PROJECT 365 TRI-SANGAM PORTS 

The ethos of a people characterizes their quintessential nature as embodied in the psycho-behavioural orientations of inter-subjectivity so as to form generic traits that define their life- world and impart the distinctive tone to their social and cultural manifestations that make them what they are. Such aspects as are reflected in the experience of what is existentially close to man, will bear the deep imprint left by such an ethos. The Project 365 proposes to look at three ancient port towns of the south in the context of the life-world of the people and their ethos, placing them against the backdrop of the history of maritime relations and their significance in terms of
cross-cultural contacts.

An initiative by Ekalokam Trust for Photography (EtP), Tiruvannamalai, Project 365 is a cultural collective that envisages generating and fostering meaningful leads and links of a living tradition with its historical and mythical past through a vast and varied photographic archive, which will be a kind of repertory of a collective vestigial memory theatre. Here, in the first instance, it is proposed to document and archive the various aspects around the three port towns of the Tamil Sangam age, namely, Muziris, Tyndis and Korkai where the underlying theme revolves around the concept of water as a means of connecting territorially segregated cultures that are otherwise historically sustained independent of each other. Through this initiative is generated, in terms of the space-time continuity of photographic representation, the reality of the ‘present’ that is pervaded by the historical memory of the past in which the ancient port towns of the Sangam period are shrouded. The photographic record would offer itself as an archival collection of material that the camera has picked up about the present while turning its focus onto the future. We propose to create a narrative in terms of subliminal visual sequences that can do away with the unhistorical illustrative method or photographic reportage. It will be a convergence of various aspects for a panoramic view that gives onto the east coast’s monsoon squalls, sunsets and the groundswells as embedded in the distinct aesthetic perceptions that inform the ethos that is woven around the history, belief systems, ancient water routes, cartography, battles and the diasporas. At a subtle level, the cultural configurations as the interface between the past and the present that the camera would dwell on are the literature, music, performing arts, myths and fables, the belief systems and thought patterns, the native lore and the disillusionments that pervade the life-world in the entire region of these port towns.

The cultural and communication links that the three port towns of Tyndis, Muziris and Korkai had with the Mediterranean countries of Arabia, Rome, Egypt etc. have a history of two thousand years of mutual influence and transaction. The Tamil land of the Sangam era maintained close trade links with the “silk route” on a competitive level. Muziris was a rich port that was active even during the 1st century BCE. This urban settlement that was inundated in successive floods in the 13th century CE and disappeared for good, was located in the area where the present-day Kodungalloor / Pattanam is situated. The town of Tyndis that was under the rule of the Cheras had a major role in the trade with the Arab countries. Korkai that was situated on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, apart from being the capital city of the Pandyas, was their richest and most imposing trade centre as well. There are references in the Sangam literature and several European travel accounts to the fame enjoyed by the pearl farming of this region. The commercial dominance that these towns once enjoyed through the flourishing maritime trade has gradually diminished over time. They are fast moving towards a stage where their rich cultural heritage and identity are increasingly being eroded.

The main component of the Project is aimed at creating a repository of photographic work drawing on the traditions of local oral history and collective lore of the people, with a bearing on the theme of the multivalence of antecedents as pointers to the past and linking them with the contemporary social formation of the region. The primary objective of Project 365 through this body of archival photographic images is to trace the course of the lingering impact of these three port towns and their overseas transactions, had set in motion on the cultural front of the south.

Photography as a medium has outgrown its routine metier related to its functional role in documentation. This medium has earned an endearing popular appeal comparable to music through thousands of frozen moments of visual contexts in daily lives. Project 365 endeavours to extend this popularity, with a view to discovering the stories around one’s own land and its past and thereby rendering photography more organic. Through this project, Ekalokam Trust for Photography (EtP) proposes to make people aware of the new possibilities and technological innovations in contemporary photographic practice by means of public participation. This initiative also proposes to motivate people to identify, generate and preserve the tangible and intangible cultural assets of the native region as well as to build an open photo archive that is contiguous to each region. In this context, it is also worth noting that online interactive sessions aimed at honing photographic skills and sharing practical experience among groups of children from such countries as are connected by maritime transport, has also got under way with the first event organised with Polish participants at the other end in April 2016.

In the present-day world situation when so much blood has been spilt over issues of identity, the less-known history of these trans-border incursions and cultural transfusions, reminds us of the fact that much of the homogenising meta-concepts around the notion of identity are in fact hollow claims and their elective affinities are sustained only by false pride. The shifting asymmetries and non-linearities in cultural formation brought about by migrations, crossings over and intermingling of people over centuries have always rendered the essentialism of monolithic concepts of identity and their presuppositions redundant.