Excavations set to resume

Chief Minister M.K. Stalin recently announced government’s intent to take up the second phase at Gangaikondacholapuram

Published - January 28, 2022 01:32 am IST

Significant finding: The brick walls unearthed at Maligaimedu in Gangaikondacholapuram in Ariyalur district.

Significant finding: The brick walls unearthed at Maligaimedu in Gangaikondacholapuram in Ariyalur district.

Archaeological excavations at Gangaikondacholapuram, the city King Rajendra Chola I (1012-1044) built after his victorious expedition up to the Gangetic plains, are set to get wider in scope as Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has announced the government’s intent to take up the second phase of exploration.

The Department of Archaeology will begin phase-II of the excavation in early February, having unearthed substantial portions of brick structures of what are believed to be the remains of a Chola period palace last year.

Huge lake

Gangaikondacholapuram had been the capital of the Cholas for about 250 years from about 1025 CE. Rajendra Chola, known for his exploits far and wide, is credited with having a strong army and an unmatched naval force. He not only built the Gangaikondacholeeswarar Temple, rivalling the Peruvudaiyar Kovil (Sri Brihadisvara/Big Temple) built by his father Rajaraja Chola at Thanjavur, but also a huge lake to the west of the city, named Cholagangam. The lake is considered the jalasthambam, signifying his victorious march up to the Ganges. Known as Ponneri now, it still remains one of the biggest in the region.

It is widely believed that palaces of Chola kings had existed there about 1,000 years ago but were destroyed during the Pandya invasions or later. Excavations carried out in 1980s by the Department of Archaeology, under the direct supervision of its first director R. Nagaswamy, who died recently, had already brought to light the hidden structures of a palace and the city.

More come out

More portions of what are believed to be a medieval palace were exposed during the excavation conducted last year close to the trench dug earlier. Brick structures were unearthed in 13 of the 17 quadrants dug at Maaligaimedu (palace mound), situated in the vicinity of the Gangaikondacholeeswarar Temple, in the latest excavation.

Walls made of burnt bricks, measuring 27 x 13 x 5 cm and 30 x 15 x 8 cm, have been exposed. Brick structures were found at a depth of just from 12 cm and up to a depth of more than two metres. Four to 32 courses of bricks were found in various depths.

Roofing tiles and iron nails were recovered in large numbers. A Chola period copper coin, glass beads and bangles, hopscotch markers, spouted knobs, terracotta pieces and ceramics, such as red ware, black ware, decorated ware and Chinese ware, including celadon ware, were among the finds. The recovery of the Chinese ware indicated that trade ties had existed between the two countries then, officials say.

Further excavation could lead to unearthing of more such structures and possibly antiques, sources in the Department said. “We will continue the excavation mainly at the present site, but we may expand further depending on the nature of the structures and material that we find. Apart from exposing more of the palace, we will be looking for evidences of the trade links that had existed with various countries then,” an official source indicated.

“Gangaikondacholapuram has an important place in the history of the Cholas. The palace remains are the only surviving examples of the secular architecture of the Cholas in Tamil Nadu. There are good chances of unearthing more of the architecture. It is an important site which needs to be preserved and explored further,” said K. Sridharan, former Deputy Superintending Archaeologist.

Call for studies

Mr. Sridharan, who was part of the Department’s team which carried out the first excavation at the site in 1981, pointed out that the team had recovered the handle of a sword, coins and other antiques. Scientific studies could bring out the evidence of trade and cultural contacts with various countries, he added.

Local residents are equally enthusiastic over the next phase of excavation.

“We wish it proves to be a successful venture. There is still a large area to be covered — there has been a foundry (referred locally as ‘kollankuzhi’), pottery-making and dyeing industries. We hope more evidence will be unearthed to establish that Gangaikondacholapuram had been a thriving mercantile city,” said R. Komagan, chairman, Gangaikondacholapuram Development Council Trust.

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