Monday, October 02, 2006

Off the beaten path... Kodumanal

Finally I was able to get to visit the site of my future research: Kodumanal.
I left Saturday morning on a train to the town of Erode. This cost 32 rupees. A bus to the even smaller town of Chennimalai (6 rupees), and from there a bus to the tiny village of Kodumanal (3 rupees). A chance to visit the site of my archaeological dreams? Priceless. Or well, nearly so, anyway.

The travel was uneventful save for the barrage of questions I usually get when people realize I speak some Tamil: Where is your native place? Why have you come to India? Why have you come here specifically? What do you do? What do you study (i.e. what degree)? What subject do you study? How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? Do you have siblings? Are they married? Do they have children? What do your parents do? Will you get married? When? Do you have a groom already picked out? And sometimes questions like: Why do you have three piercings in one ear and only one in the other? Do you wear Indian clothes in America? Do you wear Sarees? Where do your parents live in the US? Is it a joint family? etc. etc. These questions I answered on the bus to several people on the way to the village and several times to different people in the village. Luckily, once I've told a few people, and they are around, whenever someone else comes by and starts asking the same questions, whoever I've already spoken with begins answering for me. What is especially fascinating is that everyone always asks the same set of questions. Sometimes they only ask the first three or four or five, but the order is almost always the same.
I was also questioned on the bus, as to whether I knew the address where I was going. And I didn't but I knew the name of the village, and the name of a man to talk to when I got there. I hoped that was enough.

Sure enough, I got off of the bus and asked for Mr. Somu and was directed towards a house. It turns out it wasn't Mr. Somu's house, but the house that Dr. Rajan had arranged for me to stay in for the night. They provided me with a bed and a meal, and were very hospitable and nice. Of course they too asked all the same questions, but I didn't mind. Theirs was a joint family, one grandmother, two sons, two daughters-in-law, and 2 grandsons, one for each couple. And they all lived under one roof. Anyway, they fed me a lovely dinner of rice, two kinds of vegetables, sambar, rasam and yogurt. It was delicious. Despite the fact that they had no running water, (a cistern over the kitchen sink and gravity provided it instead) they had a Sony Wega Trinitron TV, cable and a DVD player. So we watched a Tamil movie in the evening while the two two-year old boys played with their toy cars.
In the morning Mr. Somu came and got me and we went to check out the site.

There wasn't alot to see, especially in the habitation area. A mound was not especially apparent, although the scatter of pottery and the fine clear crystal debitage of bead making was very abundant. The trenches had all been filled in, and were not marked anywhere. And the whole thing was under cultivation. There was a lot more to see with the megaliths in the burial part of the site, although that too had been plowed at some point in the past. One large excavated megalith was left open, and I'm pictured below standing down inside it. A few others were apparent on the surface. Also, menhirs, or standing stones were still there and quite obvious. If there were really over 100 megaliths there when Rajan and the archaeologists studied the site nearly 20 years ago, many of them must be gone now, or are no longer visible on the surface.
In any case, it was immensely useful to get a first hand view of the site, rather than simply read about it or look at black and white pictures in a book. As you can see from below, the pictures are nice, but you still don't really get a sense of the whole thing. Of course it's spread out over 50 acres, or so Mr. Somu said.
Luckily I didn't fall in any more septic tanks... (there were several possible candidates, but I was adept at avoiding them.)

This is Kodumanal, the habitation site.

Me in front of the transepted cist of an excavated megalithic burial.

One of the stone circles, indicating a sub-surface burial.


Edith said...

hey you!! why, why, why the menhirs? i've been trying to trace that pattern through groups for a long time; they're so prevalent across so many different culture groups at various times. looks like you've got yourself a great site, and undoubtedly a large group of excavators to pull from when you get to start.



It' quite amazing. Findind such a sites is not so easier. You did a marvelous job. Continue your best.
Because of you, the kodumanal might have get some new pattern.

All the best...

Vinod said...

You don't mention that some of the earliest known Brahmi inscriptions were found on potsherds here.

Anonymous said...

amazing narrative. I belong to Tamilnadu but never thought on embarking on such a journey. Take this as an inspiration.