the Then Paandi Nadu tour participants, aged between 12 and 77 years, it was like tumbling into unexpected treasure of a land and finding out how our ancestor's nimble fingers created magic in stones, breathed life into them and made them immortal.

The team collected tool flakes at the Microlithic site of Theri at Sawyerpuram where history of hunter-gathers of the pre-historic period spanning between 5000 to 3000 BCE remains buried. Aravazhi, Assistant Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, Aravazhi detailed on the ability of early man in making stone tools.

“Range of object d'art made in varying sizes, shapes and quality of stones at every stage of evolution provide clues to pre-historic life and environment,” he said.

“Theri sites abound with miniature stone tools used by primitive man for gathering and hunting food. This is a peculiar region with undulating expanse of red sand, where stone tools industry had flourished,” he added.

The tour peeped into Jain history at Marukaalthalai and Ayyanarkulam dating back 2{+n}{+d} century BCE. The hillock facing west at Marukaalthalai, nine km from Palayamkottai, was once positioned on the highway linking Tirunelveli and Rameswaram. The Brahmi script inscribed near the brow line was not done in an orderly manner. Some letters are as huge as 40 cm.

Dr. Venkataraman, the tour head and retired professor of art history, deciphered the letters and said the line contained words like ‘venkasiban kodipitha kalkanjanam.' ‘Samanarpalli' at Ayyanarkulam also belongs to the same period. Discovered in 2002 by Manohari, a student of Sri Parasakthi College, it is six kms from Ambasamudram.

Participants were awestricken when they visited Korkai, erstwhile seaport and a pearl fishery centre. Dr. Venkataraman briefed that what was once considered cradle of South Indian civilization has now become an obscure place situated inland on the banks of Tamiraparani, approximately, four miles away from its mouth.

In fact, the Greek account of Periplus Maris Erythraei (about 60 CE) and Ptolemy refer to Kolkhai, the first sea port reached by the Greeks in the East coast of India.

Bishop Robert Caldwell, a colonial era evangelist emissary, conducted research on Tirunelveli and undertook many excavations. Similarly, James Hornell, a British zoologist and seafaring ethnographer unearthed a collection of 17 pieces of conch workshop waste.

About Punna Kaayal, midway between Korkai and the sea, the professor gave account of visits made by Marco Polo, Venetian traveller and confidante of Chinese emperor Kubla Khan, to ‘Cail'. Multitude of vessels from the Arabian coast, Persian Gulf and China traded at this busiest port of the times. For an extent of few miles from Pazhaya Kaayal to Maaramangalam, broken Chinese porcelain and remnants of Arabian pottery was picked up from all over the region by Bishop Caldwell. A cartload of this can be gathered in a day even now. Several lagoons in the area which dried up have become saltpans.

Adichanallur – a 114- acre burial site belonging to 300 BC, gave an insight into how ancestors buried the dead. Mr. Aravazhi, who was part of the excavation team, said that they unearthed 163 urns of different sizes and shapes from three trenches approximately measuring about 1000 sq. kms.

At Alwar Thirunagari and Krishnapuram temples, Dr. Venkataraman described the genesis of sculptures of Manmadhan, Rathi, Bima and Purushamiruga found in the temple. He also gave a detailed report how Nayak period introduced techniques and ornaments in the sculptures to make it more attractive.

Dr. Venkataraman narrated tales about Macha Muni and Gorakha, Uchisita Ganapathi (Lord Ganesha with his wife on lap) found at Aavudaiyammal, Ammanatha Swami temple. He also gave account of Medieval Pandyas and Cholas contribution to temples at Bhaktavatsala temple at Sermahadevi. The temple walls later had Chola and Pandya inscription.

Paintings in the five tiers of Narumpoonatha Swami temple gopura in Thirupudaimarudur belonging to Thenkasi Pandya 16th century AD and Chithirasabai in Coutrallam arrest the attention with the depiction of various scenes from epics and literature in different hues. Paintings of Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Meenakshi's marriage ceremony in dark herbal paints on wood is captivating.

Highlight of the tour was a visit to Varunaachimalai in Thirumalapuram, which has two rock cut cave temples of Pandya period (circa 750 AD).

Of the two, one is unfinished and the other is significant for its rectangular arthamandapa. It contains two inscriptions of a later date and Pandya bas-relief of the trinity- a four handed Vishnu, sitting Ganesha, dancing Shiva and standing Brahma.

Historical details shared by Dr.Venkataraman, Mr. Aravazhi, Sharmila, co-convenor, INTACH Tamil Nadu and co-coordinators, Vani and Shanthi infused life and beauty into rock marvels that came alive to tell the tales of the past.

The tour asserted the need to zealously guard such remnants of the past.