Monday, 4 February 2019

SA Site Cover: Pillar of Victory by Sirat Gohar

I feel elated at the opportunity to write about a monument, that I first time saw
some fifteen years ago, while traveling by road to Shikarpur city from my
village. Conspicuous from the roadside the site is in Lakhi town. I still
remember, it was a standing structure of red bricks, built on a high
artificial mound and at first glance, I felt as if I was experiencing the past
from my window. I hadn’t even had the chance to collect my thoughts
before the van conductor yelled, ‘Lakhi Lakhi . . . Halli acho Lakhi
wara …,’ and the van stopped. Intrigued and confused by the expression
of fascination on my face, the passenger next to me asked me what I was
looking at. Perplexed I replied, “Hnmm…chaa” (which means “what?”
in Sindhi). He said plainly, this is ‘Lakhi Munaro’ and then there was
silence . . .

The monument or the site is known by various names such as,
‘Lakhi Munaro,’‘Lakhi Minar’ and Lakhi Thul’ (this term was
suggested by Dr. Fatah) .The Sindhi word ‘Thul’ is used for ‘Pillar’ or
‘Column’. Lakhi Thul,’ therefore, means ‘Lakhi Pillar’ or the ‘Pillar
of Lakhi’. It is also known as ‘Lakhi Waaro Maaro’ which means the
‘Lakhi [Battle’s] victory symbol,’ due to its association with the Battle
of Lakhi (A.G. Daudpoto, personal communication, August 26, 2018).
Of all its different names the popular term for this site however, is
‘Lakhi Munaro.’ 'Munaro’ is a Sindhi word that is basically a
Sindhised form of the Urdu word ‘Minar’ which means ‘Minaret.’

The Battle of Lakhi

The Battle of Lakhi (1602 CE) was fought between the Daudpotras
(an Abbasid clan) and Mahersthe then rulers of Lakhi area.
According to the historical account ,‘Gulshan-e-Abbasia,’
Molvi Noor Muhammad writes that, “The conflict between the two
ethnic groups had arisen on account of chopping off of the tails and
ears of the horses of Daudpotras’ Ameers by the people of Karim
Dino Mehar-the then chief of Mehars.” After a long bloody fight,
the Daudpotras won the battle and established their rule over the
Mehar territory. It was then, that they erected a monument there,
as a symbol of power and so that they may be remembered in

Foundation of Shikarpur City

In 1617, Ameer Bahadur Daudpotra laid the foundation of the
Shikarpur city, fifteen years after the victory in the Battle of Lakhi.
It was primarily built as the capital city of Daudpotra territory. The
previous year, a programme was organised on the Fourth Centenary
(400 years) Celebration of Shikarpur to mark its foundations and to pay
tribute to founders and other Shikarpurians.

Current State of the Monument

(The following is an account of the author’s own observations
and interactions with the local population)

A few years ago, the Lakhi pillar was rehabilitated by the Town Committee
of Lakhi, district Shikarpur, Sindh. Unfortunately, the conservation and
rehabilitation of the monument was done by unskilled local workers,
who had no idea about archaeological conservation. As a result,this historic
monument now looks like a new building.

Both Kalhora and Daudpotra Abbasid Architecture in Sindh consist of mosques,
tombs, forts, fortresses, towers. The Lakhi Pillar is one of its kind in Sindh, of the
Daudpotra Abbasid Architectural style, which tells the story of the Daudpotra
conquest of the region.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Typical Indian Reaction to Archaeology and What it Really is by Shriya Gautam

Tell people you are a doctor, and their eyebrows shoot so high on their foreheads, you’re scared their hair will swallow it. Tell people you’re an engineer, and they have the choicest words of praise for you. Tell them you are an archaeologist, and you’ve hit the goldmine of blank-faces, confused looks and stoned eyes.
Hain? You dig graves, beta?
Or worse! They mistake it for architecture! (Nope, not kidding!)
Archaeologist? Achha achha! So, do you design bridges? Or buildings?
My typical reaction to this: What the devil were you doing in Grade 5, when you first came across the words, “Archaeologists are yet to decipher what the Indus Valley Script means!”?  
Seriously, sometimes I wonder, whether I was the only one who heard my teacher explain what an archaeologist truly was! However, you’d be surprised, there are other oddballs like me who took the teacher seriously when he added in an encouraging way: “Well who knows? Maybe you can be an archaeologist tomorrow and decipher it!”
The School of Archaeology, both in Delhi and in Oxford and surprisingly many other countries in the world, is full of such oddballs.
What do we do, you ask? Simple: we use the entirety of our knowledge that we’ve gained through our educational careers and put it into practice. Yes, meal planning, waste management,first aid and art classes included!
Being an archaeologist, is probably one of the coolest professions and I am not saying that because I am one! No, quite the contrary! Of course, we dig in the mud and get dirty and need a shower everyday, and yes, our skins go dry and patchy, hair gets brittle and we have sore hands and feet that last for months but, that isn’t even 1% of what we do.
A typical excavation involves a geo-physical survey of the site using cool gadgets that trap and transmit satellite images of the place we intend to excavate. So, if you make crude MNREGA jokes about me, trust me, I’d whack you with the back of my mattock! We do NOT start digging anywhere and everywhere and no Sadhu babas tell us about buried treasures that they dreamt of/had maps of! No archaeological team will start digging blindly without a geo-phys until they know for sure that something in there is worth digging for.

Step two generally is planning how much to dig? We make test pits and if something is found in that first few inches of the earth, we use the cool Bob-the-Builder kinda Machine to cut a predetermined size of land and create what is called a trench-a rectangular area of definite measurements which will again be pegged at every 5 metres, so that it forms small grids at every 5 metres. The East and the North angles are measures and labelled at every peg and the initial trowelling begins! No, we don’t go, “Haiii yaaa!” Ninja style and start digging like feverish dogs looking for a bone. Most of the times, there is NO bone! We only scrape the first few centimetres of the soil and if something is found, we go slower.

Usually the place is left to the forces of nature after the initial trowelling is complete. If there has been a human activity on a certain spot in the past, it shows, because the colour of the soil at this particular spot will be different from the natural colour. For example, if the natural is yellow, and there is a dark black deposit in the middle, you’d know Fred Flintstone probably partied here, won’t you?  
And then, this is the area, you’d attack! You go slower if there are finds (centimetre by centimetre) and faster if there are none (inch by inch or simply mattock it away!) but you’d NEVER dig it all out! You will half section it (i.e. peg in two nails through the middle of the whole bit and tie a thread to kinda draw a section line and then, you dig half of it leaving the other half intact. Then, with all this done, you’ll plot it on the graph (yeah, those grid pegs we pegged before were for all the measuring and calculating!) You combine your art classes with statistics, math and physics, measure the height of the feature above sea level, using an ultra cool, leveling device called a dumpy level, draw your pit, record whatever you found in there and analyse stuff (even soil) and determine whether it’s sand, clay, silt or a combination, acidic, basic or neutral or rich in iron, manganese or copper. (Yes, chemistry and geography come in SO handy.)
If you’ve been lucky, you have found a bead, a brooch, a pot or a decomposing bone (mostly, you might not be that lucky but if you are…) you get to do cooler stuff, like finds processing, washing the washable and treating those that need conservation; and in case of organic samples in the soil, you get to analyse your samples in a floatation tank. No one who has enjoyed gardening, playing in the dirt or splashing in water would hate archaeology. Plus, if you enjoy trekking, walking, camping and staying outdoors, you’d have fun! The best part of the digs are volunteers, people who just come and try their hands on “the very archy stuff,” but don’t do it professionally! You’ll find teachers, doctors, engineers, kids and sometimes even honeymooning couples, and complete families from everywhere and almost every country. No other professionals will welcome you into the crowd to live a day in their lives like we archaeologists do.
And what when all the work is over?  Do archaeologists slump in their tents smelly and sore? Well, only if you are a delicate darling and don’t have a life. Back at the campsite, we sing and dance around the campfire, play guitars and ukuleles, play music on devices charged with solar chargers, invent card games and since a few always happen to be good cooks, we get to taste the best of food from all around the world!(Occasionally, you’ll also have a dare-devil in the group who will smuggle in crates of booze!) You think you’d get tired of it but you don’t because there is no end to the variety you find at a dig. So, no, we don’t dig graves, we don’t live like vagabonds or go Ninja on the earth. We dig out the past, the history of how things were so that we can understand our present better. (The six months that we are not digging into fields, we live our lives in offices,studying, reading, and writing articles and research papers, so that’s where the knack of writing and the love for literature comes to our rescue!) We travel. We explore. We’re people who are passionate about everything that concerns humans. What’s archaeology, you ask? It’s a comprehensive study of how humans live life!

Sunday, 20 January 2019

SA Planning Workshop : Seeing More than Meets the Eye

Have you ever looked at an ancient monument or sculpture
Trishla is a research wing member at Speaking
Archaeologically since August 2018
and wondered : how it is, that our ancient civilisations, armed with just a set of primitive tools, were able to conceptualise and execute them ? I know I have . But everytime a teacher responded with "That's for you to find out" and multiple google searches led me to the famous "Maybe the God's built it..?" or my mothers favourite, "Alien theory," I put aside my rather genuine inquiry only to forget about it completely-until it hit me again on site at Sanghol.
If you haven't read my last blog here, where I took about how we reached the site, its history and present status, it would be a good idea to read that first for what we call "more context". In this blog I'll only be dishing on how we resourcefully tackled our biggest handicap at the Sanghol site which as I had mentioned in that blog, was the lack of proper measuring tools. And while that would've made a great excuse for anyone to simply take pictures and head home, at Speaking Archaeologically you are taught, if not expected, to be resourceful.
Considering that our site was surrounded by farmland with plenty of trees around, sticks were readily available. Our only resort, therefore, at such a site was pointed out by our much admired senior at Speaking Archaeologically- Divyansh Thakur. This was a retreat back to the ancient times, when "Hasta and Angul" was one of the systems devised to measure a piece of land, under which, a safe idea could be formed of its size and extent. And then before we knew it, duties switched on site and Divyansh stepped in as our site instructor while Shriya retreated into the background letting her best student do the talking. We were asked to look for sticks or "Danda". Its size had to be one hasta, that is measured from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger and since the sticks had to be of a standard size for purposes of measurement, our standard in this case was Divyansh's arm. Interestingly enough, in ancient India sometimes the hasta is definitely mentioned as the "Hasta of the king" or that of a main Purohit or Pundit. So when an archaeologist studies it he/she can tell who funded its construction.
Members of Speaking Archaeologically at work on site at Sanghol

Anyway coming back to the site, following up on the instructions we frantically looked around for the sticks, by "We" I mean the girls. The boys at site were too busy putting on layers after layers of sunscreen and enjoying whatever little time they could get in the shade of the trees before stepping in to do the actual work. Once the boys had finished up with the tenth step of their skincare routines to their utmost satisfaction, Shriya divided us into teams and the stupa into 4 sides-A,B,C and D for the purpose of mapping. A team of two people on each side measured the length of outer boundary. Once or twice I saw a farmer passing by looking visibly perplexed. The sight of ten kids crawling along the side of what to him is a "ruin" with sticks and paper, frowning, close to crying because of the heat (its a miracle none of us fainted!) and at times looking unusually happy is after all, not a regular sight. I wonder if he had any sleep that night trying to make sense of what he saw, for we did not. We spent the rest of the evening compiling the data, converting our observations to the modern metric system and replaying the day in our heads over and over for the emotional rollercoaster and thrilling adventure it was!
Site plan of Sanghol

Having tackled the issue as heroically as we did,when we visited Bhima Devi for another planning workshop a month or so later this time armed with measuring tapes and knowledge about the modern metric system, I like the others assumed it would be a cakewalk or atleast a nice shift in paradigm. Our fascination for Bhima Devi was partly because of the number of times we had heard the name from our seniors and Shriya "as the place where it all began" and so the expectations were massive but God,were we disappointed! Expecting it to be a massive structure with sculptures intact and walls testament to greater times we were disappointed when what we saw was just the base or the plinth. But not ones to get too misled by first impressions we listened carefully as Divyansh along with Shriya our site instructors for the day, talked about the history of the site and explained to us the technique of construction employed in ancient temple building. Then followed the same process of measuring,mapping, drawing and plotting.
Members of Research wing 2018 at work on site at Bhima Devi

Site plan of Bhima Devi 

Before sitting down to write this blog, the site planning workshops at Sanghol and Bhima Devi were just content for great dinner table conversations for me or just something to casually boast about. In the course of writing this however I've realised that it is so much more than that .I didn't just learn planning that day, I gained perspective on a religion or a faith that I was born into but realised I lacked complete knowledge and thus appreciation of . Bhima Devi for example, built in the Panchayatana architectural style with all of its elements in interplay, display and celebrate the four important and necessary principles of human life under Hinduism- the pursuit of artha(prosperity,wealth), the pursuit of kama (sex,pleasure), the pursuit of dharma(virtues,ethical life) and the pursuit of moksha(release,self knowledge) and reflect the concept of plurality of beliefs central to it. Not just Hinduism, but all Indic religions like Buddhism,Jainism and even Sikhism preach the same predominant  belief of multiple truths and realities under which there is no set path to get to the truth, one has to find their own way. All of which is reflective in their art,literature and architecture.
A temple or a stupa complex therefore, has an interplay of aesthetics, religion, science, geography so that each man can find enshrined in it something that matches his set of beliefs or appeals to his sensibilities. There is even room for agnosticism. Our architecture therefore, is reflective of our beliefs and understanding of the world.
Besides, archaeological remains are a limited, finite and non-renewable resource, in many cases highly fragile and vulnerable to damage and destruction thus, planning is important for recording them, understanding their significance in the past and in associating how the various elements are connected within the site, and how the site is connected with the world around it.
Humanity leaves immortal echoes through its history through the media of art,architecture and language. These are not just meant to be looked back at and to remember in hindsight but are primary to our time and define our civilisation at any given time, justifying our very sense of being human.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

SA Sites and Cities: The Ever Evolving Allahabad by Shriya Gautam

Hold it right there! Save your breath. Don't expect me
Allahabad juxtaposed with Prayagraj 
to call
it Prayagraj. The blue of a city I share part of my maternal heritage from never responded to that name. Devprayag if you must absolutely insist but it hasn't been that in several centuries. There's not much of Devprayag left, though, to be fair. 

Like I said, it's not a city anymore, it's  a blur-a place where past gasps out of the present like a drowning man gasps for air, beating helplessly at the surface of water. 

Allahabad (anglicised version
of Illahabad) was originally
named after the secular religion
Mughal Emperor wished to
propagate and was named after the
 eponymous Illahabad Fort
No matter how much you try to saffronise it, Allahabad is secular, just like the Mughal Emperor, who decided to call it that but its fate is not too different than that of the unorthodox great-grandson, who was a "pestilent infidel" in the eyes of his more religious little brother. Yes, Allahabad is no Akbar in the era of Din-I-Ilahi, but Dara Shukoh caught in the southern winds ushered in by the devout Aurangzeb. Of course, the Aurangzeb of the present times dons a saffron robe and while the south-west winds may change a name, they cannot change the character of this proud, diverse city. 
Every second building here is old, magnificent-a delicious blend of the Hindu, the Muslim and quite so often, the Gothic elements. Distinctly Mughal jharokas adorn every other house, a Gothic façade peeps out from where you least expect to find it and  every now and then, you catch a fleeting glimpse of an onion-shaped dome or an arch. 

So much history, not enough time...

Mughal Tombs of Khusro Bagh, combining the best of Rajputana and Persian elements. The Empress Consort of Jehangir, Hindu Princess Man Bai and their children, Nisar Begum and Khusro lie buried here.

I don't mean this entirely as a tourist. Yes, there's so much to see here that one lifetime isn't enough. You can live here all your life and you still cannot have seen it all. This complexity, however, is multiplied  for an archaeologist because even if a thousand lifetimes were spent trying to rescue this city archaeologically, you cannot possibly manage the feat. You can change its name, change the people who rule over it but you can never save Allahabad from itself. 

Allahabad (or Prayagraj, if you absolutely must!) is a city trapped between its past which refuses to evacuate all the streets and houses it still rents from the present and the future that refuses to bow down in defeat. Try exercising it the Hindu, the Muslim or the Christian way but it's  a haunted city: haunted by the grandeur of the past, by the promises of the future. Time melts here and while so many perish in the tussle between the modern development and traditional simplicity, the Hindu sankara, the Muslim tehzeeb and the Christian etiquette, the only survivors are the pathetic ghosts of past-so old that they are like aged people with amnesia.

We may change its name but with every passing day we are killing the essence of this ancient city that thrived under natives and foreigners alike. The humdrum of vehicles, the crass and vulgar day houses and malls, demolishing every trace of cultural synchronicity and harmony the city has stood for in a thousand years at least if not more, is slowly strangling it. 

I do not specialise in raising slogans like the present government. Nor do I think I am fit to point out the follies of the rulers of the past. I am an archaeologist who believes that regardless of my religion or caste, my belief in God or my agnosticism, the heritage sites that lend character to Allahabad are being lost irretrievably everyday. It's true that there's always been a religious tint to the city but no matter what religion the patron of a monument adhered to, the heritage site itself has no religion. It belongs to us all. It has had its role in shaping our present. It makes us who we are. Religion may be a tool in the hands of powerful people but it matters very little to history what religion ruled when and who renamed a city into what. Heritage belongs to us all and it's our duty to protect it, to do as much as we possibly can about it, to make it accessible to everyone. 

Note: Posted below are some pictures revealing the present state of heritage in the city, that is a victim of so-called development and religious politics.
The Illahabad Fort, vandalised despite being under military protection and ASI recognition.

Sculpture of Linga-aradhna in the Underground Patalpuri Temple within the compounds of Illahabad Fort. The Temple stands testimony to the Mughal policy of Religious Tolerance since the local Hindus were always allowed inside the fort to pray under the Mughal regime.

Tomb of Shah Begum Man Bai, Consort of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, built in accordance with prevalent Hindu Architectural Styles of the time. The structure, despite being a protected monument under ASI, is littered and vandalised .

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

SA Site Cover: The Tale of Tughlaqabad by Rattan Kaur Rainu

Every ruined city has a story, a curse that it holds, one mistake that brought down every single wall it had.

Rattan Kaur Rainu is a Research Wing Member
 at Speaking Archaeologically since August 2018

Delhi was one of the major cities during the Medieval Era in India. It was ruled by six dynasties like Tughlaq and Khaljis. Delhi was destroyed and rebuilt seven times. It is a city which was supposedly ruled by the Pandavas during some point of time and was home to the Turko-Afghan raiders from the north. Delhi held the position of  the capital for almost the whole Medieval Period. It is the city of the cities. A city which encapsulates many cities like Siri, Shahjahanabad, Jahanpanah, the Tughlaqabad among the other architectural jewels.

Delhi is both my birth place and hometown. One thing that comes naturally in a Delhiite is love for the monuments and the casual way of avoiding the ruined monuments, which we see while driving through the jam packed roads. It is not like the monuments don’t fascinate us, it is because who has the time to stop and look at it?

During my school days I remember, our school being really concerned that their students do not forget history but lose the art of ignorance towards it , so they took us for ‘Delhi darshan’ every once in two years. We went to different monuments each time, of course some of the favourites made it to the list each time.
An underground passage 

It was during Grade Six that we went to Tughlaqabad Fort for the first time. Coincidentally, it was the same year we studied about  the different dynasties and trust me, before the visit to these enormous and beautiful complexes, history was never as appealing as it was after. I did not really remember who built the monument back then but I surely knew that this pale building was known as the Tughlaqabad Fort.  I really loved it and as my classmates were getting pictures clicked, I looked upon enraptured at the beautiful walls of Tughlaqabad.

A bricked tower covered with crawlers 

After almost a decade, I went back to the old city now in ruins. While I was on my way, I was hit by a sharp wave of nostalgia, thinking about the walls and  the huge facade. I had blurry images about how the building looked and I was pretty sure that the condition I saw it in nine years ago would have been improved, but guess what?

I entered the ruins of Tughlaqabad. As scary as it sound, but I probably might have been the only one in the fort but as soon as I entered, I realised it was not true. Not a lot of people came there but there were some  on a leisure trip. I went into the wrong direction and so, the security guard redirected me to  the Fort and he told me not to wander to the deserted places.

If you have been to Tughlaqabad you would know that it isn’t just a building or two, it used to be a city and hence the complex is neverendingly vast. It has a lot of trees, almost a small jungle inside the fort.
Top view of Tughlaqabad Fort 

I began to see familiar places. But the fort was not what it was when I had last visited it.  A lot of trees, creepers and weeds are now where the bricked floors of the complex used to be. Cattle and goats were all over the place. I saw goats grazing and cows  were tied in what were once beautiful verandas. The city-which one can not ignore even today if you pass by it-is deteriorating day by day.
A beautiful veranda converted into shelter for cows

So, I was walking and I saw a beautiful wall with arches. How beautiful once it must have looked in its heyday! And now it was completely gone: only weeds and grass were left of this beautiful wall, which will collapse in a year or two if not restored.
An arched doorway completely in ruins

When you enter the complex one can see a beautiful area at a distance which is a part of the fort but is now inapproachable and as much as I wanted to go there I just could not ,because no path connected it to the rest of the fort. The other parts,which were intact and still haven't started falling apart, were vandalised with the names written all over them by the ignorant lovers or littered by the insensitive people who thought nothing more of it than as dumpyard.

A fort, which was once constructed by the powerful Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, is now falling apart. Even in the state of ruins, one cannot overlook the magnificent construction of Tughlaq era. Tughlaq dynasty ruled over Delhi for almost a century with rulers like Mohammed-bin-Tughlaq and Feroz-Shah-Tughlaq. This was one of the strongest dynasties that ruled over Delhi.

Tughlaqabad was built by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq in 1321 CE and was the third city of Delhi. Ghiyas-ud-din or Ghazi Malik built it to keep the Mongol marauders away. It took four years for the construction of this majestic  fortress. A folklore however, has a novel take about why city of Tughlaqs is in this state today.
Ruined wall of the fort

According to the folklore, Ghias-ud-din picked a  fued with Nizzam-ud-din Aulliya, a prominent 14th century Sufi Saint. Ghazi Malik made mandatory for all the workers in Delhi to be employed in the construction of his fort. But at the same time, Nizammuddin was building a stepwell or a baoli near the present day Dargah of the saint. During the day time, the workers  carried out the construction of the fort, by the night, the baoli. Ghiyas-ud-din got to know about this and furiously  forbade the sale of oil to Nizamuddin , so no lamps could light up the construction site at night. The saint then magically turned the water in the tank to oil, and cursed Tughlakabad “Ya basse Gujjar, ya rahe ujjar.”( May this be inhabited by herdsmen or remain unoccupied.)
A dome roofed room with three arches

This myth may satisfy the appetite of a good story but the real  reason was the scarcity of water, which led to the abandonment of the fortress.
This beautiful city, in our very own country’s heart is deteriorating substantially.  From pillar to stone, everything is falling apart and in the coming years, the fort will only be left in our history books. Although it comes under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India and you have to buy a ticket to enter the fortress, the restoration of this fort is not very impressive. The condition of the fort is degrading and needs extra care.
A staircase to tower

So what can we do to save it?
First things first: stop writing your names on every historical monument there is. It doesn't embellish it nor immortalises you. Rather, it murders the historical essence of the place, damaging the building beyond repair sometimes, rendering it unfit for the few amongst us, who wish to study it!

Secondly, stop throwing rubbish at any and every possible place. Bins were invented for a reason and it is time we use put the invention to use! If there are no bins around, put the rubbish back in your bags and do not pollute the environment of the heritage sites.

Thirdly, the fort complex is not a grazing ground. Turning historical monuments into pasture grounds is neither sustainable nor cool!

What can the authorities do? First of all make the fort more approachable, the nearest metro station is five kilometers, the visitors are less in number and hence the maintenance is not well.

As Tughlaqabad is in the capital of India and still the progress of the restoration is extremely slow, the authorities should also keep a check on increasing the pace of restoration. Tughlaqabad is in agony, you can feel the pain the building is suffering from, it needs immediate attention. It will die a ruin if not restored. Ghazi Malik's dreamland would turn into dust if not looked upon.

Monuments usually tell us a lot of tales, some of them even teach us life lessons. The tale  Tughlaqabad narrates is of rise and fall. Come what may, every rise will be followed by the fall. To avoid a similar spiral down, history perhaps is useful for all of us, as a teacher and as a mirror, which is why it should neither be tampered with and nor can it be completely destroyed. It can be forgotten but never be ignored.
Space with an arched roof

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A Trip to the Buddhist Archaeological Remains at Sanghol, Punjab by Trishla and Mayank

If you're looking for a perfect holiday destination or somewhere you would drive to hangout and grab some beers with your friends,Sanghol might not qualify to feature in your list. But if your archaeology seeds are yearning to sprout, Sanghol is water to you. Archaeology does something to you. It makes you excited about an ordinary place, excited enough to write a blog about it.

Sanghol, a small village in the Fatehgarh Sahib, district, around 40 kilometres from Chandigarh on the Chandigarh-Ludhiana highway is an archaeological haven. The village, in a series of excavations in 1968 and 1985 had yielded many sculptures, stone slabs and pillars dating back to the Kushans ( now housed at the
Sanghol site museum), and also played host for the First Planning Workshop and Site Visit of Speaking Archaeologically’s New Batch.

On the dawn of August 19, 2018 we set out, on what we as Batch 2018, assumed would be one great adventure trip. Something à la Indiana Jones, an idea that had first peaked our interest in archaeology and landed us at Speaking Archaeologically. But trust Speaking Archaeologically to burst your bubble of  the glamorous life of an archaeologist!

What everybody assumed would be one great road trip (though only an hour and a half’s drive away) coupled with some nice travel beats and gossip, within the first 10 minutes switched to a discussion about the site in question and some firsthand narrations from our seniors of their last year site visits.

The ideal geographical location of Sanghol, along the banks of the river Satluj and its connectivity with major towns of Madhyamika (modern day Majha), Trigarta and Malwa region, as well as with other towns of Ancient India through subsidiary routes, made it a meeting point of several cultures. Once a flourishing urban centre lying on the Silk Route, it functioned as an entrepot that contributed to the flow of artistic and cultural traits during the Kushan period. Much of its appeal today, however, lies in the stupa and monastery complex, unearthed during archaeological excavations here, which also reveal a six fold cultural sequence indicating that
it was inhabited from the Late Harappan till the Gupta period (6th century CE)

When we reached the Sanghol museum, it almost seemed like a cruel joke. The museum in question, a red painted, brick-walled, cylindrical two-storeyed structure was diametrically too small to house much archaeological data or so we thought as we looked around in disbelief as far the eye could see, convinced that we were at the wrong place while Shriya, our lady-in-command, had already made her way to the tickets counter getting all the formalities done before any of us had the time to snap back.

Once inside, we were entertained to Kushana sculptures, coping stones mounted on the railing pillars decorated with a series of arched windows containing Buddhist symbols like Dharmachakra (wheel of law), lotus, worship of the relic caskets, worship of Buddha’s bowl and other auspicious symbols, cross bars which once joined the two pillars decorated with lotus medallions, all in red sandstone dating back to the 1st-2nd century mostly belonging to the Mathura School of Art or rather an amalgamation of traits of both Mathura and Gandhara Schools with artistic inputs borrowed from the former and narrative concepts from the latter. An interesting artistic blend, that we also noticed in the railing decorations executed in Sikri sandstone at the rectangular frieze from the SGL5 stupa later on, bearing testament to the exquisite craftsmanship of the time.
                             Image 1: A railing pillar with sculpture of female  devotee with a garland (on the left) and Salabhanjika, holding a mirror ( on the right) Image 2: Railing pillar with sculpture of Salabhanjika plucking flowers from a sal tree.

Most of the artworks housed at the museum comprised of beautiful female figures,  the voluptuous Salabhanjikas and Yakshis often referred to as the “nayikas (heroines) of Buddhist art,” richly jeweled standing in a graceful and provocative attitude with ganas or attendants at their feet often looking into a mirror or holding the branch of a sal tree representing the artist’s idea of beauty and grace, a few Gandharva donor figures, Bharvahakas and Srivatsa symbols sculpted on railing pillars, all decorative elements of Buddhist art and architecture. We were divided into groups of two and asked to choose five sculptures each. We were totake pictures and pen down our observations pertaining to the material used, the visibly distinctive features;an interesting parallel considering we covered the Gandhara sculptures in our previous Workshop at the Sector 10 Museum in Chandigarh.

Members of Research Wing 2018 at work in the Sanghol Museum

The staircase in the centre led us into an even older period, the period of Indus Valley Civilisation. The display on the second level consists of Harappan fine potteries, terracotta beads, figurines, bangles and copper chisels.Adjacent to it we saw the Numismatics display which houses the Kushan coins from various rulers, although not in a very scientific manner like other displays in the museum.

Then we headed in search of a forsaken place,one of three significant mounds declared protected by the ASI, where excavations in 1965 had led to the discovery of a large stupa (SGL5) intersected by three concentric walls each with spoke like radial walls built by the Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE on the pattern of the Dharmachakra (wheel of law). The lack of signboards meant our search entailed a lot of asking around and frantic change of routes owing to the fact that none of the villagers seemed to have any clue regarding the whereabouts of such a historic site and the only joy in our search in the unrelenting sun, were the Funnel cakes (Jalebis) offered to us and to all the other passersby by the God sent villagers, who happened to be celebrating that day.We finally came across a narrow sodden tract towards the right of a moderately busy market road. Walking down a mud trail that lead into the fields, carefully side stepping dried dung (much to the dismay of everyone who violated or ignored the “wear sturdy shoes”notification that day), we made our way to the site,where we met a caretaker,who handed us a pamphlet detailing the Buddhist vestiges of Sanghol. Although declared a protected monument, under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, it exists today as an extremely fragile structure poorly fenced, surrounded by agricultural plots with cracks running all around it and vegetation growing between them. One doesn’t need to closely inspect it to see the visible evidences of its deterioration. The supervisor at the site reported he had never seen anyone inspecting the monument, to check on its maintenance.

The Dharmachakra stupa at Sanghol
Our biggest handicap at the site however,was the lack of proper measuring tools that would’ve meant going home with just pictures. But, at Speaking Archaeologically we take challenges head-on. The dirty details of how we resourcefully tackled the issue are to be covered in the next blog (this one is already exhausting).

The Sanghol Museum’s official website reads and I quote, “ Sanghol Museum was set up by the Government,not only to preserve Punjab’ s Cultural treasures, but also to involve the public in the appreciation of the continuous cultural linkage that the land has maintained from the early ancient times and has witnessed large scale movements and amalgamation of people and their culture.”

But the observation at the site says otherwise, the museum did not maintain a proper catalogue, the numismatics section had coins glued to the glass and many of the items lacked a proper provenance. Needless to say, the State Government's attitude towards it is completely outrageous. The chroniclers of Buddhism and of the artistic developments of the years gone by that are these relics and antiquities, need to be better preserved and presented because after all, ill-preserved archaeology leads to historic amnesia and forgotten history (as we often say at Speaking Archaeologically) is forgotten culture.