After leading two potentially groundbreaking rounds of excavation at Keezhadi village near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Archaeological Survey of India official Amarnath Ramakrishna was abruptly transferred to Assam in March 2017. Artifacts excavated by Ramakrishna’s team were dated to the Sangam era, providing evidence of complex urban settlements in what is glorified in literature as the golden age of Tamils.
After Ramakrishna was moved out, the ASI completed the third round of excavation in October last year. The work has since been taken over by the Tamil Nadu government’s archaeological department.
While findings of the first two phases were widely publicised, little is known about the third phase.
The Keezhadi excavation became the topic of a controversy last year after the Centre delayed permission for the third round of digging. Political parties in Tamil Nadu accused the Narendra Modi government of trying to sabotage the excavation because it could establish the presence of an independent non-Vedic ancient Tamil civilisation, thereby negating the Hindutva notion of Indian civilisation being rooted entirely in the Vedic tradition. Ramakrishna’s transfer only added fuel to fire. In Assam, Ramakrishna was also moved from the excavation section to the monuments maintenance section.
It seems the ASI’s discomfort with Keezhadi continues. Scroll.in has learnt that the ASI recently denied permission to Ramakrishna to go to the United States for a three-week lecture series on the Keezhadi findings.
Ramakrishna was invited to the US by the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America, which comprises 50 Tamil associations from across the continent. The lectures were to be delivered in the run-up to the federation’s annual Tamil convention, scheduled to be held between June 29 and July 1.
On April 26, Ramakrishna asked for the ASI’s permission to travel to the US, official documents seen by Scroll.in show. He received a curt reply from Deputy Director Tara Chandar on May 25, stating that “the competent authority has not acceded” to his request. The letter cited no reason for the denial of permission.
Officials of the Federation of Tamil Sangams said Ramakrishna informed them about his inability to travel last week.
Ramakrishna refused to comment on the ASI’s decision and said he was bound to follow his employer’s instructions.
Scroll.in emailed the ASI asking why Ramakrishna was not permitted to travel abroad. This article will be updated if and when the ASI responds.