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Archaeological evidences in Tamil Nadu

Archaeological evidences:

Surface explorations on the beach revealed the vestiges of ancient habitations like the ringwells, pottery, bricks and brick bats and beads. Habitation sites going back to the time when the city was at the zenith of its glory, have been noticed at places like Vanagiri, Neithavasal and Kilaiyur. Square copper coins, bearing the royal crest of the Cholas, viz, the tiger on one side and the

elephant on the other, black and red potherds and the beads of semiprecious stones were found on the surface at the sites.

Several beautiful terracotta figurines were found at places like Melapperumpallam, all showing that these places were once the centres of early culture and activities.

Urn-burials associated with Megalithic Black and red ware were found in situ in Melapperumpallam and Manigramam, indicating the prevalence of this practice in this coastal area. The mention of the urn-burial practice in the ancient Tamil Sangam and post-Sangam works like the Purananuru and Manimekhalai variously is very significant in this context.

Amongst the coin finds, mention should be made of the discovery of a punch-marked coin at Manigramam, a lead Roman coin at Vellaiyan Iruppu, the unique square copper coin with tiger emblem (apparently of the early Cholas), besides a number of coins belonging to the kings of the medieval Cholas like Rajaraja I and Rajendra I.


Keeladi is located about 12km south east of Madurai on the south bank of the river Vaigai. The analysis of carbon samples collected from the Keeladi Excavations resulted as 6th century BCE (580 BCE). Likewise, the date of Tamil-Brahmi is pushed back to 6th century BCE that is a century earlier than the hitherto held view of 5th century BCE. Which is evidence for the high literacy level that was well achieved in 6th century BCE in Tamil Nadu.

Excavation work has yielded 5820 antiquities with enough cultural traits in the form of structural activity (brick structures, terracotta ring wells, fallen roofing tiles with double holes and deeply finger pressed grooves to draw rain water).

Antiquities like few pieces of golden ornaments, broken portions, copper objects, iron implements, terracotta gamesmen (chessman), hop scotches, ear ornaments, spindle whorls,

figurines and portions besides beads of terracotta, glass, semi-precious stones (agate, carnelian, crystal, etc.). Popular ceramic types like finer variety of Black and Red ware, Black ware, Black Polished ware, Red ware, Rouletted ware, few pieces of Arretines were also found.

There are also enough numbers of graffiti sherds of both pre and post firing nature. A good number of Tamil Brahmi sherds also have been unearthed.

It is generally believed that the Early Historic phase of Tamil Nadu began with 3rd century BCE and the second urbanization did not occur in Tamil Nadu. In contrast to this, the occurrence of large scale brick structures and a s sociated artefacts of high economic value unearthed at Keeladi suggest that the second urbanization too happened in Tamil Nadu around 6th century BCE as happened in Gangetic plains.

The dates for the samples collected from Lower Palaeolithic phase of Attirampakkam go back to 15 lakh years and Middle Palaeolithic phase to 3,85,000 years ago. The carbon samples collected from Adichchanallur urn burials go back to 8th century BCE. Thus, the recent excavations and the scientific dates clearly suggest that the people were living in Tamil Nadu continuously for the past 15 lakhs years.

The potters of Keeladi were familiar with the technique and knew the art of raising the kiln temperature to 1100°c to produce the typical Black-and-Red ware pottery. Keeladi people of Sangam Age had followed the same technique and materials right from 6th century BCE to 2nd century BCE.

Recovery of 10 spindle whorls, 20 sharply pin-pointed bone tip tools used for design creations, hanging stones of the yarn, terracotta spheres, copper needle and earthen vessels to hold liquid clearly attest the various stages of weaving industry from spinning, yarning, looming and weaving, later for dyeing.

The antiquities of Keeladi excavation really reflect the facts of the ancient life style of the society. In fact, agriculture seems to be its prime occupation being supplemented by iron industry, carpentry, pottery making and weaving.

The occurrence of seven gold ornaments, copper articles, beads of gems, more than 4000 beads of semiprecious stones, glass beads, shell bangles, ivory bangle pieces, comb and terracotta objects indicate the cultural richness and economic prosperity.


Adichanallur is located on the lower valley of the Tamirabarani river in Srivaikuntam taluk in present-day Thoothukudi district in southern Tamil Nadu. Adichchanallur is one of the best preserved sites in the Tamiraparani valley, and the excavation reports enumerate that the site yielded a large number of artefacts and pottery.

Studies reveal that inhabitants of the region cultivated paddy and millets during the Iron Age. The excavation also brought to light that they buried their dead with offerings of paddy, which were of two types — placing fresh rice grains with husk in earthen baked pots, and direct offerings of rice grains.

The ancient settlers at Adichanallur cultivated both rice and green gram. The radiocarbon dating on the organic paddy revealed a conventional date of 601 BCE (2510±30 BP) and a calibrated date of 640-650 BCE, while another sample revealed a conventional date of 750 BCE (2700±30 BP), 750 BCE and a calibrated date of 850 BCE.

Dating of the urn burials show most of them are from 850-650 BCE, and divulge a datum line for Iron Age urn culture in south India. The relationship between the burial and habitation sites could not be clearly established, Sathtamurthy said in the report. He added that the period might go up to 1500 BCE, if the artefacts are collected meticulously and dated properly using the latest technology. He also wished more research scholars would analyse the specimens so more significant features of the ancient people would be brought to light.

Various expressions have been used in Sangam literature to denote the cemetery area like kadu or purangadu which means a waste-land set apart for burial in the wilds near the village; mudukaduor mudur which means the place for the ancients or old men after death; idukadu,(burial-ground), and sudukadu,(‘cremation-ground). In some places the term imam or imakkadu is also used, where imam refers to funeral rituals. The literature has many references to burial practices, both to internment and cremation. While the different types of burial practices are not to be found in the early Sangam literature, the Manimekhalai (a later epic) mentions different modes of disposal of the dead.

Mnemonics has played a very crucial role in the preservation of the Iron Age burial sites are concerned in this part of Tamil Nadu. The site is locally referred to as ‘parambu’ meaning dry

ground, ridge or mound (long stretch of high land) in Tamil. The word parambu is so entrenched in the minds of the locals that they immediately correlate the word with the Iron Age protected site at Adichchanallur. The locals associate the site with two imagery tools – where spirits reside and where the gusty winds that blow across the site everyday with singular punctuality which the locals call as ‘peikathu’ – ghostly winds. Though some of the urns have been disturbed, most of them are in fairly good state of preservation.


Alagankulam is a village situated on the east coast in Ramanathapuram Taluk and district. The village is situated on the banks of the river Vaigai and is about three kilometers away from the seashore.

Sangam literature and the account of Ptolemy mention a few places in this vivinity as important sea ports that played a significant role in the trade contacts between Tamil Nadu and the far East and the far west. Ahananuru, one of the Sangam works refers to two places Unur and Marungurpattinam which appear to have been in the close proximity to the present Alagankulam according to the descriptions found in it.

It is understood from the local legend that this village was ruled by a king known as Alagendran. He built a beautiful palace and a strong fort surrounded by a deep moat in this village. Hence, this village was called as Alagendramangalam which in course of time was corrupted as Alagankulam.

The most significant findings of the excavation are hundreds of potsherds of the Mediterranean region. They include Rouletted ware and Amphorae jar pieces. Pieces of Red ware with Tamil Brahmi letters have been found. They are assignable to the first century BCE. Other antiquities include beads, perforated tiles, and bricks in various levels.

Three Roman coins were unearthed. They contain the figure of the head of the Roman Emperor on one side and the figure of goddess of victory, holding a globe on the other side. The legend on them shows that the Roman Emperor Valentine II who ruled around 375 CE issued the coins.


Kodumnal is located on the banks of river Noyyal near Chennimlai in Erode. Kodumnal is an iron age habitation cum burial site.

The ancient significance is evident from the textual refrences to it as a trade-cum-industrial centre in Sangam literature Padirruppattu (dated to the latter part of the 1st millennium BCE and the 1st millennium CE). The site on an ancient trade route that connects Karur, an ancient capital of Cheras, in the east to the seaport of Muciri on the west.

The inhabitants of this destroyed ancient city of Chera dynasty were highly skilled craftsmen, who specialized in making beads and high-quality iron. The place is referred to in Sangam literature as an important industrial centre that had links with the Chola city of Kaveripattanam.

The city played a major role in Indo-Roman trade and relations, as the ancient city is located on the mid-way of a Roman trade route, linking Muziris port on the Malabar coast with the Kaveripatanam on the Coromandel Coast.

Mining and smelting of magnetite iron in this region was reported till the middle of the 19th century. The magnetite ore used extensively for iron smelting at this site is found in and around Chennimalai hill.

A bowl furnace has been found at the Kodumnal. The furnace probably attained the temperature of 1300o C well above the minimum temperature at which iron oxide can be reduced to iron but substantially below the melting point of the metal. The iron thus produced is still in semi solid condition as sponge or raw bloom from which the slag is still in fluid state.

Kodumanal was one of the earliest wootz steel producing centre in south India and probably exported steel to the Roman Egypt, as reported by the elder Pliny in his Historia Naturalis, as the iron from the Seri.

The area is known for its semi-precious stones. Both the habitation cuttings and the megaliths yielded beads made of semi-precious stones. Beads of sapphire, beryl, agate, carnelian, amethyst,

lapis lazuli, jasper, garnet, soapstone and quartz were collected from the habitation whereas beads of carnelian and agate were restricted to burials. Carnelian beads, mostly of etched variety, were found in large number in megaliths.

The absence of the raw material like carnelian and lapis lazuli in this region suggests that these have been brought from Gujarat and Afghanistan and Baluchistan.


Kanchipuram, or Kanchi, as it is more simply known, is an ancient city. When the Pallava dynasty moved its from Andhra Pradesh in the third century to establish a presence in Tamil Nadu, the royal family selected Kanchi for their new capital because it was already an important place. Kanchi was widely known throughout India during this ers – nearly 2000 kms away in northern India, the Prayagraj pillar of Ashoka contains a 4th century CE inscription from the Gupta king, Samudragupta, in which he claims to have conquered one of Kanchi’s early Pallava kings.

Kanchi is the only place that has given quarters to all the religions, which took roots in this country i.m. Jaina, Buddhist, Saiva, Vaishnava and Saktha. The settlements have also appeared in different coordinal points with their religious faiths and developed on the name of Jaina, Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma Kanchipurams’ . These are collectively known as Panchakanchi (five kanchipurams’). Jainakanchi, Sivakanchi (periya / big kanchipuram) and Vishnukanchi (china /small kanchipuram) are still survived and popular localities in the region even now. Further, it is a place of advanced learning centre for all religious sects from the very beginning. Ghattika, an advanced intellectual learning centre of this region was a popular in the early days for Vedic learning and understand, Terravada school for Buddhist, one of poplar learning centre (chatursimhasana) for Jaina.

The Garuḍa Purāṇa states that the seven holy places which yield release to the people from worldly suffering are Ayodhyā, Mathurā, Māyā, Kāśī, Kāñcī, Avantikā and Dwārakā-Sapta

mokśadāyaka sthalas. The Saivaites get mukti in some kṣetras while the Vaishnavites in other pilgrim centres.

While narrating the different Śivakṣetra-s and Śaktikṣetra-sand the Sacred places (Tirthasthānāni, Skandapurana makes references of the city Kāñcī and its historical, Spiritual, Social and religious importance. The section of Aruṇācalamāhātmyam of Māheśvarakhaṇḍa deals with the glory of Kāñcīnagarī in connection with the Penance of Pārvatī. A beautiful description we may get through the conversation between Brahmā and Sanaka. To clarify the doubt of Sanaka, Brahmā says that ‘There is a city by named Kāñcī. It is endowed with all riches and is also famous. It is direct representation of heaven full of Deva-s on the surface of the earth. It is also said that any penance performed in the city of Kāñcī has infinite benefits.

In Brahmāṇḍapurāṇam we can go through many instances about Kāñcīpuram. In the chapter called Lalitā Mahātmyam, one can go through the glory and greatness of Devī Kāmākṣī via many stories. This glory of Kāñcīpuram and Devī Kāmākṣī reaches out to the world through the dialogue between Ṛṣi-Agastya and Hayagrīva. According to some laureates, the dialogue took place in the city of Kāñcīpuram itself. Thus, the Kāñcīpuram gets much more value.

Kanchi appears frequently in the south Indian epics and poetry from the Sangam era (1st century BCE – 6th century BCE). Although the texts give us mere glimpses of its character, Kanchi’s repeated inclusion in the Sangam literature indicates its importance as a south Indian city. The Pattupattu anthology of ten Tamil poems often mentions Kanchi. Kanchi is the ultimate destination in the Manimekalai, one of the five great Tamil epics. Also a Sangam era work, this text describes a spiritual journey along the path of Buddhism that leads the heroine directly to Kanchi.

The great philosopher Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have established the Kamakoti pitha and to have spent time there near the end of his life.

A great many of Kanchi’s temples are sanctified in the hymns of the Tevaram and Divya Prabandham, poetic anthologies composed by the Tamil saints (Shaiva nayanmars and Vaishnava alvars respectively). The life stories of the Shaiva saints were later compiled into a hagiographic anthology called the Periya Puranam, whch was composed in the 12th century at the Chola court.

Archeological evidence of Kanchi’s longevity supports the literary testimony. Megalithic burial sites and excavations in and around the city have revealed the area’s continuous inhabitation and its activity in Roman circuits of trade. In the majestic cave-temple site of Mamantur, a 1st century BCE inscription in Brahmi script reveals that by the early historic period, Kanchi and its hinterland served as an important center of religious and literary knowledge. A Grantha inscription credits the Pallava king Mahendravarman 1 (580-630 CE) with authorship of the Mattavilasa Prahasana, a Sanskrit drama that takes place in courtly Kanchi. Throughout the play, specific temples are associated with different sectors of society to give a picture of a multi-religious place.

Kanchi itself provides a rich and complex archive. At least eight full temples were established in the 8th century alone, under the auspices of the Pallavas. Dozens of small shrines and scattered fragments furnish evidence of additional Pallava-era temples. No less than 25 extant shrines date

to the Chola period, and disengaged sculptures attest to the former presence of an even greater number. Countless inscriptions and architectural fragments have gone unnoticed in official epigraphic and archeological reports.


Situated on the banks of Kaveri, Kumbakonam has been a sacred centre of Hindu Pilgramage over a millennium. The city was referred to as Kudandai in the corpus of Tamil literature known as the Sangam, which dates to the first three centuries AD. However, in early religious works dedicated to the god Shiva (the Shaiva corpus) it was called Kudamukku (literally, the mouth or spout of the pot), probably the antecedent of its present name Kumbakonam which first appears in a fourteenth-century inscription. The pot motif, evidently significant in the historical evolution of the place name, may simply refer to the town’s wedge shape and location at the point where the Kaveri bifurcates in its delta from the Arasalar. However, the pot motifrecurs in a later Sanskrit text, the Kumbakonam Puranam, where the city is the site of the cosmic myth of Shiva as Adi-Kumbeshvara or the “Lord of the Pot”.

According to this legend, Brahma, the creator god, places the Hindu scriptures and the seed of creation in a golden pot to save them from destruction; in due course the pot floats to the south, to be later released by the arrow of Shiva. The appearance of Shiva at a shrine after the cosmic flood, the shattering of the pot (or womb of all creation) , and the subsequent release of amrata (an embryonic nectar that congeals and crystallizes to form Kumbakonam’s luminescent topography of temples and tanks) mark the start of a renewed creation. Even today, Kumbakonam’s religious topography and rituals embody and reenact this creation. Although all the city’s sacred sites participate in the cosmic origins, particular sites directly embody this epic. The Banapureshvara temple, for example, is the place where Shiva launched his arrow westwards onto the site where the pot actually ruptured, celebrated today in the form of the AdiKumbeshvara temple.

The earliest historical stratum, as gleaned from extant buildings and rudimentary surface archaeology, corresponds with the advent of the Chola kings, who, from the seventh to thirteenth centuries, developed a characteristically Tamil form of urbanism that grew by

aggregation from its core in the Kaveri Valley to an empire that at its peak, in the tenth-thirteenth centuries, extended from the Ganges Valley in the north to Sri Lanka. Kudamukku, present-day Kumbakonam, was the sacred religious centre, organized around its several temples, whereas Paliyarai, 2 km to the southwest, was the royal centre and residential capital, with its palaces, royal temples and administrative and military establishments. The sacred-royal configuration of Kudamukku-Paliyarai, together with a wider network of subsidiary temple centred agglomerations, constituted one of the earliest settlements of the Chola kings in the Kaveri Valley.2 It epitomized the Chola idiom of symbolic landscapes consecrated by the sacred Kaveri, the continuity of which was embodied in a sacred topography of temple centres and ritual kingship.

Under the Vijayanagara-Nayaka kings the religious topography of Kumbakonam underwent a series of changes as a result primarily of a shift in royal patronage from Shaivism to Vaishnavism (from the god Shiva to the god Vishnu). The Vijayanagara-Nayaka contribution to the ritual topography of Kumbakonam, as in the rest of the Tamil country, is manifest in large building programmes for the renovation and expansion of several of Kumbakonam’s early temples; the expansion of the AdiKumbeshvara and Sarangapani temples by the addition of several colonnaded hallways and concentric outer enclosures is testimony of this. The most significant impact of the Vijayanagara-Nayaka intervention was, however, on the urban and ritual topography of the city as a whole. Under the Cholas, the urban topography had a primarily east-west Shaiva orientation consisting of small clusters of temples surrounded by concentric ceremonial streets lined with priestly brahmin dwellings, but during the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries this pattern was incorporated into a grand and symbolic urban scheme. This transformation principally involved the creation of a complementary north-south Vaishnava topography to the west of the Chola city, which subordinated the older Shaiva religious establishments to the new Vaishnava ones.


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