Tsunami uncovers ancient city in India

Tsunami throws up India relics

by Soutik Biswas, Friday, 11 February, 2005, BBC News, Delhi

The deadly tsunami could have uncovered the remains of an ancient port city off the coast in southern India.

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The relics have been buried under the sand for centuries

Archaeologists say they have discovered some stone remains from the coast close to India's famous beachfront Mahabalipuram temple in Tamil Nadu state following the 26 December tsunami. They believe that the "structures" could be the remains of an ancient and once-flourishing port city in the area housing the famous 1200-year-old rock-hewn temple. Three pieces of remains, which include a granite lion, were found buried in the sand after the coastline receded in the area after the tsunami struck.

Undersea remains

"They could be part of the small seaport city which existed here before water engulfed them. They could be part of a temple or a building. We are investigating," says T Sathiamoorthy of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Archaeologists say that the stone remains date back to 7th Century AD and are nearly 6ft tall. They have elaborate engravings of the kind that are found in the Mahabalipuram temple.

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The bronze Buddha which floated up the coast at Kalapakkam

The temple, which is a World Heritage site, represents some of the earliest-known examples of Dravidian architecture dating back to 7th Century AD. The monument also has gigantic open air reliefs hewn out from granite.

The tsunami waves have also helped the archaeologists in desilting one such relief which had been covered with sand for ages. A half-completed rock relief of an elephant got "naturally desilted" by the ferocious waves and is now drawing large crowds at this popular tourist destination.

For the past three years, archaeologists working with divers from India and England have found the remnants of the ancient port. Archaeologists say they had done underwater surveys 1 km into the sea from the temple and found some undersea remains.

Legend

The myths of Mahabalipuram were first set down in writing by British traveller J Goldingham, who visited the South Indian coastal town in 1798, at which time it was known to sailors as the Seven Pagodas.

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Mahabalipuram was once a flourishing port city

The myths speak of six temples submerged beneath the waves with the seventh temple still standing on the seashore. The myths also state that a large city which once stood on the site was so beautiful the gods became jealous and sent a flood that swallowed it up entirely in a single day. The tsunami has also washed up a 9 inch-tall bronze Buddha on the coast off Kalapakkam in the state.

"It was lying with some other objects. It must have been carried out to the sea from Burma or Thailand," says T Sathiamoorthy. The Buddha has been handed over to the local authorities, and may soon find a place in an Indian museum. "We will protect it if nobody claims it," says Mr Sathiamoorthy.

Tsunami uncovers ancient city in India

The Associated Press, Feb. 18, 2005
Receding waters revealed animal carvings, temple

MAHABALIPURAM, India - Archaeologists have begun underwater excavations of what is believed to be an ancient city and parts of a temple uncovered by the tsunami off the coast of a centuries-old pilgrimage town.

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Local visitors look at a lion head monument which was uncovered by the Dec. 26 tsunami near the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram, 45 miles south of Madras, India.

Three rocky structures with elaborate carvings of animals have emerged near the coastal town of Mahabalipuram, which was battered by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

As the waves receded, the force of the water removed sand deposits that had covered the structures, which appear to belong to a port city built in the seventh century, said T. Satyamurthy, a senior archaeologist with the Archaeological Survey of India.

Mahabalipuram is already well known for its ancient, intricately carved shore temples that have been declared a World Heritage site and are visited each year by thousands of Hindu pilgrims and tourists. According to descriptions by early British travel writers, the area was also home to seven pagodas, six of which were submerged by the sea.

The government-run archaeological society and navy divers began underwater excavations of the area on Thursday.

"The tsunami has exposed a bas relief which appears to be part of a temple wall or a portion of the ancient port city. Our excavations will throw more light on these," Satyamurthy told The Associated Press by telephone from Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.

The six-foot rocky structures that have emerged in Mahabalipuram, 30 miles south of Madras, include an elaborately carved head of an elephant and a horse in flight. Above the elephant's head is a small square-shaped niche with a carved statue of a deity. Another structure uncovered by the tsunami has a reclining lion sculpted on it.

According to archaeologists, lions, elephants and peacocks were commonly used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period in the seventh and eighth centuries.

"These structures could be part of the legendary seven pagodas. With the waters receding and the coastline changing, we expect some more edifices to be exposed," Satyamurthy said.

References

Bibliography
1. Tsunami throws up India relics, BBC News, Delhi, by by Soutik Biswas
2. Tsunami uncovers ancient city in India, The Associated Press.

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