Eminent archaeologist and epigraphist R. Nagaswamy is no more

Nagaswamy was an authority in archaeology, architecture, epigraphy, numismatics, iconography, South Indian bronzes and temple rituals

Published - January 23, 2022 08:52 pm IST - CHENNAI

File photo of R. Nagaswamy.

File photo of R. Nagaswamy.

R. Nagaswamy, the first Director of the Department of Archaeology, died of age-related complications on Sunday. He was 92, and is survived by two daughters and two sons.

An authority in archaeology, architecture, epigraphy, numismatics, iconography, South Indian bronzes and temple rituals, Nagaswamy favoured the idea of closing temples in Tamil Nadu during the COVID-19 pandemic. He would say that ahamic principles allowed it duringmahamari(epidemic), fire, earthquake and invasion. “Invoke the God in a tharpai and worship in a private place,” he said.

Nagaswamy was born at Kodumudi in Erode district, an abode of Lord Siva sung by Saivate saints. But he would take pride in saying, “K.P. Sundaramabalukkum enga ooruthan [It is also the birth place of actor and singer K.P. Sundarambal].”

He had deep knowledge of Tamil and Sanskrit. He obtained his MA degree in Sanskrit from the University of Madras. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Indian Arts by Pune University. After serving the Department of Archaeology in various capacities, he became its director in 1966 and held the post till his retirement in 1988.

Nagaswamy, whose name was synonymous with archaeology in Tamil Nadu, was always available for his views on the south Indian history, its temples, ahamas, Chola bronzes and the shastras ofBharatanatyam. He always had a simple theory for the greatness of Chola bronzes.

“Dance flourished during the Chola period, and at the Big Temple in Thanjavuralone, there were 400 dancers. Only a sculptor who had seen them dancing for years would have created such beautiful expressions in bronzes and stones,” he would say.He started the famous Chidambaram Natyanjali festival.

He penned a book, Masterpieces of Early South Indian Bronzes , in 1983 and compiled a coffeetable bookfor the Tamil Nadu government to mark the World Classical Tamil Conference.

His other important books are on Mamallapuram, published by the Oxford University Press, Uttaramerur and Gangaikondacholapuram. He had also published books in Tamil.

According to his website tamilartsacademy.com , Nagaswamy was instrumental in protecting several historical monuments, including the Chera inscriptions at Pugalur, the palace site of Gangaikondacholapuram, the famous 17th century Thirumalai Nayak Palace in Madurai, the Danish Port at Tranquebar and the birth place of national poet Subramania Bharatiin Ettayapuram. He also oversaw excavations at the palace site of Veerapandya Kattabomman at Panchalankurichi and at Korkai.

What upset him most was the careless attitude of officials when it came to restoration of ancients structures. “The murals, frescos, sculptures and other structures were made by highly sensitive artistes. They cannot be touched by crude workmanship,” he said in an interview to The Hindu . He spoke against sand-blasting, a practice that was stopped.

In recent times, he courted a controversy by claiming that the Thirukkuralhad Vedic roots. It evoked condemnation, but Nagaswamy stood his ground, saying great scholars, including Parimelazhagar, Veeramamunivar, Ellis, G.U. Pope and U.V. Swaminatha Iyer had said “in no equivocal terms that the Thirukkural has its roots in the Vedas”.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.