| A diver during the underwater exploration
Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu), Feb. 25: Among the few strange acts of the killer tsunami was blowing the sand cover off seven boulders with various carved figures on the coast of this ancient town.
Off the coast now, archaeologists have found several 'promising structures' that have kindled hopes of cracking a long-standing mystery about the Seven Pagodas described by western scholars in and around Mamallapuram, 55 km from Chennai.
'We find some man-made structures, some wall-like structures, some step-like structures, besides perfectly cut stone blocks arranged in a pattern,' said Alok Tripathy, a senior official of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
The underwater discovery lies close to the Shore Temple, reviving the question asked by historians, archaeologists and seafarers from time to time if they are all part of a once-existing complex of seven temples.
The Shore Temple ' of Vishnu and Shiva ' dates to the seventh century. Mamallapuram was a prominent port of even earlier vintage under the Pallava dynasty.
Jointly undertaken by the navy and the ASI, the fortnight-long survey was completed today. Tripathy announced the findings on board the ship used in the survey in the presence of Commodore Brian A. Thomas, the seniormost navy official in the joint team.
Tripathy said the offshore structures extended towards the area where the Shore Temple is located. Just southwest of the temple lie the seven boulders exposed by the tsunami.
Although the underwater exploration, in an area covering 500x500 metres, was not influenced by the December 26 tsunami, it seems the event might have expedited the mission. Neither the commodore nor the naval officer would respond to queries about this.
Pieces of pottery and an amazingly intact pot with some damage at the top are among the findings from the exploration, Tripathy said, rolling underwater pictures taken during the expedition on a makeshift screen on the ship's deck.
He said what was significant was the number of 'interesting features' in the structures, suggesting 'human activity' in an old settlement. Extending both ways, in the sea and towards land, the discovery suggests a 'bigger complex and more structures, besides rectangular cut blocks of perfect shape lying in alignment, which generally imply they must have been worked upon by people', Tripathy added.
The explored area was divided into four sectors and in the deeper part, where the depth ranged from 6 to 8 metres, the submerged rocks were covered with thick flora which would have to be cleared for further study.
Closer to the Shore Temple, the 'entire area was found strewn with a number of blocks of various shapes and sizes and some of them are very big', he said.
'We are trying to correlate these undersea findings with the structures on land in Mamallapuram. In archaeology we cannot draw very quick conclusions,' he warned, adding that 'post-field work takes months to years'.
The findings will be presented in greater detail at an international conference in Delhi from March 17-19.