Tag Archives: pattanam

Muziris : The lost city – Srinath Perur


In the first century BCE Muziris was one of India’s most important trading ports, whose exports—especially black pepper—kept even mighty Rome in debt. But have archaeologists really found the site of Muziris, and why did it disappear in 1341?


Muziris


Around 2,000 years ago, Muziris was one of India’s most important trading ports. According to the Akananuru, a collection of Tamil poetry from the period, it was “the city where the beautiful vessels, the masterpieces of the Yavanas [Westerners], stir white foam on the Periyar river of Kerala, arriving with gold and departing with pepper.”

Another poem speaks of Muziris (also known as Muciripattanam or Muciri) as “the city where liquor abounds”, which “bestows wealth to its visitors indiscriminately” with “gold deliveries, carried by the ocean-going ships and brought to the river bank by local boats”.

The Roman author Pliny, in his Natural History, called Muziris “the first emporium of India”. The city appears prominently on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a fifth-century map of the world as seen from Rome. But from thereon, the story of this great Indian port becomes hazy. As reports of its location grow more sporadic, it literally drops off the map.

In modern-day India, Muziris was much more of a legend than a real city—until archaeological excavations in the southern state of Kerala, starting in 2004, sparked reports of a mysterious lost port. Though the archaeologists cannot be certain, they—and, with some exceptions, historians too—now believe they have located the site of Muziris.

“This was a centre of paramount importance for Roman trade,” says Federico De Romanis, associate professor of Roman history at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. “What made it absolutely unique was the considerable amounts of black pepper exported from Muziris. We are talking about thousands of tons.”

In addition to pepper, De Romanis says, exports included both local products—ivory, pearls, spices such as malabathron—and those from other parts of India, including semi-precious stones, silks and the aromatic root nard. “These attest to commercial relationships nurtured with the Gangetic valley and east Himalayan regions.”

In the other direction, ships arrived with gold, coral, fine glassware, amphorae of wine, olive oil and the fermented fish sauce called garum. But the value of this trade was lopsided: De Romanis says Pliny the Elder estimated Rome’s annual deficit caused by imbalanced trade with India at 50m sesterces (500,000 gold coins of a little less than eight grammes), with “Muziris representing the lion’s share of it”.

Maritime trade between Muziris and Rome started in the first century BCE, when it became known that sailing through the Red Sea to the horn of Africa, then due east along the 12th latitude, led to the Kerala coast. “Muziris was entirely dependent on foreign, especially Roman, demand for pepper,” De Romanis says. So when the Roman empire’s economy began to struggle in the third century AD, he believes the trade in pepper reconfigured itself, and Muziris lost its importance.


Tabula Peutingeriana


Dr. P.J. Cherian, director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research, confirms there are few references to Muziris after the fifth century AD. It had been generally assumed that Muziris referred to the port of Kodungallur, which had been put out of commission by devastating floods in 1341—but excavations there did not turn up anything older than the 13th century.

Travel 11 kilometres by road from Kodungallur, however, and you reach the village of Pattanam. For years, children there had been collecting beads that would rise to the surface during the monsoon season. After an initial dig in 2004, systematic excavations by Cherian and his colleagues began in 2007. Soon, he says, it was clear they had discovered a major archaeological site.

Over nine seasons of excavations, they have found Roman amphorae (for the first time on the Keralan coast), a wharf-like structure, a dug-out canoe that is approximately 2,000 years old—plus foundations, bricks and tiles, tools and artefacts made of iron, lead and copper, glass beads, gold ornaments and semi-precious stones clearly meant for export.

So, is Pattanam the site of fabled Muziris? There isn’t clinching evidence yet, but Cherian thinks it’s likely. He is also tired of questions about the Roman connection, asking: “When they excavate a Roman site in Europe, do they obsess similarly about whether it traded with India?” To him, an integral part of the excavation is what it reveals about the people who actually lived there.

Tathagata Neogi, of the Indian Institute of Archaeology, explains the stages of occupation in Pattanam using a large photograph of an excavated trench’s cross-section. Human habitation began there around 1000 BC, marked by characteristic Iron Age black and redware pottery, while the period between 500 and 300 BC marks a mixed phase.

“We think this is when Pattanam began making the transition from a village to a trade hub,” Neogi says. The period from 300 BC to AD 500 is densely packed with evidence for trade both within and outside India. Burnt bricks and tiles, terracotta ring wells and coins suggest a thriving settlement. Small amounts of West Asian pottery in the earlier portions of this segment provide evidence for pre-Roman maritime trade. After AD 500 the record thins out—until AD1500, when Chinese and European ceramics are found.

Is Pattanam ‘urban’?

Today, Pattanam is a village situated four kilometres from the sea. The vegetation is typical of the region: tall arcing palms, squat plantains, vines and creepers, near-fluorescent monsoon grass. There are sporadic houses, a temple, a village office and sudden channels of water.

The archaeological mound at Pattanam is around 70 hectares; atop it sits a museum displaying finds from the excavations. It is curious, Cherian notes, that a village should be named Pattanam, a word that means market-town or trading port across south India.

Some historians—such as Rajan Gurukkal, author of Rethinking Classical Indo-Roman Trade—have argued that Pattanam (which he believes is the location of Muziris) was likely nothing more elaborate than a colony of Mediterranean merchants, plus the inland traders and artisans who dealt with them. Gurukkal’s theory is based on the apparent absence of permanent structures, and the seeming disconnect of the materials and skills found at Pattanam with those of the wider region. He suggests the colony might even have been seasonal, inhabited only when ships arrived for trade.

Such a debate comes down to what is meant by a city or urban settlement. According to Cherian, “Urban is a complicated word—to me, it means ‘organised’, ‘thought out’, ‘planned’”. And he sees evidence of this in Pattanam: “It was certainly a city, but of its time.”

The excavations have revealed what appear to be toilets, drains and terracotta ring wells, and these—along with raised foundations aligned in one direction—suggest a planned settlement.

Cherian also thinks the level of technological accomplishment—the quality of mortar in a wharf structure; evidence of intricate glass and stone work—and the high density of potsherds (some 4.5 million have been recovered so far) all point to a settlement that was urban in character. The local coins suggest a monetised economy and a degree of political organisation. 

“We now recognise that ancient cities could look very different from their modern counterparts, even as they had the same functions of trade and economic integration,” says Monica Smith, professor of anthropology at UCLA, who studies newly emergent urbanism in the Indian subcontinent.

“It used to be felt, by 20th-century archaeologists such as V. Gordon Childe, that monumental architecture was required before a site could be defined as a “city”. In addition, there was often a sense that a city should have a high density of concentrated populations at their core, in which that density was focused on a particular religious or administrative purpose such as a palace or temple.”

But Smith offers an example for a more spread-out idea of a city: the large Kumbh Mela camps in India, which come up only for the duration of the congregation, are well-planned, possess infrastructure, and have an “urban atmosphere”. She adds: “We can envision that temporary or sequential occupations could have been the case in ancient cities as well.”

Smith suggests such sites can grow in extent very quickly, especially when demand for a new commodity is high (black pepper, in the case of Pattanam). “This is why research of the kind done at Pattanam is particularly important. It can help us understand the dynamic changes over time, and evaluate the extent to which investments in features such as wharves and ring wells signalled a “core” location around which surrounding suburbs grew.”

A more complete understanding of the Pattanam site—and its flavour of urbanism—will take a while yet, however. According to Cherian: “Less than one percent of the site has been excavated. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg.”

The quest for Muziris may or may not be over. But as De Romanis says: “Pattanam is the closest thing to Muziris we have got so far. Whatever it was, it should be treasured and taken care of.” – The Guardian, 10 August 2016


Map of places mentioned in the Periplus


 

Keezhadi and Pattanam: Global plot to break India – B.S. Harishankar


Eminent South Asian archaeologist Dr. Dilip Chakrabarti cautions that the Pattanam dig is supported by biblical and Jewish interest groups and urges the Indian government to take serious note of such unholy conglomerations. – Dr. B.S. Harishankar


Syrian-style gold cross imposed on map of India


Recent attempts by certain lobbies to link controversial archaeological sites of Keezhadi and Pattanam has raised questions on their agendas. Keezhadi is at Sivaganga district near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, while Pattanam is at Ernakulam in Kerala. There are neither ceramics nor other cultural remains reportedly unearthed at these sites to show the alleged links for such assumptions of homogeneity.

The Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) which excavated Pattanam is not an official government organisation but a private non-governmental body, an NGO. How did the Archaeological Survey of India grant license to an NGO to excavate a site which was also vastly funded by foreign agencies? The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) identified the unbridled foreign funds received by KCHR and cancelled its license under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 (The New Indian Express, Dec. 8, 2016).

The Pattanam excavation was hit by controversy and the ASI initiated a probe into alleged unscientific approaches adopted by the KCHR, after complaints to the Union Minister for Cultural Affairs, Mahesh Sharma, about “lapses” in the excavation, which is part of the Rs 200 crore Muziris Heritage Project. Thereafter, a meeting of the central advisory panel of the ASI asked the KCHR to temporarily stop the excavation (refer ASI probe into KCHR’s ‘Pattanam excavations’).

According to ASI joint director R.S. Fonia, “Rules demand that extension beyond five years can be given only after those carrying out the excavation submit reports. In the case of the Muziris project, the digging has been going on for over seven years now, but no report was filed and hence no fresh permission can be granted” (refer Doubting Thomases suspend Saint project).


P.J. Cherian


The latest controversy on Keezhadi and Pattanam erupted after R. Sivanantham, deputy director, Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, officially facilitated a lecture on Pattanam by Dr. P.J. Cherian, titled “Reimagining Muziris-Pattanam: The Ancient Port City of Tamilakam (300 BCE-500 CE)”, on Oct. 30, 2018. The programme was chaired by T. Udhayachandran, Commissioner, Department of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu.

The team of excavators at Keezhadi is currently headed by R. Sivanantham, who should have been aware that the KCHR was accused in creation of fake government documents, illegal appointments and financial irregularities worth crores. It is also alleged that the KCHR obtained the licence for the Pattanam excavation after submitting fake documents to the Archaeological Survey of India (refer Rampant irregularities detected at KCHR).

Subsequently, Pattanam excavator P.J. Cherian’s service as director of the KCHR was terminated by the Kerala state government in November 2016, overruling the then KCHR chairman’s recommendation to extend the service for another four years (refer Fate of Pattanam hangs in the balance).

Delivering his lecture at Chennai, P.J. Cherian claimed that the excavated material from Pattanam and Keezhadi are similar and hence there is a common link of brotherhood (refer Pattanam, Keezhadi excavated materials similar, says expert). However, he did not present either ceramics, metals or any other remains showing the cultural homogeneity between Pattanam and Keezhadi.

The carbon dating conducted at the two sites raises suspicion. Dating of two carbon elements from Keezhadi, weighing 25 grams each, done by Beta Analytic Inc., Florida, USA, placed them at 2,160+30 years and 2,200+30 years respectively (refer Keezhadi: hitting pay dirt and controversy).

The carbon dating at Pattanam was done earlier at the Institute of Physics, Bhubaneswar and later shifted to Georgia University, USA. Following controversies, it was again shifted to Beta Analytic Inc., Florida. This raises serious doubts about the objectives of the KCHR. When there is a premier radio carbon laboratory at National Physical Laboratory, Ahmedabad, which has developed a South Asian Centre of repute, why was the carbon dating for Pattanam and Keezhadi shifted to an institution in Florida.

Unlike Pattanam, Keezhadi was excavated by the ASI. What raises concerns is that the current excavator of Keezhadi invited the controversial Pattanam project director to deliver a lecture where he made dubious claims that there are many similarities between the two sites.

There were earlier allegations that the central government had withheld funds and blocked Keezhadi excavations because Hindutva groups were against Tamil heritage. Some radical Dravidian groups claimed that Keezhadi belonged to the pre-Sangam Period and was a river valley civilization. Tamil language minister Mafoi Pandiarajan asserted over 39 excavations have been done in Tamil Nadu and there is no substance to the claim that the Centre has withheld funds (refer Keezhadi dig delayed). Excavations have also been carried out at Varushanad (Theni) and Azhagankulam (Ramnad), Tamil Nadu.


K. Amarnath Ramakrishna


In an interview, former Keezhadi excavator K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, said there is a theory that Tamil Nadu had only “racial groups” and that urban civilisation was found only along the Indus-Gangetic valley. Keezhadi’s excavation has nullified that theory and it has to be accepted that an urban civilization was found along Vaigai river (refer Don’t We Need To Know India’s History?).

Strangely, Amarnath Ramakrishna still clings to colonial fantasies of race and racism in the study of ancient India. Colonial Europe divided humans into races and viewed Africans through this distorting prism. Many countries have removed the word “race” from national laws concerning discrimination because the phrase is considered problematic and unethical. Amarnath should understand that the paleoanthropology of South Asia has shifted from a classificatory model of race identification to an evolutionary paleo-demographic paradigm, as demonstrated by veteran physical anthropologists such as Kenneth A.R. Kennedy. He should not legitimise ideas of certain political ideologues and linguistic fringe groups with no base in archaeology and interdisciplinary social sciences.

Amarnath still adheres to propaganda by early Left historians that the introduction of iron and the beginning of agriculture in the deep south by Brahmins in 300 AD led to the rise of feudalism, a theory discredited by recent archaeological discoveries. The earliest Neolithic dates in south so far range between 2900 and 2400 BC from sites such as Utnur, Pallavoy, Kodekal, Budihal and Watgal. The Chalcolithic phase in the south goes to 2400 BC from sites such as Singanapalli and Ramapuram, and Megalithic to 1000 BC at Hallur, Komaranahalli and Mangadu. The growth of an early township at Keezhadi has to be viewed in this overall context and not as an isolated advent of an exclusive river valley civilization. After all, South India includes Karnataka, Andhra and Kerala, and not Tamil Nadu alone.

Controversies started after Amarnath Ramakrishna, in charge of Keezhadi excavations, was transferred to Guwahati circle of ASI. The tenure of a superintending archaeologist in a particular circle is only for two years, and the transfer was made as per transfer policy, on Sept. 6, 2016 (refer Transfer of Keezhadi excavation site archaeologist final, says ASI).

However, Amarnath Ramakrishna’s transfer was resented by the CPI(M). K. Balakrishnan, Tamil Nadu state secretary of the party, alleged that the Modi government was making an attempt to hide the findings from the excavations that pointed to an old civilization linked to Tamil society (refer CPI(M) flays Centre’s direction on Keezhadi excavations). The CPI(M) had officially launched the Pattanam excavations in Kerala, which were conducted by Left historians under the banner of KCHR (refer Marxists dig for Apostle Thomas).

Few understand why the CPI(M) protested against the transfer of Amarnath Ramakrishna. When the Archaeological Survey of India began a probe into alleged unscientific approaches adopted by the KCHR at Pattanam, Amarnath Ramakrishna, the then superintendent archaeologist of the ASI, Bengaluru centre, started investigations into the Pattanam excavations (ASI probe into KCHR’s ‘Pattanam excavations’, Business Standard, Jan. 5, 2016). His findings are not known, but later Amarnath Ramakrishna took up the Keezhadi excavation. Possibly, he prepared a report liked by the CPI(M) and Left historians. As Amarnath Ramakrishna examined the Pattanam excavation report and was in-charge of Keezhadi, the Left lobbies have been able to notice striking similarities in antiquarian remains from the two sites.

The Left historians have always been patrons of Dravidian racial chauvinism. Irfan Habib has propagated the Aryan suppression of Dravidians (refer The Rewriting of History). British linguists Francis Ellis and Alexander Campbell framed the theory that south Indian languages belong to a different family. Brian Houghton Hodgson promoted the term “Tamulian” as a racial construct, describing the so-called aborigines of India as primitive and uncivilized compared to the invading Aryans. Bishop Robert Caldwell launched the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, carried forward by Bishop G.U. Pope.

In April 2018, the Federation of Tamil Sangams in North America (FeTNA) invited Amarnath Ramakrishna to deliver a lecture on the Keezhadi excavations. The ASI denied him permission to participate as guest of honor at this event, possibly because FeTNA publicly supported the cause of ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils in the Sri Lankan civil war. Time and again, the Sri Lanka Guardian has warned that the Catholic Church is heavily involved with the LTTE from the 1970s (refer Catholic Church, an ally of Tamil Tiger terrorists in Sri Lanka). The FeTNA has been a major campaigner and fund-raiser for the Tamil Chair at the University of California, Berkeley. Prof. George L. Hart, known for his Dravidian politics, was hired for the chair. FeTNA also honoured Jagat Gasper, Catholic propagandist for Christianizing Tamil culture.


Dilip K. Chakrabarti


In December 2014, eminent South Asian archaeologist Dilip Chakrabarti delivered a lecture at Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi, on “Foreign Archaeological Collaborations and India’s Security Concerns”. He highlighted the dangerous attempts to relate prehistoric Indian cultures to various Indian languages, which are later given fictional linguistic affinities and open the way for regional chauvinistic premises. Highlighting the case of Pattanam, Chakrabarti said the pursuit of the past is not an innocuous academic activity and before foreign academic groups are allowed uncontrolled and unverified entry to this in India, we must be aware of the dimensions which impinge on our long-term national security. In Nation First, Chakrabarti cautions that Pattanam is supported by “Biblical and Jewish” interest groups, and urges the Indian government to take serious note of such unholy conglomerations.

The Archaeological Survey of India and Tamil Nadu government should investigate how the state Department of Archaeology officially invited the controversial Pattanam excavator, whose license was cancelled by the MHA and excavation license was repealed by central advisory panel of the ASI in 2016. The platform was used to link Keezhadi and Pattanam sites, which have strong undercurrents of secessionism. – Vijayvaani, 12 November 2018


St Thomas Cross and Sickle Emblem


See also


Muziris: Dr. Nagaswamy nails false propaganda on St. Thomas – Media Reports


“When looking at the literature on the life of St. Thomas, it is not mentioned anywhere that he came to India. It is only a myth, which has now been connected with the excavations at Pattanam, near Kodungalloor,” – Dr. R. Nagaswamy


R. Nagaswamy


The effort made by some interested quarters to link the Muziris excavations with the visit of St. Thomas Apostle has been criticised by eminent archaeologist and former director of the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Survey of India, R. Nagaswamy.

“When looking at the literature on the life of St. Thomas, it is not mentioned anywhere that he came to India. It is only a myth, which has now been connected with the excavations at Pattanam, near Kodungalloor,” the former visiting professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University told Express.

In fact, the ancient Muziris port must have been located in Kodungalloor and not in Pattanam because all major ports in ancient times were situated at river mouths. And so it is safe to assume that Muziris was at Kodungalloor, where the river joins the sea.

He felt there was a hidden agenda by certain sections to propagate the idea that Muziris was connected to Pattanam, where St. Thomas is believed to have landed, and not with Kodungalloor.

Myth cannot be called history. Connecting myth with history could only create confusion and distort history, he said. “There is no substantial evidence to say that Pattanam is connected with Muziris. How was this conclusion reached? Those who claim to have found materials to connect Pattanam with Muziris have forgotten that these materials were also found in the eastern and the western costs of the country,” said Nagaswamy. – Express BuzzIBNLive, Thiruvananthapuram, August 7, 2011


Kottakkavu St. Thomas Church


Include St. Thomas Church in Muziris heritage project says Bishop Dr. Joseph Karikkassery

St Thomas Church in Maliankara which was constructed as a historical monument of the visit of St Thomas Apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, who landed in Maliankara in AD 52, should be included in the Muziris Heritage Project, urged Kottapuram Bishop Dr. Joseph Karikkassery.

Bishop Karikkassery visited the church in Maliankara, the monument constructed to perpetuate the visit of the apostle.

St. Thomas is believed to have disembarked from a trading vessel at Kodungalloor Maliankara and baptised several people in various parts of the country. Cardinal Tisserant representing the Holy See, had installed the historical monument at St. Thomas Church in Maliankara.

Bishop Karikkassery was accompanied by Diocese Chancellor Fr. Nixon Kattassery and Procurator Fr. Tegy Thanippilly. They were received by Fr. Joshy Muttickal and Fr. Shyjan Panackal at the church. – Express Buzz, Paravoor, April 21, 2011


Bishop Joseph Karikkassery