Visakhapatnam, her unrecorded past

GR Sridhar, Endocrine and Diabetes Centre, Visakhapatnam - 530002

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Even a hundred years ago, travelling far in India was not just inconvenient; it was often impossible, for there was hardly a decent stretch of road or rail. Railways and roadways had to be laid, unlike waterways and rivers. As a result, transport by water was often the main form to travel any distance. Technology, knowledge and feasibility were yet to fuse before land transport became as ubiquitous as it is now.

Lack of sophisticated technology showed in the kind of seafaring vessels as well. Bereft of mass, communication and navigational aids, they required only rudimentary ports of call, which lined the long and rich Indian sea coast. Larger and more elaborate sea vessels needed strategic geographic locations to anchor them. They in turn led to industries springing up nearby. This mutual benefit of communication channels and industrial produce saw small fishing towns blossom into cities. Visakhapatnam is one such transformation into near megalopolis-hood, home to a slew of industries, and the fastest growing city in India.

For a city of such importance, Visakhapatnam has surprisingly little recorded history. Even the origin of its name is a puzzle. It is believed that a temple called Vaisakheswara temple, located on the seashore gave the city its name, although no clear physical evidence exists now. However Prof E.V. Gangadharam, Centre for Marine Archeology, believes the temple existed near the present coastal battery.

The 11th century temple, whose presiding deity was Vaisakhesware, the lord of war, could be the most important discovery in India since Dwaraka and Poompuhar. Prof. Gangadharam avers that the temple could have existed until the middle of the 19th century when it was submerged by advancing sea. Old naval hydro graphic charts of the last century showed intense erosion of the coast near Visakhapatnam. Recent scientific research has shown that the shoreline shifted along the eastern coast, and washed away many structures, some constructed as newly as 25 years ago. Many factors, such as construction of dams on rivers draining into the sea, removal of sand from the beaches, could have contributed to the erosion. In addition, the Bay of Bengal, on whose shores Visakhapatnam is located, is subjected to many high intensity cyclones which can damage the coast. Besides, the narrow eastern continental shelf results in low frictional energy loss by wave propagation, and coastal erosion. Added to it is the increasing sea level. All these shift the coast towards the land and damage the land.

The coastal bed near the sea is such that the remains of the temple could not have been washed far off. Outcrops of rock jut out of the sea. The biennial monsoons likely kept the shores shifting alternately northwards and southwards. All these mean that the temple, or what remains of it could be at, or just underneath the seabed.

Careful study of other sources suggests that the temple could have indeed existed: old government records, dating back to the British period, refer to 'theerthapu rallu' on the Visakhapatnam coast. Oral historical evidence show that these 'theerthapu rallu' or sacred bathing stones, existed near a temple. The stones are still visible at the sea adjacent to the naval coast battery.

Besides, a tablet bearing Tamil inscriptions was discovered near the site of the temple earlier this century. One of the inscriptions refers to Vaisakhaswamy temple in Kulattunga Chole Patnam (present Visakhapatnam).

Apart from all these indirect evidences, satellite images from IRS-IB suggest that the temple could have been located here. After analysis of detailed satellite imaging Prof S.V.LN. Rao, Centre for Remote Sensing opined that there were some 'anomalies on the seabed approximately in the same area as the location of the temple.' That anomaly, Prof Gangadharam suggests, could be the submerged temple.

Standing at the mouth of Visakhapatnam Port, a few kilometers from the temple that gave the city its name, is the Dolphins Nose

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