Thursday, 25 October 2018

SA Site Cover: Pen Dinas Hill Fort, Aberystwyth by Lyn Pease

Pen Dinas Hill Fort, Aberystwyth
Pen Dinas is the pre-eminent hillfort on the Cardigan Bay coast. The position of Pen Dinas allowed for visual command and political control of the two regional arterial rivers, with sweeping views both inland and also to the North and South of Cardigan Bay. This hour-glass shaped fort is situated on a ridge between the rivers Rheidol and Ystwyth.  Two peaks are enclosed and it is clear that originally they were separate enclosures.
At first the northern summit was surrounded by ramparts with a timber revetment and a ditch. Soon afterwards, the southern crest was more substantially fortified with a stone-faced rubble bank and ditch some 3m deep. There were entrances at the north and south with gates supported by posts.  A period of decay or deliberate destruction may have followed before the southern fort was re-modelled.
Eventually both forts were joined together with a new revetted wall across the saddle between the peaks, known as the Isthmus, and around the northern fort. An entrance to the enlarged enclosure with a four-post gateway was constructed midway along the east side. This final stage dates from the first century BC. A number of round buildings have been traced, though the interior of both forts have been damaged by ploughing.  When complete the hill fort would have been awe-inspiring as no other buildings in the region stood as tall as Pen Dinas. 

However, the local shale did not make robust building material and there is evidence for buttresses and props at the foot of some walls and gateways which suggests that the structures were constantly at risk from bulging and collapse. Timber used for the gateways would also have rotted eventually. The finished form of the hill fort suggests that the enclosed Isthmus could have been used as a controlled public space for fairs or markets, reinforcing the role of the hill fort as an economic power in the region. The main forts both south and north would have been protected from the visitors by the large gates at their entrances.

The Hill Fort was excavated by the Archaeology Department at Aberystwyth University between 1933 and 1937 but their findings were not published until 1963. The excavations revealed well-built prehistoric dry-stone walls and gateway passages. Finds included glass and stone beads, spindle whorls and loom weights (evidence of weaving) and a cache of over 100 slingshots. All of these finds have been sadly lost, but luckily they had been correctly recorded at the time of the excavations. The only securely dated find was a Malvernian ‘duck-stamped’ jar, dating to around 100 BC, broken into sherds and discovered against the outer face of the Phase 4 wall where it intersected with the north fort.  When the excavations were finally published in 1963, the physical relationships between the lines of walling and the inter-cutting of rock-cut ditches and other features, allowed a basic sequence of development to be suggested for the hill fort. Further archaeological geophysical investigations in the future may change these theories.

Note: The Author's report is based on observations made while travelling to the site as well as on information compiled in The Hillforts of Cardigan Bay by Toby Drive and Guide to Prehistoric England and Wales by James Dyer. All pictures belong to the author and are a copyright of S

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

SA Site Cover: The Ruins of Payal, Ludhiana by Rattan Kaur Rainu

“Defaced ruins of architecture and statuary, like the wrinkles of decrepitude of a once beautiful woman, only make one regret that one did not see them when they were enchanting.”

                                                                                           - Horace Walpole
Rattan Kaur Rainu is a Research Wing member
at Speaking Archaeologically since August 2018

This blog doesn’t begin on an adventurous note. Neither does it involve a spontaneous road trip. Rather it is the product of an intrigue that drove me to explore a place  I had never even heard of until a few days ago.

Goethe said architecture is music. Well, architecture and music are the two things that have always been my favourite. Be it an an old abandoned house, or an enthralling corner of a fort, buildings have always appealed to me, maybe because, I am from a city that has been built, demolished and rebuilt seven times and hence the ruins and the ancient structures have always been my favourite hangouts.

Even as a kid, during the school picnics, “Delhi darshan” was the time when I used to sneak out an explore the historical spots abandoned corners of the Tughlaqabad Fort, the coots and haunts of the Hauz Khas I was always the one to sit and capture the moment, feeling the place, letting its history wash over me; afterall, these were the places where History as we know it today, was born and raised, where it played its games, danced, cried and laughed. This blog is exactly about one such place: the Payal Fort of Ludhiana and here's how I became acquainted with it.

Kalgidhari gurudwara, Payal, Ludhiana
No story should ever start with a funeral and yet, that's exactly how my escapade to Payal Fort began. We were supposed to go to Payal, a small town in Ludhiana District in Punjab, to attend the funeral of my mother’s uncle. Like any person who is likely to be more insensitive than compassionate n an occasion as triste as this, I didn’t want to go but like every other Indian mother, my Mother also didn’t know the meaning of the word, "No," and so, there I was, along with my little brother, sulking very visibly until I found out about the fort in Payal. Suddenly, the petulant pout vanished and I became all happy and cheerful a surprising transformation from the person, who was irritated, bored and disinterested a minute ago.
Payal fort, Payal, Ludhiana

Now, the task before me was persuading my family to let me visit this place. I made every excuse possible and after a lot of cajoling, my mother had no choice but to relent. A colourful market welcomed us to the town: bright coloured suits hung on the doors of the shop, shimmering, sparkling yarns, bright ribbons and bangles it was a typical, bustling Punjabi small-town market but my eyes were looking for was an old fort which I couldn’t locate. I wasn't until we reached the Gurudwara, however, and I stepped out of the car, that I finally saw the massive brick fort I was looking for. Custom demanded, though that, I had to go to Gurudwara, meet  the relatives, offer my condolences and pay my respects to the deceased before I could finally slide off the radar and rush to the fort.

At long last, we went there but a big rusty lock on a corroded iron gate welcomed us there and all my excitement turned into despair. I wasn't going to let it go so easily, though. I was adamant that I would go inside and so, I went to the shop adjoining the fort wall. The shopkeeper told us that not many people visited the decrepit monument and so, mostly, it was locked. My brother and I decided that we’d crawl down the gate, regardless because we were too invested to back off now. When we finally managed to cross the first barrier, what should welcome us there but a new gate, which was, much to my dismay, also locked! 

Dargah Mohammed Ghos Peer, Payal, Ludhiana
 My mother and my uncles were waiting for us outside, so we went around, looking for a different entrance and we spotted a relatively newly built dargah. That, and the tall fortified bricked walls, were the only accessible parts of the complex. My brother and I went there and saw an old man sitting, so we asked him to open the gate and told him that we were from Delhi and came especially to visit the fort. This time, we were in luck and the old man went and unlocked the rusty gate and now that my family was in there too. 

The entrance to main complex of Payal fort.

We now asked our saviour, Miya Sahib, to open the gate of the main building, but apparently the keys to that were with a pundit, the caretaker of the fort, who was, at that moment, not on site but in his village instead. It was bit of a shock for me that an ASI protected monument was not accessible to people before 5 pm. There were also no boards or information available there about the fort unlike other heritage sites.The internet, too, didn't offer any insights about this place, so we decided to get whatever we could out of Miya Ji

He told us that this was constructed by Maharaja Amar Singh of Patiala with the Mughal Aid in 1771 CE. He also added that this place was encroached by the people and that this was once also used as a Girls' School, that later the Government took over it. The fortified massive walls were all that I could see but one could see the entire panoramic view of Payal from up there. Unlike my initial expetations, it turned out that the fort was at the heart of the town and not at its periphery and despite that, it was windy and pleasant, lush green and gorgeous in a way all old places are.The walls had climbers and plants growing in the gaps . I could almost see how alluring the view must have been during the days of Amar Singh. 

Back side of Payal fort
The condition of the fort now was nothing short of pitiable when you think about its former grandeur. As there was not much to see there, we went back really dejected that we weren't able to enter the main complex . We then went to visit my mother’s aunt. We were walking on the streets as they were too narrow for our car to fit in. A few moments later, my brother poked me and pointed towards an old abandoned house on his left and this house lit a hope in my heart.

As we walked down the road, we saw couple of these grand town houses (havelis) which are now a little more than just ruins with bricks and weeds left in them. The walls were stylistically similar to that of the Payal fort and so, I was inclined to believe that these houses might be the ones from the same period. I could link the architectural characteristics like domed entrances to one I saw in the forts of Delhi so the Mughal Aid Miya Sahib told us about really did happen at some point of time. I googled about the town once again and voilà! This place was a medieval city once and had more than 64 hindu temples . I couldn’t visit them but the condition in which the houses were said it all. I almost felt these structures were calling out for help.

 The architecture and history of these monuments is crumbling into dust by every passing minute. There is a desperate need to look into their condition. Not many people know about this fort and countless more will never find out if this blind neglect of heritage continues. If the restoration and conservation of this old town doesn’t happen soon then we might lose an important page  from our history. There  is not much left of the houses, but the Payal Fort stands still in the centre of the city, mourning the condition of the ruins which once used to be the splendid havelis

Yet all is not lost—not yet, at least! The restoration and conversation may revive the town . Also,  information boards and signs on the roads and highways to help people locate the Payal fort could increase the tourism in the area. This in turn, may help generate enough funds to restore the heritage structures scattered about the town, even if we ignore the boost it will give the local economy and the employment it would generate for the people of Payal. Thus, the condition of the Payal could bea lot better than what it is today.

The word "payal" etymologically stands for an anklet that elevates the beauty of one’s feet. Maybe the forgotten town called Payal could be elevated to its former grandeur, too.

Friday, 28 September 2018

SA Site Cover: The Bhuli Bhatyari ka Mahal by Siddhartha Iyer


An oddly disproportional and red Hanuman stands sternly, ripping his chest open as Delhi wizzes by his feet. Many seem almost oblivious to this grand and grotesque gesture. There is a meeting to get to, a date, an assignment to submit a week after it was due, or in most cases just an air conditioner to find and set up base  in front of. Behind the statue, a thin, unassuming road slithers past all the chaos, ending at a place strikingly different from where it began. It ends in the 14th century, at a now decrepit Tughlaq era hunting lodge.

The bhuli bhatyari ka mahal is conveniently tucked away behind the hanuman statue in busy Karol Bagh. It is a spot like so many others in the capital, where the ancient and the modern live cheek and jowl, and hopefully will continue to do so for a long time to come. It faces a large DMNC water tank, where on most occasions, the water turns a rancid green. Every few minutes, the silence around gets interrupted by the metro, just in case you forget that you still are in a city of over 25 million and counting. The entrance to the lodge is a large arch, with only hints of the original red sandstone peeking out from behind its newly ‘renovated’ walls. It opens up to a narrow corridor, winding to the right and leading up into a large open-air courtyard.  


Tiny rooms built into the surrounding walls were used most probably as accommodation for those that came and hunted here. Nothing inside them now suggests, that someone could have once rested comfortably in a space so tiny. But maybe that’s just my tall person privilege speaking? What would possibly have been a grand open courtyard, where members of the hunters convened, gossiped, planned and found momentary refuge from the city outside, is now barren and by most accounts even ‘haunted’.

To the north of the entrance, a flight of stairs lead up to a large open-air room where a small pool like structure takes up more than half of its space with channels running all the way down to the lower courtyard. Maybe around this shallow pool is where members of this club, debauched as they were, met, planned, fought and bonded over the sport of hunting beasts. In the unforgiving Delhi summers, this could  have served as an oasis for the elite. A 14th century Delhi gymkhana anyone?


 The Bhuli Bhatyari is not  the original name given to this hunting lodge. Some suggest that the name came from a sufi saint called Bu Ali Bhaktiyari. What is clear, is that it was built under the reign of Feroz shah Tughlaq and is also quite similar to the Malcha mahal and Pir Ghaib, which popped up in the city around the same time.  Its exterior walls stand surprisingly high for a structure built for recreational purposes. Beyond them on all three sides, lies the dense undergrowth of the Central ridge reserve forest.

The first time I was here, was just before nightfall after I snuck in past a sleeping guard who had conveniently forgotten to lock the entrance. The other time, I was unlucky enough to be caught climbing a tree that had its branch drooping over one of the walls (the gate was shut this time) 

But, one part of me still doesn’t believe that it is indeed haunted, but the other part maybe understands why someone might think it is. Its quite easy to get carried away here. Even something as simple as a flight of stairs, become much more than just a seemingly innocuous set of steps. You’re knowingly walking on something that was walked on by thousands before you. In Delhi, and this ruin’s case in particular, you’re probably setting your foot down at the same place the emperor did. Or at least someone from the royal family, if you’re cynical. Did he stumble? Did he fall and hurt himself on the knee? Did he rush down in anger one day? Did he walk down them with one of his wives? Did he stop on the very step you did to think about something like you did? 
Maybe such thoughts only  belong here, within these walls and are too fragile to be taken into the notorious old city outside. Maybe that's why so many visitors feel and experience things here that can't simply be put into words and maybe, even at the risk of contradicting myself, i'm one of them. 

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Speaking Archaeologically workshop on Buddhist art and Archaeology – 5th August, 2018

“The past is a foreign country and art is the passport to it.” - Anonymous

If my life could be a testament to anything it would probably be to the fact that staying up post three scrolling through Instagram while sipping on your second cup of espresso can land you in the most unexpected of places; sometimes ,even the right places. Now don’t get me wrong , I don’t mean to recommend such unhealthy behavior to anyone reading this but that is how I came across ‘Speaking Archaeologically’s’  Instagram handle some three months ago. Needless to say it wasn't long before I fell in love with history all over again and decided this organisation was something I wanted to be a part of . What followed that was me applying the famed and oft used three fold Bollywood strategy to get anything you want in life, which in this case included religiously stalking the Instagram page for recruitment posters or declarations, working hard to prove I’m worthy by sending in submissions and finally, Shriya replying to my over the top enthusiastic emails and taking me in. Now when I look back I can say with pride that like all great love stories mine started with a DM and a follow.  Only my love story with history hasn’t reached its very end and with everything we do at speaking archaeologically it only grows every day.

So post our recruitment session when we were called in for our first workshop at the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Sector 10 Chandigarh, I was beyond excited.   We were greeted at the venue by Shriya who made it a point to flash a genuine smile the moment she saw any of us enter. The air was filled with anticipation and eagerness for  the new minds like me stood visibly beguiled trying to take in the space looking around with rat eyes at all the sculptures , while the old ones, our seniors stood in the background  looking at us with curiosity trying to compare and picture themselves from when they  had come for their first workshop .Once everyone arrived, Shriya started with  introducing the topic for the session  which was followed by the process of deconstructing ideas ,preconceived notions and dispelling myths through a friendly interaction. We were explained the concept of sculptures-the different types: broadly relief and free standing, the distinguishing features of the various schools of art to which the Buddhist sculptures belonged mainly the Gandhara and Mathura schools of art, briefly explained the importance of a provenance while looking at ancient objects and were provided with an understanding of how to analyze every visible detail so as to construct a history of the object. 
Sculpture of Maitreya, Gandhara School of Art
(Late 2nd century CE)
We were given worksheets for object analysis and a handout to refer to for instructions and information related to the same. We were then divided into teams in a way that saw the coming together of people from different academic disciplines and from different batches at Speaking Archaeologically, some sort of ice-breaking session as it was claimed to be, the idea of which itself is enough to give you a panic attack if you like me faked a sore throat every time the teacher asked you to introduce yourself to the class.  So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to witness a discussion between archaeology, anthropology, history and law students who have been put together in one team I’m here to tell you that it’s no different from watching a political debate on any Indian news channel. My team which comprised of Mayank, Vidushi , Muskan and I walked around the museum with our worksheets trying to find the most interesting sculptures to analyze …or should I say the easiest ones. Each one of us was asked to pick any five Buddhist sculptures and instructed to be as concise in our descriptions as possible. 

Safe to say that one hour out of two was spent taking pictures of and staring at the sculptures in hopeless despair wishing they would magically come alive and tell us everything we needed to know about their history. And so while the newbie’s like me in every team stood in front of the sculptures looking visibly perplexed it wasn’t long until the seniors in our teams stepped in and decided to bless us with their insights to build on from whatever they had learned in their years at Speaking Archaeologically. Shriya, with her endless amount of knowledge, using more wit and charm than the law allows kept interacting and checking up on us every once in a while to keep us from crying at our lack of cognizance. Thus we toiled for another one hour with our brain cells working in high gear, noting down in the columns of the worksheets any details that could be noticed in an effort to study and come up with answers regarding things like the original resting place of the sculpture, the material used, the school of art based on our observations and through them to deduce a basic understanding of the sculpture, its patron and people and the economy of the time.

Once confident about our observation sheets we took them to Shriya for evaluation who patiently corrected our mistakes and patted our backs for a job well done. And even though my team didn’t get the highest score that day we made it a point to congratulate the team that did .Thus, with new perspectives gained we headed for the one thing everyone at Speaking Archaeologically looks forward to post a good workshop – Food.   And so while everyone sat down for lunch all giggly and amused, I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful it is that in archaeology even the most minute details like the draping of a cloth as depicted in a sculpture, the quality of the material used etc. can provide deep rooted insights into the life, trade and culture of the time. It is only through careful evaluation of ancient objects like sculptures that we get an insight into the creative capacities of the generations gone by, the socio-economic and political conditions of the time, the prevailing customs and beliefs and are able to trace their origins and impact in the vast expanse of time. Thus, archaeology if not the biggest serves as a medium to appreciate the beauty of artistic expression.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

SA Travel Diaries : Ashokan Inscription, Kalsi by Gauri Singh

The site of Ashoka's Inscription at Kalsi
Kalsi is a valley town surrounded by lesser Himalayan mountains from 3 sides and Doon plains on one side, on the confluence of River Yamuna and Tons. It lies about 60 kms from capital city of Dehradun on the road to Chakrata via Herbertpur on the highway of Jaunsar region, Dehradun district of state Uttarakhand. The valley is the first plain town when one descends from the Himalayas and is therefore also an economic hub of the Jaunsar-Bawar Tribal Region. Situated at an altitude of 780 meter above the sea level and on the banks of 2 rivers, the place experiences a moderate climate in summers and has scenic surroundings. The alluvial soil drained down by the rivers makes this place one of the most fertile region in the surrounding Pachwa-Doon plains.

The place is especially known for The Rock Edict of the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka and is one of the most outstanding epigraphical evidences of Buddhist ethical culture during his reign period. It was first discovered by British forest authorities in 1860. It was so encrusted when found, that no inscription was visible and it could only be revealed after cleaning. The edict is a huge pear shaped white granite rock, 10 ft in height and length and 8 feet wide. It is protected under a dome and is surrounded by small gardens.

Kalsi, as history narrates, was the capital town of a kingdom named Srughna about which the famous chinese traveler of  Hiuen-Tsang has written at length in his accounts. The place was probably an important halting station at the junction of the main highway which linked Ashokan capital-town of the Magadhan empire at Patliputra with northwestern provinces. His rock inscription here may therefore have been indicative of the fact that this place might have been important halting place for the travellers in that age.

The inscription at Kalsi was probably inscribed in the 14th renal year of the emperor, i.e. 255 B.C and is one of the 14 rock edicts of Emperor Ashoka. Since all the 14 edicts are found at eight widely separated sites scattered throughout his empire, it is considered that these edicts marked boundary of his territory and were located on the highways leading to the neighbouring countries.
The Kalsi inscription, like the rest, praises the ethical message of Buddhism without directly making any mention of Buddha or his teachings. Ashoka, here, is mentioned by his title as Devanampiya Piyadassi Laja in the Magadhan Pali in which the letter ‘R’ is substituted by ‘I’. The fact that this edict belonged to the Mauryan monarch Ashoka was known only from the Maski edict in which his identity is conclusively vested as devanampiya ashoka. The characters of the inscriptions are in Ashokan Brahmi and the language used is Prakrit in which local words of Magadhan Prakrit have also crept in.

The Inscription on the Rock
A major portion of the inscription is engraved on the Southern face of the white granite rock. It seems, due to the downward enlargement of the letters, the area turned to be too small to accomodate the whole text. On the eastern face, there is an outline figure of an elephant with the word gajatame inscribed between the legs probably to signify the regal status of the elephant. It is said to have relevance with the  episode of - Buddha descending from the Tushita heaven in the form of a white elephant, i.e.  gajatame.

The texts inscribed on the chunk of rock have been translated by the language experts in english and hindi and explained on a seperate pillar for the visitors to understand.
The inscription in brief prescribes that; no animal should be slaughtered or sacrificed, medical aid for men and animals should be provided and medicinal herbs grown, wells should be dug and trees grown, a quinquennial circuit should be conducted for the promulgation of the ethical maxims of Buddhism, the country should be regenerated under the royal decree, censors of the sacred law should be appointed, redressal of matters for welfare of the people should be conducted, men should observe self control and self purity, the carnal amusements formerly patronized by the king should be substituted by pious occupations, auspicious rites should be observed, glory that arises from the promulgation of dharma should be held, the law should be propagated, tolerance in matters of religion should be observed.
The edict also records the names of the five Greek kings contemporary of Ashoka - Antiochus Theos II, king of Syria; Ptolemy of Philadelphos, king of Egypt; Magas, king of Cyrenia; Antigonus Gonatos, king of Macedonia and Alexander, king of Epirus. The 14th edict is the summary or epilogue of the foregoing and would seem to show that the whole inscription was engraved from an authentic copy issued under the royal command.

A few relief sculptures found around the site at display

The terrible and inhuman bloodshed in the war of Kalinga had a deep impact on Ashoka. This is what led him to adopt Buddhism and a policy of peace and non violence throughout his empire, The message on the edict reflect Ashoka’s humane approach towards his administration as well as abandonment of warfare. The inscriptions are believed to be a testimony to the fact that what Ashoka preached also practiced.
It is considered to be one of the most important monuments in the field of Indian epigraphy. It is under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).