Thursday, February 17, 2005


Search for sunken Pagodas begins

February 17, 2005

CHENNAI: The Archaeological Survey of India and the Indian Navy on Wednesday jointly started a series of offshore and onshore explorations near the Mahabalipuram coast to look for a set of sunken pagodas dating back to the eighth century AD.

An eight-member team headed by Alok Tripathy, Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, Marine Archaeology Wing, ASI, New Delhi, arrived in Mahabalipuram and started the first of its search operations on Wednesday in collaboration with Navy personnel.

While technical support, including monitoring and scanning equipment and boats, would be provided by the Navy, the ASI team comprising professional divers would also work along with local fishermen, T Sathyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI Chennai Circle, told Express.

The exploration would go on till March 12 and the Government of India had alloted Rs 12 lakh for the first phase of exploration. The first results are expected to be available as early as next week.

The current search operation is a follow-up to the uncovering of a hitherto-silted up Pallava scultpure, possibly dating back to the seventh century AD, on the beachfront by the tsunami. Archaeologists say they have reason to believe the tsunami’s action on the ocean floor may have made it easier for them to locate the sunken structures that belong to a set of seven pagodas built by the Pallava monarch Narasimhavarman II.

These pagodas, which archaeologists believe must have since been swallowed by the sea, belong to the same period as the famous Shore Temple and built by Pallava monarch Narasimhavarman II.

While the Shore Temple complex has two of them, five more are likely to remain underwater, archaeologists say.

Apart from on-sea explorations, the ASI team from New Delhi also started excavations on the beachfront, a few metres away from the boulder sculpture that became visible recently.

The sculpture, carved out of red granite, is believed to precede the Shore Temple, carved out of black granite. ‘‘The sculpture is typical of Pallava iconography and is a celebration of both the power of the Pallava army and their sea-trading prowess. It clearly shows all four components of the army - the chariot, the elephant, the horseriders and the cavalry.

"The lion, a favourite motif of Pallava rulers, is an inseparable part of their iconography too. It must have been a small shrine where seafarers and fishermen offered prayers before venturing out into the sea,’’ K T Narasimhan, Superintending Archaeologist, Temple Survey Project, ASI, Chennai Circle, said.

‘‘Mahabalipuram has a 1,300-year unbroken tradition of training sculptors. Wherever bedrock is available, such unfininshed sculptures as the one uncovered by the tsunami abound,’’ Narasimhan, who has been carrying excavations on the Mahabalipuram seafront for more than a decade, added.


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