Madurai – the capital of Pandyas among Tamil kings is hailed as the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu. It has a long history of nurturing the Tamil language by conducting Sangams – literary congregations to grow the language. Sangam literature dates Madurai as one of the oldest cities to be inhabited but the archeological evidence to back these claims lacked punch. But things changed after archeological explorations began at Keeladi, 12 kms away from Madurai.
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Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin inaugurated the site museum for Keeladi archeological exploration recently. Let’s see why this nondescript village near Madurai is so important.
In 2013, a group of people came down to this agrarian village full of coconut trees. They were trying to find some archeological mound a local teacher mentioned four decades ago. After one year of study along the River Vaigai, the team from Archeological Survey of India (ASI) narrowed down a mound and the excavations commenced in 2014.
As the study progressed, I was taken to the excavation site by my father and mother. One bi-spectacled man who seemed to be in-charge of the excavation site explained to us patiently the artifacts found during the first phase of excavation.
This is the first time the archeologists were stumbling upon an urban settlement of ancient Tamil civilization since the earlier excavation mostly found burial sites, Superintending Archeologist Amarnath Ramakrishna told us. For a third standard girl, it was too much to decipher. I was more curious about the big holes, rather rectangle in shapes, the archeologists digging painstakingly at the site.
Almost after nine years, our Chief Minister inaugurated a beautifully constructed museum that would host the important finds of Keeladi excavation.
In these nine years, eight rounds of excavation happened, three by ASI and five by Tamil Nadu State Archeology Department. When ASI transferred Amarnath Ramakrishna and decided to close down the excavation with the third phase in 2017, it caused quite a stir among Tamil intellectuals. They accused the Central Archeology department was trying to scuttle the exploration of unearthing the glorious past of Tamil land. People went to court.
Tamil pride runs deep in the state and the state archeology department stepped in and excavation continued. The eight phases unearthed a huge industrial set up and urban settlement that evolved independently along River Vaigai. The archeologists dated it back to Sangam era that started by 3 Century BC and the date further went back to 8th Century BC as the excavation and research continued.
Archeologists unearthed terracotta pipelines, brick structures, pot shreds that connected Keeladi with ancient Rome and central India like Maharashtra, beads, ivory, iron implements and the skeletal remains of our ancestors who walked on this beautiful landscape.
Moreover, the Keeladi excavation revealed to us that the people of the Sangam era were well educated. They had scribbled their names in Tamil Brahmi letters on the utensils they had used. All these important artifacts are displayed in Keeladi Site Museum.
The museum is spread over two acres and constructed in Chettinad style of architecture. The artifacts are displayed under six topics namely Madurai and Keeladi, Agriculture and Water Management, Pot making, dresses and ornaments, maritime trade and lifestyle in six buildings. The museum is open to the public. Don’t miss out visiting it during your trip to this part of Tamil Nadu.
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How to Reach
Though situated in Sivaganga district, Keeladi is near Madurai city. Madurai is well-connected by flights from Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi and trains from across the country and proper bus services from all parts of Tamil Nadu
From Madurai, Keeladi can be reached through road taking National Highway 87 that connects Madurai with coastal town Dhanushkodi in Rameswaram Island
A small diversion from NH into the village will lead to the museum or the locals will be more than happy to guide.
No boarding facilities available at Keeladi. One can stay at Madurai city that has star hotels to ordinary lodges.
Special features at Keeladi museum
If you are an history buff and wanted to know more about the Tamils – their heritage and culture, do visit this huge museum during your trip to this part of Tamil Nadu.
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