The sea claimed an ancient capital of India. Now it has given it back

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Two granite lions placed as guardians of an ancient city proved impotent before the power of the sea. But that same force has brought them to light centuries later.

Two granite lions placed as guardians of an ancient city proved impotent before the power of the sea. But that same force has brought them to light centuries later.

The Boxing Day tsunami has revealed what archaeologists believe to be the lost ruins of an ancient city off Tamil Nadu in Southern India.

The 30-feet waves, which reshaped the Bay of Bengal and swept more than 16,000 Indians to their deaths, shifted thousands of tons of sand to unearth the pair of elaborately carved stone lions near the 7th-century Dravidian Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram.

Indian archaeologists believe these granite beasts once guarded a small port city under the Pallava dynasty, which ruled much of southern India from 100BC to AD800. The six-foot high lion statues, each hewn from a single piece of granite, are breathtakingly lifelike. One great stone cat sits up alert while the other is poised to pounce.

Two foundation walls also remain visible beneath the murky waters.

The tsunami also desilted a large bas-relief stone panel close to the Shore Temple. The half-completed sculpted elephant scoured clean by the waves now attracts mobs of visitors who touch its eroded trunk as a good luck talisman.

Scientists from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are descending on the World Heritage temple complex of Mahabalipuram, south of Madras, to examine these relics and to launch an underwater survey.

They were discovered by a fishermen who survived the disaster when he was catapulted aloft by the tsunami and reportedly clung for hours to the great arch of the Shore Temple. He spotted the undersea structures from this perch and told district authorities.

Marine archaeologists have been working with divers from Delhi and a team from the Scientific Exploration Society in Dorset to search for any remnants of this ancient port since April 2002.

"The sea has thrown up evidence of the grandeur of the Pallava dynasty," the superintendent ASI archaeologist, T Sathiamoorthy, said last week. "We're all excited about these finds."

Sailors used to refer to Mahabalipuram as the "Seven Pagodas".

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