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Harappa next door

Harappa next door

Author: Saurabh Tankha
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 3, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/173504/Harappa-next-door.html

Saurabh Tankha traces an ancient civilisation in and around Hissar and argues why we need to keep them away from encroachment and neglect

Hissar isn't pretty enough for a visit. Or so you thought. But may be you would reconsider your views if we tell you that it is sitting on a treasure trove of an ancient civilisation, where traces of a civilisation 500 years before the Indus Valley were found a few years ago. May be you would venture out to find these monumental wonders. For there lies a priceless piece of heritage that could do with a bit more attention than the boards put up by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

During excavations in 2004, the ASI found around 2,300 coins, idols and remains of temples, which it claimed belonged to the period between the seventh and the 10th century, near Hansi. But perhaps Hansi's real golden period was when the river Saraswati flowed through it and cradled a pre-Harappan Chalcolithic agricultural community. Their pottery has been recovered from a number of places at Siswal, Banwali and Rakhigarhi around here. It is not yet possible to say from where these people had moved here or to throw much light on their socio-economic life. However, on the basis of the evidence, we can say that these people possibly lived in mud brick and thatched roof houses, used wheel-made pottery, oval ovens, terracotta and copper-made objects. The painted and incised terracotta figurines possibly indicate their belief in animal worship. And from the continuity of patterns, it seems that these people were a peaceful community of pastoralists and traders, hardly uprooted or culturally overrun by invaders. The Harappans at Banawali built a citadel and lower town, which was fortified on three sides and was designed like an irregular trapezium, following the planning of the pre-Harappans. At a late stage, they dug a deep and broad moat around town. On account of a different configuration for both the lower town and the citadel set within it in the form of a semicircular division, the streets became curiously radial or semi-radial with an elaborate gateway complex.

Look closely at the serrated cross sections of the mounds here and you will know that the fields had been ploughed from millennia. Farmers used wooden ploughs and carbon deposits from jars in granaries prove that they grew large quantities of barley, sesame and mustard.

Rakhigarhi: A lost city

Around 30 km on the Jind Road from Hansi, present-day Rakhigarhi is a non-descript, muddy village with heaps of cowdung and uncovered drains. It is unfortunate that while 5,000 years ago its residents enjoyed the privileges of urban life - paved roads and streets, underground sewerage system, rainwater harvesting system, toilets and bathing facilities - modern dwellers at the same place live in poor conditions.

In 1963, archaeologists discovered Rakhigarhi as a major city of the Indus Valley Civilisation along the Chautang river. Since 1997, the ASI has undertaken a detailed excavation of the site, revealing the size of a lost city (at least 2.2 sq km) and recovering numerous artefacts, some over 5,000 years old. Apart from civic amenities, they unearthed storage systems, terracotta brick kilns and statue production and metal ware (both in bronze and precious metals) units. They dug up jewellery, including bangles made from terracotta, conch shells, gold and semi-precious stones.

At 224 hectares, Rakhigarhi matches Harappa and Mohenjodaro at every level. Three layers of early, mature and later phases of Indus Valley Civilisation have been found here. The rich deposits of Hakra ware (typical of settlements dating back before the early phase of the Indus Valley) raises an important question: Did the Indus civilisation come later than recorded? The Hakra and the early phases are separated by around 600 years. That would make Rakhigarhi a city around 2500-3000 BC.

The site of antiquities, drainage system and signs of small-scale industry are in continuity with other Indus sites.

Every villager here claims a patent on the ancient finds; somehow they anchor themselves with an identity that has eluded them in rebirth. "The ASI diggings had taken place right next to my farm. I remember that they had fished out a few earthen pots, canals and even houses," says the 65-year-old Ram Kalan as he takes me to the site and hands me a broken shard of a later Harappan period grey ware pot. That's all he'd managed to keep as evidence.

Get talking to villagers and they tell you stories around remnant mounds. "They say the pottery found here was similar to Kalibangan. Also, they unearthed some pits surrounded by walls. These are thought to be sacrificial altars or platforms for religious ceremonies which show the use of fire in rituals," says one of the onlookers. Another one takes over the commentary: "Terracotta statues, bronze artefacts, combs, needles and terracotta seals were found too. I remember seeing a bronze vessel decorated with silver and gold. Of course, how can I forget the gold foundry with over 3,000 unpolished semi-precious stones? Archaeologists located a number of tools for polishing these stones and a furnace."

Though the site has been estimated to be around 260 acres, only a third is available for excavation while the rest are still hidden under the village and farmlands around it. Somebody reminds Ram Kalan to tell me about the skeletons. "Yes, yes," he concurs and recalls how the villagers had found a burial site with 11 skeletons, the skulls of which were placed in the northern direction. "Utensils for everyday use were kept around their heads. Three of the female skeletons had shell bangles on their left wrist while one had a gold armlet." And we thought after-life was only celebrated by the Egyptians.

Ram Kalan then shows me some more earthenware items, a couple of broken pots, small dishes and a nearly-broken cover of one of these pots. I can't date them but having heard out the villagers and seen the layered earth and its relics I can well imagine the city that Rakhigarhi was. It was laid out in a grid-like pattern with the orientation of streets and buildings according to the cardinal directions. The streets were organised to facilitate the access to other neighbourhoods and to segregate private and public areas. There were many drinking water wells and a highly sophisticated system of waste removal. All Harappan houses were equipped with latrines, bathing houses and sewage drains which emptied into larger mains. These eventually deposited the fertile sludge in surrounding agricultural fields. Perhaps, this explains the rich green belt of the village. Archaeologists have been surprised by the fact that the site layouts and artefact styles throughout the Indus region are very similar. These probably indicate the uniform economic and social structure within these cities. So the people probably lived harmoniously and were happy.

Agroha: The home of the Agarwals

Half-an-hour later, I am on the road to Agroha, around 25 km northwest of Hissar on the Hissar-Fazilka Road. Some accounts suggest that Agroha was established 51 years before the war of Mahabharata. The Punjab Government's gazette also mentions it as a very big ancient city. The primary efforts to discover its historical past were made in the year 1889-89 when excavations at the site began but could last only a fortnight. They were resumed in 1938-39 but were halted by World War II. In 1978-79, the archaeological department of Haryana picked up the trail again and fished out a large number of coins, predominantly made of silver and bronze in different shapes and sizes, depicting their different periods. The bronze coins had Prakrit inscriptions. A coin dated 200 BC was found beside Roman, Kushana, Yodhaya and Gupta dynasty coins, indicating Agroha's significance in every empire. The archaeologists also found many statues made of stone and sand apart from masks, terracotta animals, toys and utensils belonging to the second century BC in black, brown and red polish.

Legend has it that Agroha was established by Maharja Agrasen, some 5,000 years ago, around the time of Mahabharat, and was a republican state consisting of 18 units with the residents known as Yodhya and Agraya. During those days, Agroha was renowned for its bravery and prosperity. However, over time, it could not withstand the invasions by the foreign forces of Hunas, Greeks and Yavanas who invaded north India and disintegrated the various kingdoms. In his book, Example of Geography, the famous Greek writer Ptolemy mentions Agara in a map, which when transposed on today's boundaries, indicate he was referring to Agroha.

The foreign conquest led to the migration of the residents to other parts of the country, especially Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Malwa region. However, to this day, they all share a common surname, Agarwal, which has been derived from Agroha-wale.

The remains of ancient Agroha are some 1.5 km away from the present village but if you are around these parts, remember to walk 250-odd metres to the left of its famous temple complex till you hit upon an ASI board. When you reach the locked gate, honk and wait for the caretaker to usher you in. Then drive around half-a-kilometre uphill to spot two different excavation sites, around 200 metres from each other. It is then that you wonder whether you are on the plinth of a construction site of a modern residential complex. For Agroha was indeed a well-planned, progressive town; the butterfly layout of each of its houses with separate private chambers can still give modern architects some smart ideas. The houses here are rectangular in plan, having an east-west orientation. Some of the structures, like the defence wall and the shrine cells unearthed here, are of great historical importance.

About 7,000 artefacts were recovered during the excavations, including stone sculptures, terracotta seals, iron and copper implements, beads of semi-precious stones, shell and glass. I learn one important lesson. You think about accessories only when the basics are sound and safe. In that sense, from the volume of antiquities recovered here, I can declare Agroha as a very smart township with bustling bazaars and a prosperous people.

In the end, I am left thinking. Are we mega-city builders? Or is it that we are just following the masterplan laid out by our predecessors? For that we have to dig out deeper truths.


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