This interview was taken by Col. S.S. Rajan, retired as Additional Chief Engineer in the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army, along with G.P. Srinivasan, an ISO 14001 lead auditor for environmental management systems.
Dr S.R. Rao is the foremost marine archaeologist, who discovered the submerged city of Dwarka of Sri Krishna, off the coast of Kutch, in Gujarat, which is considered to be the greatest archaeological discovery in independent India.
Dr. S.R Rao had represented India for three terms, of three years each, to the UNESCO convention to protect underwater cultural heritage. India has the longest coastline of 7500 km with the richest underwater cultural and archaeological repository including perhaps one of the greatest find, an entire city submerged that he himself discovered off the coast of Kutch. According to Dr S.R. Rao, SSCP has violated all international norms and conventions for saving underwater cultural heritage, a mandatory for every maritime member to ?list, preserve and protect all underwater cultural sites.? Excerpts:
How did you discover the city of Sri Krishna?
There was a modern building that was obstructing an ancient temple. It was then we decided to demolish the modern building. Underneath we found an ancient temple which led to subterranean steps that led to steps covered with mud. When we got them cleaned up, they led to passage that led to the seacoast and a port, which when probed led to the greatest discovery in the archaeological history?the discovery of submerged Dwarka city. On one side of the city was four kilometers long wall with a complete port and storage area, warehouse, and weighing stones that are completely intact for holding the ships from drifting away.
Are there any international conventions to save underwater heritage?
I represented India and drafted the UNESCO charter in the convention for saving the underwater heritage. When I last checked, only six nations had signed the treaty. India as a responsible member of UNESCO must sign this convention as we have the richest reserves in marine archaeology and signing the convention will help get international funds allocated to ?list, preserve and protect underwater cultural heritage?. As a responsible member of the United Nations India must sign the UNESCO charter for preservation of our underwater heritage and India should not shy away in this regard.
Can you explain the full details of the convention that you chaired?
Yes. I have the journal of marine archaeology volume 7 and 8 pages 66 and 68 published in 1988 which state among other things definition of underwater heritage, list them and describe ways and means to preserve and protect them. The rate of erosion by violent sea is so aggressive that when we excavated in Poompuhar we found brick walls of ancient city mentioned in Tamil literature.
What caused the destruction of the city?
Right from Ennore near Chennai if you travel down south, Mahabalipuram, Tarangambadi to Poompuhar, this belt has been historically known for violent seas, cyclones and sea erosion. We have experienced one of the most violent seas. A temple can be found taken away by the sea in Ennore, and another Shiva temple can be found submerged at Tarangambadi. The rate of erosion is not what it was even 8 to 10 years ago, it is very rapid. Off the coast of Poompuhar four km wide into the sea the entire city mentioned in Silapadigaram was located and also a long brick wall of the port mentioned in the Tamil classic. I myself have been diving for over 15 years in the underwater expeditions off the coast of Gujarat, Poompuhar and Mahabalipuram.
The Kannagi statue installed on the seacoast had to be shifted 10 meters by the government to save it from sea erosion some years ago. If this being the case it is Ram Sethu that is acting as natural barrier and now saving the southern Tamil Nadu from the violent sea. If this is damaged all hell will break loose. Poompuhar was a very important port and was very extensive of Sangam period but got submerged. What about Ramayana which was even earlier and several thousands of years older? It is absolutely certain that it is historical and of mythological importance. The sea in the western coast of India is not that violent but the eastern coast has been facing one of the most violent seas as we have encountered in our underwater expeditions. Hence this region contains the richest archaeological heritages of the world.
Some researchers say there are so many such sites?as much as 20,000 in the world?and what is the definition of a underwater site?
The definition of the underwater cultural heritage should cover objects of archaeological interest. It should also cover sites and landscapes which are of great importance for understanding of our history. If the site of the naval battle of Salam's(BC 480) and a recent 100-year-old Titanic (sunken luxury liner) could be mentioned as landscape sites then the protection should not only be guided by archaeological and historical interest but also by the need to preserve information about a site even if nothing is recovered from it. The chairman of the international convention stressed on the need to protect sites of mythological significance to traditional communities as non-human heritage. Everything dating back from before the 20th century should be protected. It was also observed that there is no such thing as a time limit to archaeology.
About the committee formed, is it not the political abuse of history, an appointment of this committee of eminent persons?
The committee did not have any members from NIOT, which is the most competent to carry out the research, and has the equipment, technology and money and expertise and certainly not the ASI, which is ill-equipped for such mammoth mission.
TOR Steel Foundation, a Bangalore-based company, had come forward to construct coffer dams to save Dwarka from further submergence. They could also be involved in the committee formed.
What are the guiding principles for listing, preserving and protection?
Two basic principles: The indivisibility of cultural heritage and the significance of it for humanity.