Tag Archives: KCHR

Pattanam Excavations, Muziris and the Broken Buddha

Prof P J Cherian by the new trench at Pattanam archeological site on 19 Apl 2014.

Prof P J Cherian by the new trench at Pattanam archeological site on 19 Apl 2014.

Pattanam is writing new histories of its own with an intervention from the dedicated archeologists from across the world resembling the kind of global interest it enjoyed during the last three or four thousand years. Prof P J Cherian of KCHR and his team of young researchers are collaborating with Oxford University archeologists to continue their excavation of Pattanam for the 8th successive year. It is a multi disciplinary academic project involving various social sections of people including the local population in an imaginative and ethical way.

Prof (Dr) Wendy Morrison discussing the excavations with her students from Oxford University at Pattanam.

Prof (Dr) Wendy Morrison discussing the excavations with her students from Oxford University at Pattanam.

As Pattanam excavations and its material archeological treasures have revolutionized the cultural history of Kerala and revealed for the first time on a large basis the pre 8th century history of Kerala, traditionalist historians especially those who allied with the right wing forces are desperately trying to diminish and tarnish the very name Pattanam and the archeological project locating Muziris.  These Hindutva historians are projecting the “Mahodayapuram” hagiography that is a post 10th century “Hindu” hegemonic fabrication to be precise.

Prof Chris Gosden of Oxford University talking about the Global Connections of Pattanam at Kochi, early April 2014.

Prof Chris Gosden of Oxford University talking about the Global Connections of Pattanam at Kochi, early April 2014.

The global and multicultural legacies of Pattanam are enraging the totalitarian and homogenizing Hindu hegemonic ideologues of canonized His-story in an unprecedented fashion.  However it is interesting to note that the pedantic high priests and pandits who were behind the saffronization of history texts while BJP the Hindu Nationalist party was ruling Delhi last time are precisely the ones behind this malicious attack against Pattanam and Muziris.

Oxford University archeologists and Kerala researchers like Mikky (right) discussing the findings at Pattanam.

Oxford University archeologists and Kerala researchers like Mikky (centre) discussing the findings at Pattanam.

Pattanam that was part of the ancient Kerala port city called Muziris all over the world or Muchiri in ancient Tamil Sankham literature was a centre of global sea trade that connected Europe, West Asia, Africa and South East Asia. Prof Chris Gosden of Oxford has made a presentation on the global connections of Pattanam recently in Kochi.

Brick construction of 4th century AD unearthed at Pattanam showing clear evidences of civilizational material culture.

Brick construction of 4th century AD unearthed at Pattanam showing clear evidences of civilizational material culture.

Dr Wendy Morrison of the Oxford University is leading a batch of young researchers and archeologists in Pattanam in the collaborative inquiry.  Kerala researchers are also joining hands with the expert team from Britain for the first time in independent Indian history.  When I visited them this afternoon Prof Cherian and Prof Wendy showed me the new trenches and new strands of history emerging from the soil just a few metres deep.

Prof Wendy Morrison explaining the detailed plan of excavating a new archeological trench at Pattanam, 19 Apl 2014.

Prof Wendy Morrison explaining the detailed plan of excavating a new archeological trench strand by strand at Pattanam, 19 Apl 2014.

Plenty of potsherds of the Pattanam variety along with Indian Rouletted ware, Roman Amphora and Mediterranean variety are surfaced.  A lot of Chera coins from early common era have been unearthed says Prof Cherian.  Brick constructions belonging to the 4th and 5th century AD are now visible in the new trench.

Oxford archeologists and geo-archeologists in deep discussion on the new found potsherds at Pattanam that was part of Muziris the global trade city.

Oxford archeologists and geo-archeologists in deep discussion on the new found potsherds at Pattanam that was part of Muziris the global trade city.

Brick constructions, Chera coins and sophisticated pottery testify the material existence of a larger civilizational population in this ancient trade city.  The project now has an immense collection of antiques and priceless objects from various parts of the world that can narrate the polyphonic and cosmopolitan histories of Pattanam and its global legacies.

Another new trench at Pattanam from where peat residues and other biological evidences are recovered.

Another new trench at Pattanam, just west of the museum from where peat residues and other biological evidences are recovered.

The KCHR has purchased new land strips for excavation and are transforming the done area into landscaped organic garden of spices and flowers.  Pattanam is also a model for ecologically sensitive and sustainable archeology that is socially committed too.  New researchers like Ms Mikky explained to me the details of the archeological project and it is a great epistemological  and academic break through in the history of Kerala archeology and cultural history.

Prof P J Cherian on a cycle that is part of the green archeology of Pattanam project and Ms Mikky the research assistant with a Pattanam ware at Pattanam, 19 Apl 2014.

Prof P J Cherian on a cycle that is part of the green archeology of Pattanam project and Ms Mikky the research assistant with a Pattanam ware at Pattanam, 19 Apl 2014.

I want to be in Pattanam again as it was also a Buddhist and Jain cultural centre along with its Roman, Arab and Chinese legacies.  The Buddha sculptural relic in the Pattanam Nileeswaram temple is still there and is worshiped as a Naga Yakshi by the pond from which it was recovered.  Let us hope that the excavations would reveal greater truths regarding the cultural pasts of Kerala soon.

The Buddha fragment at Pattanam Nileeswara temple. Now worshiped as a Naga Yakshi that was recovered from the temple pond. Yet to be acknowledged as a Buddha idol officially.

The Buddha fragment (back view, only below the waist is all that remains) at Pattanam Nileeswara temple. Now worshiped as a Naga Yakshi that was recovered from the temple pond. Yet to be acknowledged as a Buddha idol officially.

Pattanam: A Rupture in the Cultural History of Kerala

 

Pattanam excavation site, North Paravur, Ernakulam

On reading my article on Buddhism in Kerala on this very blog, Prof P J Cherian the director of Kerala Council for Historical Research invited me to visit the excavation site at Pattanam near North Paravur in Ernakulam district in central Kerala.

Prof P J Cherian, Director, KCHR talking to Sunderbabu and Laxman at Pattanam

It is in connection with the Muziris heritage project to re-invent and conserve the cultural history and archeological legacy of Kodungallur/Muchiri or Muziris that this extensive digging up is done in various locations on the northern side of the Vadakekara bridge towards the west of NH 17.

Strands of Kerala history: Tangible layers of various time periods at Pattanam excavation pit

Kerala’s historic connections with the rest of the world as far as Arabia,China,Rome and the Mediterranean  are unearthed through concerted and dedicated effort of KCHR under the leadership of Prof Cherian.  Researchers and expert students from various parts of the world including Britain are involved in the work in progress that began a couple of years ago.

Researchers from Oxford and Britian participating in Pattanam excavations

I visited Pattanam along with Prof Laxman of Madras Institute of Developmental Studies, Dr George K Alex of Kozhanchery St Thomas College and Dr Sundarbabu of Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai.  We were together in an international colloquium on Caste, Religion and Culture at Kochi.

Local women involved in community based excavations at Pattanam

We reached Pattanam just a few miles north of Paravur that still spots its Jew street, cemetery and synagogue around 7am on the bright sunny morning of May 3, 2011.  Pattanam means port city in ancient Tamil and even in current Malayalam like Valapattanam in Malabar or Nagapattanam in Tamil Nadu.  Most of the old place names in Kerala that was part of the Chera kingdom of the ancient Tamil country were formed during the ancient Tamilakam era during or soon after the Sangham period (BC 5th to AD 5th centauy) that is known for ancient  Sramana Tamil epics Chilapatikaram and Manimekhalai.

Prof Cherian explaining the methodology to Laxman, Sunder and Alex. A researcher from Oxford involved in the right

Prof Cherian welcomed us and showed the details of excavations and allowed us to see and touch the strands of Kerala’s past that is preserved in the various layers of the soil in the pits.  He explained to us about iron based early human habitations here in the BC era.  According to him Jews reached these shores probably around first century BC and they could be the first converts to Christianity here.  The legend of St Thomas reaching Malankara in AD 52 could not be an impossibility according to him.  The myth of the first Brahman converts is clearly a later bogus fabrication by a threatened minority community under Brahmanical hegemony that persecuted minorities like Jains and Buddhists and annihilated them from the soil of Kerala for ever.

Students showing broken parts of Roman amphora to us and explaining its features at Pattanam

Then with the help of terracotta ware called Indian rouletted-ware  belonging to around fourth or third century BC  he explained that there was a  clear presence of Sramana groups and trading communities from the north from the third century BC onwards.   Brahmi script used to write on the terracotta ware in old Tamil language was introduced in south India by these Sramana or Chamana or Amana sages who reached the south with their trading and mercantile brethren.

Key to Kerala cultural history: Indian rouletted ware that marks Sramana presence at Pattanam

The Hindu daily has recently reported the finding of these earthen ware with the inscription in Brahmi Tamil script “Amana” meaning Sramana or Jain/Buddhist in origin.  It clearly establishes the fact that Kerala was civilized by Sramana sages in BC fourth/third century itself.

Mediterranean beads unearthed at Pattanam

This concrete historical and archeological evidences prove that the light of letters and ethics were spread among the people of south India by Buddhism and Jainism as early as fourth or third century BC against the Hindu hegemonic claims of Brahmanism civilizing Kerala in the seventh or eighth century AD.

Dedicated experts involved in patient and painstaking perusal and careful classification of thousands of potsherds everyday. Prof Cherian says "they don't lie..." about our pasts

Prof Cherian showed us small beads and Roman amphora and other vessels belonging to the Mediterranean lands.  The Vesuvian volcanic minerals in the potsherds are clearly visible even after 2000 years.  The bitumen coating in some of them are still intact and they belong to West Asia.  These handicrafts of clay from ancient civilizations never lie about their time and place according to Prof Cherian.  Chera coins with the impression of bow and arrow (symbolizing the Villava legacy) were also recovered from the site.  These findings establish the  historical validity of Sangham literature and early literary references in old Tamil regarding the cultural pasts of Chera land and the ancient Tamil country comprising Chola and Pandya kingdoms along with it.  After all we got vivid references of Muchiri from ancient Tamil epics.

Local people and workers active in the digging at Pattanam, Muziris.

This indeed is a break and rupture in Kerala’s cultural history and archeology.  It marks a moment of paradigm shift and radical departure for all who served the dominant and hegemonic Hindu Savarna or Brahmanical versions of the pasts of Kerala repressively established through epistemological violence and erasure and covet silence by some of the high priests, sacred ideologues and Savarna headmen who monopolized and policed speech, letters, politics and history in this small part of the world.

Abundance of potsherds and clay ware: Undeniable markers in archeology and history at Pattanam

Even the orthodox and official historians who are keeping mum would have to accept the concrete tangible evidences this excavation has rediscovered in an undeniable and profounder way.  Let us appreciate the phenomenal work materialized by KCHR under the leadership of Prof P J Cherian and friends.

Prof P J Cherian, Director, KCHR leading the excavations at Pattanam and disseminating knowledge to the people and enlightening us on our cultural pasts and legacies

This radical moment prompts us to continue our search and excavations in other parts of Kerala especially in Cherthala and Alapuzha regions where the huge wooden ship was unearthed in similar attempts earlier.  The extensive archeological studies in Kuttanad and neighborhoods especially Karthikappally, Mavelikara, Karunagapally, Kayamkulam, Thotapally, Trikunapuzha, Aratupuzha regions would also produce valuable findings regarding the real and vital past of Kerala.

People digging up their own past erased by hegemony: Pattanam excavation as a break in Kerala's cultural history and archeology

The Government, departments concerned and other institutions in the field may address these key cultural tasks ahead with revitalized energy and ethical commitment to people and their lived history.  Let us recover our real history and make it visible and tangible for posterity.

Half buried and challenging: A terracotta vessel yet to be recovered from soil at Pattanam