Nagaswamy, who was also the first director of the Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department, said that though the evidence exists, there is little interest. “I was drawn to the discovery of our lifestyle, through music, dance, archaeology and social life.
These interpretations can give an understanding of human society, which is fascinating, when viewed through scientific evidence rather than imagination.
Today, there is more imagination but little interest in evidence, though we have thousands of evidences, hidden in our ancient inscriptions and other antiquities. We are just interested in myth,” said the longest serving director (1966-1988) of the department.
Instrumental in developing the State Archaeology Department, Nagaswamy had started 12 regional museums and set up the Institute of Epigraphy in the department, to train students in post-graduate diploma in epigraphy and art. He conducted important excavations at Karur, Alagankulam, Korkai and Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
He has also authored several books, including ‘Masterpieces of South Indian Bronzes’ and ‘Facets of South Indian Art and Architecture’. He also started the Chidambaram Natyanjali festival, more than three decades ago.
Nagaswamy had played a key role in protecting several historic monuments such as the palace site of the Imperial Cholas at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, the 17th Century Danish Fort at Tranquebar and preserved Chera inscriptions at Pugalur.
He was the first to conduct an under-sea archaeological survey off the coast of Poompuhar in Tamil Nadu. He rued the loss of valuable inscriptions through lack of maintenance of heritage sites.
Acknowledged as an international expert on South Indian bronzes, Nagaswamy appeared as an expert witness in the London High Court, in the London Nataraja case.
“The questions ranged from how do you date a sculpture to the relation of the bronze to the temple. There are prescribed texts or agama, written down thousands of years ago, which lay down rules for construction of temples and consecration of idols. But it is in Sanskrit, which not many can read. There are 30,000 temples in Tamil Nadu and we need trained people, with an understanding of Sanskrit, to understand its rich history,” said Nagaswamy.
To promote archaeology, especially among children, he roped in school and college students to preserve historical monuments in their locality.
“Through this initiative, we took students from schools to a monument nearby, where we taught them the history associated with it. This created an interest among students.
Archaeology is not just theoretical but also practical – understanding human society from what was left behind,” said the expert, who also popularised the subject through dance and music at monuments such as Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Darasuram.
Though more youngsters these days are interested in culture, there is a need for a scientific understanding of the past. “Youngsters know the world culture but not its meaning.
Culture is what you had, say 200 years ago or 1,000 years ago, left behind in inscriptions, for example. These inscriptions should be preserved. We need to create a younger generation with a scientific understanding of culture,” concluded Nagaswamy.