Saturday, 15 April 2006

Kottur: Archaeological survey of India on a "treasure hunt"

April 15, 2006
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, April 14: The Archaeological Survey of India is on a "treasure hunt" in the nondescript Kotturu village of Visakhapatnam district searching Buddhist ruins for priceless artefacts, inscriptions and ancient gold and silver coins.
Kotturu is one of the six new archaeological sites selected by the Central government for excavations that are likely to throw a deep insight into the lifestyles of people dating back to second century BC. The ASI will dig up "mounds" in and around Kotturu that have so far been the target of vandals seeking treasure throve.
The Central government has decided to go in for a thorough excavation of the "mounds" in Kotturu after archaeologists discovered stone inscriptions containing Telugu words in Brahmi script about 2200 years old. Earlier excavations at the site brought out 107 gold coins, silver coins, pearls, diamonds and gems stored in a small vessel. The vessel was hidden in a rectangular container.
According to officials at the ASI office in Hyderabad, the excavations on Buddhist "mounds" will also throw more light on the language spoken by Buddhist monks and local people in those times. A rock edict in Brahmi script contained the words, "Tambayya Danam", which in Telugu means "donated by Tambayya".
Tambayya was believed to be a Telugu noble who had donated gold ornaments and precious stones to Buddhist monks towards charity. Tambayya's donation includes 21 silver and gold flowers and two gold containers.
Ever since the discovery of the rock edict, the interest of archaeologists and linguistics has gone up on the "mounds" in Kotturu. The edict has pushed the age of Telugu language by at least 800 years. Earlier, Telugu was thought to be evolved around the sixth. The latest evidence now shows that Telugu is as old as 2200 years.
Like Sanskrit, Tamil and Kannada, the literature of Telugu has been in vogue for over 1500 years. Some archaeologists have been arguing that Telugu is more than 2000 years old. The first Telugu words can be observed in Ikshavakula inscriptions. Nagarjuna Hill inscriptions of 250 AD contain Telugu words. But the Kotturu inscriptions have come in as the first ever "solid evidence" to prove that Telugu was spoken even before the start of the common era.
The Kotturu "mounds" are similar in structure to the internationally famous "Salihundam", a Buddhist site in Srikakulam district. Salihundam is an ancient settlement containing a maha stupa, votive stupas, chaityas, platforms and viharas. Here the inscriptions date back to the second century AD. The Kotturu "mounds" are four hundred years older than the Salihundam and archaeologists expect more "surprises" during the excavations.
Kotturu and surrounding areas as also the ancient sites along the river Krishna in Krishna and Godavari districts had played an important role in the spread of Buddhism from India to Sumatra, China and other countries in the Far East.
The "mounds" are locally known as "Dhana Dibbalu" (mounds of treasure) in local parlance. There are Chaitya Grihas or halls of worship built of brick. Similar ruins are also found in Andhra Pradesh at places like Guntapalli near Vijayawada, Nagarjunakonda and Amaravathi in Guntur district. But these mounds are 100 years older than the Kotturu mounds.
Along with Kotturu mounds, the ASI has taken up excavations at ancient sites in Chaturbhuj Nala (Mandsaur district) and Gondarmau (Bhopal district) in Madhya Pradesh, Aragarh (Puri district) in Orissa and Sanauli, Baghpat and Latiya (Ghazipur district) in Uttar Pradesh.
The other oldest Telugu inscription is from 633 AD. The Telugu literature begins with an 11th-century translation of the Sanskrit classic Mahabharata.
Telugu words appear in the Maharashtri Prakrit anthology of poems (the Gathasaptashathi) collected by the first century BC Satavahana King Hala. Telugu speakers were probably the oldest peoples inhabiting the land between Krishna and Godavari. ASI officials hope that the Kotturu findings are likely to give a historical look to the Telugu language and the traditions and culture of the Telugu-speaking people.

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