Friday, February 11, 2005


Tsunami Buddha comes ashore in TN


The Asian Age
By R. Bhagwan Singh
February 10, 2005

Chennai, a handful of scientists here are celebrating as the tsunami disaster has thrown up historic sculptures from the sea bed. Among the finds is a bronze Buddha believed to have been swept all the way from Burma, or Thailand, riding a bamboo raft.

Researchers from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have descended on the beach at Mahabalipuram, about 70 km south of Chennai and famous for rock carvings dating back to the Pallava dynasty in 700 AD, after locals reported that the tsunami had bared historic statues buried deep in the beach for centuries.

Barely a couple of km further south, close to the atomic power plant at Kalpakkam, the tsunami has thrown ashore another precious relic from the past: a six-inch-tall bronze Buddha preserved inside a large bamboo box, believed to be originally from Burma but hauled over by the might of the tsunami from some temple on either the Burmese or Thailand coast.

Among the tsunami’s "gifts" at Mahabalipuram are the remnants of a stone house and a half-completed rock elephant. There are also two lions, one of them seated and another poised to charge.

These findings collaborate with the results of the offshore exploration undertaken by the ASI last year. "The exploration last year showed us remains of a temple-like structure on the sea bed. The ASI is sending a team of marine archaeologists next month for undersea exploration," said ASI superintending archaeologist T. Sathiamoorthy.

According to him, the locals at Mahabalipuram had reported that after the first wave of the tsunami that fateful Sunday morning, the sea had withdrawn a great distance, baring a bed filled with several rock sculptures. "We will be exploring the sea bed to document all those Pallava relics," the ASI official told this correspondent.

Local fishermen quickly retrieved the idol washed ashore near Kalpakkam and placed it inside their little temple. Fearing that the idol could be grabbed by antique hunters, the ASI has alerted the Kancheepuram district collector to seize it for preservation. "We expect that this will be done today," Mr Sathiamoorthy said.

Scientists from the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) here were called to examine the Buddha, seated in "padmasana (lotus posture)" and holding a begging bowl in his lap. "The figure probably represented either that of Sakyamuni Buddha, or Arhant Pindola Bharadvaja, since these were the only two usually depicted with a begging bowl in the lap," said Dr B. Sasisekaran, NIOT scientist.

Asked about the idol’s age, he said it was difficult to say since the image came from a foreign region. Further research would be carried out to establish its origin and age. However, the Burmese script found on the back of the idol was of recent origin, the scientist said.

Describing the "remarkable" beach find, Dr Sasisekaran said, "Elegant and formal in posture, golden in colour, gazing forward with perfect symmetry, the hair on the head piled in a topknot (ushnisha in Sanskrit),
crowned with a gold ornament, the Buddha had long earlobes pierced from his youth spent as prince. A white dot (urna in Sanskrit) adorns the forehead between the eyebrows. The left hand placed on the lap in the mudra (gesture) of meditation supports a black begging bowl — a gift from the Kings of the Four Directions."

Wearing red and orange patchwork robes constructed from strips of discarded cloth and uniformly dyed with common saffron, the Buddha had the right shoulder bare while the left is covered in the fashion of Buddhist monks.

"Seated on a multi-coloured lotus seat above a throne supported by a snow lion, the Buddha was surrounded by radiant light of blue and orange and an areola of dark blue. Lotus stems and large pink blossoms decorated the outer edge of the platform," said the NIOT scientist.


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