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Ninth century fort discovered at Vizhinjam

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POINTERS TO THE PAST: Head of the Department of Archaeology, University of Kerala Ajith Kumar at Vizhinjam, where a team from the Department discovered the remnants of a fort believed to be of the Chera era. Photo: S. Gopakumar
POINTERS TO THE PAST: Head of the Department of Archaeology, University of Kerala Ajith Kumar at Vizhinjam, where a team from the Department discovered the remnants of a fort believed to be of the Chera era. Photo: S. Gopakumar

During the eighth century AD when Sadayan and Ko-Karunandadakkan kings of the Ay dynasty shifted their capital to what is now Vizhinjam, they built a fort on a seaside cliff. Later, as Vizhinjam grew in importance as a port of trade and military importance, the fort changed hands several times - from the Ays to the Pandyas, then to the Kulasekharas and finally to the Cholas. Sometime between 1070 AD and 1120 AD, Kolothunga Chola is said to have destroyed this fort.

Some months ago, when a team of researchers from the Department of Archaeology - led by the department head Ajit Kumar - stumbled upon the remnants of what appeared to a fort by the side of the sea near the lighthouse at Vizhinjam, little did they realise that they were looking at a site where history was literally made and unmade.

"If all the archaeological evidence we have is indeed true, then this is the oldest fort in Kerala. All other extant forts belong to the colonial era. I would date this to far back as the eighth or the ninth century," Dr. Ajit told The Hindu on Tuesday.

A preliminary investigation by the team has revealed the fort might have originally been 800 sq. m in area. The fort's wall can be found on the northern and western (seaside) parts and has been constructed using large boulders set in mud mortar. The wide base of the wall tapers on its way up. According to Dr. Ajit, one important clue in dating the fort is that the walls have no battlements or `loop holes' (holes to place cannons in). This is typical of early forts, he says.

The team was also able to trace literary and epigraphical references - of 9 AD to 12 AD vintage - to a fort and port at Vizhinjam. Sangam literature such as `Pandikkovai', `Iraiyanar Ahapporul Urai', `Kalingattup-parani', of Jayamkondar, and `Vikrama-solan-ula' are said to have numerous references to the existence of a fort, port and a mansion at Vizhinjam.

Moreover, the Srivaramangalam copper plate s of Pandyan King Nedum Chadayan ( 8 AD) have clear reference to Vizhinjam and its fort. "Here, the fort is described as surrounded by waters of three seas, protected by a wide moat, high walls which the sun's rays do not touch and so on. Leaving aside the hyperbole typical of such inscriptions, the ground evidence at Vizhinjam that we got fits this description of the old fort. In fact the port at Vizhinjam has been mentioned in the work `The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea', a work of the first century AD. Here Vizhinjam has been called as Balita," said Dr. Ajit.

Hearing news that an earth-mover was used for construction activity in a part of what once was the fort, the team rushed to the site and was able to identify artefacts including pottery that also indicate the age of the fort. The department plans to undertake an extensive exploration in the area soon for "further verification and authentication' of the evidences unearthed so far.

G. Mahadevan

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