Attended lecture on "Archaeological and numismatic evidence of trade in the Indian Ocean" by Dr. Osmund Boppearchi. Reached the venue late thanks to a traffic jam at the DLF IT Park but fortunately not much of the lecture had been missed. The lecture started with a brief introduction by Ms. Nanditha Krishna followed by feclicitation of the guests, Mr. Boppearchi, Mr. T. Satyamurthy of REACH and Mr. R. Krishnamurthy, President of the Tamil Nadu Numismatics Association.
Dr. Boppearchi then took over. He might have bored many by reading mechanically from a prepared document. Perhaps, I feel, it could have been made a lot more interesting by the usage of lay terms.
The chance discovery of a shipwrech at Godavaya on the south-east coast of Sri Lanka by fishermen R. P. Sunil and B. G. Preminda in 2003, Dr. Boppearchi said, led to detailed excavation of the site starting in 2012. The excavations have till now yielded plenty of pottery and coins. One particular artifact of interest was a piece of pottery with the holy Nandipada, Srivatsa and fish motifs. The shipwreck has been carbon-dated to between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC- the oldest of any kind in the Indian Ocean.
After a giving a brief sketch of the fabulous archaeological discovery, Dr. Boppearchi switched topic and gave a detailed description of South Indian influences in Sri Lanka. There was a continuous exchange of goods and ideas between South India and Sri Lanka starting from the early centuries BC. The earliest art of Sri Lanka drew inspiration from the Andhras. Sinhalese Buddhist iconography, for example, was based on samples found in Nagarjunakonda. The liaisons continued in later times too. The Sinhalese prince Manavarma lived at the court of Narsimhavarman I Mamalla who constructed the rock-cut temples at Mamallapuram. The lion motifs which were a dominating feature of Pallava art was borrowed by the Sinhalese. Starting from the 10th century AD, Sri Lanka was conquered in stages by the Cholas. The Cholas built a new capital at Polonnaruwa where they constructed a number of Hindu temples. For centuries, the Sinhalese sculptors and painters portrayed Hindu gods postured in characteristic Chola style next to that of the Buddha. The Buddhist particsed in Sri Lanka was different in variety than those practised elsewehre in the world, Dr. Boppearchi said. Many Indian, especially Tamil gods formed part of the Buddhist pantheon and many such rituals formed a part of their regular worship that would be considered heretical by orthodox Buddhist cults. One of the gods that formed a part of their pantheon, for example, was Vishnu who was worshipped as Upulvan derived from Uppalavanna, Sinhalese for the "water lily-coloured" Could it possibly be the derivation for Oppilla-appan in mthe Oppilliappan shrine! Why not!
With his comfortable familiarity with South India, Boppearchi expertly plucks out specimens from the remotest corners of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The lecture, in the end, was a fitting ode to the syncretism between Hinduism and the form of Buddhism practised in Sri Lanka
Having passed the deadline, Boppearchi's speech was making it late for me. So when he concluded at about 8.15 PM, I left, opting to forego the Q&A session. Before leaving, I had a look at the C. P. R. foundation's interesting collection of old photographs and portraits.