KEEZHADI PALLAI SANDHAIPUR

With the discovery of an ancient settlement of the Pandyan Dynasty in a village in present-day Tamil Nadu, the Archeological Survey of India brings us closer to history like never before.

Words : Priya Narayan

The news of a 2,500-year old settlement buried under a remote village in Tamil Nadu spread like wildfire after archaeologists unearthed thousands of ancient artefacts. Initial exploration by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) led them through 293 sites along the river Vaigai before they finally decided to explore Keezhadi Pallai Sandhaipur.

Believed to provide a wealth of information that will form the missing link between the Iron Age and subsequent periods, the excavation area is a relatively undisturbed mound referred to as Pallichandai Thidal which spans 80 acres.

The team of ASI experts has been working on the site since February 2015 and started the second phase of its project this January. Over the past year, it has found 3,000 ancient artefacts that link the settlement to the Pandya Era, one of the three Tamil dynasties that ruled southern India from around 600 BCE to the 16th century CE.

What is interesting is that the settlement consists of a complex sewage and drainage system with pipelines made from baked clay, similar to those found in the Indus Valley Civilisation also known as the Harappan Civilisation. The Harappan Civilisation is known for its sophisticated urban planning techniques and was active during the Bronze Age, sometime between 3000 BCE and 1300 BCE.

Since the settlement at Keezhadi is a minimum of 2,500 years old and also very far from the Harappan Civilisation sites, it is quite unlikely that it was a part of the Harappan Civilisation. An accurate time period of the settlement at Keezhadi can only be discerned through carbon dating.

The excavations were carried out at two locations in the settlement yielding different kinds of items that represent social hierarchy. The smaller location which consists of fewer trenches has red and black pottery with graffiti on it, tools made of bone and groove tiles used for making roofs along with typical flat bricks. Researchers also found a fish symbol both as art and as the representation of a clan.

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The bigger location with more trenches could have been a settlement of the educated rich people where jewellery, dice, semi-precious stones and dozens of Tamil Brahmi inscriptions have been found. This location also consists of more refined brick structures.

ASI researchers uncovered several different styles of signets – seals used for authentication of official documents – which may have been sent by traders along with their products as a way to identify the origin of the goods. The presence of beads of agate, carnelian and quartz in addition to semi-precious stones like chalcedony, crystal ear lobe and pearl bead indicate a trade link with places like Rome.

THE THREE TAMIL DYNASTIES

It is believed that the region of Tamil Nadu has been inhabited right from 15,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE. The three Tamil Dynasties, famously referred to as the Three Crowned Kings of Tamilakam were the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. With their unique culture and language, the kingdoms contributed greatly to the growth of literature and even traded with places as far as Rome. However, the three dynasties were constantly battling each other for power and around the time the Muslim armies arrived, the country witnessed a major political change where the Tamil region declined and became a part of the Vijayanagar Empire.

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Other finds include weapons made from both copper and iron, iron implements, and a scribbling nail possibly used as a stylus to make marks on the writing surface. Moreover, the Tamil-Brahmi script inscribed on pottery refers to Thisan, Aadhan and Udhiran – names typical to the Sangam Age Tamil, a period in Tamilakam (ancient southern India including modern day Tamil Nadu, Kerala , parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and northern Sri Lanka) famous for its Sangam academies of poets and scholars.

The excavation at Keezhadi will continue until September, by which time the project will complete and after collecting samples, ASI will hand over the site to the owners. The ASI also plans on building a museum at the location in the next few years. The site is currently open to the public and to students who wish to visit. So if you are planning a short vacation to an ancient historical site this summer, do not forget to check out the settlement at Keezhadi.


Priya is a writer and aspiring film maker. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – Teens Talk Relationship. She can be reached at
priya@urbanvaastu.com

PANDYAN DYNASTY

One of the ancient Tamil dynasties, the Pandyan dynasty ruled the country of Pandya Nadu with its capital initially at Korkai (a port on the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula) and later at Madurai. With the fish as a symbol on their flags, Pandyans were experts in water management, agriculture, fishing and sailing.

They controlled the pearl fisheries on the south Indian coast and produced some of the finest pearls of the ancient world. They also excelled in literature and legendary Sangams were held in Madurai under the patronage of the kings who were often themselves poets.

The early Pandyan dynasty faded after the invasion of the Kalabhras. They did manage to gain some power in the 6th century and defeated the Kalabhras, eventually aligning themselves with the Sinhalese and the Cheras to fight the Cholas. The later Pandyan Era was considered a golden one where they expanded their empire into Andhra Pradesh, conquering Kalinga in the north and Sri Lanka in the south.

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