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Remains of ancient temple found

T.S. Subramanian

Dating back to the late Sangam period, it was discovered by ASI archaeologists



UNRAVELLED: Dr. T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (Chennai Circle), points to the square sanctum sanctorum built of bricks of a temple that belongs to the late Sangam period, near Mamallapuram. — Photo: S. Thanthoni

CHENNAI: The remains of a brick temple, dating back to the late Tamil Sangam period [circa 1st century B.C. to 2nd century A.D.], have been discovered on the seafront near the Tiger Cave at Saluvankuppam, a few km ahead of the world-famous Mamallapuram monuments.

The Archaeological Survey of India (Chennai Circle) during excavations in the area found the brick temple beneath a Pallava temple of circa 8th century A.D. The Hindu had published a report on the discovery of the Pallava temple, built of granite blocks, on July 13, 2005.

2000 years old

"The brick temple is the most ancient temple discovered so far in Tamil Nadu. There is no doubt that it is about 2,000 years old," said T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle. Twenty-seven courses of bricks with a square garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) that made the Sangam age temple form the centrepiece of the discovery. The temple is dedicated to Muruga, the presiding deity of "kurinji" [hill] tracts. The sanctum measures 2 metres by 2.2 metres. The bricks measure 40 cm x 20 cm x 7 cm. They are still sturdy.

The big-sized bricks are typical of the period and are similar to those found at Kaveripoompattinam near Thanjavur; Uraiyur in Tiruchi district — Uraiyur was the capital of the Cholas of the Sangam age; Mangudi near Tirunelveli; and Arikkamedu near Pondicherry. They have been sent to the University of Manipur for thermo-luminescent dating. The results are awaited.

Pre-canonical structure

Dr. Satyamurthy was sure the brick temple was built before the canonical period because it faced north. "Agama" texts, which came into existence in the sixth or seventh century A.D., and "shilpa sastras" had prescribed rules for construction of temples including the directions they should face. Normally, temples faced east or west. But this one did not follow "agama" texts and hence looked north. Tsunami or tidal waves that occurred twice had pulled down the entire temple complex. There is telltale evidence of wave action from the excavation. Deposits of shells and debris of the temple have been found on the eastern side of the complex, towards the shoreline. "What is interesting is not the discovery of the brick temple but that we can record stratigraphically the remains of palaeo-tsunami deposits. The impact of the tidal wave is seen on the eastern side of the temple, close to the sea. Such a feature is absent on the western side," Dr. Satyamurthy said.

G. Thirumoorthy, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI, said the temple belonged to two periods: the late Sangam age and the Pallava period. After the brick temple collapsed, the Pallava kings of the 8th and 9th century A.D., built another temple over it, using granite slabs. This temple too collapsed.

Artefacts found at the site include broken stucco figurines, obviously under worship; a painted hand portion with a bangle of a stucco figurine, simple-looking terracotta lamps, beads, roofing tiles made of terracotta, spinning whorls, a broken animal terracotta figurine and hop-scotches. A "prakara" (compound) wall of the same period has been excavated.

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