Case Study: Mahabalipuram: “What GH seems to have failed adequately to mention”
Damian Walter (AKA ‘stickler’ on the GHMB) has only relatively recently established himself as a regular poster on the Ma’at Message Board. On 19 July 2002 he entered into this exchange in which he accuses me of withholding vital information from my readers:
|Submerged ruins off the coast of India
The burden of Damian’s slur is contained in the following two sentences:
What GH seems to have failed to adequately mention in Underworld is that the eighteenth-century traveller William Chambers was told the legend by local Brahmins who already knew that structures lay offshore. Chambers was told that the tops of some of the ‘padogas’ had previously been visible where they broke the surface. (Submerged ruins off the coast of India)
It is simply untrue that I have failed to mention this. The relevant text in Underworld is on page 120 and begins with the following quotation from another 18th century traveller, J. Goldingham (1798):
The surf here breaks far out over, as the Brahmins inform you, the ruins of a city which was incredibly large and magnificent. A Brahmin, about 50 years of age, a native of the place, whom I have had an opportunity of conversing with since my arrival in Madras, informed me his grandfather had frequently mentioned having seen the gilt tops of five pagodas in the surf, no longer visible.
Page 120 of Underworld then continues:
An earlier traveller’s report, from 1784, describes the main feature of Mahabalipuram as a “rock, or rather hill of stone”, out of which many of the monuments are carved. This outcropping, he says:
…is one of the principal marks for mariners as they approach the coast and to them the place is known by the name of “Seven Pagodas”, possibly because the summits of the rock have presented them with that idea as they passed: but it must be confessed that no aspect which the hill assumes seems at all to authorise this notion; and there are circumstances that would lead one to suspect that this name has arisen from some such number of Pagodas that formerly stood here and in time have been buried in the waves.
The same author, William Chambers, then goes on to relate the more detailed oral tradition of Mahabalipuram — given to him by Brahmins of the town during visits that he made there in 1772 and 1776 — that prompted his suspicion of submerged structures.
This more detailed oral tradition – of a great flood that destroyed a city in the time of myth — is supported by certain passages in Hindu scriptures, and is reported and commented upon extensively in Underworld, pages 120-122:
The God Vishnu had deposed a corrupt and wicked Raja of these parts at some unknown date in the remote past and had replaced him on the throne with the gentle Prahlada whose reign “was a mild and virtuous one”. Pralahada was succeeded by his son and then by his grandson Bali, said to have been the founder of the once magnificent city of Mahabalipuram (which, translated literally, means “the city of the great Bali” or more likely “the city of the giant Bali”). Bali’s dynasty continued with his son Banasura – also portrayed as a giant- but during his reign disaster struck:
Aniruddha, the [grand]son of Krishna, came to his [Banasura’s] court in disguise and seduced his daughter, which produced a war in the course of which Aniruddha was taken prisoner and brought to Mahabalipuram; upon which Krishna came in person from his capital Dwarka and laid siege to the place.
Although the God Siva himself fought on the side of Banasura they could not prevail. Krishna found a way to overthrow Siva, captured the city and forced Banasura into submission and lifelong fealty.
An interval followed, after which another Raja – whose name was Malecheren — took the throne at Mahabalipuram. He encountered a being from the heavenly realms who became his friend and agreed “to carry him in disguise to see the court of the divine Indra” – a favour that had never before been granted to any mortal:
The Raja returned from thence with new ideas of splendour and magnificence, which he immediately adopted in regulating his court and his retinue, and in beautifying his seat of government. By this means Mahabalipuram became soon celebrated beyond all the cities of the earth; and an account of its magnificence having been brought to the gods assembled at the court of Indra, their jealousy was so much excited at it that they sent orders to the God of the Sea to let loose his billows and overflow a place which impiously pretended to vie in splendour with their celestial mansions. This command he obeyed, and the city was at once overflowed by that furious element, nor has it ever since been able to rear its head.
In Underworld, therefore, I have reported fully and fairly on the accounts that Brahmins of Mahabalipuram gave to European travellers concerning submerged ruins offshore. There is nothing that I have “failed to adequately mention.” Yet the only reasonable interpretation of Damian’s words is what he himself says – i.e. that I have
…failed to adequately mention in Underworld…that the eighteenth-century traveller William Chambers was told the legend by local Brahmins who already knew that structures lay offshore… the legend told to Chambers was a later embellishment by local inhabitants to account for the a priori existence of submerged buildings. The story of their submergence is not contemporaneous with the inundation of the buildings.
In other words, unless I can no longer read the English language, Damian is accusing me of bad faith with my readers by failing to inform them adequately of key background in my possession — namely, as he helpfully spells out, that local inhabitants made up the story to account for the a priori existence of submerged buildings. He implies that only by withholding this background from my readers was I able to contend that “a flood myth indicated that underwater structures lay off the coast of Mahabalipuram/Mamallapuram.”
This allegation of witholding vital background contrary to my case is of such gravity that it should have been checked before being published. Because once checked, as we’ve seen, it proves to be without foundation. I cite the Brahmin who said his grandfather had seen the gilt tops of five pagodas above the waves and I then go on to cite the more detailed tradition of a submerged city off Mahabalipuram that was given to Chambers by “Brahmins of the town.”
So who have I not adequately informed about what?
(Damian will have to forgive me me if I disagree — vehemently! — with his unsubstantiated claim that the traditions cited by Chambers and Goldingham were “a later embellishment by local inhabitants to account for the a priori existence of submerged buildings. The story of their submergence is not contemporaneous with the inundation of the buildings.” Here, at any rate in my humble opinion, this self-styled “Stickler” is shamelessly passing off a hastily-worked-up personal theory as fact.)
To complicate matters further, Damian has informed me in a private email (dated 21 July) that he did not after all mean to imply that I’d failed to tell my readers that the pagodas had been visible above the surface a few generations ago and that he would present a “justification” of his 19 July post on the the Ma’at Message Board very soon. At time of writing, however (28 July) no “justification” has appeared and Damien’s damaging and false allegation remains uncorrected on the the Ma’at Message Board.
STOP PRESS: Damian Walter’s long-promised “justification” of his defamatory statements concerning my reporting of Mahabalipuram has now appeared and is posted in four parts on the GH and Ma’at Message Boards. This is an excellent piece of detailed background research on Damian’s part and I applaud him for making such a conscientious effort and for raising many interesting points for discussion. At the same time, however, I find nothing in Damian’s extensive text which “justifies” in any way Damian’s incorrect assertion in his original 19 July post that I had witheld important information from my readers (“what GH seems to have failed to adequately mention in Underworld, etc”). On the contrary, as he now admits, no important information was witheld and the original allegation was unfounded.
Case Study: Mahabalipuram: The Historical Record
The impression has repeatedly been given by a small group of regular posters on the Ma’at Message Board that the submergence of a massive temple complex offshore of the present township of Mahabalipuram is a matter of historical record and, specifically, that the submergence took place circa AD 700, was properly noted in contemporary records, and involved known structures of the Pallava Dynasty.
Here are a few examples here of this recurrent assertion:
Milne says Mahabalipuram sunk 6000 years ago.
Yet all the archaeological data (and historical records) clearly points to a 700AD submergence. (Anthony Sakovich, A question on Glenn Milne’s Submergence Models…)
You see, the seven pagodas are not a myth… never were a myth. They are recent history, dating back only 1300 years. Until 200 years ago, they were clearly visible above the waves… the submergence has been that fast….this site was in no way a myth nor a legend prior to Hancock’s dive and documentation of the specifics (you can hardly call diving on a known historical site a “discovery”). Therefore, using this as “proof” that “legends or myths” can have a basis in fact is absurd. (Anthony Sakovich, Repeating disproven assertions)
Hancock CALLED it a legend, when in fact, it was just local history. Until 200 years ago, you could see the top of the pagodas poking above the waves. I already told you this one time. I hope repeating it makes it stick a little better.
But, just in case you aren’t all there, let me put it in perspective…
By that definition, George Washington and Thomas Edison are myths.
Richard the Lionhearted is a legend.
And fortunately, in just a few years, Graham Hancock himself will also be a myth. (Anthony Sakovich, Hello… try to keep up…)
Setting aside the personal gloating that Anthony indulges in at the prospect that “in just a few years, Graham Hancock himself will also be a myth,” the nub of his posts here is that they claim, and reassure us, that a proper historical record exists of the submergence of the Mahabalipuram structures circa 700 AD thus making them, in Anthony’s own words, “part of the history of the area.”
If true this claim would make it much less likely that Glenn Milne’s 6000 BP date for the submergence of the Mahabalipuram structures is correct.
But is it true?
Despite repeated polite requests by Christopher Ash on the Ma’at message board for a someone – anyone! – to produce a proper “historical account” of the actual submergence of structures at Mahabalipuram (as opposed to later accounts of sightings of supposed structures) nothing has been forthcoming (My Challege (sic)). At time of writing (28 July 2002), Anthony and other Ma’at stalwarts have been unable to improve on the accounts of 18th century European travellers that I had already cited in Underworld and in which, as Christopher Ash rightly observed on the Ma’at board, the city enters history already submerged (What all the hooplah is about).
Since Anthony alleges that the structures offshore of the present township of Mahabalipuram were submerged circa AD 700 in the time of the Pallava Dynasty then we would expect such an event to have been recorded by Pallava scribes and some trace of it to have survived. The very absence of a historical record of such a momentous event at such a time is, in itself, highly anomalous. In my view it raises an additional question-mark over the unevidenced assumption bandied about on Ma’at that the Mahabalipuram structures were built and submerged circa AD 700.
They may have been.
Or they may not have been.
The responsible position to take until more evidence is in is to put all the evidence openly on the table, including the 6000 BP date of submergence suggested by Glen Milne’s model, and do more research. It is irresponsible to suggest that the submergence was a historical event of the last 1300 years if a historical account of the submergence cannot in fact be produced.
Case Study: Mahabalipuram: The Shore Temple
On 8 June 2002 in an open posting on the Ma’at Message Board Premalatha Balan (Prema) informed Damian Walter that she had caught me out in a lie in a statement about Mahabalipuram that I had posted on the GHMB quite a while before (on 22 April 2002, Info about new Poompuhar, Mahabalipuram, Cambay images on Underworld Page). Prema’s quotes from my statement are rendered here in bold text:
damian, how did i miss
“Blocks are used in places in the temples on land, usually for repair, or for example in the perimeter wall of the Shore Temple, but the core structures are rock-hewn with no blocks at all.“,
“The main difference, in my opinion, is that there are concentrations of massive blocks underwater at Mahabalipuram; we do not find megalithic structures on land at Mahabalipuram that were built out of such massive blocks.” for these many days?
the five chariots (including the famous arjuna’s penace) built by Narashimma varma pallavar were built out of single rocks and the shore temple was built by blocks of rocks as it was built by rajashimma who was the son of narashimma, hence the next generation structures.
Is it not an intentinal [sic] lie by GH (The main difference, in my opinion, is that there are concentrations of massive blocks underwater at Mahabalipuram; we do not find megalithic structures on land at Mahabalipuram that were built out of such massive blocks. “), since he has visited the site, he has seen the structures by himself. (hi mike and damian)
Once again, a regular poster on the Ma’at message board is smearing me and this time the smear goes so far as to brand me a “liar.”
Here are the facts.
- On the GHMB on 22 April 2002 I wrote the following about the structures at Mahabalipuram:
Blocks are used in places in the temples on land, usually for repair, or for example in the perimeter wall of the Shore Temple, but the core structures are rock-hewn with no blocks at all.”
- The burden of Prema’s allegation is that when I said this I was knowingly lying about the construction of the Shore Temple in order to emphasise its dissimilarity from the huge megalithic blocks that I claimed to have seen underwater on my dives at Mahabalipuram.
- She tells us that the Mahabalipuram temples generally referred to as the “Five Rathas” (literally the Five Chariots), and the rock-hewn panel known as Arjuna’s Penace “built by Narashimma varma pallavar” [the Pallava King Narasimha I] “were built out of single rocks ” [i.e. were rock-hewn]. However, she emphasises:
the shore temple was built by blocks of rocks as it was built by rajashimma [the Pallava King Rajasimha] who was the son of narashimma, hence the next generation structures.”
- In other words, although the “Five Chariots” are rock-hewn, Prema’s assertion is that Mahabalipuram’s Shore Temple is built out of quarried blocks and therefore that I am lying when I state that its “core structure” is “rock hewn with no blocks at all.”
- Yet Prema apparently does not have all the facts regarding the temples of Mahabalipuram at her disposal. For although she is correct that much of the Shore Temple as we see it today is built out of quarried “blocks of rocks” — including prominently its perimeter wall as I stated on 22 April – she seems unaware that its core structure, an ancient shrine of Vishnu around a reclining statue of the deity, is indeed “rock hewn with no blocks at all” (as I also stated on 22 April).
This fact is not difficult to confirm. For example in Michael Lockwood’s readily available Mamallapuram: A Guide to the Monuments (1993), pages 98-104, we may read:
It is recorded in a royal copper-plate grant that King Narasimha built an enclosure of stone on the sea for the image of the Reclining Vishnu. This construction must have occurred around the middle of the seventh century. The image enshrined was created still earlier. For some decades this small stone shrine stood alone on the shore. Then around the beginning of the eighth century, King Rajasimha raised up two small shrines for Shiva, the larger one directly in front of the Vishnu shrine, to the east, and the other in back of it, to the west.
The image of the reclining Vishnu and the base of its shrine are carved out of the mother rock
Likewise in The Art of Ancient India (1999) page 314, Susan L, Huntington confirms that the original Vishnu shrine of the Shore Temple was “carved in situ from an existing rock and this may explain part of the peculiarity of the plan.”
It was this original rock-hewn shrine that I had in mind, long before I had ever heard of Prema, when I described the Shore Temple on page 120 of Underworld as “carved out of solid granite” and that I had in mind again in my Message Board posting of 22 April 2002. In retrospect (even though that post did emphasise that its perimeter wall is built from blocks) what I should have said is that the Shore Temple is partially rock hewn and partially constructed out of stone blocks. Nonetheless it remains true that its “core structure” – that original Vishnu shrine – predates Rajasimha’s reign and is “rock-hewn with no blocks at all”.
Case Study: Mahabalipuram: Mohapatra and Prasad
In a series of posts since April 2002, Ma’at regulars have repeatedly drawn attention to what they have portrayed as serious damage done to my case on Mahabalipuram by the work of Indian geologists G.P Mohapatra and M. Hari Prasad (reported in Gondwana Geological Magazine, Spl Vol 4, 1999, pages 225-233). This article, we have been solemnly informed, paints a scenario of recent submersion of the underwater ruins offshore of Mahabalipuram as a result of shoreline erosion and thus contradicts, on the basis of on-the-spot studies, Glenn Milne’s estimate that the ruins were submerged 6000 years ago by rising sea-levels at the very end of the Ice Age.
Once again, the portrayal of a matter on Ma’at, bears little resemblance to reality. The following quotations from the article by Mohapatra and M. Hari Prasad, are particularly relevant to the illustration of this point. Each is followed by my own comments:
“The shoreline during the post glacio-eustatic period [i.e. in approximately the last 5000 years] has been an emerging one and possibility of submergence of any township at Mahabalipuram is remote.” (page 225)
This passage is clear. Mohapatra and M. Hari Prasad state explicitely that, in the 5000 years since the end of the Ice Age, when sea-levels stopped rising, there has been no event capable of submerging structures along the shores of Mahabalipuram. Mohapatra and M. Hari Prasad’s own analysis thus confirms that any submerged structures found offshore of Mahabalipuram are most likely to be, as Glenn Milne’s model suggests, more than 5000 years old.
Mohapatra and Prasad allow but one possible exception: The Shore Temple Complex.
The Shore Temple complex situated on a granitic promontory on the coast presents a different scenario owing to its location. The effect of wave erosion due to the advancement of the shoreline up to the base of the shore temple is clearly seen. During southwest monsoon the wave fetches are prominent and bring about erosion on the northern side and deposition on the southern side of the promontory due to divergence of wave orthagonals in the south. This phenomena caused extensive erosion of the Shore Temple. Some remains of the collapsed structures get exposed periodically in the intertidal zone in the immediate north of the shore temple. This may mark the northern extension of the temple complex. Offshore bathymetric surveys east of the shore temple revealed some submerged rock platforms very near to the Shore Temple which could be the eastern extension of the Shore Temple complex. (page 225, emphases added)
The authors conclude:
Coastal geomorphology indicates no significant change in the shoreline during the last 1200 years Collapse of some parts of the Shore Temple complex is possible by local erosion of the coast and advancement of the sea. Evidences indicate that the Shore Temple complex was extending further north, south and eastwards, to a very limited extent and some of the collapsed structures are under the sand cover in the inter-tidal zone which needs further investigation. (page 232, emphases added)
Mohapatra and Prasad do recognize that “the Temple complex occupied a much larger area in the past than in the present, parts of its northward and southward extents being now under intertidal zone.” However, nowhere in their paper is there a claim that this temple complex, of the 7th and 8th centuries AD, might have extended more than one kilometre to the east where the joint SES/NIO expedition dived in April 2002 — far out beyond the intertidal zone
On the contrary, the two Indian geologists are clearly speaking of the special erosional forces at work on the promontory on which the Shore Temple itself stands – and nowhere else. They provide no data relevant (one way or the other) to the submergence of the then (when they wrote in 1999) unknown structures discovered in April 2002.
This interpretation is confirmed by the map given in Figure 1 (Fig 1, page 226) of the Mohapatra and Prasad article. The map identifies only a small area within 500metres or less of the Shore Temple promontory as being of interest (and only “recommended” for a detailed survey) and makes it absolutely clear that the authors cannot be referring to the huge field of submerged ruins found much further out to sea on the joint SES/NIO expedition in April 2002. These newly-discovered ruins (more information available in the Underworld section of this site) extend for more than a kilometre to the east of the Shore Temple promontory, and probably much further. Not only were we able to chart them ourselves for significant distances to the north and south as well, but the local fisherman (who have so far proven completely reliable) assured us that other man-made structures lay further out still, in deeper waters.
Therefore, quite contrary to the impression conveyed on Ma’at, Mohapatra and Prasad’s article does not contradict Glenn Milne’s conclusion — that the structures we dived on (in more than 20 feet of water and more than a kilometre from shore) are likely to have been submerged more than 6000 years ago by rising sea-levels at the end of the Ice Age. Indeed Mohapatra and Prasad themselves agree that:
Morphological evolution of the coast indicates a higher sea-level around 6000 years BP with at least two periods of regression. (page 230)
It is this last pulse of sea-level rise, around 6000 years ago, that Milne’s model envisages as having swallowed up the structures we found a kilometre out to sea. And although it was indeed followed by at least two periods of regression, it remains my hypothesis is that the local sea-level never fell back sufficiently to re-expose the structures it had submerged.
In conclusion, Mohapatra and Prasad’s article proposes shoreline erosion to account only for the inundation of structures in the immediate vicinity of the granitic promontory on which the Shore Temple stands. The same forces of shoreline erosion that they describe working on the promontory (which did not even exist as a promontory during the Ice Age) cannot, for obvious reasons, be used to account for the more deeply submerged structures that we now know lie further out to sea.
Postscript: Another argument is frequently put forward by Ma’at’s small core group of regular posters. This argument attempts to sidestep the implications of Glenn Milne’s model predictions with the claim that the Mahabalipuram structures must have been submerged as a result of relatively recent earthquakes/tectonic activity (and thus not by sea-level rise 6000 years ago). On this matter, since the work of Mohapatra and Prasad is rightly valued at Ma’at, supporters of the “neotectonic” argument should keep in mind what Mohapatra and Prasad themselves say on the matter (page 231):
“Neotectonism after the construction of the Shore Temple complex is ruled out as the Shore Temple is intact.”