Tsunamis lay bare ancient relics on shores

Agence France Presse

Mahabalipuram, February 11:

The deadly tsunamis that crashed into southern India have unearthed priceless relics, including two granite lions, buried under sand for centuries, archaeologists say. The towering waves that killed over 285,000 people throughout Asia also appear to have swept a bronze Buddha to Indian shores from Thailand in a basket attached to a bamboo raft, they say.

Archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have descended on the ancient seaport of Mahabalipuram, famed for its rock carvings dating back to the great Pallava dynasty, to see the objects. “The sea has thrown up evidence of the grandeur of the Pallava dynasty. These have been buried for centuries,” the archaeologal body’s superintending archaeologist, T Sathiamoorthy, told AFP late yesterday. “We’re all very excited about these finds.” The Hindu dynasty dominated much of South India from as early as the first century BC to eighth century AD and Mahabalipuram is now recognised as the site of some of the greatest architectural and sculptural achievements in India. Among the tsunami “gifts” found in Mahabalipuram, 70 km south of Chennai, are the remnants of a stone house and a half-completed rock elephant, archaeologists say. There are also two giant granite lions, one seated and another poised to charge. The statues are each carved out of a single piece of granite stone, testifying to the carver’s skill.

The objects were uncovered when the towering waves withdrew from the beach, carrying huge amounts of sand with them. The archaeologists are also excited about a report from locals that just before the waves struck on December 26, the sea withdrew a great distance baring the seabed on which lay a temple structure and several rock sculptures. “We’ll be exploring the seabed to document these Pallava relics,” Sathiamoorthy said, adding the Archaeological Survey of India would dispatch a team of marine archaeologists next month to the area.

Experts are examining as well a 15-centimetre tall bronze Buddha found inside a bamboo basket attached to a raft to determine its age and origin. The figure with Myanmarese writing on its back is seated lotus style and holds a begging bowl on his lap. “It seems it might have been taken to Thailand from Myanmar at some point and then was carried out to sea by the tsunami,” B Sasisekaran, a scientist at the National Institute of Ocean Technology, said. While Myanmar suffered some damage from the tsunamis, oceanographers believe the way the waves travelled east to west suggest the Buddha came from the coast of Thailand which is a Buddhist country. Fishermen have put the statue inside a Hindu temple but district officials planned to recover it to save it being stolen by “antique-hunters.” Cartographers say the waves have redrawn the entire Mahabalipuram coastline.

One of a clutch of temples is partially submerged. But the magnificent eighth century Shore Temple, a UN World Heritage Site famed for its carvings representing characters from Hindu scriptures, survived the sea’s fury.