ASI authorities kept the Cultural Ministry in the dark and gave licence to NGO PAMA with questionable credentials and individuals with alleged terrorist links to undertake Pattanam excavations
-B S Harishankar
Keezadi excavation site
This is to invite your attention on the licence for the year 2021, for archaeological excavations again granted to PAMA, an NGO in Kerala, by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), under Union Ministry of Culture (ASI to be prominent partner in 11th session of Muziris Excavations The Hindu, June 18, 2021). The site has raised much controversy from the beginning.The licence was earlier granted for Pattanam excavations in 2020 after the Central Advisory Panel of the ASI at its meeting on September 12 and 13, 2015 asked the closure of Pattanam excavations following complaints.
Prof K Rajan is in the Advisory Committee of Archaeological Survey of India and has lobbied for currently granting licence to Cherian’s PAMA for excavating Mathilakam and other sites under Cherian’s Ancient Tamilakam Project backed by the Church.
In the document, Pattanam Excavations-2008: Muziris Heritage Project, published by Kerala Council of Historical Research (KCHR) reveals that Prof K Rajan was co-director of the infamous Pattanam Excavation project.
PAMA is headed by a team which has nothing to do with archaeology in qualification or experience. Its Chairman RVG Menon retired as an academic in engineering. Its director P J Cherian did his PhD in 1993 from University of Calicut on the topic “The Communist Movement in Travancore: From the Origins to the Uprisings of 1946”.He did his M Phil (1985) and MA (1978) in History and has no academic qualification in archaeology.
PAMA draws inspiration from its ‘Giant Patrons’–Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, V Gordon Childe and D D Kosambi. This leaves little for imagination on the ideological moorings of the organisation. https://www.pama.org.in/patrons.php)
There is not a single Indian archaeologist of repute as its patron. No Indian archaeologist has hitherto joined its fray and agreed to be its patron. How did the ASI agree to be its ‘prominent partner’ and grant licence to such an NGO which has no professionals in archaeology? The Minister of Culture has been kept in the dark by the ASI authorities.
It raises serious questions regarding the methodology of excavation, people involved with it and the credibility of antiquities claimed to have been recovered from the site at Pattanam. The current excavations have not revealed whether they are digging an Iron Age site or a site which shows transformation period in its stratigraphy and cultural remains. Archaeology primarily involves field work and laboratory studies. It also raises serious questions on our national security.
Major archaeologists such as Professor Dilip Chakrabarti, in his work ‘Nation First’ (2014) strongly criticised Pattanam excavations. Professor Vasant Shinde of Deccan College who excavated Rakhigarhi, has also criticised Pattanam excavations. Major archaeologists such as R Nagaswamy, A Sundara and T Satyamurti also criticised Pattanam excavations. It is to this excavation that the ASI has unscrupulously granted license keeping the Cultural Ministry and Minister for Culture in dark.
The excavations are meant to establish the arrival of Apostle Thomas in Kerala and conversion of Hindus to Christianity. PAMA Director P J Cherian personally presented papers at the Liturgical Research Centre of the Syro Malabar Church–1) The Impact of Recent Archaeological Discoveries in the Ancient Muziris on the Historiography of the Establishment of Christianity in Kerala (Kalyan, Mumbai, 2011); 2) Pattanam Archaeological Evidence and the History of Early Christianity in Kerala (Thiruvalla, Kerala 2011).
Istavan Perczel with Christian religious leaders
Earlier, excavations have been going on at Pattanam for over seven years and no report has been submitted no fresh excavation license can be granted according to ASI Joint Director R S Fonia (Doubting Thomases Suspend Saint Project in The Telegraph, October 1, 2015). In 2016, the licence of 20 NGOs in Kerala was suspended by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act which included the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) which then conducted the Pattanam excavations (MHA Shows no Charity, Cuts Licence of around 20 NGOs in The New Indian Express, December 8, 2016). Further the then KCHR director Cherian was alleged of creating fake Government documents, illegal appointments and financial irregularities worth crores. (https://english.mathrubhumi.com/news/kerala/rampant-irregularities-detected-at-kchr-kerala-kerala-council-for-historical-research-corruption-1.1478483).
The former KCHR director P J Cherian could not continue his term in office and he started an NGO called PAMA. The PAMA secured licence for archaeological excavations in 2020 (Attempts to Expropriate Security and Academics in Organiser, April 5, 2020). Now again the NGO has secured licence to excavate Pattanam. After getting wind of the controversies associated with the Pattanam excavations, former President Pranab Mukherjee refused to inaugurate Pattanam Museum associated with Pattanam excavations (President skips Pattanam exhibition: The Hindu, February 28, 2016).
Has the ASI verified this track record before granting licence to Pattanam excavations? George Soros, multi-billionaire Leftist who supports Kashmir secessionists against PM Modi (George Soros laments rising nationalism, says biggest setback in India, in The Times of India, January 25, 2020) is associated with the Pattanam project. Soros is an interlocutor in shaping the alliance between communism and the church. Central European University (CEU), which opened in Budapest, Hungary, in 1991, was founded by George Soros after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as an alternative recruitment and training centre for Left intellectuals. The CEU launched its ambitious plan in Kerala in collaboration with Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) under a Left Government. Prof Istvan Perczel from CEU is a scholar on Byzantine history and Medieval Christianity, and one of the patrons of the dubious Pattanam excavations in Kerala, supervised by Left historians under KCHR. Prof Perczel delivered a lecture at Thiruvananthapuram on the historical legacy of Kerala Christianity (History of Kerala Christianity: Documents, monuments and methodological challenges, The Hindu, February 12, 2008). Formerly he sent a letter to KCHR giving his benediction and highlighting, “According to tradition, Muziris was also the port where the Apostle St. Thomas landed, and the epics of indigenous south Indian Christianity started. This discovery opens immense new perspectives for the scholarship, so I wish all success for continuation.” (Muziris Heritage Project-Pattanam Excavations, 2008, KCHR, Thiruvananthapuram).
Istvan Perczel under Central European University sponsors the Biblical project, History of Kerala Christianity on the Basis of Newly Found Documents: Methodological Challenges and Possible Answers (Talk at the IIS Centre for Contemporary Studies, July 24, 2008). The work is carried out by another Indian NGO registered in Kerala, ‘Association for the Preservation of the Saint Thomas Christian Heritage’, in close collaboration with the Marxist-sponsored Kerala Council of Historical Research. Istvan Perczel is a founding member of this NGO who is also honoured with Distinguished Visiting Professorship (three lectures) at Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, Kerala, by the Left Government in Kerala.
Pattanam is currently linked with Keezhadi archaeological site in Tamil Nadu, excavated by ASI, but virtually controlled by Father Gasper Raj, a missionary with terrorist links. He is also involved in multiple activities in support of LTTE, a Sri Lankan group designated by the US State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. (Douglas C Lovelace Jr., Esq., 2008, Terrorism: Documents of International and Local Control, Academic, OUP, Vol. 91).
Keezhadi is patronised by K Rajan who is in the Advisory Committee of ASI. Rajan is associated with Father Gasper Raj, founder of NGO Tamil Mayyam, and officially referred in US crime records as ‘Gaspar Raj Maria Paulian’. When Rajan is clearly working as an interlocutor between Pattanam and Keezhadi with international terrorist groups and personalities, his academic credibility is diluted and stands accused of anti-national activism.
Anti-Hindu propagandists are also associated with Pattanam. Sunil P Elayidom, a Malayalam academic of Sri Sankara Sanskrit University, Kalady, Kerala who is a known Marxist ideologue and anti-Bhagavad Gita/Mahabharata propagandist is involved with the Pattanam excavations (Kerala: Sphinx Seal Recovered from Pattanam in The Times of India, September 21, 2020). The Hindu has published a review of his book on The Mahabharata (Sunil P Elayidom on What Makes the Mahabharata So Compellingly Modern in The Hindu September 12, 2020). Sunil P Elayidom is currently involved with Pattanam project to bring as a historic fact that Bhagavat Gita has been influenced by Apostle Thomas and Christianity.
The Cultural Ministry should take immediate action cancelling licence for Pattanam excavations conducted by the NGO PAMA and individuals with alleged terrorist links with sites such Keezhadi taking into consideration our national security.
(The writer is an archaeologist, author, columnist and Academic Committee Member, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla)