Starting from Chennai towards Poondi, cross the dam and take the road that goes to Place Palayam (that’s the last village on the Andhra-Tamilnadu border) crossing Seettancheri and then Pennalurpettai. Driving following the diversion to the right, you can reach Gudiyam village. At the entrance, there are few huts and houses. The local guy who showed us the way is very passionate about the ancestral value this land has and lamented that none brought this oldest site (one more is in Punjab Sovan valley) to spot light. Dr.T.S also mentioned that there are other smaller caves high up on the hill though we did not visit them. The small muddy path filled throughout with pebbles and cores (bigger than pebbles, round and hard) of quartzite stones greeted us and in the very beginning Mr.Thirumurthy, also from ASI, picked up a small flake tool which had edges as good as a blade. “But most stones”, he said, “are the discarded ones, and the other nearby site, Athirambakkam, contained most of the stone tools intact and we may see some if we are lucky enough”. Then why come to Gudiyam? We can see caves only here but not in Athirambakkam.
He explained how the cave man had first tried hunting by throwing the stone on the animals and later came up with the idea of sharp tools and made chopper tools and axes. Later further as his brain started working (?) he thought, “Why the hell should I use so big a stone to kill an animal? And he started using the flakes themselves as sharp tools and spearheads fixed at the split tip of a wooden stick. This actuated the gripping effect and acted as a typical spear!
Mr. Thirmurthy also showed us the pebbles and the tools that were pressed together to form a conglomerate. The conglomerate further got covered by laterite, and now is topped with red mud. Each stage of covering must have taken a few million years! Hence, it is evident that the most ancient caveman had started making and using stone tools!
Now coming back to the walk, we came across a shepherdess wearing a bright red sari, who obliged to guide us to the caves. It was easier to locate her at a distance because of her sari. Bare footed and casually removing the thorns that pricked her all the way, she was faster than our Reebok or slippers clad city-bred crew! She was the first to reach the smaller cave, which was on the left side of the main path. Atop the first cave, is a clear water spring full of water (due to rains?) The shepherdess drank water and asked us to also do so. None dared (gripping tight their mineral water bottles). A few larger rocks have swirls etched on their surface.
Dr.T.S mentioned that the stone while being soft had some worms or snails pacing on it, but when the stone solidified swirl marks wereleft behind! So there before our eyes, lay a very ancient piece of relic, created by nature!
Back down, we trekked further to the big cave. The roof is almost 100 feet tall and 150 feet wide and 100 feet projecting at the front! The pebbles and cores are pressed hard with larvites, making it look like a half bitten laddu studded with dry fruits! The scene was serene and the mood ecstatic! Parrots flew away from the holes on hearing our footsteps! Water drips and oozes from nowhere. Green moss and tiny ferns have captured moist areas. A make shift platform, an Amman photo and few Trishuls make it perfect for a thriller shooting spot! Back on the way, we felt that the path grew longer and longer as the hungry pangs grew good enough to huddle us like an octopus! On the contrary hunger made us walk fast and reach the van before all others to gobble up the curd rice like a one who was possessed!
The facts: Athirambakkam and Gudiyam are part of the excavations by Robert Bruce Put, in 1863. He came back with his friends to explore beyond in all the nearby districts. He declared the site to be almost older than 1 million year and said that these sites looked like a factory for making tools! So he named it as, “Madras factory”! The river Korthalai now running like a small stream is the bed of civilization and the Paalaar and other rivers seen in Kanchipuram districts were all rivulets, which were branching out from Korthalai River! Mankind had lived through ages in these banks, leaving behind the mark of their skill and living styles. Experts opine that these ancestors were named as “homoerectus” as they acted similar to their counterpart in Africa. They must have used stones to make tools good enough to hunt animals, create fire using stone discs, burn firewood and cook meat to eat. And why did they make tools in such a large quantity? May be they supplied to other men as well!
This place had enough raw material to create such tools! It was indeed a RLT – Road Less Travelled, and also a site which might have to wait longer for more people to travel!!! Looking back, the whole past reeled as an unbelievable story! The lush green hill, the stony path, the shepherdess in red, like Goddess Durga, leading the way and the sublime bliss we felt at the caveman site! Standing there, we could realize how small a part we are in this Universe, insignificant in this part of history, as well as the enormous power of nature! We also felt the ‘bliss’ moksha even while keeping our eyes wide open inside the HUGE cave! And by the way, I asked the shepherdess’s name for record sake. Any guess?
It’s Gnanam! ‘Gnanam’ lead us to sublime bliss! Any takers?