Keeladi Findings | 23 Feb 2023

For Prelims: Findings of Keeladi, Sangam era.

For Mains: Significance of Keeladi Findings and Sangam Era.

Why in News?

Recently, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has submitted a detailed report on the findings during the first two phases of the digging at the Sangam-era site and their significance.

  • Also, the Keeladi Site Museum is coming up in Sivaganga that would house significant ones of the over 18,000 artefacts unearthed so far.

What are the Keypoints about Keeladi?

  • Keeladi is a tiny hamlet in the Sivaganga district in south Tamil Nadu. It is about 12 km south-east to the temple city of Madurai and is located along the Vaigai river.
  • The excavations here from 2015 prove that an urban civilization existed in Tamil Nadu in the Sangam age on the banks of the Vaigai river.

What are the Key Findings?

  • In the eight rounds of excavations, including the first three by the ASI, over 18,000 artefacts have been unearthed from the site and the unique artefacts will be on display at the museum to be opened soon.
  • Unearthing of heaps of pottery suggest the existence of a pottery making industry, mostly made of locally available raw materials. Over 120 potsherds containing Tamil Brahmi inscriptions have been found.
    • Over a thousand inscribed potsherds, found at Keeladi and other sites clearly suggest the long survival of the script.
  • Spindle whorls, copper needles, terracotta seal, hanging stones of the yarn, terracotta spheres and earthen vessels to hold liquid suggest various stages of a weaving industry. There also existed a dyeing industry and a glass bead industry.
  • Gold ornaments, copper articles, semi-precious stones, shell bangles, ivory bangles and ivory combs reflect the artistic, culturally rich and prosperous lifestyle of the Keeladi people.
  • Agate and carnelian beads suggest import through commercial networks while terracotta and ivory dice, gamesmen and evidence of hopscotch have been unearthed revealing their pastime hobbies.

What is the Significance of the Findings?

  • Linkages with Sangam Age:
    • The Sangam age is a period of history in ancient Tamil Nadu which was believed to be from the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE and derives its name from the renowned Sangam assemblies of the poets of Madurai from that time.
    • A recent ASI report has pushed the Sangam age to 800 BCE based on these archaeological findings.
    • Keeladi could also provide crucial evidence for understanding the missing links of the Iron Age (12th century BCE to sixth century BCE) to the Early Historic Period (sixth century BCE to fourth century BCE) and subsequent cultural developments.
  • Potential Linkages with Indus Valley:
    • The unearthed Keeladi artefacts have led academics to describe the site as part of the Vaigai Valley Civilization. The findings have also invited comparisons with the Indus Valley Civilization while acknowledging the cultural gap of 1,000 years between the two places.
      • The gap is filled with Iron Age material in south India, which serve as residual links.
    • According to Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department (TNSDA) Keeladi has all the characteristics of an urban civilization, with brick structures, luxury items and proof of internal and external trade.
      • It comes across as an industrious and advanced civilization and has given evidence of urban life and settlements in Tamil Nadu during the Early Historic Period.

What was the Controversy Surrounding Keeladi?

  • After reports of possible links with the Indus Valley Civilization, there was “no significant finding” in the third round, which was seen as an attempt to play down the excavation findings.
  • On the intervention of the Madras High Court, the TNSDA has been carrying out excavations since 4th round instead of ASI to unearth more about the history of Tamil civilization.

Sangam Age

  • The word ‘Sangam’ is the Tamil form of the Sanskrit word Sangha which means a group of persons or an association.
  • The Tamil Sangam was an academy of poets who flourished in three different periods and in different places under the patronage of the Pandyan kings.
  • The Sangam literature which was largely consolidated from the third Sangam, throws information on conditions of life of people around the beginning of the Christian era.
    • It deals with the secular matter relating to the public and social activities like government, war charity, trade, worship, agriculture, etc.
    • Sangam literature consists of the earliest Tamil works (such as the Tolkappiyam), the ten poems (Pattupattu), the eight anthologies (Ettutogai) and the eighteen minor works (Padinenkilkanakku), and the three epics.

Tamil-Brahmi Script

  • The Brahmi script was the earliest script that the Tamils used.
  • In the late ancient and early medieval period, they started evolving a new angular script, called the Grantha script, from which the modern Tamil is derived.

Vaigai River

  • It is an east-flowing river.
  • The Vaigai river basin is an important basin among the 12 basins lying between the Cauvery and Kanyakumari.
  • This basin is bounded by the Cardamom Hills and the Palani Hills on the West and by the Palk Strait and Palk Bay on the East.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQ)

Q. Though not very useful from the point of view of a connected political history of South India, the Sangam literature portrays the social and economic conditions of its time with remarkable vividness. Comment. (2013)