A career carved in Mamallapuram

Though archaeologists start their careers as early as any other professional, by the time they make earth-shattering discoveries, most of them are old. So, most of us visualise an archaeologist with greys — this was especially true in the past. However, due to greater media attention towards archaeological work now, even young archaeologists get to be in the public gaze, especially if theirs is a unique story.

J. Ranjith’s certainly is. He is an example of how your immediate environment can influence your choice of a career.

He has also demonstrated how using the opportunities for learning — which has increased considerably — can take you places.

Ranjith, who specialises in temple architecture and now works at the Arcot Government Museum in Vellore, grew up in the temple town of Mamallapuram.

After his schooling at a government institution in Tiruporur on Old Mahabalipuram Road, Ranjith joined a three-year temple architecture course at the Government College for Architecture and Sculpture in Mamallapuram, on the advice of his elder brother, J. Selvaraj.

Ranjith could take this advice easily as he himself was charmed by the artisanship he found all around him. Within a one-kilometre radius, Mamallapuram has over 10,000 sculptors.

“Mamallapuram seems to nurture artisanship among its residents. I have always wanted to be an archaeologist focussing on temple conservation,” says Ranjith, who is in his 30s now.

Ranjith is one of nine children, including six girls, born to K. Jaganathan and J. Egathal, whose families were into farming in Mamallapuram for generations.

Advanced studies

So, in a sense, Ranjith was breaking new ground for the family. But he was quick off the blocks, winning a State-level competition on temple modelling in stone, organised by Lalit Kala Academy, during his three-year course. A decade later, he did a B.Tech on traditional architecture and a master’s degree on archaeology from the University of Madras.

Following this, he did a diploma course on epigraphy and archaeology at the Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department. Between studies, he also had a two-year stint with renowned temple conservationist K. D. Dakshinamurthy in Mangalore.

Despite restrictions on recruitment at government-run heritage centres, including museums, Ranjith managed to join the Department as a Sthapati (temple conservationist) in 2009.

In 2013, he became a full-time staff of the Department. Since then, Ranjith has carried out several excavations and field studies across the State including Alamparai near Mamallapuram, Pattarai Perambadur in Tiruvallur and Alagankulam in Ramnad district.