A 16th century cemetery in Pulicat in neighbouring Tiruvallur district is in poor shape. The compound, overrun with thorny bushes, is now frequented by miscreants in the area, local residents say.
The cemetery, in Kottaikuppam village, is unused now and contains 22 tombstones, including that of a lone Raya (from the Vijayanagar empire), as well as those of a few Portuguese and several Dutch people.
“Members of the local Lady of Glory Church clean the place from time to time. Otherwise, it remains deserted but for local drunkards who climb over the wall and enter the compound. There is no lighting inside. The gate is kept locked and the keys are with the church,” said Bhoopalan, a resident of Pulicat.
The cemetery was discovered in 2007, by the Art and Architecture Research, Development and Education (AARDE ) Foundation, a not-for-profit architecture and design service organisation when it was scanning the area on Google Maps.
“We had come to Pulicat much earlier but found this cemetery only after it showed up on Google Maps. We believe the cemetery was used before 1656 AD. One of the tombstones even has Tamil inscriptions on it. All the graves are in the east-west alignment,” explained Xavier Benedict, founder of AARDE.
The Portuguese, who had come to India to trade in spices and cotton, were based in Pulicat from 1502 to 1579 under a contract with the then Vijayanagara King. “Since the Portuguese were not good administrators, trade dwindled and they had to leave. A Dutch businessman, who was imprisoned by the Portuguese heard the soldiers talk about Pulicat, came to Pazhakata as it was known then. It was he who was responsible for starting the Dutch East India Company,” Mr. Benedict said.
Pulicat’s other cemetery, called the new cemetery which is under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India, is three centuries old and has 77 graves. It is near the town’s bus terminus.
On Saturday, AARDE is organising a Pulicat Lagoon Cleanup Day during which the old cemetery will also be cleaned. The cleanup will begin by 7.30 a.m. and go on till noon. Volunteers willing to participate in the effort can call 9940079444.