CHENNAI: Renowned archaeologist and Padma Bhushan awardee R Nagaswamy, who was the first director of Tamil Nadu’s Department of Archaeology, died at the age of 91 on Sunday. He is survived by two sons and two daughters. His wife Parvathi had predeceased him.
Nagaswamy served as a curator for art and archaeology at the Madras Museum from 1959, and later joined the Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology as an assistant special officer in 1963. He became the State’s first director of archaeology in 1966 and held that post till his retirement in 1988. He was awarded the prestigious Padma Bhushan in 2018.
Nagaswamy was instrumental in making archaeology popular in TN by creating popular guides for monuments, and had involved students in cleaning and preserving nearby historical places and monuments.
He had also taken initiatives to protect several historic monuments like the Chera inscriptions at Pugalur, the palace site of the imperial Cholas at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, the famous 17th century Thirumalai Nayak Palace in Madurai, the 17th century Danish Fort at Tranquebar, and the birthplace of the great national poet Subramanya Bharati at Ettayyapuram, besides excavating the palace site of Virapandya Kattabomman at Panchalamkurchi.
He was also the first to carry out an under-sea archaeological survey in Tamil Nadu off the Pumpuhar coast in Mayiladuthurai.
A Kalaimamani awardee, Nagaswamy also took the initiative to popularise historical places with the help of dance and music events. He composed several dance dramas on historic themes such as the lives of Rajaraja Chola, Rajendra Chola, Manimekhalai, Arunagirinathar, and Appar.
He started and founded the now world-famous Chidambaram Natyanjali festival. He has also written several books including masterpieces of South Indian Bronzes and Siva Bhakti. In 2019, he came under criticism from MK Stalin, the then TN Opposition leader, for arguing that the Thirukkural originated from Vedas.