A hidden underground vault was found when a piece of land was being dug for the construction of a house in Somangalam, near Tambaram, on Monday.
The incident created a stir with a section of the media reporting it as an underground tunnel following which, a large number of residents gathered at the spot on Tuesday.
The land on Thattar Street in Somangalam village panchayat, located about 10 kilometres west of Tambaram, belongs to Sumathi Shankar, a government employee.
Her family decided to construct a house on the land and the digging work for building the basement started a week ago.
On Monday, an earthmover hit a hard piece of rock and after workers cleared the rubble, a hollow vault was revealed.
“An adult could easily get through the opening and there was a small room at the bottom,” Ms. Sumathi said.
S. Rathnasabapathy, a resident of Somangalam for many years and father of Ms. Sumathi, said an ancient house belonging to their family had previously stood on the land for more than 100 years.
“I vividly remember the well-laid out house from playing there as a child,” the 72-year-old former assistant executive engineer of Chennai Corporation said.
The house, built with granite stone blocks, burnt bricks and lime mortar mix for bonding, became completely dilapidated 60 years ago and about 30 years back, was razed to the ground. Since then, the plot had been vacant, he said.
Not a tunnel; house can be built
Mr. Rathnasabapathy said the family had been anxious since news spread that the vault was an underground tunnel. Only after officials of the Kancheepuram district unit of the department of archaeology (Tamil Nadu government) on Tuesday said the family could go ahead with construction, were they able to heave a sigh of relief, Mr. Rathnasabapathy said.
M.A.V. Saraswathi, archaeological officer, Kancheepuram, said they believed the ancient house had been constructed more than 100 years ago and the vault might have been constructed by the original builders for safekeeping of valuables or performance of rituals.
A team of lecturers from the department of history and archaeology, Madras Christian College, who visited the site, studied the granite stone blocks and the bricks and said they were ‘pre-modern’, used even until towards the beginning of the British rule.
The site also has an ancient, circular surface well, with a narrow square-shaped opening at the top. For many years, residents of the locality had drawn water from the well, a resident said.
Residents said the present name of Somangalam might have come from ‘Chozhamangalam’ or from the Kamakshi Amman–Somanatha Eswarar Temple in the village, constructed during the 11th century during the Chola period. It was also called Chaturvedimangalam, said Selvi Nandagopal, a resident.who had come to offer prayers at the temple on Tuesday evening.
In one of his works, eminent academician Gift Siromoney says two old temples in the village bear inscriptions of kings and chieftains of the Chola, the Pandya, the Telugu Choda and the Vijayanagar dynasties.