Archeological Marvels Of Tamil Nadu

Explore the hidden historical gems of the State through these four sites
Shore temple, a world heritage site in Mamallapuram
Shore temple, a world heritage site in MamallapuramShutterstock

Tamil Nadu has a plethora of beautiful spots waiting to be discovered. Moving away from where the crowds go, a tour of some of the well-known archaeological sites in the State might interest you if you wish to explore the more historically rich sites. Steer clear from the jostling crowds and the endless humdrum of the big cities that the State abounds in and set out on a journey that will not only be unique but will also entice the history buff in you.

Here is a roundup of the archaeological marvels of Tamil Nadu.

Keeladi: Into The Ancient Tamil Civilisation

Keeladi is a small hamlet in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu that guards a treasure trove of history. The village of Keeladi is a mere 12 km southeast of the busy temple city of Madurai. This town, with its array of brilliant archaeological finds, is a paradise for people who love to indulge themselves in the stories of the past. 

The archaeological excavations of Keeladi, which commenced in 2013-14, have unveiled proof of an urban civilisation that flourished during the Sangam era along the banks of the Vaigai River, challenging previously held assumptions about the ancient history of Tamil Nadu.

Close-up of white painted pot sherds on display at the Keeladi Museum
Close-up of white painted pot sherds on display at the Keeladi MuseumShutterstock

You will be enthralled to see proof of Keeladi’s storied past, which the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has dug out through various explorations along the Vaigai river valley in Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts. Remnants of charcoal were found at the site in 2017, which takes you back to the bygone era of 200 BC settlement. The excavations established the existence of urban civilisation in Tamil Nadu since the Sangam age. 

The uncovering of these relics shed light on the lifestyle of the people of Keeladi. While exploring the area, you will reminisce about a society engaged in various stages of textile production. Crafted beads and rouletted pottery were among some of the findings in the area. Of all the artefacts unearthed at the excavation site, 850 were shell bangles and beads, while 15 were Tamil Brahmi-inscribed pottery pieces.

Besides the rich historical site of Keeladi, Sivaganga district also offers other attractions for the curious traveller. The Keeladi Museum is dedicated to the findings of the site and you can visit the museum for a better understanding of the ancient era. With the antiquities displayed for tourists to marvel at, the Keeladi Museum should naturally be on your must-visit list.

Getting there: The nearest railway station is Silaiman Railway Station, which is about 3 km away.

Mamallapuram: Where Art and History Converge 

Mamallapuram, in Chengalpattu district of Tamil Nadu, is another remarkable archaeological site that highlights the artistry and craftsmanship of the people of ancient civilisations. Once a prosperous port city during the Pallava dynasty, the place has a rich legacy of temples, rock-cut sculptures, and Megalithic monuments.

If you are visiting Mamallapuram for a day, there are a lot of things to explore. The most famous stop is the beautiful Shore temple, fringing the sea. The monuments at Mamallapuram, with their majestic edifices, are an example of excellent craftsmanship, marking the high quality of work in the region during the 6th century CE. This will greatly interest travellers who have an eye for architecture and design.

The monuments at Mamallapuram, with their majestic edifices, are an example of excellent craftsmanship
The monuments at Mamallapuram, with their majestic edifices, are an example of excellent craftsmanship

For the spiritual wanderers, Mukunda Nayanar temple, one of the most modest and earliest of them all, is an excellent place to be. If you are with family, take your children to see the marvels of the rock-cut cave temples of Konerimandapa, Mahishmardhini cave, and Varahamandapa, Mahishamardhini, Bhuvaraha, Gajalakshmi, Tirivikrama, and Durga, which are known for their rich embellishments and natural grace. The monolithic temples were also hewn out of boulders and are locally known as "rath" due to their resemblance with the processional chariots of a temple. There are four sculptural bas-reliefs at Mamallapuram, which are an important class of stunning creations. Out of them, the most noteworthy are Govardhanadhari and Arjuna's Penance.

After a day's excursion from temple to temple take a leisurely stroll through Mamallapuram’s streets which are lined with shops selling trinkets and souvenirs such as sculptures and miniatures in black stone, granite, soft and grey soapstone. You can bring back the rich history and stories of the place in the form of these miniatures.

Getting there: Chennai Airport, which is 52 km away from Mamallapuram, is the nearest. You can also drive to the site since Mamallapuram is so close to Chennai.

Adichanallur: Unearthing South India's Ancient Past 

A tiny remote village in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu, Adichanallur, offers a portal into South India's ancient history. In a State that is packed with its fair share of archaeological wonders, this small village has yielded some of the most intriguing discoveries in the region.

Adichanallur's historical significance is propelled further with the discovery of a burial site. There is evidence of urn burials in red and black ware at the site, with 178 burials exposed within a 600 sq m area. These findings furnish valuable insights into the burial practices and societal structure of the civilisation that once thrived here.

Visit Chennai's Government Museum in Egmore to look at the exhibit of relics unearthed at Adichanallur
Visit Chennai's Government Museum in Egmore to look at the exhibit of relics unearthed at AdichanallurShutterstock

A trip to this archaeological hotbed is full of fascinating facts that will equip you with stories to take back home. The traces of a fortified town with distinct quarters in Adichanallur suggest an organised society with defined living spaces. You will find yourself asking questions about the history of the region and the circumstances that led to its fortification.

One of the most brilliant discoveries at the site is an inscription in the rudimentary Tamil-Brahmi script, which shatters previous assumptions about its use during the ancient period.

For an enriching experience, visit in a group or alone and head over to Chennai's Government Museum in Egmore to look at the exhibit of relics unearthed at the site. These Megalithic burial urns found in Adichanallur are on display at the museum, along with Perumbair Pottery, household appliances and agricultural tools made of iron. An enlightening discovery at the site was a potsherd adorned with intricate motifs, which will make you marvel at the aesthetic sense of the Adichanallur people and imagine an era where their artistic flair flourished in the form of such detailed crafts.

Getting there:  Located in the Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu, you can reach this site via public and private buses.

Kodumanal: Where Trade and Industry Thrived 

Nestled on the banks of the Noyyal River, Kodumanal offers an enchanting peak into the commerce and trading industry that flourished over two millennia ago. This unassuming hamlet, with a population of around a thousand, belies its rich historical legacy.

Archaeological experts divide the history of Kodumanal into two distinct cultural periods: the Megalithic and Prehistoric eras. Spanning from the 5th century BCE to the 1st century BCE, these eras witnessed Kodumanal's transformation into a thriving industrial and trade hub.

Government Museum in Erode houses some of the most important Kodumanal findings
Government Museum in Erode houses some of the most important Kodumanal

To witness the enchanting objects on display, make a trip to Government Museum Erode, 45 km from the site. The museum is located at VOC Park campus in Erode district and houses some of the most important Kodumanal findings.

Roman coins and punched-marked coins were exhumed, dating from the 4th to the 1st century BCE. The discovery of these remnants alludes to Kodumanal's role as a significant trade centre, with a route along the banks of the Noyyal River connecting it to the Chera dynasty. Among the discoveries, black and red ware and russet-coated ware were also found, along with inscribed potsherds, graffiti potsherds, and beads made of clay, quartz, agate, carnelian, lapis lazuli, and beryl.

Immerse yourself in the ancient history of Kodumanal. Visiting with family for a day of fun and learning is an experience you wouldn't want to miss.

Getting there: Kodumanal falls in Erode district of the State. Coimbatore International Airport is the nearest major airport, 69 km away, and the nearest railhead is Uttukuli, which is 6 km away.

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