Principal Secretary of the Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowments department B Chandra Mohan spoke to V Vignesh about the ongoing excavations and visions of the department.
Excerpts from the interview:
What steps have been taken to collect the artefacts traced in Keezhadi during the initial phases of the Archaeology Survey of India’s excavation?
The ASI’s Excavation Branch-VI, Bengaluru conducted systematic excavation at Keezhadi over three seasons — in 2014-2015, 2015-2016, and 2016-17. To continue discovering hidden treasures at the site, the State Archaeology department started a fourth season in 2017-2018, and kept conducting excavations. Presently, the seventh season is in progress. Nearly 15,000 interesting and rare artefacts pertaining to the early historic phase of Tamil Nadu were found in the excavations.
The excavation at Keezhadi has gained national and international attention, and to sustain the momentum, the Tamil Nadu government allocated 0.81 hectares of land for a museum at Keezhadi. The museum is planned to be an iconic structure showcasing the grandeur of ancient architecture and fuelling interest in the culture and heritage of the State.
Hence, the ASI has been requested to provide all antiquities/artefacts that were unearthed in the first three seasons of excavation, on a loan basis. Their reply is still awaited. These artefacts will provide insights into ancient culture.
The department stopped publishing books related to the Keezhadi excavation in 2019. Are there any plans to revive it?
Since the systematic archaeological excavations have been conducted in sequels and on a large scale, artefacts were sent to various laboratories for scientific analysis. All these reports will be incorporated into a holistic report. The report on the fourth, fifth and sixth seasons of excavation will be released as a single report for better understanding of the cultural phase of Keezhadi. It is almost ready, and likely to be released soon.
Where will the artefacts from other excavation sites be kept?
The State government sanctioned Rs 12.21 crore to set up a world-class site museum to showcase the Keezhadi artefacts. It is being constructed on about 30,000 sq ft by the Public Works Department, and is to be completed this year. Artefacts from other sites will be documented and safeguarded in the nearby archaeological site museums.
Have any steps been taken to include the significance of Keezhadi and its cluster villages in the school syllabus?
Details about Keezhadi and the archaeological excavations have already been included in the Class 5 syllabus. The facts will soon be updated with the latest findings and details from cluster villages, such as Agaram, Manalur and Kondagai.
Will any special package related to excavations be announced, or more funds be sought in the TN budget?
The State government was very kind to sanction `2 crore as recurring funds for large-scale archaeological explorations and excavations. Last financial year, the ceiling of `2 crore was enhanced to `3 crore. As of now, the allocated amount is sufficient for the present projects. But if there is a need in the future, additional funds will be sought from the government and an announcement will be made in the Budget Session.
What are the plans to make Keezhadi a tourist spot?
The plan is to extrude the structures identified in the excavation seasons so far, cover the area with a canopy, and make it an open site museum. It will be a one-of-its-kind facility in India, with all the finds from Keezhadi indicating the cultural richness of the ancient Tamils of this region, and in close proximity to the temple city Madurai.
Presently, excavations are on in full swing. The facility will attract tourists from all over the world. Therefore, it is essential to probe such cultural hidden treasures of Keezhadi and its clusters, and reveal the cultural wealth of the ancient Tamil society.