Monday, July 25, 2016

Engulfed in the labyrinths of time

The mounds of Rakhigarhi are still buried in obscurity, although it is one of the biggest sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation

Kuldip Dhiman
As you drive up the mounds of Rakhi Shahpur to reach the archaeological site of Rakhigarhi in
Haryana, you get a feeling that you are travelling 5,000 years back in time. Once at the site, you can see archaeologists and expert workers excavating the site and slowly unveiling the mysteries shrouded in time.
It all began with a toposheet that was published exactly a hundred years ago by the Archaeological Survey of India regarding the archaeological site of Rakhigarhi, now in district Hisar in Haryana. However, there was no mention about the site until 1969, when Dr Suraj Bhan published exploratory data stating that Rakhigarhi was a site belonging to the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Nothing was done about the site for the next three decades. In 1997, the Archaeological Survey of India undertook excavation under the direction of Dr Amarendra Nath. A very detailed report of his findings was later published in which he pointed out that the land around Rakhigarhi shows the availability of a number of resources required for a basic subsistence for a settlement. He categorised the site as class I fertile land. The settlement had a fortification around it. The streets were well-planned and had an efficient drainage system. Water was resourced from rivers, canals and wells.
The existence of a river has now been confirmed by satellite images produced by the ISRO. There is a disputed claim that this river, which has dried up, is the legendary Saraswati.
The presence of a thriving river made it possible for the people of Rakhigarhi to have trade links with other regions within India such as Gujarat, and outside India such as Mesopotamia and Egypt.
New beginnings
Currently, a team of archaeologists led by Prof Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune, is excavating the site in collaboration with the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums of Haryana. At the site, you can also meet Wazir Chand, a local resident, has been selflessly helping researchers and the media for the last four decades. He is an unofficial guide and caretaker of Rakhigarhi.
The Shinde team started excavating at Rakhigarhi in 2011. Until then, seven mounds had been discovered by previous excavators, but the team found two more mounds. Earlier, the area of the site was estimated to be one and half kilometres, but with the discovery of two new mounds, the estimated area is three and half kilometres, making it one of the largest sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The uniqueness of Rakhigarhi is that in one place itself, one can find antiquities belonging to the early Harappan, mature Harappan, and late Harappan periods.
Marvel of engineering
If you climb up the mound, you can appreciate the engineering and architectural brilliance of the Rakhigarhi Indus Civilisation. Describing the layout plan of Mound-2, an archaeologist says, “You can see that the settlement pattern is in north-south direction. These people made structures at different levels. This was to avoid the ravages of flood waters. It is because of this technique that these structures have survived for so long.”
An interesting fact is that the bricks are all of standard sizes. One size is 1:2:3 and the other is 1:2:4. This size is universal to all Indus sites so far found, indicating that they had some sort of standards bureau.
“The discovery of gold and copper ornaments and several beads at Mound-2 suggests that it was the workplace of craftsmen, especially jewellers and bead makers. We also found drainage with firebrick structures. After analysing the samples, we can determine if it was freshwater drainage or wastewater drainage. In one of the trenches we found very small copper beads and some tiny gold filings.”
At the camp, where the archaeological findings are kept, you can see a number terracotta cakes, weights, beads, bangles, pots, jars, toys, and toy carts.
Like the people of Harappa, here, too, they buried the dead and placed pots with cooked food and water. It appears they believed in transmigration of the soul. Samples of the skeletons found at the site have been sent for DNA sequencing to a laboratory in Korea. After the results arrive, it may be possible to know the race of the Indus Valley Civilisation people. We might find an answer to the question why the Indus Valley Civilisation came to an abrupt end. As we wait for the results, many more mysteries may emerge from the mounds of Rakhigarhi.

The lone ranger
For the last forty years, Wazir Chand has been tirelessly and selflessly working to get
Rakhighari its rightful place in world history. Although poor and undergraduate, he has spent his own time and resources to preserve the site and guide researchers. He laments the fact that although UNESCO has listed Rakhigarhi as one among the tem rare archaeological sites, not enough is being done to preserve and promote Rakhigarhi. “Researchers and tourists from all over the world come here, but there are no road signs and milestones to guide people to Rakhigarhi. We badly need a hotel with a restaurant here for the convenience of visitors. Rakhigarhi must also be declared a world heritage site. Although Wazir Chand’s name has been mentioned with great respect in respectable journals and newspapers such as Science and The Guardian, the government has done little to recognise his outstanding work.

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