IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


23rd February, 2023 Culture

Copyright infringement not intended 

Context:  Keeladi is a tiny hamlet in the Sivaganga district in south Tamil Nadu. It is about 12 km south-east to the temple city of Madurai and is located along the Vaigai river. The excavations here from 2015 prove that an urban civilisation existed in Tamil Nadu in the Sangam age on the banks of the Vaigai river.


Sangam Age:

  • Sangam Age broadly refers to the Ancient History of the Tamilakam, region south of the Krishna River.
  • The sources for this age are largely in the literary realm, though archaeological evidences too sprout up over time.
  • Kharavelas Hatigumpha inscription, dated to c. 155 BCE provides the earliest epigraphic evidence alluding to a confederacy of Tamil states- Tramiradesasanghatanam, which was 113 years old at the time, and had long been a source of danger.
  • However, this is only a formative source, as the existence of such a confederacy isn’t attested by literary evidence.

How is Keeladi linked to Sangam age?

  • The Sangam age is a period of history in ancient Tamil Nadu which was believed to be from the third century BCE to the third century CE.
  • The name is derived from the renowned Sangam poets of Madurai from that time.
  • Excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department (TNSDA) has pushed the Sangam age further back.
  • In 2019, a TNSDA report dated the unearthed artefacts from Keeladi to a period between sixth century BCE and first century BCE.
  • The findings in the TNSDA report placed Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than the previously believed third century BCE.
  • A recent ASI report by K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, the Superintendent Archaeologist who discovered Keeladi in 2015, has pushed the Sangam age to 800 BCE based on these archaeological findings.
  • Keeladi could also provide crucial evidence for understanding the missing links of the Iron Age (12th century BCE to sixth century BCE) to the Early Historic Period (sixth century BCE to fourth century BCE) and subsequent cultural developments.

Links to Indus Valley:

  • The unearthed Keeladi artefacts have led academics to describe the site as part of the Vaigai Valley Civilisation.
  • The findings have also invited comparisons with the Indus Valley Civilisation while acknowledging the cultural gap of 1,000 years between the two places.
  • Till now, the gap is filled with Iron Age material in south India, which serve as residual links.
  • However, some of the symbols found in pot sherds of Keeladi bear a close resemblance to Indus Valley signs. A lot of digging and study has to be done to establish the links between these two civilisations. TNSDA affirms that Keeladi has all the characteristics of an urban civilisation, with brick structures, luxury items and proof of internal and external trade. It comes across as an industrious and advanced civilisation and has given evidence of urban life and settlements in Tamil Nadu during the Early Historic Period. Keeladi has also added to the credibility of Sangam Literature.


  • Unearthing of heaps of pottery suggest the existence of a pottery making industry, mostly made of locally available raw materials.
  • Over 120 potsherds containing Tamil Brahmi inscriptions have been found.
  • Keeladi, along with other Tamil Nadu sites which have over a thousand inscribed potsherds, clearly suggest the long survival of the script.
  • Spindle whorls, copper needles, terracotta seal, hanging stones of the yarn, terracotta spheres and earthen vessels to hold liquid suggest various stages of a weaving industry. There also existed a dyeing industry and a glass bead industry.
  • Gold ornaments, copper articles, semi-precious stones, shell bangles, ivory bangles and ivory combs reflect the artistic, culturally rich and prosperous lifestyle of the Keeladi people.
  • Agate and carnelian beads suggest import through commercial networks while terracotta and ivory dice, gamesmen and evidence of hopscotch have been unearthed revealing their pastime hobbies.