Footprints into Deep History
The feel of living so close to footprints deep into history engulfs you as you travel just out of Madurai on the Rameshwaram Highway. Even before the feel fresh air hitting your face could go away from you, you will land exactly at Keeladi- The Archaeological Excavation Site which has sprang open a new dimension into the cultural heritage of Tamil. The site just 12 kilometres southeast of Madurai is now the new landmark for heritage history among the present generation.
The significance of this place is that the unearthings have given a deep insight into the ancient civilization, something that could have existed during the Iron Age, more importantly during the Sangam era on the banks of river Vaigai as mentioned in Tamil literature. The pointers are far too significant going several layers into the depth of a flourishing civilization that has been buried with sand and time.
What started off as an exploratory project has now come to be a main stay assignment for the Archaeologists who are getting valuable collection historical materials and artefacts that take you ages deep down to history. It is sheer pleasure that this site is very close to the ancient city of Madurai, something that can certainly be added to legacy of the already culturally rich city. Excavations carried out during various phases from the year 2015 onwards had brought to light the existence of an urban civilization that could be dated to the 2nd century BCE.
Many would ponder as to what is so special about the excavation site in Keeladi?, after all every excavation will throw some light on the past history. That is true, but certainly not a one line statement with which we can view the excavation site at Keeladi. Archaelogists have pulled out around 6,000 antiquities, some of which have been carbon dated and found to be priceless excavations. They include golden ornaments, copper objects, terracotta chess pieces, earrings spindle whorls, beads made of terracotta, hopscotch, bone points, glass wares, red and black pottery and iron objects. They have found brick structures, terracotta ring wells and water drain system which indicates of a planned urban settlement. The graffiti that has been found on broken pieces of earthen wares and pottery have similarities to the Indus Signs. There are findings of an ancient neighbourhood that might have existed as part of the Vaigai Valley Civilization and many have also started to link it with the Indus Valley Civilization.
For the people of Madurai who have so many cultural outlets and festivals, Keeladi came as an additional gift from nature and mother earth to them. It has started to vividly creep into their lifestyle and thinking. Scores of people have started talking about it in common platforms and even celebrating it with enthusiasm, school and college students made beeline visits to the excavation site and have paid keen attention to all details given by the archaeologists at the site. It is estimated that more than 1.5 lakh visitors have come to the excavation site during the last few days of the fifth phase of excavations which recently concluded during October 2019. The site has got the support of the students from various colleges to render their services as volunteers to regulate the visitors who have come from near and far areas.
I have had the good fortune to have made a visit to the excavation site during the first phase and also during the recently concluded fifth phase. It was an enriching experience to stand on the land that has pre historic significance and gave me an innate sense of elation that I could see the treasures of the ancient people at close quarters. It was a nice experience for me also to get involved the volunteer support program to motivate the college students to act as volunteers at the excavation site.
Keeladi has sparked off many research studies and drawn the intellectuals, historians, epigraphists, geologists and archaeology enthusiasts to discuss and debate the historical significance that it brings to the society. Keeladi will be spotted not only in the Map of India, but also very soon in the Global Map as an important archaeological site of importance!