Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s proposal to allocate ₹3,150 crore for the establishment of on-site museums near five archaeological sites in the country, has upset many in Tamil Nadu who have raised questions over the exclusion of the Keeladi excavation site from the list.
While presenting the Union Budget 2020-21 on Saturday (February 1), Sitharaman said the on-site museums will be built at Rakhigarhi (Haryana), Hastinapur (Uttar Pradesh), Sivasagar (Assam), Dholavira (Gujarat) and Adichanallur (Tamil Nadu).
Speaking to The Federal, S Venkatesan, CPI(M) MP from Madurai said such an announcement was not a surprise as the Centre has been neglecting the Keeladi excavations for a long time.
“While completing the excavation in the initial phase, the Centre’s Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said that there was nothing new at Keeladi and the excavation was a complete waste of time. But, after that the Tamil Nadu archaeology department resumed the excavations and unearthed significant findings. Now, if the Centre accepts the findings of the Tamil Nadu archaeology department and announces schemes for it in the budget, it will be asked to answer why it did not take Keeladi seriously in the first place? That will put the central government in an uncomfortable position. In order to avoid such a situation, the Centre now is focussing on the archaeological site at Adichanallur,” said Venkatesan.
Will Adichanallur meet Keeladi’s fate?
Adichanallur, located in Thoothukudi district, some 600 km off Chennai, got the attention of archaeologists for the first time in 1876 when Dr Fedor Jagor, an ethnologist from Germany made some discoveries at the site. A team headed Jagor found many earthen pots, iron weapons and a large number of bones and skulls at the site. The digs now find place in the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.
Similar excavations were carried out by British archaeologist Alexander Rea between 1899 and 1905 while he was serving as the superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India (southern circle). In 2004, experts from the state archaeology department unearthed urns carrying Tamil Brahmi inscriptions dating between 100 BC and 200 BC.
Experts, however, say while officials have not filed the excavation reports of 2004 yet, despite being a probe site for archaeologists before Independence, the central government gave a go-ahead for excavation at site only recently.
“In 2017, Muthalankurichi Kamaraj, a social activist from Thoothukudi, filed a public interest litigation praying to continue the excavation in Adichanallur and set up a museum. After three years of wait, the excavation process has started on the site from January 31, 2020,” said SMA Gandhimathinathan, a social activist of the district.
The current excavation is taking place on 114 acres and will continue throughout the year.
“In view of this, we request the state and central governments to publish full reports of the 2004 excavation and carbon dating, and also to bring back the excavated items from the German museum,” Gandhimathinathan added.
When asked about the Centre’s neglect of Keeladi, a senior official in the TN Archaeology Department said the state government would set up an on-site museum at the place soon.
“The state government has already announced that it will allocate ₹12.2 crore to set up a museum. The work will begin soon,” the official said.
The budget allocation for the Union Ministry of Culture was ₹2,843.32 in 2018-19 and ₹3,042.35 crore in 2019-20.