Keeladi on the banks of the Vaigai, which yielded unique artefacts establishing a stronger link to the rich ancient roots of the Tamils, is set to have a museum. It will be opened by Chief Minister M.K. Stalin on Sunday (March 5).
The museum showcases the fruits of the archaeological excavations done since 2014-15. The outcome underscored the need to redefine and re-evaluate the cultural and Sangam Age history of South India and, perhaps, the Indian subcontinent.
Speaking about Keeladi’s uniqueness, compared with the other contemporary archaeological sites, including those of the Indus Valley Civilization, T. Udhayachandran, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, said there are references in Sangam literature to each and every facet unearthed. “With pride, we can claim the museum is a living laboratory for Sangam literature in poems or vice-versa,” he said.
The foundation was laid for the museum, virtually, by the former Chief Minister, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, in July 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The museum was built at a cost of ₹18 crore by the Heritage Wing of the Public Works Department.
It would display over 15,000 artefacts unearthed between the fourth and eighth seasons of the excavations in the Keeladi clusters, comprising Konthagai, Agaram and Manalur villages, said R. Sivanantham, Commissioner (in-charge), Department of Archaeology. Carefully curated versions of the artefacts will be lined up to highlight the local cultural aspects.
The artefacts have been categorised into the following topics — Keeladi and Madurai; agrarian and water management; ceramic industry; weaving and iron industry; sea trade; and lifestyle. They will be housed in six blocks in the museum, which is built in the Chettinad style of architecture, Mr. Udhayachandran said.
The museum sprawls on two acres in the quiet hamlet, with a courtyard dotted with greens and a few palm trees outside the premises. Inside, the museum is fitted with beautifully crafted and colourful Athangudi tiles. The craft is native to the Athangudi village in Sivaganga district, in the Chettinad region. They are cement tiles, but made manually over glass surfaces with a unique and restricted colour palette.
The wooden pillars, the sunlit courtyard or ‘muttram’ whose borders are dotted with pillars, the open verandas and artefacts are placed in an aesthetic style.
A few blocks are equipped with lifts and there are ramps for the differently abled persons. The information on every piece on display will be available in two languages, and a catalogue in Braille will be accommodated.
Sivaganga Collector P. Madhusudhan Reddy noted that the architecture would be the attracting feature and said the museum has an immense potential to become a major landmark. It is a ticket to tour the ancient world. “Since it is located on Madurai-Rameswaram Highway and not very far from Madurai, it will be easily accessible for the eager visitors,” he added.
Travelling back in time
The museum has it all — from potsherds engraved with the Sangam Age names, such as Thisan, Uthiran and Iyanan in Tamil-Brahmi scripts, indicating a high level of literacy, to spindle whorls and copper needles, attesting to the existence of a weaving industry.
“The several thousand graffiti-inscribed potsherds underscored the need “to find a possible linguistic link” between the graffiti and the Indus script”K. RajanProfessor, Department of History, Pondicherry University
The microlithic tools, gold ornaments and an ivory comb highlight the economic prosperity, while agate, quartz and carnelian beads, pieces of Rouletted and Arretine ware testify to the transoceanic trade, stretching as far as Rome. The crucial findings are the miniature pots, husk, burial urns, and offering pots, referred to as “grave goods”. They are buried along with the dead in urns. Unique artefacts in each category will also be structured as a selfie-spot to engage the visitors. To retain the historicity, the terracotta figurines would be replicated in larger sizes, and the ornaments would be displayed on them and not on the usual modern mannequins.
Iron daggers, used by warriors belonging to the Sangam Age, dice, gamesmen and evidence of hopscotch, popularly known as ‘Pandi’ or ‘Nondivilayattu’, open a window to the life that people of yore led.
The punch-marked silver coins highlight the trade with north India, where such coins were used in the 6th Century BCE.
C. Santhalingam, secretary of the Pandya Naatu Centre for Historical Research, noted that any trading activity strongly establishes an urban civilisation. The faunal remains — one tested to be of Bos indicus, a native species — suggest they were predominantly cattle-rearing and agrarian people. It also points to the ‘ eru thazhuvuthal’ sport, similar to jallikattu.
To be played at an in-house AV theatre, the videos on the structural remains of terracotta ring wells will spotlight the advanced water management and conservation skills. Large-scale brick structures, lime-mortar and grooved roof-tiles point to the second urbanisation that had happened in Tamil Nadu.
The museum has been equipped with multimedia content, QR codes and holograms. A replica of the excavation trench is formed on the premises to bring the visitors a notch closer to experiencing the life of ancient Tamils. A play area would allow the visitors to play games such as hopscotch. The cafeteria on the premises would serve traditional and organic food, said the officials.
The several thousand graffiti-inscribed potsherds underscored the need “to find a possible linguistic link” between the graffiti and the Indus script, since it would help to bridge the cultural gap of 1,000 years between the Indus Valley Civilization and the Keeladi excavation, said K. Rajan, professor, Department of History, Pondicherry University, in the SDA publication, Keeladi: An Urban Settlement of Sangam Age on the Banks of River Vaigai.
Mr. Udhayachandran said a request would be made to the ASI for installing in the museum the artefacts unearthed till the third season of excavations. Plans are to turn the excavation sites into open-air museums, he added. The ninth phase of the excavations would begin later this month, said officials.
Until then, step into the museum dipped in rich history to experience the life of ancient Tamils through the antiques.