Intro : In a write up titled “A Mosque Visit Modi Finds Difficult to Pull off”, The Hindu has charged the Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram of contending the Muziris Heritage Project. The General Secretary of Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram writes a rejoinder to the allegations levelled against the organisation.
“The Pattanam excavations under Cherian have also begun to attract some Biblical and Jewish scholarly interest, making the whole thing look like an unholy conglomeration of various interest groups. It is time the Government of India took serious notice of these groups.” This strongly worded remark was made by Prof Dilip K Chakrabarti, in his recent book Nation First published in 2014. One of the most reputed archaeologists in Bharat and also Emeritus Professor of South Asian Archaeology and Cambridge University, Prof Chakrabarti is currently a member of Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR).
Keeping Prof Chakrabarti’s rather strong allegations against Pattanam excavations under the blanket, The Hindu editor Varghese K George has charged the Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram of contending the Muziris Heritage Project. In a write up dated 27th August, 2015, titled “A Mosque Visit Modi Finds Difficult to Pull off”, Varghese K George has put the Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram on the defensive. Mr George has highlighted Prof KN Panikkar’s perception that the Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram view on Muziris Heritage Project of Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) has been communal and is not based on any historical understanding. Mr George should understand that, like Prof Chakrabarti, former ICHR chairman and veteran historian Professor MGS Narayanan has vehemently come out against Pattanam excavations on numerous occasions and has demanded that the site be kept under the custody of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to bring out historical truths. Like Vichara Kendram, Prof MGS has been strongly criticising the methodology of Pattanam excavations and its misinterpretations. On November 2011 at the national seminar of archaeologists, Prof. A Sundara, former director of Archaeology and Museums, Karnataka, vehemently criticised the archaeological excavations at Pattanam site and the rambling hotchpotch of cultural remains without periodisation. On August 4, 2011, Dr R Nagaswamy former Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu and Dr T Satyamurthy, former Director of ASI and who also served as Director of Archaeology, Kerala Government, strongly condemned the excavation methodology and dubious interpretations by KCHR on Pattanam. While accusing Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram, Varghese George has neither included its opinion nor has he referred to the serious allegations on Pattanam by these archaeologists and historians. The names of such veteran archaeologists and historians who have been contentious of Pattanam such as Professors Dilip Chakrabarti, MGS Narayanan, A Sundara, R Nagaswamy and T Satyamurthy have been kept aside by Varghese George to divert public attention. Instead he has cleverly placed the dispute on Pattanam excavations as a debate between KCHR and Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram charging the latter of communalising the issue.
Is Varghese George conscious of a write up in Mathrubhumi Weekly in 2014 by Prof. PM Rajan Gurukkal, member of the Muziris Heritage Project who admitted that Pattanam site was unfit for any archaeological excavation. Gurukkal pointed out that the soil at Pattanam has been virtually tampered for various construction purposes and digging of wells, leaving no space for stratigraphical analysis of the cultural remains. If such a site has been selected for archaeological excavations by Prof KN Panikkar and Prof PJ Cherian, it shows their ignorance in ancient historical studies since they are also modern historians. It does not present the historical ignorance of Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram as commented by KN Panikkar. After the excavations in 2007 and 2008 no eminent archaeologist in Bharat has come openly in support of the Pattanam Archaeological Site. The KCHR claimed that unearthed remains from Pattanam include warehouse, wharf, brick walls, postholes, clay platforms, multiple layers of floor, ring wells, foundation brick walls, soakage pits, semi circular structures, brick structure with three enclosures which were contended as evidence of “Early Historic” urban architectural features. There is not a single reference in KCHR reports regarding the cultural stratigraphy. Such structural remains are neither found in the trenches nor in photographs by KCHR. When Vichara Kendram raised objections, the claims were withdrawn for some time. The metal objects from the site have not yet been typologically classified and archaeometallurgical studies have not yet been attempted. Regarding the claim of lapidaries at Pattanam, there has been no mention on the variety of semi-precious stone beads from the site or studies on the complex and expensive manufacturing sequences involved. Finally on the claim that Pattanam site has the largest assemblage of Roman pottery in Bharat, we contend that such claims are impossible without quantitative analysis from various sites associated with Roman pottery. The excavators are totally silent on XRD and XRF reports on ceramics from Pattanam. X-ray diffraction analysis is used for determining the mineralology of crystalline materials such as ceramics, glass and stone. X-ray fluorescence spectrometry is used for determining the elemental composition of natural and manmade materials such as ceramics, glass, glaze, and also coins as an aid to trace their source, technology of production and similarity to other examples of forms. The antiquities have not been classified or presented into Protohistoric and Historic cultural remains. What KCHR claims are evidences of Roman trade without cultural stratigraphy.
The Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram pointed out in 2012 that much before licence was given by ASI in 2003 for excavations, trenching was conducted at Pattanam in 1998 and the antiquities unearthed were transferred to Union Christian College Museum at Aluva where Dr Cherian was in the teaching faculty in the department of history. It shows that much undocumented antiquities have been transferred from Pattanam. If such black marks already exist on KCHR and Pattanam along with irregularities in excavations, along with strong criticisms by eminent scholars such as Professors Dilip Chakrabarti and MGS Narayanan, the Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram should not be held responsible by Varghese George for the Prime Minister’s office being reluctant to accept the offer for inaugurating the project.
K C Sudhir Babu (The writer is General Secretary of Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram, Kerala)