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A Histoiy of

Ancient and Early Medieval India


From the Stone Age to the 12th Century
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Upinder Singh
ALWAYS L E A R N I N G PEARSON
A HISTORY OF ANCIENT AND EARLY MEDIEVAL INDIA
F r o m t h e S t o n e A g e t o t h e 12 t h C e n t u r y

Upinder Singh

PEARSON

Delhi Chennai Chandigarh


Upper Saddle River Boston London
Sydney Singapore Hong Kong Toronto Tokyo
Brief Contents

Photographs, Maps, and Figures

About the Author

Preface

Acknowledgements

A Reader's Guide

Introduction: Ideas of the Early Indian Past

1. Understanding Literary and Archaeological Sources

2. Hunter-Gatherers of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Ages

3. The Transition to Food Production: Neolithic, Neolithic-Chalcolithic, and Chalcolithic Villages, c . 7000
2000 BCE

4. The Harappan Civilization, c. 2600-1900 BCE

5. Cultural Transitions: Images from Texts and Archaeology, c. 2000-600 BCE

6. Cities, Kings, and Renunciants: North India, c. 600-300 BCE

7. Power and Piety: The Maurya Empire, c . 324-187 BCE

8. Interaction and Innovation, c. 200 BCE -300 CE

9. Aesthetics and Empire, c. 300-600 CE

10. Emerging Regional Configurations, c. 600-1200 CE

A Note on Diacritics

Glossary

Further Readings

References

Credits
Contents

Photographs, Maps, and Figures

About the Author

Preface

Acknowledgements

A Reader's Guide

Introduction: Ideas of the Early Indian Past

THE MAIN PHYSIOGRAPHIC ZONES OF THE SUBCONTINENT

WAYS OF DIVIDING THE INDIAN PAST

CHANGING INTERPRETATIONS OF EARLY INDIAN HISTORY

NEW HISTORIES, UNWRITTEN HISTORIES

1 Understanding Literary and Archaeological Sources

READING ANCIENT TEXTS FROM A HISTORICAL POINT OF VIEW

Ancient palm leaf manuscripts

THE CLASSIFICATION OF LITERARY SOURCES: LANGUAGE, GENRE, AND CONTENT

THE VEDAS

th e tw o S an sk rit epics: th e Ramayana a n d M ahabharata

Archaeology and the Mahabharata

The chronological layers in the Ramayana

THEPURANAS

THE DHARMASHASTRA

Theory and practice in the Dharmashastra

BUDDHIST LITERATURE

Songs of Buddhist nuns


JAINA LITERATURE

SANGAM LITERATURE AND LATER TAMIL WORKS

The stories of the two Tamil epics

EARLYKANNADA AND TELUGU LITERATURE

Other ancient texts , biographies, and histories

Banabhatta and his royal biography

THE NATURE OF ANCIENT INDIAN HISTORICAL TRADITIONS

THE ACCOUNTS OF FOREIGN WRITERS

Al-Biruni on the writing of the Hindus

ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE EARLY INDIAN PAST

SCIENTIFIC TECHNIQUES IN ARCHAEOLOGY

Radiocarbon dating

INTERPRETING ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE

ETHNO-ARCHAEOLOGY

The social and cultural aspects of technology

PROTECTING SITES

EPIGRAPHY: THE STUDY OF INSCRIPTIONS

Ancient and early medieval scripts

LANGUAGES OF ANCIENT AND EARLYMEDIEVAL INSCRIPTIONS

Deciphered and undeciphered scripts

DATING THE INSCRIPTIONS

How to convert ancient era dates into modern ones

THE CLASSIFICATION OF INSCRIPTIONS

Memorializing death in stone

INSCRIPTIONS AS A SOURCE OF HISTORY

NUMISMATICS: THE STUDY OF COINS

A BRIEF HISTORY OF INDIAN COINAGE

COINS AS A SOURCE OF HISTORY

Counter-struck coins of the Kshatrapas and Satavahanas


c o n c l u s io n s

2 Hunter-Gatherers of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Ages

THE GEOLOGICAL AGES AND HOMINID EVOLUTION

What does it mean to be human?

HOMINID REMAINS IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT

PALAEO- ENVIRONMENTS

CLASSIFYING THE INDIAN STONE AGE

THE PALAEOLITHIC AGE

LOWER PALAEOLITHIC SITES

Typical lower palaeolithic tools

Isampur: a centre of stone tool manufacture

MIDDLE PALAEOLITHIC SITES

The Levallois technique

UPPER PALAEOLITHIC SITES

Upper palaeolithic tools

palaeolithic art and cults

Ostrich eggshell beads

THE LIFE-WAYS OF PALAEOLITHIC HUNTER-GATHERERS

Food resourcesnow and then

THE MESOLITHIC AGE

Mesolithic sites

Microliths

Animal bones at mesolithic sites

Graves, subsistence, and settlement patterns

The journey to get chalcedony

THE MAGNIFICENCE OF MESOLITHIC ART

c o n c l u s io n s

3 The Transition to Food Production: Neolithic, Neolithic-Chalcolithic, and Chalcolithic Villages, c . 7000
2000 BCE
THE NEOLITHIC AGE AND THE BEGINNINGS OF FOOD PRODUCTION

WHY DOMESTICATION?

THE IDENTIFICATION OF DOMESTICATION AND FOOD PRODUCTION IN THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL


RECORD

The analysis of ancient plant remains

THE TRANSITION TO FOOD PRODUCTION IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT

THE EARLIEST VILLAGE SETTLEMENTS IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, C. 7000-3000 BCE

The north-west

The Vindhyan fringes and other areas

NEOLITHIC, NEOLITHIC-CHALCOLITHIC, AND CHALCOLITHIC COMMUNITIES, C. 3000-2000 BCE

The north and north-west

Did people actually live in the Burzahom pits?

Rajasthan

The Malwa region

The western Deccan

The middle Ganga plain and eastern India

South India

The mystery of the ash mounds

Community feasting at neolithic Budihal

THE LIFE OF EARLY FARMERS

CHANGES IN CULTIC AND BELIEF SYSTEMS

Female figurinesordinary women or goddesses?

CONCLUSIONS

4 The Harappan Civilization, c . 2600-1900 BCE

CIVILIZATION AND URBANIZATION: DEFINITIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

The 10 characteristics of cities, according to Childe

RECENT DISCOVERIES AND CHANGING PERSPECTIVES

HARAPPAN, INDUS, OR SINDHU-SARASVATI CIVILIZATION?

ORIGIN: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE EARLY HARAPPAN PHASE


The problems with diffusionist theories

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE EARLY AND MATURE HARAPPAN PHASES

THE GENERAL FEATURES OF MATURE HARAPPAN SETTLEMENTS

PROFILES OF SOME HARAPPAN CITIES, TOWNS, AND VILLAGES

THE DIVERSITY OF THE HARAPPAN SUBSISTENCE BASE

Animal bones at Shikarpur

HARAPPAN CRAFTS AND TECHNIQUES

Sculpture in stone and metal

The making of long carnelian beads

NETWORKS OF TRADE

Shortughaia Harappan trading post in Afghanistan

THE NATURE AND USES OF WRITING

RELIGIOUS AND FUNERARY PRACTICES

The fire altars

THE HARAPPAN PEOPLE

How healthy were the Harappans?

THE RULING ELITE

Defining a state

THE DECLINE OF URBAN LIFE

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LATE HARAPPAN PHASE

c o n c l u s io n s

5 Cultural Transitions: Images from Texts and Archaeology, c . 2000-600 BCE

p e r s p e c t iv e s f r o m tex ts

USING THE VEDAS AS A HISTORICAL SOURCE

The date of the Rig Veda

WHO WERE THE INDO-ARYANS?

THE CULTURE REFLECTED IN THE FAMILYBOOKS OF THE RIG VEDA SAMHITA

Tribes and wars

Hymn to arms ( Rig Veda Samhita 6.75)


Lineage, clan, tribe

Pastoralism, agriculture, and other occupations

Varna in the Rig Veda

Women, men, and the household

The family and the household

Religion: sacrifices to the gods

Hymn to Indra ( Rig Veda 2.12)

The soma plant and its juice

THE HISTORICAL MILIEU OF LATER VEDIC AGE TEXTS

Aspects of everyday life

The emergence of monarchy

The ceremony of the jewel offering

The varna hierarchy

The Purusha-sukta ( Rig Veda 10.90)

Gender and the household

Religion, ritual, and philosophy

The Nasadiya hymn ( Rig Veda 10.129)

The sacrificial arena

The atman , according to Uddalaka Aruni

Popular beliefs and practices

Atharva Veda spells

ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROFILES OF DIFFERENT REGIONS OF THE SUBCONTINENT, c . 2000-500 BCE

NEOLITHIC-CHALCOLITHIC AND CHALCOLITHIC CULTURES

The north-west and north

The Indo-Gangetic divide, the upper Ganga valley, and the doab

The Sanauli cemetery

The copper anthropomorph

Black and Red Ware

Western India
The middle Ganga valley

Eastern India

The North-east

The cultural sequence in central India

The chalcolithic farmers of the Deccan

The Daimabad bronzes

Food, nutrition, and health among the people of Inamgaon

Goddesses with and without heads

Neolithic-chalcolithic sites of South India

Pictures on stone

FROM COPPER TO IRON: early iron age cultures of the subcontinent

A clarification about the Indian megaliths

The north-west

The Indo-Gangetic divide and the upper Ganga valley: the Painted Grey Ware culture

Painted Grey Ware

The evidence from Rajasthan

The middle and lower Ganga valley

Central India

The Deccan

South India

The enigma of the megalithic anthropomorphs

THE IMPACT OF IRON TECHNOLOGY

THE PROBLEM OF CORRELATING LITERARY AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE

c o n c l u s io n s

6 Cities, Kings, and Renunciants: North India, c . 600-300 BCE

THE SOURCES: LITERARY AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL

Panini and his Ashtadhyayi

Northern Black Polished Ware

THE 16 GREAT STATES


The identification of Taxila

THE GANAS OR SANGHAS

The conflict between the Sakyas and Kosalans

Vassakara seeks the Buddhas advice on how to defeat the Vajjis

POLITICAL CONFLICTS AND THE GROWTH OF THE MAGADHAN EMPIRE

The chronology of the early dynasties of Magadha

THE PERSIAN AND MACEDONIAN INVASIONS

The storming of the Malla citadel

LAND AND AGRARIAN EXPANSION

FROM VILLAGE TO TOWN: THE EXAMPLE OF ATRANJIKHERA

THE EMERGENCE OF CITY LIFE

Perceptions of the forest

ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND LITERARY PROFILES OF EARLY HISTORICAL CITIES

THE NORTH-WEST

THE INDO-GANGETIC DIVIDE, THE UPPER GANGA VALLEY, AND THE DOAB

THE MIDDLE AND LOWER GANGA VALLEY

C e n tra l India an d th e Deccan

URBAN OCCUPATIONS, CRAFTS, GUILDS, AND MONEY

THE NEW SOCIAL ELITES: THE GAHAPATI AND SETTHI

TRADE AND TRADERS

CLASS, KINSHIP, VARNA , AND CASTE

Activities in times of adversity

Varna andjati

GENDER, FAMILY, AND HOUSEHOLD

Marriage, according to the Grihyasutras

THE RENUNCIATORY TRADITION

The Samannaphala Sutta

THE AJIVIKAS

EARLY BUDDHISM
THE LIFE OF THE BUDDHA

THE BUDDHAS TEACHINGS

The analogy of the raft

THE BUDDHIST SANGHA AND THE LAITY

THE SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE BUDDHAS TEACHINGS

The Ambattha Sutta

BUDDHISM AND WOMEN

Patacharas song

The eight conditions imposed on nuns

The seven kinds of wives 3

EARLY JAINISM

THE JAINA TIRTHANKARAS, VARDHAMANA MAHAVIRA

THE JAINA UNDERSTANDING OF REALITY

THE JAINA DISCIPLINE

The liberated man

On not killing earth bodies

THE SOCIAL COMPOSITION OF THE JAINA SANGHA AND LAITY

The true Brahmana

Malli or Mallinatha?

c o n c l u s io n s

7 Power and Piety: The Maurya Empire, c . 324-187 BCE

THE MAJOR SOURCES FOR THE MAURYA PERIOD

KAUTILYAS ARTHASHASTRA

The statistical analysis of word frequencies in the Arthashastra

MEGASTHENES Indica

The Greeks on Megasthenes

Ashokas In scrip tio n s

The different categories of Ashokan inscriptions and their location

References to famine relief in the Mahasthan and Sohgaura inscriptions


ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND NUMISMATIC EVIDENCE

the maurya dynasty

Legends of Ashoka

The stone portrait of Ashoka at Kanaganahalli

LITERARY AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROFILES OF CITIES

Pataliputra and the palace, according to Arrian and Aelian

SOME ASPECTS OF RURAL AND URBAN LIFE

THE NATURE AND STRUCTURE OF THE MAURYA EMPIRE

Kautilyas timetable for a king

The life of a king, according to Megasthenes (via Strabo)

Rock edict 6 (Girnar version)

The Maurya state and forest people

ASHOKA AND BUDDHISM

Minor rock edict 1 (Rupnath version)

ASHOKAS DHAMMA

The 5th pillar edict (Delhi-Topra pillar)

The 13th rock edict (Shahbazgarhi version)

Ashokas assessment of his success: the Shar-i-Kuna Greek-Aramaic inscription

SCULPTURE AND ARCHITECTURE

Ancient and modern quarries at Chunar

The medieval and modern histories of Ashokan pillars

The discovery of an Ashokan stupa at Deorkothar

The Parkham yaksha , then and now

THE DECLINE OF THE MAURYA EMPIRE

CONCLUSIONS

8 Interaction and Innovation, c . 200 BCE -300 CE

THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF NORTH INDIA

THE SHUNGAS

The Besnagar pillar inscription of Heliodorus


THE INDO-GREEKS

Coins of the Indo-Greeks

THE SHAKA-PAHLAVAS OR SCYTHO-PARTHIANS

THE KUSHANAS

The Rabatak inscription

THE SHAKA KSHATRAPAS OF WESTERN INDIA

A lake, a storm, and a king

THE SATAAHANA EMPIRE IN THE DECCAN

The royal portrait gallery in the Naneghat cave

KINGS AND CHIEFTAINS IN THE FAR SOUTH: THE CHERAS, CHOLAS, AND PANDYAS

The royal drum

VILLAGES AND CITIES

Plant remains from Sanghol

Cities of the north-west

THE INDO-GANGETIC DIVIDE AND THE UPPER GANGA VALLEY

THE MIDDLE AND LOWER GANGA VALLEYAND EASTERN INDIA

Chandraketugarh

C e n tra l and w e ste rn India

Cities and to w n s o f th e Deccan

Cities o f th e f a r s o u th

Madurai in the Maduraikkanchi

c r a ft s a n d g u il d s

Guilds as bankers

TRADE AND TRADERS

Ancient travellers

lo n g -d ista n c e tr a d e

Kaveripattinam in the Pattinapalai

TRADE WITH EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA

INDO-ROMAN TRADE
Periplus Maris Erythraei (The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea)

Recent excavations at Arikamedu

THE WIDER ROLES OF TRADE AND TRADERS

ASPECTS OF SOCIAL CHANGE IN NORTH INDIA AND THE DECCAN: VARNA , CASTE, GENDER

The Jatakas as a source of social history

SOCIETY IN EARLY HISTORICAL SOUTH INDIA

An ancient Tamil love poem

A heroic death

PHILOSOPHICAL DEVELOPMENTS: ASTIKA AND NASTIKA SCHOOLS

The Bhagavad Gita

LOOKING AT THE HISTORY OF RELIGIONS BEYOND THE FRAMEWORK OF ISMS

THE WORSHIP OF YAKSHAS AND YAKSHIS, NAGAS AND NAGIS

GODDESSES, VOTIVE TANKS, AND SHRINES

VEDIC RITUALS

PURANIC HINDUISM

Shivaism

The formation of the Vaishnava pantheon

Krishna and Balarama on Agathocles coins

Shakti worship

THE EMERGENCE OF MAHAYANA BUDDHISM

Monastic and lay practices in texts versus inscriptions

THE DIGAMBARA-SHVETAMBARA SCHISM IN JAINISM

RELIGIOUS ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE

EARLYHINDU TEMPLES AND SCULPTURE

BUDDHIST ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE

Stupa-monasteries of the north-west

Central Indian stupasSanchi and Bharhut

Stupas of Andhra Pradesh

Early relief sculpture at Buddhist stupa sites


Buddhist caves in the Western Ghats

THE JAINA CAVES AT UDAYAGIRI AND KHANDAGIRI

THE GANDHARA SCHOOL OF SCULPTURE

EARLY STONE SCULPTURES FROM VIDISHA AND MATHURA

TERRACOTTAART

THE PATRONAGE OF RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS

Gifts of water pots from ancient Gandhara

Pious donations at Bandhogarh

c o n c l u s io n s

9 Aesthetics and Empire, c . 300-600 CE

p o l it ic a l h is t o r

the Gupta dynasty

Ramaguptadid he exist?

The inscription of Chandra and the legend of the unsteady pillar

THE VAKATAKAS OF THE DECCAN

A queens grant

OTHER DYNASTIES OF PENINSULAR INDIA

THE ADMINISTRATIVE STRUCTURE OF THE GUPTA AND VAKATAKA KINGDOMS

An ancient panchayat?

REVENUE RESOURCES OF STATES

LAND OWNERSHIP

TYPES OF LAND, LAND MEASURES, AND LAND TENURE

ROYAL LAND GRANTS

The terms of the Vakataka grants

PATTERNS OF URBAN HISTORY

The lifestyle of the nagaraka

c r a f t p r o d u c t io n , g u il d s , a n d t r a d e

ASPECTS o f SOCIAL STRUCTURE: GENDER, FORMS OF LABOUR, SLAVERY, AND


UNTOUCHABILITY
Faxians account

The ganika and kulastri in Sanskrit kavya

PATTERNS OF RELIGIOUS DEVELOPMENTS

THE EMERGENCE OF TANTRA

The evolution of the Vaishnava pantheon

Shivaism

the cult of the great goddess

The worship of other deities

Buddhism

Kumaraj iva (3 43-413 CE)

JAINISM

A CLASSICAL AGE OF ART?

RELIGIOUS ARCHITECTURE

SCULPTURE

SANSKRIT LITERATURE

The cloud messenger

The Natyashastra

ASTRONOMY AND MATHEMATICS

Ancient mathematical and medical manuscripts

MEDICAL KNOWLEDGE

The ideal hospital, according to Charaka

CONCLUSIONS

10 Emerging Regional Configurations, c . 600-1200 CE

SOURCES, LITERARY AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL

New evidence regarding Wang Xuances missions to India

POLITICAL NARRATIVE AND POLITICAL STRUCTURE

The image of the ideal king in inscriptions of Orissa

Rudramadevi, the female king

THE DECCAN
The Aihole inscription of Pulakeshin

THE FAR SOUTH

Religious and political symbolism in the Tanjavur temple

NORTH INDIA: THE PUSHYABHUTIS, HARSHVARDHANA

The life and travels of Xuanzang

EASTERN INDIA

Some origin myths of the dynasties of Orissa

THE RAJPUT CLANS

The Tomaras and Delhi in legends and inscriptions

KASHMIR AND THE NORTH-WEST

Didda

ROYAL LAND GRANTS

B rahm ana B eneficiaries

The n a tu re o f Brahmadeya s e ttle m e n ts

Kara-shasanas and kraya-shasanas

THE IMPACT OF BRAHMANASETTLEMENTS ON AGRARIAN RELATIONS

LAND GRANTS AS PART OF LARGER SOCIAL AND CULTURAL PROCESSES

RURAL SOCIETY: REGIONAL SPECIFICITIES

Popular agricultural sayings of early medieval Bengal

URBAN PROCESSES IN EARLY MEDIEVAL INDIA

HISTORICAL PROCESSES IN EARLY MEDIEVAL SOUTH INDIA

THE NATURE OF SOUTH INDIAN STATES

The segmentary state, according to Southall and Stein

ADMINISTRATIVE STRUCTURES

RURAL SOCIETY

The history of a Karnataka village

AGRICULTURE AND IRRIGATION

Irrigation devices in early medieval Tamil Nadu

Betel leaves and areca nuts


URBAN PROCESSES

Weavers and weaving in early medieval Tamil Nadu

TRADE AND TRADERS

Aihole and the Ayyavole

THE RELIGIOUS SPHERE

BUDDHISM IN EARLYMEDIEVAL INDIA

A letter from Xuanzang to Prajnadeva

MAJOR CENTRES OF JAINISM

Shankara and Advaita Vedanta

THE HINDU CULTS

Vishnuism and Shivaism

The Shakti cult

The Goddess as killer of the demon Mahisha

SOUTH INDIAN BHAKTI: THE ALVARS AND NAYANMARS

Songs of the Nayanmar saint Appar

Andals songs

Karaikkal Ammaiyarher life and songs

THE PHILOSOPHICAL UNDERPINNINGS OF SOUTH INDIAN BHAKTI AND LATER DEVELOPMENTS

The vachanas of Basavanna

PATRONAGE TO TEMPLES

Temple women in Chola inscriptions

THE ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE OF EARLY MEDIEVAL INDIA

THE NAGARA, DRAVIDA, AND VESARA STYLES OF TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE

WESTERN INDIAAND THE DECCAN

The discovery of an early medieval quarry site near Pattadakal

THE PALLAVAKINGDOM

the Chola temples

Chola metal sculpture

Archaeometric analysis of Nataraja images


CONCLUSIONS

A Note on Diacritics

Glossary

Further Readings

References

Credits
What the reviewers say about this book .

P rofessor Singh seem s to have given us a singularly learned, w ell-w ritten, and d etailed introduction
to the study o f ancient India... It is p o ssib le to have disagreem ent w ith P ro fesso r Singh on various
issues, but that, in fact, lends charm to w hat she w rites because w hat w ould a book like this be w orth
unless it can generate debates in the class-room ?
Dilip K. Chakrabarti, University of Cambridge

[The b o o k s] unusual form at consists o f not only a narrative text, but boxed inform ation from original
sources and research w orks, and on key concepts, w hich the students w ill find instructive.... The
w ebsite for further references and reading m akes a supplem ent to the narrative. The list o f further
readings is im pressive.... Due attention is p aid to regional histories, esp ecially South India and
sources in regional languages....
R. Champakalakshmi, The Hindu , 13 October 2008

... a w ell illustrated, m arvellously produced textbook covering the v a st history from the Stone A ge to
the 12th century.... Singularly im pressive for its m ake-up and appearance, this textbook is the first o f
its kind in the country....

E ach chapter o f the book contains a critical reap p raisal o f sources and the developm ent o f historical
know ledge ... helping students understand the rigorous m ethodology that underlies the process....
[U ]nsettled issues have b een d ealt w ith through the debates w ithout losing their com plexity and thus
creating aw areness o f various sch o lars valuable contributions tow ards the construction o f historical
know ledge....

Singhs book ... educates its read ers as to how history can stake claim s on various areas o f
know ledge in the dom ain o f interdisciplinary studies like gender studies, environm ental history,
human geography, landscape archaeology and human ecology.
Rajan Gurukkal, The Book Review , October 2008

P rofessor Singh has succeeded in her venture o f producing a balanced and stim ulating textbook on
the early Indian past. She has fo llo w ed recen t trends in historiography, incorporating into her book
new theoretical perspectives, scientific technologies, and the enorm ously grow ing archaeological
data. O ften neglected South Indian history is also adequately represented.
N. Karashima, University of Tokyo
With its in-depth assessm ent o f the literary and archaeological sources and theoretical discourses,
[this book] pro v id es a unique and long overdue introduction to the study o f Indian history to the 12th
century, w hich gives full coverage also to peninsular India.
Hermann Kulke, University of Kiel

This is the first w o rk on ancient India w here the text has b een constructed at different levels. Ten
chapters pan across the w hole canvas, from prehistory and protohistory to ancient and early
m edieval history. The panoram a is interspersed w ith inset capsules w here som e them es are picked
out to illustrate larger elem ents in the chapters....

Singhs deep affection for all kinds o f ancient Indians has ensured that ... she does not lose sight o f
ordinary people, or for that matter, their eating habits, or even their pets.

E arly India is not m erely hum anised through such capsules and sources, it is also illum inated by the
roughly 450 illustrations that accom pany the text.
Nayanjot Lahiri, India Today , 11 August 2008

[T]his up-to-date, lavishly illustrated, and thoughtfully-designed volum e is clearly the new standard
against w hich future texts w ill be m easured.... Singhs o v erv iew o f early Indian history deftly
integrate[s] archaeological data in a w ay few, i f any, other rev iew s have achieved or ventured....

[Singh] stresses the com plexity and d iversity o f experience ... w hile also crafting a com posite image,
a m osaic, o f a unified Indian past. T hat she is able to do ju stice to regional specificity, occupational
diversity, and cultural com plexity is a testam ent to [her] pow erful historical vision....

The m ost enduring value o f U pinder Singhs new synthesis is the w ay in w hich it aim s to create not
sim ply consum ers but producers o f historical thought.
Kathleen D. Morrison, Seminar , 593, January 2009

Singh ... w rites w ith a refreshing openness, and her constant aim is to com m unicate clearly, w ithout
sim plifying the com plex subject m atter before her. [T]his is the m ajor contribution o f the book....

In an era w hen m ost historians are torn b etw een different and contending theories, Singh rem ains
rooted to facts and analysis w ithout ever com m itting the erro r o f claim ing that she has said the last
w ord on the subject.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee, The Telegraph , 14 November 2008

... a fascinating and up-to-date account o f South A s ia s past, from the dim beginnings o f the hunter-
forager w ay o f life to the early m edieval period. It is b ased on an objective assessm ent o f both
literary and archaeological sources ... the book w ill be useful to students o f history and archaeology
at all levels and to all educated laym en w ho d esire to know about South A s ia s past.
K. Paddaya, Deccan College, Pune
The language is refreshingly gender-sensitive and direct. The visuals are chosen w ith care and
several o f them are spectacular. A ccess to prim ary sources (both visual and textual) enriches the
book enormously. It is m ore than apparent that the author has carefully d elib erated over each
sentence in o rd er to create a text that is com prehensive.
Kumkum Roy, IIC Quarterly , Autumn 2008
The Author

U pinder Singh is P ro fesso r in the D epartm ent o f H istory at the U niversity o f D elhi. She studied
history at St. Stephens C ollege, D elhi, and w ent on to receiv e her M .A. and M .Phil. from the
U niversity o f D elhi, specializing in ancient Indian history. She obtained her Ph.D. from M cG ill
University, M ontreal.

She taught history at St. Stephens C ollege, D elhi, from 1981 until 2004, after w hich she jo in e d the
faculty o f the D epartm ent o f H istory at the U niversity o f Delhi. P rofessor Singhs w id e range o f
research interests and expertise include the analysis o f ancient and early m edieval inscriptions,
social and econom ic history, religious institutions and patronage, the history o f archaeology, and the
m odern history o f ancient monuments. H er research papers have b een published in various national
and international journals. She is the author o f several books K ings, B rahm anas, a n d Temples in
Orissa: A n E p ig ra p h ic S tu d y (AD 300-1147) (1994); A n cien t D elh i (1999; 2nd edn., 2006); a book
for children, M ysteries o f the P ast: A rch a eo lo g ica l S ites in In d ia (2002); The D isco very o f A ncient
India: E a rly A rchaeo logists a n d the B eg in n in g s o f A rchaeology (2004); and D elhi: A n cien t
H istory (edited, 2006).

P rofessor Singh lives and teaches in Delhi. She is m arried and has tw o sons.
Photographs, Maps, and Figures

Ph otographs

The ruins at Bhita


R. C. Majumdar
D. D. Kosambi
A 12th century manuscript of the Prajnaparamita
Purana Qila excavations in progress, 1954
The mound of Hastinapura
Marine archaeologist at work
Ancient ship anchor, Bangaran Island
Harappan carnelian beads
Nagarjunakonda salvage operations in progress
J. F. Fleet
D. C. Sircar
A Pala period image with a donative inscription
A copper plate inscription
Hero stone from Khanapur, Karnataka
Ratti seeds
Silver punch-marked coin of Magadha
Uninscribed cast copper coin of Kaushambi
Silver coin of Indo-Greek king Demetrius
Gold coin of Kushana king Vima Kadphises
Gold coin of Gupta king Kumaragupta I
Silver Gurjara-Pratihara coin
Copper Pallava coin
Cowrie shells
Re-struck silver coin of Nahapana
Arun Sonakia
The Bhimbetka rock shelters
Quartzite handaxe from the Narmada valley
H. D. Sankalia
Lower palaeolithic tools from Attirampakkam
Borer from Nellor district
Middle palaeolithic scraper, Attirampakkam
Upper palaeolithic chert blades, Narmada valley
Burin from Mukat Manipur
Microliths from various sites
A pot from Nal, Baluchistan
Neolithic stone tools, Burzahom
Bone tools, Burzahom
Bone arrowhead, Burzahom
Perforated harvester, Burzahom
Burnished globular jar with long neck, Burzahom
Decorated stone harvester, Gufkral
Celts from Nayapur and Kuchai
Shouldered celt, Kuchai
Female figurine, Mehrgarh
View of Mohenjodaro (Sindh, Pakistan)
John Marshall
Rakhaldas Banerji
Daya Ram Sahni
Painted designs on early Harappan pottery, Nal and Kulli
Early Harappan pottery, Zangian and Shahi Tump
Well flanked by house walls, Mohenjodaro
Main street, Mohenjodaro
Narrow lane between house walls, Mohenjodaro
Great Bath, Mohenjodaro
Main street and house walls, Kalibangan
Eastern gate, Banawali
Cross-section of defence wall, Banawali
Apsidal structure, Banawali
Well and drains, Lothal
Lothal dockyard
Tank and northern gate, Dholavira
Eastern gate, Dholavira citadel
Well and massive drain, Dholavira citadel
Miniature perforated pot, Dholavira
Beaker, Dhalovira
Pot with pointed base, Dholavira
Ring stand, Dholavira
Pottery designs
Terracotta human and animal figurines
Terracotta mask
Terracotta circular and triangular cakes
Chert blades
Stone gamesmen
Copper arrowhead and celt
Stone sealing and seal
The dancing girl
Shell ladle, Lothal
Jewellery and beads
Stone weights, Dholavira
Terracotta cart, Harappa
Harappan seals
Female figurine with fan-shaped headdress
Female figurine, Banawali
The Pashupati seal
Harappan seals with depictions of tiger and elephant
Terracotta figurine
Terracotta games and dice
Terracotta perforated bird-shaped rattle
Terracotta bull with moveable head
Terracotta cart
A unicorn seal
Megalithic burial, Hire-Benkal
Pottery from late Harappan levels, Bhorgarh
Copper harpoons from Shishupalgarh and Hastinapura
Marine archaeologists, Dwarka
Diver measuring submerged structure, Dwarka
Circular stone structure in the inter-tidal zone, Dwarka
Bone knife, Daimabad
Pottery from different phases, Daimabad
Daimabad bronzes
Inamgaon artefacts
Pottery from different periods, Prakash
Period III (late Jorwe) pottery, Inamgaon
Period III (late Jorwe) terracotta figurine, Inamgaon
Neolithic celt, Brahmagiri
Pottery from different periods, Maski
Topikal, Cochin
Sarcophagus in dolmenoid cist, Sanur
PGW sherds from Hastinapura and Ahichchhatra
PGW sherds from various sites
Chamber tomb with port hole, Brahmagiri
Close-up of chamber, Brahmagiri
Megalithic cist, Brahmagiri
Silver punch-marked coins
NBPW from various sites
Silver punch-marked coins of Kashi, Kosala, and Magadha
Gandhara punch-marked coin
Alexander Cunningham
Panel showing Ajatashatrus visit to the Buddha
Excavated section, Hastinapura
Pottery of different periods, Hastinapura
Excavated eastern fortifications, Kaushambi
Excavated monasteries and mound, Shravasti
Excavations in progress, Piprahwa
Relic casket, Piprahwa
Pottery of different periods, Ahichchhatra
Excavated brick structures, Ujjain
The lion capital of Ashokas Sarnath pillar
Inscription on Delhi-Topra pillar
Rocks bearing the Bahapur/Srinivasapuri edict
The Delhi-Meerut pillar
Stone portrait of Ashoka at Kanaganahalli
Ring wells and storage jar, Purana Qila
The Bhita mound
Panoramic view of Kaushambi
The Rummindei pillar incription
The Vaishali pillar
Sarnath capital
The Delhi-Topra pillar
Elephant capital, Sankissa
Bull capital, Rampurva
Dhauli elephant
Faade of Lomash Rishi cave
Stupa no.1, Sanchi
Stone sculpture, Lohaniganj
The Parkham yaksha
Carved ring stones
Red sandstone yakshi, Sanghol
Kanishka image from Mat, Mathura
Copper coins of Yaudheyas, Ayodhya, and Kunindas
The Besnagar pillar inscription of Heliodorus
Coins of the Indo-Greeks
Silver coin of Appollodotus I
Gold coin of Huvishka
Copper coin of Soter Megas
Gold coin of Kanishka III
Copper coin of the Yaudheyas
Local coin of Ujjain
Coin of Nahapana
Silver coin of Rudrasimha I
Copper coin of Vasishthiputra Pulumavi
Copper coin, Satavahana dynasty
Copper coins of Satakarni I
Punch-marked coins from Andhra and Pandya country
Uninscribed copper coins of Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas
Walls of different periods, Purana Qila
Terracotta plaque, Purana Qila
Stamped and incised pot-sherds, Purana Qila Anthropomorphic pot, Purana Qila
Red spouted vessel and sprinkler, Sarnath
Panchachuda
Chandraketugarh terracottas
Yaksha Rishyashringa
Sandstone Nagaraja from Chhargaon, Mathura
Terracotta figurine, Mathura
Terracotta tank
Winged creatures worshipping linga, Mathura Nagarjunakonda reliefs
Debala Mitra
Yakshi on pillar, Bharhut
Bharhut railing medallion
Sanchi Stupa no.1, gateway and railing details
Buddha image, Nagarjunakonda
Remains of stupa with ayaka pillars, Nagarjunakonda
Stadium, Nagarjunakonda
Stupa with spoked-wheel plan, Nagarjunakonda
Scythian figure, Nagarjunakonda
Mayas dream, Amaravati
The Buddhas birth, Nagarjunakonda
The Buddhas birth, Gandhara School
Great Departure, Nagarjunakonda
First sermon, Nagarjunakonda
Ornamented stupa , Nagarjunakonda
Chaitya halls: Karle, Bedsa, Kanheri
Chaitya hall entrance, Bhaja
View of Bhaj a caves
Nashik Cave 18
Udayagiri-Khandagiri, Cave 1, Ranigumpha
Verandah of Cave 10, Udayagiri-Khandagiri
Gandhara head
Buddha, Gandhara style
Standing figure, Gandhara style
Fasting Siddhartha, Gandhara school
Buddha image from Govind Nagar, Mathura
Nagaraja, Mathura
Seated Tirthankara , Kankali Tila, Mathura
Surya, Kankali tila, Mathura
Karttikeya, Kankali Tila, Mathura
Terracotta female figurine, Mathura
Terracottas plaques, Chandraketugarh
A tiger striding out of a Bandhogarh cave
Flautists, Mahajanaka Jataka , Ajanta, Cave 1
Copper plates found in a pot
Copper plate seals
King and queen type coin of Chandragupta I
Tiger slayer type coin, Samudragupta
Brahmi script, Allahabad prashasti
Ashvamedha type coin, Samudragupta
Lyrist type coin, Samudragupta
Lion slayer type coin, Chandragupta II
Archer type coin, Kumaragupta I
A set of copper plates, with ring and seal
Sarnath: KushanaGupta red ware pot, bowl, and lids
Hari-Hara in the Badami Caves
Krishna Govardhana, Varanasi
Vishnu resting on Sheshanaga, Deogarh
Gaja-Lakshmi
Ekamukhalinga, Khoh (MP)
Mahadeva in the Elephanta Cave
Buddha, Kanheri
Buddha and bodhisattva figures, Cave 2, Kanheri
Colossal Buddha, verandah of Cave 3, Kanheri
Bodhisattva, Nalanda
View of structures, Nalanda
Corner of stupa, Nalanda
Tirthankara, Kankali Tila, Mathura
Dashavatara temple, Deogarh
Bhumara temple
Nachna-Kuthara temple
Lakshmana temple, Sirpur
Bhitargaon brick temple
Detail of doorway, Nachna-Kuthara
The Ajanta caves
Cave 19 faade, Ajanta
Cave 19 interior, Ajanta
Buddha figures, Ajanta
Ajanta paintings
Buddha head, Mathura
View of Udayagiri caves
Udayagiri relief
Buddha in the dharmachakra pravartana mudra, Sarnath
Standing Buddha, Sarnath
Buddha figures on stone slab, Sarnath
Dancer and musicians, Aurangabad cave
Stucco head from Taxila
Terracotta images of Ganga and Yamuna, Ahichchhatra
Bronze image of Manikkavachakar
Detail of Papanatha temple, Pattadakal
Brahmi script, Aihole inscription
Hero stone, Karnataka
Copper coin, Pallava dynasty
Gold coin of Chola king Kulottunga I
Gold coin of Rajendra Chola
Gold coin of Rajaraja Chola
Silver coin of Gurjara-Pratihara king Bhoja I
Silver Gurjara-Pratihara coin
Debased gold coin of Chandella king, Madanavarma
The Anangpur dam
Suraj Kund reservoir
Billon coin of Chahamana king, Prithviraja II
Coin of Shahi king Spalapatideva
The stupa at Borobudur, Java
The 12th century Vishnu temple, Angkor Vat
View of temple and relief scenes, Cambodia
Spiti valley key monastery, Spiti valley
Tabo monastery, Spiti valley
Clay statues in assembly hall
Painting of shrine, Alchi, Ladakh
Tara, Alchi
Gommateshvara at Shravana Belagola
Details of the Dilwara temple, Mount Abu
Shiva with Nandi bull, Aihole
Varaha lifting Prithvi, Aihole
Durga temple, Aihole
Varaha sculpture from Lalitapur
Yogini sculpture, Chaunsat Yogini temple, Bheraghat
Yogini temple, Dudhai, Lalitpur
Chaunsat Yogini temple, Khajuraho
Sapta-Matrika sculpture
Mahishasuramardini from various sites
Bronze image of Manikkavachakar
Lingaraja temple, Bhubaneshwar
Jagannatha temple, Puri
Nagara style shikhara, Lingaraja temple, Bhubaneshwar
Dravida style shikhara, Brihadishvara temple, Tanjavur
Khajuraho temple
Trefoiled arches of the Martanda temple, Kashmir
Kailashanatha temple, Ellora
Ravana lifting mount Kailasha, Ellora
Ornamental pillar, Ellora
Jaina tirthankara, Ellora
Goddess Ganga, Ellora
Cave interior and shrine, Ellora
Manushi Buddhas, Teen Thal cave, Ellora
Cave exterior, ceiling bracket mithuna figures, Badami
Cave interior and dancing Shiva, Badami
Virupaksha temple, Pattadakal
Entrance, Papanatha temple, Pattadakal
Gaja-Lakshmi, Papanatha temple
Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana, Papanatha temple
View, Papanatha temple
Pattadakal quarry site
Eastern entrance, Hoysaleshvara temple, Halebid
Ornamental pillar, Hoysaleshvara temple
Nandi, Hoysaleshvara temple
Ganesha, Hoysaleshvara temple
Huntress, Keshava temple, Belur
Shiva and Parvati, Keshava temple
Ravana lifting Kailasha, Keshava temple
Hanumana, Keshava temple
Vishnu resting on Sheshanaga, Mamallapuram cave
Mamallapuram temple details
Mamallapuram rathas
Shore temple, Mamallapuram
Brihadishvara temple, Tanjavur
Relief panels, Brihadishvara temple, Tanjavur
Chola Nataraj a bronze

MAPS

1 The physical geography of the Indian subcontinent


2. 1 Early hominid remains
2.2 Hominid discoveries in the subcontinent
2.3 Major palaeolithic sites
2.4 Some early mesolithic sites
3.1 Centres of agriculture
3.2 Early village settlements in the north-west
3.3 Early centres of agriculture in the subcontinent
3.4 Three major chalcolithic sites of Rajasthan
3.5 Ahar culture sites, Rajasthan
3.6 Village settlements in the middle Ganga plain
3.7 Some important neolithic sites in South India
4.1 Distribution of major Harappan sites
4.2 Some early Harappan sites
4.3 Harappan routes of internal trade
4.4 Long-distance trade routes
5. 1 Maj or neolithic-chalcolithic sites in the Indian subcontinent
5.2 Ochre Coloured Pottery sites
5.3 Copper hoard sites
5.4 Major chalcolithic sites in Malwa and the Deccan
5.5 Some neolithic-chalcolithic settlements in South India
5.6 Early finds of iron in the subcontinent
5.7 Some Painted Grey Ware sites
6.1 The 16 mahajanapadas
6.2 Some early historical cities of north and central India
6.3 Major trade routes of early historical India
7. 1 Find- spots of Ashokan inscriptions
8.1 Dynasties of India and central Asia, c. 200 BCE 300 CE
8.2 Tamil-Brahmi and early Vatteluttu inscriptions
8.3 Cities of early historical South India
8.4 Major routes connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa
8.5 India and Southeast Asia
8.6 Distribution of Roman coins in India
8.7 The Erythraean sea, according to the Periplus
8.8 Early historical monasteries in Andhra Pradesh
8.9 Buddhist caves in the Western Ghats
9.1 The kingdoms of the Guptas, Vakatakas, and some contemporary dynasties
9.2 Important ports in Indian Ocean trade networks, c. 300-600 CE
9.3 Faxians route
10.1 Major dynasties of peninsular India, c. 700-1300
10.2 Some dynasties of India, c. 550-700 CE
10.3 Xuanzangs route
10.4 Major dynasties of northern, central, and eastern India, c. 700-1100 CE
10.5 Urban centres in Tamil Nadu, c. 1000 CE
10.6 Ports and cities in Indian Ocean trade networks, c. 600-1500

FIGURES

1. 1 The period of composition of some important ancient Indian texts


1.2 Languages spoken in India today
1.3 Pots from Gundiyali and Lodai
1.4 Kharoshthi and Brahmi scripts
2.1 Skull structure of gorilla, homo erectus , homo sapiens sapiens
2.2 The percussion technique of making flakes
2.3 Lower palaeolithic tools
2.4 Isampur tools
2.5 Preparation of a Levallois flake
2.6 Middle palaeolithic tools
2.7 Upper palaeolithic tools
2.8 Decorated ostrich eggshell objects
2.9 Microliths
3. 1 The evolution of maize from the wild grass teosinte
3.2 A flotation apparatus
3.3 Burial with grave goods, Mehrgarh, Period I
3.4 Nal pottery
3.5 Kulli pottery from Nindowari
3.6 Burzahom pottery
3.7 Hunting scene engraved on stone, Burzahom
4.1 Amri pottery
4.2 Kot Dijian pottery from various sites
4.3 Painted motifs on pre-Harappan pottery, Kalibangan
4.4 Horned deity on terracotta cake and pot, Kalibangan, Period I
4.5 Citadel and lower town, Mohenjodaro
4.6 Citadel and adjacent area, Harappa
4.7 Plan of Dholavira
4.8 Harappan pottery
5.1 Diagram of sacrificial arena
5.2 Designs on Cemetery-H pots
5.3 Gandhara grave culture burial, Loebanr
5.4 Ochre Coloured Pottery pottery from Ambakheri
5.5 Copper hoard objects
5.6 Inamgaon figurines
5.7 Different types of megalithic monuments
5.8 Black and Red Ware from megalithic sites in the Deccan and South India
5.9 Painted Grey Ware pottery
6.1 Northern Black Polished Ware
7. 1 Some symbols on Magadhan punch-marked coins
7.2 Schematic plan of a fortified city based on the Arthashastra
8.1 Sirkap: plan of the great stupa-temple and neighbouring block; stone masonry of different periods
8.2 Reconstruction of the Vidisha temple; Naga temple and its southern gate, Sonkh
8.3 Plan of the Ashtabhuj asvamin temple, Nagarjunakonda
8.4 Plan of monastic complex, Takht-i-bahi
8.5 Plan of Sanchi Stupa no. 1
8.6 Plan of a stupa^-monastery complex, Nagarjunakonda; Thotlakonda monastery
8.7 Evolution of Buddhist chaitya architecture
9.1 Buddhist complex, Pallavaneswaram, Kaveripattinam
10.1 Plan of Keshava temple, Belur
10.2 Plans of Shiva temple at Narttamalai; Brahmapureshvara temple at Pullamangai; Nageshvarasvami temple,
Kumbakonam
10.3 Plan of Brihadishvara temple, Tanj avur
Preface

From 1981, I spent over tw enty years teaching the undergraduate course on ancient and early
m edieval India at St. Stephens C ollege, D elhi. It w as a daunting course, dem anding coverage o f
many different areas and issues over enorm ous spans o f time. I w as fortunate to have students w ith
sharp and inquisitive m inds, w hose questions constantly forced me to re-think my persp ectiv es and
conclusions, and w ho m ade me realize that teaching is ultim ately about the quality o f com m unication
betw een student and teacher. U ndergraduate teaching, w ith its enorm ous pressures o f teaching and
m arking w ork, left v ery little tim e for research. N evertheless, I d id manage to keep my research
going, and explored issues related to social and econom ic history, religious institutions, inscriptions,
archaeology, and the m odern histories o f ancient sites and monuments.
A H isto ry o f A n cien t a n d E a rly M e d ie v a l India: F rom the S tone A ge to the 12th C entury
em erged from the intersection o f my experiences as a teacher and researcher. P rim arily a textbook
and reference w o rk for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, this book w ill, I hope, also
appeal to the general reader. Its aim is to pro v id e an introduction to ancient and early m edieval India
through a com prehensive o v erv iew o f historical issues and details w ithin a firm chronological
fram ew ork; explanations o f b asic concepts and term inology; an exposure to the flavour o f textual,
m aterial, and visual historical sources; and a highlighting o f new d isco v eries and research. Perhaps
m ost importantly, this book focuses on the pro cess through w hich historical know ledge is formed,
and the intellectual inquiry and debate that form p art o f this process.
This book is not a m ere sum mary o f existing know ledge. R ather than offer students a sm oothened
narrative, w hich they w ill then be expected to absorb passively, it is n ecessary to expose them to the
com plex details and textures o f history. W here there are unresolved issues, they have been presented
as such, rather than conveying a false sense o f certainty. W here there are debates, the different
perspectives have b een presented, along w ith my ow n assessm ent o f w hich arguments are convincing
and w hich ones are not.
H istorians and teachers invest far too much tim e and energy in telling students w h at to think, rather
than how to think for them selves. Students need to learn to evaluate evidence and hypotheses, to
relentlessly question and critique w h at they read or are told, and form ulate and express their
independent view s. It is essential to acknow ledge the v aluable contributions m ade by various
scholars tow ards the construction o f historical know ledge and to understand the rigorous
m ethodology that underlies this process. H o w ev er I hope that this book encourages read ers to think
courageously and creativ ely beyond the current boundaries o f academ ic discourse and debate.
Since this is a m acro-history o f the Indian subcontinent, and in a single volum e at that, it outlines
broad trajecto ries, alw ays aw are o f the fact that these are only a few o f m ultiple trajectories. Thus,
for instance, w hile the account o f the beginnings o f food production m ay suggest that this w as the
inexorable d irectio n in w hich things w ere moving, em phasis is still p laced on the fact that hunting
and gathering rem ained a p referred subsistence activity for many com m unities across the centuries.
Sim ilarly, the d iscussion o f the early historical p erio d m ay seem to suggest that everything w as
making w ay for the em ergence o f city life, but it m ust not be forgotten that m ost p eople o f the
subcontinent continued to live in villages.
The privileging o f certain p rocesses over others is p artly the resu lt o f the training and tendency o f
a historian to focus on w hat appear to be significant changes, and also due to the inherent nature and
inadequacies o f sources and av ailab le data. The fact is that w hether w e look at the archaeological or
literary sources, w e know much m ore about agricultural groups than hunter-gatherers, and m uch more
about city-dw ellers than village folk. N evertheless, it is im portant to constantly rem ind ourselves
about the partial and inadequate nature o f our historical narratives.
P rehistory to c. 1200 CE is an enorm ous span o f time, and it is not p o ssib le to be exhaustive on
each and every issue. The structure o f this book involves breaking this v a st p erio d into broad
chronological units. F o r e a rlie r periods, all rad io carb o n dates m entioned in this book are calib rated
dates. F o llo w in g current usage, BCE (B efore Com m on E ra) is used instead o f BC, and CE (C om m on
Era) instead o f AD. A gainst the background o f the controversy over the dates o f the B uddhas life, c.
480 BCE has b een taken as the date o f the parinibbana.
W ithin the b ro ad chronological units, profiles have b een constructed o f the various geographical
regions, incorporating the range o f av ailab le literary and archaeological evidence, bringing out the
com plex strands o f historical p ro cesses w ithin and across different regions. The coverage o f regions
is n ecessarily dependent on av ailab le inform ation, and the gaps and inadequacies in this inform ation
should inspire young scholars to take on the challenge o f addressing them.
E ach chapter looks at various aspects o f a p articular p erio d on the b asis o f a critical survey o f the
available sources. The narrative is punctuated by boxes focusing on key concepts, prim ary sources,
further d iscussion o f specific issues or details, recent discoveries, and new directions in research.
From the beginning o f the historical period, the chapters start w ith a synopsis o f p o litical history and
a discussion o f p o litical processes. This is not because these are n ecessarily the m ost im portant
aspects o f history, but because it is useful for students to have a b asic understanding o f p olitical
context and chronology. P o litical narrative has been accom panied, to every p o ssib le extent, w ith a
discussion o f p olitical structures and processes.
P o litical, social, econom ic, religious, and cultural history are d iscussed sequentially in order to
bring out their inter-connectedness w ithin a chronological and contextual frame. The d iscu ssio n o f
social history looks at issues such as class, caste, gender, and subordinate and m arginalized groups.
P hilosophical ideas are treated as an im portant p a rt o f the intellectual life o f different periods.
R eligious doctrines and practices are discussed as im portant areas requiring d etailed investigation,
and not m erely as p art o f an ideology reflecting existing p o w er structures. I hope that the many
excerpts from original sources and photographs create sensitivity tow ards the aesthetic dim ensions
o f Indian cultural traditions reflected in literature, art, and architecture.
A s far as possible, references have b een cited to enable the interested read er to go to the original
source. T ranslations have often b een slightly m odified to make them m ore accessible. Punctuation
has b een altered to suit the style o f the book, esp ecially since diacritical marks have b een dispensed
with. Since historical literature generally uses such d iacritics and students should understand them,
the conventionally used systems o f transliteration for Sanskrit and Tamil have b een p ro v id ed
tow ards the end o f the book.
It is a m atter o f great satisfaction for me that this book contains over 400 illustrations line
draw ings, photographs, and m aps many o f a quality and range that are not to be found in any book
on ancient and early m edieval India. The visual elem ent is as im portant for understanding prehistoric
stone tools as for appreciating art and architecture. The illustrations are much m ore than an adjunct
or supplem ent to the text. In many cases they convey much m ore than w o rd s p o ssib ly can,
illum inating the p ast and making it v iv id , meaningful, and exciting.
In spite o f my b est effort, I am aw are that this book has certain lim itations. F or instance, largely
because the book w as alread y v ery long, the la st chapter does not discuss the D elhi Sultanate or the
history o f Islam in the subcontinent, w hich are v ery im portant parts o f the early m edieval period. For
sim ilar reasons, the ric h and v aried cultural developm ents o f this p erio d could not be surveyed
exhaustively. I have instead given a b rie f overview , w ith a focus on South India, hoping that the
photographs w ill to som e extent make up for the lack o f d etailed discussion.
This book p rovides students and scholars w ith a foundation, encouraging them to pursue further
reading, depending on their needs and interests. The historical narrative given in the book relies not
only on my o w n resea rch but also on a v ast array o f w riting and research produced by others. M y
debt to this scholarship is acknow ledged in the in-text references and the readings suggested at the
end o f the book. R eaders are encouraged to follow these references for m ore d etailed treatm ent o f
various issues.
The W eb supplem ent carries fo rw ard the features o f this book, esp ecially in term s o f excerpts
from original sources and illustrations. This resource allo w s a read er access to constant additions
and updates to the m aterial. This open-endedness is essential, given the fact that new data and
changes in p erspective are an integral p art o f the d iscip lin e o f history.
I hope that this book com m unicates how exciting and challenging an exploration o f the history o f
ancient and early m edieval India can be. M y students, initially at St. Stephens C ollege, and
subsequently in the H istory D epartm ent o f the U niversity o f D elhi, have been an im portant p art o f my
ow n exploration o f this history. That is w hy this book is dedicated to them.

Upinder Singh
A Readers Guide to A History of Ancient and Early Medieval
India

A first o f its kind in India, this book has b een dev elo p ed and designed as a textbook for students o f
ancient Indian history. It brings together an exhaustive coverage o f a large span o f In d ias ancient
past in a lucid narrative style. Pedagogic elem ents b u ilt into the book make the study o f history a
thought provoking and enjoyable experience.

In o rd er to help you make the b e st use o f this book, this section p rovides a w in d o w into the various
components o f the text.
n 1911, ^a-n-rfit Rad^-a K rish n a , an e-rthuE iastu: c e lto c to r o f a n tk rtie s . discovered an u n u su a l ston-e 'm a ge in the
m id s t e f a g ric u ltu ra l fields o n a m ound sa ile d lo h H Tila ip M a t V illa g e *raar Ma.thu.ra, The head and arms o f th-e
sta tu e lYcre m issin g , but snc-ugh T-cmalnB-d to in d ic a te th a t L h li was a Life-fiize im age oT a ^ a r rla ; king., His HghL
h an d h-eld a lo n g s i r t dc m ace, and h 's le ft hand firm ly claspetf th e om arm nt-ed h i ll o f his s r o rd . H ii tn m h=My
was cloth-od in a &m pJ.e-, I* n H -le n g th tu n ic , ijjth -o ifld .at th e ^ a is t by a b e lt, over w h ich he w q tc an a rk o - le n g th
o u ts r robe. His ra th e r targe f w l , e n d o ssd In liw v y boots stra p p ed round th e a nkles, were ip la y w f and p lan te d
firm ly o n the g ro u n d , in a oose s im u lta n e o u s ly su g ge stw e o f a c tio n and s ta b ility . Even in ?ts dam aged c o n d itio n ,
th e linage Tadiate-tf s tre n g th , pow er, and a iftJ lD n ty . A T jh m i in tc d p tio n a th e bate in d ic a te d Lhat this- -va& -a
sto n e p o r tra it oF Kanishfca, K a n isM a belo n ge d to the Hu.5Hnna d yn asty- on o f se ve ral dyn astie s th a * ruled in the
s u b c o n tin e n t d u rin g the- early ce n tu rie s cl,

I fk i p u r b i'd r . O ,1 kc-*'S1i? l w su- h l C riL J y d ^ rtlf L -i^ T I r o n b t v i u l p - c b - cS v ie w ,


ir t nL-J-lK I w I 'l 'i, a c V t r j i i r i t t s i r b - f r v n i l b : rt:trEJh-*'A-1---1: l e d [ j Li U te a fiV jrd s A if t i!n i h c
lofU!-, p n|jlira | piTwrr sway fm rq ih f M a f^ fp Til? r?Lxan and ihe far v u ilh
chpcnenocd a trarellK K i u a slMe polity mdU ^ l e ^ 1 C lly lilt sprrud l-? nsw rcgora d
i hh> bubtm urw -ni. tJt.'i Trij^j-rs-r>ir= p i'o d u m l L ilts ' L|UiuJi.L-artj Loro voffcJ ^ :h - haj
bufcav. i ^ k Lc fclrlilai ib c aiibcDWlrtcm and bow e e n IA iti^iDns- luvJ urhei Lindt, flour-

E ach chapter constitutes a chronological unit w ithin a larger fram ew ork, providing a com prehensive
o v erv iew o f historical issues and details, and constructing profiles o f the various geographical
regions in the subcontinent. The chapter outline p rovides a v ie w o f the bro ad organization o f the
chapter. A n opening story from a v ariety o f sources serves as an engaging start for the chapter and
also presents a strand from the ric h them atic core o f the ch ap ters discussion.

Boxes

Five kinds o f boxes app ear throughout the book. E ach kind has a separate ro le in helping you explore
and understand different dim ensions and key issues related to history learning and teaching.
Numerous im portant concepts and term s used by historians (som etim es d raw n from different
disciplines) such as state, tribe, class, and caste are explained w ith their specific and com plex
meaning in KEY CONCEPTS . This helps in using these term s and concepts w ith greater clarity and
appropriateness, and in gaining a better idea o f the inherent interdisciplinary nature o f history.

key Concepts

Lineage, clan, tribe

H istorians use several sociological term s and concepts w hile describing ancient cultures.
K inship refers to so cially and culturally recognized relationships among people, com m only
assum ed to be b ased on natural or b iological ties. These ties may be b ased on birth/descent (con-
lin eal or agnatic. U nilineal kinship systems w hich recognize descent through the m other are
know n as m atrilin eal. M u lti-lin eal or cognatic systems are those in w hich descent through both
the m other and father is recognized. In both patrilineal and m atrilineal systems,

Learning about the original sources o f history, and how they are interpreted, m akes history truly
exciting. F am iliarity w ith prim ary sources is an integral p art o f the ap p reciatio n and evaluation o f
historical theories and arguments. The PRIMARY SOURCES boxes p ro v id e you w ith descriptions and
illustrations o f archaeological source m aterial, interesting inform ation about literary sources and
their authors, and many translated excerpts from original texts and inscriptions.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

The analysis o f ancient plant remains

The study o f ancient p lant rem ains is know n as p a la e o b o ta n y or a rc h a e o b o ta n y . B otanical


rem ains from ancient sites often include m acro-botanical rem ains such as seeds or grains. These
can get p reserv ed through desiccation, w aterlog- analysed under m icroscopes to determ ine w hat
types o f plants they rep resen t and w hether these w ere w ild or dom esticated.

Plant rem ains can also take the form o f m icro-botanical rem ains. Tiny particles

H istory is full o f debates on various issues. We intersperse our m acro-level m ain narrative in the
book w ith a m ore d etailed look at specific issues. FURTHER DISCUSSION boxes enrich your
understanding o f the m ulti-layeredness o f our past, and the need to be read y to m ove beyond
generalities and on-the-surface narratives, to closer, m ore d etailed investigations.

Fu rth er d is c u s s io n

Female figurines ordinary women or goddesses?


A t one time, scholars tended to use the M other G o d d ess label for all fem ale figurines found at
sites. This w as largely because o f the b e lie f that the w orship o f fertility goddesses w as an
im portant p art o f agricultural societ- In the light o f such problem s, the term M other G o d d ess
should be rep laced by the longer but m ore neutral phrase fem ale figurines w ith likely cultic
significance. This does not m ean that none o f these figurines might have had a reli-

H istorical know ledge is constantly grow ing. N ew d isco v eries can often rad ically change our
understanding o f the past. RECENT DISCOVERIES boxes d irect attention to new exciting disco v eries,
the peo p le and circum stances related to these d isco v eries, and how these d isco v eries have m ade an
im pact on our understanding o f In d ias early past.

RECENT DISCOVERIES

Isampur: a centre o f stone tool manufacture

Isam pur (G ulbarga district, K arnataka) is a v illag e located in the north-w estern p a rt o f the
Hunsgi valley, drained by a sm all seasonal stream know n as the K am ta H alla. The palaeolithic
site lies about 2 km north-w est o f the village, clo se to large flakes, and debitage (w aste
m aterial). The m ain tool types w ere chopping tools, knives, handaxes, cleavers, and scrapers.
W hile unfinished tools occurred in large num bers, there w ere relativ ely few finished ones.
H am m er stones o f dif-

W hile it is im portant for you to be aw are o f new historical research, this research is often not easily
accessible. NEW DIRECTIONS IN RESEARCH boxes bridge the gap betw een students and researchers
by presenting sam ples o f interesting new research, and by explaining their m ethodology and results
in a clear and straight-forw ard way. This exposes you to new trends in history w riting, and provides
a sense o f the constantly changing understandings o f the past.

NEW DIRECTIONS IN RESEARCH

Pictures on stone

P ictures m ade on granite rocks can be seen in many p laces in K arnataka and A ndhra at sites such
as K upgal, Piklihal, and M aski. They are difficult to date, but a rough chronology can be w orked
out on the b asis o f style, content, and w eather- are also peo p le standing in a chain-like form ation,
usually interpreted as dancers. O ther less frequently occurring motifs include the elephant, tiger,
deer, buffalo, birds, footprints, and ab stract designs. In general, the scenes tend to be sm all

M aps, Photographs, and Figures


M oving ahead from dreary text-based history w riting in India, A n cien t a n d E a rly M e d ie v a l In d ia
has over 450 illustrations m aps, photographs, and sketches that bring history alive. H istory
becom es an exciting exploration w hen w e can v isu ally situate our learning, and ap preciate the
richness o f our subcontinental p ast and culture.

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M aps are one o f the m ost im portant tools for a history student. N ote the use o f legends and captions,
different colours for topographical and elev atio n details, a scale to give an idea o f respective
distances, and the use o f latitude and longitude coordinates to show the lo catio n o f the m apped area.

O ver 350 photographs o f various artefacts, such as stone tools, terracottas, pottery, and coins,
excavated sites, tem ples, and sculptures, enliven the text.
Period IV: stamped and incised red ware
SEE C H A PT E R 8, P. 28 FOR MORE DETAILS ON THE MAHAYANA AND HINAYANA SCHOOLS.
The first connected life story o f the B uddha occurs in the N id a n a ka th a (1 st century). The P ali
or Sri Lankan chronicles the D ip a va m sa (4th-5th century) and the M a h a va m sa

In o rd er to help you fo llo w a certain idea in detail, or to fo llo w a topic d ealt w ith in different
chapters, cross references are p ro v id ed in the margins. T hese are indicated by a cross reference icon
w ith relevant page numbers.
(5 s )

w w w .pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh
Photographs o f H arappan sites and a rtefa cts
A llahdino is a sm all (1.4 ha) unfortified v illag e site o f the H arappan civilization, about 40 km
east o f K arachi. H ouses m ade o f m ud-brick, often resting on stone foundations, w ere laid out in a
w est-so u th -w est to east-n o rth -east orientation. A large m ulti-room ed building on a large mud-
b rick platform in the north-eastern p a rt o f the excavated area seem s to have had som e special
significance. A nother building w as asso ciated w ith three w ells. The w ells at

A W eb supplem ent av ailab le on w w w .pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh contains additional m aterial


such as extracts from original sources, photographs, and points for discussion. A W eb supplem ent
icon and a short caption indicate the supplem entary m aterial av ailab le in relatio n to the d iscu ssio n in
the text.

D iacritic marks, used extensively in academ ic w riting, have been av o id ed to facilitate easy reading.
H ow ever, the conventionally used systems o f transliteration for Sanskrit and Tamil have been
provided at the end o f the book.

A Note on Diacritics
3T an 3 <!
a i I u r e ai o

& 5T
ka kha ga glia ca cha I* jlia fia

W aj
ta ha da dha na La ha da dha na

Further R eadings for various chapters are p ro v id ed tow ards the end o f the book. They are m eant for
readers interested in acquiring m ore d etailed information.

We hope that this book w ill prove to be an im portant contribution to w ard s transform ing the w ay
ancient Indian history is taught and learnt. It is our endeavour to constantly im prove this book, and
w e w ould be glad to receiv e suggestions from all our readers. P lease w rite to us w ith your feedback
to hedfeedback@ pearsoned.co.in
Introduction
Ideas of the Early Indian Past

C hapter outline

t h e m a in p h y s io g r a p h ic z o n e s o f t h e s u b c o n t in e n t

WAYS OF DIVIDING THE INDIAN PAST


C h a n g in g in t e r p r e t a t io n s o f e a r l y In d ia n h is t o r y

New h is t o r ie s , u n w r it t e n h is t o r ie s
the ruins at bhita
The Puranas describ e a universe shaped like an egg, v ertically d iv id ed into the celestial w orlds,
earth, and netherw orlds. The earth is a flat disc, consisting o f seven land m asses ( varsh a s) arranged
in concentric circles, alternating w ith seas o f salt w ater, m olasses, w ine, butter, curd, milk, and fresh
water. Situated in the centre o f the earth is Jam budvipa, in w hose southernm ost p art lies
B haratavarsha, the golden M eru m ountain rising from its midst. One o f several explanations o f the
name B haratavarsha connects it w ith the B harata people, descendants o f the legendary king B harata,
son o f D ushyanta and Shakuntala. C osm ography blends w ith geography in the Puranas. B haratavarsha
is said to consist o f nine divisions (khandas), separated from one another by seas. B ut the m ention of
its mountains, riv ers, and p laces som e o f w hich can be identified suggests that the com posers o f
such texts w ere fam iliar w ith various areas o f the Indian subcontinent, and p erceiv ed them as parts
o f a larger cultural w hole.

For peo p le o f other lands, the m ajor subcontinental landm ark w as the Indus, or Sindhu, the mighty
river that originates in the T ibetan plateau, flow ing 3,200 km south-w est across fertile plains before
it m erges w ith the A rab ian Sea. The w o rd s In d ia, H indu, and H industan originate from the name
o f this river. A ncient C hinese sources refer to the land o f Shen-tu, G reek texts m ention In d ia, and
P ersian inscriptions d escrib e H id u as one o f the subject countries o f the A chaem enid king D arius.
These term s initially referred only to the lo w er Indus valley, but their connotations expanded swiftly.
For M egasthenes, w ho v isited the court o f C handragupta M aurya in the 4th century BCE, In d ia
meant the entire subcontinent. M any centuries later, A rab ic and P ersian texts used the w o rd
H industan for this v ast stretch o f land and H indu for its inhabitants.
W hile the idea o f the Indian subcontinent form ing a distinct geographic and cultural unit is a very
old one, its nation-states India, Pakistan, N epal, Bhutan, B angladesh, and Sri Lanka em erged only
in recen t times. W hen exploring the ancient history o f South A sia, it is n ecessary to ignore m odern
political boundaries and to treat the Indian subcontinent and its many regions and sub-regions as a
single canvas. The history o f the subcontinent is re a lly about the historical trajecto ries and
interactions o f these regions and sub-regions, w hich at certain points o f tim e during the peak o f the
M aurya, M ughal, and B ritish em pires attained som e m easure o f p o litical unity.

The M ain Physiographic Zones o f the Subcontinent

The Indian subcontinent has fairly w ell-d efin ed geographical frontiers but enorm ous ecological
diversity. Its clim atic patterns are sim ilar to those p rev ailin g in other areas on the same latitude but
are significantly m odified by the H im alayas and the W estern Ghats. The H im alayas b lo ck the icy
northern w inds from sw eeping across the Indo-G angetic plains in w inter as w ell as the rain -lad en
m onsoon w inds from the south-w est in summer. The b a rrie r o f the W estern Ghats sim ilarly leads to
rainfall in the w estern coastal strip. M ost o f the subcontinent gets its rains from the south-w est
monsoon, except for the north-w est and Sri Lanka, w hich rely on w inter rains.
In the north, the subcontinent is b o rd ered by the H im alayas, fairly young fold mountains. The
process o f their uplift and folding is still going on, making them geologically unstable. The
H im alayas can be d iv id ed into the w estern, central, and eastern zones, each w ith their ow n specific
characteristics. The north-w estern p a rt o f the subcontinent includes the arid m ountainous N orth-W est
Frontier P rovince and the B aluchistan province o f contem porary Pakistan. L eaving aside the fertile
river valleys, this area is not esp ecially suited for agriculture, but the many routes running along its
valleys and passes connect the subcontinent w ith areas lying to its w est.
E ven m ore arid conditions p rev ail in the T har d esert o f R ajasthan, w here lo w hills and sand dunes
rise o ver the underlying low , rocky plateau. B etw een the d esert and the north-w estern mountains lies
the Sindh province o f southern Pakistan, the Indus providing precious w ater in an area o f v ery low
rainfall. The northern course o f this riv e r lies in T ibet and Ladakh, and along w ith its tributaries, it
flow s through the fertile plains o f Indian and Pakistani Punjab. To the east o f the Indus is the
shrivelled course o f a once mighty river, the G haggar-H akra.
The fertile northern alluvial p lain o f the G anga and its tributaries is another m ajor geographical
zone o f the subcontinent. The w estern p art o f this p lain is know n as the doab (literally, the land
betw een tw o riv e rs , the G anga and Yamuna). The m iddle p art o f the plains corresponds roughly to
the state o f B ihar and the eastern p art o f the state o f Uttar P rad esh in m odern India. The eastern p art
includes the delta o f the G anga and B rahm aputra, com prising o f m odern W est Bengal, A ssam , and
Bangladesh. The Vindhyan ranges separate the northern plains from peninsular India, w hile the
A ravalli hills divide the Thar d esert from central India. The M alw a plateau, w ith its tw o m ajor
rivers, the N arm ada and Tapi, lies b etw een the A rav allis and the central Indian mountains.
Peninsular India is an o ld and relativ ely stable geological form ation, its landscape m arked by
plateaux, plains, and the fertile valleys o f riv ers such as the M ahanadi, K rishna, G odavari, Pennar,
and K averi. The D eccan plateau, form ed by the lav a flow s from v ery ancient volcanoes, constitutes
the dom inant p art o f the peninsula. It is b o rd ered by the E astern and W estern Ghats, beyond w hich
are the narrow C orom andal and M alab ar-K o n k an coastal plains. The N ilgiri, A nnam alai, and
C ardam om hills lie in the extrem e south o f the peninsula, w hich is separated from the island o f Sri
Lanka by the M annar strait.
The various geographical zones o f the subcontinent have never b een isolated units. F ro m very
early tim es, human interaction took p lace through routes cutting across mountains, rivers, and
regions, dictated by geographical features and human needs. The H im alayas could be cro ssed at
points such as the B olan, G om al, and K hyber passes, and a netw ork o f overland routes connected the
subcontinent to China, central A sia, W est A sia, and E urope. T here w as also the over 7,500 km long
subcontinental coastline, home to numerous fishing and sailing com m unities from tim es im m em orial,
w hich linked the subcontinent to the larger Indian O cean w o rld and to areas such as Southeast A sia
and the P ersian Gulf.
The natural landscape has alw ays b een an im portant p art o f human life, and has affected and
influenced p e o p le s thought and action in many w ays. The topography, clim ate, soil, and natural
resources o f any land influence m odes o f subsistence, settlem ent patterns, population density, and
trade. Humans have in turn transform ed the environm ent in many w ays. Situating the human p ast in its
specific environm ental context helps us understand the different rhythms and patterns o f cultural
developm ent and interactions in the various regions. H ow ever, as w e w ill see further on, ecology
too has a history and the subcontinental environm ents o f today differ in many respects from those o f
the past.

W ays o f D ividing the Indian P ast


The E nglish w o rd history com es from the G reek h isto ria (inquiry or investigation). H istory is
essentially a discip lin e that inquires into the experiences o f people w ho liv ed in the past. H istorians
often classify the p a st by dividing it into different periods. L abels are convenient, but they should be
meaningful and consistent, and it is n ecessary to be aw are o f their lim itations.

MAP 1 THE PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY OF THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT

F o r a long tim e, historians d iv id ed Indian history into the H indu, M uslim , and B ritish periods.
H ow ever, this classificatio n is flaw ed and can be questioned on several grounds. F o r exam ple, is the
religious affiliation o f the ruling elite the b est b asis for lab ellin g a period? In that case, w hy is the
third p erio d d escrib ed as the B ritish and not the C hristian period? F ro m w hen can w e start using the
term H indu in the context o f ancient India. H ow can it be ap p lied to the reigns o f the many ancient
Indian kings w ho patronized B uddhism or Jainism ? D id the advent o f M uslim rulers create a m ajor
rupture in the fabric o f Indian society, esp ecially w hen the sw ay o f these rulers except at the height
o f the M ughal em pire d id not extend over all or even m ost o f the subcontinent?
D ue to such reasons, m ost historians have d iscard ed the H in d u -M u slim -B ritish p eriodization o f
the Indian p a st in favour o f a m ore neutral classificatio n into the ancient, early m edieval, m edieval,
and m odern periods. The dividing lines m ay vary, but the ancient p erio d can be considered as
stretching roughly from the e a rlie st tim es to the 6th century CE; the early m edieval from the 6th to the
13th centuries; the m edieval from the 13th to the 18th centuries; and the m odern from the 18th century
to the present. The current use o f these term s shifts the focus aw ay from religious labels tow ards
patterns o f significant socio-econom ic changes.
The ancient or e a rlie st parts o f the human p ast can be further d iv id ed into prehistory and history.
The enorm ously long p erio d before the invention o f w riting and the study o f that p erio d are know n as
prehistory. The p art o f the p ast that com es a fte r the invention o f w riting, and the study o f that p art o f
the p a st (i.e., o f literate societies) constitute w hat is considered history.
A language consists o f spoken sym bols o f com m unication. A script, or w riting, is a system o f
visual com m unication using signs or sym bols asso ciated w ith specific meanings or sounds, w ritten
dow n on som e surface. H um an beings used languages long before they invented scripts. The
cuneiform scrip t o f M esopotam ia (ancient Iraq) w as invented in c. 3400 BCE and Egyptian
hieroglyphics in c. 3100 BCE. In the Indian subcontinent, the e a rlie st substantial evidence o f w riting
is asso ciated w ith the H arappan civilization and dates from c. 2600 BCE, but recent d isco v eries push
back the origins o f the scrip t to the second h a lf o f the 4th m illennium BCE. The ancient
M esopotam ians p ressed letters onto m oist clay tablets, w hile the ancient Egyptians w rote on papyrus
sheets m ade o f reeds. The H arap p an scrip t is m ostly found on seals and sealings. B ut ap art from the
specim ens o f w riting that have actually survived, it can be assum ed that people m ust have w ritten on
perishable m aterial as w ell. W riting m arked a new stage in human expression and com m unication. It
opened new p o ssib ilities for storing and transm itting ideas and know ledge across distance and time.
Its im pact w as com plex and varied. R ulers used w riting to advertise and exercise pow er, m erchants
to reco rd business transactions, p riests to p reserv e religious texts, and poets to give perm anence to
their creative expression. We can speculate about the p recise im pulses that led to the invention o f
w riting, but all over the w o rld (w ith a few exceptions) it coincided w ith the em ergence o f cities and
states. F or these reasons, historians consider the beginning o f w riting an im portant w atershed in the
story o f ancient cultures.
H ow ever, in a situation w here relativ ely few people knew how to read or w rite, w riting gave a
certain p o w er and p rivilege to those w ho knew it and denied it to those w ho d id not. Further, the
invention o f w riting d id not m ean the end o f oral transm ission. The spoken w o rd has alw ays held a
special significance in many cultural traditions, and this significance continued even after
m anuscripts o f texts cam e to be made. O ral versions o f many w ritten texts continued to circulate and
often had a far greater outreach and impact.
The beginning o f w riting is also an im portant w atershed in the study o f the p ast because w ritten
evidence becom es av ailab le to the historian. N evertheless, it m ust be rem em bered that such
evidence covers only a v ery sm all p ortion o f the human past. The p ast before w riting (prehistory)
and the history o f non-literate people w ho d id not leave behind w ritten sources are also extrem ely
im portant and have to be recovered. A nd even w hen w ritten sources are av ailab le, archaeological
sources continue to be im portant for historians.
In the Indian subcontinent, the story o f w riting is a b it com plicated. A lthough the H arappans w ere
a literate people, their scrip t has not yet b een deciphered. So historians cannot use the w ritten
m aterial they left behind to reconstruct their history. A nother m ystery is: w hat happened to w riting
after the decline o f the H arappan civ ilizatio n in c. 1900 BCE? W hile it is p o ssib le that people
continued to w rite, although on p erish ab le m aterial, there are hardly any surviving specim ens o f
w riting betw een c. 1900 BCE till w e com e to the 4th century BCE. The o ld est scrip t in the
subcontinent is the H arappan script, but the o ld est d ecip h ered scrip t is B rahm i, know n from about
the 4th century BCE, and the tw o scripts seem to be quite different.
F o r these reasons, it is not easy to d raw the dividing line betw een history and prehistory in India
and the term protohistory is useful. This w o rd carries different meanings. In the E uropean context, it
is som etim es used to refer to peo p le w ho d id not them selves have w riting, but w ho are m entioned in
the w ritten reco rd s o f a contem porary literate group. In the Indian subcontinent, the H arappan
civilization a literate culture w ith an undeciphered scrip t is included in protohistory. This term
can also include the p erio d c. 1 5 0 0 -5 0 0 BCE, for w hich there is an o rally transm itted literature (the
Vedas), but no evidence o f w riting. A rchaeologists often use the w o rd protohistory for the long
period betw een the beginning o f food production and the advent o f iron technology. This w ould
include neolithic and chalcolithic cultures in different parts o f the subcontinent.
The subcontinent is a huge geographical area, and the transition to literacy d id not take place
everyw here at the sam e time. F o r instance, areas outside the literate H arap p an zone w ere inhabited
by non-literate people. G oing by the e a rlie st surviving sam ples o f deciphered w riting, the beginning
o f the historical p erio d in north India w ould have to be p laced in the 4th century BCE. H ow ever, it
can be presum ed that this w riting had a history on p erishable m aterial, one that m ust go back to at
least the 6th century BCE. Lists o f historical kings and philosophers o f this century are av ailab le for
parts o f north India. C onsidering all these factors, there is a good case for placing the beginning o f
the historical p erio d in north India in the 6th century BCE. The evidence o f 4th century BCE Brahm i
inscriptions from A nuradhapura in Sri Lanka, 2nd century BCE Tam il-Brahm i inscriptions, and the
political history reflected in Sangam literature suggest that the transition to the historical p erio d in
South India occurred som e tim e betw een the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE. O f course, if the H arappan
scrip t is deciphered som e day, the dates for the beginning o f the historical p erio d in northern India
w ill have to be pushed b ack to the 3 rd m illennium BCE, or even earlier.

Changing Interpretations o f E arly Indian H istory

The historiography (the scholarly activity o f constructing and w riting history) o f ancient and early
m edieval India rev eals many significant changes over time; these can be understood against the
background o f the p o litical and intellectual contexts in w hich they em erged and flourished. The
various sch o o ls o f history w riting are often presented and understood in term s o f one school
making w ay for the other in a neat, fo rw ard progression. The reality is, how ever, much more
complex. There w as considerable v ariety w ithin the various schools; som e o f them co-existed (and
still do so) in dialogue or conflict w ith each other, and there are many exam ples o f w ritings that go
against the grain and do not easily fit into the dom inant historiographical trends o f their time.
HARAPPAN WRITING ON SEAL

EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHICS

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Mesopotamian cuneiform

The 18th and 19th centuries w ere dom inated by the w ritings o f E uropean scholars, usually
referred to as the O rientalists or Indologists, although they often d escrib ed them selves as
antiquarians. M any o f them w ere em ployees o f the E ast India C om pany and later, the B ritish
G overnm ent o f India. The founding o f the A siatic Society o f Bengal in 1784 p ro v id ed an institutional
focus for scholars w orking in a num ber o f related fields such as textual study, ep ig rap h y ,
num ism atics, and history. A m ajor contribution o f the Indologists lay in their efforts to collect, edit,
and translate ancient Indian texts. In this, they depended heavily on inform ation p ro v id ed by native
inform ants, w hose contribution w as rarely acknow ledged. Indology soon spread beyond the
confines o f the B ritish em pire and becam e a subject o f study in E uropean universities.
A p art from the study o f ancient texts, the 19th century also w itnessed im portant developm ents in
the field o f epigraphy, num ism atics, a rc h a e o lo g y , and the study o f art and architecture. The
decipherm ent o f the A shokan B rahm i and K h a ro sh th i scripts w ere m ajor breakthroughs. The
analysis o f coins contributed to the construction o f a fram ew ork o f p o litical history. O fficers o f the
G eological Survey d isco v ered prehistoric stone tools and laid the b asis o f Indian prehistory. The
A rchaeological Survey o f India w as established in 1871, and over the succeeding decades, this
institution m ade an im portant contribution tow ards unearthing and analysing the m aterial rem ains o f
Indias past.
The contributions and breakthroughs o f the 18th and 19th centuries w ere rooted in a colonial
context, and this is evident in certain features o f Indological w riting. The B rahm anical persp ectiv e ol
ancient Sanskrit texts w as often uncritically taken as reflecting the Indian past. Social and religious
institutions and traditions w ere critiqued from a W estern view point. Indian society w as presented as
static and its p o litical systems unw averingly despotic over the centuries. R ace, religion, and
ethnicity w ere often confused w ith each other and there w as a tendency to exaggerate the im pact o f
foreign influence on ancient India. This is the tim e w hen the classificatio n o f the Indian p ast into the
Hindu, M uslim , and B ritish periods took root.

R. C. MAJUMDAR (1888-1980), A LEADING HISTORIAN OF THENATIONALIST SCHOOL

Indian scholars o f the late 19th and first h a lf o f the 20th centuries m ade m ajor contributions
tow ards constructing a connected narrative o f ancient India. W riting against the background o f an
emergent, and later increasingly strong, national movement, these historians are generally referred to
as N atio n alist historians. They w ere responsible for m eticulously w eaving together data from texts,
inscriptions, coins, and other m aterial rem ains to am plify the contours o f the ancient Indian past.
E specially im portant contributions w ere m ade in the field o f p olitical history. South India w as
brought into the narrative and the study o f regional polities progressed.
The nationalist tinge in the w ritings o f these scholars can be seen in their insistence on the
indigenous roots o f all m ajor cultural developm ents. It is also reflected in their search for golden
ages, w hich led to their exalting the age o f the Vedas and the G upta em pire. N on-m onarchical
polities w ere d isco v ered and w ere celeb rated to counter the idea that India had never known
anything but despotic rule. The perio d izatio n o f the Indian p ast into the H indu, M uslim , and B ritish
periods w as, how ever, retained. It co alesced w ith a communal tendency to valorize the H indu
p erio d and to p ro je c t the advent o f the Turks and Islam as a calam ity and tragedy.
The 1950s saw the em ergence o f M arxist historiography, w hich w ent on to play an extrem ely
influential role in the construction o f the history o f ancient and early m edieval India. In the long run,
the m ajor achievem ent o f M arxist historians w as to shift the focus from an event-centred history
dom inated by p o litical narrative to the delineation o f social and econom ic structures and processes,
esp ecially those related to class stratification and agrarian relations. M arxist historiography also
contributed tow ards uncovering the history o f non-elite groups, som e o f w hom had suffered centuries
o f subordination and m arginalization.
W hile m aking these v aluable interventions and contributions, M arxist w ritings often tended to
w ork w ith unilinear historical m odels d eriv ed from W estern historical and anthropological w ritings.
Texts w ere som etim es read uncritically, w ith insufficient attention p aid to their problem atic
chronology and peculiarities o f genre. A rchaeological data w as included, but the basic fram ew ork of
the historical narrative rem ained text centric. Initially, the focus on class m eant less attention to other
bases o f social stratification such as caste and gender. R elig io n and culture w ere often sidelined or
m echanically presented as reflections o f socio-econom ic structures.

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EXCERPTS FROM ORIENTALIST, NATIONALIST, AND MARXIST WRITINGS ON ANCIENT
INDIA

D espite their im portant differences, the m ajor historiographical schools also shared some
sim ilarities, for instance, in their em phasis on B rahm anical Sanskrit texts and their tendency to
m arginalize archaeological evidence. C ertain tenets o f all these schools continue to thrive in the
present. Some o f the fundamental prem ises and methods o f O rientalist historiography continue to
hold their ground and histories o f T hird W orld countries such as India rem ain E urocentric in many
respects. A p p eals to the ancient and early m edieval p ast are still often dictated by nationalist or
com m unalist agendas. M arxist historiography continues to be an influential force in early Indian
historiography.
D. D. KOSAMBI (1907-66), A PIONEER OF MARXIST HISTORIOGRAPHY

A few other aspects o f the large volum e o f historical research o f the la st 50 years or so can be
identified and cited here. N ew theoretical perspectives, scientific techniques, and a continuing
grow th in the volum e o f archaeological data have b een transform ing our understanding o f the early
Indian past, esp ecially w ith regard to subsistence practices, technology, and human interaction w ith
the environm ent. Palaeo-environm ental studies have directed attention to the changing ecology o f the
different regions and its im pact on human life; these im portant issues are likely to increasingly
engage the attention o f scholars. Investigations o f archival m aterial have begun to reveal in
unprecedented detail the com plex stories o f the people, institutions, and ideas involved in the
construction o f archaeological know ledge. Such studies also reflect the need to b reak the
discip lin ary d ivides betw een the ancient and the m odern (and all that lies in betw een) by
inquiring into issues such as the m odern histories o f ancient sites and monuments.
The research o f a sm all group o f historians (m ostly w om en) w orking on gender relations has
rad ically altered the frontiers o f early Indian social history. The focus on gender has involved much
more than sim ply inserting w om en into history. B reaking aw ay from the traditional p o sitio n o f
w om en m ould, it has asked new questions, broken the artificial divide betw een the private and
political dom ains, and rev ealed the p o w er hierarchies w ithin the fam ily and the household. The m ost
im portant achievem ent o f this line o f research is that it has dem onstrated the close relationship
betw een gender and hierarchies b ased on class, caste, and p o litical pow er.
A significant feature o f recent historiography o f the early m edieval p erio d is the d etailed study o f
the changing profiles and configurations o f regions and sub-regions. B ased on careful em pirical
exam ination o f epigraphic and textual sources, these studies have identified changes in political,
econom ic, and social structures, w ith a special focus on agrarian relations and the legitim ation o f
political pow er. In doing so, they have rev ealed the v aried historical textures and trajecto ries in
different parts o f the Indian subcontinent in early m edieval times.
A critical understanding o f historiography, one w hich recognizes the contributions and lim itations
o f p ast and presen t ideological and theoretical fram ew orks, is essential in o rd er to understand w here
the history o f ancient and early m edieval India stands today. H ow ever, the m ajor advances o f the
future are likely to be the resu lt o f questioning and thinking beyond the boundaries o f existing
historiographical positions and m ethodologies.

N ew H istories, U nw ritten H istories

H istory is not one but many stories, only a few o f w hich have as yet been w ritten. The challenges to
build on the advances that have alread y been achieved so far are many. Currently, there are tw o
parallel im ages o f ancient South A sia one based on literary sources, the other on archaeology.
Texts and archaeology generate different sorts o f historical narratives and suggest different rhythms
o f cultural continuity, transition, and change. H istorians generally use archaeological evidence
selectively as a corro b o rativ e source w hen it m atches hypotheses b ased on their interpretation o f
texts. A rchaeologists, for their part, have not adequately explored the historical im plications o f the
available archaeological data. C orrelations betw een literature and archaeology tend to be sim plistic
and d ev o id o f careful reflection on methodology. We need to seriously consider whether, given their
inherent differences, textual and archaeological evidence can be integrated, or w hether w e should
sim ply aim at juxtaposition.
The o ld trad itio n o f extracting supposedly self-evident facts from literary sources needs to be
replaced by an app ro ach that is m ore sensitive to their genre, texture, and cadence. H ow ever, in
view o f the inform ation and insights offered by rap id ly grow ing archaeological data, historical
narratives can no longer afford to rem ain text-centric. A m ore sophisticated ap p ro ach tow ards
textual study has to be accom panied by a p ro p er incorporation o f archaeological evidence. This w ill
lead tow ards a m ore nuanced image o f ancient India. It w ill reveal the com plexities and diversities
o f cultural p ro cesses in the various regions, and w ill incorporate the ordinary and everyday into our
understanding o f the ancient past.
H istories o f early India should id eally rep resen t the various regions and com m unities o f the
subcontinent in all their diversity. H ow ever, w hile the heartlands o f great em pires and kingdom s are
w ell represented, many regions for instance the N orth-E ast are not. Such regions have to be
brought into the am bit o f history. B ringing m ore people into history also requires further initiatives
tow ards uncovering the p ast o f groups w ho have b een subordinated and m arginalized for centuries,
such as the labouring poor, lo w er castes, and tribal comm unities. This is not easy, given the fact that
a great p ro p o rtio n o f the source m aterial av ailab le to historians has b een created by elite groups and
therefore reflects their ideas and interests. N evertheless, the p ast o f people w ho have b een hidden
from history has to be uncovered and w ritten, and these histories m ust becom e an integral p a rt o f the
narrative o f the ancient Indian past. E xplorations o f gender, the family, and the household need to be
pushed further and have to becom e p art o f larger social histories. Issues and institutions such as the
family, class, v a rn a , and j a t i need to be v ie w e d from long-term perspectives, show ing how the
different bases o f social identity intersected and changed over time.
In d ias v aried and com plex cultural traditions are also in need o f urgent attention. Interestingly,
w hile these continue to be the focus o f intensive research am ong scholars w orking in South A sian
studies, religious studies, and art history departm ents abroad, they have in recent decades rem ained
som ew hat m arginal to m ainstream historical w riting in India. Indian historians have often tended to
treat religious cults and traditions p rim arily as ideologies reflecting social and p o litical p o w er
structures o f the time. It m ust be recognized that the many different strands o f religious thought and
practice are an im portant asp ect o f history in their ow n right and need thorough investigation. This
also applies to the history o f ideas and the aesthetic dim ensions o f the Indian p ast reflected in
literature, art, and architecture.
O ur understanding o f the history o f the subcontinent tends to be far too insular, and much greater
attention needs to be p aid to its relationships w ith other areas, esp ecially E ast A sia and Southeast
Asia. A p art from exam ining trade netw orks, there is a need to try to explore and understand the
com plexities o f the cultural transactions betw een the different parts o f A sia. T hese transactions are
reflected not only in textual evidence, but also in a rich and exciting storehouse o f m aterial evidence
in the form o f inscriptions, sculpture, and architecture.
T here is a close relationship b etw een history and identity; the p ast has, therefore, alw ays b een a
contested terrain. In contem porary India, the ancient p ast is invoked in different w ays in political
discourse, including propaganda w ith chauvinistic or d iv isiv e agendas. There are debates over the
states right to p ro je c t and propagate certain interpretations o f the p ast through school textbooks.
Comm unities frequently take offence at things w ritten about them in h isto rian s scholarly w ritings. In
such a charged and intolerant atm osphere, there are several dangers o f the d eliberate m anipulation
and distortion o f the p ast to achieve p o litical ends, o f historical hypotheses being ju d g ed on the basis
o f their p olitical im plications rather than their academ ic m erit, and o f historians being criticized for
w riting objective history. The need for defining and enlarging a lib eral academ ic space w hich
nurtures lev el-h ead ed dialogue and debate has perhaps never b een greater.
A sid e from its ro le in current identity politics, ancient history is often considered distant, difficult
to relate to, even irrelev an t to our tim es and concerns. H ow ever, if w e look carefully enough, w e
w ill in fact find that the roots o f som e o f the social practices, institutions, and ideas o f the present lie
in the rem ote past. But even m ore interesting than the things that are fam iliar are those that are
startlingly different. The m ost im portant thing that history can do is to teach us to think historically. It
can make us realize that human experiences are d iv erse and com plex; and it can make us aw are o f
the many entangled threads o f continuity and change that connect the present to the past. N o less
im portant is the fact that the story o f the p ast contains much that is interesting and exciting. T hat in
itse lf is enough ju stificatio n for reading and w riting history.
Chapter One
Understanding Literary and Archaeological Sources

C hapter outline

READING ANCIENT TEXTS FROM A HISTORICAL POINT OF VIEW


Archaeology a n d t h e e a r l y In d ia n p a s t

EPIGRAPHY: THE STUDY OF INSCRIPTIONS


NUMISMATICS: THE STUDY OF COINS
C o n c l u s io n s
A 12TH century manuscript o f th e P rajn apa r am ita

In 1148 CE, rary and scholarly am bitions, began w riting a bK alhana, a m an w ith liteook. K alhana
belonged to a w ell-connected B rahm ana fam ily o f Kashmir. H is father C hanpaka w as at one time
closely asso ciated w ith the royal court, but by the tim e K alhana w as born, the fam ily had fallen out
o f favour. K alhana w orked hard for tw o years, recording local traditions and exam ining m anuscripts,
chronicles, inscriptions, coins, and monuments. He d rew on his fam ily m em bers political
experience and his personal ob serv atio n o f events that w ere unfolding in his ow n lifetim e. The book
w as com pleted in 1150 CE and w as titled R a ja ta ra n g in i (R iver o f K ings). C onsisting o f eight
cantos, each called a ta ra n g a (w ave), it gave a connected account o f the kings o f K ashm ir from the
early ones o f legend to the historical rulers o f the 12th century.
K alhana is often d escrib ed as In d ias first historian. He asserts in the R a ja ta ra n g in i that a person
who recounts the events o f the p a st m ust do so like a judge, w ithout b ias or prejudice. H ow ever, his
book does not alw ays distinguish b etw een fact and legend, and often explains events by citing fate. It
is not surprising that there are differences in persp ectiv e betw een a 12th century historian such as
K alhana and historians o f m ore recent tim es. M oreover, K alhana considered h im self p rim arily a
gifted and skilful poet, one w ho could make pictures o f the p ast com e v iv id ly alive. He d escrib ed the
natural beauty o f K ashm ir w ith p rid e and feeling, w ove liv ely character sketches, and gave dram atic
descriptions o f p o litical events.

The past, like the present, is com plex and can be looked at from many perspectives. There can never
be a single, final, p erfect history. T here can never be a com plete or exact picture o f w hat happened
in the past; the task o f the historian is to bring us a s close a s p o ss ib le to such a picture. H istorical
analysis involves carefully exam ining the av ailab le sources o f inform ation, searching for fresh
evidence, and devising creative, innovative w ays o f interpreting historical data. It involves asking
new questions and searching for new answ ers to o ld ones. D ebate and disagreem ent are an im portant
part o f the grow th o f all forms o f know ledge, and history is no exception.
A ll historical interpretations are ultim ately based on evidence d eriv ed from the sources o f history,
conventionally d iv id ed into tw o categories literary and archaeological. F ro m a h isto rian s point o f
view , lite r a ry so u rc e s include all texts long or short, w ritten or oral; a rc h a e o lo g ic a l so u rc es
include all tangible, m aterial rem ains. B ut these distinctions are not absolute. A ll rem ains o f the past,
including literary m an u scrip ts, are actually m aterial in nature. A nd certain kinds o f archaeological
sources w hich have w riting on them inscriptions, coins, and inscribed im ages can be considered
both m aterial objects and texts.
The w ays in w hich historians have used different kinds o f sources to construct the history o f
ancient and early m edieval India w ill becom e clear as you read this book. This chapter gives a
broad o v erv iew o f the m ajor sources, highlighting their general features, and the im portant issues
that have to be kept in mind w hile using them as w indow s to the past.

R eading A ncient Texts from a H istorical Point o f V iew

All literary w orks are connected to the historical contexts in w hich they are produced and in w hich
they circulate. H ow ever, an ancient text does not n ecessarily offer a sim ple or d irect reflectio n o f the
society o f its time. It constitutes a com plex representation o f that society and a refracted image o f the
past. Inform ation has to be teased out w ith care, skill, and ingenuity to make historical inferences.
M any early religious texts w ere not p rim arily m eant to be read but to be recited, heard, and
perform ed. They w ere p assed on o rally from one generation to the next, even after they w ere
available in the form o f w ritten m anuscripts.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Ancient palm lea f manuscripts


P ap er w as invented in China in the 3rd century BCE. N ew techniques led to its increasing use and
by the 4th century, p ap er had rep laced bam boo strips as standard m aterial for w riting in that
country. W ood b lo ck printing p ro b ab ly began during the rule o f the Sui dynasty (5 8 1 -6 1 8 CE) and
becam e popular during the Tang p erio d (6 1 8 -9 0 7 CE). In India, on the other hand, traditional
w riting m aterials and methods continued to be used for many centuries. A ncient Indian
m anuscripts w ere often m ade w ith p alm leaves. H ere is a d escrip tio n o f how such m anuscripts
(know n as ta la p a tra in Sanskrit, olai in Tamil) w ere usually made:

The le a f used w as either from the talip o t p alm (C orypha um braculifera; ta li in both Sanskrit
and Tamil) or palm yra p alm (B o ra ssu sfla b e llifo rm is, Sanskrit tala, Tamil p a n a i). The talip o t
le a f is larger, thinner, and m ore flexible and durable than that o f the palm yra. T alipot leaves may
m easure about 90 * 8 -9 cm, and the palm yra ones about 50 * 3 - 4 cm. The selected leaves w ere
cut to the right shape and size. They w ere then p ierced in one, tw o, or three p laces (on the left,
m iddle, and right top). A string w as w o v en through these holes, and then w ound around the
leaves. One end o f the string w as knotted or w as tied to a sm all o b ject (e.g., a shell, w o o d en peg,
or button) to prevent it from slipping out o f the holes. The cover o f the p alm le a f m anuscript w as
m ade o f w ood, dry p alm petioles, or in rare cases, ivory.

The w riter engraved letters on the le a f w ith a stylus (a pointed, pen-like object). The le a f w as
then sm eared w ith soot or p o w d ered charcoal m ixed w ith vegetable ju ice, so that the black
mixture filled the grooves and the w riting w as easy to read. The letters ran p arallel to the length
o f the leaves. In som e cases w here the le a f w as v ery long or w hen the text w as in verse, the
w ords w ere w ritten in tw o or three columns. I f there w as a commentary, it w as usually w ritten
above, below , or som etim es around the text. Page num bers w ere often given in the right margin.
P alm le a f m anuscripts had to be stored v ery carefully as they w ere vulnerable to many natural
hazards such as heat, insects, w ater, fungus, dust, and fire as w ell as the danger o f destruction by
human hands. Scribes kept the m anuscript trad itio n aliv e by repeatedly making copies o f old
m anuscripts. This v ib ran t trad itio n started declining around the 19th century w ith the com ing o f
the printing press.

There are special techniques for treating and preserving o ld p alm le a f m anuscripts. F irst, the
m anuscript is fum igated or treated w ith insecticides (e.g., thymol, chlorom ate solution,
form aldehyde, phosphene gas, or ethylene oxide). The leaves are then cleaned using solvents
such as w ater, detergents, or ethyl alcohol. Next, any split, broken, or dam aged portions are
repaired. This can be done using special, thin p aper and a w ater soluble mixture including sm all
quantities o f polyvinyl acetate and methyl cellulose. O nce the rep airs are com plete, the leaves
are o iled to make them flexible and p olished gently w ith a soft, dry cloth. They can then be
restrung and the covers attached. The rep aired m anuscript has to be stored carefully so that it is
p rotected from any fresh damage.

The discovery, preservation, and care o f ancient m anuscripts are crucial parts o f the p reserv atio n
o f the historical heritage. T here are thousands o f o ld m anuscripts in various parts o f the
subcontinent w hose contents have not yet b een studied or published. It is im possible to estim ate
ju s t how many have b een destroyed and how many are w aiting to be discovered.

A text can be read in many different w ays from a historical point o f view , but certain im portant
issues have to be ad d ressed w hile doing so. F orem ost am ong these are its age and authorship.
A ncient texts are much o ld er than their surviving m anuscripts, and have had a life o f their own. They
have grow n and changed over tim e and this pro cess o f grow th and change the p erio d o f
com position could in som e cases have lasted for hundreds o f years before they w ere com piled or
given a m ore or less final shape. A text can be used as a source o f historical inform ation for the
period during w hich it w as com posed, but i f the com position stretched over a long p erio d o f tim e, it
becom es essential to identify its different chronological layers and the various additions or
interpolations m ade over time. This is not easy and requires a v ery careful analysis o f language,
style, and content. C ertain texts have been analysed in this manner, resulting in the publication o f
critical editions accom panied by a critical apparatus. A critical edition is p rep ared after a careful
study o f different m anuscripts o f a text and identifies its original core. The critical apparatus directs
attention to variations across m anuscripts and different com m entarial interpretations.
M any early texts w ere the w o rk o f not one, but many authors. E ven i f many o f these authors must
rem ain anonymous, it is im portant to identify their background and the persp ectiv es and b iases they
reflect, such as those o f class, religion, and gender. O ther questions that can be asked about these
texts include: W here w ere they com posed and in w hich geographical area d id they circulate? W ho
transm itted them and how d id they go about doing so? W ho w as their target audience? W hat w as the
place o f these texts w ithin p rev ailin g social and p o litical p o w er structures and cultural traditions?
A nalysing a text from the historical point o f v ie w does not m ean m echanically plucking out self-
evident facts. The inform ation a text p ro v id es has to be carefully understood w ithin the fram ew ork
o f the p articular genre or type o f literature it represents. In the case o f poetry or dram a, the analysis
requires sensitivity to the literary conventions o f the tim e and the w rite rs style and im agination. In
other cases, a text m ay rep resen t an ideal, not an actual situation and it cannot be read as a
d escription o f w hat w as actually happening at the time. A ncient texts often contain myths, and
although myths can tell us indirectly about history, the tw o should not be confused w ith each other.

/ v 't'/l ' te v ts

~ Vedanga texts

?
D tiarm asutras
S m nV s

s-,?

? _____ Jaina canon

SargjTii texts

T im k k u ra !

Tamil ptcs (ilfappadftrararnanif iVtan/miSatoO i ~

I------- 1------- 1------- 1------- 1------- 1------- 1------- 1------- \------- 1-------1------- 1-------1------- 1------- 1 I------- 1------- 1
2000 JJOO 0 5O 40O JO 200 J 00 O IO 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 goo
\ BCE CE

FIGURE 1.1 THE PERIOD OF COMPOSITION OF SOME IMPORTANTANCIENT INDIAN TEXTS

THE CLASSIFICATION OF LITERARY SOURCES: LANGUAGE, GENRE, AND CONTENT

A ncient and early m edieval Indian texts can be d iv id ed into categories on the b asis o f language,
genre, content, age, and the trad itio n o r class o f literature to w hich they belonged. Linguists and
philologists (scholars w ho study o ld languages) have d iv id ed the languages o f the w o rld into
different fam ilies. Languages belonging to the sam e fam ily have certain structural sim ilarities and
share a significant num ber o f sim ilar, related w ords (or cognates). F or instance, H indi, Punjabi,
M arathi, B engali, A ssam ese, G ujarati, Sindhi, O riya, N ep ali, and K ashm iri belong to the Indo-
E uropean family. So do Persian, G reek, Latin, Germ an, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, A rm enian,
and many other languages o f E urope and A sia. Languages o f the Dravidian fam ily Tamil,
M alayalam , Telugu, K annada, and Tulu are today largely spoken in South India. Exceptions
include Brahui, w hich is spoken in the B aluchistan area o f Pakistan, G ondi in central India and
M alto in the R ajm ahal hills o f eastern India. Santali, K hasi, M undari, and som e other languages o f
eastern India belong to the A ustro-A siatic family. C ertain languages o f the N orth-E ast, such as
M anipuri, B odo, G aro, and Lushai belong to the T ibeto-B urm ese family. A ndam anese, one o f the
languages spoken in the A ndam an Islands, is not apparently related to any o f the know n language
fam ilies.
The o ld est surviving texts in the Indian subcontinent the V edas are in Sanskrit. Sanskrit
belongs to the Indo-Iranian b ranch o f the Indo-E uropean fam ily o f languages, as do ancient P a li and
P ra k rit. There w ere various dialects o f P rakrit e.g., M aharashtri, Shauraseni, and M agadhi.
A p a b h ram sh a is a term used for the further developm ent o f P rak rit up to the end o f the 1st
m illennium CE. Am ong the D rav id ian languages, Tamil has the o ld est literature, fo llo w ed by
Kannada. M any o f the other Indian regional languages and dialects w e are fam iliar w ith today took
shape betw een c. 1000 and 1500. The various languages w ere not closed, separate w o rld s, but
overlapping and interacting ones.

F igure 1.2 languages spoken in India today

Languages have histories and change w ith the times. The p re-classical Sanskrit o f the R ig Veda is
different from the classical Sanskrit o f K a lid a sa s poetry. The term classical S anskrit refers to the
language w hose rules w ere codified by the 5th/4th century BCE gram m arian Panini in his
A shtadhyayi. A nother im portant Sanskrit gram m ar is P atan jalis M a h a b h a sh ya (2nd century BCE).
The o ld est surviving P rak rit gram m ar is V araruchis P ra krita p ra ka sh a , w hose date is debated. The
ancient Tamil o f the Sangam poem s is different from m odern Tamil. The Tolkappiyam is the o ld est
surviving Tamil gram mar; parts o f it go b ack to the early centuries CE. Such gram m atical texts tell us
about the structure o f ancient languages and they also contain incidental historical references to their
time.
A ncient Indian texts are som etim es d iv id ed into religious and non-religious (or se c u la r) texts.
Although this is a handy distinction, there are a few things w o rth keeping in mind. The E nglish w o rd
relig io n attaches great im portance to belief, and suggests fixed, rigid, m utually exclusive
boundaries and distinct religious identities. N o ancient Indian w o rd has such a meaning. The Sanskrit
d h a rm a or the P ali d h a m m a , for instance, had a b ro ad er reference to a path that people should
follow or an exem plary w ay o f life. They included many different kinds o f things codes o f conduct,
social practices, forms and objects o f w orship, ritual activity, traditions, and philosophical ideas.
A ncient societies d id not make the kind o f distinction b etw een the religious and the secular dom ains
w ith w hich w e are fam iliar in m odern tim es. T herefore, w e should not be surprised to find an
interw eaving o f w hat appear to be religious and non-religious them es and content in ancient texts.
Some o f the m ajor literary sources for the history o f ancient and early m edieval India are
discussed in the follow ing sections. A s the volum e o f texts is considerable, these should only be
considered a representative sam ple. The idea is to give a b rie f introduction to their range, w ith a
special focus on texts frequently used and cited by historians. M ost o f these w orks w ere not
historical texts, i.e., they w ere not w ritten w ith the conscious aim o f m aintaining an account o f w hat
happened in the past. But, as w e shall see in the course o f this book, texts o f any kind can be used as
sources o f history.

THE VEDAS

In the H indu tradition, the Vedas have the status o f s h r u ti (literally, that w hich has b een h eard ).
They are thought to em body an eternal, self-existent truth realized by the rish is (seers) in a state o f
m editation or rev ealed to them by the gods. The category o f s m r iti (literally, rem em bered) texts
includes the Vedanga, Puranas, epics, D harm ashastra, and N itishastra.
The w o rd Veda com es from the ro o t v id (literally, to know ) and m eans know ledge. There are
four Vedas Rig, Sama, Yajur, and A tharva. The R ig Veda contains the w o rld s o ld est surviving
poetry, som e o f it o f extraordinary beauty and philosophical depth. E ach Veda has four parts, the last
three o f w hich som etim es blend into each other the S am h ita, Brahm ana, A ranyaka, and Upanishad.
The R ig Veda Sam hita is a co llectio n o f 1,028 hymns (su kta s) arranged in 10 books (M andalas).
The S am a Veda consists o f 1,810 verses, m ostly b o rro w ed from the R ig Veda, arranged according to
the needs o f m usical notation. The original m elodies are, how ever, lost. The Yajur Veda deals w ith
the details o f the perform ance o f rituals. The A th a rva Veda is the latest Veda and contains hymns
(som e from the R ig Veda), but also spells and charm s w hich reflect aspects o f popular beliefs and
practices. The B ra h m a n a s (this term should not be confused w ith the B rahm ana va rn a or caste) are
prose explanations o f the Sam hita portions and give details and explanations o f sacrificial rituals
and their outcome. The A ra n y a k a s (fo rest books) interpret sacrificial rituals in a sym bolic and
philosophical way. There are 108 U p an ish ad s, am ong w hich 13 are considered the principal ones.
The U panishads contain a great v ariety o f philosophical ideas about sacrifice, the body, and the
universe, but are m ost clo sely asso ciated w ith the concepts o f a tm a n and b ra h m a n . W ithin the
Vedic corpus as a w hole, Books 2 - 7 (know n as the fam ily books) o f the R ig Veda Sam hita are
considered the oldest; the later portions o f this Samhita, along w ith all the other Vedic texts,
com prise later Vedic literature.
T here are several recensions (shakhas) o f the Vedas, asso ciated w ith different schools
(charanas) o f Vedic study and interpretation. (The term s sh a kh a and charana are often used
interchangeably.) The Shakala sh a kh a is the only surviving recen sio n o f the R ig Veda. The texts o f
the Yajur Veda are d iv id ed into those o f the Shukla (W hite) school and K rishna (B lack) school. The
recensions o f the Shukla (also know n as V ajasaneya) Yajur Veda are the M adhyandina and Kanva.
The B lack school is represented by the K athaka, K apishthala, M aitrayani, and Taittiriya recensions.
The m ain difference b etw een the texts o f the tw o schools is that the Sam hitas o f the W hite school
contain only the m antras (prayers and sacrificial form ulae), w hile in the texts o f the B lack school the
m antras are accom panied by a com m entary describing and discussing various aspects o f the
sacrificial rituals. The Kauthuma, Ranayaniya, and Jaim iniya (or T alavakara) are recensions o f the
Sam a Veda, and the Shaunaka and P aip p alad a o f the A th a rva Veda. R eferences in inscriptions
m ention other recensions o f the Vedas that once existed but are now lost.
Vedic texts com prise a religious literature, and references to p o ssib le historical events are few.
For exam ple, B ook 7 o f the R ig Veda S a m h ita refers to a battle o f 10 kings, in w hich Sudas defeated
a num ber o f ad v ersaries w ho had confederated against him. H istorians have tried to reconstruct
various aspects o f the culture represented in the Vedas, but it is not easy to interpret this v a st and
com plex literature.
A m ajor p ro b lem in using the Vedas as a source o f history is the p ro b lem o f dating the R ig Veda.
The dates that have been suggested for the com position o f this text range from c. 6000 BCE to 1000
BCE. M any historians take c. 1 5 0 0 -1 0 0 0 BCE as the p erio d o f com position o f early Vedic literature
and c. 1 0 0 0 -5 0 0 BCE as that o f later Vedic texts. This chronology is essentially b ased on the
tentative dates suggested by M ax M ller in the 19th century.
Vedic literature forms an im portant p art o f the B rahm anical tradition texts p reserv ed and
transm itted by a section o f Brahm ana m ales. It reflects their religious beliefs, practices, and points o1
view. A s a source o f history, these texts are used for inform ation about life in parts o f north-w estern
and northern India during the 2nd and 1st m illennia BCE. B ut ap art from the question o f dates, as w e
shall see later on, there are several problem s in co-relating the evidence from the Vedas w ith
archaeology.
A num ber o f supplem entary texts know n as Vedanga (literally, lim bs o f a V eda) aim ed at helping
the p ro p er recitation, use, and understanding o f the Vedas. T hese include w orks on phonetics
(shiksha), m etre (chhanda), gram m ar (vyakarana), etym ology (n iru kta ), ritual (kalpa), and
astronom y (jy o tish a ). The b ro ad p erio d o f com position o f Vedanga literature is c. 6 0 0 -2 0 0 BCE.
Y askas N iru kta , a w o rk on the etym ology o f w ords in the R ig Veda, belongs to the 6 th century BCE.

THE TWO SANSKRIT EPICS: THE RAMAYANA AND MAHABHARATA


The tw o Sanskrit epics, the M a h a b h a ra ta and R am ayana, fall w ithin the category o f sm riti as w ell
as itih a sa (traditional history), although the R am ayana is som etim es classified as ka vya (poetry).
Sim ilarities in language and style suggest that they em erged from a com m on cultural m ilieu. The
M ahabharata refers to Valmiki and the R am ayana, and outlines the R am a story in a section called
the R am opakhyana. The R am ayana in turn mentions the Kurus, H astinapura, and Janam ejaya,
although it does not m ention the M ahabharata w ar. The tw o epics w ere clearly aw are o f each other,
at least in their later stages o f developm ent. The com position o f the M a h a b h a ra ta can be p laced
betw een c. 400 BCE and c. 400 CE, and the R am ayana b etw een the 5th/4th century BCE and the 3rd
century CE. M ore recently, H iltebeitel (2001: 1 8 -2 0 ) has suggested a shorter p erio d o f com position
for the M a h a b h a ra ta , from the m id-2nd century BCE to the year zero. N evertheless, the fact that the
different stages in the com position and developm ent o f the epics could w ell have spanned many
centuries, p o ssib ly even a m illennium , should make it obvious w hy m ost historians no longer use the
term epic age.
The epics are m agnificent texts w ith pow erful stories that have captured the im agination o f
m illions o f people over the centuries. To use them as historical sources, it is n ecessary to identify
their internal chronological layers, w hich is not an easy task. A ccording to tradition, R am a liv ed in
the treta y u g a (age) and the M ahabharata w ar happened later, in the dvap a ra yu g a . H ow ever, some
historians argue that the events and characters asso ciated w ith the M ahabharata reflect a slightly
earlier p erio d than those o f the R am ayana. This is because the setting o f the M a h a b h a ra ta is the
Indo-G angetic divide and the upper G anga valley, w hile in the R a m a ya n a , the centre o f p olitical
gravity had clearly shifted eastw ards, to the m iddle G anga valley. The strong w om en characters o f
the M a h a b h a ra ta suggest an e a rlie r stage o f social developm ent, w hen w om en w ere less
subordinated to m en com pared to later times. The p ractice o f n iyo g a (levirate; i.e., w hen a husband
deputes his conjugal rights over his w ife to another m an in order to produce an heir) in the
M ahabharata also suggests a social stage that is p rio r to that o f the R a m a ya n a , w hich reflects much
stricter controls over women.
The M a h a b h a ra ta consists o f 18 P arvas (books) and has tw o m ain recensions a northern and
southern. The core story concerns a conflict betw een tw o sets o f cousins the K auravas and the
Pandavas and a great w ar that w as fought b etw een them at Kurukshetra. B ut the text also contains a
huge amount o f m aterial that has little or no connection w ith the m ain story. A ccording to tradition, it
w as com posed by Vyasa, but in its present form, it is clearly not the w o rk o f a single individual. The
M ahabharata is truly an encyclopaedic w ork, and it boasts o f this fact. A heroic story form ed the
core to w hich many other stories, serm ons, and didactic portions containing teachings, w ere added
over centuries. The additions include the serm on on dharm a given by B hishm a as he lay dying on a
bed o f arro w s, and the stirring discourse o f K rishna to A rjuna on the eve o f the w ar, know n as the
B h a g a va d Gita.
W hether a bitter w ar betw een the Pandavas and the K auravas ev er happened cannot be p ro v ed or
disproved. It is p o ssib le that there w as a sm all-scale conflict, transform ed into a gigantic epic w ar
by bards and poets. Some historians and archaeologists have argued that this conflict m ay have
occurred in about 1000 BCE.
The R am ayana exists in the form o f tw o m ain recensions northern and southern; the northern
recension can be further d iv id ed into the north-eastern, north-w estern, and w estern. The language o f
the northern recen sio n is m ore elaborate and p olished than that o f the southern one. The epic consists
o f seven K andas (books), o f w hich the first (B ala K anda) and la st (U ttara K anda) are later
interpolations. The b asic story is about Ram a, prince o f K osala; his banishm ent to the forest due to
the intrigues o f his w icked stepm other; the abduction o f his w ife Sita by R avana, the king o f Lanka;
S itas rescue; and R am as return to the capital, Ayodhya, to becom e king. The com pact vocabulary
and style indicate that the core o f the text w as the w o rk o f a single individual, traditionally identified
as Valmiki. Valmiki appears in the B alakanda, w here he is inspired to com pose the epic, and in the
U ttarakanda, w here he gives refuge to Sita w ho has been disow ned by Rama.
Excavations at the site o f Ayodhya have indicated the existence o f a settlem ent here from the
N o rth e rn B la c k P o lish ed W a re (N B P W ) phase, w hich m ay go back at the e a rlie st to c. 700 BCE.
H ow ever, as w ith the M ahabharata, the archaeological evidence does not tell us w hether there is
any historical b asis to the events or the characters o f the R am ayana.
The popularity and dynam ism o f the R am a story is indicated by the fact that ap art from the Valmiki
R am ayana (w hich seem s to be the o ld est version) there are numerous other tellings o f the Ram a
story a Jaina v ersio n (the P a u m a ch a riu o f V im alasuri, in Prakrit), a B uddhist v ersio n (the
D asharatha J a ta k a in P ali), a 12th century Tamil v ersio n by K am ban (the Iram avataram ), and the
R am charitm anas (16th century) by T ulsidas, to name only a few. T here are also innum erable oral
versions o f the story. The R am a legend has enjoyed great popularity in other parts o f A sia as w ell
and there are various tellings o f the story in Tibet, Myanmar, Laos, C am bodia, and Indonesia.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Archaeology and the Mahabharata

A rchaeological explorations and excavations at p laces m entioned in the M a h a b h a ra ta e.g.,


H astinapura, K urukshetra, Panipat, Tilpat, Baghpat, M athura, and B airat have given evidence
o f a pottery called P a in te d G re y W a re (P G W ) w hich goes b ack to c. 1000 BCE. This show s
that these sites w ere inhabited around this time, and the nature o f the rem ains suggests that the
people w ho liv ed here shared a pastoral-cum -agricultural lifestyle.

There is another sort o f evidence from H astinapura: The M a tsy a and Vayu P u ra n a s state that
during the reign o f king N ichakshu (fifth king after Parikshit, grandson o f A rjuna, w ho becam e
king after the w ar), due to a flood in the Ganga, the capital w as shifted from H astinapura to
K ausham bi. E xcavations at H astinapura gave evidence o f a flood in the Ganga, after w hich the
site w as deserted for several centuries. H ow ever, it is not n ecessary that this w as the sam e flood
m entioned in the Puranas.

There is a strong local trad itio n that the Purana Q ila in N ew D elhi marks the p lace w here
Indraprastha, the capital o f the Pandavas, once stood. Shams Siraj A f if s T arikh-i-F iruz Shahi
(14th century) states that Indraprastha w as the headquarters o f a p a rg a n a (district). A 14th
century stone inscription found in N arain a v illag e in w e st D elhi also mentions Indraprastha. The
16th century A in -i-A kb a ri o f A bul Fazl states that Hum ayuns fort w as b u ilt at the place w here
Indraprastha, capital o f the Pandavas, w as located long ago. In fact, till the end o f the 19th
century, there w as a v illag e called Indarpat inside the fort w alls.
Excavations carried out at the Purana Q ila b etw een 1954 and 1971 rev ealed several
archaeological levels ranging from the 4th century BCE to the 19th century CE. The d isco v ery o f a
few stray p ieces o f P G W indicated the p o ssib ility that an o ld er settlem ent w as located
som ew here nearby. H ow ever, there is no w ay o f know ing for sure w hether this settlem ent had
any connection w ith the M ahabharata legend.

P urana Qila excavations in progress, 1954

A rchaeology cannot re a lly prove or disp ro v e the historicity o f epic events or characters. The
crux o f the m atter is that there is a qualitative difference betw een the nature o f literary and
archaeological evidence. The epic im aginatively w eaves together an event-centred narrative
about people and places. A rchaeology, on the other hand, tells us about general patterns o f
m aterial culture, and cannot easily be used to corroborate textual details about individuals or
events.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

The chronological layers in the Ramayana

O n the b asis o f a careful analysis o f language, style, and content, J. L. B rockington (1984) has
identified five distinct chronological and cultural stages in the developm ent o f the R am ayana.
The epic started taking shape as an oral com position during the 5 th -4 th centuries BCE (stage I).
The story em phasized the heroic elem ent and its geographical horizons w ere lim ited. The
m aterial culture and social structure represented w ere relativ ely sim ple, the religious ideas and
p ractices clo ser to those o f the Vedas than the Puranas.

In stage II, dated 3rd century BCE-1st century CE, there w as a shift from the heroic to the
aesthetic element. The geographical aw areness o f the text expanded eastw ard into the lo w er
G anga valley. R eferences to social and econom ic life, such as the em phasis on the chastity o f
w om en and the descriptions o f cities and trade caravans, suggest increasing levels o f class
stratification and subordination o f w omen. The p o w er o f the king w as em phasized and w arfare
had becom e m ore elaborate. The story w as im bued w ith a religious significance.

Stage III belongs to the 1 st-3 rd centuries CE. B y then urbanization had spread to many new areas.
The d iv isio n o f society into four va rn a s w as em phasized. The king w as exalted as a protector o f
his people and the social order. The subordination o f w om en had increased. Vedic gods such as
B rahm a and Indra w ere still im portant, but Vishnu and Shiva had ap p eared on the scene and w ere
exalted. B ooks I and VII w ere added to the epic during this period.

In stage IV (4 th -1 2 th centuries), the religious and aesthetic em phasis increased. D escriptions o f


society underlined the pre-em inence o f the B rahm anas and the lo w p o sitio n o f the Shudras and
out-castes. R eferences to the inauspiciousness o f w id o w s and the p ractice o f sa ti (the ritual self
im m olation o f w id o w s) reflect the increasing subordination o f wom en. Vishnu and Shiva
em erged as suprem e gods in a religious m ilieu m arked by tem ple w orship and pilgrim age. The
trends v isib le in the fourth stage w ere strengthened from the 12th century onw ards (stage V).

A p art from these different cultural stages, B rockington also identifies corresponding changes in
the delineation o f the m ain characters o f the story. F or instance, he argues that in stage I, Ram a
w as essentially considered an exem plary human and that it w as tow ards the end o f stage II that he
started being conceived o f as divine. In stage III, R am as v icto ry over R avana cam e to be
presented as a victory o f dharm a (righteousness) over evil. A lthough there are references to
devotion to R am a in this stage, the divine character o f Ram a, his asso ciatio n w ith Vishnu, and his
d escrip tio n as an incarnation (avatara or p ra d u rb h a va ) o f Vishnu are regular features o f stages
IV and V.

B rockington talks o f the transform ation o f a heroic epic into a religious epic. H ow ever, P o llo ck
(1991: 52) argues that the R am ayana w as p erv ad ed by the idea o f R am as divinity from the v ery
outset.

The various tellings often have different beginnings and endings, and characters and events are
m oulded in different w ays (see Richm an, 1992). F or instance, in the P a u m a ch a riu , R avana is
presented as a tragic hero w ho is k illed by Lakshmana, not by R am a (w ho em bodies all the Jaina
virtues, including non-violence). A p art from w ritten and oral versions o f the story, the R am ayana
has also b een the subject o f art and perform ance sculpture, painting, plays, dance dram as, and
telev isio n serials.
The epics can be read in many different w ays from the historical point o f view . W hile m ost
scholars have focused on debating the historicity o f their events, som e have tried to d escrib e their
many different cultural layers. A nother app ro ach is to read such texts as a response to a specific kind
o f historical context. F o r instance, Jam es L. F itzgerald (in M ittal and Thursby, 2005: 54) has argued
that the M a h a b h a ra ta w as a B rahm anical response to certain specific historical developm ents: the
increasing popularity o f religious traditions such as B uddhism and Jainism , and the rise o f dynasties
such as the N andas and M auryas, w ho extended support to them, w ere p erceiv ed by a section o f the
Brahm anas as threatening the B rahm anical order. The M ahabharata w as their response to this
perceiv ed crisis.

THE PURANAS

The w o rd P urana m eans o ld . A ccording to tradition, the Puranas w ere com posed by Vyasa, but it
is clear that in the form in w hich they have com e dow n to us, they w ere not the w o rk o f one p erso n
nor o f one age. T here are 18 M ahapuranas (great Puranas), and many m ore U papuranas (secondary
Puranas). The standard list o f the 18 M ahapuranas includes the Vishnu, N a ra d a , B h a g a va ta ,
G aruda, P a d m a , Varaha, M a tsy a , K u rm a , L in g a , S h iv a , S ka n d a , A g n i, B ra h m a n d a ,
B ra h m a va iva rta , M a rka n d eya , B h a v ish y a , Vamana, and B rahm a. The origins o f the Puranas may
have o v erlap p ed to som e extent w ith the Vedas, but their com position stretched fo rw ard into the 4 th -
5th centuries CE, and in som e cases, even later.
The Puranas are supposed to have five characteristics (pancha -la ksh a n a s), i.e., they are supposed
to discuss five topics the creatio n o f the w o rld (sarga); re-creatio n (p ra tisa rg a ); the p erio d s o f the
various M anus (m anvantaras); the genealogies o f gods and rish is (vam sha); and an account o f royal
dynasties (vam shanucharita), including the Suryavam shi and C handravam shi kings, w hose origin is
traced to the sun and the moon. A ctually, not all Puranas deal w ith all these five topics, and m ost o f
them deal w ith much more.
The conception o f tim e in the Puranas is m ind-boggling. T here are four ages or y u g a s krita,
treta, dvapara, and kali, all consisting o f thousands and thousands o f years. T hese four y u g a s make
up a m ahayuga, and 1,000 m ahayugas constitute a kalpa. E very ka lp a is d iv id ed into 14
m anvantaras, each p resid ed over by a Manu. One y u g a follow s the other, and the p erio d ic
destruction o f the w o rld is fo llo w ed by its re-creation. This cycle o f tim e is connected w ith the
cyclical decline and revival o f dharm a.
The e a rlie st parts o f the Puranic genealogies are either entirely or p artly mythical. The later
genealogies o f kings o f the ka li age (w hich, according to tradition, began the day K rishna died, 20
years after the M ahabharata w ar) have historical m aterial. The account is given in the future tense in
the form o f a prophecy, because Vyasa is supposed to have liv ed at the end o f the dvap a ra y u g a and
the beginning o f the k a li yuga, before the events he is supposed to be describing. The B h a vish ya
P urana is m entioned in som e Puranas as the original authority for the genealogies, but the present
versions o f this text have incom plete m aterial on the subject.
A lthough their details do not alw ays match, the Puranas esp ecially the Vayu, B rahm anda,
Brahma, H arivam sha, M a tsya , and Vishnu do provide useful inform ation on ancient p olitical
history. They refer to historical dynasties such as the H aryankas, Shaishunagas, N andas, M auryas,
Shungas, K anvas, and A ndhras (Satavahanas). They also m ention certain kings, w ith names ending in
the suffix naga, w ho ruled in northern and central India in the early centuries CE, about w hom very
little else is known. The dynastic lists end w ith the G uptas (4 th -6 th centuries), indicating that m ost o1
the Puranas w ere com piled at about this time. H ow ever, som e are later e.g., the B h a g a va ta P urana
belongs to the 10th and the Skanda P urana to the 14th century, w ith additions m ade up to the 16th
century.
The Puranas have accounts o f mountains, riv ers, and places, w hich are useful for the study o f
historical geography. They also reflect the em ergence o f religious cults b ased on devotion,
esp ecially tow ards the gods Vishnu and Shiva and the goddess Shakti. This devotion w as expressed
through the w orship o f im ages o f deities in tem ples, pilgrim age (tirth a ), and v o w s (vrata). Some o f
the Puranic myths such as the stories o f encounters and interactions betw een dem ons (rakshasas,
asuras), gods (devas), and sages (rish is) are interpreted by historians as allegorical representations
o f interactions among people belonging to different cultures. The Puranas had a v ery im portant
function in the B rahm anical trad itio n as vehicles o f B rahm anical social and religious values. A t the
same time, they also reflect the interaction o f B rahm anical and non-B rahm anical cultural traditions
and the em ergence and developm ent o f H indu religious practices.

THE DHARMASHASTRA

The Sanskrit w o rd dharm a (from the ro o t dhri, m eaning to m aintain, support, or sustain) is very
rich in m eaning and difficult to translate. The concept o f dharm a is b ased on the idea that the
universe is governed by a certain natural law and that the m oral law s guiding p e o p le s lives should
be in consonance w ith that natural law.
D harm a refers to the proper, ideal conduct o f a p erso n living in society, a course o f action w hich
leads to the fulfilm ent o f the goals o f human life. These goals, know n as p u ru sh a rth a s, are dharm a
(righteous conduct), a rth a (m aterial w ell-being), kam a (sensual pleasure), and m o k s h a (deliverance
from the cycle o f rebirth). In this schem e o f things, m aterial gain and sensual pleasure are considered
desirable goals, i f pursued in accordance w ith dharm a. The concept o f dharm a is clo sely tied up
w ith the id ea o f sa m sara the cycle o f birth, death, and rebirth. The fruits o f dharm a include the
acquisition o f spiritual m erit (p u n ya ), and its im pact is supposed to be felt not only in this life but in
future lives as w ell. The obligations o f dharm a are considered as ap p licab le to and binding on
everybody. T herefore, dharm a also m eans duty.
A special group o f Sanskrit texts dealing sp ecifically w ith dharm a are co llectiv ely know n as the
D h a rm a sh a s tra . T hese texts can be subdivided into three groups. The first tw o are the
D h a rm a su tra s (com posed during c. 6 0 0 -3 0 0 BCE) and the Sm ritis (c. 200 BCE-900 CE). The third
includes b rie f and elaborate com m entaries (Tikas and Bhashyas, respectively), collections w ith
comments and conclusions (N ibandhas), and com pendia o f v iew s from different texts (Sangrahas),
all com posed betw een the 9th and the 19th centuries. A s there is little v ariatio n in language or style
w ithin a particular group o f D harm ashastra texts, it is not alw ays easy to assign absolute dates to
individual w orks.
The D harm asutras are p art o f Vedanga literature as w ell as the D harm ashastra corpus. Vedanga
literature includes the K alpasutras (aphorism s on ritual), w hich are d iv id ed into Shrautasutras,
G rihyasutras, and D harm asutras. S u tra (literally, th read ) refers to a style in w hich ideas are
expressed in v ery short, condensed statements. The Shrautasutras deal w ith Vedic sacrifices that
required the use o f at le a st three fires. The G rihyasutras deal w ith the sim pler dom estic sacrifices
involving the use o f only one fire. The rituals they discuss include d aily sacrifices to be perform ed
by a householder, m ainly involving oblations o f ghee or offerings o f flow ers and fruits. They also
describe the sa m sk a ra s (literally, p rep aratio n , arrangem ent) rituals m arking im portant life
stages, such as upanayana (initiation), viva h a (m arriage), and a n tyesh ti (funerary rites). The
D harm asutras deal w ith dharm a.
D harm ashastra recognizes three sources o f dharm a sh ru ti (i.e., the Vedas), sm riti (i.e., the
Smriti texts), and sa d a ch a ra or sh ish ta ch a ra (good custom or the practices o f the learned, cultured
people). A s a m atter o f fact, the Sam hitas o f the Vedas do not contain d irect d iscu ssio n o f rules o f
conduct, so the second and third sources o f dharm a are v ery important. A p erso n s dharm a depends
on gender, age, m arital status, varna, and a sh ra m a . The four varnas are Brahm ana, K shatriya,
Vaishya, and Shudra. The first three o f these are referred to in the B rahm anical trad itio n as dvija
(literally, tw ice-b o rn ) as they alone have the right to the sacred-thread cerem ony, w hich is
considered sim ilar to a second birth. The ashram a system w ent through several stages o f
developm ent and ultim ately d iv id ed the life o f a d v ija m ale into four stages b ra h m a ch a rya
(celibate studenthood), g r ih a s th a (the householder stage), va n a p ra sth a (partial renunciation), and
sa n n ya sa (com plete renunciation). The fourth a shram a is not obligatory. The ashram as rep resen t an
ideal schem e and it should not be im agined that people in ancient India n ecessarily fo llo w ed it in
real life. Further, it w as not supposed to apply, even as an ideal, to w om en or Shudras.
A p art from norm s o f social behaviour, D harm ashastra deals w ith a num ber o f other issues
including personal, civil, and crim inal law. H ow ever, the la w s o f these law b o o k s are not like the
provisions o f the Indian civil or penal codes. We do not know to w hat extent their recom m endations
w ere actually used or ap p lied in early tim es. T hese texts are norm ative and p rescrip tiv e they talk
about the w ay things sh o u ld be, from the point o f v ie w o f a section o f Brahm ana m ales w ho w ere the
dharm a experts and also the im plied subject for many o f the rules.
A lthough the D harm ashastra texts do not d irectly d escrib e the society o f their time, certain
inferences about social practices can be m ade on their basis. C ontradictions w ithin or across texts
may indicate different opinions am ong experts, differences in custom ary practices in different areas,
or changes in social norm s over time. The B rahm anical trad itio n had som e amount o f in-built
elasticity in o rd er to com e to term s w ith social reality.

p r im a r y So u r c e s

Theory and practice in the Dharmashastra

The D harm ashastra texts reveal the tension betw een theory and p ractice w ithin the B rahm anical
tradition. They divide society into four va rn a s, but also refer to the m ore numerous j a t i s (castes),
w hich they explain as the outcom e o f intervarna m arriages (va rn a -sa m ka ra ). A lthough they
assert that everybody m ust follow the dharm a o f their v a rn a , they concede that in tim es o f
em ergency or acute distress, people can fo llo w the duties o f other varnas. They refer to the
dharm a o f different regions (desha-dharm a), castes (ja ti-d h a rm a ), and fam ilies (kula-dharm a).

C onsider the follow ing exam ples b ased on the M a n a va D harm ashastra, often referred to as the
M a n u S m riti, a text generally assigned to b etw een c. 200 BCE and 200 CE (a m ore recent v iew
places it in the 2 n d -3 rd centuries CE):

A. The Manu Smriti forbids marriage between a man and the daughter of his maternal uncle or paternal
aunt. Medatithi, the 10th century commentator on the text, states that such cross-cousin marriages are
against dharma. But Madhava, the 14th century commentator on the Parashara Smriti, gives detailed
arguments to show that there was nothing wrong with such marriages, citing Vedic passages and custom.
B. The Manu Smriti condemns marriage between a dvija man and a Shudra woman. But when it talks of the
division of property, it specifies the shares to be given to the sons born of a Brahmana, Kshatriya, or
Vaishya father by a Shudra woman.
C. The text states that a widow should not remarry. But it fixes the length of time a woman should wait for a
husband who is missing, and lays down the inheritance rights of sons with one mother and two fathers
(i.e., a son whose mother has married a second time).
D. In one place, the Manu Smriti forbids the eating of meat. However, elsewhere, it includes meat among
the items to be offered to a Brahmana invited to a shraddha (ceremonies in honour of and for the
benefit of ancestors).

Exam ple A show s that the author or authors o f the M a n u S m riti and the com m entator M edatithi
clearly d isap p ro v ed o f cro ss-co u sin m arriage. But M adhava apparently liv ed in a p art o f South
India w here such m arriages w ere so cially accepted, and so he defended them. Exam ples B and C
indicate that the authors o f the M a n u S m riti d isap p ro v ed o f m arriage betw een a d vija m ale and
Shudra fem ale, and d id not approve o f w om en, including w id o w s, rem arrying. B ut as such things
d id happen they had to regulate p rev ailin g p ractice by laying dow n som e rules. Exam ple D
sim ilarly show s that the authors o f the M a n u S m riti d id not approve o f m eat eating among
B rahm anas, but had to acknow ledge the prevalence o f non-vegetarianism .

The authors o f the D harm ashastra texts had to confront and try to regulate a w id e v ariety o f
social practices. This, to a large extent, accounts for the variations in their opinions and
prescriptions.

BUDDHIST LITERATURE

E arly B uddhist literature is generally d iv id ed into canonical and non-canonical texts. C anonical texts
are the books w hich lay d o w n the b asic tenets and principles o f a relig io n or sect. The various
B uddhist schools classify their canonical literature in different w ays, som e into 9 or 12 Angas,
others into 3 Pitakas.
T here are P ali, Chinese, and T ibetan versions o f the T ip ita ka (The Three B askets/ C ollections).
The P ali Tipitaka o f the T heravada school is the o ld est o f them all. P ali w as a literary language
w hich dev elo p ed out o f a mixture o f dialects, p articularly those spoken in the M agadha area o f
eastern India. The T ipitaka consists o f three books the Sutta, Vinaya, and A bhidham m a. In the
B uddhist context, su tta (from the Sanskrit su tra ) refers to texts that are supposed to contain w hat the
Buddha h im self said. The S u tta P ita ka contains the B uddhas discourses on various doctrinal issues
in dialogue form. W ith the exception o f a few su tta s, the authority o f this w o rk w as accepted by all
B uddhist schools. The Vinaya P ita k a has rules for monks and nuns o f the sa n g h a (m onastic order). It
includes the P a tim o kkh a a list o f transgressions against m onastic discip lin e and atonem ents for
these. The A bhidham m a P ita k a is a later w ork, and contains a thorough study and system ization o f
the teachings o f the S u tta P ita k a through lists, sum m aries, and questions and answ ers.
The three Pitakas are d iv id ed into books know n as the N ikayas (analogous but not identical to the
Agamas o f the B uddhist Sanskrit tradition). F o r instance, the S u tta P ita k a consists o f five N ikayas
the D igha, M ajjhim a, Sam yutta, A nguttara, and K hud d a ka N ikayas. The J a ta k a s stories o f the
previous births o f the B uddha are one o f the 15 books o f the K hud d a ka N ikaya, and their
com position can be p laced betw een the 3rd century BCE and the 2nd century CE. The K hud d a ka
N ikaya also contains the D ham m apada (a co llectio n o f v erses dealing m ainly w ith ethical sayings),
and the Theragatha and T herigatha (songs o f B uddhist monks and nuns). The Therigatha, w hich
describes w om ens experience o f renunciation, is esp ecially im portant because it is one o f the very
few surviving ancient Indian texts com posed by or attributed to women.
A ccording to B uddhist tradition, the S u tta and Vinaya P ita ka s w ere recited at the first council o f
monks at R ajagriha im m ediately after the B uddhas death, and 100 years later at the second council
at Vaishali. But their com position m ust have extended over several centuries, up to the tim e o f the
third council convened in the 3rd century BCE during the reign o f A shoka. The com position o f the
basic core o f the P ali Tipitaka can therefore be p laced betw een the 5th and 3rd centuries BCE. The
canon is supposed to have been w ritten dow n in the first century BCE in Sri Lanka under the
patronage o f a king nam ed Vattagamani, by w hich tim e it m ust have undergone further m odifications.
N on-canonical B uddhist literature in P ali includes the M ilin d a p a n h a (1 st century BCE-1 st century
CE) w hich consists o f a dialogue on various philosophical issues betw een king M ilinda no doubt
the Indo-G reek M enander and the m onk N agasena. The N ettig a n d h a or N ettip a ka ra n a (The B ook
o f G uidance) belongs to the sam e p erio d and gives a connected account o f the teaching o f the
Buddha. Com m entaries on the Tipitaka include a 5th century w o rk by Buddhaghosha. The first
connected life story o f the B uddha occurs in the N id a n a ka th a (1 st century). The P ali or Sri Lankan
chronicles the D ip a va m sa (4 th -5 th centuries) and the M a h a va m sa (5th century) contain a
historical-cum -m ythical account o f the B uddhas life, the B uddhist councils, the M aurya em peror
Ashoka, the kings o f Sri Lanka, and the arriv al o f B uddhism on that island.
A p art from texts in P ali, there are several B uddhist w orks in Sanskrit, and in a mixture o f P rakrit
and Sanskrit that is often referred to as B uddhist Sanskrit or B uddhist hybrid Sanskrit. The trend
tow ards the use o f Sanskrit intensified in the M ahayana schools, but som e non-M ahayana texts w ere
also com posed in Sanskrit or m ixed Prakrit-Sanskrit. F or instance, the canon o f the S arvastivada
school is in Sanskrit. The M ahavastu, w hich has som e M ahayana elem ents, gives a hagiography
(sacred biography) o f the B uddha and d escrib es the em ergence o f the m onastic order in m ixed
Sanskrit-P rakrit. The L a lita v ista ra (1 st-2 n d centuries), a hagiography o f the B uddha associated
w ith the S arvastivada school but strongly tinged w ith M ahayana elem ents, is in Sanskrit and m ixed
Prakrit-Sanskrit.

S e e C h a p t e r 8, pp. 440- 41 f o r d e t a il s o f t h e m a h a y a n a a n d h in a y a n a s c h o o l s

p r im a r y So u r c e s

Songs o f Buddhist nuns

Ubbiris song

U bbiri w as a w om an o f Shravasti, w ho attained n ib b a n a (enlightenm ent) as an upasika, i.e., lay-


w oman. The turning point in her life w as an encounter w ith the Buddha, w hich took place w hile
she w as lam enting the death o f her daughter Jiva. The follow ing song is in the form o f a dialogue
b etw een the B uddha and U bbiri.

[Buddha:]
M other, you cry out O J iv a in the w oods.
Come to yourself, U bbiri.
Eighty-four thousand daughters
all w ith the name J iv a
have burned in the funeral fire.
For w hich one do you grieve?

[U bbiri:]
I had an arro w hidden in my heart
and he took it out
that g rie f for my daughter.
The arro w is out,
the h eart healed o f hunger.
I take refuge in the B uddha-sage,
the D h a rm a , the S a n g h a .

M ittas song

M itta w as a Sakya w om an o f K apilavastu. The first v erse o f her song speaks o f the observances
she follow ed as a layw om an, the second o f her life after she becam e a nun.

To be reb o rn among the gods


I fasted and fasted
every tw o w eeks,
day eight, fourteen, fifteen
and a special day.

N o w w ith a shaved head


and B uddhist robes
I eat one m eal a day.
I d ont long to be a god.
There is no fear in my heart.

Source M urcott, 1991: 81, 21

(5 s )

w w w .pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh
EXTRACTS FROM BUDDHIST TEXTS

S e e C h a p t e r 8, pp. 443- 44 f o r d e t a il s o n t h e Sh v e t a m b a r a and D ig a m b a r a


SCHOOLS

Sanskrit B uddhist texts include A shvaghoshas B u d d h a ch a rita (1st/2nd century) and the A vadana
texts. The latter contain stories o f notew orthy deeds w ith a m oral; they include the A vadanashataka
(2nd century) and the D ivya va d a n a (4th century) w hich have stories connected w ith the B uddha and
the M aurya em peror A shoka. The 1st century A sh ta sa h a srika -p ra jn a p a ra m ita and Saddharm a-
pundarika offer accounts o f the various Buddhas, b o d h isa ttva s (future B uddhas), and M ahayana
doctrines. L ater w orks o f M ahayana thinkers such as N agarjuna, Vasubandhu, A sanga, A ryadeva,
B uddhapalita, and D ignaga are all in Sanskrit.
B uddhist texts are im portant sources for the history o f Buddhism , its doctrines, m onastic order,
and royal patrons such as A shoka, rev ealin g many other facets o f the polity, society, and econom y o f
their tim es as w ell. They offer a non-B rahm anical w indow into ancient India; how ever, the
Brahm anical p ersp ectiv e is rep laced by a B uddhist one.

JAINA LITERATURE

The sacred books o f the Jainas are co llectiv ely know n as the Siddhanta or Agama. The language o f
the e a rlie st texts is an eastern d ialect o f P rak rit know n as A rd h a-M ag ad h i. The Jaina m onastic order
came to be d iv id ed into the S h v e ta m b a ra and D ig a m b a ra schools, perhaps in about the 3rd century
ce. The Shvetam bara canon includes the 12 A ngas, 12 Uvam gas (U pangas), 10 Painnas (Prakirnas),
6 Cheya Suttas (C heda Sutras), 4 M ula Suttas (M ula Sutras), and a num ber o f individual texts such as
the N a n d i S u tta (N andi S u tra ) and A n u godara (A nuyogadvara). T here is som e o v erlap in the
content o f the canonical literature o f the tw o schools. F or instance, the D igam baras accep t and give
prim e im portance to the A ngas, and som e o f the texts they club together as the A ngabahyas have
corresponding Shvetam bara texts.
A ccording to Shvetam bara tradition, the A ngas w ere com piled at a council held at Pataliputra.
The com pilation o f the entire canon is supposed to have taken place in the 5th or 6 th century at a
council held in Valabhi in G ujarat, p resid ed over by D evarddhi K sham ashram ana. Some o f the
m aterial in the canon m ay go back to the 5th or 4th century BCE, but changes and additions continued
to be m ade till the 5 th -6 th centuries CE. In o rd er to use such texts as historical sources, a clearer
identification o f their internal chronology is required.
The non-canonical Jaina w orks are p artly in P rak rit dialects, esp ecially M aharashtri, and partly in
Sanskrit, w hich started being used in the early centuries CE. Com m entaries on the canonical w orks
include the N ijjuttis (N iryuktis), B hashyas, and Churnis in M aharashtri and Prakrit; the early
m edieval Tikas, V rittis, and A vachurnis are in Sanskrit. The genealogical lists in the Jaina Pattavalis
and the T heravalis contain v ery p recise chronological details about the Jaina saints, but they
som etim es contradict each other.
The Jain a Puranas (the Shvetam baras call them C haritas) are hagiographies o f the Jaina saints
know n as tirth a n ka ra s (literally ford m akers), but they contain other m aterial as w ell. The A di
P urana (9th century) narrates the life o f the first tirth a n ka ra R ishabha, also know n as A dinatha. The
8th century H a riva m sh a P u ra n a gives a Jaina v e rsio n o f the stories o f the K auravas, Pandavas,
K rishna, B alaram a, and others. The T rishashtilakshana M a h a p u ra n a by Jinasena and G unabhadra
(9th century) has life stories o f various Jaina saints, kings, and heroes. It also has sections on topics
such as life-cycle rituals, the interpretation o f dream s, to w n planning, the duties o f a w arrior, and
how a king should rule. The P a rish ish ta p a rva n (12th century) by H em achandra gives a history o f the
earliest Jaina teachers and also mentions certain details o f p olitical history. A num ber o f Prabandhas
(12th century onw ards) from G ujarat offer sem i-historical accounts o f saints and historical
characters. Jaina texts also include hymn literature and lyrical poetry. The v a st Jaina didactic story
(k ath a) literature in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and A pabhram sha can offer historians clues on the everyday
life o f their time. The Jaina texts in the K annada language are d iscussed further on in this chapter.
w w w .pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh
Ex t r a c t s f r o m j a in a t e x t s

Jaina literature offers inform ation regarding the history and doctrines o f Jainism , the doctrines o f
rival schools, the life stories o f the saints, and the life o f monks and nuns in the sangha. The texts can
also be used for inform ation on other aspects o f the cultural history o f their times. Jaina texts have
not, how ever, b een studied or used as extensively by historians as B uddhist sources.

SANGAM LITERATURE AND LATER TAMIL WORKS

The e a rlie st literature o f South India is represented by a group o f texts in o ld Tamil, often
co llectiv ely referred to as Sangam literature. A trad itio n reco rd ed in post-7th century texts speaks o f
three Sangams or literary gatherings in ancient tim es. The first is supposed to have b een held in
M adurai for 4,440 years, the second at K apatapuram for 3,700 years, and the third in M adurai for
1,850 years. A lthough the details o f this legend obviously cannot be considered historical, the
sim ilarity o f language and style w ithin the Sangam corpus suggests the p o ssib ility that they w ere the
product o f som e sort o f literary gathering. The case for the historicity o f at least the third Sangam is
that som e o f the kings and poets asso ciated w ith it are historical figures. O n the other hand, there is a
p ossibility that the legend o f the Sangams may have been b ased on a v ery different event the
establishm ent o f the Jaina sa n g h a in M adurai in about the 5th century. In v ie w o f the controversy
surrounding the trad itio n o f the three Sangams, som e scholars p refer to use the term early classical
Tamil literatu re rather than Sangam literatu re.
The Sangam corpus includes six o f the eight anthologies o f poem s included in the E ttu to ka i (The
Eight C ollections), and nine o f the te n p a ttu s (songs) o f the P a ttu p p a ttu (The Ten Songs). The style
and certain historical references in the poem s suggest that they w ere com posed betw een the 3rd
century BCE and the 3rd century CE. They w ere com piled into anthologies in about the m id- 8th
century. A few centuries later, these anthologies w ere co llected into the super-anthologies (i.e.,
anthologies o f anthologies) called the E ttu to ka i and the P attu p p a ttu . The e a rlie st parts o f the first
two books o f the Tolkappiyam can also be included in Sangam literature. The Tolkappiyam is
essentially a w o rk on grammar, but it also includes a d iscussion o f phonology, sem antics, syntax, and
literary conventions.
T here are tw o kinds o f Sangam poem s a k a m and p u r a m . A kam poem s had love as their theme,
w hile p u ra m poem s w ere m ostly about war. A. K. R am anujan (1999) describes p u ra m poetry as
public p oetry w hich d ealt w ith all kinds o f them es other than love, such as good and evil,
community and kingdom. The poem s w ere m odelled on the bard ic songs o f o ld er tim es and w ere
o rally transm itted for an indefinite p erio d before they w ere w ritten dow n. The anthologies include a
total o f 2,381 poem s ascrib ed to 473 poets, 30 o f w hom w ere women. The poets cam e from cities
and villag es and had v aried social and professional backgrounds. They included teachers,
merchants, carpenters, astrologers, goldsm iths, blacksm iths, soldiers, m inisters, and kings. Due to
their v aried them es and authorship, Sangam poem s offer a good idea o f everyday life in the time
w hen they w ere com posed.
A num ber o f Tamil didactic w orks w ere w ritten in the post-5th century period. The m ost famous of
these is T iru v allu v ars Tirukkural, a w o rk on ethics, polity, and love (5 th - 6 th centuries). O f the
several Tamil epics, tw o o f the b est know n are the S ila p p a d ika ra m and M anim ekalai. The form er is
a little e a rlie r that the latter, but both w ere com posed in about the 5 th -6 th centuries CE.

(5 s )

w w w .pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh
p o e m s fr o m the Sa n g a m corpus

E arly m edieval Tamil literature includes the inspired and intense devotional poetry o f the
Vaishnava saints (A lv ars) and Shaiva saints (N a y a n a rs or N a y a n m a rs) and their hagiographies.
Vaishnava poetry took o ff w ith the com positions o f Peyalvar, Puttalvar, and P oikaialvar. In the 10th
century, Natham uni co llected the A lv ar hymns into the canon know n as the N a la y ira D ivya
P ra b a n d h a m . The A lva rva ip a va m is a sacred biography o f the V aishnava saints. Shaiva devotional
literature began w ith the com positions o f Tirum ular and K araikal Ammaiyar. The hymns o f the
Nayanm ar saints w ere com piled in the 10th century by N am bi A ndar N am bi and this com pilation
form ed the core o f the Shaiva canon, the T iru m u ra i. N am bi also w rote a w o rk called the
T iru tto n d a r T iru va n ta ti about the saints. In the 12th century, the accounts o f the Shaiva saints w ere
collected in a text called the P eriya p u ra n a m . A ll these texts pro v id e v aluable insights into the
religious and social history o f early m edieval South India.
N ew genres o f Tamil poetry em erged in early m edieval tim es, many in p raise o f kings and gods.
The K alam pakam s w ere poetic com positions in w hich the la st line, w ord, foot, or syllable o f the
preceding p oem form ed the beginning o f the succeeding one. K ovai w ere poem s in w hich the v erses
are arranged in a them atic sequence. C om positions in this genre included: the P a n tikko va i, a 6th/7th
century w o rk w ritten in honour o f the Pandya king N etum aran; M anikkavachakars T irukkovaiyar
(9th century) in p raise o f the god Shiva; and Poyyam olip P u la v a rs Tanchaivanan K o va i (13th
century) about Tanchaivanan, a m inister and general o f a Pandya king. U la literature com prised songs
in p raise o f gods, sung w hen the image o f the deity w as taken out in procession. Tutu poetry
consisted o f poem s in w hich a m essage is d eliv ered to a god, lover, or som eone else. The m oral
aphorism s and sayings o f A vvaiyar (9th/10th century), the second o f three poetesses by this name,
are still popular among Tam il-speaking people today.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

The stories o f the two Tamil epics


A lthough the northern epics w ere certainly know n in early historical South India, the origins o f
Tamil epic narratives seem to lie in late Sangam com positions such as the K a litto ka i and
P a rip a ta l rather than in northern influence.

The S ila p p a d ika ra m (The Song o f the A nklet) by Ilankovatikal (prince ascetic) consists o f 30
cantos arranged in three books. The outline o f the story is as follow s: K o v alan (the son o f a
w ealthy m erchant) and Kannaki are a young, happily m arried couple living in Puhar. K ovalan
falls in love w ith a beautiful courtesan nam ed M adhavi and abandons his w ife. H e eventually
returns home after quarrelling w ith M adhavi. Kannaki w elcom es him b ack and offers him her
golden anklet to raise som e money. They travel to M adurai, capital o f the Pandya king,
accom panied by a Jaina nun nam ed K avundi. K ovalan goes o ff to sell his w ife s anklet. H e is
accused o f stealing the queens anklet, w hich looks ju s t like K annakis, and is executed. Kannaki
is devastated. She proves her husbands innocence by bursting open her other anklet it contains
a ruby, w hereas the queens w as filled w ith pearls. The king, w ho had executed a m an unjustly,
dies o f rem orse; his w ife dies o f grief. Kannaki tears o ff her left b re a st and hurls it onto the city
in fury. M adurai is engulfed in flam es. K annaki jo in s her husband in heaven; on earth she com es
to be w o rsh ip p ed as the ideal w ife.

Z velebil points out that the e p ic s com plex treatm ent o f guilt and evil is one o f its strengths. So
are its m ulti-layered characters w ith human flaw s and frailties, w hich evolve as the story
progresses. The anklet has an im portant sym bolism Kannaki w ears her anklets in the beginning
o f the story, w hen she is happy; she rem oves them after she is abandoned by K ovalan. The anklet
is the cause o f K o v alan s tragic end and the symbol o f truth w hich ultim ately proves his
innocence. W hen Kannaki is united w ith her husband in heaven, she again w ears both her anklets.
Although the epic no doubt catered to an elite, educated audience, it tells us a great deal about
the lives o f ordinary people o f the time.

The M a n im eka la i (The Jew el B elt) o f Sattanar consists o f 30 cantos and a pream ble. The outline
o f the story is as follow s: Prince U dayakum ara is in love w ith M anim ekalai, w ho is not
interested in him because she w ants to renounce the w o rld and becom e a B uddhist nun. In order
to escape the attentions o f the prince, M anim ekalai assum es the form o f a w om an nam ed K aya-
Chandikai. She distributes food to the needy peo p le o f M adurai, using a magic alm s-bow l. The
husband o f the real K aya-C handikai sees M anim ekalai w ith the prince and kills him in a fit o f
jealousy. M anim ekalai is put in prison, w here she survives many ordeals to w hich she is
subjected. R ealizing that she is a saintly person, the queen begs forgiveness and sets her free.
M anim ekalai eventually reaches K anchi, w here a fam ine is raging and feeds the poor w ith her
m agic alm s-bow l. She ultim ately fulfils her h earts d esire by jo in in g the B uddhist sangha.

The M a n im eka la i is often considered som ew hat inferior to the S ila p p a d ika ra m in term s o f its
form al literary features. W hile the Sila p p a d ika ra m has a Jaina flavour, the M a n im eka la i has a
strong, strident B uddhist tone. Its characters are either good or bad, w ith few shades o f grey, and
the narrative is m arked by many m ore m iracles and supernatural interventions.

SOURCE Z velebil, 1974: 1 3 1 -3 5 , 1 4 0 -4 2


O f the many Tamil renderings o f the R am a legend, the m ost famous is K am bans Iram avataram .
Tamil versions o f the M ahabharata story w ere also w ritten, o f w hich som e fragments survive.
Several Tamil lexicons and gram m atical w orks belong to the early m edieval period.

EARLY KANNADA AND TELUGU LITERATURE

The e a rlie st K annada inscriptions date from the 5th/6th century onw ards, but the o ld est surviving
piece o f literature in this language is the K avira ja m a rg a (The R oyal R oad o f the Poets), a 9th
century w o rk on poetics. A w e ll-d ev elo p ed trad itio n o f prose and poetry m ust have existed for some
time, as this w o rk mentions many e a rlie r w riters and their w orks w hich have not survived.
K arnataka w as a stronghold o f Jain ism and a significant p art o f early m edieval K annada literature
had Jaina themes. The b e st know n poets o f the 10th century w ere Pam pa, Ponna, and Ranna, all o f
w hom w rote Jaina Puranas. Pam pa, author o f the A di P u ra n a (an account o f the life o f the first
tirth a n ka ra R ishabha or A dinatha), also w rote the V ikram arjunavijaya, b ased on the M ahabharata
story. Ponna w rote both in Sanskrit and in K annada, and w as given the title o f U bhaya-kavi-
ch akravarti (im perial p o et in both languages). C havunda Raya, a general and m inister under the
Ganga kings, w rote the T rish a sh tila ksh a n a M ahapurana, an account o f the 24 Jain a saints, in
continuous prose. In the 12th century, N agachandra or A bhinava Pam pa w rote the
R am achandracharitra P urana, one o f many Jaina versions o f the R am a story. The interesting
K annada w orks o f the 12th century include N em inathas L ila va ti, in m ixed v erse and prose, w hich
tells the love story o f a K adam ba prince and a beautiful princess.
P lace names in inscriptions from the 2nd century CE suggest the antiquity o f Telugu, w hile
epigraphs o f the 5 th -6 th centuries CE reflect the shaping o f the classical form o f the language. E arly
m edieval inscriptions used v erse and are m arked by a literary flavour and style. A lthough there may
have b een o ld er w orks, the e a rlie st surviving w o rk o f Telugu literature is N annayas 11th century
rendering o f the first tw o -an d -a-h alf books o f the M a h a b h a ra ta in m ixed v erse and prose. This w ork
w as w ritten at the req u est o f the eastern Chalukya king R ajarajanarendra. N annaya laid the
foundations o f Telugu poetic style, and Telugu trad itio n gave him the epithet V aganushasanundu
(m aker o f speech). H is style is m arked by the use o f a v ariety o f Sanskrit and regional m etres, and a
com bination o f lengthy Sanskrit com pounds w ith Telugu w ords.
Tikkana, a m inister asso ciated w ith the court o f M anum asiddhi, a ruler b ased in the N ello re area,
added 15 P arvas to N annayas M a h a b h a ra ta and set new trends in narrative style. He also
com posed a w o rk called the U ttararam ayanam u. A nother w riter w ho seem s to have liv ed in about
this p erio d w as N anne C hoda author o f the K um ara-sam bha-vam u w ho d escribes h im self as a
ruler o f a sm all p rincipality called Orayuru. Telugu literature reached a level o f m aturity in the 14th
century during the K akatiya p erio d and its highest point o f achievem ent during the reign o f the
V ijayanagara king K rishnadevaraya (1 5 0 9 -2 9 CE).

OTHER ANCIENT TEXTS, BIOGRAPHIES, AND HISTORIES

E arly Indian literature includes a num ber o f m asterpieces o f poetry and dram a w hich can be read and
appreciated for their sheer beauty and fine literary qualities. Such texts are used by historians as
sources o f inform ation about the tim es in w hich they w ere com posed. The e a rlie st Sanskrit poets and
playw rights include A shvaghosha and Bhasa. A shvaghosha w as the author o f the B u d d h a ch a rita
(w hich he d escrib es as a m ahakavya), Sa rip u tra p ra ka ra n a , and Saundarananda. B hasa w rote
several dram as including the P ancharatra, D utavakya, B a la ch a rita , and Svapna-V asavadatta. One
o f the m ost celeb rated nam es am ong Sanskrit w riters o f the 1st m illennium is that o f K alid asa (4 th -
5th centuries), author o f the dram as A bhijnana-Shakuntala, M a lavikagnim itra, V ikram orvashiya,
and poetic w orks such as the R aghuvam sha, K um arasam bhava, and M eghaduta. The m ajor early
m edieval poets and w riters include B haravi, R ajashekhara, and the poetess Vijayanka.
A ncient dram as on historical them es are o f special interest to historians, although it is necessary
to rem em ber that they w ere plays and not h istorical accounts. V ishakhadattas M u d ra ra ksh a sa
(7th/8th century) rev o lv es around the m anoeuvres o f Chanakya to w in over R akshasa, a m inister o f
the N andas, to C handraguptas side. H is D evich a n d ra g u p ta centres on an incident set in the reign o f
the G upta king Ramagupta. N arrativ e literature such as the P a n ch a ta n tra (5 th -6 th centuries) and the
K a th a sa ritsa g a ra (O cean o f Stream s o f Stories, 11th century) are collections o f popular folk tales
that ordinary peo p le may have known, listened to, and enjoyed.
T here is a v ast body o f ancient and early m edieval technical literature on v aried subjects such as
grammar, m athem atics, statecraft, astronomy, m edicine, architecture, poetics, dramaturgy, and
philosophy. R eference has alread y been m ade to gram m atical texts such as P an in is A sh ta d h ya yi and
P atan jalis M ahabhashya. K autilyas A rth a sh a stra is a m ajor w o rk on statecraft. A ryabhatas
A ryabhatiya and V araham ihiras B rih a tsa m h ita are im portant astronom ical texts. O ther technical
treatises include the K a m a su tra (on sensual pleasure), the C haraka S a m h ita and S u sh ru ta S a m h ita
(on m edicine), the N a tya sh a stra (on theatre and the perform ing arts), and the Shilpashastras (on
architecture and sculpture). A p art from indicating the level o f expertise and know ledge in their
respective fields, such treatises also provid e various kinds o f useful historical information.
P hilosophical texts and com m entaries reflect the ideas and intellectual debates o f their times.
A part from the B uddhist and Jaina texts w hich have alread y been m entioned, there is a volum inous
d a rsh a n a (literally, a w ay o f looking at things) literature belonging to the S am k h y a, YOga, N yaya,
V aisheshika, P u rv a M im am sa, and U tta r a M im am sa schools. These also m ention the
philosophical ideas o f schools w hose texts have not survived, such as the m aterialist C h a rv a k a or
L o k a y a ta school.

S e e C h a p t e r 8, pp. 426- 28 f o r a d is c u s s io n o f t h e s e s c h o o l s

Sum m aries o f ancient literary sources tend to m iss out on unusual texts that do not fall w ithin any
o f the m ain categories. T hese include a Sanskrit w o rk on agriculture called the K rish i-P a ra sh a ra ,
com posed in Bengal som e tim e b etw een the 6 th and 11th centuries CE. The early m edieval literature
o f this region also includes the D a ka r B ach an and the K h a n a r B a ch a n in o ld B engali. These contain
aphorism s and w ise sayings, m ostly concerning agriculture, but also other issues such as fam ily life,
illness, and astrology.
The courts o f early m edieval kings attracted w riters and poets, som e o f w hom w rote biographical
com positions in p raise o f their royal patrons. The famous Sanskrit biographies include B anabhattas
H arshacharita (7th century) about king H arshavardhana. Vakpati w rote the P rak rit G audavaha ( 8th
century) about Y ashovarm an o f K anauj. B ilhanas V ikram ankadevacharita (12th century) is w oven
around the Chalukya kings, esp ecially V ikram aditya VI.
R oyal biographies in Tamil include the anonymous N a n d ikka la m b a kka m (9th century), a long
poem about the events o f the reign o f the P allav a king N andivarm an III. A n 11th century w ork, the
K a lin ka ttu p p a ra n i by Cheyankontar, is b ased on the w ar betw een the C hola king K ulottunga and
A nantavarm an Chodaganga, the ruler o f K alinga. The p o et d escrib es and p raises the heroism o f the
C hola king and his arm y comm ander, presenting the w ar as a divine conflict b etw een the principles
o f good and evil.
The P rith vira ja ra so by Chand B ard ai is an epic p oem in the early B raj-bhasha dialect, w oven
around the R ajput king P rith v iraja Chauhan. Sandhyakara N an d is R a m a ch a rita is a Sanskrit w o rk
w ith double meaning, sim ultaneously narrating the story o f the R a m ayana and o f R am apala, an
11 th /12th century king o f Bengal. The 12th century K u m a ra p a la ch a rita by H em achandra is a long
poem in Sanskrit and Prakrit, w hich tells the story o f the Chaulukya kings o f G ujarat and
sim ultaneously illustrates the rules o f Sanskrit and P rak rit grammar. The establishm ent o f the D elhi
Sultanate in the 11th century gave rise to a series o f P ersian chronicles narrating the history o f
various dynasties. The aim o f ancient and early m edieval biographers and chroniclers w as as much
to d isp lay their literary skills as to produce a w o rk that w ould flatter their royal patrons. This has to
be kept in mind w hen using their w orks as sources o f history.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Banabhatta and his royal biography

B anabhattas H a rsh a ch a rita is the o ld est surviving biography in India. A p art from painting a
glow ing picture o f his patron H arsha o f the Pushyabhuti dynasty, the w riter also speaks about
him self. The early p a rt o f B an as pedigree is m ythical and narrates the origins o f the Vatsyayana
branch o f the B hargava B rahm anas, to w hich he belonged. The later p art is historical.

B ana w as b o rn in Pritikuta, a B rahm ana v illag e in the K anyakubja area, fam ed for the learning
and stature o f its residents. H is m other R ajadevi d ied w hen he w as a sm all child, and he w as
brought up by his father w ho died w hen he w as 14. B ana w as taught by an illustrious teacher
nam ed Bharchu. In his youth, he set out on a series o f travels, accom panied by his half-brothers
and a colourful entourage including poets, philosophers, artists, actors, monks, ascetics, a
gam bler, singer, snake-doctor, goldsm ith, and dancing girl. It is no w onder that he acquired a b it
o f a reputation.

The story goes that one day B ana receiv ed a letter summoning him to present h im self in H arsh as
court. The audience started o ff badly. The king had apparently b eliev ed the gossip about B an as
w ay w ard w ays and treated him w ith scant regard. B ana w as quick to defend him self, arguing that
although he m ay have been a b it w ild in his youth, he cam e from a respectable B rahm ana fam ily
and w as currently living a blam eless m arried life. W ithin a few days, he becam e a court
favourite and many lav ish presents and honours w ere show ered on him. B ana w ent on to w rite
the H a rsh a ch a rita , a eulogistic biography o f his patron, as w ell as a prose rom ance called the
K adam bari.

B ana d escrib es the H a rsh a ch a rita as an akhyayika, a genre o f texts related to the itih a sa
tradition. The episodes in the biography are selected and narrated from a literary and aesthetic
perspective. Its descriptions are v iv id and literary, and som etim es show a touch o f humour. The
w o rk displays B an as skills as a m aster o f Sanskrit prose. Typical o f the genre o f royal
biographies are long, elegant passages eulogizing the king. C onsider, for exam ple, the follow ing
sentence:

He (i.e., H arsha) w as em braced by the goddess o f Royal Prosperity, w ho took him in her arm s,
and, seizing him by all the royal marks on all his lim bs, forced him, how ever reluctant, to mount
the throne and this though he had taken a v o w o f austerity and d id not sw erve from his vow ,
hard like grasping the edge o f a sw ord; clinging clo sely to duty through fear o f stum bling in the
uneven path o f kings, and attended w ith all her heart by Truth w ho had b een abandoned by all
other kings, but had obtained his prom ise o f protection, and w aited on rev eren tially by the
reflected im ages o f a fair handm aid standing near, w hich fell on his toe-nails, as i f they w ere the
ten directions o f space im personate.

A ccording to som e scholars, the H a rsh a ch a rita is incom plete because it ends after H arsh as
rescue o f his sister R ajyashri from the flam es o f the pyre on w hich she sought to end her life, and
his accessio n to the thrones o f T hanesar and K anauj. H ow ever, V. S. Pathak argues that the w o rk
is com plete as it has all the five w ell-d efin ed them atic stages o f a beginning, effort, the hope o f
achieving the end, certainty o f success, and a conclusion. R ajyashri w as H arsh as sister, but her
name also m eans royal glory, and H arsh as rescuing her sym bolically represents his successful
acquisition o f royal glory. A lthough B ana paints H arsha as an ideal, exem plary ruler, traces o f a
less p erfect picture can be found in the nuances o f the narrative. F or instance, there are hints o f a
fratricidal struggle for the throne behind the portrayal o f the deep brotherly love betw een H arsha
and R ajyavardhana.

SOURCE C ow ell and Thom as, 1993: 57; Pathak, 1966: 3 0 -3 2

This chapter opened w ith m ention o f the R a ja ta ra n g in i, the 12th century historical chronicle o f
K ashm ir by Kalhana. K alhana refers to e a rlie r historians and chronicles. A p art from the N ila m a ta
Purana, he mentions 11 w orks o f earlier scholars, none o f w hich have survived.

THE NATURE OF ANCIENT INDIAN HISTORICAL TRADITIONS

As w e have seen, the literary sources for ancient and early m edieval India include a large volum e
and v ariety o f texts. Is there any evidence o f an interest in preserving the m em ory o f the past, o f a
historical tradition, in these texts? R om ila T hapar (2000) has m ade a useful distinction betw een
em bedded and externalized forms o f history. E m bedded history is w here the historical
consciousness has to be p rised out, as in myth, epic, and genealogy. E xternalized history reflects a
more evident and self-conscious historical consciousness, reflected for instance in chronicles and
biographies. T hapar points out that the em bedded forms o f historical consciousness tended to be
connected w ith lineage-based societies and the externalized ones to state societies.
A p art from lists o f teachers, later Vedic texts contain certain types o f com positions that reflect a
historical consciousness. T hese include the d a n a -stu tis, gathas, narasham sis, and akhyanas. The
dana-stutis are hymns praisin g the generosity and exploits o f kings. The g a th a s are songs in p raise
o f kings, sung on the o ccasio n o f certain sacrifices. N a ra sh a m sis w ere used in rituals and are
preserv ed in texts such as the B rahm anas and G rihyasutras. A khyanas are narrative hymns in
dialogue form, referring to m ythical and p o ssib ly historical events. It is interesting to note that all
these types o f com positions w ere directly connected w ith the perform ance o f sacrifices (ya jn a s).
The king-lists in the Puranas and epics rep resen t m ore substantial evidence o f an ancient Indian
historical tradition. A s m entioned earlier, the epics are know n as itihasa, and are supposed to record
things that actually happened (w hether they d id happen in the w ay in w hich they are d escrib ed is
another issue). B ards know n as su ta s and m agadhas played an im portant ro le in m aintaining these
historical traditions. The poets and bards o f the ancient Tamil land w ho eulogized their royal patrons
can also be seen as creators and transm itters o f a historical tradition. The B uddhist D ip a va m sa and
M ahavam sa, w hich offer a m ythico-historical account o f how B uddhism trav elled to Sri Lanka,
represent a historical trad itio n as w ell. M ention m ay also be m ade o f sacred biographies in the
Buddhist, Jaina, and H indu traditions.
N otw ithstanding their eulogistic nature, royal biographies too reflect a historical tradition.
M ention can also be m ade o f royal inscriptions, many o f w hich have a p r a s h a s ti (panegyric)
containing the kings genealogy and references to his exploits, usually w ith a v ie w to show er p raise
on him. The A rth a sh a stra and the C hinese p ilg rim X uanzang m ention royal archives preserving
official records in every Indian city, w hile A l-B iru n is 11th century T ahqiq-i-H ind refers to the
archives o f the Shahi kings o f K abul. Unfortunately, no such ancient archives survive.
W hile there is evidence o f different kinds o f historical traditions in ancient and early m edieval
India, these traditions w ere v ery different from our m odern notions o f history. The intellectuals o f
every age and society select the aspects o f the p ast they consider im portant, and interpret and present
them in their ow n way. Since ancient and m odern societies differ from each other in so many
respects, it is not surprising to find m ajor differences in their w ays o f looking at the past. M odern
historians distinguish betw een myth and history, ancient texts do not. The historical traditions o f
ancient India w ere connected w ith religious, ritualistic, and court contexts. H istory in our tim es is an
academ ic d iscip lin e based on research, linked to m odern institutions such as universities and
research institutes. The w ays in w hich the p ast w as understood and represented in ancient texts are
very different from the m ethods, techniques, and goals o f historical research today.

THE ACCOUNTS OF FOREIGN WRITERS

As m entioned earlier, the subcontinent w as never an isolated geographical area. Since early tim es,
traders, trav ellers, pilgrim s, settlers, soldiers, goods, and ideas m oved to and fro acro ss its frontiers,
covering v ast distances over land and w ater. It is therefore not surprising that there are many
references to India in foreign texts. Such texts reveal how people from other lands v ie w e d India and
its people, w hat they noticed and found w orthy o f description. H istorians have to distinguish
betw een statem ents b ased on hearsay and those grounded in personal experience, betw een
perceptive observations and cases w here the w riter got things com pletely wrong. A n exam ple o f a
very unreliable account is the In d ic a o f K tesias (4th century BCE), w hich is full o f bizarre stories
about India and Indians, co llected by the author w hile living in P ersia as a royal physician.
The e a rlie st references to India in G reek texts date from the 5th century BCE and their frequency
increases thereafter. One o f the m ost famous w orks is the In d ic a o f M egasthenes, am bassador o f
Seleucus N ikator to the court o f Chandragupta M aurya. The book is lost, but later G reek w orks
preserve paraphrases o f som e o f its sections. The many G reek and L atin texts o f the 2nd century BCE
to the 2nd century CE referring to India include the w orks o f A rrian, Strabo, and Pliny the E lder, and
the anonymous P e rip lu s M a ris E ryth ra ei (P eriplus o f the E rythraean Sea). T hese texts are
esp ecially im portant for the history o f Indian O cean trade.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Al-Biruni on the writing o f the Hindus

The tongue com m unicates the thought o f the speaker to the hearer. Its action has therefore, as it
w ere, a m om entary life only, and it w ould have b een im possible to d eliv er by oral trad itio n the
accounts o f the events o f the p ast to later generations, m ore p articu larly i f they are separated
from them by long p erio d s o f time. This has becom e p o ssib le only by a new disco v ery o f the
human mind, by the art o f w riting, w hich spreads new s over space as the w inds spread, and over
tim e as the spirits o f the d eceased spread. P raise therefore be unto H im w ho has arranged
creatio n and created everything for the best!

The H indus are not in the h abit o f w riting on hides, like the G reeks in ancient times. Socrates, on
being asked w hy he d id not com pose books, gave this reply: I do not transfer know ledge from
the living hearts o f m en to the dead hides o f sheep. M uslim s, too, used in the early tim es o f Islam
to w rite on hides, e.g., the treaty b etw een the P rophet and the Jew s o f K haibar and his letter to
K isra. The copies o f the K oran w ere w ritten on the hides o f gazelles, as are still now adays the
copies o f the T o rah .... The k irta s (o r charta) is m ade in Egypt, being cut out o f the papyrus
sta lk .... It w as in China that p ap er w as first m anufactured. C hinese prisoners introduced the
fabrication o f p ap er into Sam arkand and thereupon it w as m ade in various places, so as to m eet
the existing want.

The H indus have in the south o f their country a slender tree like the date and coconut palm s,
bearing edible fruits and leaves o f the length o f one yard, and as b ro ad as three fingers one put
beside the other. They call these leaves ta ri and w rite on them. They bind a book o f these leaves
together by a cord on w hich they are arranged, the cord going through all the leaves by a w hole
in the m iddle o f each.

In central and northern India peo p le use the b ark o f the tu z tree, one kind o f w hich is used as a
cov er for b o w s . .
A s for the w riting or alphabet o f the H indus, w e have alread y m entioned that it once had b een
lo st and forgotten; that nobody cared for it, and that in consequence people becam e illiterate,
sunken into gross ignorance, and entirely estranged from science. B ut then Vyasa, the son o f
P arashara, red isco v ered their alphabet o f fifty letters by an inspiration o f God. A letter is called
an akshara.

Some people say that originally the num ber o f their letters w as less, and that it increased only by
degrees. This is p o ssib le, or I should even say n e c e ssa ry ....

The great num ber o f the letters o f the H indu alphabet is explained, firstly, by the fact that they
express every letter by a separate sign i f it is fo llo w ed by vow el or a diphthong or a ham za
(visarga), or a sm all extension o f the sound beyond the m easure o f the vow el; and, secondly, by
the fact that they have consonants w hich are not found together in any other language, though they
m ay be found scattered through different languages sounds o f such a nature that our tongues, not
being fam iliar w ith them, can scarcely pronounce them, and that our ears are frequently not able
to distinguish betw een many a cognate p a ir o f them.

The H indus w rite from the left to the right like the G reeks. They do not w rite on the b asis o f a
line, above w hich the heads o f the letters rise w h ilst their tails go d o w n below , as in A rab ic
w riting. On the contrary, their ground-line is above, a straight line above every single character,
and from this line the letter hangs d o w n and is w ritten under it. A ny sign above the line is nothing
but a gram m atical m ark to denote the pronunciation o f the character above w hich it s t a n d s . .

A fter describing these characteristics o f H indu w riting, A l-B iruni goes on to acknow ledge the
existence o f many different scripts in the land o f H ind Siddham atrika, the m ost w id ely know n
and used in Kashm ir, V aranasi, and the country around Kanauj; N agara in M alw a; A rdhanagari in
B hatiya and som e parts o f Sindh; M alw ari in Sindh; K arnata in K arnatadesha; A ndhri in
A ndhradesha; D irw ari in D ravidadesha; L ari in L atadesha (in G ujarat); G auri (i.e., G audi) in
Purvadesha, i.e., the eastern country; and the Bhaikshuki, used in Udunpur in Purvadesha,
d escrib ed as the w riting o f the Buddha.

S o u r c e Sachau, 1964: 170-73

M any C hinese monks m ade long and arduous overland journeys to India, crossing mountains,
plateaux, and deserts, in o rd er to co llect authentic m anuscripts o f B uddhist texts, m eet Indian monks,
and v is it p laces o f B uddhist learning and pilgrim age. The b est know n among those w ho w rote
accounts o f their Indian travels are F axian (F a H ien) and Xuanzang (H iuen Tsang). F axians travels
extended from 399 to 414 CE and w ere confined to northern India. X uanzang left his home in 629 CE
and spent over 10 years trav ellin g the length and breadth o f the country. Y ijing, another 7th century
C hinese traveller, liv ed for 10 years in the great m onastery o f N alanda. The accounts w ritten by
these pilgrim s throw light on the history o f B uddhism and various other aspects o f their time.
The rap id p olitical expansion o f the A rabs, the unity given to them by Islam , the sp read o f urban
centres, and the patronage o f the C aliphs had im portant and far-reaching im pact on intellectual ideas
and technology in A sia and Europe. A l-M am un, the 9th century A b b asid C aliph, established an
academ y called the B eyt-al-H ikm a (H ouse o f W isdom ) in Baghdad. Scholars o f this academ y busied
them selves w ith an am bitious p ro ject o f translating G reek, Persian, and Sanskrit texts on philosophy
and science into A rabic. The flexibility o f A rab ic lent its e lf to the creatio n o f a v ery p recise
scientific and technical vocabulary. M oreover, since this w as a spoken language, the know ledge o f
ancient texts becam e theoretically av ailab le to anybody in the sw iftly expanding A rab-speaking
w orld. W ithin the span o f a few centuries, the learning and accom plishm ents o f different cultures
spread far beyond their original geographical frontiers. T here w as also a dissem ination o f elem ents
o f popular culture. F o r instance, the A rab ic K a lila -w a -D im m a co llected fables from various places,
including India.
A rab scholars initially re lie d heavily on G reek w orks, but m en such as Jaihani, G ardizi, and A l-
Biruni dev elo p ed their ow n independent critical points o f view . A b u R i-han or A l-B iruni, a native o1
K hw arizm or K hiva (in m odern Turkmenistan), w as one o f the greatest intellectuals o f early
m edieval times. O nly 40 o f the 180 books he w rote have survived. A l-B iruni trav elled to India to
satisfy his curiosity about the land and its people, and to study their ancient texts in their original
language. H is Tahqiq-i-H ind covers a large num ber o f topics including Indian scrip ts, sciences,
geography, astronomy, astrology, philosophy, literature, beliefs, custom s, religions, festivals, rituals,
social organization, and law s. A p art from the historical value o f his descriptions o f 11th century
India, A l-B iruni helped m odern historians identify the initial year o f the G upta era. The Tahqiq-i-
H in d states that the G upta era began 241 years after the beginning o f the Shaka era. Since the Shaka
era began in 78 CE, this p laces the beginning o f the G upta e ra in 3 1 9 -2 0 CE.
Several A rab ic geographical and travel accounts w ere w ritten in the early m edieval period. Some
o f these, such as the account o f the trav eller Sulaiman, refer to India. This is not surprising
considering that both A rabs and Indians w ere actively involved in Indian O cean trade. Such w orks
throw light on trade and aspects o f Indian p olitical history.
P ersian w as the language o f royal courts and high culture in central and W est A sia in early
m edieval tim es, and a num ber o f P ersian texts refer to India. The anonymous C hachnam a describes
how a Brahm ana nam ed C hach usurped the throne o f Sindh in the m id-7th century and narrates the
A rab conquest o f that region by M uham mad b in Qasim . The Shahnam a o f F irdausi, a classic o f
P ersian poetry, and the G u lista n by the famous p o et Saadi, refer incidentally to aspects o f Indian
trade.

A rchaeology and the E arly Indian P ast

We turn now from texts to archaeology. A rchaeology the study o f the human p ast though m aterial
rem ains is clo sely connected w ith history. M aterial rem ains range from vestiges o f grand palaces
and tem ples to the sm all, d iscard ed products o f everyday human activity such as p ieces o f broken
pottery. They include different things such as structures, artefacts, bones, seeds, pollen, seals, coins,
sculptures, and inscriptions.
H istorians, anthropologists, and archaeologists understand culture as som ething that includes all
patterns o f p e o p le s learnt behaviour, the w ays o f thinking and doing things that they learn from the
social group o f w hich they are a part. A rchaeologists also use the w o rd culture in a m ore specific,
technical so rt o f w ay connected w ith certain other im portant term s a r te f a c t, in d u stry , and
assem b lage. A n artefact is any p ortable o b ject m ade or altered by human hands (e.g., pottery, tools).
Sim ilar artefacts m ade o f the sam e m aterial found at a site com prise an industry (e.g., a microlith
industry, blade and burin industry). A ll the industries found at a site form its assem blage. I f sim ilar
assem blages are found at several sites, these sites are said to belong to the same archaeological
culture.
M aterial evidence is a key to understanding human behaviour and experience. It is not enough to
describe a stone tool or pot; the challenge is to get the stone tool or p o t to tell their stories about the
people w ho m ade and used them. A s the products o f craft traditions and p art o f the lifestyles o f
people, artefacts are rooted in specific cultural contexts. So, the narrow technical m eaning o f
culture in archaeology can be stretched to correspond to the w id e r m eaning m entioned earlier. The
rhythms and patterns o f tim e b ased on m aterial culture are generally slo w er and longer than those o f
historical events, and archaeological cultures do not coincide w ith the rise and fall o f dynasties or
kingdoms.
Field archaeology deals w ith the exploration and excavation o f sites. S ites are p laces w here
m aterial rem ains o f p ast human activity can be identified. In the plains, in areas w here mud and brick
w ere used for making houses, archaeological sites occupied by p eople for a v ery long tim e are often
v isible as mounds. M ounds get form ed over the centuries due to the rebuilding o f structures and the
accum ulation o f rubbish, w in d b lo w n sand, and other sedim ents.
Sites are often d isco v ered by sheer accident. They can also be d isco v ered by using clues in
literature, by regional or v illag e surveys, or w ith the help o f aerial photography. Sites buried
underground can be detected by sim ple methods like inserting metal probes or rods into the ground.
There are also the m ore sophisticated rem ote-sensing techniques such as LANDSAT imagery.
Scanners o f LANDSAT satellites create digital im ages o f the earths surface and can help identify
features such as ancient riv e r courses, canals, embankments, and buried settlements.
A rchaeological evidence does not n ecessarily p ro v id e a com plete picture o f the m aterial culture
o f ancient people. A rtefacts found in the archaeological reco rd generally consist o f things that have
been throw n away, lost, forgotten, hidden, or left behind (intentionally or unintentionally) by people
w hen they m oved elsew here. Furtherm ore, not all m aterial traits survive. A rchaeological
reconstruction depends on the am ount and kind o f m aterial that is preserved, and this in turn depends
on the objects them selves and on environm ental factors, p articularly soil and clim ate. Inorganic
m aterials like stone, clay, and m etal objects are m ost likely to survive in the archaeological record.
Stone age peo p le must have used tools o f w o o d and bone as w ell, but it is the stone tools that have
survived in large numbers. T ropical regions, w ith heavy rains, acid ic soils, w arm clim ates, and
dense vegetation are not favourable for preservation. T hese things have to be kept in m ind w hen
assessing archaeological evidence. Sites can get destroyed by the forces o f nature (e.g., floods,
tectonic movem ents, volcanic eruptions), but they are m ore often destroyed by people w hen they
clear land for farm ing or build houses, factories, roads, and dams.
Sites can be explored by carefully exam ining w hat lies on the surface or they can be excavated,
i.e., dug. Sites are not excavated ju s t to see w hat they contain, but rather to uncover their
stratigraphic sequence. The b asic p rinciple o f stratigraphy is that i f there are different layers, strata,
or levels at a site, the lo w er ones are older. O f course, i f a site gets disturbed, this p rinciple does not
apply. It is v ery im portant to know the stratigraphic co n tex t o f artefacts, i.e., the p recise level at
w hich they w ere found, and w hat other kinds o f things w ere found along w ith them.
E xcavations can be horizontal (w here a large surface area is exposed) or vertical (w here the
digging involves a sm all surface area), and are accom panied by careful recording, m apping,
photographing, labelling, and preserving o f artefacts. R ecording is v ery im portant because
excavation is destructive som e features o f the upper layers have to be destroyed as archaeologists
move from one layer to the next. E qually im portant is the publication o f results, otherw ise no one
except the excavators w ill know w hat w as d isco v ered at the site.
T hese days, an im portant trend w ithin field archaeology is to try to understand sites w ithin their
larger landscape and context. A rchaeologists are also increasingly m oving tow ards non-destructive
methods o f investigation, such as rem ote-sensing and regional surveys. R egional surveys are
conducted by w alking over carefully selected sections o f an area, observing the distribution and
nature o f surface features and finds. T hese are reco rd ed and the surface finds collected. A great deal
o f v aluable archaeological inform ation can be gathered in this way.

The hastinapura mound

TABLE 1.1 t h e c u l t u r a l s e q u e n c e a t h a s t in a p u r a
period date Cultural traits
Potteryvery different from earlier periods; coarse to medium-grained red ware; glazed
Late wares with floral designs. Structures made of broken bricks from remains of earlier periods;
11th- four structural sub-periods identified. Many types of iron objects including nails, arrowheads,
V
15th spearheads, hoes, knife blades, etc. A stone image of Parvati and Rishabhadeva. Terracottas of
centuries poor workmanship. Bangles of glass, ivory, shell, bone, etc. A coin of Balban (1266-87) from
the middle level.
Site
deserted
Potteryred ware, some with stamped designs; black-on-red painted pottery found in the
Early
upper levels. Houses mostly made of burnt bricks (1 4 ^ x 9 x 2 ^ inches); squarish bricks (11
2nd
x 11 x 4 inches) used for floors. Several house plans were reconstructed and seven structural
century
sub-phases identified. Copper objects. Iron objects including nails, an axe/adze, sickle, and
IV BCE- late
pan. A fine and varied range of moulded terracotta figurines (including many of the humped
3rd
bull), wheels, carts, and votive tanks and a fine headless figure of the Bodhisattva Maitreya.
century
Well-made rings and beads. Inscribed potsherds and a seal. Coins of the rulers of Mathura, the
CE
Yaudheyas, and imitation coins of the Kushana king Vasudeva.
Site
Evidence of a massive fire
deserted
PotteryNorthern Black Polished Ware (NBPW), coarse grey ware, unslipped red ware.
Early 6th
Houses of mud-bricks and kiln-burnt bricks (17.5 x 10 x 2.7 inches). Brick-lined drains.
century-
Terracotta ring wells. Copper objects. Iron arrowhead, chisel and sickle. Punch-marked and
III early 3rd
uninscribed cast coins. Human and animal figurines (many of elephants) made of terracotta.
century
Beads of etched carnelian and crystalline quartz. Rings made of copper, chalcedony, gold, and
BCE
horn.
Site
Evidence of a flood in the Ganga
deserted
PotteryPainted Grey Ware (PGW), black-slipped ware, and ordinary red and red-slipped
ware. House walls of mud, mud-brick, reed, and mud plaster; one fragmentary burnt brick.
c. 1100
II Copper artefacts. Iron slag in the uppermost levels. Chert and jasper weights. Glass bangles.
800 BCE
Terracotta objects including animal figurines. Bone needles. Charred grains of rice. Bones of
horse, pig, cattle, etc.
Site
deserted
Pre-
Potteryfragments of Ochre Coloured Pottery (OCP). No structures found, maybe
I 1200
because a very limited area was excavated. Habitation seems to have been sporadic
BCE
Natural
Soil

NOTE The mound o f H astinapura in M eerut district, U ttar Pradesh, w as excavated in 1 9 5 0 -5 2


(see Lal, 1954-55). Its cultural sequence extended over an enorm ously long stretch o f time, w ith four
breaks in occupation. The e a rlie st settlem ent belonged to the p erio d before c. 1200 BCE and the
latest level to the early 15th century CE. This table gives a b rie f synopsis o f som e o f the m ain
features o f the various levels know n as P eriods I - V R ead the table from bottom to top, starting from
the lo w e st and e a rlie st level, P erio d I. N ote the range o f evidence and the rem arkable snapshot it
gives o f the life o f people w ho liv ed at this site over the centuries. The cultural sequence at
H astinapura is a v ery im portant reference point for other sites in the upper G anga valley.

Bangaran Island, Lakshadweep: marine archaeologist at work

W hile archaeologists generally w o rk on land, m arine or underw ater archaeology is a rap id ly


grow ing area o f study. In m ost other countries, m arine archaeology deals m ainly w ith shipw recks.
But in India, there are instances o f entire cities that have b een subm erged by the sea. M arine
archaeology involves many sp ecialists such as oceanographers, geologists, geophysicists, and diver-
photographers. It also requires the use o f special equipm ent and scientific instruments. F o r instance,
an echo-sounding system registers a rise w hen a b o at p asses over an underw ater object. A side scan
electronic system gives a v ie w o f the sea floor. U nderw ater metal detectors held by divers give a
signal i f they sense any kind o f m etal o b ject betw een 3 and 4 m away. In recent tim es, exciting
underw ater d isco v eries have b een m ade o ff the co ast o f D w arka and B et D w arka in G ujarat. A t
D w arka, there are rem ains o f a subm erged port-city, including fortification w alls and stone anchors,
perhaps going b ack to c. 1500 BCE.

ANCIENT SHIP ANCHOR

SCIENTIFIC TECHNIQUES IN ARCHAEOLOGY


A rchaeologists increasingly rely on various scientific techniques in o rd er to obtain p recise
inform ation about the lives o f p ast comm unities. T hese are esp ecially useful in dating archaeological
m aterial. M any dating methods are b ased d irectly or indirectly on the prin cip le o f rad io activ e decay.
Carbon-14 or rad io carb o n dating is the b est know n o f these, but others include
therm olum inescence, potassium -argon, electron spin resonance, uranium series, and fission-track
dating.
The w o rd archaeom etry refers to a range o f scientific techniques and analyses involving the use
o f m easurem ent to analyse ancient objects or m aterials. The chem ical analysis o f pottery and metal
artefacts can give clues about how they w ere produced. A com parison o f the chem ical com position
o f metal artefacts and ores can help identify the source o f ores. Chem ical analysis o f soil can be used
to determ ine the degree o f human presence and activity at a site. F o r instance, the decom position o f
animal excreta increases the nitrogen content o f the soil. A t the chalcolithic site o f Inam gaon in
M aharashtra, the soil in the courtyards had higher nitrogen content than that inside the house. This
show s that p eople tied their anim als in their courtyards.
P alaeon tology is the study o f the rem ains o f dead organism s over enorm ous spans o f time. W ithin
this discipline, m olecular biology and D N A studies have b een used to understand hominid evolution,
to answ er questions about w hat ancient peo p le looked like, and to p lo t patterns o f migration. Bones
provide a great deal o f information. The distribution o f faunal rem ains (anim al bones) at a site can
indicate w hich areas w ere used for butchering, cooking, eating, bone tool making, and refuse
dumping. Faunal analysis gives inform ation about the anim als people hunted and dom esticated, the
age o f anim als at death, and the diseases that afflicted them. The bones o f w ild and dom esticated
sp ecies can usually be differentiated. The jo in ts o f anim als used for agriculture or draught purposes
get fused and can be identified. Faunal rem ains can lead to inferences about aspects o f environm ent
such as clim ate, vegetation, and the season during w hich a site w as occupied. Som etim es, bones
reveal contacts betw een comm unities. F or instance, the identification o f m arine fish bones and shells
at Inam gaon at least 200 km from the sea show s that its inhabitants had contacts w ith coastal
communities.
The dental structure o f humans is connected to subsistence patterns and methods o f food
preparation. T race elem ent analysis o f human bones and scanning electro n m icroscopic (SEM )
analysis o f tooth enam el can help identify the kind o f food peo p le ate and w hether they suffered from
nutritional deficiencies. D iseases such as arthritis and tuberculosis leave their m ark on bones.
P alaeo-pathology is the study o f d iseases ancient p eople suffered from by analysing their bones.
Human bones are also exam ined to make inferences about population size, density, mortality,
fertility, and life expectancy. Since food and nutrition are related to social standing, assessing the
nutritional inputs in the bones o f m en and w om en at a site can indicate w hether there w ere m arked
status differences betw een groups o f people or betw een m en and w omen. O f course, all the scientific
techniques m entioned here require sp ecialized lab o rato ries, expensive equipm ent, and skilled
specialists.

FURTHER DISCUSSION

Radiocarbon dating
D isco v ered by an A m erican chem ist nam ed W illard L ibby in 1949, rad io carb o n dating is today a
v ery w id ely used dating m ethod in archaeology. The atm osphere contains a fixed ratio o f
C arbon-12 (C -12, o rdinary carbon) and C arbon-14 (C -14, a rad io activ e isotope o f carbon). The
latter is form ed due to the influence o f cosm ic rad iatio n on nitrogen in the atm osphere. Plants
absorb C -14 in the atm osphere through their intake o f carb o n dioxide during the process o f
photosynthesis. C -14 passes into anim als as they feed o ff plants or other anim als. The intake o f
C -14 stops w hen the plant or anim al dies, after w hich the C -14 in the physical structure o f the
organism begins to disintegrate at the rate o f one h a lf every 5,730 years (this is know n as the
h alf-life o f C -14). B y m easuring the amount o f C -14 rem aining in the organism , scientists can
figure out w hen it died, i.e., how o ld it is. The rad io carb o n m ethod can be used to date various
organic m aterials such as w ood, charcoal, bone, and shell.

Like all other scientific dating m ethods, the C -14 m ethod p rovides approxim ate, not exact dates,
and a standard erro r m argin (know n as the standard deviation) is recognized. R ad io carb o n dates
are accom panied by a plus/m inus factor. Take the follow ing date: 2500 100 BP. This m eans a
date range betw een 2600 and 2400 BP. B P stands for B efore P resen t, and the y ear 1950,
w hich w as about the tim e the rad io carb o n method o f dating w as introduced, is taken as the base
line, i.e., year one. A rchaeologists som etim es re so rt to m ultiple dates from the sam e sam ple in
order to arriv e at m ean dates w ith a sm aller standard deviation. Som etim es rad io carb o n dates
can be w ay o ff the mark. This could be because the sam ple has got contam inated, or due to some
procedural error.

Scientists have know n for som e tim e that the am ount o f rad io carb o n produced in the atm osphere
has not b een constant over time. They have also noticed a discrepancy betw een the m ore
accurate dates produced by tree-ring dating and those a rriv ed at by the rad io carb o n method.
T herefore, it is clear that som e calibrations, i.e., corrections, have to be m ade w hile converting
rad io carb o n dates to calendar dates, i.e., BCE and CE dates. In v ie w o f the fact that there is still
som e debate regarding calibration procedures, som e archaeologists prefer to publish
uncalibrated dates. H ow ever, certain calib ratio n tables have b een m ore or less accepted by many
scholars.

R ad io carb o n dates have certainly m ade a dram atic difference to our understanding o f the
chronology o f ancient cultures. B ut w hy is it that rad io carb o n dates for cultures given in different
books are not alw ays the sam e? This could be because som e dates are calibrated, w hile others
are uncalibrated. A nother reaso n is that there is an elem ent o f interpretation and judgem ent
involved even in the use o f rad io carb o n dates. W hen there is a string o f rad io carb o n dates for a
site, w hich one is to be highlighted? Since rad io carb o n dates give us a date bracket, w hich end
o f the b racket should be em phasized? Som etim es, instead o f giving a w hole string o f rad io carb o n
dates w ith the standard deviation, archaeologists calculate the m ean date and give that as a single
rad io carb o n date. T here are thus choices to be m ade in the use o f rad io carb o n dates. H ow an
archaeologist interprets and presents them depends on his/her larger understanding o f the relative
chronology o f cultures.
Environm ents are not ju s t backdrops to human activity; they are an im portant p a r t o f human
experience. The relationship betw een peo p le and their environm ental landscape not only forms an
im portant p art o f w hat people do but also o f how they think about the w o rld and their place in it. A n
understanding o f the natural environm ent in w hich peo p le liv ed is therefore an im portant asp ect o f
p re h isto ry , p ro to h isto ry , and history. A rchaeologists are increasingly becom ing aw are o f the
im portance o f the interactive relationship betw een environm ent and people. Environm ental
archaeology, w hich aim s at understanding how societies adapted to their environm ent and how they
used environm ental resources, involves the co llab o ratio n o f scientists and archaeologists. P a la e o -
b o ta n ic a l studies include the analysis o f p o llen and other minute plant rem ains, seeds, charcoal,
sedim ents, and geological strata.

TABLE 1.2 SOME DATING METHODS USED IN ARCHAEOLOGY

dating method Used on TIME RANGE/LOWER TIME LIMIT (YA=YEARS AGO)


Organic material, e.g., charcoal,
Carbon-14 From 50,000 to 80,000 ya
wood, seeds, plant remains, bones
Inorganic material that has been
Thermoluminescence heated rapidly to 500C or above, Even objects older than 50,000-80,000s ya
e.g., pottery, terracotta, burnt flint

Volcanic rocks older than about


Potassium-Argon Hundreds of millions of ya
100,000 years
Electron spin
Bone, shell Hundreds of thousands ya
resonance
Uranium series Rocks rich in calcium carbonate 50,000-500,000 ya

Certain kinds of rocks and minerals,


Fission track About 300,000 ya to millions of ya
obsidian, glass, mica, etc.
Palaeomagnetic Magnetized sediments, volcanic lava, Can only be used to date very old deposits from
dating clay baked to 650-700C. hundreds of thousands ya to millions of ya
Amino acid analysis Bone Up to 100,000 ya
Dendrochronology
Timber in areas outside the tropics Up to about 8,000 ya
(tree-ring dating)
Optically stimulated
Any sediment which is believed to Still undefined as refinements in the process
or infrared
have been undisturbed after its burial continue; extends up to at least 17,000 ya; more
stimulated
under other sediments accurate than C-14 calibrations for CE dates.
luminescence

INTERPRETING ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE

Interpretation is as crucial in archaeology as in using literary sources. It is involved at all levels,


from the seem ingly sim ple stage o f classifying artefacts to the fram ing o f historical hypotheses. Just
as it is p o ssib le to identify trends in history w riting, sim ilarly, there have been several changes in
approach and m ethod w ithin the d iscip le o f archaeology. F or exam ple, in the 1960s, the traditional
cultural history p erspectives w ere challenged by the em ergence o f w hat cam e to be know n as N ew
A rchaeology and a school know n as p ro cessu alism . C lo sely allied w ith anthropology, this school
tried to understand cultures and cultural p ro cesses holistically, esp ecially in relatio n to ecology,
human adaptation, and the interaction o f different kinds o f variab les. It advocated a problem -oriented
approach, em phasizing the im portance o f explanation, generalization, and theory building. The post-
processual school o f archaeology, w hich em erged subsequently, challenged many o f the
assum ptions, m ethods, and goals o f processualism . P ost-processualists question the p o ssib ility o f
objective know ledge about the past. T heir understanding o f m aterial culture is also m ore complex.
They point out that m aterial culture can be used by social groups not only to reflect but also to
disguise existing social relations.
A rchaeology usually p ro v id es an anonymous history, one that sheds light on cultural p rocesses
rather than events. It is the only source for prehistory, the longest p art o f the human past, during
w hich many m ajor d isco v eries and developm ents took place. It is also the only source for those parts
o f the p ast co v ered by non-deciphered w ritten records, and continues to p ro v id e valuable
inform ation even after the beginning o f the historical period. Unfortunately, once literary sources
becom e av ailab le, historians tend to use archaeology as a secondary, corro b o rativ e source. One o f
the current challenges for early Indian history is to adequately incorporate archaeological evidence
into the larger historical narratives.
A rchaeology often tells us about aspects o f everyday life that are not rev ealed or em phasized in
texts. It pro v id es inform ation on the history o f human settlem ents and can give v ery specific details
about m odes o f subsistence the food people procured in order to live, and how they obtained it. It
offers details about the crops peo p le grew, the agricultural im plem ents they used, and the anim als
they hunted and tamed. It is an excellent source o f inform ation on various aspects o f the history o f
technology raw m aterials, their sources, the methods used to make artefacts o f various kinds.
A rchaeology also helps reconstruct routes and netw orks o f exchange, trade, and interaction betw een
communities.
C ognitive a rc h a e o lo g y , w hich deals w ith w ays o f thinking, beliefs, and religion, is a fast-
developing area w ithin archaeology. A lthough a large num ber o f religious texts are av ailab le for
ancient and early m edieval India, an exclusively text-based v ie w o f relig io n w ill not tell us
everything w e w an t to know about religious practice. The m aterial evidence o f ancient religions can
make a m ajor contribution in this area.
T here are many problem s involved in translating archaeological cultures into history. A n
archaeological culture need not n ecessarily correspond to a linguistic group, p olitical unit, or a
social group such as a lin e a g e , clan, or tr ib e . One o f the m ost im portant questions is how to explain
changes in m aterial culture, esp ecially pottery traditions. This is an issue that has not yet been
adequately ad d ressed or understood in the context o f ancient India.

ETHNO-ARCHAEOLOGY

Ethnography is the study o f living cultures and com m unities. E thno-archaeology studies the
behaviour and p ractices o f living com m unities in o rd er to interpret the archaeological evidence
related to com m unities o f the past.
The Indian subcontinent is an area w here many traditional features and methods survive for
instance in agriculture, anim al husbandry, house building, the clothes people w ear and the food they
eat. M odern craftspersons are an im portant guide for understanding the w ays in w hich ancient
craftspersons m ade things. Technology involves much m ore than the techniques used for making
artefacts. It is n ecessary to explore the social organization o f craftspersons, the customs and beliefs
that m aterial objects w ere p a rt of, how goods w ere m arketed, the relationship betw een craftspersons
and traders, and b etw een craftspersons and custom ers. E thno-archaeology helps answ er these sorts
o f questions as w ell. F or instance, a trad itio n o f carn elian b ead m anufacturing exists in Khambhat, in
G ujarat, today. Studying m odern b ead making in this region gives v aluable clues about the w ay in
w hich the H arap p an beads m ay have b een m ade and the p o ssib le social organization o f the bead
makers.
E thno-archaeology can contribute tow ards filling the silences and gaps in history. F or instance, it
has helped archaeologists make inferences about w om ens ro le in subsistence and craft-related
activities in early times. Studies o f m odern com m unities o f hunter-gatherers and shifting cultivators
can help understand the life-w ays o f peo p le w ho fo llo w ed sim ilar subsistence strategies in the past.
Such studies have pointed out that tribal com m unities w ere never com pletely isolated, and they have
also highlighted the im portant link b etw een the w ays in w hich p eople obtain their food and their
identity as a community. O f course, ethno-archaeological evidence m ust be used cautiously, and it
should be seen as suggesting p o ssib le and not n ecessarily conclusive w ays o f interpreting the
archaeological data, alw ays keeping in m ind the differences betw een the present and p ast contexts.

HARAPPAN CARNELIAN BEADS

NEW DIRECTIONS IN RESEARCH

The social and cultural aspects o f technology

G undiyali and L odai are tw o pottery m anufacturing villag es in Kutch, G ujarat. A rchana C hoksis
case study explores the social and cultural aspects o f technology and raises several im portant
points that archaeologists and historians need to keep in m ind w hen interpreting ancient pottery
traditions:

Pots of different shapes, sizes, and forms are found in both villages. The form of vessels is connected to
their specific function. For example, the mouth of a vessel used for storing dry material like grain and
flour is wide so that it is easy to put a hand into it. Vessels used to carry water into fields have small
mouths to minimize spillage. Cooking vessels have wide mouths to allow stirring and enlarged, thick
rims so that they can be handled when hot. Vessels used for eating are open and shallow, with rim bases
that give them stability. The connection between the form and function of pots can help archaeologists
interpret the function of the pots they find at sites.
The potters of Gundiyali and Lodai produce rather different vessels. This is because Gundiyali is dominated
by farmers, labourers, and the service class, while Lodai is dominated by farmers and herders. These
groups have different life-styles and needs and they use different kinds of pots. It is clear that potters
make the sorts of pots their clients want, and consumer demand for pottery is shaped by occupation,
family and community identity, food habits, and ritual practices. Inferences about patterns of social and
economic organization can be made on the basis of the range of pots found at a site.
The potters of Gundiyali and Lodai are reluctant to experiment or change the forms and designs of the
vessels they make. Pots change when there are significant socio-economic changes. For instance, the
shapes of some of the traditional vessels have been modified to suit urban kitchens, although the
decoration remains the same. This is relevant to understanding general patterns of continuity and change
in ancient ceramic traditions.

SOURCE Choksi, 1995

F igure 1.3 pots from G undiyali and lodai

PROTECTING SITES

The p ro cesses o f rural and urban expansion pose constant threats to archaeological sites and their
protection is crucial to the protection o f the cultural heritage. Salvage archaeology aim s at
identifying endangered sites and saving them from destruction.
M any decades ago, the site o f N agarjunakonda in the Guntur d istrict o f A ndhra P rad esh w as
subm erged in w ater w hen the N agarjunasagar dam w as b u ilt across the K rishna. B efore this
happened, betw een 1954 and 1960, officers o f the A rchaeological Survey o f India thoroughly
explored, excavated, and docum ented the valley. The next step w as a m assive salvage operation.
Nine o f the m ost im portant structures w ere transplanted and re-b u ilt on top o f the N agarjunakonda
hill and on the banks o f the reservoir. R eplicas o f 14 other structures w ere made.
A p art from such spectacular sites and huge salvage projects, there are thousands o f sm aller sites
all over the subcontinent that need to be noticed, docum ented, and cared for. Protecting the
archaeological heritage is not ju s t the resp o n sib ility o f the A rchaeological Survey or the
Government. It is essential for ordinary people to realize the im portance o f protecting and cherishing
these fragile links to the past.
NAGARJUNAKONDA SALVAGE OPERATIONS IN PROGRESS

Epigraphy: The Study o f Inscriptions

ANCIENT AND EARLY MEDIEVAL SCRIPTS

Inscriptions and coins com e under the general um brella o f archaeology and archaeological sources,
but they are subjects o f sp ecialized study in their ow n right. The study o f inscriptions is know n as
epigraphy. A n inscription is any w riting that is engraved on som ething stone, w ood, m etal, ivory
plaques, bronze statues, bricks, clay, shells, pottery, etc. E pigraphy includes deciphering the text o f
inscriptions and analysing the inform ation they contain. It also includes palaeography, the study o f
ancient w riting.
As m entioned earlier, the o ld est inscriptions in the Indian subcontinent are in the yet undeciphered
H arappan script. The o ld est deciphered inscriptions belong to the late 4th century BCE, and are in
Brahmi and K haroshthi (som etim es sp elt K haroshti). These include those o f the M aurya em peror
Ashoka, w hich are in a num ber o f different languages and scripts, but m ostly in the P rak rit language
and B rahm i script. A s there are no obvious links betw een the H arap p an scrip t and B rahm i or
K haroshthi, w hat happened to w riting in b etw een rem ains a mystery. T here is no d ire c t m ention o f
w riting in Vedic literature, but references to poetic m etres, gram m atical and phonetic term s, very
large numbers, and complex arithmetical calculations in later Vedic texts are taken by some
historians to indicate the possibility that writing may have been known at the time.
The first definite literary references to writing and written documents occur in the Buddhist Pali
texts, especially the Jatakas and the Vinaya Pitaka. Paninis Ashtadhyayi refers to the word lipi
(script). The Brahmi of Ashokas inscriptions seems a fairly developed script, and it must have had a
prior history of at least a few centuries. Recently, important direct evidence that Brahmi existed in
pre-Maurya times has come from Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, where excavations unearthed potsherds
with short inscriptions (probably names of people) that can be dated to at least the early 4th century
BCE.
There are three main types of scripts. In a logographic script, written symbols stand for a word, in
a syllabic script for a syllable, and in an alphabetic script for a single phonetic sound. In the strict
sense of the term, in an alphabet, the vowels should have a separate and fully independent status
equal to that of consonants. Both the Brahmi and Kharoshthi scripts stand midway between
alphabetic and syllabic scripts, and can be described as semi-syllabic or semi-alphabetic.

J. F. FLEET (1847-1917), ONE OF THE I.FADING BRITISH EPIGRAPHISTS IN COLONIAL INDIA

Kharoshthis core area lay in the north-westin and around the Indus, Swat, and Kabul river
valleys, the land known as Gandhara in ancient times. Ashokas Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra
inscriptions are in this script. Kharoshthi was later used in north India under the Indo-Greek, Indo-
Parthian, and Kushana kings, and was also used in certain records outside the Gandhara area,
including in parts of central Asia. Written from right to left, Kharoshthi seems to have been derived
from the north Semitic Aramaic script.
D . C . Sir c a r ( 1 9 0 7 - 8 5 ) , a d is t in g u i s h e d e p i g r a p h i s t a n d s c h o l a r

The origins of Brahmi, a script written from left to right, are not as clear. Some scholars have
suggested an indigenous origin, others an Aramaic origin. A problem in accepting the latter theory is
that the direction of writing and the forms of the letters in Brahmi and Kharoshthi are different, so it
is unlikely that they were derived from the same script. Kharoshthi declined and died out in about the
3rd century CE. Brahmi, on the other hand, became the parent of all the indigenous scripts of South
Asia, and also of those used in parts of central and Southeast Asia.
The different stages of the Brahmi script are often labelled on the basis of dynasties, e.g., Ashokan
Brahmi, Kushana Brahmi, and Gupta Brahmi. The epigraphist D. C. Sircar identified three stages of
development in the history of this script in northern India: early Brahmi (3rd-lst centuries BCE);
middle Brahmi (1 st century BCE-3rd century CE); and late Brahmi (4th-6th centuries CE). In the late
6th century, Gupta Brahmi evolved into a script known as Siddhamatrika or Kutila, which had sharp
angles at the lower right hand corner of each letter. Regional differences became sharper after this
point of time.
The modern north Indian scripts gradually emerged out of Siddhamatrika. Nagari or Devanagari
was standardized by about 1000 CE and an eastern script (known as proto-Bengali or Gaudi) took
shape between the 10th and 14th centuries. From here, it was a short step to the emergence of the
Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, and Maithili scripts in the 14th15th centuries. This is also the time when
the Sharada script emerged in Kashmir and adjoining areas.
The earliest inscriptions in the Tamil language (with some Prakrit elements) are engraved in rock
shelters and caves, mostly in Tamil Nadu, especially in the area near Madurai. They are in a script
known as Tamil-Brahmi, an adaptation of Brahmi for writing the Tamil language. Iravatham
Mahadevan (2003) has identified two phases in the evolution of the Tamil-Brahmi scriptearly
Tamil-Brahmi (c. 2nd century BCE-1 st century CE) and late Tamil-Brahmi (2nd-4th centuries CE).
Three southern scripts emerged in the early medieval periodGrantha, Tamil, and Vatteluttu.
The first of these was used for writing Sanskrit, the second and third for writing Tamil. These three
scripts may have emerged out of southern varieties of Brahmi; or they may have emerged from some
other earlier southern scripts. The Tamil script first appeared in the Pallava territory in the 7th
century CE. Something similar to the modern Telugu and Kannada scripts took shape in the 14th15th
centuries, while the Malayalam script developed out of Grantha at about the same time.
Ancient Indian inscriptions include a few bi-script documents, in which the text is given in the
same language written in two different scripts. Most of the instances come from the north-west and
consist of short bi-script Brahmi-Kharoshthi inscriptions. The longer records include an 8th century
Pattadakal pillar inscription of the Chalukya king Kirttivarman E. The language is Sanskrit; the text is
written both in the north Indian Siddhamatrika script and in the local southern proto-Telugu-Kannada
script.

LANGUAGES OF ANCIENT AND EARLY MEDIEVAL INSCRIPTIONS

The earliest Brahmi inscriptions, including those of Ashoka, are in dialects of Prakrit (also known as
Middle In d o -A ry an ). Between the 1st and 4th centuries CE, many inscriptions were written in a
mixture of Sanskrit and Prakrit. The first pure Sanskrit inscriptions appeared in the 1st century BCE.
The first long Sanskrit inscription is the Junagadh rock inscription of the western K s h a tra p a king
Rudradaman. By about the end of the 3rd century CE, Sanskrit had gradually replaced Prakrit as the
language of inscriptions in northern India.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Deciphered and undeciphered scripts

The story of the decipherment of ancient scripts is an exciting one. Ashokan Brahmi was
deciphered as a result of the slow, painstaking efforts of a number of administrator-scholars
working in India as employees of the East India Company. They included Charles Wilkins,
Captain A. Troyer, W. H. Mill, J. Stevenson, and James Prinsep. These scholars first tried to
read early medieval Brahmi inscriptions and then worked at deciphering the older Brahmi
letters. The final step in the decipherment of the 3rd century BCE Maurya Brahmi was made by
Prinsep in 1837.

Even though Prinsep managed to read these inscriptions, he had no idea about the identity of the
king Piyadassi mentioned therein. The answer came soon enough, when George Tumour, an
officer of the Ceylon civil service, identified the king as Ashoka on the basis of references in the
Pali chronicle, the Dipavamsa.

Prinsep also played a role in the decipherment of Kharoshthi, along with other scholars such as
Christian Lassen, Charles Masson, Alexander Cunningham, and E. Norris. The decipherment of
Kharoshthi was easier because of the availability of bi-script coins in Greek and Kharoshthi
issued by the Indo-Greek kings.

Apart from the Harappan script, there are some other scripts that are still undeciphered or
difficult to read. These include an elaborate, calligraphic variation of Brahmi known as ornate or
ornamental Brahmi, found on short inscriptions in various parts of the country. Another stylized,
ornate form of the Brahmi script, referred to by scholars as Shankhalipi (because its characters
look like shankhas, i.e., conch shells) is found in inscriptions of the 4th-8th centuries CE in
various parts of India except the far south. Both ornate Brahmi and Shankhalipi seem to have
been used mainly for names and signatures. There is a script similar to Brahmi on terracotta
seals at sites such as Chandraketugarh and Tamluk in eastern India. An undeciphered script
similar in some ways to Kharoshthi has been found in Afghanistan.

SOURCE Salomon, 1998

Kharoshthi Script

\fowels

7 ? J 7 ? ?
I Q e o am

Consonants

ka kha ga f gha ^
cha > chha ja y jha y na

!a * tha 7 4a H dha T na * r
ta *7 tha da S dha J na

pa r* pha P ba *7 bha % ma

ya A ra *7 la n va "7

sa T sa
*
sa t ha Z

Brahmi Script

\fowels

a i /- u L e A o *L am ft'

T :: fc ai A

Consonants
ka + kha ? ga A gha <v na z
cha chha <v ja e jha na 7*
ta
* c tha
0 da
r' dha d

na I
ta tha da > dha J> na J -

pa (/ pha ba a bha If ma V
ya VI ra la v va 4
sa T sa
6 sa ha (r
The development of some Brahmi letters

Development of the letter na in Brahmi and its derivative scripts

F igure 1.4 kharoshthi and brahmi scripts

In the Deccan and South India, Sanskrit inscriptions appeared along with Prakrit ones in the late
3rd/early 4th century CE, for instance at Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh. The Sanskrit element
gradually increased. In the transitional phase of the 4th and 5th centuries, there were bilingual
Sanskrit-Prakrit inscriptions, as well as those in a mixture of the two languages. Thereafter, Prakrit
fell into disuse.
Between the 4th and 6th centuries, Sanskrit emerged as the premier language of royal inscriptions
all over India. Thereafter, it attained the status of a language associated with high culture, religious
authority, and political power not only in the subcontinent but also in certain other areas such as
Southeast Asia. However, in the post-Gupta period, there was also an important parallel trend
towards the evolution of regional languages and scripts. Even Sanskrit inscriptions show the
influence of local dialects in spellings and words of non-Sanskrit origin.
In South India, inscriptions in the old Tamil language (and the Tamil-Brahmi script) appeared in
the 2nd century BCE and the early centuries CE. Tamil became an important language of South Indian
inscriptions under the Pallava dynasty. There are examples of bilingual Tamil-Sanskrit Pallava
inscriptions from the 7th century onwards. In these, the invocation, genealogical portion, and
concluding verses are often in Sanskrit and the details of the grants in Tamil. Kings of the Chola and
Pandya dynasties also issued Tamil and bilingual Sanskrit-Tamil inscriptions. Hundreds of donative
Tamil inscriptions were inscribed on temple walls in various parts of South India in early medieval
times.
The earliest Kannada inscriptions belong to the late 6th/early 7th century CE. From this period
onwards, there were many private donative records in Kannada, and this language was also used in
some royal grants. There are some bilingual Sanskrit- Kannada inscriptions and a 12th century
inscription found at Kurgod (in Bellary district, Karnataka) is in three languages Sanskrit, Prakrit,
and Kannada. The late 6th century epigraphs of the early Telugu Chola kings mark the beginnings of
Telugu as a language of inscriptions. Thereafter, there are many private donative records in this
language. Mal ayal am inscriptions appeared in about the 15th century. There are also a few late
inscriptions in Tulu, a Dravidian language which is similar in some ways to Kannada and is spoken
in parts of Karnataka.
As for inscriptions in the modern north Indian (New Indo-Aryan) languages, Marathi and Oriya
inscriptions can be identified from the 11th century. Inscriptions in dialects similar to what is
referred to today as Hindi appear in Madhya Pradesh from the 13th century onwards, and Gujarati
can be identified in epigraphs from the 15th century.

DATING THE INSCRIPTIONS

Inscriptions are usually dated in regnal years or eras. The dates of eras are given in words,
numerals, or both. The ancient Indian calendar system often had a combination of lunar as well as
solar units. Inscriptions sometimes specify the month, lunar fortnight (paksha), lunar day (tithi),
weekday (the civil day or solar day), and may give additional astronomical details. The
specification of the year and day began in the 2nd century BCE. Some later inscriptions give the date
in the form of chronograms. Instead of numbers, words standing for these numbers are usede.g.,
bhumi (the earth) = 1; kara (hand) = 2; loka (the worlds) = 3; veda = 4, etc. These words are given
in the reverse sequence of the numbers in the date, and are to be read backwards. For example,
kara-veda-bhumi means the year 142. If an inscription is not dated, it can be assigned a rough date
on palaeographic grounds.
Many different eras were used in ancient and early medieval India. To cite a few examplesthe
Vikrama era of 58 BCE, the Shaka era of 78 CE, the Kalachuri-Chedi era of 248 CE, and the Gupta era
of 319-20 CE. The Kollamera of 824 CE was used in inscriptions of Kerala and adjoining parts of
Tamil Nadu, while the Chalukya-Vikrama era of 1076 was used in some inscriptions of Karnataka
and adjoining areas. The eras marked important events, usually the accession of a king. Subordinate
kings used the era of their overlord, and some eras continued to be used long after their founding
dynasty had disappeared. While the initial year of most ancient and early medieval eras is known,
uncertainty still surrounds a few. For instance, the suggested dates for the beginning of the Harsha era
include 612, 619, and 648 CE. Similarly, the dates for the era of the Ganga kings of Orissa range
from the 4th to the 9th century CE.

FURTHER DISCUSSION

How to convert ancient era dates into modern ones

How do you convert a date in an ancient era into BCE/CE dates of the Common Era, which is
based on the Christian calendar? All that is required is a bit of simple arithmetic. For a date in
an era that began in a BCE year, subtract the initial BCE year of that era from it. If the era began in
a CE year, add the initial CE date.
For example, year 179 of the Vikrama era (which began in 58 BCE) = 179 - 58 = 121 CE; year
179 of the Shaka era (which began in 78 CE) = 179 + 78 = 257 CE.

There can be a bit of variation in the conversion of ancient dates, depending on whether the
months mentioned are solar or lunar months. The month is also relevant because the traditional
Indian year did not begin in the same month as the Western year, which begins in January.
Another point that can create some confusion is whether the year mentioned in the inscription is
to be understood as expired or current; this is sometimes, but not always, indicated in the text. To
give an example, when we celebrate a childs first birthday, going according to expired years, he
has completed one year, but going by current years, he has begun his second year of life. In spite
of these kinds of issues, if an inscription is dated in a known era, it is possible to pin it down
within a very narrow margin.

THE CLASSIFICATION OF INSCRITTIONS

Inscriptions can be classified in several different ways, for instance according to the surface they are
engraved on, language, age, and geographical region. They can also be classified into official and
private records, depending on whose behalf they were inscribed. Ashokas edicts and royal land
grants are examples of official records. Inscriptions recording grants made by private individuals or
guilds to temples, or to Buddhist or Jaina establishments are examples of private records.
Inscriptions can also be classified according to their content and purpose into types such as
donative, dedicative, and commemorative inscriptions. For instance, the Lumbini pillar inscription
of Ashoka is a royal commemorative inscription, recording a specific eventthe visit of the king to
the Buddhas birth-place. In many parts of India, there is evidence of an ancient practice of erecting
memorials to dead people. Thousands of memorial stones are found all over the country, not always
connected with burials. Some only have sculpted scenes (realistic or symbolic), others also have
inscriptions. The most common memorial stones were erected in memory of dead heroes or women
who committed sati. But there are other kinds as well. Stones were set up in honour of Jaina men and
women who gave up their lives in the exemplary Jaina fashion of death by starvation. On the Konkan
coast, many stones were erected in memory of sailors who lost their lives in sea battles. Some
memorial stones were worshipped.
Donative inscriptions in favour of religious establishments were inscribed on shrine walls,
railings, and gateways. The excavation and donation of caves to ascetics was recorded in
inscriptions in the caves. Donative inscriptions include records of the installation of religious
images, often inscribed on the images themselves. Others record investments of money made by
people, out of the interest of which lamps, flowers, incense, etc. were to be provided for the worship
of the deity.
A PALA PERIOD IMAGE WITH A DONATIVE INSCRIPTION ON THE BASE; COPPER PLATE INSCRIPTIONS

Royal land grants are an important category of donative records. There are thousands of such
inscriptions, some on stone, but mostly inscribed on one or more copper plates. Most of them record
grants made by kings to Brahmanas and religious establishments. The earliest stone inscriptions
recording land grants with tax exemptions are Satavahana and Kshatrapa epigraphs found at Nashik.
The mid-4th century Pallava and Shalankayana grants are the earliest surviving copper plate grants.
One of the oldest copper plate grants from north India is the late 4th century CE Kalachala grant of
king Ishvararata. Copper plate grants increased in number and frequency in the early medieval
period.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Memorializing death in stone

Memorial stones and their inscriptions reflect the values and ideals that ancient communities
associated with life and death. In the Andhra region, such stones are known as chhaya stambhas.
At Nagarjunakonda, there are memorial stones in memory of kings, queens, soldiers, chieftains,
generals, holy people, and an artisan. At the base of a 12 ft high limestone pillar is an inscription
recording the names of 29 royal womensisters, mothers, and queens of the Ikshvaku family,
collectively mourning king Chantamula I. Above the inscription are five panels of relief carving,
one on top of the other, depicting the dead king in different poses. In the first (lowest) scene, he
appears as a plump figure distributing gifts during the performance of a religious ceremony. In
the next one, he is riding an elephant. In the panel above this, he is surrounded by women, three
seated on the floor (perhaps musicians), the fourth dancing. In the next scene, he is sitting on a
throne, flanked by women, two of whom may represent his queens. The topmost panel depicts a
building, possibly a palace or heaven.

The Nagarjunakonda memorial pillar in honour of an artisan is naturally much simpler. It just
gives the name of the artisan Mulabhuta and states that he came from a place called Pavayata.
Above the inscription is a narrow-necked vase, which may have been the emblem of the guild to
which Mulabhuta belonged.

The largest concentration of memorial stones is in Karnataka. About 2,650 hero stones dated
between the 5th and 13th centuries have been found here. Inscriptions on some of these give only
a name, others offer details of the circumstances in which the person died. Hero stones usually
commemorated male heroes, but two inscriptions from Siddhenahalli and Kembalu refer to the
heroic death of a woman and of a queen who launched a cattle raid. An inscription from
Shikaripur refers to a woman laying down her life to defend others.

There are also some interesting memorials for pets. An inscription from Gollarahatti is in
memory of a hunting dog named Punisha who died after killing a wild boar, while another one
from Atkur commemorates the death of a dog named Kali who died fighting a wild boar during a
hunt. A 12th century inscription at Tambur mourns the death of the pet parrot of a king of the
Kadamba dynasty of Goa. The parrot was eaten by a cat in the palace and the inscription tells us
that the king was so filled with grief at this event that he killed himself.

The tradition of memorial pillars lives on in certain parts of the country today, e.g., in Karnataka
and among tribal communities of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The Maria and Muria Gond
tribes of the Bastar region of Madhya Pradesh still erect memorials of stone and wood. Some are
plain, others are beautifully carved or painted. These memorials are linked with beliefs and
rituals related to death and afterlife, and are a very important part of the cultural life and identity
of the people.

SOURCE Settar and Sontheimer, n.d.; Postel and Cooper, 1999

Hero stone from khanapur, Karnataka

Royal inscriptions includeprashastis (panegyric). Most royal inscriptions (and some private ones
too) usually begin with a prashasti, but some inscriptions are entirely devoted to eulogizing their
subject. Well-known examples are the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela, a 1st century BCE/1st
century CE king of Kalinga in Orissa, and the Allahabad prashasti of the 4th century Gupta emperor
Samudragupta.
Certain inscriptions record the building of waterworks, wells, and charitable feeding houses by
private individuals. A series of unique records of royal initiatives of this kind are inscribed on a
granite rock at Junagadh (Girnar) in Gujarat. Apart from a set of Ashokan edicts, this rock bears two
other important inscriptions. A 150 CE inscription of the Shaka ruler Rudradaman records the
beginning of the construction of a water reservoir known as Sudarshana lake in the 4th century BCE
during the time of the Maurya emperor Chandragupta, its completion during the reign of Ashoka, and
its repair in the 2nd century CE. A 5th century inscription on the same rock, of the time of the Gupta
king Skandagupta, describes how the lake burst its banks due to excessive rains and was repaired
after two years work. What we have here is an amazing history of the building and repair of an
ancient water reservoir over a period of about 1,000 years!
There are other miscellaneous types of inscriptionslabels, graffiti left by pilgrims and
travellers, religious formulae, and writing on seals. Certain inscriptions from Madhya Pradesh give
a condensed summary of the basics of Sanskrit grammar. Footprint inscriptions are found in many
parts of the country, accompanying a pair of engraved footprints of a holy man, king or other
noteworthy person.

INSCRIPTIONS AS A SOURCE OF HISTORY

Compared with manuscripts of texts, inscriptions have the advantage of durability. They are usually
contemporaneous to the events they speak of and their information can be connected to a time and
place. Changes and additions made to them can usually be detected without great difficulty. The text
of inscriptions may be brief, but a large number of short inscriptions can often provide important
historical information. Compared to literary sources, which tend to give a theoretical perspective,
inscriptions often reflect what people were actually doing. And although epigraphs of different
categories usually follow a standard format, some of them do have the ability to surprise.
Inscriptions are a valuable source of information on political history. The geographical spread of
a kings inscriptions is often taken as indicating the area under his political control. But the
discovery of inscriptions depends on chance and not all the inscriptions inscribed during a kings
reign need necessarily be found. Furthermore, moveable inscriptions are not always found in situ,
i.e., in their original place.
The earliest royal inscriptions do not contain much genealogical material, but later ones generally
do. Their prashastis give details about the history of dynasties and the reigns of kings. Of course,
there are problems. Royal inscriptions naturally tend to exaggerate the achievements of the ruling
king. Sometimes, confusion is created when a genealogy mentions kings with the same name, or when
different inscriptions contradict each other on particular details. Sometimes genealogies skip names.
This kind of skipping occurs, for instance, in the case of Skandagupta and Ramagupta, who are
ignored in Gupta genealogies because they did not come within the direct line of succession of later
rulers.
There are cases where inscriptions of different dynasties make conflicting claims. For instance, a
Gurjara-Pratihara inscription states that king Vatsaraja conquered all of Karnataka. However, the
contemporary Rashtrakuta king claims in his inscriptions to have defeated Vatsaraja and to have
ruled over the Karnataka area. Wherever possible, details of political events given in inscriptions
have to be cross-checked.
Inscriptions, especially those of the early medieval period, have been used as a major source of
information on political structures and administrative and revenue systems. They can also shed light
on the history of settlement patterns, agrarian relations, forms of labour, and class and caste
structures. Analysing epigraphic evidence involves unravelling the technical vocabulary of
inscriptionsfor instance, the designations of officials, fiscal terms, and land measuresthe
meanings of which are not always clear.
There are very few ancient records of secular land transactions and records of land disputes, but
these take us straight to the heart of social and economic issues. For instance, an inscription of the
time of the Chola king Rajaraja El (1231 CE) states that farmers of a certain village found the burden
of arbitrary levies in money and paddy and the demand of compulsory labour made on various
pretexts by several agencies so unbearable that they could no longer carry on cultivation. A meeting
of the Brahmana assembly and the leading men of the locality was held in the village temple.
Decisions were taken, fixing the dues that farmers were to give to the Brahmanas and royal tax
collectors, and the labour services that they were expected to perform

At ancient theatre, an ancient love story

The Sitabenga and Jogimara caves on Ramgarh hill (in Chhattisgarh) can be reached through a
natural tunnel known as Hathipol, 180 ft long and so high that an elephant can pass through it.
Both caves have inscriptions in a Prakrit dialect, engraved in Brahmi letters of the 3rd century
BCE.

In front of the entrance of the Sitabenga cave is a row of rock-cut benches arranged in terraces in
the shape of a crescent, with aisles. The two-line inscription in the cave cannot be read clearly
or fully. It seems to talk of venerable poets who kindled the heart of others with their poetry, and
people tying garlands of jasmine flowers around their necks at the swing festival of the full
moon, when there was much fun, frolic, and music. The inscriptions and the layout of the cave
and the area around it suggest that this may have been an ancient theatre, a place where poets
recited their poems and where plays were performed long ago.

The Jogimara cave lies to the south of Sitabenga. Here, there is a five-line inscription which can
be translated thus: Sutanuka by name, a devadasi. The excellent among young men, Devadinna
by name, the rupadaksha, loved her. In later times, the word devadasi referred to a temple
woman, but its meaning in this early context is uncertain. Rupadaksha can be interpreted in
different ways it could mean someone skilled in sculpture, or a scribe, or an officer connected
with coinage. But there are paintings on the roof of the cave, so maybe the word means painter or
artist.
However, there is another possible translation of the Jogimara inscription: Sutanuka by name, a
devadasi, made this resting place for girls [perhaps actresses who performed in the dramas
enacted here], Devadinna by name, skilled in painting, made the paintings in this cave.

The Jogimara cave inscription can thus be interpreted in two very different ways. The first
interpretation conveys raw emotion in its startling brevity, while the second one is more matter
of fact.

SOURCE Annual Report o f the Archaeological Survey o f India, 190304: 123-31

Inscriptions provide dateable information on the history of religious sects, institutions, and
practices. Donative records help identify the sources of patronage enjoyed by ancient religious
establishments. They also give glimpses into sects and cults that were once important but did not
leave any literature of their own e.g., the Ajivika sect and the yaksha and nag a cults. Inscriptions
can help identify and date sculptures and structures, and thus throw light on the history of
iconography, art, and architecture. They are also a rich source of information on historical
geography. In fact, the location of several ancient Buddhist monastic sites such as Kapilavastu
(identified with Piprahwa in Basti district, UP) has been fixed on the basis of inscribed monastic
seals.
Inscriptions reflect the history of languages and literature and a few refer to the performing arts.
For instance, the 7th century Kudumiyamalai inscription gives the musical notes used in seven
classical ragas. Inscriptions from Tamil Nadu refer to the performance of various kinds of dances.
The pillars of the eastern and western gateways of the Nataraja temple at Chidambaram have label
inscriptions describing the dance poses of 108 sculpted figures carved on them, quoting verses from
the Natyashastra of Bharata.
Inscriptions are material remains and have to be understood in relation to the larger contexts in
which they are found. They are also texts, connected with prevailing structures of power, authority,
and social status. Whether fragmentary or complete, whether consisting of one word or hundreds of
lines, an inscription has to be read and analysed carefully. Its contents can then be compared with
those of other inscriptions and with information from other kinds of sources.

Numismatics: The Study of Coins


In modern times, money functions as a medium of exchange, a store of value, a unit of accounts, and a
medium of deferred payment. In its most general sense, money is any item that is accepted by a
community for the exchange of goods or services or for the discharge of debt. Currency and coinage
are more specific terms. Currency is a medium of exchange backed by an issuing authority, one that
can be used to immediately discharge any kind of financial obligation. Coinage is metal currency. It
has a definite size, shape, and weight standard, and bears the stamp of an issuing authority. The main
message-bearing side of a coin is known as the obverse and the other side the reverse. In the world
context, the earliest coins appear in Lydia in West Asia in c. 700 BCE and were made of electrum, a
natural alloy of gold and silver.
N um ism atics or the study of coins includes the analysis of the material out of which coins were
made; the identification of the sources of the metals; the classification and study of the form of coins
on the basis of their fabric (size, shape, thickness, design, workmanship), m etro lo g y (weight),
design, metallic composition, techniques of manufacture, and message content. Ancient coins are
usually discovered by accident. A very small proportion finds its way into the hands of coin
collectors or governments; the majority end up getting lost, melted down, or destroyed. Coins occur
as stray individual finds or as part of coin hoards. Hoards are especially valuable for monetary
history and consist of coins withdrawn from human custody (due to being buried underground for
safety, or fire, floods, loss, etc.) and found subsequently.
M e tro lo g y the measurement and arrangement of coins by weightis an important aspect of
numismatics. In the course of circulation, coins are subjected to wear and tear and their weight
gradually decreases. This fact enables numismatists to arrange them in a chronological sequence and
to distinguish between coins of a hoard that have been in circulation for greater and less periods of
time. Various techniques are used for ascertaining the metal content of coins. One method is to
carefully inspect their colour and lustre. There are other informal physical procedures such as testing
for resonance by dropping the coin on a hard surface to produce a sound or testing its ductility by
biting it. A water displacement test can be conducted to measure a coins specific gravity. There are
also several chemical testing procedures for ascertaining metal composition. These are more
accurate but generally damage the coin. Non-destructive scientific techniques such as X-ray
fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry, which are now being used to analyse the elemental composition of
coins, provide quick and accurate results.
Mint towns can be identified by noting sites where large numbers of coin moulds have been found.
An analysis of coin dies can help identify the number and sequence of issues and estimates of the
volume of coins produced by these dies can be made by extrapolation.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF INDIAN COINAGE

Stone age people had neither currency nor coinage and conducted exchange via barter. Chalcolithic
cultures too conducted trade without the use of coins. The Harappans, for instance, had a very
extensive trade network based on barter. The Rig Veda mentions words such as nishka and nishka-
griva (gold ornaments), and hiranya-pinda (gold globules), but these cannot be understood as coins.
Later Vedic texts use terms such as nishka, suvarna, shatamana, and pa da. These may have been
metal pieces of definite weight, not necessarily full-fledged coins.
The earliest definite literary and archaeological evidence of coinage in the Indian subcontinent dates
from the 6th-5th centuries BCE in a context of the emergence of states, urbanization, and expanding
trade. Buddhist texts and the Ashtadhyayi refer to words such as kahapana/karshapana,
nikkha/nishka, shatamana, pada, vimshatika, trinshatika, and suvanna/suvarna. The basic unit of
Indian coin weight systems was a red-and-black seed of the gunja berry (Abrus precatorius) known
as the raktika, ram , or rati. In South India, the standard weight of coins was theoretically calculated
on the basis of the relationship between two kinds of beansthe manjadi (Odenathera pavonina)
and the kalanju (Caesalpinia bonduc). The advent of coinage did not mean the disappearance of
barterboth co-existed for a very long time.

R a t t i seeds

The oldest coins found in the subcontinent are punch-marked coins, made mostly of silver, some of
copper. They are usually rectangular, sometimes square or round. The blanks for making these coins
were generally cut from a metal sheet or made from flattened metal globules. The symbol or symbols
were then hammered on separately, using dies or punches. These coins are often irregular in shape,
their corners sometimes snipped off to adjust their weight. Most of the silver punch-marked coins
weighed 32 rattis or about 56 grains (grain is a weight measure used for metals; 1 grain = 64.79
mg). Punch-marked coins are found all over the subcontinent, and continued to circulate in many
places till the early centuries CE, with a longer period of circulation in peninsular India.
Silver punch- marked coin of magadha

The punch-marked coins of northern India can be divided into four main series on the basis of
their weight, the number and nature of punch marks, and their area of circulationthe Taxila-
Gandhara type of the north-west with a heavy weight standard and a single punch type; the Kosala
type of the middle Ganga valley, with a heavy weight standard and multiple punch marks; the Avanti
type of western India, with a light weight standard and single punch mark; and the Magadhan type
with a light weight standard and multiple punches (Mitchiner, 1973). Changes in coinage patterns
mirrored political changes. With the expansion of the Magadhan empire, the Magadhan type of
punch-marked coins came to gradually replace those of other states.
Although these coins do not have any legends (i.e., anything written on them), it is likely that most
of them were issued by states. In later times, there is evidence of city issues and guild issues, and it
is possible that this practice also prevailed in the period of the punch-marked coins. Symbols on
these coins include geometric designs, plants, animals, the sun, wheel, mountain, tree (including tree-
in-railing), branches, and human figures. Some symbols may have had a religious or political
importance, but their precise significance is not always certain. The coins often have primary and
secondary punch marks. The latter are counterstamps or countermarks which were added on later,
without heating the coins.
U n in s c r i b e d c a st c o ppe r c o in o f k a u sh a m b i

Uninscribed cast coins made of copper or alloys of copper appeared soon after the punch-marked
coins. They have been found in most parts of the subcontinent except the far south. Some types have a
fairly wide distribution, while others (such as those found at Ayodhya and Kaushambi, which seem
to have been issued in the late 3rd or early 2nd century BCE) have a more restricted range of
circulation. These coins were made by melting metal and pouring it into clay or metal moulds. Clay
moulds have in fact been found at many sites and a bronze mould was found at Eran in central India.
The discovery of punch-marked and uninscribed cast coins in the same archaeological level at some
early historical sites indicates that they overlapped in time.
Other early Indian coin types include uninscribed die-struck coins, mostly in copper, rarely in
silver. The symbols, some similar to those on the punch-marked coins, were struck onto coin blanks
with metal dies that were carefully carved with the required designs. The minting of such coins may
have begun in about the 4th century BCE and they have been found in large numbers at sites such as
Taxila and Ujjain.
The next stage in the history of Indian coinage is marked by the die-struck Indo-Greek coins of the
2nd/lst century BCE. These are very well-executed, usually round (a few are square or rectangular)
and mostly in silver (a few are in copper, billon [a silver-copper alloy], nickel, and lead). They
bear the name and portrait of the issuing ruler on the obverse. Coins of Menander and Strata I show
them slowly aging from teenagers to old men, indicating their long reigns. Coins issued jointly by
kings reflect the practice of conjoint rule. The reverse of the coins usually had religious symbols.
The Indo-Greeks issued bilingual and bi-script coins, the name of the issuer appearing on the
obverse in Greek and on the reverse in the Prakrit language and usually in the Kharoshthi script
(rarely in Brahmi). The coins of these kings also have certain symbols referred to as monograms by
numismatists, the precise significance of which is not certain. Coins of the Shakas, Parthians, and
Kshatrapas follow the basic features of Indo-Greek coinage, and include bilingual and bi-script
issues.
S il v e r c o in o f In d o - G r e e k k in g D e m e t r iu s

The Kushanas (1 st-4th centuries CE) were the first dynasty of the subcontinent to mint large
quantities of gold coins; their silver coins are rare. They also issued many copper coins of low
denominational value, which indicates the increasing spread of the money economy. Kushana coins
have the figure, name, and title of the king on the obverse. On the reverse are deities belonging to the
Brahmanical, Buddhist, Greek, Roman, and other pantheons. The legends are either entirely in
Greek, or in some cases in Kharoshthi on the reverse.
A number of coin types ranging from the 3rd century BCE to the 4th century CE, referred to by
numismatists as indigenous, \x\bdX,janapada, or local coins forman important source of information
on the history of the dynasties of northern and central India. These coins are mostly cast or die-struck
in copper or bronze, but there are some silver coins and a few rare examples of ones in lead and
potin (an alloy of copper, lead, tin, and dross). They include those issued by chieftains, kings, and
non-monarchical states such as the Arjunayanas, Uddehikas, Malavas, and Yaudheyas. There are also
coins bearing the name of cities such as Tripuri, Ujj ayini, Kaushambi, Vidisha, Airikina,
Mahishmati, Madhyamika, Varanasi, and Taxila, presumably issued by the administration of these
cities. Some coins with the word negama seem to represent coins issued by merchant guilds. Certain
Taxila coins with the legendpancha-nekame may have been issued jointly by five guilds.
G old c o in o f k u s h a n a k in g V im a k a d p h is e s

In the Deccan, the pre-Satavahana coinage was followed by the copper and silver coins of the
Satavahana kings. Rulers of this dynasty also issued coins of small denominational value made of
lead and potin. Most Satavahana coins were die-struck, but there are some cast coins, and a
combination of techniques was also used. The legends were generally in the Prakrit language and
Brahmi script. However, the portrait coins (mostly in silver, but also in lead) use a Dravidian
language and Brahmi script. Punch-marked coins continued to circulate alongside the Satavahana
issues.
There was a greater demand for silver currency in the western Deccan, perhaps due to
commercial reasons. The Kshatarapa ruler Nahapana introduced a silver currency in the Nashik
area. Roman gold coins also flowed into peninsular India in large quantities in the early centuries CE
and may have been used as a medium of exchange for large-scale transactions or as currency
reserves and capital deposits. Locally made imitations of Roman gold coins have also been found.
So, in the early centuries CE in the western Deccan, there was a co-existence of Satavahana,
Kshatrapa, punch-marked, and Roman coins. Currencies of the western Deccan also flowed into the
eastern Deccan.
Some of the punch-marked coins found in various parts of South India have been identified as
dynastic issues on the basis of their symbols. For example, coins found in a hoard at Bodinaikkanur
near Madurai had a double carp fishthe symbol of the Pandya kings. In recent years, there has been
increasing evidence of dynastic issues (some with portraits) with legends of the Cholas, Cheras, and
Pandyas. This evidence has come from private collections and as surface and stray finds, but not so
far in stratified archaeological contexts. Coins with the legend Valuti have been assigned to the
Pandyas. Silver coins with the portrait of a Chera king and the legend Makkotai have been found in
the Krishna riverbed near Karar. There are also coins with the legends Kuttuvan Kotai and
Kollippurai along with the Chera symbols of the bow and arrow and the double fish and tiger.
The imperial Gupta kings issued well-executed die-struck gold coins with metrical legends in
Sanskrit. Known as dinaras, these coins have been mostly found in north India. The obverse depicts
the reigning king in various poses, usually martial ones, but there are interesting instances of coins of
Samudragupta and Kumaragupta I showing them playing the vina (a stringed instrument). The reverse
of the Gupta coins have religious symbols indicating the kings religious affiliations. There was a
decline in the metallic purity of gold coins in the later part of Skandaguptas reign. The Guptas also
issued silver coins, but their copper coins are rare.

G old coin of G upta king kumaragupta i

In the post-Satavahana period in the eastern Deccan, the Ikshvakus of the lower Krishna valley
(3rd-4th centuries) issued lead coins similar in fabric to the Satavahana ones. Some copper issues
have been attributed to the Shalankayana dynasty (early 4th- mid-5th centuries) and the
Vishnukundins (mid-5th-mid-7th centuries). Coins of the Traikutakas (3rd-4th centuries) circulated
in the western Deccan and silver issues of the early Kalachuris (6th century) in the Maharashtra area.
The numismatic history of the early medieval period is a subject of continuing debate. Historians
who describe this period as marked by a feudal order talk of a decline in coinage along with a
decline in trade and urban centres, followed by a revival in the 11th century. This hypothesis can be
questioned. There was certainly a decline in the aesthetic quality of coins, in the number of coin
types, and in their message content. Many are devoid of names or titles, and are therefore difficult to
associate with a particular king. However, as demonstrated by John S. Deyell (1990), there does not
seem to have been a decline in the volume of coins in circulation.
S il v e r G u r j a r a - P r a h h a r a c o in

A number of base metal alloy coin series were issued by dynasties in early medieval times. In the
Ganga valley, billon coins circulated in the Gurjara-Pratihara kingdom, while other coin types
circulated in Rajputana and Gujarat. Copper coins were minted by the Arab governors of Sindh
between the mid-8th to mid-9th centuries. In Kashmir, copper coins were supplemented by bills of
exchange (hundikas) denominated in terms of coins or grain, and the use of cowries. During the 6th
7th centuries, kings of Bengal such as Shashanka issued gold coins. No coin issues of the Pala and
Sena dynasties have so far been identified. It has been suggested that the references to currency units
in their inscriptions do not represent actual coins but theoretical units of value made up by a fixed
number of objects such as cow ries. However, a number of silver coins known as Harikela coins
were circulating in Bengal between the 7th and 13th centuries and these had corresponding local
eastern series, issued in the name of various localities.
In the western Deccan, some early medieval coin types have been tentatively identified with the
Chalukyas of Badami. Although gold and silver coins found in the Andhra region have been
attributed to the early eastern Chalukyas, there seems to be a subsequent gap of about three centuries
till the end of the 10th century, when there was a revival of gold and copper coinage under the later
kings of this dynasty. The attribution of certain gold and silver coins to the Chalukyas of Kalyana
(8th-12th centuries) and to the Kalachuri Rajputs remains uncertain. Coins issued by the Kadambas
of Goa (11th12th centuries) have been identified, and a few gold coins have been attributed to the
Shilaharas of the western Deccan (11th century).
In the far south, coins with lion and bull motifs, some inscribed with titles, have been associated
with the Pallavas. The tiger crest is the emblem on Chola coins. The seals of several Chola copper
plate inscriptions show the tiger, fish (the Pandya emblem), and bow (the Chera emblem), indicating
that the Cholas had achieved political supremacy over these two dynasties. The appearance of these
three emblems on many gold, silver, and copper coins suggests that these were Chola issues. Gold
coins found at Kavilayadavalli in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh have the motifs of the tiger,
bow, and some indistinct marks. The obverse has the Tamil legend sung which seems to be a short
form of sungandavirttarulina (abolisher of tolls), one of the titles of the Chola king Kulottunga I.
The legends on the reverseeither Kanchi or Ne (maybe short for Nellur)may indicate the names
of mint towns. The last phase of Chola rule is only represented by copper coins. Coinsmostly
copper onesof the early medieval Pandyas have been found largely in Sri Lanka. A few bear
names like Vira Pandya or Sundara Pandya; the problem is one of figuring out which of the several
kings of these names they refer to.
In many parts of early medieval India, cowries continued to be used as money along with coins. A1
Sohepur in Orissa, 25,000 cowries were found along with 27 Kalachuri coins. At Bhaundri village
in Lucknow, 54 Pratihara coins were found along with 9,834 cowries. Cowries were probably used
by people either for small-scale transactions or where coins of small denominational value were in
short supply The market value of cowries fluctuated, depending on demand and supply

C opper p a l l a v a c o in

COINS AS A SOURCE OF HISTORY

At first glance, coins may appear to carry little historical information, but they provide clues to
several important historical processes. They are linked to monetary history, which includes an
analysis of the production and circulation of coinage, the monetary values attached to coins, and the
frequency and volume of issues. Monetary history is in turn an important aspect of the history of
exchange and trade. At another level, legends on coins give information on the history of languages
and scripts.
C o w r ie shells

The wide distribution of Kushana coins indicates the flourishing trade of the period. The ship on
certain Satavahana coins reflects the importance of maritime trade in the Deccan during this period.
Roman coins found in various parts of India provide information on Indo-Roman trade. The few coin
series issued by guilds indicate the importance of these institutions. Coins are often taken to indicate
levels of economic prosperity (or the lack of it) or the financial condition of ancient states.
Historians frequently interpret the debasement of coins as an indication of a financial crisis in the
state or more general economic decline, for instance, in the time of the later Guptas. However, in a
situation where the supply of precious metals is restricted or reduced, alloying or debasement can be
a response to an increase in the demand for coins created by an increase in the volume of economic
transactions (Deyell, 1990). As already indicated, the numismatic record of early medieval India is
closely tied up with broader debates about the nature of political, social, and economic structures of
the time.
Dates appear rarely on early Indian coins. Exceptions are western Kshatrapa coins which give
dates in the Shaka era and some Gupta silver coins which give the regnal years of kings. Whether
dated or undated, coins discovered in archaeological excavations often help date the layers. An
example is the site of Sonkhnear Mathura, where the excavated levels were divided into eight
periods on the basis of coin finds.
As important royal message-bearing media, coins form a vital source of political history. The area
of circulation of dynastic issues is often used to estimate the extent and frontiers of empires.
However, caution has to be exercised, because coins made of precious metals had an intrinsic value
and often circulated beyond the borders of the state issuing them. They also sometimes continued to
circulate for some time after a dynasty faded from power. Several different currency systems could
prevail in an area, and it is necessary to visualize multiple overlapping and intersecting spheres of
coin circulation.
Numismatic evidence is an especially important source for the political history of India between
c. 200 BCE and 300 CE. Most of the Indo-Greek kings are known almost entirely from their coins.
Coins also offer information on the Parthians, Shakas, Kshatrapas, Kushanas, and Satavahanas. The
coins of over 25 kings with names ending in the suffix mitra have been found in the area from east
Punjab to the borders of Bihar. Coins found in various parts of north and central India (Vidisha,
Eran, Pawaya, Mathura, etc.) mention kings whose names end in the suffix naga, about whom little
is known from other sources. Coins also offer information on ancient political systems. The term
gana on coins of the Yaudheyas and Malavas points to their non-monarchical polity. City coins are
suggestive of the importance and possible autonomy of certain city administrations.
Sometimes, numismatic evidence offers more than just the names of kings and provides
biographical details. For instance, the only specific detail we know about the life of the Gupta king
Chandragupta I is that he married a Lichchhavi princess, and this detail comes from coins
commemorating the marriage. Coins have helped prove that a Gupta king named Ramagupta ruled
between Samudragupta and Chandragupta II. The performance of the ashvamedha sacrifice by
Samudragupta and Kumaragupta I is recorded on coins. The archer and battleaxe coin types of
Samudragupta predictably advertise his physical prowess, while the lyrist type, which shows him
playing the vina, represents a completely different aspect of his personality.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Counter-struck coins of the Kshatrapas and Satavahanas

In 1906, a spectacular discovery was made in Jogalthembi, a small village on the outskirts of
Nashik in Maharashtra. It was a hoard of 13,250 silver coins of Nahapana, a king belonging to
the Kshaharata house of the Kshatrapa rulers, who established his base in the Gujarat area in
about the 2nd century CE. As many as 9,270 of these coins had marks of counter-striking by
Gautamiputra Satakarni, a king of the Satavahana dynasty, which was a major political force in
the Deccan in the early centuries CE.

Counter-striking is the phenomenon of coins issued by one authority being re-struck by another
authority. Numismatists refer to the original strike of counter-struck coins as the undertype and
the new one as the overtype. When properly done, re-striking can completely erase the original
under-type. However, in many cases, if the re-striking is not forceful enough, some of the motifs
of the undertype can be seen along with the overtype. The authority that originally struck the coin
must in all cases have been earlier than or contemporary to the one responsible for the overtype.

Shailendra Bhandare describes how counter-striking can provide important historical


information about the relative chronology and political history of the Kshatrapa and Satavahana
rulers. The design of Nahapanas silver coins were based on the Indo-Greek silver drachms. The
obverse bore his portrait along with a legend in a corrupt form of the Greek script. On the
reverse was his dynastic emblema thunderbolt and arrowalong with inscriptions in the
Brahmi and Kharoshthi scripts. All the coin legends were in the Prakrit language and proclaimed
Nahapana as the Kshatrapa of the Kshaharata house. Gautamiputra Satakarni counter-struck
Nahapanas coins with his own symbols. These included an arched hill surrounded by a Prakrit
legend giving his name on the obverse. On the reverse was his dynastic emblemfour circles
joined by a cross, with a small crescent on top of one of the circles. (Numismatists call this the
Ujjain symbol.)

Another interesting example of counter-striking comes from certain coins issued by Nahapana
with counter-strikes by an otherwise unknown Satavahana king named Shiva Satakarni. There are
also coins issued by Shiva Satakarni, counter-struck by Nahapana. The fact that these two rulers
were counter-striking each others coins indicates that they must have been contemporaries.

Counter-striking is generally interpreted as a graphic indication of political rivalry and contest,


showing which king had the upper hand over the other at a particular point of time. The rivalry
between the Kshaharata and Satavahana rulers is well known from other sources, including
inscriptions. However, Bhandare points out that counter-striking was a way of efficiently and
swiftly providing an acceptable exchange medium when the political authority in an area had
changed, announcing the change to money users.

Continuity was an important factor in ensuring that people had faith in the authenticity and value
of money, and a sudden change in coin types could create a situation of circulatory shock
uncertainty and mistrust among coin users. Therefore, when a new political authority took over, it
often tried to ensure that its coins did not look too different from those of its predecessors. This
is why when Nahapana took over the Nashik area, his coins retained the elephant and a modified
form of the tree-in-railing motifs of the earlier Satavahana coins that were in circulation here.
Similarly, his Junnar coins retained the lion emblem of earlier coins. At the same time, while
trying to maintain continuity, Nahapana made his point on the reverse of the new coins issued
from Nashik and Junnar, where the Satavahana Ujjain symbol was replaced by his own
thunderbolt and arrow emblem

SOURCE B handare, 2006

S il v e r c o in o f n a h a p a n a , r e - s ir u c k b y G a u ia m ip u t r a Sa ia k a r m

The depiction of deities on coins provides information about the personal religious preferences of
kings, royal religious policy, and the history of religious cults. For instance, representations of
Balarama and Krishna appear on 2nd century BCE coins of the Indo-Greek king Agathocles at Ai-
Khanoum (in Afghanistan), indicating the popularity and importance of the cults of these gods in this
region. The depiction of a great variety of figures from Indian, Iranian, and Graeco-Roman religious
traditions on the coins of the Kushana kings is generally interpreted as a reflection of their eclectic
religious views. But it can equally be read as evidence of the many religious cults prevailing in their
empire and the wide range of religious symbols through which the Kushanas chose to legitimize their
political power.

CONCLUSIONS
A meticulous and skilful analysis of the sources is the foundation of history. The various literary and
archaeological sources for ancient and early medieval India have their own specific potential as
well as limitations, which have to be taken into account by the historian. Interpretation is integral to
analysing the evidence from ancient texts, archaeological sites, inscriptions, and coins. Wherever
several sources are available, their evidence has to be co-related. The co-relation of evidence from
texts and archaeology is especially important for a more comprehensive and inclusive history of
ancient and early medieval India. Howeveras will become evident in later chaptersgiven the
inherent differences in the nature of literary and archaeological data, it is not always easy to
integrate them into a smooth and seamless narrative.

www.pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh
Further resources
Chapter Two
Hunter-Gatherers of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Ages

C hapter outline

THE GEOLOGICAL AGES AND HOMINID EVOLUTION


HOMINID REMAINS IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT
PALAEO-ENVIRONMENTS
C l a s s if y in g t h e In d ia n s t o n e a g e

t h e p a l a e o l it h ic a g e

THE MESOLITHIC AGE


CONCLUSIONS
MESOLITHIC PAINTINGS: KATHOTIA, RAMCHAJA, BHIMBETKA (AFTER NEUMAYER, 1983)

In the summer o f 1863, R o b ert B ruce Foote, an officer o f the G eological Survey o f India, w as busy
w ith his routine survey duties at P allav aram near M adras (m odern Chennai). A stone em bedded in a
gravel p it caught his eye and he picked it up. It w as a seem ingly unrem arkable piece o f brow nish
quartzite, w ith one end chipped off, but Foote recognized the unm istakable signs o f human
w orkm anship in its form. H e had found a handaxe, the first palaeolithic tool d isco v ered in India.
Foote w ent on to find and study many m ore stone tools and m ade m ajor contributions to research on
Indian prehistory.
The P allav aram handaxe w as not the first prehistoric tool d isco v ered in India. In 1856, Le
M esurier, a railw ay engineer, had found a sm all chert arrow head near N yagurhee v illag e in central
India. P rehistoric tools w ere subsequently rep o rted from many areas including the eastern Vindhyas,
the Jabalpur area, Sindh, the A ndam an islands, and Bengal. The geologists w ho played a m ajor role
in these d isco v eries shared their evidence and ideas w ith E uropean geologists such as C harles Lyell
and archaeologists such as J. D. Evans. In 1868, Foote trav elled to England to inform the scholarly
community about his w ork, and in 1873, som e o f the prehistoric tools he had d isco v ered in India
w ere displayed at the International E xhibition held at Vienna. W ithin tw o decades, the foundations o f
Indian p rehistory had been laid and had receiv ed international recognition.

Since the 19th century, hundreds o f prehistoric sites have b een identified in the Indian subcontinent
and new m ethodologies and persp ectiv es have enhanced our understanding o f the stone age the
longest p art o f the human past. The sources o f inform ation include structural rem ains, burials, plant
rem ains, bones o f humans and anim als, and ro ck art. H ow ever, the m ost p ro lific and im portant
sources are the tools, m ostly o f stone, m ade and used by prehistoric humans. The craft skills
represented by these tools m ust have b een dev elo p ed through experim entation over centuries and
carefully transm itted from one generation to the next. It took time, strength, labour, skill, and patience
to make stone tools. Some o f them are so aesthetically fashioned that they lo o k like w orks o f art.
Stone tools are found in different contexts. They m ay occur on the surface o f the ground as surface
finds, em bedded in riv e r deposits at habitation sites, or at fa c to ry site s (places w here tools w ere
made). It is im portant to know w hether the artefacts w ere found in a prim ary context (in the place
w here they w ere m ade or used), sem i-prim ary (slightly rem oved from their original place), or
secondary context (far rem oved from their original position).
T here are various w ays in w hich prehistorians try to ascertain how stone tools m ay have b een
made and w hat they w ere used for. They can experim ent and try to make sim ilar tools, or they can
study com m unities w ho make and use stone tools today. A nother m ethod o f understanding the
functions o f stone tools is m ic ro w e a r analysis. In the course o f its frequent use, as a tool com es into
repeated, regular contact w ith certain kinds o f m aterials, its surface and edges d evelop w ear marks
and a p o lish or gloss. D ifferent kinds o f activities cutting plants, chopping meat, cutting hides, etc.
leave different kinds o f w ear marks and polish. B y carefully exam ining these under a pow erful
m icroscope, it is p o ssib le to make inferences about w hat the tool w as used for. The question o f w ho
made the tools is m ore difficult to answ er. H ow ever, considering the active involvem ent o f m en and
w om en in subsistence activities, it is v ery likely that both sexes particip ated in making stone tools.
Stone tools w ere a v ery im portant p art o f the lives o f stone age humans and are therefore an
im portant key to understanding their w orld. B ut prehistory is not only about d escribing and
classifying stone tools. It is about using these and other rem ains to try to d isco v er the life-w ays o f
prehistoric people.
The G eological A ges and H om inid E volution

Humans like to think that they have alw ays been the centre o f the universe, but science has pro v ed
that this is not so. This planet and its innum erable species are p art o f an am azingly long, com plex,
and continuing dram a o f evolution, in w hich human beings m ade a v ery late entry, and have so far
played a v ery m inor role. The earth is about 4.5 b illio n years o ld and humans ap p eared on it only
some 200,000 years ago. The many advances in the physical sciences in the 20th century have greatly
am plified our understanding o f the earths history, w hile genetic science has unveiled the com plex
m echanism s that underlay the b iological evolution o f species. In recen t years, advances in D N A
analysis have provided im portant evidence regarding the process o f human evolution.
The foundations o f geological and biological evolutionary theories w ere laid in the 19th century.
C harles R o b ert D arw in s path-breaking book, The O rigin o f S p ecies (1859) explained how new
species arose due to adaptation and how the process o f natural selectio n led to the survival o f the
fittest. D arw in had b een deep ly influenced by C harles L yells P rin cip les o f G eology (1 8 3 0 -3 3 )
w hich explained the p ast changes in the earths surface as results o f still-continuing p ro cesses such
as w ind action, erosion, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Thom as H enry H uxleys E vid en ce as
to M a n 's P la ce in N ature (1863) extended D arw in s idea o f evolution to human beings. The
authoritative w ritings o f such scholars ultim ately revolutionized prevailing ideas about how and
w hen human beings ap p eared on the earth.
E volutionary theory had enorm ous and unsettling im plications, and it is not surprising that many
19th century Europeans found it difficult to accept. It ran counter to the b ib lical theory o f creation
according to w hich nature and humans w ere created in all their perfection by a divine agency
according to a divine plan. It w as not easy to accep t the idea that reptiles and insects had appeared
on the earth long before human beings, or to recognize certain sim ilarities betw een humans and
chim panzees, or to think o f the w o rld as m illions o f years old. Just as disconcerting w as the fact that
evolutionary theory suggested that change in nature w as continuing, unpredictable, and unstoppable.
The breakthroughs in the natural sciences had an im m ediate and m ajor im pact on prehistoric
archaeology. Stone tools had b een found and rep o rted in e a rlie r decades, but a theoretical
perspective w ithin w hich such finds could be understood w as absent. F or instance, in 1836, a French
customs officer nam ed Jacques B oucher de Perthes had d isco v ered flint tools in the Somme valley.
He had argued that such tools, in som e instances found along w ith bones o f extinct anim als, w ere
rem ains o f humans w ho had liv ed long before the b ib lical flood. D e P erth es w o rk w as greeted by
general scep ticism until his finds w ere authenticated many years later by the geologists Hugh
Falconer and Jo sep h Prestw ich, and the archaeologist John Evans.
Today, geologists d iv id e the history o f the earth into four eras or ages related to the evolution o f
life forms: P rim a ry (P a la e o z o ic ), S e c o n d a ry (M eso zo ic), T e rtia ry , and Q u a te rn a ry . The Tertiary
and Q uaternary together form the C en o zo ic or the age o f the mam m als, w hich began about 100
m illion years ago (mya). The C enozoic is d iv id ed into seven epochs, o f w hich the la st tw o the
P le isto c e n e and H o lo cen e are esp ecially im portant for the story o f hom inid evolution. The
Pleistocene began about 1.6 mya, and the H olocene (or R ecent period, in w hich w e liv e) about
10,000 years ago.
In biology, evolution refers to the gradual changes in the heritable features o f a sp ecies population
over su ccessive generations due to changes in gene frequencies and the process o f natural selection,
w hich favours traits that help the species in adapting to the environment. O ver time, this process can
give rise to a new species. The term s species (or specie) and genus are central to discussions o f
evolution. A species includes organism s that are sim ilar in physical structure and behaviour and
w hich interbreed w ith each other, or w hich could do so if they had access to each other. A genus is
an assem blage o f related species. Take the follow ing exam ple: C anis fa m ilia r is (the dom esticated
dog), C anis lu p u s (w olf), and C anis aureus (jackal) all belong to the same genus C anis w hich is
m entioned first. The second w o rd is the name o f the species they represent. T here are many
differences in skin colour, facial features, hair colour, body build, height, etc. am ong m odern human
beings living in different parts o f the w o rld , but w e all belong to the sam e species o f anatom ically
m odern humans H om o sa p ien s sa p ien s (the second sa p ien s refers to our sub-species). H o m o
sa p ien s is a L atin term , m eaning thinking m an.

table 2.1 G e o l o g ic a l a g e s a n d c o r r e s p o n d in g l if e f o r m s

P eriod Eracn Million Dominant flora and fauna

Q u a te rn a ry Recent 0 .0 1 M ode rn g en e ra o f a n im als


m am m als)

P le is to c e n e 2 Ea rly h u m a n s a nd g ia n t m am m als be com e e x tin c t

Te rtia ry P lio ce n e 5 .1
C u lm in a tio n o f m a m m a lia n s p e c ia tio n

M io c e n e 25

O lig o c e n e 38

Eo c e n e 54 E x p a n s io n a n d m o d e r n iza tio n o f m am m als

P a la eo ce n e 65

M E S O Z O IC C reta ce ou s 13 5 D in o s a u rs d o m in a n t; m a rs u p ia l a n d p la c e n ta l m am m aLs
a p p e a r; fir s t flo w e rin g p la n ts sp re ad ra p id ly

Ju ra s s ic 18 0 D o m in a n c e o f d in o s a u rs ; firs t m am m als a n d b ird s ; in s e c ts


abundant

Triassic 225 F irs t d in o s a u rs and m a m m a l-lik e re p tile s , w ith c u lm in a tio n o f


Large a m p h ib ia n s

P A L A E O Z O IC Pe rm ian 270 P r im itiv e re p tile s repLace a m p h ib ia n s as d o m in a n t class

C a rb o n ife ro u s 350 A m p h ib ia n s d o m in a n t in c o a l fo r e s ts ; fir s t re p tile s a n d tre e s

D e v o n ia n 400 Fishes are d o m in a n t; fir s t a m p h ib ia n s

S ilu ria n 440 P r im itiv e fis h , p la n ts , a n d a rth ro p o d s

O rd o v ic ia n 50 0 F irs t v e r te b r a te s , th e jaw Le ss fis h ; in v e rte b ra te s d o m in a te th e


sea

C a m b ria n 600 A ll in v e rte b ra te p h yla a p p e a r a nd a lg a e d iv e rs ify

P R E - C A M B R IA N 4500 O rig in o f t h e e a r t h , Q n e -c e lle d o rg a n is m s a n d a fe w m u lti


celled o rg a n is m s a t 3 .6 m ya

P alaeo-anthropologists have used fossil evidence to piece together the fascinating story o f the
biological and cultural evolution o f early humans. This is not an easy task. It is som etim es difficult to
identify a species on the b asis o f incom plete skeletal m aterial and it is not alw ays clear w hether
these rem ains are representative o f the entire population o f an area. N evertheless, different stages in
the pro cess o f human evolution can be identified, as can the im plications o f crucial biological
m arkers such as increase in cranial capacity (b rain size), changes in p elv ic structure and the
beginnings o f b ip ed alism (w alking erect on tw o legs), and the m odification o f dental structure due to
changing food habits. Some im portant aspects o f the cultural evolution o f early humans include the
making o f stone tools, the em ergence o f som e kind o f social organization, the beginnings o f language,
and the capacity for sym bolic thought.
The e a rlie st know n hom inids (m an-like sp ecies) w ere m em bers o f the A u stra lo p ith ecu s genus,
who liv ed roughly betw een 4.4 and 1.8 mya, and their rem ains have so far only b een identified in
A frica. The e a rlie st o f these, A rd ip ith ecu s (or A u stra lo p ith ecu s ram idus) seem s to have evolved
from som e com m on ancestor o f the hom inid and pongid ape lines in sub-Saharan A frica about 4.4
mya. W hile the A ustralopithecines m ay have used naturally av ailab le m aterial as tools, there is no
conclusive evidence that they w ere tool makers. F o ssil evidence o f the e a rlie st representatives o f the
genus H om o H o m o h a b ilis (hand-using man) w as found at sites such as K oobi F o ra in K enya
and the O lduvai gorge in Tanzania, and is dated about 2 mya. The e a rlie st stone tools have b een
found at H ad ar in E thiopia and have b een dated about 2.5 mya.

MAP 2.1 EARLY HOMINID REMAINS

H o m o e re c tu s (nam ed for his/her fully erect posture) ap p eared in E ast A frica around 1.7 mya.
From here, this species seem s to have sp read to various parts o f A frica, A sia, and Europe. The first
H om o sa p ien s ap p eared a little less than 500,000 years ago. F rom about 130,000 years ago, there is
evidence o f H om o sa p ien s n ea n d erth a lis (N eanderthals) in various parts o f w estern and central
A sia and in Europe. W hether the N eanderthals evolved into H om o sa p ien s or w hether they becam e
extinct rem ains a mystery.
A p art from A frica and E urope, hom inid rem ains have also b een found in various parts o f A sia.
Remains o f H om o erectus in Jav a have b een dated betw een 1 to 2 mya and w ere asso ciated w ith
animal bones o f many species but no stone tools. R em ains o f H om o erectus d isco v ered in the
Zhoukoudian caves 50 km south-w est o f B eijing are dated betw een 0.58 to 0.25 mya. This site also
yielded over 20,000 stone tools and bones o f 96 m am m alian species.

KEY CONCEPTS

What does it mean to be human?

H om o sa p ien s are one o f 180 species o f prim ates (the highest order o f m am mals). They share
som e characteristics along w ith certain other mam mals, but they also have their unique features.
They are b ipedal, that is, they w a lk upright on tw o, not four legs. A s an adaptation to bipedalism ,
their legs are longer than their arm s, and their back-bone has an S-shape. T heir hands are
prehensile, i.e., are w ell suited to grasping. The fingers and large thumb (w hich can rotate
through a 45 degree angle) can be used together to grip a stone tool or a pencil. C om pared to
other anim als, their ja w is sm all and they do not have protruding canine teeth. Fem ales o f m ost
anim al species are sexually active only during lim ited p erio d s know n as estrus; such a cycle is
absent in human fem ales. H um an infants are bo rn w ith undeveloped brains (only 25 p er cent o f
the full adult size) and rem ain h elpless and dependent on m aternal care for a v ery long time
com pared to other m am m alian species.

The story o f hom inid evolution is, among other things, a story o f an increase in b rain size, and
increased b rain size can be connected to greater m em ory storage, learning abilities, and m ore
com plex behaviour. The average b rain size o f m odern humans is large (1450 cc, i.e. cubic
centim etres), com pared to that o f chim panzees (393.8 cc), A u stra lo p ith ecin es (507.9 cc) and
H om o erectus (973.7 cc). H ow ever, the issue is not ju s t one o f absolute b rain size or w eight, but
b rain size and w eight in p ro p o rtio n to the total body size. The b rain o f an elephant is m ore than
three tim es as heavy as that o f a human; this d oesnt make the elephant sm arter than us. Sim ilarly,
the brain size o f m en tends on average to be larger than that o f women. This does not m ean that
m en are n ecessarily m ore intelligent than women.

Human-ness includes cultural as w ell as b iological characteristics and these have alw ays been
interdependent. M odern human b eh av io u r includes several traits, not all o f w hich are easy to
deduce from archaeological evidence. A ll anim als adapt to and interact w ith their environm ent,
but human com m unities have a greater ability to m anipulate and transform their environm ent
through the creatio n o f sp ecialized technology. It has b een argued on the b asis o f experim ents that
chim panzees and orangutans can make and use sim ple tools. B ut humans have a unique ab ility to
make sp ecialized tools, both v aried as w ell as standardized, and travel considerable distances to
obtain the d esired raw m aterials.
It is p o ssib le that orangutans can learn to use sym bols for com m unication. But there is no doubt
that the human thinking capacity is far superior to that o f m em bers o f the ape fam ily and that
human social behaviour and cultural systems are far m ore d iverse and com plex than those o f the
apes. O ther traits o f human behaviour include the organization and delim itation o f living space
(cam p floors, structures, etc.), sym bolic thought and expression reflected in art, cerem onial or
ritualistic activity (e.g., burials), and ideas o f individual and group identity.

Some palaeo-anthropologists argue that w hile anatom ically m odern humans ap p eared on the
earth alm ost 200,000 years ago, f u l l y m odern humans i.e., those w hose b eh a vio u r can be
d escrib ed as human in the senses m entioned above ap p eared only about 50,000 years ago.
O thers argue that the e a rlie st traces o f som e o f these human traits can in fact be found in species
other than H om o sa p ien s sa p ie n s, for instance, among the N eanderthals as w ell as among som e
o f the archaic hominids.

Figure 2.1 S k u ll stru ctu re o f g o r il la , H o m o e r e c t u s , H o m o s a p ie n s sapien s

A natom ically m odern humans, know n as H om o sapiens, seem to have ap p eared in A frica betw een
195,000 and 150,000 years ago, and eventually rep laced all other H om o species. Im portant fossil
rem ains have com e from the site o f H erto in E thiopia, w here hom inid rem ains w ere found along w ith
stone tools and anim al bones in levels dated b etw een 160,000 to 154,000 years ago. T here are many
questions to w hich there are y et no definite answ ers and w hich rem ain m atters o f debate. It is
possible that H om o sa p ien s ev o lv ed in A frica and then m igrated to various parts o f A sia and
Europe. Or, the m igration out o f A frica could have happened at an e a rlie r stage, and m odern H om o
sapiens m ay have ev o lv ed from H om o erectus and archaic H om o sa p ien s m ore or less
sim ultaneously on different continents.
E volution w as not a neat unilinear p rocess, one species making w ay for another. There is
evidence from various parts o f the w o rld o f the o v erlap and co-existence o f species. F or instance,
the rem ains in O lduvai gorge in east A frica show the co-existence o f H om o h a b ilis and
A ustralopithecus, and there is sim ilar evidence o f the co-existence o f the N eanderthals and
anatom ically m odern humans in the eastern M editerranean.

H om inid R em ains in the Indian Subcontinent

In sharp contrast to the w id esp read occurrence o f anim al fossils and stone tools all over the
subcontinent, the evidence o f hom inid fossils is at presen t v ery m eagre (Kennedy, 2000; C hakrabarti,
2006: 10-16). This is no doubt due to inadequate investigations.
F ro m the 19th century onw ards, several rem ains o f fossil apes w ere d isco v ered in the S iw alik
hills, the outerm ost range o f the H im alayas. G iven rather dram atic names such as Ram apithecus,
Sivapithecus, and B rahm apithecus, they cam e to be co llectiv ely know n as the G od-A pes o f the
S iw alik s. R em ains o f R am apithecus w ere subsequently found in other parts o f A sia, A frica, and
Europe as w ell, and w ere dated betw een 1 0 -1 4 mya. R am apithecus, w ho liv ed in the M io c e n e -
Pliocene transition, w as once thought to rep resen t the o ld est d irect ancestor o f m odern humans.
H ow ever, this has b een questioned on the b asis o f new dating methods and a reassessm ent o f the
fossil evidence.
A uthenticated early human rem ains in South A sia are relativ ely recent. In 1966, Louis D upree
disco v ered a fragm ent o f a right tem poral bone at the cave site o f D arra-i-K ur in north-eastern
Afghanistan. The d ep o sit in w hich it w as found gave a rad io carb o n date o f 30,000 1 9 0 0 -1 2 0 0 BP
i.e., 28,950 196 0 -1 2 3 5 BCE. The fragm ent w as considered consistent w ith N eanderthals as w ell
as anatom ically m odern humans. The asso ciated stone tools seem to belong to a middle palaeolithic
context. Several cave sites in Sri Lanka F a H ien Lena, B atadom ba Lena, B eli Lena, and A lu Lena
also y ield ed rem ains o f anatom ically m odern humans in contexts ranging betw een 3 7 ,0 0 0 -1 0 ,5 0 0
BP.
M ore recently, hom inid fossils have been found in central India. In 1982, A run Sonakia o f the
G eological Survey o f India m ade an im portant d isco v ery near H athnora village on the northern bank
o f the N arm ada, about 40 km north-east o f H oshangabad. H ere, em bedded in thick, clo sely packed
sandy, pebbly gravel he found a fossilized fragm ent o f a cranium (skull cap) along w ith som e fossils
o f vertebrates (p roboscideans and b ovids) and a few late A ch eu lian tools. The skull fragm ent seem s
to have belonged to a w om an about 30 years old. Sonakia suggested that she represented an
advanced v ariety o f H om o erectus ad v an ced because o f her larger cranial capacity range o f
1155 to 1421 cc and nam ed her H om o erectus narm adensis. H ow ever, according to other
scholars, the cranium belongs to an early (archaic) v ariety o f H om o sapiens. Its date too is uncertain.
One v ie w is that it belongs to the early p art o f the m iddle Pleistocene, beginning about 500,000 BP.
B etw een 1983 and 1992, the A nthropological Survey o f India launched an intensive search for
human fossils and tools in the central N arm ada valley. This led to the d isco v ery o f hundreds o f
palaeolithic tools and som e anim al fossils. In 1997, A. R. Sankhyan announced im portant
discoveries in the sam e boulder conglom erate d ep o sit at H athnora w here the cranial fragment had
been found som e years earlier. T hese included a hom inid clav icle (c o lla r bone) along w ith anim al
fossils and several late or m iddle p alaeolithic tools. E stim ated dates o f these finds range betw een
0.5 to 0.2 mya. Sankhyan suggested that the tw o sets o f human fossils found at H athnora m ay w ell
belong to the sam e woman.
In 2001, P. R ajendran, a teacher in the D epartm ent o f H istory o f K erala U niversity, found a
com plete fossilized human b aby skull in O dai in the V illupuram d istrict o f Tamil N adu. R ajendran
w as excavating a trench w hich had m icroliths in the upper levels and upper palaeolithic tools at the
lo w er ones. A t a depth o f 6 m, ju s t under the upper p alaeolithic deposit, there w as a ferricrete
d eposit (a m ineral conglom erate consisting o f sand and gravel, cem ented into a hard m ass by iron
oxide). The skull w as found close to this trench, em bedded in a sim ilar ferricrete d ep o sit w hich w as
later dated 166,000 BP, placing it in the m iddle or upper Pleistocene.
The antiquity o f certain other rep o rted hom inid finds is uncertain. This is the case w ith the tw o
human m andibles o f an adult m ale and fem ale H om o sa p ien s found by H. D. Sankalia and S. N.
R ajaguru on the bank o f the M ula-M utha riv e r in Pune district, M aharashtra. The age o f the m andible
o f an adult m ale found by V S. W akankar in a cave at B him betka in M adhya P rad esh is sim ilarly
uncertain.

SEE p. 69 FOR AN EXPLANATION OF ACHEULIAN TOOLS

Arun Sonakia holding the hathnora skull cap


MAP 2.2 HOMINID DISCOVERIES IN THE SUBCONTINENT

O nly a v ery m iniscule pro p o rtio n o f the hom inid reco rd o f the Indian subcontinent has so far been
discovered. M ore concerted efforts are likely to add to the data and m ay transform the larger story of
human evolution, w hich has so far concentrated m ore on A frica and E urope than on South A sia.

Palaeo-environm ents

The environm ents in w hich prehistoric peo p le liv ed w ere v ery different from ours. Some o f the
m ajor changes that gave the subcontinent its present form took p lace m illions o f years ago, in some
instances long before hom inids ap p eared on the planet. H undreds o f m illions o f years ago, the
peninsula w as p art o f a huge land m ass that geologists call G ondw analand, w hich included
A ustralia, A frica, South A m erica, and A ntarctica. At som e point o f time, this land m ass broke up and
the Indian landm ass started drifting northw ards at the rate o f 20 cm a year, eventually jo in in g up w ith
the A sian landm ass, b etw een 50 and 35 mya. A ll this w as the resu lt o f the m ovem ent o f m assive
tectonic plates em bedded w ithin the earth. The c o llisio n and interm ittent p ressure o f the Indian and
A sian plates led to uplifts that resulted in the creatio n o f the T ibetan p lateau and the H im alayas.
R ivers brought d o w n im mense volum es o f ero d ed sedim ents from the mountains, and this resulted in
the creatio n o f the fertile northern alluvial plain. The pro cess o f plate tecton ics (the w o rd tecto n ic
means movem ents in the earths crust) is not over. The Indian plate continues to press into A sia at the
rate o f 5 cm a year. The H im alayas and the T ibetan plateau are still risin g at an average o f 5 -1 0 mm
per year. O ccasional movem ents in the tectonic plates lead to interm ittent earthquakes and changes in
the course o f riv ers in the northern parts o f the subcontinent.
A ll over the w orld, the P leistocene era, w hich began about 1.6 mya, w as m arked by dram atic
clim atic changes. The e a rlie r id ea o f a sequence o f four ice ages and four interglacial p erio d s for the
higher latitudes has been questioned. There seem to have been m ore than four ice ages and
interglacials, corresponding to alternating p erio d s o f co ld and w arm er clim ate. D uring the cold
phases, w hen ice sheets co v ered one-third o f the earths landm ass, sea levels fell dram atically.
W hen the clim ate becam e w arm er, the ice m elted and sea levels rose. It is b eliev ed that the tropical
and sem i-tropical regions w ent through alternating dry and w e t phases (interpluvial and pluvial
phases), but the rhythm o f P leistocene clim atic changes in these parts o f the w o rld is not fully
understood.
The P leistocene environm ents o f the subcontinent w ere influenced by larger global patterns o f
clim ate, but som etim es also by distant seism ic events. F o r instance, about 75,000 years ago, a
gigantic v o lcanic super-eruption occurred in Sum atra at a p lace today represented by lake Toba. This
seem s to have led to a com plex series o f palaeo-environm ental changes in late P leistocene tim es,
w hich had a significant im pact on hom inid populations in the region. Tephra ash deposits arising
from this eruption have been found em bedded in riv er valleys in peninsular India, and the im pact o f
the Toba eruption on hom inid populations in this area is being studied.
A bout 10,000 years ago, the P leistocene era m ade w ay for the H olocene era (w hich continues into
our ow n tim e) and the basic clim atic patterns that prevail in the w o rld today w ere established. This
does not m ean that there have been no significant clim atic changes in the la st 10,000 years. It is ju s t
that these changes have not been as enorm ous as those that occurred w ithin the P leistocene. The
beginning o f the H olocene w as m arked by w etter clim atic conditions than those o f the late
Pleistocene.
The study o f the specific features o f palaeo-environm ents is a v ery im portant p a rt o f prehistory.
D etailed palaeo-environm ental studies are so far av ailab le for v ery few parts o f the subcontinent.
One o f the e a rlie st such studies w as conducted in 1935 by H. de Terra and T. T. P aterso n on the Soan
(Sohan) riv e r in the P otw ar plateau, betw een the P ir Panjal and S alt ranges in Pakistan. T heir team
found a large num ber o f tools, m ostly o f the m iddle and upper palaeolithic, som e o f the low er
palaeolithic as w ell. D e Terra and P aterson identified five to ol-bearing terraces (a terrace is an old
bed o f a riv er) o f the Soan and tried to co rrelate these terraces w ith the theory o f a four-fold glacial
cycle in K ashm ir, and further, w ith a four-fold E uropean glacial cycle. This fram ew ork w as
extended, through com parisons, to the N arm ada and the area around Chennai. A lthough m ost o f the
correlations, sequences, and conclusions o f the de T erra-P aterso n study are no longer accepted, it
m arked an im portant stage in the history o f prehistoric research in India. In 1930, L. A. Cam m iade
and M. C. B urkitt carried out a sim ilar study, correlating the stratigraphy o f prehistoric stone tools
and their environm ent in the E astern Ghats o f A ndhra Pradesh.
Studies o f the Son v alley (in northern M P) and B elan v alley (in southern UP) have throw n light on
the connections betw een the changes in riv e r system s, clim ate, and stone age sites in the valleys o f
these southern tributaries o f the G anga (C lark and W illiam s, 1986). D uring the late Pleistocene, the
clim ate in this area w as m uch co o ler and d rier than it is today. A t the sam e time, hippopotam us and
croco dile bones show that som e perm anent w ater w as av ailab le in riv ers and stream s. In the early
H olocene, the clim ate seem s to have becom e w arm er and wetter, probably leading to an expansion
o f forests and shrinking o f grasslands.
The Thar d esert today has very little naturally occurring surface water, except for short p erio d s in
the rainy season, and peo p le have to rely on ra in w ater stored in tanks, w ells, tube w ells, and canals.
A study o f the w estern R ajasthan section o f the Thar d esert (M isra and Rajguru, 1985), esp ecially
around D idw ana in N agaur district, indicates that the presen t environm ent o f the Thar is very
different from w hat it w as like in the P leistocene era. E xcept for a phase in the upper P leistocene
(2 5 ,0 0 0 -1 3 ,0 0 0 B P), during m ost o f that era, surface w ater in som e quantity w as alw ays available;
the flora and fauna w as as a resu lt much m ore abundant than it is today. The sedim ents o f the salt
lakes indicate a significant increase in rainfall in the m id-H olocene (6 ,0 0 0 -4 ,0 0 0 BP). It is not a
coincidence that the m ost w id esp read prehistoric occupation in this area belongs to that period.

C lassifying the Indian Stone A ge

The three-age system the idea that there w as an age o f stone tools, fo llo w ed by one dom inated by
those o f bronze and then o f iron w as first put fo rw ard in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by
the D anish scholars P. F. Suhm and C hristian Thomsen. The accuracy o f this theory w as p ro v ed by
excavations by another D anish scholar, Jaco b W orsaae. The next im portant step w as to identify
changes w ithin the stone age. In 1863, John Lubbock d iv id ed the stone age into tw o parts, the
p alaeo lith ic and neolithic. A few years later, E douard L artet suggested the d iv isio n o f the
palaeolithic into the low er, m iddle, and upper palaeolithic, largely on the b asis o f changes in fauna
associated w ith the different tool types. A rchaeologists gradually identified distinct tool-m aking
traditions w ithin the p alaeolithic and also recognized the significance o f changes in subsistence
patterns w ithin the stone age. The use o f the term m esolithic is relativ ely recent.
The Indian stone age is d iv id ed into the palaeolithic, m esolithic, and neolithic on the b asis o f
geological age, the type and technology o f stone tools, and subsistence base. The palaeolithic is
further d iv id ed into the low er, m iddle, and upper palaeolithic. A general tim e range for the lo w er
palaeolithic is from about 2 mya to 100,000 years ago, the m iddle p alaeolithic from about 100,000
to 40,000 years ago, and the upper palaeolithic from about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. H ow ever,
there is a great deal o f v ariatio n in the dates for different sites. The p alaeolithic cultures belong to
the P leistocene geological era, w hile the m esolithic and neolithic cultures belong to the H olocene
era.
W hile Table 2.2 explains the basic features o f the different phases o f the stone age, it also tends to
over-sim plify matters. It m ust be rem em bered that this classificatio n is an analytical tool used by
scholars to identify patterns across a v ery long and com plex span o f the human past.
E xcept for the dividing line o f the H olocene, stone age cultures d id not evolve uniform ly in a neat
unilinear fashion all o ver the subcontinent. There are regional variations in som e o f their features
and their dates also v ary considerably. The typical Indian tool ty p es colum n in the table indicates
the tools that are considered characteristic o f that particular phase. H ow ever, it does not m ean that
there is com plete uniform ity in tools found at different sites, or that tools typical o f one phase w ere
absent in another. F or exam ple, celts are asso ciated w ith the neolithic, but are know n to occur as late
as the historical p erio d in certain parts o f eastern India. Sim ilarly, w ith regard to the subsistence
base, it should be noted that hunting and gathering d id not com e to an end w ith the beginnings o f
anim al a n d p la n t d o m esticatio n . M any agricultural com m unities continued to hunt and forage for
food. In fact, these subsistence activities continue to be p rev alen t in certain niches o f the
subcontinent even today.

TABLE 2.2 IMPORTANT FEATURES OF THE STONE AGE

Terminology Geological age Typical I ndian stone tool types Main subsistence base

Lo w e r p a la e o lith ic L o w e r P le is to c e n e P e b b le a nd c o re t o o ls like h a n d a xe s , H u n tin g a nd g a th e rin g


c le a v e rs , a n d c h o p p in g t o o ls

M id d le p a la e o lith ic M id dle P le is to c e n e Fla k e t o o ls , in c lu d in g th o s e m ade by H u n tin g a nd g a th e rin g


prep ared co re te c h n iq u e s such as t h e
L e v a llo is t e c h n iq u e

U p p e r p a la e o lith ic U p p e r P le is to c e n e B la de to o ls m a d e o n fla k e s e .g ., H u n tin g a nd g a th e rin g


para lLe l-side d blades a nd b u rin s

M e s o lith ic H o lo c e n e M ic r o lit h s H u n t in g , g a th e r in g , fis h in g , w ith


in sta n c e s o f a n im a l d o m e s tic a tio n
in a fe w places

N e o Lith ic H o lo c e n e C e lts (g ro u n d a nd p o lish e d F o o d p ro d u c tio n based o n a n im a l


h a n d a xe s) a nd p la n t d o m e s tic a tio n

It is easier to identify and d escrib e stone tools than to know w hether, or to w hat extent, a
community w as producing its food through p lant or anim al dom estication. Som etim es, there is
insufficient data to reach a conclusion. Finally, there is the issue o f overlap. A lthough there are some
p u re neolithic sites in India, early agricultural sites frequently show an interm ixture o f neoliths with
copper and co p p er-allo y ed objects.

Se e C h a p t e r 3 , pp. 95- 101 f o r a d is c u s s io n o f p l a n t a n d a n im a l d o m e s t ic a t io n

AND FOODPRODUCTION

The P alaeolithic A ge

LOWER PALAEOLITHIC SITES

Palaeolithic tools have b een found in alm ost all parts o f the subcontinent (C hakrabarti, 1999: 5 4 -7 5 ;
A llchin and A llchin, 1997: 4 7 -8 5 ). A lthough hardly any sites have so far b een d isco v ered in the
alluvial stretches o f the Indus or G anga v alleys (K alpi in UP is an exception), they have been
identified on rocky areas w ithin or on the margins o f these valleys, e.g., in the R ohri hills in Sindh
and the northern fringes o f the Vindhyas. Sites are p ro lific in other parts o f the subcontinent,
esp ecially in peninsular India, leaving aside the coastal plains. C om paratively few palaeolithic
habitation sites have been identified, but it can be assum ed that peo p le liv e d clo se to sources o f
food, w ater, and stone in different kinds o f habitats for instance, along the banks o f riv ers or
stream s and in caves and ro ck shelters.
E xcavated sites are com paratively few and m ost o f the evidence com es from surface finds o f stone
tools. B ecause o f insufficient data from m ost sites, it is n ecessary to focus on the published results o f
stone tools found in clearly defined stratigraphic contexts. Some sites w ere inhabited o ver many
stages o f the stone age.
E ven in the absence o f d etailed studies, som e b ro ad inferences about P leistocene clim ate can be
made on the b asis o f the deposits in w hich palaeolithic tools are found. F o r instance, tools often get
em bedded in riv e r terraces. A lthough a num ber o f other factors are also involved, the ero sio n and
deposition activity o f riv ers can be related to rainfall. Cem ented gravel (a d ep o sit in w hich sm all
pebbles are packed tightly together in soil) is generally taken to rep resen t a w e t clim atic phase. A
boulder conglom erate (a deposit w here larg er boulders are packed together) is interpreted as
representing a d rier phase, w hile clay or silt deposits rep resen t still d rier conditions.
E arly p alaeolithic tools w ere fairly large core tools m ade o f quartzite or other hard rocks. They
include chopping tools, handaxes, and cleavers. A p art from directly breaking o ff p ieces o f stone
from large boulders, w hich w ould have required considerable strength, it is p o ssib le that peo p le lit
fires against rocks and threw w ater over them so that large fragments broke o ff m ore easily. W ithin
the palaeolithic, there is a gradual increase in the range and variety o f stone tools and a shift in
preference from coarse-grained to fine-grained stone.
In recent years, im portant evidence o f dates for lo w er p alaeolithic contexts has com e from the
P otw ar plateau and the Siw aliks. A t D ina and Jalalp u r in the Jhelum basin, m em bers o f a B ritish
archaeological team d isco v ered 15 artefacts including three handaxes in a boulder conglom erate
d eposit dated c. 7 0 0 ,0 0 0 -5 0 0 ,0 0 0 years ago by the p a la e o -m a g n e tic m ethod. There are much
earlier dates from R iw a t near R aw alpindi in Punjab province o f Pakistan. H ere, in 1983, m em bers
o f the B ritish A rchaeological M issio n to P akistans P otw ar P roject, w orking w ith the D epartm ent o f
A rchaeology and the G eological Survey o f Pakistan, d isco v ered stone artefacts em bedded in a stone
conglom erate d ep o sit dated 2.01 mya by the palaeo-m agnetic method. A t the sites o f G urha Sahan
and PS-57, stone tools w ere found em bedded in the P injor bed o f the Siw aliks, dated betw een 2.4
and 2 mya. Stone tools rep o rted in the Jam m u and H im achal sections o f the S iw alik hills seem to
belong to about the sam e age. F or instance, at U ttarbaini in the Jam m u area, early p alaeolithic tools
w ere found in a d ep o sit dated 2.8 0.5 mya.
figure 2.2 the percussion technique of making flakes

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Typical lower palaeolithic tools

Stone tools are an im portant key to understanding the lives o f prehistoric humans. It is therefore
v ery im portant to understand the m eaning o f term s used by prehistorians for different stone tool
types, esp ecially since som e o f them can be rather m isleading.

I f you take a p iece o f stone and b reak it into tw o or m ore pieces, the larg est p iece is called a
core and the sm aller piece or p ieces are called flakes. A stone tool m ade out o f the larg est piece
(core) is called a core tool, w hile tools m ade out o f the sm aller p ieces (flakes) are called flake
tools. R em oving slivers or p ieces from a ro ck is called flaking. The depressions or marks
form ed on the surface o f a stone w hen flakes are rem oved are know n as flake scars.

A handaxe is generally a core tool. It is also know n as a biface, because it is usually w orked on
both sides. G enerally m ade on a core, it is roughly triangular in shape, b ro ad at one end and
pointed at the other. N o t all handaxes w ere handheld tools; som e o f them could have b een hafted
onto handles.

P ebble tools are tools o f different types m ade on p ebbles, in w hich only the w orking edge is
flaked, the re st o f the tool rem aining untouched.

A chopping tool is a tool m ade on a core or a pebble and is flaked alternately on both sides to
produce a w av y cutting edge.

A chopper is a large, unifacial tool, i.e. w orked on one side only.

A c leav er is a flattish tool m ade on a b ro ad rectangular or triangular flake, on one end o f w hich
is a bro ad and straight cutting edge.

The term A cheulian is often used to refer to an assem blage o f stone tools m arked by advanced
and increasingly sym m etrical handaxes and cleavers. T hese are asso ciated w ith the lo w e r
p alaeolithic, but continue w ell afterw ards as w ell.

S o u r c e Sankalia [1964], 1982: 4 5 -5 8

F igure 2.3 lower palaeolithic tools


MAP 2.3 MAJOR PALAEOLITHIC SITES

Some absolute dates are now av ailab le for lo w er p alaeolithic contexts in other areas as w ell.
D idw ana in R ajasthan has b een dated 390,000 B P (by the uranium /thorium series dating method). In
the H iran v alley in G ujarat, the lo w er p alaeolithic context is dated 19 0 ,0 0 0 -6 9 ,0 0 0 BP (v ia the
uranium /thorium series dating method). F o r the Son v alley (M P), there is a therm olum inescence date
o f 103,800 19,800 BP. N ev asa (in M aharashtra) has given a date o f 350,000 B P (v ia
uranium /thorium series dating). In K arnataka, the site o f Y edurw adi has b een dated 350,000 BP.
F actory sites are generally located clo se to the sources o f raw m aterials and are m arked by a
profusion o f stone tools in various stages o f preparation. In many instances, they w ere v isited and
used during several phases o f the stone age, som etim es even later. In Sindh, there are a num ber o f
such sites in the lim estone hills capped by flint nodules. In lo w e r Sindh, stone tools belonging to the
low er, m iddle, and upper palaeolithic w ere found at sites such as Jerru k and M ilestone 101. In upper
Sindh, there are factory sites in the Sukkur and R ohri hills.
M any people tend to think o f stone age sites as distant, isolated places. A s a m atter o f fact, stone
age tools are often found in p laces that are today bustling w ith activity. A good exam ple are the many
sites found in and around the m odern city o f D elhi. Four lo w er palaeolithic stone tools w ere found in
1956 on the D elhi R idge, near the m ain gate o f the U niversity o f D elhi, and m ore w ere subsequently
disco v ered on the northern Ridge. In 1983, a late A cheulian handaxe w as found on the cam pus o f
Jaw aharlal N ehru University. A system atic study o f stone age sites in south D elhi and adjoining areas
(C hakrabarti and Lahiri, 1986) identified 43 sites ranging from the lo w er p alaeolithic to the
m icrolithic. E xcavations at A nangpur in the B adarpur hills to the south o f the city rev ealed thousands
o f early and late A cheulian tools along w ith traces o f several palaeo-channels o f the Yamuna river.
The evidence indicates that this w as a large lo w er palaeolithic habitation and factory site.
In R ajasthan, low er, m iddle, and upper p alaeolithic tools have b een found around A jm er and stray
finds o f lo w er palaeolithic tools occur in the Luni valley. T here is a d etailed profile o f the D idw ana
area o f the N agaur d istrict in w estern Rajasthan, w ith a sequence extending from the early to the
m iddle palaeolithic. The M ogara hill near Jodhpur seem s to have b een a factory site w here low er,
m iddle, and upper palaeolithic as w ell as m esolithic tools w ere made.

The B himbetka rock shelters

In G ujarat, lo w er p alaeolithic tools have b een found in the valleys o f the Sabarm ati, its O rsang
and K arjan tributaries, and in the B hadar v alley in Saurashtra. L ow er p alaeolithic and later artefacts
have b een found all along the K onkan co ast up to Goa. In M aharashtra, p alaeolithic tools have b een
found in many p laces along the co ast and in the W ardha-W ainganga valleys. Stratigraphic profiles o f
sections o f the M ula-M utha, G odavari, P ravara, and Tapi riv ers are available. L ow er and m iddle
palaeolithic tools have b een found in stratigraphic contexts in the D attaw adi area o f the M utha riv er
in Pune. L ow er palaeolithic tools have b een found in a stratigraphic context in the G angaw adi area
on the G odavari at N asik.
P rehistoric rem ains occur in various parts o f central India in Damoh, R aisen, and the N arm ada,
upper Son, and M ahanadi valleys. The N arm ada v alley is an esp ecially rich and w ell-research ed
area. E xcavations at A dam garh hill, not far from H oshangabad, rev ealed a sequence o f lo w er and
m iddle p alaeolithic tools. H ow ever, the m ost spectacular finds com e from hundreds o f ro ck shelters
at B him betka (in R aisen district, M P), 30 km north o f H oshangabad, w hich have given evidence o f
an enorm ously long sequence o f occupation stretching from the lo w er p alaeolithic to the historic
period.
The B him betka h illsid e is com posed o f sandstone and quartzite. T here are three perennial
freshw ater springs in the area, and several creeks filled w ith water. A study o f the present-day flora
and fauna indicates the presence o f at least 30 plant types w hich y ield edible fruits, tubers, and roots.
There are fish in the stream s, and the h illsid e is home to many anim als such as the deer, boar, nilgai,
leopard, w olf, hare, and fox. O f course, in prehistoric tim es, conditions w ouldnt have b een exactly
like this. N evertheless, it is clear that this site m ust have b een attractive for stone age people from
the points o f v ie w o f shelter, food, and raw m aterial for tools. M ost o f the stone tools at Bhim betka
w ere m ade o f a y ello w ish quartzite av ailab le in plenty in the area, but a grey quartzite w as also
obtained from further away. F ive floors pav ed w ith flat stone slabs belonging to the lo w er
palaeolithic w ere identified. N o bones have b een found so far, perhaps because o f the acid ic soil.
In the B elan v alley in U ttar Pradesh, d etailed studies have rev ealed a sequence o f stone age
industries from the lo w er palaeolithic to neolithic to protohistoric. In B ihar in eastern India, a lo w er
palaeolithic living and w orking floor w as excavated at P aisra in the K haragpur forests near M unger
(Pant and Jayasw al, 1991). The w hole area w as ric h in finished and unfinished artefacts, broken
pieces o f stone, and anvils. Eight post-holes w ere found, m arking p laces w here w o o d en posts had
been dug into the ground to support thatched huts.
The riv e r v alleys and foothills o f the Chhotanagpur p lateau in Jharkhand and the adjoining areas ol
West Bengal have y ield ed lo w er p alaeolithic tools. In O rissa, tools o f all three phases o f the
palaeolithic have b een found in many places. A large num ber o f lo w er and m iddle p alaeolithic tools
w ere found in explorations at D ari-dungri in Sam balpur district, and lo w e r p alaeolithic tools have
also been found along the valleys o f the B udhabalan and B rahm ani rivers.
Quartzite handaxe from the Narmada valley

A t one time, it w as b eliev ed that the lo w er p alaeolithic industry o f the south (w hich w as given the
name M ad rasian ) w as different from that o f other parts o f the country because o f a supposed
absence o f peb b le tools. The research o f the p ast few decades has p ro v ed that this is incorrect, and
that peb b le tools such as choppers and chopping tools are found along w ith handaxes at several sites.
A stratigraphic sequence o f lo w er and upper p alaeolithic tools w as identified in the M a la p ra b h a -
G hataprabha valleys in K arnataka. L ow er p alaeolithic tools have also b een found in the H u n sg i-
B aichbal and K rishna valleys. L ow er p alaeolithic tools occur at many p laces at Hunsgi (in the
G ulbarga d istrict o f K arnataka), on the banks o f the Hunsgi, a tributary o f the K rishna riv er
(Paddayya, 1982). H ere, sites w ith v ery few types o f artefacts m ay rep resen t p laces w here certain
specific activities such as making tools or killing game w ere carried out. Sites w here tools occur in
larger num ber and variety, m ay have been tem porary cam p sites. Still larger sites, w here stone tools
have b een found in great profusion and variety, m ay have b een p laces w here groups o f peo p le liv ed
for longer p erio d s o f time. The Hunsgi tools w ere m ostly m ade o f various kinds o f stone including
lim estone, sandstone, quartzite, dolerite, and chert, som e o f w hich w ere not lo cally available. In one
o f the excavated areas, huge granite blocks w ere arranged around a 63 sq m area, perhaps used as a
support for tem porary shelters m ade o f branches, grass, and leaves. Today, the area around Hunsgi
supports about 40 types o f w ild edible plants as w ell as plenty o f sm all game.

RECENT DISCOVERIES

Isampur: a centre o f stone tool manufacture


Isam pur (G ulbarga district, K arnataka) is a v illag e located in the north-w estern p a rt o f the
Hunsgi valley, drained by a sm all seasonal stream know n as the K am ta H alla. The palaeolithic
site lies about 2 km north-w est o f the village, clo se to the bank o f the stream , covering an area o f
about 7,200 sq m. It w as d isco v ered in 1983, w hen the silt deposits overlying the lim estone floor
o f the v alley w ere exposed due to quarrying activity carried out as p a rt o f a m ajor irrigation
project.

This site offered som e obvious advantages to prehistoric humans. W ater and a v ariety o f w ild
anim al and p lant food w ere available. A nother advantage w as that siliceous lim estone blocks
and slabs occur plentifully in the area at the intersection o f flat and steep surfaces. T here is
evidence o f A cheulian as w ell as m iddle p alaeolithic occupation at the site. The A cheulian
m aterial m ostly consisted o f cores in different shapes, large flakes, and debitage (w aste
m aterial). The m ain tool types w ere chopping tools, knives, handaxes, cleavers, and scrapers.
W hile unfinished tools occurred in large num bers, there w ere relativ ely few finished ones.
H am m er stones o f different sizes, m ade o f hard rocks such as quartzite, basalt, and chert w ere
found in very large num bers on the surface and in the excavated levels. There is evidence o f
quarrying and o f different stages in tool manufacture. The m iddle p alaeolithic assem blage
consisted o f flake tools, m ostly m ade out o f lo cally av ailab le chert nodules. T hese included
finished tools, cores, hamm er stones, flakes, and debitage. There w ere also tools m ade o f
quartzite and lim estone. Scrapers o f various types w ere the m ost numerous. Tools w ere m ade
both by sim ple flaking and through the use o f a p rep ared core technique.

The site consisted o f four sub-localities, each m easuring 3 0 0 -4 0 0 sq m, w ithin w hich there w ere
many lim estone slabs and blocks suitable for making tools. These rocky patches m ust have been
centres o f tool-m aking activity. G iven the large extent o f the site and the huge num ber o f tools
found here, it seem s that Isam pur w as one o f several hubs o f stone tool manufacture in the
H unsgi-B aichal valleys, from w here hom inids m ust have ranged out to the v alley floor and the
uplands for foraging. Some o f the tools found here are w eathered and have use-m arks, show ing
that the site w as also a habitation site w here people liv ed and carried out subsistence activities
such as food processing.

The prehistoric occupation at Isam pur seem s to go back to betw een 500,000 and 600,000 years
ago. The continuing investigations at this site are likely to provide further v aluable data about the
lo w er palaeolithic.

SOURCE Paddayya et al., 1999 -2 0 0 0

FIGURE 2.4 ISAMPUR TOOLS

In A ndhra Pradesh, lo w er palaeolithic tools have been found in inland areas as w ell as the coastal
V isakhapatnam area, w here they have been connected to a sea level over 7 m above the presen t one.
N agarjunakonda, one o f the sites that have b een studied extensively, has given palaeo-clim atic
evidence o f three alternating w e t and dry cycles. C hoppers and scrapers m ade o f quartz have been
found in the P alghat d istrict o f K erala.
In Tamil N adu, there is a stratigraphic sequence from the early p alaeolithic to the m esolithic from
near Chennai. G udiyam cave, not far from Chennai, has y ield ed a sequence o f low er, m iddle, and
upper p alaeolithic tools. The few ness o f the tools and the absence o f other rem ains suggest that the
site w as occupied for short periods o f time.

H. D. SANKALIA (1908-89), A PIONEER OF INDIAN ARCHAEOLOGY

A ttiram pakkam , in the K ortallayar riv e r basin, is one o f the rich est p alaeolithic sites in Tamil
N adu (P appu et al., 2003). The site w as d isco v ered in 1863, and has b een excavated, o ff and on,
since then. The m ost recent excavations rev ealed a sequence o f low er, m iddle, and upper
palaeolithic cultures, w ith a b reak in occupation after the m iddle palaeolithic. A cheulian tools w ere
found in a 4 m thick d ep o sit o f clay. The artefacts, m ostly handaxes, w ere m ade o f quartzite stones
that w ere not av ailab le locally. Very little debitage w as d isco v ered at the site, suggesting that the
tools w ere m ade som ew here else and then brought here. One o f the m ost interesting d isco v eries w as
a set o f anim al foot-prints found along w ith A cheulian tools. The 17 round im pressions (1 5 -2 0 cm)
o f anim al feet and a set o f hoofprints are still being studied by experts. This is the first d isco v ery o f
its kind in South A sia. A nother interesting d isco v ery w as o f three anim al fossil teeth, p o ssib ly those
o f som e kind o f horse, w ater buffalo, and nilg a i, suggesting an open and w e t landscape in early
palaeolithic times.
C leaver Pebble t o o l

LOWER PALAEOLITHIC TOOLS FROMATTIRAMPAKKAM

MIDDLE PALAEOLITHIC SITES

W ithin the palaeolithic, there w ere gradual changes in stone tools. H andaxes, chopping tools, and
cleavers d id not altogether disappear, but the balance shifted tow ards sm aller, lighter flake tools,
some o f them m ade by p rep ared core techniques, including the L evallois technique.
M iddle p alaeolithic tools have been found in many parts o f the subcontinent, often in riv e r gravels
and deposits, w hich give clues about p rev ailin g clim atic conditions. There are som e dates for
m iddle p alaeolithic contexts. D idw ana (R ajasthan) has given tw o therm olum inescence dates o f
150,000 BP and 144,000 BP. The H iran v alley (G ujarat) has y ield ed a uranium -thorium series date
o f 56,800 BP.
In the north-w est, lots o f stone tools, m ostly o f the m iddle palaeolithic, have b een found in the
P otw ar plateau betw een the Indus and Jhelum rivers. The over 3 m thick d ep o sit in the Sanghao cave
in the N orth-W est F rontier Province o f Pakistan rev ealed a sequence o f m iddle and palaeolithic
occupation. Thousands o f stone tools w ere found, along w ith bones ( o f anim als, som e perhaps o f
humans) and hearths. A ll the tools are m ade o f quartz, w hich is easily av ailab le around the site.
Many o f the tools o f P eriod I w ere m ade from flakes stuck from p rep ared cores, and there w ere lots
o f burins.
In the Thar region, m iddle p alaeo lith ic artefacts occur in red d ish brow n soil, w hich indicates
more abundant vegetation, m ore surface w ater, and a cooler, w etter, and m ore humid clim ate
com pared to lo w er p alaeolithic contexts. Small factory sites and cam p sites have b een found in
various parts o f the Thar, esp ecially near riv ers and lakes. A large num ber o f stone age sites
belonging to the m iddle p alaeolithic phase onw ards are located around B udha Pushkar lake, an area
w hich offers advantages o f the easy av ailab ility o f w ater and stone. M iddle and upper palaeolithic
tools are also found around Ajmer. T here is evidence o f m iddle p alaeolithic w orking floors at H okra
and B aridhani, close to the now dried-up lakes. In the Jaisalm er area, upper p alaeolithic m aterial is
not as abundant as are artefacts o f the m iddle palaeolithic. M iddle p alaeolithic sites have also b een
located along the now v irtu ally extinct Luni riv er system. The term Luni industry is used for m iddle
palaeolithic assem blages w e st o f the A rav allis, and can be contrasted w ith the industry o f the
regions lying east o f the A rav allis. A lthough certain forms are com m on to both areas, sites to the
w est o f the A rav allis d isp lay m ore v ariety in stone tool types and larger numbers o f rew orked
flakes. M iddle and upper p alaeolithic tools have also b een found along the eastern m argin o f the
G ujarat plain.

B orer from nellor district (AP)

p r im a r y So u r c e s

The Levallois technique

The L evallois technique is an advanced w ay o f making flake tools. It is nam ed after a p lace
called L evallois P erret near P aris, w here this technique w as first noticed on prehistoric stone
tools. Instead o f breaking o ff a flake and w orking on it to produce the d esired shape, the core
w as carefully prepared. Its sides w ere trim m ed, and flakes w ere then system atically rem oved
from its surface, from the centre outw ards in all directions. Then, a striking platform w as created
by flattening the top o f the p rep ared core, and perpendicular b lo w s w ere struck at that point,
either d irectly or through an interm ediary tool.

The flake detached in this w ay w as thin, roughly triangular or oval in shape, w ith a clean
undersurface, and shallow , centrally directed flake scars on the upper side. It w ould need v ery
little further w orking, because its edges w ere alread y sharp. B ecause the core o f a L evallois
flake looks like the shell o f a tortoise, it is som etim es referred to as a tortoise core.

There are other p rep ared core techniques as w ell. F o r instance, in the d isco id core technique,
flakes are scallo p ed from the circum ference o f a large core or flake w ith at least one flat side.
The rem aining core has a b ev elled rim and is flat in the centre. The L evallois technique can be
used to produce only one flake at a time, w hile the d isco id core technique can produce sev eral
flakes. Flakes produced by the latter method tend to be small.

SOURCE Sankalia [1964], 1982: 2 9 -3 0

FIGURE 2.5 PREPARATION OF A LEVALLOIS FLAKE


Convex side scraper W ide scraper D enticula ted to o l Concave side scraper

Points L _ _ i_ _ jc m Borers

FIGURE 2.6 MIDDLE PALAEOLITHIC TOOLS

The m iddle p alaeolithic industry o f central and peninsular India is som etim es referred to as the
N evasan industry after the site o f N evasa, w here the pioneering archaeologist H. D. Sankalia first
disco v ered m iddle p alaeolithic artefacts in a stratified context. The tools, w hich include a w id e
variety o f scrapers, are m ade o f smooth, fine-grained stone such as agate, jasp er, and chalcedony.
Patne in the Tapi v alley rev ealed a stratigraphic sequence o f m iddle and upper palaeolithic and
m esolithic tools. T here is evidence o f a m iddle p alaeolithic living and factory site at Chirki near
N evasa.
The e a rlie st trace o f human occupation in the G anga p lain is found em bedded in a 20 m thick c liff
section at K alpi (in Jalaun district, U P), on the southern bank o f the Yamuna. A num ber o f vertebrate
fossils elephant tusk, shoulder b lad e o f elephant, m olars o f E quus and b ovids w ere found here.
M iddle p alaeolithic stone tools (including peb b le tools, points, and side scrap ers) and bone tools
(such as end scrapers, points, and burins) w ere found along w ith them. The to ol-bearing level at
K alpi has b een dated about 45,000 years ago. T here are several m iddle and upper p alaeolithic sites
further east, esp ecially in the w estern p art o f W est Bengal.
In South India, the m iddle palaeolithic culture is m arked by a flake tool industry. O n the
V isakhapatnam coast, quartzite, chert, and quartz w ere frequently used to make stone tools. There is
evidence o f tools m ade by the L evallois technique at many places. In addition to sm aller handaxes,
cleavers, and choppers, the m iddle p alaeolithic tool kit included new tool types such as scrapers o f
different shapes. A C -14 date for the m iddle p alaeolithic context at the coastal site o f N an d ip alli in
C uddapah d istrict indicates that it is o ld er than 23,000 years ago.

Middle palaeolithic scraper from Attirampakkam

UPPER PALAEOLITHIC SITES

The im portant technical advance o f the upper p alaeolithic w as the making o f p a ra lle l-sid ed blades.
There w as also an increase in the num ber o f burins. The trend w as tow ards sm aller tools, and this
must have b een due to adaptations to environm ental changes. It is known, for instance, that the
clim ate o f northern and w estern India seem s to have becom e increasingly arid during the upper
palaeolithic. O lder tool types continued to be m ade for activities that req u ired h eavier tools.
T here are som e dates for upper p alaeolithic contexts. Site 55 at R iw at gives the e a rlie st date for
the upper p alaeolithic c. 45,000 years ago. C -14 dates from the Sanghao cave range from 41,825
4,120 B C E to 20,660 360 BCE. In central India, the Son v alley has given rad io carb o n dates w ithin
the range o f 1 2 ,0 0 0 -1 0 ,0 0 0 BP, and a piece o f ostrich eggshell at M ehtakheri has b een dated to over
41,900 BP. Two dates from the K urnool caves (in A ndhra P radesh) are 19,224 BP and 16,686 B P
(based on the electron spin resonance method).
In the north-w est, the Sanghao cave has given evidence o f m iddle and upper p alaeolithic tools,
hearths, anim al bones, and w hat app ear to be burials. U pper p alaeolithic tools have also b een found
in the R ohri hills in upper Sindh and M ilestone 101 in lo w er Sindh. In north India, the K ashm ir
upper p alaeolithic has been dated to about 18,000 B P and coincides w ith the onset o f a m ilder
climate.
In the Thar, the num ber o f upper palaeolithic sites is few er than those o f the preceding phase, due
to increasing aridity. H ow ever, there w as continuing human occupation around the B udha Pushkar
lake. In central India, upper p alaeolithic habitation sites have b een found in caves and ro ck shelters
o f the Vindhyas.
The upper p alaeolithic context in the B elan v alley has been dated betw een 25,000 and 19,000
years ago, and that o f the Son v alley about 10,000 years ago. C hopani M ando in the B elan v alley
seem s to be a habitation site w ith a cultural sequence from the upper p alaeolithic to neolithic. The
upper p alaeolithic assem blage consisted o f tools m ade from chert, a stone av ailab le in the nearby
Vindhyas. The anim al bones d isco v ered in the B elan v alley included those o f w ild cattle, sheep, and
goats. Since sheep and goats do not seem to be indigenous to this area, they m ay have b een brought
here from the north-w est. If this w as indeed the case, it could rep resen t an early stage o f anim al
dom estication.
In Siddhi d istrict o f M adhya Pradesh, in the v alley o f the Son river, an archaeological team led by
G. R. Sharm a and J. D. C lark excavated the upper p alaeolithic site o f B aghor I. A subsequent
m icrow ear study o f the site B aghor III (not far from B aghor I) (Sinha, 1989) has throw n light on the
subsistence activities o f this phase. The study identified the different kinds o f activities that the stone
tools found at the site w ere used for. Some o f these activities, such as boring, scraping, and
whittling, w ere probably related to craft w ork. O thers, such as cutting, slicing, piercing, and
chopping, could have been asso ciated w ith food processing, hunting, or craft w ork. M icro w ear
analysis identified the p ro p o rtio n o f tools used on vegetal m aterials, those used for processing non-
vegetal m aterial, and those used to w o rk on w o o d or bam boo to make hunting and gathering gear.
Some tools show ed a kind o f w ear and p o lish that indicated they had b een hafted onto handles.

j_____ i t m

UPPER PALAEOLITHIC CHERT BLADES FROMTHENARMADA VALLEY

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Upper palaeolithic tools


A blade is a flake tool, the length o f w hich is m ore than tw ice its w idth. A blade w ith m ore or
less even, p arallel sides is know n as a p a ra lle l-sid ed blade.

A burin is a sm all tool m ade on a blade. It has a sharp but thickset w orking border, sim ilar to that
o f a m odern screw driver. B urins m ay have been used as engraving tools or for making grooves in
w o o d or bone for hafting stone tools.

SOURCE Sankalia [1964], 1982: 6 6 -6 8

F igure 2.7 upper palaeolithic tools

T here are many upper palaeolithic sites in the Chhotanagpur region and the D am in area o f the
Rajm ahal hills. These include P aisra in M unger district. U pper p alaeolithic tools have b een found in
the various districts o f W est Bengal. There is not enough evidence o f the p alaeolithic phase in A ssam
and other parts o f the north-east. But in the Lalm ai hills o f B angladesh and in the H aora and K how ai
river v alleys in w estern Tripura, a num ber o f tools, including typical upper p alaeolithic types such
as blades, burins, points, etc. m ade out o f fossil w o o d have b een found. Sim ilar tools have been
found in the upper Iraw ad d y v alley in Myanmar.
The upper p alaeolithic cave sites o f K urnool and M uchchatla Chintam anu G avi in A ndhra P radesh
are the only p laces in the subcontinent w here tools m ade o f anim al bones have b een found in an
upper p alaeolithic context. In one o f the caves, as many as 90 p er cent o f the excavated tools w ere
made o f this m aterial. The faunal rem ains at the site included those o f the bat, nilg a i, four-horned
antelope, gazelle, chital, sa m b a r deer, barking deer, m ouse deer, w ild boar, tiger, leopard, jungle
cat, rusty-spotted cat, spotted hyena, civet, fresh-w ater fish, m ongoose, sloth bear, porcupine,
bandicoot rat, gerbil (a rodent), mouse, bush rat, black-naped hare, grey langur, baboon, horse, ass,
rhinoceros, shrew , and giant pangolin. A p art from giving valuable inform ation about the anim als that
upper p alaeolithic people shared their landscape w ith, this lis t also suggests that thick forests and
more humid conditions p rev ailed in this area. U pper palaeolithic artefacts w ere also found in a cave
at Renigunta in Chittor d istrict o f southern A ndhra Pradesh. Stone tools o f this phase occur at many
places along the east co ast o f peninsular India, and their antiquity ranges betw een 25,000 and 10,000
years ago.
0 1
i_____________________ i cm

BURIN FROMMUKAT MANIPUR (WEST BENGAL)

PALAEOLITHIC ART AND CULTS

P rehistoric art marks the beginning o f the history o f art. It is also an im portant w indow into the w orld
o f prehistoric people. A p art from paintings on rocks, ro ck art includes p e tro g ly p h s, a w o rd used
w hen som e substance o f a ro ck surface is rem oved through engraving, bruising, hammering,
chiselling, or scooping. P rehistoric a rt can occur in perm anent p laces (e.g., cave paintings) or can be
portable (e.g., figurines). Such rem ains w ere clearly an integral and im portant p art o f community life
and som e o f them seem to have had som e sort o f cultic or religious significance.
In E urope, A ustralia, and southern A frica, there is clear and considerable evidence o f upper
palaeolithic ro ck paintings and engravings. A nim als are the predom inant motif, and som e o f the
representations m ay have been p art o f hunting rituals. Fem ale figurines know n as Venus figurines
may rep resen t fertility beliefs and rituals. In India, how ever, there is v ery little evidence o f
palaeolithic art. This is partly because m ost o f the evidence m ust have p erish ed over time. H ow ever,
much still rem ains to be discovered. We m ay in fact have to redefine w hat w e consider as a rt in
order to recognize the rem ains o f artistic activity o f prehistoric people.
It has b een suggested that som e o f the paintings at sites such as B him betka go b ack to the upper
palaeolithic period, but this is far from certain. T here are problem s in dating and interpreting
prehistoric art, and o f ascertaining if an o b ject w as sim ply utilitarian or w hether it had som e other
sort o f function and significance. F or instance, a v ery dam aged upper p alaeolithic carved bone
object found at Lohanda N a la in the B elan v alley (U P) has b een identified as a m other goddess
figurine by som e and as a harpoon by others. A nim al teeth found in a cave at K urnool have grooves
w hich suggest that they m ay have b een attached to a string and w o rn as ornam ents. A circu lar disc
made o f chalcedony at B him betka and a soft sandstone disc at M aihar (south-w est o f A llahabad)
w ere found in A cheulian contexts; neither seem to be tools. A piece o f o strich eggshell engraved
w ith tw o panels o f criss-cro ss designs w as d isco v ered at Patne. Four perforated beads and one
incom plete b ead m ade o f ostrich eggshell cam e from Patne and one from the B him betka ro ck
shelters, all from upper palaeolithic contexts.
D ram atic evidence o f artistic-cum -cultic activity com es from C ave III F-24 at Bhim betka, know n
as the auditorium c a v e . This seem s to belong to the b orderline betw een the lo w er and m iddle
palaeolithic. A room y tunnel, about 25 m long, leads into a hall w hich has three other entrances. In
the m iddle o f the cave is a large rock. The p a rt o f the ro ck facing the tunnel is flat and vertical. O n it
are seven cupules (cup-like depressions), up to 16.8 mm deep. A few m etres aw ay from this rock, at
the bottom o f a pit, is another huge rock. This has one single large cup mark, along w ith a
m eandering line carv ed on its surface. One interpretation is that the ro ck w ith m ultiple cupules w as
used as a ro ck gong and that the marks w ere m ade w hen it w as hit repeatedly. It is m ore likely that
they w ere d elib erately m ade as p art o f som e im portant prehistoric community ritual.
The site o f B aghor I in M adhya P rad esh has given fascinating evidence o f an upper palaeolithic
shrine dated c. 9 0 0 0 -8 0 0 0 BCE. H ere, there w as a roughly circu lar platform m ade o f sandstone
rubble, about 85 cm in diam eter. In the centre w as a piece o f natural stone w ith a striking pattern o f
concentric triangular lam inations in colours ranging from a light y ello w ish red to a dark red d ish
brown. A rchaeologists found nine other fragments o f this stone, m ostly on or near the platform . W hen
the ten p ieces w ere jo in e d together, they form ed a triangle about 15 cm high, 6.5 cm w ide, and 6.5
cm thick. This triangular stone w as evidently originally p laced on the platform . It is interesting to
note that the K ol and B aiga tribal peo p le w ho live in this p art o f the K aim ur hills today make
circular rubble platform s and w orship sim ilar triangular stones as a sym bol o f the fem ale p rinciple
or as an icon o f a goddess.

FURTHER DISCUSSION

Ostrich eggshell beads

The o strich (S tru th io cam elus sp.), the largest living b ird in the w orld, is today found in its
natural habitat only in A frica, w here it teeters on the verge o f extinction. H ow ever, there is clear
evidence that ostriches roam ed over many parts o f A sia, including India, till the end o f the
P leistocene or early H olocene. O striches m ay have b een hunted for food, and their eggs must
also have b een eaten. The eggs are big their size ranges from about 127 * 103 mm to 160 * 129
mm, w ith an average thickness o f 1.97 mm. They w eigh b etw een 775 g to 1618 g. The shell is
smooth, y e llo w ish w hite, speckled w ith black. It is so hard, that you have to use a hammer and
saw to b reak it. The shells could have b een used as b o w ls or containers.

Fragm ents o f o strich eggshell have b een found in upper p alaeolithic contexts in India. The first
disco v ery w as m ade in the 1860s in the K en riv er in B anda d istrict o f U ttar Pradesh. Since then,
pieces o f o strich eggshell have b een found at Patne in M aharashtra and about 50 d isco v eries
have b een m ade in various parts o f R ajasthan, M adhya Pradesh, and M aharashtra. A few o f the
eggshell p ieces have b een dated. Patne gives a date o f 25,000 years BP; C handresal (in
R ajasthan) gives tw o dates 38,900 750 B P and 36,500 600 BP; Ram nagar (in M adhya
Pradesh) gives a date o f over 31,000 years BP. Some eggshell p ieces have patterns on them.
W hen exam ined carefully under the m icroscope, m ost o f these seem to be the resu lt o f natural
w eathering. H ow ever, the fragm ent found a t Patne is clearly engraved w ith criss-cro ss patterns
m ade long ago by human hands.

B eads and discs for ornam ents w ere also m ade out o f ostrich eggshell. Some o f them had a hole
through w hich they could be strung. A bout 41 Indian sites have given evidence o f such beads in
Pleistocene contexts ranging from 39,000 to 25,000 BP. F or instance, o strich eggshell beads
occur in upper p alaeolithic contexts at Patne and Bhim betka. The Patne beads have a diam eter o f
about 10 m m and the B him betka ones o f 6 m m The B him betka beads w ere d isco v ered in an
upper p alaeolithic burial in a ro ck shelter, on the neck o f the skull o f a buried man. He m ust have
been w earin g a necklace w ith different kinds o f beads; the others had decayed, but the tw o
ostrich eggshell beads survived.

M aking such beads m ust have req u ired considerable skill and care, and som e scholars have tried
to rep licate them experim entally. G. K um ar w orked w ith h eavily w eathered ostrich eggshell and
used m esolithic tools, d rillin g through both sides, to produce tw o perforated beads. It took him
1 0 -1 2 minutes. R. G. B ednarik used fresh o strich eggshell. H e found that it w as b est to w o rk
w ith tools m ade o f coarse-grained quartizites and quartz, and m anaged to drill through the shell
o f a com plete egg in 7 0 -9 0 seconds. Through experim entation, he also reconstructed the process
w hereby beads o f this m aterial m ust have b een made.

A lthough the num ber o f surviving beads is sm all, these m ust rep resen t a v ery sm all pro p o rtio n o f
those m ade and used by prehistoric people. Sm all beads could not have achieved a decorative
resu lt singly or in sm all numbers. The ro le and function o f such beads must have b een non
utilitarian, sym bolic, or ideological. They m ust have been produced w ith such care and
perfection because they w ere im bued w ith im portant cultural meaning. The beads also d isp lay an
ap p reciatio n o f an essentially ab stract form.

B eads m ade o f o strich eggshell have also b een found in upper p alaeolithic contexts in Siberia,
inner M ongolia, China, and A frica. C learly, ornam ents m ade out o f this m aterial w ere the fashion
in many parts o f the prehistoric w orld. Bushm en o f southern A frica are know n to have used
ostrich eggshell for making beads and as w ater v essels till recently.

SOURCE B ednarik, 1997


B h m b e tk a Patne ChandresaL

Bhopal Patne

F igure 2.8 Decorated ostrich eggshell objects

THE LIFE- WAYS OF PALAEOLITHIC HUNTER-GATHERERS

The life-w ays o f p alaeolithic people living in different parts o f the subcontinent w ere based on their
adaptations to their specific environm ents. H ow ever, there w ere som e b asic sim ilarities in the lives
o f these hunting-gathering comm unities. Ethnographic studies o f m odern hunter-gatherers can
supplem ent the inform ation from archaeology, although caution has to be ex ercised w hile draw ing
p arallels and conclusions.
P alaeolithic people liv ed in shelters m ade o f rock, branches, grass, leaves, or reeds. M ore and
less perm anent settlem ents can be identified and som e sites rep resen t specific kinds o f activities.
H abitation sites such as B him betka and Hunsgi give evidence o f continuous occupation over
centuries. O ther sites indicate tem porary cam p sites, w here peo p le came, liv ed for som e p a rt o f the
year, and then m oved on. Still others w ere connected w ith specific activities e.g., kill or butchery
sites and factory sites. A s m entioned earlier, som e factory sites seem to have attracted many different
comm unities over thousands o f years.

FURTHER DISCUSSION
Food resourcesnow and then

Due to the lack o f organic plant and anim al rem ains, archaeologists often d raw on ethnographic
evidence o f p resent com m unities living in areas that once supported prehistoric populations.
Some im portant case studies have tried to understand p alaeolithic sites w ithin their b ro ad er
environm ental and settlem ent contexts.

K. P addayyas study o f the settlem ent and subsistence patterns o f the lo w er p alaeolithic culture
o f the Hunsgi v alley identified about 40 species o f w ild edible plants grow ing in the v alley
today, including fruits, b erries, pods, leafy vegetables, m ushroom s, and seeds. The v alley does
not support any large w ild life today, except perhaps the gazelle and blackbuck. B ut fossilized
bones o f w ild cattle (B os sp.) and a horn fragm ent o f a deer w ere found at the m iddle
palaeolithic site o f H agargundigi on the Bhim a river, about 80 km to the northeast. K odekal, a
neolithic site situated 8 km from the Hunsgi valley, y ield ed rem ains o f three species o f deer (the
barasingha, gazelle, and spotted deer). It is reasonable to assum e that thousands o f years ago,
such anim als w ere present in the Hunsgi v alley as w ell. The v alley still supports a v ariety o f
sm all mam mals, birds, reptiles, and aquatic anim als. T hese include the hare, porcupine, birds
such as the sandgrouse, partridge, and quail, rep tiles such as the m onitor lizard, many v arieties o f
fish, and several types o f insects. Some o f these resources are routinely exploited for food by
local com m unities living in the area today.

The presen t flora and fauna o f the H un-sgi v alley gives us an idea o f the range o f w ild plant and
anim al food av ailab le to prehistoric peop le w ho liv ed in this area thousands o f years ago. O f
course, in those tim es the area m ust have had a m uch thicker vegetation o f savannah w oodland
and m ust have supported a much rich er range o f flora and fauna. Paddayya suggests that in v iew
o f the fact that the plant resources o f the area shrink in the dry summer months, prehistoric people
m ust have had to rely m ore on hunting anim als for food during that period.

M. L. K. M urtys study focused on present-day hunting-gathering tribes o f A ndhra such as the


Yerukulas, Y anandis, Chenchus, and Boyas, as w ell as incipient agricultural groups such as the
G onds and K onda R eddis. These com m unities still depend on w ild forest food, sm all game,
reptiles, riverine and sea fauna, insects, and honey. M urty listed about 80 edible w ild plants used
by these people, including fruits, b erries, seeds, tubers, pods, pulps, and vegetables. H e pointed
to a b ro ad congruence o f the lo catio n o f prehistoric hunter-gatherer sites and those inhabited by
present-day tribal com m unities relying significantly on hunting and gathering. This indicates that
the ecological niches that w ere exploited by p rehistoric com m unities w ho liv e d by foraging and
hunting still manage to support com m unities w ho rely on sim ilar subsistence strategies.

SOURCE Paddayya, 1985; Murty, 1985

The basic social structure o f p alaeolithic hunter-gatherers may have corresponded in som e w ays
to w h at anthropologists call a band society, although caution alw ays has to be exercised w hile
invoking ethnographic p arallels. Bands are sm all com m unities, usually consisting o f less than 100
people. They tend to be m obile or nom adic to som e extent, m oving from one place to another,
depending on the seasonal av ailab ility o f the anim als they hunt and the p lant food they gather.
M em bers o f a band are usually related to each other through kinship, and their d iv isio n o f labour is
based on age and sex. The exchange o f goods is based on rules o f reciprocity, not on com m ercial
exchange. W ithin the band, no single p erso n or persons o w n s the natural resources they all depend
on. T here are no institutions o f form al governm ent, no form al or perm anent leaders, not even the
pow erful chiefs seen in m ore com plex tribal societies. The behaviour o f m em bers o f the group is not
regulated by force but through custom s, norm s, and social etiquette.
One o f the stereotypes about the life o f hunter-gatherers is that theirs w as a constant, relentless
struggle for survival w ith little or no leisure time. The m aterial desires and w ants o f palaeolithic
humans m ust have been relativ ely lim ited and their technology d id not perm it them to hoard food
beyond a point. T hese tw o factors m eant that their subsistence-related activities ceased w hen they
had obtained enough food. This m ust have given them som e tim e for other kinds o f activities.
Ethnographic evidence in fact show s that not all m odern hunter-gatherers live a hand-to-m outh
existence and many o f them have plenty o f leisure tim e to sleep, chat, play games, and relax.
A nother com m only held v ie w is that hunting-gathering is an inefficient m ode o f subsistence. This
can be questioned on the b asis o f the long history o f this m ode o f subsistence and its continuation (o f
course on a much reduced scale) even into our ow n time. Further, ethnographic studies have show n
that many hunting-gathering groups do not fully exploit the natural resource potential o f their area and
that they consciously practise sensible restraint in their exploitation o f the environm ent in o rd er to
conserve its resources.
M odern hunter-gatherers tend to obtain a significant am ount o f their food through gathering rather
than hunting. This suggests that the hunting p art o f the term hunter-gatherer has perhaps b een o v er
em phasized by scholars and the g ath erer p art neglected. This conclusion has im portant im plications
for understanding subsistence patterns as w ell as gender ro les and relations in p alaeolithic societies.
In m ost m odern hunting-gathering com m unities, men hunt and w om en gather food, and a sim ilar
d iv isio n o f labour p ro b ab ly existed in p alaeolithic times. B ut i f plant food had a greater dietary
im portance, it can be inferred that w om en m ust have contributed in a m ajor w ay to the subsistence
base o f palaeolithic comm unities.
The artistic, social, and cultic im plications o f som e o f the specim ens o f p alaeolithic art have
already been mentioned. M odern hunter-gatherers regard them selves as p a rt o f a larger w o rld o f
nature because o f their d aily and d irect encounter w ith it. A nim als, plants, and aspects o f the
landscape m ay be treated as kin or foe; they m ay be w o rsh ip p ed or m ay form the focus o f rituals.
Since m odern hunter-gatherers m aintain som e degree o f contact w ith m ore com plex societies, it
w ould be a m istake to assum e that prehistoric peo p le had identical beliefs. H ow ever, it is p o ssib le
that there w ere som e v ery b ro ad sim ilarities arising out o f a sim ilar type o f subsistence base.

The M esolithic Age

MESOLITHIC SITES

The P leistocene geological era m ade w ay for the H olocene about 10,000 years ago. M any
environm ental changes took place during this transition and there are d etailed profiles o f clim atic
patterns for som e parts o f the subcontinent. F or instance, an analysis o f soil sam ples from the site o f
B irbhanpur in W est Bengal show s a trend o f increasing aridity. O n the other hand, the study o f the
salt lake sedim ents and p o llen grains at D idw ana in w estern R ajasthan suggests higher rainfall at this
point o f time. In eastern M adhya Pradesh, the clim ate o f the early and m iddle H olocene seem s to
have b een w e t and w arm , w ith heavy rainfall in the summer m onsoon months and m oderate levels o f
rainfall in w inter. A d rier spell seem s to have set in about 4 ,0 0 0 -3 ,0 0 0 years ago.

MAP 2.4 SOME EARLY MESOLITHIC SITES

Tow ards the end o f the P leistocene or beginning o f the H olocene, there w ere certain changes in the
stone tool kits o f prehistoric people. P eople started making and using v ery sm all tools referred to by
prehistorians as m icroliths. A t sites such as Patne, w here there is a long and continuous stratigraphic
sequence o f prehistoric occupation, the gradual decrease in the size o f stone tools can be seen very
clearly. The term epi-palaeolithic is som etim es used for the transitional stage o f tools that are
sm aller than those typical o f the upper palaeolithic, but sm aller than m icroliths. Changes in tool kits
must have been related to changes in environm ental factors, but such d etailed connections have not
been fully w orked out.
The term m esolithic is generally used for post-P leistocene (i.e., H olocene) hunting-gathering stone
age cultures m arked by the use o f m icroliths. It is not, how ever, easy to define or identify this phase
w ith precision. Sites such as Patne (in M aharashtra) and F a H ien Lena, B atadom ba Lena, and B eli
Lena (in Sri Lanka) have given evidence o f m icroliths in late P leistocene contexts. Further,
m icroliths are know n to have b een m ade and used w ell into the historical period. The m esolithic
economy, like the palaeolithic, w as still essentially b ased on hunting and gathering, but som e sites
have given evidence o f the dom estication o f anim als. M esolithic sites reflect different levels o f
sedentariness. Some seem to have b een perm anent or sem i-perm anent settlem ents, or at least
settlem ents that w ere rep eated ly inhabited over long p erio d s o f time. Pottery is absent at m ost
m esolithic sites, but it occurs at Langhnaj in G ujarat and in the K aim ur region o f M irzapur (UP).

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Microliths

M icroliths range in length from under 1 cm to 5 c m The tools are m ostly m ade on short p a ra lle l
sided blades m ade o f crypto-crystalline silica stone such as quartzite, chert, chalcedony, jasp er,
and agate. M icroliths include m iniature versions o f som e o f the upper palaeolithic tool types
such as burins, points, and scrapers. B ut there is also the introduction o f tools in regular
geom etric shapes such as lunates (crescents), triangles, rhom boids, trapezes, and trapezoids.
M icroliths are usually classified into geom etric and non-geom etric types.

W hat w as the use o f such tiny tools? This question can be answ ered by supplem enting the
archaeological data w ith ethnographic evidence from com m unities in different parts o f the w o rld
w ho still make and use such stone tools in their d aily lives.

Some m icroliths m ay have been used as tools in them selves, but many m ust have b een hafted,
singly or in large numbers, onto w ooden or bone handles to make com posite tools. In som e
instances, the original hafts have survived. M icroliths could have b een used to make spearheads,
arrow heads, knives, daggers, sickles, and adzes. It is p o ssib le that p o iso n w as ap p lied to
m icrolithic tips and barbs to add to the lethal effect o f the w eapons. M icroliths w ere also
em bedded in a w o o d en m atrix to make sickles for harvesting plants.

SOURCE Sankalia [1964], 1982: 6 9 -7 7 ; M isra, 1974


figure 2.9 microliths

One o f the features o f the Indian m esolithic phase is the spread o f settlem ents to new ecological
niches (for site details, see A llch in and A llchin, 1997: 88-110; C hakrabarti, 1999: 9 8 -1 1 0 ). This is
generally seen as a resu lt o f an increase in population due to m ore favourable environm ental
conditions as w ell as technological innovations. T here is a calib rated range o f dates from various
m esolithic sites, e.g., B him betka (6 5 5 6 -6 1 7 7 BCE; 4 8 9 5 -4 5 8 0 B CE), B aghor (7 4 1 6 -6 6 2 2 BCE;
4246-3991 B C E ), B agor (5 4 1 8 -4 9 3 6 BCE; 4 5 7 5 -4 3 4 4 B C E ), Sarai N ahar R ai (9 9 5 8 -9 0 5 9 B C E),
and P aisra (6 3 7 7 -6 0 6 7 BCE).

Qjartz blade core

MICROLITHS FROMVARIOUS SITES

The transition from a hunting-gathering stage to the beginnings o f settled agriculture can be traced
at Chopani M ando in the B elan v alley (Sharm a et al., 1980). E xcavations rev ealed a 1.55 m thick
occupational deposit, d iv id ed into three periods. The first w as ep i-palaeolithic, w hile the second
and third w ere clearly m esolithic. P erio d II w as d iv id ed into tw o phases IIA and IIB. P erio d IIA
had non-geom etric m icroliths such as blades, points, scrapers, and borers, m ostly m ade o f chert. In
P eriod IIB, there w ere a large num ber o f geom etric m icroliths. The m icroliths continued into P erio d
III, w hich w as also m arked by handm ade pottery w ith co rd-im pressed patterns, anvils and hamm er
stones, querns and m ullers (used for grinding and food processing), and ring stones. There w ere
bones o f w ild cattle and sheep/goats. P ieces o f burnt clay w ith reed im pressions show ed that the
m esolithic peo p le o f Chopani M ando liv ed in w attle-and-daub huts. The excavations rev ealed the
outlines o f tw o round huts belonging to P erio d IIA and five round huts o f P erio d IIB. In P erio d III,
there w ere rem ains o f 13 round and oval huts, clustered v ery close to each other. The round huts had
an average diam eter o f 3.3 m, and the oval ones 4.7 * 3.3 m O utside the huts w ere three hearths and
traces o f w hat seem ed to be the bases o f storage bins m ade o f bam boo and clay. W ild rice is
reported from late m esolithic levels at this site.
The three excavated sites o f Sarai N ahar R ai, M ahadaha, and D am dam a lie v ery close to each
other. Sarai N ahar R ai (in P ratapgarh district, UP) is located on the banks o f a d ried oxbow lake
w hich marks an o ld course o f the Ganga. G eom etric m icroliths w ere found here, along w ith shells
and anim al bones (o f bison, rhinoceros, stag, fish, and tortoise). W ithin the habitation area, there
w ere 11 human burials in oblong pits those o f 9 men, 4 w om en, and a child. The age o f the m en
w as estim ated to be in the range o f 1 6 -3 5 years, and that o f the w om en 1 5 -3 5 years. One o f the
buried skeletons had an arro w em bedded in its ribs. A m ultiple burial contained the rem ains o f four
persons. M icrolithic tools, anim al bones, and shells w ere p laced in graves as grave goods. A n
analysis o f the skeletal m aterial rev ealed that the dental health o f the peo p le w as on the w hole good,
but that som e o f them suffered from osteo-arthritis. The m esolithic level at Sarai N ahar R ai has been
dated c. 8400 150 B C E by the rad io carb o n method.
M ahadaha is also on the banks o f an oxbow lake. E xcavations rev ealed a 60 cm thick
occupational d ep o sit and distinct areas asso ciated w ith habitation and butchering. The m icroliths
w ere m ade o f chert, quartz, chalcedony, crystal, and agate, all o f w hich m ust have b een brought over
fairly long distances across the riv e r from the Vindhyas. Twenty-eight burials o f thirty individuals,
including tw o instances o f a m an and w om an buried together, w ere found w ithin the habitation area.
The b urials w ere ellip tical and their base sloping. The grave goods included m icroliths, shells, burnt
pieces o f anim al bones, bone arrow heads and rings, and ochre pieces. The bones found in the
butchering area included those o f w ild cattle, hippopotam us, deer, pigs, and turtles. Thousands o f
animal bones w ere found in the lake area. The m esolithic peo p le o f M ahadaha w ere tall (m en w ere
up to 1.90 m and w om en 1 .6 2 -1 .7 6 m). T heir dental health w as good, but many o f them suffered
from osteo-arthritis. O f the 17 m ales, 7 fem ales, and 3 children identified in the skeletal record, 5
represented persons less than 18 years old, 6 belonged to the 1 8 -4 0 age group, and only 1 (a fem ale)
represented a p erso n betw een 4 0 -5 0 years old. These figures provide an idea o f average life
expectancy.
D am dam a is situated at the confluence o f a sm all stream belonging to the Sai riv er system. W ithin
the 1.5 m thick occupational deposit, excavators d isco v ered m icroliths, bone objects, querns and
m ullers, anvils, and hamm er stones. There w ere hearths, patches o f burnt floor plaster, charred w ild
grain, and anim al bones. There w ere 4 m ultiple burials am ong the 41 human burials. In one o f the
graves, an ivory pendant w as found among the grave goods. D ates for D am dam a fall w ithin the early
7th m illennium BCE. Recently, dom esticated rice has b een rep o rted from m esolithic levels at this
site.

FURTHER DISCUSSION

Animal bones at mesolithic sites


Bones o f w ild and dom esticated anim als have b een found at som e m esolithic sites. H ow ever,
there is considerable difference o f opinion among experts w hen it com es to the identification o f
anim al species.

B agor (R ajasthan): The m esolithic context here dates to the 5th and 4th m illennia BCE. T here are
differences in opinion about the identification o f the anim al bones. P. K. Thom as identified
dom esticated cattle (15.7 per cent o f the identifiable bones in the assem blage) and sheep/goats
(64.4 per cent; it is not alw ays p o ssib le to distinguish betw een sheep and goat bone fragments).
The site also y ield ed bones o f w ild boar and p ig (3.7 p er cent), buffalo (0.8 per cent), blackbuck
and gazelle (4.4 p er cent), spotted d eer (4.8 per cent), sa m b a r (4.3 per cent), hare (0.6 per cent),
Indian grey m ongoose (0.8 per cent) and Indian fox (0.5 per cent). O ther species include
porcupine, rat, tortoise, fish, and frog. D.R. Shah does not m ention the occurrence o f such
dom esticated species, but lists riv e r turtle and m onitor lizard.

T ilw ara (B arm er district, Rajasthan): A ccording to V N. M isra, the late m eso-lithic level (its
dates are uncertain) gave evidence o f w ild goat, a canid (jackal or dog), pig, spotted deer, hog
deer, m ongoose, and dom esticated hum ped cattle. Thomas only rep o rted cattle and goat/ sheep
from this site. Langhnaj (north G ujarat): The m esolithic context in w hich the anim al bones w ere
found w as dated 2 5 5 0 -2 1 8 5 BCE. O nly w ild anim als w ere represented. These include a canid
(pro b ab ly w olf), m ongoose, rhinoceros, w ild boar, chital, hog deer, sw am p deer, nilg a i, and
blackbuck. The presence o f w ild buffalo or w ild cattle has also b een suggested. V. N. M isra
suggested that the clim ate o f the area during m esolithic tim es m ust have b een arid. H ow ever, the
presence o f the rhinoceros and the p o ssib le presence o f the w ater buffalo go against this theory.
The rhinoceros is know n to prefer large stretches o f m arshland and grassland. The anim al bones
at Langhnaj suggest that the area w as co v ered by a com bination o f savannah and forest w ith
interspersed w etlands.

K anew al (north G ujarat): This site has given evidence o f bones o f rhinoceros, buffalo, spotted
deer, sw am p deer, nilg a i, and w ild boar. B ones o f dom esticated cattle, sheep, and goats have
also b een identified. The occurrence o f cam el bones is interesting and show s contact w ith people
using these anim als.

L oteshw ar and R atanpur (north G ujarat): B ones o f dom esticated sheep, goats, and cattle have
b een recently rep o rted from these sites.

A dam garh (M P): B ones o f dom esticated cattle, sheep, goat, pig, and dog have been reported
here, along w ith those o f w ild anim als such as spotted deer, barasingha, sam bar, porcupine,
hare, lizard, and a species o f the genus E quus. T here are tw o v ery different rad io carb o n dates
for these finds, one falling in the 6th m illennium BCE, the other in the 1st m illennium BCE. Due to
the uncertain dates and stratigraphy o f the finds, the evidence o f early anim al dom estication at
A dam garh has been questioned.

B him betka (M P): This site has given bones o f dom esticated cattle along w ith those o f w ild
anim als such as barasingha, hog deer, and rhinoceros. It is interesting to note that m esolithic
paintings at this site have representations of Indian humped cattle (zebu) as well as its wild
progenitor, Bos namadicus.

Sarai Nahar Rai, Mahadaha, and Damdama (UP): The faunal evidence from these sites is
controversial. K. R. Alur identified wild cattle and sheep/goat. According to U.C.
Chattopadhyaya, there is no evidence of sheep or goats, wild or domesticated, at these three
sites. Thomas and Joglekar identified over 30 species including cattle, gaur, goat, gazelle,
chital, sambar, barking deer, mouse deer, rhinoceros, wild boar, pygmy hog, hippopotamus,
elephant, wolf, jackal, sloth bear, porcupine, rat, and bandicoot. No domesticated animals are
represented.

Chopani Mando (UP): Bones of wild cattle and goat/sheep are reported from this site.

SOURCE Chattopadhyaya, 2002

NEW DIRECTIONS IN RESEARCH

Graves, subsistence, and settlement patterns

Umesh C. Chattopadhyaya has explored the connections between the emergence of formal burials
among hunter-gatherers and the subsistence patterns and settlements of the mesolithic Ganga
valley. His study is based on the faunal remains and burials at Sarai Nahar Rai, Mahadaha, and
Damdama.

An initial study of Sarai Nahar Rai suggested that the site was occupied seasonally and that in
summer, groups living in the Vindhyan stretches migrated into the Ganga valley due to water and
food scarcity. Excavations at Mahadaha and Damdama led to a questioning of this hypothesis,
largely on the basis of the thickness of the occupational deposits and the occurrence of many
heavy non-transportable grinding stones. Chattopadhyaya has carried forward this questioning.

This area had diverse food resources. The plant remains at Damdama suggest the availability of
various types of wild edible plants. The animal bones found at these sites included those of wild
animals exploited for food. The subsistence base of the mesolithic people had a special
emphasis on the hunting of swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli) and hog deer (Axis procinus) and
must have been supplemented by an intensive use of aquatic resources such as tortoise and fish.

Mahadaha and Damdama yielded teeth of hog deer and swamp deer. As the breeding season of
these animals is known, April and July can be identified as the months of birth of the two species
respectively. On the basis of the analysis of some of the teeth remains, the age of the animal at the
time it was killed and the month in which this happened can be ascertained. This gives us an idea
about the months/ seasons in which the sites were occupied by humans. Chattopadhyayas
analysis of such teeth remains shows that Mahadaha and Damdama were occupied during
summer as well as winter. The presence of a commensal species (one that depends on humans for
its food) such as bandicoot rat (Bandicota bengalensis) at these sites is also significant, as this
species cannot establish itself at a habitation site unless food is available to it all year round.

The evidence of burials at the three sites confirms the above conclusions. All three display
similar burial practicesthe bodies were buried in shallow rectangular graves, usually in an
extended position. Male burials outnumber female burials; there are a few instances of child
burials at Mahadaha and Damdama. Differences in grave goods suggest some level of social
ranking. At Mahadaha, the cemetery-cum-habitation area revealed 35 pit-hearths containing burnt
clay, ash, and charred animal bones, which seem to have been associated with funerary rituals.
What is most significant for Chattopadhyayas argument is the orientation of the burials. With a
few exceptions at Damdama, the graves were broadly aligned west-east or east-west.
Archaeological and anthropological evidence suggests that it is likely that they were aligned
towards the point of sunrise or sunset at the time of burial. The precise points of the east-west
orientation would have varied to some extent in summer and winter. Many of the burials at these
sites fall broadly within the calculated range of the annual solar path across the horizon,
suggesting that burials took place both in summer and in winter. This too indicates that the sites
were occupied all year round.

Anthropologists have identified a close relationship between the designation of formal areas for
the disposal of the dead and the existence of corporate group rights over critical resources.
These rights are based on lineal descent from deceased ancestors. The mesolithic burials of
Mahadaha are suggestive of this sort of situation. But what were the reliable but restricted
resources over which these people may have tried to stake their claim through descent?
Chattopadhyaya suggests that they consisted of aquatic resources such as tortoise and fish, which
have rich nutritional value and are very productive and reliable food resources. The growing
population in the Ganga valley during the mesolithic phase may have led to competition and
conflict over these resources. This may have been the impetus for people to come together and
function as corporate groups and to stake their claim to territory through burial practices and
burial symbolism.

SOURCE Chattopadhyaya, 1996

Rock shelters excavated at Lekhakia (in Mirzapur district of southern UP) have yielded blade
tools and microliths. There is a clear tendency of tools to become progressively smaller in the upper
levels of the deposit. Burials were found, and so was pottery. Baghai Khor is another rock shelter
site in the same area. This has a pre-ceramic and a ceramic microlithic phase. Two e x te n d e d burials
were identified, the first belonging to the pre-ceramic phase and the second to the ceramic phase.
A 105 sq m section of a mesolithic floor was excavated at Paisra. Apart from micro-liths, there
was evidence of large and small fireplaces positioned very close to each other. The thinness of the
deposit suggests a short period of mesolithic occupation.
Birbhanpur is close to the Damodar river in Burdwan district in West Bengal. Mesolithic stone
tools made of quartz, some of chert and chalcedony, were found here. This seems to have been both a
habitation and a factory site. A study has shown that the climate during the mesolithic phase at
Birbhanpur was drier than in the immediately preceding phase, which was more wet and humid.

NEW DIRECTIONS IN RESEARCH

The journey to get chalcedony

The general picture of the mesolithic phase is one of small, mobile bands of people exploiting
the resources available in their environment with their microlithic tools. Recent studies have
indicated that the reality was far more complex. Gurcharan S. Khannas study of chalcedony at
Bagor in eastern Rajasthan has highlighted how a focus on this one raw material reveals patterns
of movement, exchange, and resource procurement. Here are some of the findings:

The microliths of Bagor are mostly made of chert and quartz, but some are of chalcedony. Tools made of
quartz form about 79 per cent of the total stone tool assemblage, those made of chert about 20 per cent,
and chalcedony tools about 1 per cent. However, if only the finished tools are considered, the
percentages are differentchert tools represent the greater proportion and quartz tools are much less.
The proportion of chalcedony finished tools is variable but not insignificant; this stone was preferred for
making smaller blade tools.
Chalcedony is a member of a group of crypto-crystalline minerals which includes chert, jasper, opal, flint,
agate, and camelian. Compared to other rocks, chalcedony has higher water content and a fibrous grain
structure. These qualities make it easy to control flaking and to make standardized tools, especially
small ones. This is why mesolithic people may have preferred chalcedony over other stones for making
such tools.
While chert and quartz are available within walking distance, the chalcedony found in this area is of poor
quality. Good quality chalcedony is available in the Deccan Traps, 90 km to the south-east of Bagor. That
is probably the area from where the mesolithic people obtained it.
Ihere could have been another reason for moving south-eastwards seasonally. Bagor is located on the
eastern side of the Aravalli hills, which is an intermediate zone as far as rainfall is concerned. The
mesolithic people of Bagor may have moved southeastwards in the dry post-monsoon season in order to
find grazing land for their animals (there is evidence of animal domestication at this site).
The people of Bagor could have obtained chalcedony from the Deccan Traps either through direct
procurement or through exchange with intermediate groups.
16. the later part of the mesolithic phase, there is evidence of copper. It is possible that the introduction of
copper at this site had to do with the interaction of its people with the farmers and metallurgists of Ahar,
a settlement which lay at considerable distance to its south.

SOURCE Khanna, 1993

Bagor (in Bhilwara district of eastern Rajasthan) is one of the best documented mesolithic sites. It
is located on a sand dune, about 25 km west of Bhilwara in Rajasthan, close to the Kothari river. The
three occupational levels represented continuous human occupation over more than 5,000 years.
Period I (c. 5000-2800 BCE, according to radiocarbon dates) was mesolithic, Period II (c. 2800-
600 BCE) chalcolithic, and Period III (c. 600 BCE-200 BCE) gave evidence of iron. Microliths
were found in the greatest numbers in Period I but continued into the later phases as well. The
microliths of Period I were mostly made of locally available chert and quartz. Most of them were
made on blades and they included a large number of geometric microliths such as triangles and
trapezes. House floors paved with stone slabs were found, and in some places, there was evidence
of roughly circular arrangements of stone that may have marked the outlines of shelters. Certain
stone-paved areas with a large number of animal bones were probably butchering areas. Only one
burial was unearthed and there was no definite evidence of grave goods. Other discoveries included
ring stones (perhaps used as hammer stones to make microliths), pieces of red ochre, querns, and
rubbing stones (for grinding food). Bones of wild animals included those of wild cattle, two kinds of
deer, pigs, jackals, rats, monitor lizards, turtles, and fish; bones of domesticated sheep/goats and
cattle were also reported. There is a possibility that small bits of pottery found at the site may belong
to the mesolithic phase.
Microliths have been found in the valleys of the Tapi, Narmada, Mahi, and Sabar-mati. One of the
important sites is Langhnaj. The occupational deposit here was divided into three periods. Period I
was mesolithic and yielded microliths, human burials, bones of wild animals, and some potsherds.

PAINTING OF BOAR, BHIMBETKA (AFTER NEUMAYER, 1983)

DANCERS, LAKHAJOAR

Adamgarh hill near Hoshangabad has already been mentioned among the palaeolithic sites of
central India. Its upper layers represented a mesolithic level, which in turn made way for a
neolithic-chalcolithic one. Shells found between 15-21 cm from the top of the mesolithic deposit
were dated by the radiocarbon method to c. 5500 BCE, so the mesolithic level belongs at least to the
6th millennium BCE. Thousands of microliths were found here, mostly made of chert, chalcedony,
jasper, and agate, raw materials which are available in the riverbed of the Narmada about 2 km
away. Geometric microliths (triangles and trapezes) were very common. Mace heads or ring stones
and hammer stones were also found. The wild animal bones comprised those of the hare, lizard,
various kinds of deer, horse, and porcupine. Bones of domesticated cattle, sheep, goat, dog, and pig
have also been reported, but this evidence has been questioned. This site has given evidence of
pottery at mesolithic levels.
Baghor II in the Son valley has already been mentioned in the discussion of the palaeolithic sites
of central India. This site also has a mesolithic phase. The tools are of chert and chalcedony, and
geometric microliths occur. Fragments of grinding stones, one hammer stone, and pieces of red ochre
were found. There were very few finished stone tools, and as much as 96.7 per cent of the total
mesolithic lithic material that was excavated consisted of waste material of stone tool working. This
suggests that the tools were made here and taken away to other places. The location of five or six
large shelters can be identified by a series of post-holes. Three hoof prints of a sambar deer were
preserved in the excavated deposit.
Bhimbetka has also already been mentioned in the section on palaeolithic sites. The site shows a
gradual reduction in the size of tools. Mesolithic tools include blades and geometric microliths like
triangles, trapezes, and crescents. Quartz was used a great deal in the palaeolithic stage, but in the
mesolithic phase there was a shift to chalcedony. Bhimbetka is famous for its mesolithic paintings,
which will be discussed further on.
In peninsular India, microlithic sites found in the vicinity of Mumbai seem to represent coastal
mesolithic communities who exploited marine resources for food. Microliths have been found in
other parts of Maharashtra as well. Further south, the microliths are mostly made out of milky quartz.
They have been found at Jalahalli and Kibbanhalli near Bangalore in Karnataka, in Goa, and at
Nagarjunakonda (in southern AP), and Renigunta (in Chittor district, AP).
Microliths occur at many places along the east coast of India and seem to mark camps of
mesolithic fishing communities. South of Chennai, tiny stone tools, mostly of quartz and chert, have
been found on old sand dunes known as teri s. On the Visakhapatnam coast, stone tablets and ring
stones have been found at sites such as Chandrampalem, Paradesipalem, and Rushikonda. Similar
stones are used today by local fishermen in the area as net sinkers. Apart from the coastal areas, rock
shelters, flat hilltops, river valleys, and lakesides were also inhabited during the mesolithic phase.

B ull, ja o r a (a f t e r neum ayer, 1983)


The evidence from mesolithic sites from different parts of the subcontinent suggests movement and
interaction among communities. Factory sites located at sources of raw materials must have been
meeting grounds for different groups. The fact that mesolithic tools found north and south of the
Ganga are made of the same kinds of stone indicates that either the raw materials or the tools
themselves were moved across the river. The mesolithic people of Sarai Nahar Rai, Damdama, and
Mahadaha would have had to travel over 75 km to reach the stone resources of the Vindhyas.
Clearly, the communities living in the northern alluvial plain and the hill people of the northern
fringes of the Vindhyas must have been interacting with each other. In later times, mesolithic
communities must have interacted with early agriculturists who lived in their neighbourhood.
There are many instances of temporary mesolithic camp sites in various parts of the subcontinent,
but sites such as Sarai Nahar Rai, Damdama, Mahadaha, and Chopani Mando were inhabited
continuously. This can be inferred from the nature of the archaeological evidence and also certain
more specialized studies of the faunal material. The evidence from several sites of formal,
ceremonial burials, with the bodies usually laid out in a west-east direction (sometimes the other
way around) with grave goods suggests rituals associated with death. The presence of grave goods is
often taken as an indication of some sort of belief in afterlife. This may well be so, but there is
ethnographic evidence of societies in which certain belongings of the deceased are considered to
bring bad luck to the living, and these are therefore buried along with the body. Instances of
jewellery found on the body suggest a custom of adorning the body before burial, and may indicate
high-rank individuals within the community.

THE MAGNIFICENCE OF MESOLITHIC ART

There are very few examples of portable mesolithic art. A chert core engraved with an interesting
geometric design was found at Chandravati in Rajasthan. It is assumed to be mesolithic because lots
of microliths have been found at the site. A few engraved bone objects have been discovered at sites
such as Bhimbetka. A human tooth with faint geometric marks on it was found in a jaw fragment
along with some other teeth, and is currently kept at Deccan College, Pune.
The first rock paintings in India (and in fact anywhere in the world) were discovered by A. C. L.
Carlleyle, an assistant surveyor with the Archaeological Survey of India in 1867-68 at Sohagighat in
the Kaimur hills in the present Mirzapur district (UP). Today, over 150 mesolithic rock art sites have
been found in various parts of the subcontinent and central India has an especially rich concentration
of sites. The paintings are an important source of information regarding the lives of mesolithic
communities and show striking thematic similarities across the country.
A n im a l p a i n t in g s : k a t h o h a , l a k h a j o a r (a f t e r neum ayer, 1983)

In 1957, the archaeologist V S. Wakankar noticed the Bhimbetka rocks out of a train window
while travelling from Bhopal to Itarsi and got off at the nearest railway station to explore. This is
how one of the most magnificent rock art sites in the world was discovered. Bhimbetka is one of
seven hills marked by a very picturesque natural environment. There are 642 rock shelters here,
nearly 400 of which have paintings, engravings, and bruisings. Their style, theme, and worn state
indicate that they belong to old times. Mesolithic paintings have also been found at other sites in
Madhya Pradesh such as Kharwar, Jaora, Kathotia, and Lakhajoar.
h u n t in g sc en e , l a k h a j o a r

f e e d i n g a p i g a n d p r e p a r in g f o o d , k a t h o t i a (a f t e r neum ayer, 1983)


The Bhimbetka paintings have been studied by V S. Wakankar, Yashodhar Mathpal (1974), and
Erwin Neumayer (1983), and the results of their research illuminate many aspects of the lives of the
painters. Mathpal identified three main phases of the rock paintings, with further sub-phases within
these. The first five sub-phases are mesolithic, the sixth is transitional, and the last three belong to
the historical period. Sixteen colours or shades can be identified, with white and light red used most
often. The colours were made from minerals which were ground and then mixed with water or some
other substance like animal fat, marrow, or egg white. The red was made out of iron oxide (geru),
white from limestone, and green may have been made from green chalcedony. Some paintings are
monochrome (in one colour), while others are polychrome (in more than one colour). The handles of
brushes must have been made from twigs, and the brush itself out of squirrel tail, animal fur, or
semal (silk cotton).

LAKHAJOAR: FISHING SCENE


FAMILY SCENE (AFTER NEUMAYER, 1 9 8 3 )

As at most mesolithic rock art sites, animals dominate the scenes at Bhimbetka. Twenty-nine
species of animals are depicted, including the chital (this occurs most often), leopard, tiger, panther,
elephant, rhinoceros, antelope, deer, and squirrel. Different kinds of birds, fish, lizards, frogs, crabs,
scorpions, and small centipedes also make an appearance. Although the Bhimbetka hillsides are still
home to many animals, the elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, wild buffalo, gaur, and blackbuck
depicted in the mesolithic paintings have disappeared. It is interesting to note that no snakes are
depicted in Indian mesolithic paintings, here or elsewhere.

H unter w i t h b a s k e t / n e t f il l e d w i t h a n i m a l s , j a o r a

In mesolithic art at Bhimbetka and elsewhere, animals are represented on their own or as part of
hunting scenes. Hunters hunt singly or in groups, sometimes wearing masks and headdresses crowned
with antlers and horns. They are adorned with ornaments such as necklaces, bangles, wrist bands,
elbow bands, and knee bands with tassels. Some are unarmed; others carry sticks, spears, bows and
arrows, or slings. The hunters are sometimes accompanied by dogs. There are scenes showing traps
and snares, others of animals running after hunters.
While some of the animal figures are rather abstract, many of them are very realistic. Animals are
sometimes shown in outline; in other instances their bodies are decorated with designs. A few
paintings are in the x-ray style, showing the inner organs, including foetuses in the womb of female
animals. Apart from hunting scenes, animals appear in more peaceful, sympathetic scenes such as
those depicting pregnant animals, a panther or tiger with cubs, stag, and chital running after a fawn,
grazing buffaloes, rabbits hopping, and monkeys leaping about. There is a lot of movement in the
scenes. There are also fantastic animalsthe famous Bhimbetka boar has the body of a boar, but a
snout like a rhinoceros, the underlip of an elephant, and the horns of a buffalo.
Mesolithic paintings at Bhimbetka and other sites also depict men and women, young and old.
Male figures often look like matchsticks, women are sometimes given fuller forms. Some men wear
loincloths, probably made of leaves, animal skin, or pieces of tree bark. Men wear their hair loose,
women braided. Some figures are broad and decorated with geometric designs, and from their
attitude seem to represent men of authority. Masked dancers (referred to by prehistorians as dancing
sorcerers) may represent ritual specialists. Hand, fist, and finger prints are also found, similar to
those that people make on their houses these days on auspicious occasions.
The Bhimbetka paintings reflect a division of labour on the basis of gender. Men hunt and women
are shown gathering and preparing food, for instance grinding food on querns. It is difficult to
identify what sort of vegetable food was being processed. Basket-like containers must have been
used to store food, but no pottery is depicted. Dry gourds and leather bags may have been used to
hold water. There are scenes of people collecting fruit and honey. Some scenes depict sexual
activity, others show people dancing. The dancers convey a sense of rhythmic movement;
occasionally they lose their balance and fall.
In Europe, most prehistoric paintings tend to be located in dark, relatively inaccessible parts of
the caves, but those in Indian rock shelters are usually in well-lit areas, easily seen. The best
paintings were not, however, made in shelters that were living spaces. Some of the big paintings on
high surfaces would have required scaffolding and the cooperation of many people. Such paintings,
and those made in layers, suggest some kind of ritualistic significance.
Prehistoric rock art sites have been found at many other places in India as well. In eastern India,
over 55 rock shelters with rock art have been identified in the western districts of Orissa, especially
in the Sundargarh and Sambalpur districts. Microliths found in some of the rock shelters have
confirmed the fact that there was mesolithic occupation in the area. The richest area for rock
paintings are the 12 rock shelters of the Lekhamoda group in the reserve forests of Chhengapahad
and Garjanpahad. Excavations in one of these rock shelters revealed a cultural sequence from the
mesolithic to the chalcolithic. An interesting feature of the rock art of Orissa is the co-existence of
paintings and engravings in the same shelter. Also, the art is mostly non-figurative, with an emphasis
on abstract patterns and decorative designs, both geometric and non-geometric. Animals occur
infrequently and humans are even rarer.
Kerala too has many rock art sites with paintings and carvings. One of the oldest is the cave
known as Ezhuthu Guha, situated in the midst of a dense sandalwood forest in Idukki district. In the
earliest stage of rock art in this area, animals were depicted, but no humans. One problem is that
although some of the paintings have been assigned to the late mesolithic phase, no mesolithic tools
have been found so far in any of the Kerala rock shelters.

Abstr a c t p a in t in g , j a o r a (a f t e r neum ayer, 1983)

Why did prehistoric people make such paintings? Probably for many different reasonsto express
their creative urges, to decorate their homes, or to tell a story in pictures. Some scenes may have
been picture-stories of memorable events in their lives. Others may have been connected with rituals
connected with hunting or fertility. It is impossible to say whether the paintings were made by men or
women, or both. Apart from the scenes of animals and people, there are a few more enigmatic
paintings.
A very interesting, rather abstract painting has been found in a rock shelter at Jaora (MP). Perhaps
it reflects a view of the world consisting of air, earth, and fire. But it is possible that it means
something completely different. The mesolithic artist who painted it would have known for sure, but
since he/she is not around to tell us, we have to use our imagination to try to unravel its meaning.

CONCLUSIONS

Prehistory represents the longest part of the human past, and is associated with the emergence of
anatomically modern humans and important developments in stone tool technology and subsistence
strategies. Pal aeo-environmental studies form the essential background for the reconstruction of the
life-ways of prehistoric people. The evidence of the lower, middle, and upper palaeolithic phases in
the subcontinent is gradually increasing, but still largely consists of stone tools. Mesolithic
communities fanned out into new ecological niches and the evidence of rock art provides valuable
information about their lives and aesthetic sensibilities. Palaeolithic and mesolithic people obtained
their food through hunting and gathering. However, the animal bones found at some mesolithic sites
indicate that the beginnings of animal domestication can be traced to this phase. The major transition
from hunting-gathering to food production based on the domestication of plants and animals is
associated with the next cultural stagethe neolithic.

www.pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh
Further resources
Chapter Three
The Transition to Food Production: Neolithic, Neolithic-
Chalcolithic, and Chalcolithic Villages, c. 7000-2000 BCE

C hapter outline

THE NEOLITHIC AGE AND THE BEGINNINGS OF FOOD PRODUCTION


WHY DOMESTICATION?
t h e id e n t if ic a t io n o f d o m e s t ic a t io n a n d f o o d p r o d u c t io n in t h e

ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD
t h e t r a n s it io n t o f o o d p r o d u c t io n in t h e In d ia n s u b c o n t in e n t

Th e l if e o f ea rly fa r m e r s

Ch a n g e s in c u l t ic a n d b e l i e f s y st e m s

C o n c l u s io n s
A POT FROMNAL, BALUCHISTAN
With its arid, m ountainous terrain and extrem e clim ate, the K achi p lain in the B aluchistan province
o f P akistan appears at first glance to offer a rather inhospitable environm ent for human settlement.
The higher valleys are often co v ered w ith snow for up to tw o months in the year. R ainfall does not
usually exceed 10 cm per annum and m ost o f it occurs in w inter. H ow ever, the riv e r valleys are
dotted w ith many prosperous villages, and a m ajor trade artery connecting the Indus v alley w ith
central A sia w inds through. The area is inhabited by pastoral nom ads and agriculturalists. W ild
cereals and w ild game are abundant. Farm ers dam the non-perennial stream s to irrigate their fields
w ith the overflow . W heat is the m ain crop, and the area is considered the b read b ask et o f
Baluchistan. The K achi p la in is also extrem ely ric h in ancient archaeological sites.
In 1968, S ardar Ghaus B aksh R aisini d rew the attention o f archaeologists to a mound near his
w inter residence on the banks o f the B o lan river, about 10 km south o f D adhar, the m ain settlem ent of
K achi district. F o llo w in g up R a isin is tip, a French archaeological m ission, in co llab o ratio n w ith the
D epartm ent o f A rchaeology o f Pakistan, started excavating the site o f M ehrgarh in 1974. The
excavations eventually extended over a decade and their results rad ically altered the understanding
o f the beginnings o f agriculture in the subcontinent.

The w o rld s first agricultural villag es em erged in c. 8 0 0 0 -6 0 0 0 BCE. W est A sia w as an early centre
o f w h eat and b arley farming, and the e a rlie st dom esticated anim als in this area included sheep and
goats. E arly neolithic villag es have been identified at Jericho and A in Ghazal in Jordan, Tepe
Guran, and A li K osh in Iran, atal H yk in Turkey, and C ayonu in north Syria. In Southeast A sia,
excavations at the S p irit C ave in T hailand rev ealed 10 different plants species including alm ond,
pepper, cucumber, betel nut, beans, and peas. A lthough it is not certain w hether all o f them w ere
cultivated, the w id e range o f plant rem ains suggests m ore than a sim ple food-gathering community.
The excavations at M ehrgarh, w hich gave evidence o f b arley and w h eat cultivation, and cattle,
sheep, and goat dom estication, indicated that B aluchistan in South A sia w as a third zone o f early
agriculture. T here is a p o ssib ility o f equally early dates for rice cultivation from the northern fringes
o f the Vindhyas in the state o f U ttar P rad esh in India. A s the evidence does not suggest any d irect
connections betw een the various zones o f early agriculture, they m ust be considered independent
centres.
W ithin the next few m illennia, the dom estication o f plants and anim als w as being p ractised in
other parts o f the w o rld as w ell. H em udu in south China has given evidence o f rice cultivation and
the dom estication o f w ater buffalo, dog, and p ig in late 6 th -e a rly 5th m illennia BCE contexts. By
5000 BCE, the people o f M exico w ere grow ing corn, beans, squash, gourds, avocados, and chilli
pepper, and w ere dom esticating turkeys, dogs, and honeybees. A t about the sam e time, com m unities
living in the P eruvian highlands w ere cultivating beans, gourds, tom atoes, and potatoes, and may
have dom esticated the llam a and alpaca. In sub-Saharan A frica, the cultivation o f finger m illet,
sorghum, rice, teff, and yams, and the dom estication o f sheep, goats, and cattle cam e to be
established in various ecological niches. The prim ary dom estication o f plants and anim als took
place in areas w here the concerned species w ere native, but these sw iftly spread to secondary areas
o f dom estication in different parts o f the w orld.

The N eolithic A ge and the Beginnings o f F ood Production


The dom estication o f anim als and plants w as the outcom e o f a long series o f co llectiv e experim ents
involving many generations o f men, w om en, and children, stretching out over hundreds, perhaps
thousands, o f years. We w ill never know the nam es o f the people w ho took p art in these experim ents
and m ade the critical choices and changes in their strategies o f obtaining food. B ut the p ro cesses they
set in m otion m arked one o f the greatest achievem ents o f humankind. A rchaeological evidence
records a fairly late stage in the story o f anim al and plant dom estication, w hen it w as alread y w ell
underway. A lthough many details o f these p ro cesses still elude us, it is p o ssib le to reconstruct
various aspects o f the transition from hunting-gathering to dom estication in different parts o f the
w orld.

m ap 3.1 Centres of agriculture

The dom estication o f plants and anim als m arked a special kind o f human interference in nature and
a new stage in the relationship betw een people, plants, and anim als. It involved rem oving plants and
anim als from their natural habitat, a pro cess o f selective breeding and rearing under artificial
conditions under human control for purposes o f human gain. T here are differences betw een plant
collection and plant dom estication, and betw een anim al keeping and anim al dom estication. W hen
grain is harvested and a ll o f it is consum ed, this is a stage o f food collection. If, after harvesting,
some grain is consum ed for food and the re st put aside and later intentionally planted, this is the
stage o f plant dom estication. W hen certain species o f anim als are captured and kept, this is a stage of
animal keeping. W hen w ild anim als are rem oved from their natural habitat and m aintained and b red
under artificial conditions by peo p le for their profit, this is the stage o f anim al breeding or
dom estication.
It is p o ssib le to identify gradual shifts in the balance o f subsistence strategies from hunting and
gathering tow ards anim al rearing and agriculture. F or instance, the background to the beginnings o f
plant dom estication w as the transition from sim ple foraging (food collection) to com plex foraging,
the latter representing a stage o f intensive exploitation o f w ild plants. The next stage w as that o f
incipient (early) agriculture, w hich, over time, led to the stage o f dev elo p ed agriculture. In the long
run, such shifts w ere asso ciated w ith technological changes, greater food availability, a rise in
population, an increase in the num ber and size o f human settlem ents, and m ore com plex social and
political organization.
H undreds, p ro b ab ly thousands, o f years m ust have elap sed betw een the initial dom estication o f
plants and anim als in an area and the increased reliance o f people on these resources for their food.
A distinction can be m ade betw een societies in w hich a sm all amount o f food is obtained through
animal and/or p lant dom estication and those w hich obtain a significant or substantial amount o f food
through these activities. It is the latter that can be d escrib ed as food producing societies. A w orking
definition o f a food-producing so ciety is one w hich m eets at least h a lf its food needs for at least
part o f the year through the dom estication o f anim als and/or plants, in a context w h erein anim als and
plants are not tied to their natural habitat. O f course, since p recise statistics are unavailable for
ancient societies, the extent to w hich a group depended on dom estication for its food can only be
gauged subjectively.
In the classificatio n o f the stone age, the neolithic age is asso ciated w ith innovations in stone tool
technology, sp ecifically the making o f ground, pecked, and p olished stone tools and the advent o f
food production. Changes in stone tools w ere related to shifts in subsistence strategies. O ther
features o f the neolithic phase include the invention o f pottery, a greater degree o f sedentary living,
the em ergence o f sm all and relativ ely self-sufficient v illag e com m unities, and a d iv isio n o f labour
based on sex. V. G ordon C hilde coined the phrase neolithic revolution to highlight the enorm ous
significance o f these changes. This w as a gradual revolution, w hich took place several tim es in
different regions, w ith v aried features and results.

W hy D om estication?

After thousands and thousands o f years o f hunting and gathering, w hy d id som e groups o f people start
dom esticating anim als and plants? One o f the e a rlie st attem pts to answ er this question w as m ade by
V G ordon C hilde (1952), w ho suggested that environm ental changes at the end o f the P leistocene
w ere the im petus tow ards food production. C hilde argued that about 10,000 years ago, the clim ate in
parts o f W est A sia becam e d rier due to a northw ard shift o f the summer rains. This d esiccatio n (i.e.,
drying up) led to a concentration o f people, plants, and anim als close to w ater resources such as
rivers and oases. This enforced closeness eventually led to new relationships o f dependence
betw een humans, plants, and anim als, resulting in dom estication.
C h ild es theory w as questioned by R o b ert J. B raid w o o d (1960), w ho rejected the focus on
environm ental change as the crucial factor leading to agriculture. H e pointed out that environm ental
changes had occurred w ith in the P leistocene as w ell and had not led to agriculture. B raid w o o d
argued that dom estication took place in certain n u c le a r zo n e s, w hich supported a variety o f w ild
plants and anim als that had the potential for dom estication. In such areas, dom estication w as the
natural outcom e o f human experim entation and people getting to know their environm ent better. This
theory does not really explain the pressures or incentives that m ay have led to dom estication. There
is ethnographic evidence o f many hunting-gathering com m unities w ho know their environm ent v ery
w ell and are even aw are o f agriculture, but do not see the point o f practising it them selves. There
have to be good reasons for a community to rad ically change its w ay o f life.
B ra id w o o d s theory w as rejected by L ew is R. B inford (1968) on the grounds that it could not be
archaeologically tested, and that there are som e specific, concrete factors that can explain the
beginnings o f agriculture. B inford asserted that ethnographic evidence indicates that in areas w here
environm ent and population have rem ained constant, a stable balance betw een the human population
and food resources is achieved and people do not have to look for new sources or strategies o f
getting food. Such groups in fact tend to live at food consum ption levels far b elo w the resource
potential o f their environment. Two factors can u pset the balance betw een people and food: stress
produced by environm ental change or by dem ographic (population) growth. B inford identified tw o
kinds o f dem ographic stress internal dem ographic stress, w hich occurs w hen the num ber o f people
w ithin a community increase; and external dem ographic stress, caused by im m igration into an area
by people from another area.
In the context o f the origins o f agriculture, B inford em phasized external dem ographic stress. He
argued that at the end o f the P leistocene era, as a resu lt o f a rise in sea levels, people living along the
coasts m igrated to less populated inland areas. This upset the p e o p le -fo o d equilibrium in inland
areas and gave an im petus to the search for new strategies to increase food supplies. The p ro b lem is
that evidence o f a m igration o f peo p le from the w o rld s sea coasts to inland areas at the end o f the
Pleistocene is lacking. Internal dem ographic stress m ay have been a factor in upsetting the p e o p le -
food balance in som e areas, but a question that can be raised is: can w e really talk about o v er
population and food c ris is in tim es w hen human com m unities w ere sm all and resources abundant?
K ent Flannery (1969) shifted the focus from the search for an event that might have led to the
beginnings o f food production to the p ro c e ss o f food production itse lf and the adaptive advantages of
plant and anim al dom estication over foraging and hunting. H e distinguished tw o types o f food
procurem ent system s negative and positive feedback food procurem ent systems. N egative
feed b ack food procurem ent system s involve a balanced exploitation and use o f various food
resources w ithin an area and discourage any change. P ositive feed b ack system s are those in w hich
the productivity o f resources actually increases as a resu lt o f human interference and exploitation.
F lannery gives the exam ple o f the m aize plant: W hen people transplanted m aize from areas w ithin
its natural habitat to other areas, over tim e the plants responded to the process o f dom estication by a
series o f changes such as an increase in the size o f the cob and in the num ber o f grains. G enetic
changes resulting from the pro cess o f cro ss-fertilizatio n increased the productivity o f this resource,
and once people recognized this increased productivity, they turned m ore and m ore tow ards the
dom estication o f maize. This hypothesis explains w hy peo p le found agriculture m ore advantageous
than food gathering, but it does not explain w hy the initial experim ents in dom estication w ere m ade
in the first place.
R ecent studies have suggested that the key m ay in fact lie in environm ental change, although not the
sort suggested many years ago by C hilde. The extinction o f b ig game, w hich took place in E urope,
w as not re a lly a factor in zones o f early agriculture such as W est A sia. H ere, gazelles, w ild cattle,
onagers (w ild ass), deer, and w ild goats rem ained the m ain sources o f m eat during m uch o f the
Pleistocene as w ell as in the early H olocene. O n the other hand, w hat does seem to be relev an t is the
fact that in many parts o f the w o rld , the H olocene w as m arked by the onset o f a m ilder, w arm er,
w etter clim ate. Such changes m ay have led to an expansion o f the natural habitat area o f w ild cereals
that had the potential for dom estication. Perhaps it w as not an environm ental crisis but am elioration
that w as responsible for the beginnings o f dom estication.
G iven the lim itations o f the evidence and the fact that w e are looking at v ery slow , gradual
processes that m ust have v aried in pace and detail, w e m ay never be able to fully com prehend the
details o f the p ro cesses o f anim al and plant dom estication or identify the im pulses that lay behind
them. It should also be rem em bered that in the case o f com plex cultural processes, the
archaeological evidence often pro v id es little hard d ata on social and p olitical factors that may
have had an im portant ro le to play. M ore im portant than isolating a single factor responsible for the
origins o f dom estication is to try to track dow n the process as it unfolded in different regions. G iven
the v ariety in ecology and resources in the various centres o f early plant and anim al dom estication, it
is v ery p o ssib le that different factors m ay have b een involved in different parts o f the w orld.
fig u r e 3.1 th e e v o lu tio n o f maize from th e w ild g ra ss t e o sin t e ; th e number o f grains in th e cob
GRADUALLY INCREASED AND THE HUSKS EVENTUALLY BECAME ENCLOSURES FOR CORN EARS

The Identification o f D om estication and F ood P roduction in the A rchaeological R ecord

W hen w ild anim als or plants are dom esticated over long periods o f time, certain m orphological
changes (i.e., changes in their form) tend to take place. In the case o f anim als, early dom esticates
tend to be sm aller than their w ild counterparts (later, w hen conditions o f feeding and breeding reach
an optim al level, their size tends to increase). The face becom es shorter in relatio n to the cranium.
There are changes in dental structure teeth becom e sm aller, som e teeth (such as the prem olars and
third m olars) m ay disappear. H orns tend to reduce in size. D om esticated cattle have w eak m uscle
ridges and po o rly defined jo in t facets, w hile in the case o f draught anim als there is a strengthening of
certain m uscles. D om estication also leads to a shortening o f the anim als hair and changes in its
coloration.
M orphological changes o f the sort listed above appear only w hen dom estication has been
underw ay for a long tim e and w ill not be apparent in the early stages. F or exam ple, it has b een
estim ated that it took th ousands o f years o f dom estication for such changes to becom e apparent in the
case o f the horse, w hile they w ere faster in the case o f cattle, goats, and sheep. N evertheless, once
such changes m anifest them selves, it is usually p o ssib le for scientists to study the anim al bones and
teeth found at an archaeological site and to identify not only the anim al they represent, but also
w hether this anim al w as w ild or dom esticated. The task o f identifying the bones o f a dom esticated
variety o f an anim al is m ade easier i f bones o f w ild or transitional forms are also present at the site.
A p art from the d irect scientific analysis o f anim al bones, there are other w ays o f inferring anim al
dom estication. A nim als found outside their natural habitat for instance, m ountain goats found in the
plains suggest dom estication. A ge and sex ratios reflected in the faunal assem blage can also
provide im portant clues. In the w ild , the m ale-fem ale pro p o rtio n among anim als is 1:1. H ow ever,
w hen they are bred, m ales and castrates are k illed quite young and fem ales are k illed in o ld age.
These patterns can be identified in the faunal record.
Just as in the case o f anim als, w ild and dom esticated plant grains and seeds can also be
differentiated. U nder conditions o f dom estication, over a long p erio d o f time, plants undergo certain
m orphological changes. F or exam ple, the grains o f w ild w heat and b arley are larger than those o f
dom esticated varieties. W ild v arieties o f w heat and b arley have brittle ears and fragile spikes and
their ears b reak ap art im m ediately on reaching maturity. This is the natural w ay in w hich plants
maximize their seed d ispersal. In the case o f dom esticated w h eat and barley, on the other hand, the
ears b reak up only at the stage o f threshing. N o t all plants have an equally good chance o f surviving
or being recognized in the archaeological record. R oot crops such as potatoes and yams lack hard
parts and are therefore less likely to survive. Further, since they reproduce asexually, they do not
necessarily undergo significant genetic changes during the pro cess o f dom estication, and they may
have so many different v arieties that it is difficult to distinguish betw een w ild and dom esticated
ones.
D irect evidence o f plant dom estication can be obtained by a careful analysis o f grains or seeds
found at a site, esp ecially those that get carbonized due to contact w ith fire. E ven an analysis o f
im pressions o f grain or husk on lumps o f clay or pottery can help identify dom estication.
Indirect evidence o f anim al or plant dom estication can be inferred from art rem ains such as
representations o f peo p le capturing or tending anim als, harvesting grain, or processing food.
H ow ever, none o f these are conclusive. A nim al capture could indicate hunting, tending anim als
could reflect a stage o f anim al keeping, and harvesting grain and food processing are perfectly
com patible w ith a stage o f food collection. C ertain kinds o f artefacts and tools such as grinding
stones and sickles are som etim es taken as indicative o f p lant dom estication, but their evidence is not
conclusive. G rinding stones can be used to grind co llected w ild grain and sickles can be used to
reap w ild plants. E vidence from the natural sciences the analysis o f p o llen grains, m olluscs,
rem ains o f insects, etc. can indicate changes in land use and indirectly, the presence or absence o f
agriculture.
H ow ever, ascertaining the food-producing status o f a community is m ore difficult and subjective.
W hile som e sites give clear evidence o f the im portance o f anim al and/or plant dom estication in their
subsistence base, in many m ore cases, there is insufficient evidence to make an assessm ent. In fact,
in the Indian subcontinent, sites are often lab elled n eolithic sim ply on the b asis o f the presence o f
ground and p o lish ed stone tools.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

The analysis o f ancient plant remains

The study o f ancient p lant rem ains is know n as p a la e o b o ta n y or a rc h a e o b o ta n y . B otanical


rem ains from ancient sites often include m acro-botanical rem ains such as seeds or grains. These
can get p reserv ed through desiccation, w aterlogging, or charring. It is p o ssib le to co llect seeds
or grains m anually in the course o f an excavation. H ow ever, this can dam age them and sm aller
p ieces m ay be m issed. A m ore efficient m ethod is the use o f the flotation technique. T here are
different kinds o f flotation apparatuses, but the basic p rinciple in all o f them is the same. This
involves slo w ly and steadily pouring d ried carbonized plant m aterial along w ith its soil m atrix
into a liquid m edium such as w ater. The inorganic m aterial w ill sink to the bottom and the
carbonized seeds w ill float on the surface and can be retrieved. These are then co llected and
analysed under m icroscopes to determ ine w hat types o f plants they rep resen t and w hether these
w ere w ild or dom esticated.

P lant rem ains can also take the form o f m icro-botanical rem ains. Tiny p articles o f silica called
phytoliths are found in certain specific parts o f a plant (e.g., the root, stem, or flow er). T heir
reco v ery from a site can help differentiate betw een w ild and dom esticated species. A nalysis o f
plant parenchym a (soft tissue o f roundish, thin-w alled cells in a plant stem or in the pulp o f
fruits) can be used for a sim ilar purpose.

P alynology the analysis o f p o llen and spores is another im portant technique. P o llen are the
tiny reproductive bodies o f flow ering plants. T heir strong outer exine (shell) can survive in
certain kinds o f sedim ents for thousands o f years. Scientists can study p o llen grains under
m icroscopes and identify the plants they belong to. Changes in p o llen profiles in different
archaeological layers m ay suggest clim atic change, forest clearance, or agriculture.

T hese days, several new techniques are available, but these are so far used m ostly in the West.
For instance, it is p o ssib le to d irectly date tiny pieces o f squash seeds and m aize cobs through
the use o f accelerato r m ass spectrom etric (A M S) dating. D N A studies can identify the
chrom osom e structure in different plant genotypes. This can help estab lish links betw een
dom esticated and w ild species o f plants and identify the area w here w ild progenitors o f
dom esticated species w ere originally located.

FIGURE 3.2 A FLOTATIONAPPARATUS

The Transition to F ood Production in the Indian Subcontinent

The neolithic age is generally asso ciated w ith food production, pottery, and sedentary living. The
reality is m ore com plex. In the Indian subcontinent, the roots o f som e o f the features asso ciated w ith
the neolithic can be traced to the m esolithic phase. In the la st chapter, there w ere references to the
evidence o f pottery and anim al dom estication at certain m esolithic sites. O n the other hand, as w e
shall see, there are som e neolithic sites w ithout pottery. The issue o f sedentism (i.e., sedentary
living) is also com plex. A s w e have alread y seen, som e m esolithic hunter-gatherer com m unities led
a fairly sedentary life. A nd there w ere som e com m unities practising anim al and/or plant
dom estication w ho d id not live for v ery long in the sam e place. Further, instead o f thinking o f
sedentary and nom adic life as tw o alternatives, it is necessary to recognize different degrees o f
sedentism in the lifestyle o f various communities.
The beginnings o f anim al and p lant dom estication d id not m ean the end o f the hunting-gathering
w ay o f life. Com m unities that p ractised anim al rearing and agriculture usually continued to hunt and
forage for food. M oreover, there w ere numerous com m unities w ho retained their hunting-gathering
w ay o f life and never sw itched over to dom estication at all. This chapter, how ever, focuses on those
that d id make the transition. G iven the great ecological d iv ersity in different parts o f the subcontinent
esp ecially in clim ate, soil, and the av ailab ility o f plant and anim al species that could be
potentially dom esticated it is not surprising that the details o f the various adaptations m ade by
early pastoralists and agriculturists v a rie d quite a bit.
One reaso n w hy the title o f this chapter highlights the beginnings o f food production rather than the
neolithic is because food production is the m ost im portant asp ect o f the neolithic phase. Secondly,
the history o f early food-producing settlem ents in the subcontinent consists o f different regional
profiles and trajectories. In certain regions (e.g., the northern fringes o f the Vindhyas), the food-
producing neolithic culture em erged out o f an earlier m esolithic phase. In other areas (such as the
north-w est), there is no m esolithic phase and the e a rlie st settlem ents seem to belong to neolithic
agriculturists and pastoralists. A nother im portant point to note is that w hile there are som e pure
neolithic sites, there are many m ore n eo lith ic-ch alco lith ic cultures w hich have elem ents o f the
neolithic along w ith the use o f m etal (m ainly copper). In still other parts o f the subcontinent (such as
R ajasthan), there is so far little evidence o f a neolithic or even n eo lith ic-ch alco lith ic stage, and the
earliest sedentary com m unities app ear in a full-fledged chalcolithic context.
Since w e are dealing w ith a v ast expanse o f time, and in o rd er to convey the idea o f the com plex
and variegated cultural m osaic, in this book, the discussion o f food-producing ag ricu ltu ral-p asto ral
comm unities o f the subcontinent has b een d iv id ed into three overlapping phases: Phase I c. 7000
3000 BCE; Phase II c. 3 0 0 0 -2 0 0 0 BCE; and Phase III c. 2 0 0 0 -1 0 0 0 BCE onw ards. The first tw o
phases are discussed in this chapter, w hile the third w ill be discussed in C hapter 5 . In the case o f
sites w hich have a long cultural sequence, only the e a rlie st phases that fall w ithin the first tw o
chronological phases are d iscussed here; the later phases w ill be d iscussed in C hapter 5 . The
various geographical zones o f early food-producing com m unities are discussed in term s o f their
chronology, general features, and specific traits, against the background o f the cultural sequence o f
that p articular area (for site details, see C hakrabarti, 1999: 117-40; A llch in and A llchin, 1999: 97
127).

THE EARLIEST VILLAGE SETTLEMENTS IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT, C. 7 0 0 0 -3 0 0 0 BCE

Th e n o r t h - w e st

Several sites in B aluchistan illustrate the change from a sem i-nom adic pastoral life tow ards settled
agriculture. The o ld est and b est docum ented evidence com es from M ehrgarh (Jarrige et al., n.d.).
This site is located in the B o lan v alley in the northern p art o f the K achi plain, near the point w here
the riv e r em erges from the hills through the B o lan pass. The B o lan v a lle y w as an im portant link
betw een the Indus plains and the mountainous valleys o f north B aluchistan, and peo p le and anim als
must have m oved along this route from v ery early times. E xcavations at M ehrgarh rev ealed the
rem ains o f ancient settlem ents scattered over an area o f about 200 ha on a lo w mound and the
surrounding plain. Seven occupational levels w ere identified, giving striking evidence o f continuous
occupation and o f cultural continuity and change over many m illennia. The first six levels, i.e.,
Periods, are relev an t for us here.
P erio d s I and II at M ehrgarh are considered neolithic, even though there is a sm all amount o f
copper present. The rem ains o f P erio d I (su b -d iv id ed into P erio d s IA and IB) w ere located in an 11
m thick d ep o sit at the northern end o f the site, on the high bank o f the B o lan river. The chronology o f
this phase is som ew hat uncertain due to inconsistent rad io carb o n dates. The m ajority o f the dates fall
betw een 6000 and 5500 B P (c. 5000 BCE, calibrated). The p ro b lem is that although P erio d I seem s
to have lasted for a v ery long time, m ost o f the rad io carb o n dates for the m iddle levels o f P erio d IA
also fall w ithin the range o f 5800 and 5530 BP. Furtherm ore, the excavators point out that there are
also som e much e a rlie r rad io carb o n dates 9385 120 B P for P erio d IA; 7115 120 B P for P erio d
IIB; and 6500 80 B P for P erio d III. This series o f earlier dates has the advantage o f providing a
coherent chronological fram ew ork for the M ehrgarh neolithic sequence from the 8th to 6th m illennia
BCE.
The people o f P erio d I (this includes both P eriods IA and IB) liv ed in houses m ade o f handm ade
m ud-bricks w ith sm all, rectangular room s. One o f the room s at the lo w est levels o f P erio d I,
m easuring 2 x 1.8 m, had reed im pressions on the floor and a grinding stone. The bricks used for
house w alls w ere o f a standardized size, w ith distinctive rounded ends and finger im pressions on
their upper surface. Some o f the structures d iv id ed into sm all units m ay have been granaries.
The stone tools o f P erio d I included thousands o f m icroliths, m ost o f them b ased on blades. A few
ground neolithic handaxes (celts) w ere also found. Some o f the blades w ere set into w o o d en handles
w ith a thick layer o f bitum en and m ay have b een used as sickles to harv est grain. G rinding stones
indicate food processing. There w ere a few stone v essels and objects such as perforated discs and
spatulae incised w ith a criss-cro ss design. Bone tools, including needles and aw ls, w ere also found,
as w as a handm ade clay fem ale figurine. M ehrgarh I w as b asically a-ceram ic, i.e., it had no pottery;
the first few p ieces o f pottery ap p eared in P erio d IB.
The people o f P erio d I buried their dead in the open spaces betw een their houses. The bodies
w ere p laced in oval pits in a flexed (bent) position. The bones w ere often co v ered w ith red ochre,
suggesting som e sort o f fertility beliefs. In at least tw o burials, young goats had b een p laced near the
feet o f the body. G rave goods included bitum en-lined baskets and food offerings, and ornam ents such
as necklaces m ade o f stone or shell beads, bone pendants, and anklets. A copper b ead w as found in
one o f the burials. The occurrence o f turquoise and lapis lazuli beads is esp ecially interesting. The
lapis lazuli could have com e from the Chagai hills in north B aluchistan or from Afghanistan.
Turquoise could have com e from eastern Iran o r central A sia. The n earest source o f m arine shells is
the M akran coast, about 500 km away. The presence o f such items in the graves indicates that the
people o f M ehrgarh w ere engaged in som e amount o f long-distance exchange.
In P erio d IB, a graveyard consisting o f 150 burials covering over 220 sq m w as unearthed. The
burials w ere m ore elaborate than before. A sm all niche w as cut into one side o f a pit, and the body
and grave goods w ere p laced inside. The niche w as then sealed w ith a w all m ade o f m ud-brick,
after w hich the p it w as filled up. A few copper beads w ere found in the burials. There are some
instances o f double burials and also o f se c o n d a ry burials, w here the bones o f one or m ore people
w ere collected and buried after exposing the body to the elem ents. The significance o f these changes
in burial practices is unclear.
P erio d II at M ehrgarh, dated c. 6 0 0 0 -4 5 0 0 BCE, is d iv id ed into three sub-phases A , B, and C.
The size o f the settlem ent increased during this p erio d and there w ere several m ud-brick structures
divided into sm all cell-lik e com partm ents. Some o f these m ay have b een houses, but others m ay have
been used for storage. F o r instance, double row s o f sm all room s w ith a passage in betw een, w ith
barley seeds on the floors, m ay have been used to store grain. The stone and bone tool types o f
P eriod I continued. There w ere tw o sickles m ade o f m icroliths hafted onto a bitum en matrix. P.
Vaughans m icrow ear study o f stone tools found in an area o f P erio d IIA indicates that m ost o f them
w ere connected w ith the w orking o f anim al products activities such as butchery, cooking, hide
processing, and the making o f bone artefacts. Small amounts o f handm ade pottery occurred in the
early p art o f P erio d II and w heel-m ade pottery ap p eared in P erio d IIC. In P erio d IIB, a copper ring
and b ead and a sm all ingot o f copper w ere found. O ther finds o f P erio d II included an ivory tusk,
pieces o f red ochre, grinding stones, and a sm all unbaked clay figurine o f a m ale torso. T here w ere
two flexed burials, the bodies co v ered w ith red ochre, unaccom panied by any grave goods.
M ehrgarh III belongs to the second h a lf o f the 5th m illennium BCE and is chalcolithic. T here is
evidence o f a significant increase in craft activities, including larg e-scale production o f w heel-m ade
pottery w ith painted decorations, m arked by innovations and refinem ent in pottery-m aking
techniques. A pottery-m anufacturing area w as found, w here the bases o f three ovens w ere exposed
on top o f an accum ulation o f 6 m o f pottery debris. The frequent occurrence o f ornam ents such as
necklaces and bracelets m ade out o f tiny steatite beads indicate that b ead making w as another
im portant craft. There w ere also beads o f sem i-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, turquoise, and
agate, as w ell as o f terracotta and shell. Stone m icro -d rills m ay have b een used to make engravings
on shell. T here w ere a few terracotta hum ped bulls. T erracotta crucibles w ith traces o f copper
suggest the beginning o f metallurgy.
P erio d III had storage com plexes d iv id ed into com partm ents, sim ilar to those o f e a rlie r phases. A
large cem etery containing the burials o f about 99 peo p le show s changes in burial practices. The
niches w a lle d in by cigar-shaped bricks, know n in P erio d II, w ere absent. The heads o f som e o f the
skeletons w ere p laced on bricks. T here w as one collective burial w ith tw o w heel-m ade painted pots
as grave goods (pots are not found in any other burial). In another burial, a copper or bronze o b ject
that looks like a fragm ent o f a segm ented seal w as found near the skull. O rnam ents, m ostly m ade o f
steatite m icro-beads, occurred frequently am ong the grave goods. T here w ere also pendants o f lapis
lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, chrysoprase, agate, terracotta, and seashell.
The m ost rem arkable asp ect o f P eriods I-III is that they p ro v id e the e a rlie st and m ost
com prehensive evidence o f subsistence activities in the region, rev ealin g the transition from hunting
and food gathering to a heavy reliance on anim al dom estication and agriculture. Thousands o f plant
specim ens w ere collected in the course o f the M ehrgarh excavations. T hese included charred grains
and seeds as w ell as im pressions o f grain on m ud-brick. B arley seem s to have b een the m ost
im portant crop. In P erio d I, the predom inant type o f b arley w as six-row naked b arley (H ordeum
vulgare nudum ). T here w ere also other v arieties hulled six-row b arley (H ordeum vulgare
vulgare) and w ild and dom esticated hulled tw o -ro w b arley (H ordeum vulgare sp ontaneum and
H ordeum vulgare distichum ). The fact that w ild , transitional, and dom esticated v arieties o f barley
w ere found at the site proves that north B aluchistan fell w ithin the natural habitat zone o f w ild b arley
and that M ehrgarh w as p art o f a large nuclear area o f b arley dom estication.
figure 3.3 burial with stone blades, cores, and a celt as grave goods, mehrgarh , period I

W heat w as another im portant crop. G rains o f dom esticated hulled einkorn w heat (T riticum
m onococcum ), em m er w heat (T riticum diococcum ), and naked w heat (T riticum durum ) w ere found
in P erio d I. In later periods, a large pro p o rtio n o f the w heat grains belonged to the Triticum
sphaerococcum variety. W hether M ehrgarh fell w ithin the natural habitat zone o f w ild w heat is a
matter o f debate, as no clear evidence o f w ild w h eat has so far b een found in the area. B ut there is
no doubt that the people o f M ehrgarh w ere dom esticating this cereal.
Seeds o f b er (Z izyp h u s ju ju b e ) and dates (P hoenix d a ctylifera ) w ere also found in P erio d s I and
II. In P erio d II, in addition to b arley and w heat, there w ere numerous seeds o f cotton (G ossypium
sp.) found in a hearth. P erio d III show ed continuity w ith the earlier period, but also a d iv ersificatio n
o f agriculture. Two new v arieties o f w h eat (T riticum a estivu m com pactum , Triticum a estivu m
sphaerococcum ) and one o f b arley (H ordeum h exa stich u m ) and a new cereal oats (Avena sp.)
w ere identified. W heat had becom e m ore im portant than barley.
N o t much is know n about the methods o f cultivation p ractised by the neolithic and early
chalcolithic peo p le o f M ehrgarh. Farm ers m ust have re lie d on w inter rains and m ay have
channelized w ater into their fields by building mud or stone embankments sim ilar to the gab a rb a n d s
made in the region today. Stone sickles m ade by hafting tiny m icroliths onto w o o d en handles w ith
bitumen m ust have been used for harvesting grain.
N eolithic M ehrgarh gives clear evidence o f the transition from hunting to anim al dom estication.
The lo w er levels o f P erio d I w ere dom inated by the bones o f w ild anim als deer (m ostly gazelle,
but also som e blackbuck, sambar, and ch ita l), n ilgai, goat, onager (w ild ass), w ater buffalo, cattle,
pig, and perhaps elephant. There is also evidence o f dom esticated goats, and the decreasing size o f
sheep and cattle suggests that their dom estication too w as underway. B y the end o f P erio d I, the
frequency o f bones o f gazelles and other w ild anim als had d rastically decreased, w hile those o f
dom esticated cattle, goats, and sheep had greatly increased. C attle w ere now the m ost im portant
dom esticated animal. In P erio d III, cattle still dom inated, but there w as an increase in the pro p o rtio n
o f sheep and goat bones. Interestingly, P erio d III also show ed an increase in the num ber o f bones o f
w ild anim als, suggesting resurgence in hunting activity.
J. R. L ukacs study (1985) o f the human dental rem ains show s a lo w rate o f dental caries
(cavities) in the early levels. This m ay have b een due to the high fluoride levels in the drinking w ater
available in the area. O ther features o f the teeth suggest that people had a coarse diet. T here is
evidence o f tooth probing (p eople poking their teeth either to sooth p ain or p rise out food). D ental
health d eclined in P erio d III, and this m ay have b een due to changes in food habits, for instance, the
consum ption o f m ore refined foods.
The evidence from P erio d IV onw ards show s a further expansion o f the settlem ent, d iv ersificatio n
o f agriculture and crafts, and m ore and better decorated pottery. In P erio d IV, there w ere larger
structures, w ith room s separated from each other by w id e w alls and doors w ith w o o d en lintels. One
door, only 1.10 m high (people m ust have had to bend d ow n to go through) led into a ro o m cram m ed
w ith many objects such as stone flakes, blades, grinding stones, pestles, and many bones. O ther items
found in this room included a storage ja r, a crushed b asin w ith ridges and snake designs painted on
the inner side, fine goblets, and beautifully painted vessels. The pottery o f P erio d IV included
polychrom e w ares. A new style o f terracotta fem ale figurines w ith a tubular body, pinched nose, and
joined legs m ade its appearance. T here are continuities in pottery designs betw een P eriods IV and V
In P erio d VI, there w ere som e changes the appearance o f a red w are decorated w ith p ip a l leaves,
and a w e ll-fire d grey w are. This is also the tim e w hen sim ilar styles o f pottery began appearing in
various parts o f B aluchistan, suggesting an increase in interaction. A large pottery kiln w as found in
P eriod VI. A distinctive feature o f this p erio d are terracotta fem ale figurines w ith elaborate
hairstyles, heavy breasts, and jo in e d legs, w hich m ay have had a cultic significance. Several large
mounds in the K achi p la in m ay rep resen t unexplored sites contem porary to the later p erio d s o f
M ehrgarh.
The B o lan pass leads from M ehrgarh into the Q uetta valley, w here there are a num ber o f sites.
Today, farm ers o f this v alley com pensate for m eagre rainfall by using w ater d raw n from w ells and
stream s to irrigate their fields. K ile (also sp elt K ili) Gul M oham m ad and D am b S adaat are tw o o f
the im portant excavated sites in this area. K ile Gul M oham m ad is about 3.2 km from Q uetta city, on
the banks o f the H annah river. The mound is a sm all one about 90 x 55 m. W alter A. F airserv is
(1950) conducted a sm all excavation over a 3.5 sq m area up to a depth o f 11.14 m, reaching natural
soil. The excavation rev ealed four periods o f occupation K G M I, K G M II, K G M III, and K G M IV
R adiocarbon dates from the upper levels o f neolithic K G M I fall betw een c. 5000 and 4500 BCE, but
the beginning o f the settlem ent could go back to c. 5500 BCE, or even earlier. There w as no evidence
o f pottery at this stage. B ones o f dom esticated cattle, sheep, goat, and ass/horse w ere found. There
w ere no cereals, but tw o sickle blades w ere discovered.
The people o f K ile Gul M oham m ad may initially have b een nom adic pastoralists, but by the end
o f P erio d I, they w ere living in houses m ade o f mud or w attle-and-daub (interlaced rods and tw igs
plastered w ith mud). The artefacts included m icroliths and blades o f chert, jasp er, and chalcedony.
There w ere a few ground tools and bone points. H andm ade and basket-m arked pottery m ade its
appearance in K G M II. In K G M III, there w as w heel-m ade pottery, including a fine black-on-red
w are w ith geom etric designs painted on it. R em ains o f m ud-brick houses, som e resting on stone
foundations, have b een found. The first copper objects m ade their appearance in P erio d III.
The upperm ost level o f K ile Gul M oham m ad (K G M IV) w as contem porary w ith the first p erio d of
occupation at D am b S adaat (DS I), and there w as a b ro ad sim ilarity in their cultural rem ains. K G M
IV and DS I show ed a distinctive type o f pottery know n as K echi B eg W are after the site w here it
w as first found. This w as a w ell-fired , thin, buff-coloured pottery. The shapes included deep and
w ide vases, b o w ls, and ja rs. The pots w ere painted w ith geom etric designs in black, som etim es also
in red.
C alib rated dates for P erio d II o f D am b S adaat indicate c. 3000 BCE as its m idpoint. In this phase,
there w ere m ulti-room ed m ud-brick structures, many w ith lim estone blocks used in the foundations.
H earths for cooking, sim ilar to m odern tandoors, w ere found in houses. The pottery included a type
know n as Q uetta w are a buff-coloured w are decorated w ith b lack painted designs, w ith shapes
such as ja rs w ith flaring or straight rim s, sm all-m outhed b o w ls w ith a sharp angle betw een the
shoulder and base, and ja rs w ith pedestals. T here w as also a grey pottery know n as F aiz M oham m ad
G rey W are. This w as represented by shallow plates and deep, open b ow ls, painted w ith geom etric
and naturalistic designs. T erracotta objects included cattle figurines, som e painted w ith b lack
stripes, and fem ale figurines sim ilar to those found in M ehrgarh VI. There w ere also sm all terracotta
m odels o f houses, rattles, and seals. A copper/bronze blade o f a dagger or knife, a bone spatula, and
an alab aster v essel are other artefacts asso ciated w ith P erio d II at D am b Sadaat.
A n jira and Siah D am b in the K alat plateau w ere excavated by B eatrice de C ardi, the form er in
1948 and 1957, and the latter in 1957. F ive periods o f occupation w ere identified; the e a rlie st
occupation w as apparently contem poraneous w ith P erio d II at K ile Gul M ohammad. In the K alat
plateau, P erio d I represented a sem i-nom adic settlem ent, w ith no traces o f structures. The pottery
included a fine w heel-m ade b u ff w are, som etim es w ith a burnished red slip (coating). C hert blades
w ere also found. In P erio d II, there w ere mud structures m ade on stone boulder foundations. The
pottery included a red -slip p ed w are and a burnished grey w are. In P erio d III, the foundations o f
houses w ere m ade o f blocks o f stone cut into rough squares. The earlier pottery m ade w ay for Togau
w are, a red pottery w ith b lack painted designs. The m ain shapes w ere open bow ls, and designs o f
stylized ibexes, birds, and goats w ere painted on the interior, ju st under the rim. There w as also
another kind o f pottery (know n as Z ari w are) w ith paintings in w hite w ith b lack outlines. In P erio d
IV, the stone used for making houses w as p ro p erly d ressed into square blocks and there w as pottery
sim ilar to that found at N al. P erio d V o f the K alat sites has b een co -related w ith D am b S adaat III.
M undigak is located on a now dry tributary o f the A rghandab riv e r in south-east Afghanistan.
E xcavations at this site w ere carried out by J. M. C asal in the 1950s and 1960s. The dates for P eriod
I (w hich is d iv id ed into several sub-phases) fall w ithin c. 4 0 0 0 -3 5 0 0 BCE. The early settlers seem
to have been sem i-nom adic, as no structures w ere found in the lo w est levels o f P erio d I. In phase 4
o f P erio d I, there w ere sm all oblong cells w ith w alls m ade o f p ressed earth. In phase 5, there w ere
larger houses consisting o f square or oblong room s m ade o f sun-dried bricks. C ooking hearths w ere
initially situated outside the houses and later perhaps in the courtyards. T here w ere w ells in betw een
the houses. Pottery w as found throughout P erio d I and w as m ostly w heel-m ade. T here w ere bone
aw ls, alab aster vases, stone blades, and beads m ade o f stone, lapis lazuli, and frit (a calcined
mixture o f sand and fluxes). The few copper objects included a needle and a sm all bent blade. A
terracotta figurine o f a hum ped bull w as found in phase 3 o f P erio d I. P erio d II at M undigak gave
evidence o f plant rem ains club w heat (T riticum com pactum ) and ber, and there w ere bones o f
dom esticated cattle, sheep, and goats.
E xplorations in the Z h o b -L o ralai area o f B aluchistan have identified many early v illag e sites in
the plains o f the G om al, Zhob, A nam bar, and Thal rivers. Sur Jangal, D abar Kot, and R ana Ghundai
are three im portant sites in the A nam bar valley. The peo p le living at these sites m ust have been
practising som e form o f irrigation, otherw ise it is difficult to understand how they sustained
them selves. The early phase o f occupation at Sur Jangal seem s to be contem poraneous to K ile Gul
M oham mad IV P eople liv ed in sm all mud houses. The large quantities o f cattle bones indicate the
im portance o f cattle rearing. Some o f the pottery found at Sur Jangal w as decorated w ith painted
designs o f hum ped and hum pless cattle. T erracotta items included sm all house m odels. T here w ere
also goggle-eyed fem ale figurines, sim ilar to those found at other contem porary and slightly later
sites in the Zhob v alley (such as P eriano Ghundai and also at M ehgarh VI and D am b S adaat III).
These figurines have b een given the label Zhob m other g o d d ess, and are assum ed by som e scholars
to have had som e sort o f cultic significance.
R ana G hundai in the L oralai v alley w as excavated by B rig ad ier R oss in the 1930s and re
investigated by F airserv is in 1950. F ive occupational levels w ere identified. The calib rated dates
for P erio d I gave a range o f c. 4 5 0 0 -4 3 0 0 BCE, w hile those for the early levels o f P erio d III gave a
range o f c. 3 5 0 0 -3 1 0 0 BCE. P erio d I consisted o f a 4 m thick d ep o sit and seem s to rep resen t a
settlem ent o f a sem i-nom adic community. T races o f living surfaces and hearths w ere found, but there
w ere no w ell-d efin ed structural rem ains. A lm ost all the pottery w as handm ade and plain. There
w ere bones o f dom esticated cattle, sheep, and goat. Four teeth, either o f a horse or ass, w ere found.
B rigadier R oss, a veterinary officer, w as certain that they w ere horse teeth, but this has b een
contested by others. M icrolithic blades, bone points, and needles w ith eyes w ere other artefacts
found in P erio d I. In P erio d II, the typical pottery w as w heel m ade, w ith a b u ff to red surface.
D ecorations included friezes o f stylized hum ped bulls, and in one instance, blackbuck, all painted in
black. The m ain pottery forms w ere b o w ls or cups w ith a w id e shoulder, often w ith a ring base or
hollow pedestal. In P erio d III, there w ere som e changes in the style o f painted pottery.
In the v a lley o f the G om al riv e r (a tributary o f the Indus), there are several early sites in D era
Ismail K han district. O f these, G um la and R ahm an D heri have been excavated. G um la w as excavated
by a team from P eshaw ar U niversity in 1971. S ix cultural phases (i.e., p erio d s) w ere identified, the
first tw o o f w hich are o f interest to us here. P erio d I rev ealed a sm all settlement, ju s t a little over
0.40 ha in size. There w ere m icroliths, bones o f dom esticated cattle, hearths, and large community
ovens. P erio d I w as a-ceram ic; pottery m ade its appearance in P erio d II. Pots w ith a rough surface
w ere fo llo w ed by finer pottery painted w ith geom etric designs, cattle, and fish. T erracotta fem ale
figurines w ere also found. There w ere m icroliths and a few objects o f copper and bronze. Terracotta
objects included bangles, cart m odels, gamesmen, and cattle and fem ale figurines. There are
sim ilarities betw een som e o f the pottery designs and the fem ale figurines o f G um la and certain sites
in Turkm enistan in central A sia.
MAP 3.2 EARLY VILLAGE SETTLEMENTS IN THE NORTH-WEST

T here are several sites to the north o f G um la and R ahm an D heri. One o f them is Sheri K han
Tarakai, in the B annu basin, w here calib rated rad io carb o n dates gave a range o f c. 4 5 0 0 -3 0 0 0 BCE
for the e a rlie st levels. M any o f the houses here w ere m ade o f m ud-bricks b u ilt over stone
foundations. A rtefacts included ground celts, m icroliths, saddle querns and m ullers, ring stones, and
bone tools. T erracotta spindle-w horls and fem ale and bull figurines (som e painted) w ere found.
There w as evidence o f the cultivation o f barley. B ones o f sheep, goats, cattle, and buffalo w ere
found, as w ere freshw ater m olluscs and chank shells from the coast. T here w ere tw o m ain types o f
pottery. One w as a coarse handm ade pottery w ith a b lack slip on the outside and a burnished pinkish
buff to cream -slipped interior, w ith designs (including representations o f goats) painted on in b lack
or brow n. The body o f the other type o f pottery had a rusticated surface (i.e., roughened w ith a thick
slurry o f clay); som etim es the neck-and-shoulder p o rtion w ere left sm ooth and unroughened and
w ere decorated w ith painting.
In the northern p a rt o f the Punjab province o f Pakistan, the site o f Sarai K hola, lying on the edge of
the P o tw ar plateau, rev ealed a neolithic occupation going b ack to about the 4th m illennium BCE. The
site w as excavated in 1968-71 by the Pakistan A rchaeological D epartm ent. H ere, in P erio d I, there
w as a handm ade p la in red or b ro w n burnished pottery w ith m at im pressions on the base. There w ere
ground and p o lish ed stone celts, blades, m icroliths, and lots o f bone points. T erracotta w heels and
toy carts w ere also found.
The 5 ha site o f N al, located in the K hozdar area w hich links north and south Baluchistan, w as
first excavated in 1925. Some o f the structures d isco v ered here w ere m ade o f boulders from a
nearby riv erb ed , w hile others w ere m ade o f stone quarried from the nearby hills. Several burials
w ere found, m ost o f them fractional burials in pots, but there w ere also som e com plete skeletons
laid out in clearly defined and som etim es undefined graves. There w as one instance o f a child buried
in a grave consisting o f a sm all m ud-brick cham ber w ith grave goods including a bead necklace and
crystal pendant.
The typical N al pottery w as polychrom e and includes a v ariety o f shapes, many w ith disc b ases
ovoid, narrow -m outhed pots; carinated pots w ith a narrow mouth; alm ost straight-w alled ja rs; open
bow ls; carinated b o w ls w ith an inw ard-turning upper body; and canisters w ith a flat bottom and a
round, straight-edged mouth. G eom etric and naturalistic designs (including fish and ibex) w ere
painted onto the pots in blue, red, and/or yellow . The many artefacts found at N al included stone
balls, discs, ring stones and grinding stones; silv er foil; beads m ade o f agate, crystal, carnelian, lapis
lazuli, and paste; and cattle figurines. Several copper objects and an adze m ade o f copper alloyed
w ith nickel and lead w ere also found. There are no rad io carb o n dates from the site, but N al pottery
is considered contem poraneous w ith that o f P eriods I and II at D am b S adaat and P erio d IV o f A n jira
and Siah Damb.
N al-related sites are asso ciated w ith tw o types o f w ater m anagem ent systems. One w as the
building o f stone embankments across hill slopes to b lo ck soil w ash ed dow n by rains; crops w ere
grow n on such terraces after the rains w ere over. The second w as a system w h erein w ater that
accum ulated in low -lying basins w as channelized into fields through a system o f sm all dams and
canals.
K ulli in the K o lw a tract is a 12 ha site, only the upper levels o f w hich have b een excavated. H ere,
there w ere m ulti-room ed stone structures. The artefacts included stone querns and rubbing stones,
beads m ade o f sem i-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, agate, and carnelian, bone bangles, and a
sm all quantity o f copper, gold, and glass. The K ulli pottery is profusely ornam ented; a typical m otif
is cattle w ith an elongated body and large round eyes, usually set in a landscape. A nalogous rem ains
have b een found at the sites o f M ehi, N iai Buthi, A dam Buthi, N indow ari, and E dith Shahr. A dam
Buthi, dated 3 5 0 0 -3 0 0 0 BCE, is the e a rlie st o f these sites.
B ala K ot is a 2.8 ha site on the M akran co ast o f south Baluchistan, at the mouth o f the W indar
river. P erio d I represented a neolithic occupation dated from the late 5th to early 3rd m illennium
BCE. The houses w ere m ade o f m ud-bricks. Some o f the w heel-m ade pottery w as sim ilar to that
found at N al. M icroliths, terracotta figurines o f hum ped bulls, beads (o f stone, lapis lazuli, shell, and
paste), terracotta, shell, and bone artefacts, and a sm all num ber o f copper objects w ere found. There
is evidence o f the cultivation o f b arley and the dom estication o f cattle, sheep, and goats. The bones
o f buffalo, deer, pig, and hare w ere found. A p art from B ala Kot, there are other early v illag e sites in
the M akran area, such as M iri Q alat and Shahi Tump.
In the C holistan d esert o f B ahaw alpur, a num ber o f early v illag e settlem ents are located on the
alluvial p la in o f the G haggar-H akra river. This riv e r flow ed to the east o f the Indus, and although it
is now d ried up, it m ust once have been a mighty stream. The typical handm ade and w heel-m ade
pottery found at the e a rlie st settlem ents in this area included large and sm all v essels w ith a coating
o f mud m ixed w ith p ieces o f pottery ap p lied to the outer surface; thick and thin pottery w ith m ultiple
incised lines; and carinated or globular vases w ith a b lack slip on the exterior. These pots are known
as H akra w ares, and the sites w here they are found are know n as H akra w ares sites.
M. R. M ughals (1997) research in this area has rev ealed that the H akra settlem ents go b ack to the
m iddle o f the 4th m illennium BCE, i f not earlier. A s many as 99 H akra w ares sites have so far been
identified. They range from sm all settlem ents b elo w 5 ha to fairly large ones o f 2 0 -3 0 ha. A bout 52
per cent o f the sites seem to be cam p sites, w hile 45 p er cent app ear to rep resen t m ore perm anent
settlements. Some seem to have b een centres o f craft specialization. A rtefacts found at H akra w ares
sites include m icroliths, grinding stones, terracotta cattle figurines, bangles m ade o f shell and
terracotta, and p ieces o f copper. B its o f copper w ere found at V alw ali, a site w here 32 terracotta
figurines, including those o f the hum ped bull, w ere found.
H akra w ares have also been found outside the G haggar-H akra valley, for instance at Jalilp u r in the
Punjab plains o f Pakistan, near the left bank o f the R avi. P erio d I at this site gave evidence o f H akra
w ares in asso ciatio n w ith artefacts such as beads o f stone, gold, coral and sem i-precious stones,
chert blades, and bone points. T erracotta net sinkers (used to w eigh one end o f the fishing net to keep
it under w ater) indicate that fishing w as an im portant p art o f the subsistence base o f the people. Bone
rem ains o f sheep, goat, cattle, and gazelle w ere also found.
figure 3.4 nal pottery (after Hargreaves, 1929)

H arappa, on the banks o f the R avi, has given evidence o f an early p erio d designated the R avi
aspect o f the H akra phase, dated c. 3 5 0 0 /3 3 0 0 -2 8 0 0 BCE (M eadow and K enoyer, 2001). R em ains of
a sm all village w ith huts m ade o f w o o d en posts and w alls o f p lastered reeds w ere identified. Some
m ud-brick fragments o f w hat m ay have b een a kiln w ere found, but there w as no evidence o f mud-
brick structures. O ther artefacts included pottery, stone and bone tools, broken necklaces, terracotta
spindle w horls, steatite beads, and bangles m ade o f shell and terracotta. The m ost im portant
evidence w ere potsherds w ith pre-firing marks and post-firing graffiti representing the form ative
stage o f the H arappan script.
figure 3.5 kulli pottery from nindowari (after Casal , 1966)

P erio d IA at Kunal in H issar d istrict o f H aryana has also y ield ed H akra w ares. In the early level,
the settlem ent w as sm all (about 1 ha). Pottery designs in clu d ed p ip a l leaves and a bull w ith very
curved horns. A rtefacts included bone tools, m icro-blades m ade o f chalcedony, co p p er fishhooks
and arrow heads. P eople b u ilt their houses on an artificially raised area. H ouse floors w ere m ade by
digging a p it and paving it w ith ram m ed earth. The floors w ere b elo w ground level and w alls w ere
plastered w ith mud. P ost-holes around the circum ference show the p laces w here w o o d en posts
supported a w attle-and-daub superstructure. N o rad io carb o n dates are so far av ailab le from Kunal.
B hirrana is a recently excavated site in the Fatehabad d istrict o f H aryana (R ao et al., 2 0 0 4 -0 5 ).
P eriod IA belongs to the H akra w ares culture. P eople liv ed in shallow m ud-plastered p it dw ellings
varying from 34 to 58 cm in depth and 230 to 340 cm in diam eter. A p art from d w ellin g pits, pits
used for sacrifices or industrial activity and refuse pits w ere also identified. In addition to the
typical H akra w ares, there w ere other types o f pottery such as mud applique w are, incised w are, tan
slipped/chocolate slip p ed w are, b lack burnished w are, b ro w n on b u ff w are, bi-chrom e w ares,
black-and-red w are, and red w ares. The artefacts included beads o f carnelian, agate, jasp er, and
lapis lazuli; p la in and painted terracotta bangles; sling b alls o f sandstone and terracotta; an unbaked
triangular cake; a sandstone quern and pestle; a crucible; a clay hopscotch; and a chert b lad e and
bone point.

Th e Vn d h y a n frin g es a n d o t h e r a r e a s

The reaso n w hy so much detail has b een given about early agricultural villages in the north-w est is
because there is much m ore data about this zone com pared to other areas. H ow ever, another early
centre o f ag ricu ltu ral-p asto ral com m unities lay in the Vindhyan fringes in southern Uttar Pradesh,
w here over 40 neolithic sites have b een identified in the course o f explorations in the B elan, A dw a,
Son, Rihand, Ganga, L apari, and Paisuni rivers. N eolithic levels have b een identified at several
excavated sites such as K oldihw a, M ahagara, Pachoh, and Indari. The key issues are those o f dates
and w hether the rice rem ains that have been found at several sites belong to w ild or dom esticated
varieties.
The neolithic culture in this area em erged out o f a w ell-estab lish ed m esolithic phase. Some o f the
m esolithic features such as m icrolith blades and the range o f heavier stone tools continued, but there
are also im portant new features such as the dom estication o f cattle and the cultivation o f rice.
R eference w as m ade in the previous chapter to the disco v ery o f w ild rice at m esolithic levels at
Chopani M ando in the B elan valley. Recently, dom esticated rice has b een rep o rted from m esolithic
levels at D am dam a as w ell. The fact that w ild rice is found in the area even today show s that it fell
w ithin the natural habitat zone o f this cereal, and this explains the early dates for the dom estication
o f rice.

MAP 3.3 EARLY CENTRES OF AGRICULTURE IN THE SUBCONTINENT

K o ldihw a and M ahagara (both in A llah ab ad district, UP) are tw o im portant excavated sites,
located on the northern fringes o f the Vindhyas on the banks o f the B elan river. K oldihw a show ed
cultural continuity from the neolithic to the iron age. R em ains o f rice and im pressions o f rice husk
em bedded in p ieces o f burnt clay w ere found here at neolithic levels. The exam ination o f rice
im prints on pottery suggests that the peo p le w ere fam iliar both w ith w ild rice and cultivated rice
(O ryza sativa). O ther d isco v eries included stone blades, p o lish ed stone celts, m icroliths (m ostly
made on chert), querns and m ullers (used for grinding), and bone tools. The pottery w as handm ade
and consisted o f three v arieties net-m arked or cord-m arked pottery; a p lain red pottery; and a
black-and-red w are. D eep b o w ls and storage ja rs w ere the dom inant shapes. Some o f the red w are
show ed soot marks, suggesting that these pots m ay have b een used for cooking. There is currently a
debate about the dates o f the neolithic phase at K oldihw a. T hree o f the calib rated C -14 dates from
the site are early and fall betw een the 8th and 6th m illennium BCE (7 5 0 5 -7 0 3 3 , 6 1 9 0 -5 7 6 4 , 5432
5051), but the other dates are m uch later.
M ahagara on the right bank o f the B elan riv e r (not far from the m esolithic site o f C hopani M ando)
is another im portant neolithic site. F loors and post-holes asso ciated w ith 20 huts w ere identified
here. R eed or bam boo im pressions on clum ps o f mud suggest that hut w alls w ere m ade o f w attle and
daub. T here w ere neolithic stone blades, m icroliths, celts, querns, m ullers, and sling balls on floors.
Pottery, bone arrow heads, terracotta beads, and anim al bones w ere also found at the site. A n
interesting d isco v ery w as a cattle pen (about 12.5 * 7.5 m) located in the m iddle o f the settlement.
This w as irregular in plan, w ith a fence m arked by 20 post-holes and spaces left for at least three
openings. Inside the fenced area w ere clusters o f h o o f marks left by cattle o f different ages. The
number o f such marks suggests that about 4 0 -6 0 anim als m ay have b een penned here. R ow s o f h o o f
marks o f sheep or goats w ere also found outside the pen, near the huts, suggesting the frequent
movem ent o f anim als betw een the huts and the enclosure. A nim al bones included those o f cattle,
sheep, goat, horse, deer, and w ild boar, out o f w hich the first three seem to have b een dom esticated.
The botanical rem ains included rice husk em bedded in pottery. The bone and plant rem ains suggest
that peo p le hunted w ild anim als, co llected w ild plant food, and dom esticated plants and anim als.
The site o f K unjhun is in the Son v alley in Sidhi d istrict o f M adhya Pradesh, not far from
K oldihw a. The neolithic settlem ent here, w hich goes back to the 4th m illennium BCE, y ield ed w ild
and dom esticated rice. K unjhun seem s to have b een a factory site specializing in the making o f stone
artefacts. A rchaeologists identified several areas w here stone w as heated to im prove its colour and
w orkability and then m ade into blades.
Taken together, the evidence from K oldihw a and other sites in its vicinity suggests that the
northern fringes o f the Vindhyas constituted an early, independent centre o f rice dom estication. E arly
agricultural settlem ents also sp read into the central Ganga plain. This is indicated by recent
excavations (T iw ari et al., 2 0 0 1 -0 2 ) at L ahuradeva in Sant K ab ir N agar d istrict in eastern Uttar
Pradesh. The 220 * 140 m mound here stands about 4 m above the surrounding plain, surrounded by
a lake on three sides. The site rev ealed a five-fold cultural sequence from the neolithic to the early
centuries CE. N eolithic P erio d I w as sub-divided into P erio d s IA and IB. In P erio d IA, there w as a
cord-im pressed red w are and a black-and-red w are. The pots w ere m ostly handm ade, w ith a few
w heel-m ade specim ens. Small burnt clay p ieces show ed that p eople liv ed in w attle-and-daub
houses. The p lant rem ains included rice and a few w ild grasses. H usk marks o f rice w ere found
em bedded in the core o f several potsherds. The rice appears to be a dom esticated variety. The
calib rated dates for P erio d IA at L ahuradeva fall w ithin the late 6th and early 5th m illennia BCE.
A lthough the evidence is at the moment neither absolutely clear nor substantial, there is a
p ossibility that there w ere other zones in the Indian subcontinent w hich saw an early transition from
hunting-gathering to agriculture and pastoralism . In Ladakh, the neolithic site o f G iak has given a
rad io carb o n date belonging to the 6th m illennium BCE. H ow ever, nearby K iari does not go back
beyond c. 1000 BCE.
P o llen studies o f the salt lakes o f D idw ana, Lunkaransar, and Sam bhar in R ajasthan indicate a
m arked increase in cereal-type p o llen in this area in c. 7000 BCE. This, along w ith the d isco v ery o f
tiny charcoal pieces, m ay indirectly suggest the clearance o f forests and the beginning o f agriculture.
H ow ever, no food-producing sites o f such an early date have so far b een identified in the area.
C ereal p o llen in c. 8000 BCE contexts has also b een found in the N ilg iri hills in South India. In the
H orton plains o f central Sri Lanka, p o llen analysis suggests incipient cereal plant m anagem ent along
w ith slash-and-burn techniques o f cultivation in c. 17500 BP, and the cultivation o f oats and b arley
in c. 13000 BP.

NEOLITHIC, NEOLITHIC-CHALCOLITHIC, AND CHALCOLITHIC COMMUNITIES, C. 3 0 0 0 -2 0 0 0 BCE

D uring c. 3 0 0 0 -2 0 0 0 BCE, v illag e settlem ents sp read to new areas. It can be noted that these
settlem ents w ere roughly contem poraneous w ith the urban H arap p an civilization, w hich is the
subject o f the next chapter. The volum e o f inform ation for this p erio d is m ore substantial than for the
preceding m illennia, and certain distinctive characteristics o f the various geographical zones can
now be identified.

Th e n o r t h a n d n o r t h - w e st

In the K ashm ir valley, there are several neolithic sites near Srinagar and b etw een B aram ulla and
Anantnag. T hese include Burzahom, G ufkral, H ariparigom , Jayadeviudar, O lchibag, Pampur,
Panzgom, Sombur, T hajiw or, Begagund, W aztal, G urhom a Sangri, and D am odara. D uring the
Pleistocene era, the K ashm ir v alley w as a gigantic lake and the neolithic sites are located on the
remnants o f the ancient lake beds know n as karew as.
Burzahom, one o f the im portant excavated sites in this region, is located on a terrace o f karew a
clay above the flood p lain o f the Jhelum river, 16 km north-east o f Srinagar. The site offers a
beautiful v ie w o f green fields and the D al lake, w hich is only about 2 km away. B urzahom is a
K ashm iri w o rd m eaning p lace o f b irc h , and the d isco v ery o f burnt b irch in the excavations
indicates that b irch trees grew in the area in neolithic tim es as w ell. The site m ust have b een
surrounded by forests, w ith w ater close by, and the neolithic people m ust have cut dow n som e o f the
trees in order to estab lish their settlement.
The site w as d isco v ered in 1935 by de Terra and Paterson, w ho thought it belonged to the
H arappan civilization. Its real significance w as understood much later, w hen excavations w ere
carried out by the A rchaeological Survey o f India in 1960-71 under T. N. Khazanchi. T here are four
periods o f occupation at Burzahom. The first tw o are neolithic, the third m egalithic, and the fourth
early historical. P erio d I w as dated by the rad io carb o n method to before c. 2920 BCE.
A distinguishing feature o f P erio d I at B urzahom is the presence o f m ud-plastered p it dw ellings.
M ost o f the pits w ere round or oval, n arro w er at the top and w idening out tow ards the base. The
largest is 3.96 m deep, w ith a diam eter o f 2.74 m at the top and 4.57 m at the bottom. Post-holes
around the circum ference o f the pits at ground level show w here w o o d en poles w ould have
supported a ro o f m ade o f p inew ood thatched w ith birch. Some o f the deep er pits had a few steps, but
these d id not extend to the bottom, perhaps because this w ould have narro w ed the space too much.
Ladders may also have b een used to clim b in and out o f the deeper pits. C harcoal, ash, potsherds,
and hearths m ade o f stone or clay w ere found inside the pits. There w ere som e square and
rectangular p it cham bers too, about 1 m deep. One o f them m easured 6.4 * 7 m. Some o f the p it
cham bers had stone or clay hearths. It is interesting to note that the square/rectangular p it cham bers
w ere found in the centre o f the settlement, w hile the round/oval ones w ere at the periphery. C lose to
the living pits w ere sm aller storage pits w ith a 6 0 -9 1 cm diam eter, containing stone and bone tools
and anim al bones. Stone hearths near the mouths o f som e o f the d w ellin g pits suggest that peo p le also
lived in the open at ground level, p ro b ab ly during the w arm summers.

neolithic stone tools, burzahom

N e w D ir e c t io n s in r e s e a r c h

Did people actually live in the Burzahom pits?

Pits have b een found at neolithic levels at B urzahom and Gufkral in K ashm ir and at Loebanr III
and K alako-deray in the S w at valley. They have generally b een interpreted as w inter homes o f
neolithic people. The steps, ash, charcoal, and potsherds in them have b een cited as p ro o f o f the
fact that peo p le liv ed here. P it dw ellings are seen as a strategy adopted by neolithic people to
cope w ith the harsh K ashm ir w inter. It is presum ed that p eople m oved to the ground level in
summer.

Recently, this interpretation has been questioned by R. A. E. Conningham and T L. Sutherland on


the b asis o f a fresh analysis o f pits found at B ritish iron age sites. The B ritish iron age pits w ere
once considered dw ellings, but som e scholars have rejected this idea. Experim ents carried out
by P. J. R eynolds show ed that as soon as a fire w as lit inside such a pit, the atm osphere becam e
intolerably thick w ith smoke. It is also argued that the lighting o f fires inside the pits does not
n ecessarily indicate dom estic activities such as cooking or an attem pt to w arm the living space.
The firing o f pits could have been in order to prolong their life, to clear m ould or dam p, or to
speed up the drying o f the mud plaster. M oreover, i f the pits w ere d w ellin g units w here fires
w ere regularly lit, their sides should have b een b lack w ith soot, but this w as not the case. A n
alternative explanation o f the B ritish iron age pits is that they m ay have b een underground grain
storage units.

Conningham and Sutherland suggest that it m ay be tim e to reco n sid er the function o f the K ash m ir-
S w at pits as w ell. They argue that sites such as B urzahom m ay not have b een occupied all year
round, w ith people living in pits in the w inters and m oving to ground level in summer. They may
have b een o ccupied only during spring and summer, and abandoned during the w inter. A fter the
harvest, surplus grain could have b een stored and sealed in the underground pits. W hen w inter
set in, people m ay have m igrated to the less sev erely co ld areas o f the plains or the lo w er
valleys, leaving the sealed grain to be used for sow ing next spring.

W hile the m ajority opinion among scholars currently interprets the K ash m ir-S w at pits as
dw ellings, the hypothesis cited above show s how the sam e evidence can be interpreted in a
different way.

SOURCE Conningham and Sutherland, 1997

O ther finds o f P erio d I at B urzahom included ill-fired, handm ade, coarse pottery in grey, red,
brow n, and b u ff colours. The shapes included sim ple rim less b o w ls and bottle-shapes w ith flared
rims. M at im pressions on the b ase o f many o f the pots show ed that they w ere m ade on mats. The
stone tools included oval and oblong stone axes (som e pecked and ground), chisels, adzes, grinding
stones, ring stones, and m ace heads. A lso found w ere h arv esters distinctive rectangular stone
choppers or knives w ith tw o or m ore holes on the blunt side. B urzahom had a w e ll-d ev elo p ed bone
tool industry; artefacts such as points, harpoons, needles (w ith and w ithout eyes), aw ls (pro b ab ly for
stitching anim al skins), spear heads, daggers, and scrapers w ere found here. Tools w ere also m ade
from antlers. N o burials w ere found in P erio d I, suggesting that peo p le m ay have adopted som e other
method o f disposal o f the dead.
In P erio d II, the people o f B urzahom m oved out o f the pits and b u ilt houses on ground level. Some
pits w ere filled up w ith karew a soil, their surface p lastered w ith mud and co v ered w ith a thin layer
o f re d ochre. T hese form ed the floors o f huts m ade o f mud, m ud-brick, and timber. Several burials
w ere found in P erio d II, m ostly w ithin the habitation area. The dead w ere usually b uried under house
floors or in the com pounds, in oval pits p lastered w ith lime. B oth in h u m atio n and secondary burials
w ere practised. In the case o f secondary burials, the bones w ere som etim es covered w ith red ochre.
In the p rim a ry burials, the body w as p laced in a flexed position. A p art from the occasional beads
around the neck o f som e o f the bodies, there w ere usually no grave goods. H oles in one o f the skulls
gave evidence o f trepanning (boring holes in skulls). P erio d II at B urzahom continued till at least
c. 1700 BCE.
BURZAHOM: BONE TOOLS INCLUDING NEEDLEWITH EYE

BONE ARROWHEAD

PERFORATED HARVESTER

A n interesting feature o f P erio d II o f neolithic B urzahom is that humans w ere som etim es buried
along w ith w ild anim als such as deer, w olf, ibex, n ilg a i, snow leopard, and pig, and dom esticated
anim als such as cattle, buffalo, dog, sheep, and goat. The anim als m ay have b een k illed and buried
along w ith the d eceased humans or their m eat m ay have been p laced in the grave as p a rt o f the grave
goods. The interm ent o f dogs w ith humans suggests that pets w ere som etim es buried along w ith their
masters. There w ere also separate p it burials for anim als w ithin the habitation area. In one case, five
dogs w ere buried along w ith antlers.
FIGURE 3.6 BURZAHOMPOTTERY

A rtefacts from P erio d II included pottery, m ostly handmade. There w ere a few new shapes and a
black burnished pottery, w hich seem s to have been a deluxe w are. The shapes included d ish w ith
hollow stand, globular pots, ja rs , stems w ith triangular perforations, and a funnel-shaped vase. A
distinctive type in the b lack burnished w are is a high-necked ja r w ith a flaring rim , globular body,
and base, w ith oblique notches incised on the lo w er p art o f the neck. Stone and bone tools continued,
sim ilar to those o f P erio d I, but they w ere m ore numerous and had a better finish. The stone tools
included harvesters. A single copper arrow head w as found tow ards the end o f P erio d II. M icro w ear
analysis o f B urzahom neolithic tools (Pant, 1979) has show n that the tools w ere often re-ground and
re-shaped. Some o f the handaxes had clearly been used for cutting, chopping, and dressing w ood,
w hile others w ere p robably used for chopping meat. P ants study also show ed that the ring stones
functioned as m ace heads.
Two engraved stone slabs w ere found in B urzahom P erio d II. The engraving on one o f these is
indistinct. Its pattern has b een tentatively identified as a hut w ith a thatched conical roof, to the right
o f w hich is the hind p ortion o f som e so rt o f anim al, w hose tail can be seen clearly. The other
engraving is clearer (see p. 129). It covers an area o f 48 * 27 cm o f a stone slab and depicts a
hunting scene. A stag w ith large antlers is being p ierced from behind by a (fem ale?) hunter w ith a
long spear, w hile another hunter shoots an arro w at it from the front.
H unting and fishing w ere im portant parts o f the lives o f the neolithic peo p le o f Burzahom. This is
clear from the anim al bones, the engraved hunting scene, and the high percentage o f w eapons such as
spearheads, arrow heads, and harpoons. Initially, there w as no d irect evidence o f agriculture from the
site, and scholars interpreted harvesters, stone querns, flake knives, m ace heads, and seeds o f w ild
plants as indirect evidence o f som e level o f cultivation. H ow ever, m ore recently, an analysis o f
botanical rem ains from different strata o f P eriods I and II has p ro v id ed d irect evidence o f cultivated
w heat, barley, and lentils (L en s culinaris).
The distinctive features o f the K ashm ir neolithic include a w id e range o f stone and bone tools, p it
dw ellings, perforated h arv esters, and anim al burials. Some o f these features also occur at sites in
central A sia and China. A w heel-m ade red p ot containing 950 beautiful agate and carn elian beads
w as found in the early lev els o f P erio d II. A nother globular p ot had the painting o f w hat seem s to be
a horned deity, a m o tif w hich occurs at early H arappan levels at K ot D iji. This suggests some
contact betw een the neolithic com m unities o f B urzahom and the Indus area.

B urnished globular jar with long neck, burzahom


DECORATED STONE HARVESTER, GUFKRAL

The cultural sequence at Gufkral (41 km south-east o f Srinagar, near T ral) extends from the
neolithic to the historical period. P erio d I o f the sequence is neolithic and is d iv id ed into three sub
phases: P erio d IA, IB, and IC. There is a calib rated date o f 2 4 6 8 - 2139 BCE from P erio d IB, so
P eriod IA could go b ack to c. 3000 BCE or even earlier. A s at Burzahom, here too, in P erio d I, there
w ere p it dw ellings, circular or oval, w ide at the base and n arro w er above, varying in diam eter from
3.80 to 1.50 m at the top. The larger d w ellin g pits m ostly belonged to the e a rlie r phase and w ere
only 20 to 30 cm deep. The d w elling pits w ere surrounded by storage pits and hearths. Post-holes
around the pits and hearths indicated the p laces w here w ooden posts w ere erected to support a
superstructure o f grass and reed. The bases o f houses m ay have b een p lastered w ith mud to prevent
the entry o f w ater and snow. In the earlier d w ellin g pits o f P erio d IA, floors w ere p lastered w ith red
ochre paste. Some pits w ere subsequently enlarged, and there w ere also tw o-cham bered d w elling
pits. In the early p art o f P erio d IA, hearths w ere rectangular in shape, w hile in the later phase,
circular and rectangular hearths o f clay w ere found. Interestingly, no hearth or fireplace w as found
inside the d w ellin g pits.
P erio d IA at Gufkral w as a-ceram ic. The finds included p olished stone tools and a large quern
w ith ochre paste sticking to the d ep ressio n in the m iddle. T here w ere tools m ade o f bone and horn,
including sm all arrow heads and a bone needle w ith an eye. In m ost cases, the tips o f bone tools w ere
charred to strengthen the w orking edge. O ther artefacts include steatite beads and a broken terracotta
m arble. B ones o f w ild anim als sheep, goat, cattle, red deer, H im alayan ib ex (a w ild goat), w olf,
and bear w ere found. There w ere also som e bones o f dom esticated sheep and goats. The peo p le o f
Gufkral w ere clearly h eavily dependent on hunting, but w ere beginning to dom esticate certain
anim als. P lant rem ains included barley, w heat, and lentils.
The first pottery at Gufkral ap p eared in P erio d IB. It w as handm ade and m ostly grey (there w ere a
few red pots), w ith m at im pressions on the base. B ig ja rs , bow ls, and basins w ere the com m on
shapes. The p it dw ellings disappeared. A 5 -7 cm thick com pact clay floor m ixed w ith lim e w as
found extending over the excavated area. There w as also a mud and rubble w all and another com pact
70 cm w id e w all-lik e structure. P olished stone tools, as w ell as bone tools, continued.
B ones o f red deer, ibex, bear, sheep, goats, cattle, and fow l occurred in P erio d IB. M any bones
had sharp cut marks on them. The pro p o rtio n o f w o lf bones d ecreased and those o f dogs increased.
The anim al bones indicate that although hunting rem ained im portant, there w as a significant increase
in the dom estication o f sheep, goats, and cattle. The grains o f P erio d IA continued into IB, w ith the
addition o f the com m on p ea (P isum arvense). The presence o f large quantities o f charcoal and
charred w o o d p ieces indicated the occurrence o f an extensive fire. A rad io carb o n date from P erio d
IB gave a range o f 2 4 6 8 -2 1 3 9 BCE.
The upper levels o f P erio d IC at Gufkral w ere dated c. 1 6 2 0 -1 3 0 0 BCE, so the beginning o f this
period can be p laced in c. 2000 BCE. In this phase, there w ere many refuse pits and dumps. W heel-
made pots ap p eared and included grey, burnished grey, red, and b lack w ares. T here w ere new
shapes like long-necked ja rs and dish-on-stand w ith triangular p erforated designs on the stem. There
w ere stone querns, pounders, and double-holed harvesters. O nly one neolithic celt w as found. Stone
and terracotta spindle w horls w ith large holes suggest the w eaving o f w o o llen cloth. There w ere
terracotta bangles and potsherds w ith graffiti marks. One copper h airp in w ith a flattened spiral head
w as discovered. The larg est num ber o f bone tools w ere found in this period. A nim al bones included
those o f dom esticated sheep, goat, cattle, pig, and dog. There w ere also bones o f fish, hare, rodents,
hedgehog, and beaver. A ll the grains o f P erio d IB continued in this period. Hunting continued to
decline in im portance and the scale o f anim al breeding correspondingly increased.
T here are som e sim ilarities b etw een the neolithic sites o f K ashm ir and those in the S w at v alley in
north Pakistan. The archaeological sequence in the G haligai cave in the S w at v alley m ay go back to
c. 3000 BCE. H ere, at the lo w e st levels, there w as coarse handm ade pottery. Some pots had a slip
and others a burnished interior. P ebble tools and bone points w ere also found. A lthough there are
some sim ilarities w ith the pottery types found at B urzahom P erio d I, p o lish ed stone tools are absent
in the G haligai cave.
A num ber o f grave sites have been explored in the S w at valley. T hese include Loe-banr,
A ligram a, B irkot Ghundai, K herari, L al-batai, Tim argarha, B alam bat, K alako-deray, and Z a rif
Karuna. Various kinds o f burials have b een identified flexed burials, crem ation, urn burials,
fractional burials, and m ultiple burials. Loebanr III and A ligram a have given evidence o f w heat and
barley. R ice, lentils, and field or com m on pea w ere found at L oebanr III, and a grape seed (V itis
vin ifera ) w as also identified. R em ains o f pit-dw ellings, som e w hich m ust have had thatched roofs
on w o o d en superstructures, w ere found at L oebanr III and K alako-deray. Jade beads found at the
form er site suggest exchange w ith central A sia.
Surface finds o f neolithic axes, chisels, and ring stones occur at sites such as Ror, B aroli, and
D ehra G opipur in the K angra d istrict o f H im achal Pradesh. T hese tools w ere found along w ith
choppers and flake tools, but the dates o f the neolithic context in this area are uncertain.

Ra j a s t h a n

In the areas o f R ajasthan, M alw a, and the northern D eccan, the beginnings o f settled life are
associated w ith a chalcolithic rather than a neolithic phase. R eference w as m ade in the previous
chapter to B agor in eastern R ajasthan; this site show s a transition from the hunting-gathering
m esolithic phase to a chalcolithic and then an iron age phase. M uch m ore substantial evidence o f
early sedentary chalcolithic sites com es from areas ric h in copper ores. C opper ores occur in many
parts o f India R ajasthan, G ujarat, Bihar, U ttar Pradesh, and A ndhra Pradesh, but the rich est mines
are in Rajasthan, G ujarat, and Bihar. There is evidence o f the use o f copper in certain parts o f the
subcontinent from about 3000 BCE onw ards.
M any o f the protohistoric cultures discussed in this and the subsequent sections are nam ed after
sites w here they w ere first discovered. A rchaeological cultures are also som etim es nam ed after a
pottery type. This does not m ean that this is the on ly pottery type that occurs, sim ply that it is a
d iagnostic type. C ultures can also be nam ed after the region in w hich they are concentrated. This
does not n ecessarily m ean that their sites are not found outside that p articular area. F or instance,
M alw a culture sites are also found outside M alw a in M aharashtra. Sim ilarly, som e A har culture
sites are found in M alw a, outside their nuclear zone in south-east Rajasthan. T hese are all
a rchaeological cultures, sharing a range o f asso ciated m aterial rem ains. W hat else they shared, aparl
from m aterial culture, is a m atter o f interpretation.

MAP 3.4 THREE MAJOR CHALCOLITHIC SITES OF RAJASTHAN

The G anesh w ar-Jo d h p u ra culture w as located in the north-eastern p art o f R ajasthan. O ver 80 sites
o f this culture have so far b een identified. The larg est concentration is in Sikar district, but sites also
occur in neighbouring Jaipur and Jhunjhunu districts. The site concentration can be connected w ith
the copper ore resources o f the B alesh w ar and K hetri areas, w here traces o f ancient copper w orking
have b een found. The A har culture w as located in the south-eastern p a rt o f Rajasthan. The profiles of
these sites show that they w ere p art o f an im portant p ro cess o f m etallurgical grow th in R ajasthan, the
roots o f w hich go b ack to the 4th m illennium BCE.
Jodhpura, on the banks o f the Sahibi river, is the first site w here evidence o f the G a n esh w ar-
Jodhpura culture w as identified. The typical pottery here is w heel-m ade, orange to red in colour,
w ith incised designs. Shapes include dish-on-stand w ith a thick slip. The calib rated dates from
Jodhpura range betw een 3 3 0 9 -2 7 0 9 BCE and 2 8 7 9 -2 3 4 8 BCE.
P ottery sim ilar to that found at Jodhpura w as later d isco v ered at G aneshw ar, near N im -ka-Thana.
There are three cultural phases at G aneshw ar. The dates for P erio d I are from c. 3800 BCE onw ards,
P eriod II from c. 2800 BCE, and P erio d III from c. 2000 BCE. P erio d I reflects a hunting-gathering
community using m icroliths m ade o f chert and quartz. C harred bones, alm ost all belonging to w ild
anim als, w ere found. The lo w er levels o f P erio d I show ed a predom inance o f bones o f sm all
anim als, w hile the higher levels w ere dom inated by those o f larger anim als. P erio d II w as m arked by
the beginning o f metallurgy. A few copper objects w ere found five arrow heads, three fishhooks,
one spearhead, and one aw l. P eople liv ed in circu lar huts w ith floors pav ed w ith p ebbles and rock
fragments. There w ere lots o f m icroliths and anim al bones. B oth handm ade and w heel-m ade pottery
w as found. There w as a profusion o f G anesh w ar-Jo d h p u ra w are, a p o o rly fired pottery m ade o f
m icaceous clay, w ith a bright red slip. There w ere also a few pots m ade o f w ell-fired , w ell-
levigated clay. P erio d III had a w id e range o f pots. H undreds o f copper objects o f different types
arrow heads, spearheads, celts, chisels, rings, bangles, balls, etc. dom inated the assem blage, w ith a
corresponding decline in the num ber o f m icroliths and anim al bones.
Strangely enough, the reports on G aneshw ar do not m ention any d irect evidence o f copper
sm elting (furnaces, crucibles, etc.). B ut the hundreds o f copper objects found at this sm all 1 .2 -1 .6 ha
site suggest that it had em erged as a copper-w orking centre and that its people w ere supplying these
items to com m unities elsew here. There are sim ilarities betw een the w heel-m ade pottery o f
G aneshw ar P erio d II and early H arap p an pottery. The early H arappans m ay have b een obtaining
their copper from here. This site m ay also have been one o f the m ajor suppliers o f copper to the
mature H arappan culture. H arap p an pottery w as found on the surface at tw o G aneshw ar culture
sites. A t G aneshw ar itself, there is a reserv ed slip w are w hich is only found in the H arap p an context
at B anaw ali and a few other places. D ouble sp iral-h ead ed pins from G aneshw ar have been found at
some H arappan sites. A ll this suggests cultural contact betw een the G aneshw ar and H arappan
cultures.
In south-east R ajasthan, over 90 sites o f the A har or B anas culture have b een identified in the
Banas and B erach riv e r systems, roughly betw een U daipur and Jaipur. Some sites also occur in the
M alw a plateau o f M adhya Pradesh. Ahar, G ilund, and B alathal are the three excavated sites. A har
w as excavated in 1 9 5 3 -5 4 and 196 1 -6 2 , G ilund in 195 9 -6 0 , and B alathal in 1994-98. The typical
Ahar pottery is a black-and-red w are w ith linear and dotted designs painted on in white. A har
culture sites tend to be located along riv e r banks and generally range in size from a few ha to over
10 ha. H ow ever, A har itse lf is at least 11 ha and G ilund is about 10.5 ha. M any o f the sites w ere
located w ithin 8 -1 7 km o f each other.
A har is located on the outskirts o f U daipur. P erio d I is d iv id ed into three phases Ia, Ib, and Ic.
The e a rlie st calib rated dates for these three phases are c. 2500 BCE, 2100 BCE, and 1900 BCE.
Fifteen building phases w ere identified in P erio d I. O rdinary houses w ere m ade o f mud and rested
on stone foundations. W alls w ere strengthened by bam boo screens or quartz nodules, and roofs w ere
probably sloping. F loors w ere m ade o f b lack clay m ixed w ith y ello w silt, som etim es pav ed w ith
gravel from the riverbed. N o com plete house p lan w as exposed, but there w ere vestiges o f a house,
about 10.31 m long, partitioned o ff by a mud w all. M ultiple-m outhed ovens w ere also found.
A rtefacts included m icroliths. T here w ere plenty o f copper objects rings, bangles, antim ony rods, a
knife blade, and four socketless axes. C opper sheet and slag indicated that copper w as sm elted
locally. S addle querns and beads o f sem i-precious stones (including one m ade o f lapis lazuli) and
terracotta beads or spindle w horls w ere discovered. R ice grains and bones o f cow , buffalo, goat,
sheep, deer, p ig fish, turtle, and fow l w ere identified.

MAP 3.5 AHAR CULTURE SITES, RAJASTHAN

A n iron ring and nail occurred in P eriod Ib at A har, and iron objects (arrow head, chisel, peg, and
socket) are quite com m on in P erio d Ic. W hether the levels at w hich these artefacts w ere found w ere
intact or disturbed is a subject o f debate. There is every p o ssib ility that this constitutes one o f the
earliest occurrences o f iron in the subcontinent.
The d isco v eries at G ilund w ere bro ad ly sim ilar to those at Ahar. The structural rem ains included
a m ud-brick com plex, m easuring about 30.48 x 24.38 m, and p art o f a w all m ade o f burnt bricks
resting on a foundation o f stone rubble. Storage pits w ere also found. The artefacts included
m icroliths, fragments o f copper, and beads o f sem iprecious stones. T here w ere terracotta gam esm en
and figurines o f anim als, including hum ped bulls w ith long horns.
B alathal in U daipur d istrict is an im portant A har culture site. The first phase o f occupation
(P eriod I) is relevant here. The size o f the site w as about 2 ha. In the early phase o f P erio d I, there
w ere rem ains o f sm all, circu lar w attle-and-daub huts w ith m ud-plastered floors and tw o p lastered
storage pits. In the later phase, a striking disco v ery w as the rem ains o f a m assive mud fortification
w all in the centre o f the mound. The w all w as reinforced in p laces w ith stone and there w as clear
evidence o f bastions. The w id th o f the w alls ranged from 4.80 m to over 5.0 m, and the fortifications
enclosed an area o f over 500 sq m. A street (ranging from 2 to 4.8 m in w idth) running north-w est to
south-east, along w ith a sm all lane, w ere also exposed. In the second phase o f P erio d I, the houses
w ere larger rectangular units m ade o f mud, m ud-bricks, and stone, resting on stone foundations.
Three m ulti-room ed structural com plexes w ere d iscovered, w ithin w hich kitchens and storage areas
w ere identified. Two p o tters kilns w ere also found.
The B alathal pottery w as o f many different types. It included thin red, tan, black-and-red, and
buff-coloured pots. There w as also a reserv e slip w are, in w hich the pots w ere first treated w ith a
thin red w ash and then w ith a thick dark red slip, on w hich designs w ere m ade w ith a com b-like
instrum ent w hile the slip w as still wet. The thick, coarse w ares included a red -slip p ed w are, plain
red w are, burnished grey w are, and p la in grey w are. There w ere v ery few stone m icroliths or
blades. Lots o f copper artefacts w ere found choppers, knives, razors, chisels, and b arb ed and
tanged arrow heads. There w ere also bone tools such as points and scrapers; stone querns, grinders,
and hamm er stones; and terracotta b alls and stylized figurines o f bulls and sheep. Ornaments
included necklaces m ade o f terracotta, steatite, faience, and sem iprecious stones like carnelian,
agate, and jasp er. There w ere also bangles o f copper, shell, and terracotta.
The large quantity o f anim al bones found at B alathal included those o f gaur, nilg a i, chausingha,
blackbuck, fow l, peafow l, turtle, fish, and m olluscan shells. W ild anim als accounted for only 5 per
cent o f the bones. M uch m ore numerous w ere bones o f dom esticated cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat, and
pig. C attle bones constituted alm ost 73 per cent o f the faunal rem ains. The plant rem ains included
w heat, barley, at least tw o v arieties o f m illet, b lack gram, green gram (m oong), pea, linseed, and
fruit such as ju ju b e (ber). C ereals and lentils seem to have been grow n in large quantities and stored
in storage bins, o f w hich several have b een found. G rain w as ground into flour on stone querns, and
the b read w as p ro b ab ly cooked on handm ade flat pans (taw as) on u-shaped chulhas, sim ilar to those
used in the v illag e even today. C alibrated dates indicate that the protohistoric settlem ent at B alathal
goes b ack to the late 4th m illennium BCE. This w o u ld make it contem porary w ith the early H arappan
phase at K ot D iji and as early as the Jo d h p u ra-G an esh w ar culture o f north-east Rajasthan.
Sites o f the A har culture show the use o f a great variety o f raw m aterials including steatite, shell,
agate, jasp er, carnelian, lapis lazuli, copper, and bronze. A lthough the shell objects w ere lo cally
made, the shell its e lf m ust have com e from the G ujarat coast. The d isco v ery o f etched carnelian
beads, a lapis lazuli bead, and Rangpur-type lustrous red w are in A har P erio d IC suggest a
connection w ith H arap p an sites in G ujarat.

THE MALWA REGION

Stone celts d isco v ered in various parts o f central India m ay belong to a neolithic context, but the
evidence has not b een adequately studied. T here is, how ever, a good deal o f evidence concerning the
sequence o f chalcolithic farm ing cultures in the M alw a region, beginning w ith the K ayatha culture,
follow ed by the A har culture, and then the M alw a culture. C alibrated rad io carb o n dates place the
K ayatha culture in the second h a lf o f the 3rd m illennium BCE. This culture gets its name from the site
o f K ayatha in U jjain district, on the banks o f the Chhoti K ali Sindh, a tributary o f the K ali Sindh,
w hich is in turn a tributary o f the Cham bal river.
T hree types o f pottery have b een found at K ayatha culture sites. The typical K ayatha pottery is a
fine, sturdy, w heel-m ade w are. It has a thick b ro w n slip, usually from lip to shoulder, and som etim es
up to the base. L inear designs are painted on in v io le t or deep red only on the upper p art o f the
vessel, esp ecially on the rim. The shapes include b o w ls and basins, vases w ith a globular profile
and concave neck, and large storage ja rs. O ther kinds o f pottery asso ciated w ith K ayatha w are
include a b u ff w are w ith a thin, fine fabric and linear and geom etric designs painted on in red. The
shapes are rather lim ited and include lotas, high and short concave-necked ja rs , and basins. Thirdly,
there is a red com bed w a re w ith a fine fabric, usually w ithout any slip or w ash. It is decorated with
m ultiple w av y and zigzag lines m ade w ith som e kind o f com b-like instrument. The shapes consist
only o f b o w ls and basins.
A s the K ayatha excavations w ere restricted in scope, no com plete house plans w ere uncovered.
But houses w ere apparently m ade o f mud and reed w ith m ud-plastered floors. The bones o f
dom esticated cattle and horses w ere found, and the people seem to have eaten tortoises. N o grain
rem ains w ere identified. There w as a ric h rep erto ire o f stone and copper artefacts. The stone tools
included plenty o f m icroliths (blades, points, lunates, etc.) m ade out o f lo cally av ailab le chalcedony.
A m ace head or ring stone m ay have b een used as an agricultural im plem ent for turning soil. The
people w ere w ell v e rsed in copper technology. T here w ere tw o copper axes cast in moulds, a
fragm entary chisel, and 28 copper bangles found in tw o pots. Two beautiful necklaces m ade o f agate
and carn elian beads (and one faceted crystal) w ere d isco v ered in tw o pots one consisting o f 175,
the other o f 160 beads. A nother p ot contained 40,000 steatite m icro-beads, strung in threads. The
copper axes, bangles, and necklaces w ere all found in a sm all area o f w hat m ust have been a house.
It seem s that the people who liv ed here had to leave suddenly, abandoning their v aluable possessions
on the floor.
K ayatha w are is sim ilar in som e respects to early H arap p an pottery, and there is also a sim ilarity
in the steatite m icro-beads o f these tw o cultures. The axes found at K ayatha have indentation marks
that are sim ilar to those found on G aneshw ar specim ens, and it is quite p o ssib le that they cam e from
G aneshwar. A ll this suggests connections, w hose p recise nature is difficult to determ ine. There w as
an abrupt b reak in occupation at K ayatha in about 1800 BCE, and the site rem ained deserted for about
a century. W hen reoccupied, it represented an A har/B anas culture phase.

Th e w e s t e r n D e c c a n

The e a rlie st farm ing culture in the w estern D eccan is the S avalda culture, nam ed after the site o f this
name in the Tapi valley. This culture goes back to the 3rd m illennium BCE, and its sites are found
betw een the Tapi and G odavari riv ers in north M aharashtra. The typical S avalda w are is a w heel-
made chocolate-coloured pottery, o f m edium to coarse fabric, w ith a thick, crackled slip. The variety
o f shapes includes the high-necked ja r, dish, dish-on-stand, bow l, basin, ring stand, vase, beaker, and
knobbed lid. A rem arkable asp ect o f S avalda pottery is that the designs painted over the thick,
crackled slip include tools, w eapons, and geom etric motifs.
K aothe is a site belonging to the S avalda culture. It is a 20 ha site, and the shallow 50 cm thick
d eposit suggests a short-duration, nom adic occupation. The houses seem to have b een round or oval,
w ith a sloping roof. M any bone tools and beads m ade o f shell, opal, carnelian, and terracotta w ere
found. B ones o f w ild deer and dom esticated cattle, buffalo, sheep/goat, and dog w ere identified.
Plant rem ains included a v ariety o f m illet and tw o kinds o f pulses gram and m oong. The pottery
consisted o f a sturdy w are w ith geom etric and naturalistic designs.
D aim abad on the banks o f the P rav ara riv e r (a tributary o f the G odavari) in A hm ednagar district
o f M aharashtra also has a S avalda culture phase. The evidence here d id not indicate a sem i-nom adic
community. There w ere mud houses, som e large and m ulti-room ed, w ith hearths, storage pits, and
jars. Som etim es there w ere courtyards in front, and a lane has been traced in one place. The
excavations y ield ed m icroliths, bone and stone artefacts, and a few beads o f shell, carnelian,
steatite, and terracotta. A phallus-shaped o b ject m ade o f agate w as found inside a house. Plant
rem ains included w heat, barley, pea, lentil, b lack gram, and green gram.

Th e m id d l e Ga n g a p l a in a n d e a s t e r n India

In a previous section, reference w as m ade to early evidence o f food-producing settlem ents in the
northern Vindhyan fringes at K oldihw a, M ahagara, and Kunjhun, and in the m iddle G anga v alley at
Lahuradeva. Sites o f a subsequent p erio d have been found in the Sarayupara p lain in the north
eastern p art o f U ttar Pradesh. This is p art o f the m iddle G anga plain, bound on the south and w e st by
the G hagara and on the east by the G andak, extending up to the foothills o f the H im alayas. A n
im portant site in this area is Sohagaura in the B ansgaon su b -d iv isio n o f G orakhpur district, at the
confluence o f the R apti and A m i rivers. The v illag e lies on a mound about 60 ha in area. Excavations
in the 1960s and 1970s brought out a six-fold cultural sequence at Sohagaura, ranging from the
neolithic (P erio d I) to the m edieval (P erio d VI). The rem ains o f P erio d I included sm all p ieces o f
ill-fired, handm ade pottery w ith a coarse or m edium fabric, m ost o f the sherds either rusticated or
cord im pressed.
T here are several neolithic and neolithic-chalcolithic sites in the alluvial plains o f north Bihar.
Five have b een excavated Chirand, Senuar, C hechar-K utubpur, M aner, and Taradih. A ll these sites
m ark 3rd/2nd m illennium BCE villag es located on the banks o f stream s and show the presence o f
full-fledged agricultural villag es in the G angetic plains o f Bihar. C hirand (in Saran district) is a huge
mound, about 1 km long, situated at the confluence o f the Sarayu and G anga rivers. A 3.5 m thick
occupational d ep o sit w as excavated here. The beginning o f the occupation m ay go b ack to before the
m id-3rd m illennium BCE. Stone celts and hamm er stones w ere m ade out o f quartzite, basalt, and
granite. Various other kinds o f tools, pestles, querns, and b alls w ere found. M icrolithic blades and
points w ere m ade from m aterials like chalcedony, chert, agate, and jasp er. T here w ere a large
number and v ariety o f bone and antler im plem ents such as celts, scrapers, chisels, ham m ers, needles,
points, borers, aw ls, diggers, and pins. B one ornam ents included pendants, earrings, bangles, discs,
and com bs, and there w ere also bangles m ade o f tortoise bone and ivory.
The pottery o f neolithic C hirand included red, grey, and b lack w ares. There w as also a black-and-
red w are. M ost o f the pottery w as handm ade, though there w ere som e exam ples o f the turntable
method. Some pots had painted (usually red ochre) and scratched designs on their surface, generally
linear or geom etric. The exterior o f many grey pots w as burnished. The shapes included various
kinds o f v ases and bow ls. T here w ere different v arieties o f beads o f agate, carnelian, jasp er, m arble,
steatite, and faience long tubular, long barrel, short barrel, cylindrical, triangular, and disc-shaped.
Some o f them w ere unfinished, indicating they w ere lo cally made. N o copper objects w ere found.
Terracotta figurines included representations o f hum ped bulls, birds, and snakes. There w ere also
terracotta beads, bangles, w heels, balls, and w hat seem to be tw o fragments o f a brooch. A sm all
perforated stem had traces o f soot inside perhaps it w as a sm oking pipe. A few terracotta discs
w ith holes in the centre m ay have been spindle w horls.

MAP 3.6 VILLAGE SETTLEMENTS IN THE MIDDLE GANGA PLAIN

The neolithic peo p le o f C hirand liv ed in circu lar w attle-and-daub huts w ith ram m ed floors. In the
early stage, floors w ere b elo w ground level, but later they w ere at ground level. H earths w ere found
in the houses. A sem i-circular hut had several oblong ovens, perhaps for community cooking. M ud
boundary w alls o f houses w ere traced. B urnt chunks o f clay w ith reed or bam boo im pressions
suggest that the houses w ere destroyed by a fire. P lant rem ains included rice, w heat, barley, and
lentils such as m o o n g and m asoor. Lots o f bones o f anim als, birds, and fish w ere identified,
indicating the prevalence o f hunting and fishing. C lusters o f fish scales and rem ains o f riv e r shells
and snails give additional inform ation on the food habits o f the people. A nim al rem ains included
bones o f w ild elephants, rhinoceros, and deer, and those o f dom esticated cattle. C hirand had a later,
chalcolithic occupation level as w ell.
C hechar-K utubpur is a site located on the banks o f the Ganga, across the riv e r from Patna, near
Biddupur. The neolithic d ep o sit here w as d iv id ed into three phases (A, B, and C) on the b asis o f
changes in pottery. P eople liv ed in circu lar w attle-and-daub huts w ith mud floors. There w ere
hearths in the centre o f the floors. Lots o f bone and antler tools and m icro-beads o f steatite and
chalcedony w ere found here.
The ancient mound o f Senuar (Singh, 2003) is in on the banks o f the K udra riv e r at the foot o f the
Kaim ur range, in Rohtas d istrict o f Bihar, not far from Sasaram . There are four periods o f occupation
at the site: P erio d I is neolithic, P erio d II chalcolithic, P erio d III represented the N orthern B lack
Polished W are (N B PW ) culture, and P erio d IV belongs to the early centuries CE. The lo w er levels
o f P erio d IB w ere dated by rad io carb o n to c. 1 7 7 0 -1 4 0 0 BCE; therefore the beginning o f P erio d IA
probably goes b ack to the latter h a lf o f the 3 rd m illennium BCE. H ere w e are concerned w ith P erio d
I, w hich is d iv id ed into P eriods IA and IB.
P erio d IA at Senuar w as a 1.5 m thick neolithic d ep o sit w ith rem ains o f w attle-and-daub houses.
There w ere three m ain kinds o f pottery a red w are, burnished red w are, and burnished grey w are.
Some o f the pottery w as rusticated, som e had designs m ade by cord im pressions. The shapes
included the w ide-m outhed shallow bow l, channelled bow l, vase, and spouted vessels. M ost o f the
pottery w as w heel-m ade, but there w as also som e handm ade pottery. Lots o f m icroliths (sm all
bladelets, also flakes and blades) m ade o f chert, chalcedony, agate, quartz, and quartzite w ere found.
There w ere a few triangular p olished celts, stone pestles, saddle querns, ham m er stones, and sling
balls o f various sizes. B one tools included points, w ith use marks at the tip. B eads o f sem i-precious
stones w ere also discovered.
The anim al bones from Senuar have been carefully studied. The dom esticated anim als included
cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat, pig, cat, and dog. W ild anim als included nilg a i, antelope, and chital. The
charring and cut marks on many o f the bones show ed that the anim als w ere k illed for food. T hat the
people ate shell food from the riv e r is clear from the rem ains o f m olluscs and large num bers o f
shells. C onsidering that the site is on the banks o f a river, it is odd that no fish bones w ere reported.
C arbonized grains show that people grew tw o crops a year. R ice (O ryza sa tiva ) w as the m ain crop,
but p eople also grew barley, d w a rf w h eat (T riticum sphaerococcum ), sorghum m illet, ragi m illet,
lentil, grass pea (L a th yru s sa tivu s), and field p ea (P isum arvense).
P erio d IB at Senuar w as n eo lith ic-ch alco lith ic and consisted o f a 2.02 m thick deposit. H ouse
floors w ere m ade o f w ell-ram m ed earth m ixed w ith ka n ka r and potsherds, and there w ere marks o f
post-holes in som e places. N ineteen copper objects w ere found, including a fishhook, w ire, some
rings, a broken needle, and several broken and indeterm inate objects. T here w as also a fragm entary
lead rod. Chem ical analysis o f the co p p er w ire show ed that it w as m ade o f alm ost pure co p p er and
that the metal w as p ro b ab ly obtained from the neighbouring Rakha mines. The artefacts o f P erio d IB
w ere m ore or less sim ilar to those o f P erio d IA, but there w as a m arked im provem ent in the pottery,
esp ecially in surface treatment. A lthough m ost o f the pots w ere w heel-m ade, there w ere some
handm ade p ieces as w ell. The v essels had a fine slip and a high grade o f burnishing. P ost-firing red
ochre coloured paintings e a rlie r only found on the burnished grey w are w ere now also found on
the burnished red w are. Painted deco ratio n w as much m ore frequent, and pots w ere often also
decorated w ith thumb or finger im pressions, rope, or notched patterns on applique bands o f clay.
T here w ere m ore stone tools in P erio d IB than in the e a rlie r phase, including many p o lish ed stone
celts, m ostly m ade o f b lack basalt. M icroliths w ere also found in large numbers. The m aterial o f the
tools w as the sam e as in P erio d IA, but there w ere a few new shapes. Shell ornam ents included
triangular pendants. T here w ere lots o f finished and unfinished beads o f sem i-precious stones such
as agate, carnelian, and jasp er. Twenty-five faience beads w ere also found. T erracotta artefacts
included beads, pottery discs, a bull figurine, and maybe a w histle. Some o f the pottery discs may
have b een w heels for toys or gaming counters used by children. Those w ith holes m ay rep resen t
spindle w horls. A p art from the grains that continued from P erio d I, in P erio d IB, there w ere some
more plant rem ains those o f b read w h eat (T riticum aestivum ), chickpea or gram (C icer
arictinum ), and m o o n g (Vigna radiata). There are som e cultural sim ilarities betw een neolithic
C hirand and Senuar.
The site o f M aner is located on the banks o f an o ld course o f the Ganga, not far from Patna. The
neolithic d ep o sit here w as 3.45 m thick and y ield ed handm ade red w are and burnished red and grey
w ares. The shapes included the long-necked vase, bow l w ith short stem, lip p ed bow l, and spouted
bow l. O ther artefacts included stone m icroliths, bone points, and terracotta spindle w horls.
T aradih is situated close to the M ahabodhi tem ple at B odh Gaya. There are tw o phases o f the
neolithic occupation here P erio d IA had hand-m ade burnished and un-burnished red w ares and
cord-im pressed w ares. P erio d IB w as m arked by a handm ade burnished grey w are, som etim es w ith
post-firing ochre-coloured painting. The other artefacts included neolithic celts, m icroliths, and bone
tools. T here w ere rem ains o f w attle-and-daub houses w ith hearths. B ones o f cattle, goat, buffalo,
pig, sheep, deer, bird, fish, and snail w ere identified. P lant rem ains included grains o f rice, w heat,
and barley.
N eolithic tools ring stones, shouldered celts, and triangular and rectangular axes have been
found in various parts o f W est Bengal, but the dates o f the finds rem ain uncertain. K uchai is an
excavated site in O rissa w hich y ield ed faceted hoes, chisels, pounders, m ace heads, and grinding
stones. There w as also a red d ish b ro w n pottery tem pered w ith coarse grit, som e w ith a slip and
incised decoration. N eolithic m aterial such as faceted and shouldered celts, bar chisels, rounded butt
axes, w edges, and hammer stones occur as surface finds in Mayurbhanj district, but there is a lack o f
clarity about their dates and cultural contexts.

Celts from nayapur and kuchai; shouldered celt from kuchai

The north-eastern states o f A ssam , M eghalaya, N agaland, A runachal Pradesh, M izoram , and
M anipur have not yet b een p ro p erly explored for prehistoric sites. Large num bers o f p o lish ed stone
tools have been found in various parts o f the K hasi, G aro, N aga, and C achar hills, but their cultural
context and dates are uncertain. We have to keep in m ind the fact that p olished celts are even found at
historical levels at certain sites. Sarutaru, D ao jali H ading, and M arakdola all in A ssam have
been excavated. T hese sites w ill be discussed in C hapter 5 , as the neolithic levels here m ay be fairly
late.

S o u t h India

The dates o f the southern neolithic sites m ostly fall w ithin the b ro ad tim e b racket o f c. 2 9 0 0 -1 0 0 0
BCE, but they can be further d iv id ed on the b asis o f chronology and geographical region. The earliest
dates so far range betw een c. 2900 and 2400 BCE and com e from Utnur, Pallavoy, K odekal, and
Watgal. These and other early sites are discussed in this section, w hile the later ones w ill be
discussed in C hapter 5 . The w id esp read palaeolithic and m esolithic occupation in peninsular India
w as discussed in the previous chapter. A t present, there is insufficient inform ation on the dates o f the
m esolithic phase in the far south, and the connections betw een the m esolithic and neolithic phases
have not b een p ro p erly w ork ed out.
The m eagre evidence o f neolithic sites along the south-east co ast o f India is strange, considering
that this area has y ield ed evidence o f p alaeolithic and m esolithic artefacts. A p art from a neolithic
site at P ondicherry on the Tamil N adu coast, there seem s to be an absence o f sites in the deltas o f the
Pennar, K rishna, and G odavari rivers. This m ay be due to sites being sw allo w ed up by the riverine
silts or due to inadequate exploration. H ow ever, there are many sites in the m iddle and lo w e r
K rishna valley.
In the southern p a rt o f the D eccan plateau, w here granite hills rise from the b lack cotton soil, the
earliest neolithic villag es w ere generally located on h illsid es and plateaux, som etim es along m inor
stream s, and o ccasionally along the banks o f m ajor rivers. A distinctive feature o f many sites in this
region is that they are m arked by ash mounds. R esearch into the southern neolithic has in fact been
dom inated by a d iscussion o f the ash mounds. The tw o key areas are the R aichur doab, betw een the
K rishna and the Tungabhadra, and the Shorapur doab, betw een the B him a and the K rishna. A sh
mounds have b een excavated at Utnur, K upgal, K odekal, and Pallavoy.
The ash mound sites are large accum ulations o f ash and v itrified m aterial, created by the repeated
burning o f heaps o f cow dung. They m ark neolithic cattle pens w hich w ere surrounded by heavy
enclosures m ade o f tree trunks. C attle b reed ers in parts o f central and South India pen their anim als
in sim ilar enclosures even today. Some o f the neolithic pens w ere attached to perm anent settlem ents,
w hile others m ay have been tem porary camps. The p erio d ic burning o f heaps o f dung m ay have been
connected w ith seasonal festivals m arking the beginning or end o f annual m igrations to the forest
grazing grounds. M odern pastoralists in peninsular India still burn bonfires on such occasions, and
cattle are d riv en through fire, as it is b eliev ed that this w ill p ro tect them from disease.
Excavations at Utnur (in M ahbubnagar district, A P) have show n that the w o o d en enclosure o f the
cattle pen here w as reb u ilt many tim es, and the dung w ithin it w as lik ew ise burnt repeatedly. Cattle
hoof-prints w ere found in the ash. The size o f the enclosure indicated that it could have held about
5 4 0 -8 0 0 cattle. Utnur gave evidence o f a sm all am ount o f ground stone axes, stone blades, and a
handm ade coarse pottery. The latter included a burnished grey or b u ff w are (usually plain,
som etim es w ith post-firing designs painted on in red ochre), and also a w are w ith a red, black, or
brow n dressing ap p lied to it before burnishing and firing (som etim es w ith pre-firing b lack or purple
painted designs). The material culture of Utnur was similar to that of sites such as Piklihal (dated
from c. 2100 BCE) and Kodekal.

FURTHER DISCUSSION

The mystery of the ash mounds

The first reports of the ash mounds appeared in the 1830s and 1840s. They were described as
cinder mounds or cinder camps, and many thought they were of volcanic or limestone origin.
T. J. Newbold carried out the first excavation of an ash mound site during this period. In the
course of his excavation at Kupgal, he found remains of pottery, animal bones, and a rubbing
stone. This convinced him that the mounds were not natural geological formations but were
created by people. In the late 19th century, the geologist-prehistorian Robert Bruce Foote became
the first to connect the ash mounds with the neolithic culture. On the basis of his excavation at the
site of Budikanama (also known as Kudatini) and a chemical analysis of the ash mound material,
he argued that the ash mounds were heaps of excessively burnt cow dung, created by neolithic
cattle herders.

Few were convinced by Footes argument. Robert Sewell argued that not all the ash mounds
represented cattle camps and that some of them might belong to the medieval period. G. Yazdani
suggested that the mounds may have been created by metal workers in gold or iron. There were
many others who bought the argument that ancient iron-smelters were responsible for the creation
of the ash mounds.

In the 1950s, Raymond Allchin and F. E. Zeuner made important contributions towards the
understanding of the ash mounds. Zeuner submitted the ash of Kudatini to a chemical and
microscopic study. This established beyond all doubt that the mounds were made out of dung,
most likely cattle dung. Allchin under took an archaeological survey of the Raichur doab and
excavated the habitation site of Piklihal and the ash mound site of Utnur. The Utnur excavation
connected the ash mound at this site with a rectangular enclosure surrounded by post-holes,
which Allchin interpreted as a cattle pen. Zeuner and Allchins investigations indicated that
Foote had been right after all. It also became evident that the accumulations of cattle dung had
been burnt not once but many times; this repeated burning seems to have been deliberate, not
accidental.

A number of questions remained: Did the ash mounds represent in situ burning of dung that had
accumulated naturally over time, or was the dung collected, deliberately heaped up, and then
burnt? Why was it burnt at regular intervals? Was it in order to periodically clean up the cattle
pens or did this activity have some sort of symbolic significance? Allchin suggests that the ash
fires may represent annual seasonal rituals of purification.

Another problematic issue was the relationship between the ash mounds and the settlements.
Allchin suggested that there were two kinds of ash moundsthose in or near permanent
settlements (such as Kupgal and Gadiganur) and others not associated with any settlements
(including some of the largest ones, e.g., Kudatini and Utnur). On the other hand, on the basis of
his excavations at Budihal, K. Paddayya suggested that the ash mound and habitation areas were
not two separate, different types of sites, but were, in fact, related to each other. He also argued
that the ash mounds were not an in situ accumulation of dung, but that dung and garbage cleared
from penning and house areas was piled up here and then burnt.

Ash mounds do not occur at all southern neolithic sites. In the Pennar basin in Cuddapah district
of Andhra Pradesh, there are neolithic sites but no ash mounds. The mounds are similarly absent
from sites in the upper Tungabhadra valley and southern Karnataka. It has been suggested by P. C.
Venkatasubbaiah that the absence of ash mounds in the Cuddapah district may be because of
differences in subsistence systems. In this area, people practised animal breeding, but they also
relied on millet and pulse farming. Due to the importance of agricultural activity, cow dung was
used as manure and was therefore not burnt for ceremonial or other purposes. An alternative
explanation is that even if agriculture was practised (and there is increasing evidence that it was)
at many southern neolithic sites, manuring was not necessary. In such a situation, dung and dung
ash could have been used for plastering houses, but they were not the valuable resources they
represent for villagers today. The reasons for the presence or absence of ash mounds at southern
neolithic sites would, in this case, have more to do with differences in cultural traditions rather
than in subsistence practices.

The relative dates of the ash mound and non-ash mound sites are not yet fully clear. More
investigations are required, and it is likely that not all the ash mound sites represent the same sort
of settlement pattern.

SOURCE K orisettar et al., 2003

Recent excavations at Watgal and Budihal incorporated new archaeological approaches and
techniques, and were marked by an especially careful collection and analysis of faunal and botanical
remains. Watgal (Devaraja et al., 1995) is located in Raichur district of north Karnataka. The
earliest calibrated radiocarbon date from this site gives a range starting from 2900-2600 BCE, and
occupation continued into the 1st millennium BCE. Period I had a microlithic industry consisting
mainly of blades and lunates made of chert and quartzite. There were also large flakes of basalt and
dol erite.
The calibrated date range for Period IIA at Watgal is c. 2 7 0 0 -2 3 0 0 BCE. This period was marked
by increasing diversity in stone tools. There were underground storage pits. Two carbonized seeds
of betel nut (Areca catechu) were found. This is the earliest evidence of the use of betel nuts in
South Asia. Period IIA was dominated by microliths made of chert. Most of the pottery was
handmade, while some may have been made on a slow wheel. It was ill-fired and consisted of
coarse red and grey wares, as well as a burnished grey ware with post-firing painting in red ochre.
There were other artefacts such as beads made of marine shell. The burials included one urn burial
and two extended burials marked by stones, without grave goods.
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MAP 3.7 SOME IMPORTANTNEOLITHIC SITES IN SOUTH INDIA

The calibrated range for Watgal Period IIB is c. 2300-2000 BCE. Here, as in the earlier sub
phase, there were numerous storage pits. The burials included both urn burials and extended burials
marked by stones. But there was a new featurepots appeared as grave goods. The range and
number of artefacts were also greater. They included microliths and milling stones, beads of marine
shell, stone, and terracotta, and a shell pendant. A small iron fragment may have been an intrusion
from later levels. Animal and human terracotta figurines (one clearly representing the torso of a
female) were found. There was a continuity of earlier pottery types, with a slight increase in the
amount of wheel-made pottery. Periods HI and IV at Watgal are post-2000 BCE and show evidence ol
copper/bronze and iron.
Budihal (in Gulbarga district, Karnataka) has been excavated by K. Paddayya and others
(Paddayya, 1993). One of the aims of the excavations was to understand the ash mounds in relation
to their ecology and the material evidence around them The site is located on a sandstone plateau
covered with thin brown soil. A complex of four localities (I-TV) within a 400 x 300 m area was
identified. Each locality consisted of an ash mound as well as habitational deposit. In the extreme
west of the site, an extensive area (about 4.5 ha) was found littered with a huge number of chert tools
and waste chert material, and nothing else. Huge sandstone boulders found nearby showed marks of
small and big grinding grooves, places where people must have worked at grinding and polishing
stone tools. This was clearly a chert blade-working area. It is possible that chert tools made at this
site were sent to other neolithic settlements in the Shorapur doab and perhaps even further.
Excavations in Locality I (the main part of the site) at Budihal clearly showed that the ash deposits
were located in the centre. Within the ash mound area, two distinct parts were identifieda cattle-
penning area on the east and a cow dung disposal area on the west. There were several episodes of
cattle penning, dung accumulation, and burning. A dozen structures were identified in the 1.34 ha
habitational area around the ash deposit. One was a platform-like surface for chert working (chert
was available 5-6 km north of the site) and another was a place for storing pottery. The rest were
round dwelling units with low walls made of blocks of stone packed in mud. A total of 10 child
burials (some in pits, others in pots) were found in the habitational area. The artefacts found from the
ash mound and residential area included red and grey pottery, ground stone tools, chert blades, bone
tools including axe heads, and beads of shell, bone, and semi-precious stones.
Seeds of three types of wild plants were identified through the flotation of soil samplesher,
Indian cherry, and amla (Emblic myrabolans). A few grains of domesticated horse gram were also
found. Faunal remains of about 15 domesticated and wild animal species were identified. Bones of
domesticated cattle were the most numerous. This shows that the neolithic people of Budihal
specialized mainly in cattle rearing and to a lesser extent on sheep, goat, buffalo, and fowl. The
bones of wild fauna included nilgai, blackbuck, antelope, monitor lizard, tortoises, birds, fish,
crabs, and molluscs. An even more interesting discovery was that of a butchering area within the
settlement area, on the southern side of the ash mound. Eleven radiocarbon dates ranging between c.
1900 and 1400 BCE are available for the ash mound and habitational area at Budihal. When
calibrated, they give a range o f 2 1 8 0 -1 6 0 0 BCE.

NEW DIRECTIONS IN RESEARCH

Communityfeasting at neolithic Budihal

In one of the trenches excavated to the south of the ash mound, within the habitational area of
Locality I at Budihal, the archaeological team discovered patches of floor made of kankar-like
material. Chemical analysis showed these to be made of fine ash, clay, small pieces of potsherds,
bone, and charcoal, mixed with water and then rammed together in order to produce a hard
surface. This floor seems originally to have covered an area o f200-250 sq m.

Strewn over this were huge numbers of animal bonesmostly those of cattle, but also of sheep,
goat, buffalo, and wild animals. The large number of bones and stone tools of various kinds,
including chopping tools and chert blades, indicated that this was a butchering area. Sandstone
blocks found on the floor may have been used for chopping meat. Splinters of bone and bone
artefacts show that some bone tools were made on the spot and were probably used for marrow
extraction and hide working.

Three small pits (20-25 cm wide and 15-20 cm deep) were found in the northern part of the
butchering area. These contained ashy soil, pieces of charcoal, and burnt bones. This was
probably where people roasted meat. The large size of the butchering floor, its location between
the ash mound and the settlement area, the fact that it was plastered to create a hard and
permanent working area, the occurrence of such a large number of bones and tools, and the
cooking area nearbyall this suggests that the area was used not by a single person but by the
entire community or at least a substantial large part of it. Perhaps it was used on special or
ceremonial occasions, when animals were killed and their meat shared among those present.

SOURCE Paddayya et al., 1995

The Budihal excavations demonstrated the presence of a habitation site directly associated with
ash mounds, and Paddayya made some general observations on this basis. He emphasized that
neolithic ash mounds and habitation sites were closely related to each other, and that the ash mound
sites are best described as neolithic pastoral settlements with ash deposits. Ash mound sites tend to
occur in hilly tracts, close to perennial sources of water, with good pasture land but soils too poor
for agriculture. Garbage accumulated from the penning of cattle and other animals was dumped along
with household refuse at spots close to the settlement and was periodically burnt. The reasons for the
cow dung accumulation and burning were in part practicalto keep the settlement clean, to protect
people and animals from health hazards posed by vermin-infected dung heaps, and to scare away
wild animals. The burning could also have been part of rituals aimed at promoting the fertility of
cattle. Some of the ash mounds are so large that the sites could have served as regional or local
centres where people came from afar to attend periodic cattle fairs.
While the evidence from Budihal is important because it shows the complementary relationship
between ash mounds and what seems to be a long-duration habitation site, it is not yet established
beyond all doubt that a similar situation prevailed in other places. It is possible to visualize
variations among sites some may have been single, independent sites, others seem to consist of
pairs or clusters (e.g., Kupgal, Budihal, Palavoy). Some may represent short-term camps of
pastoralists, others more long-term habitation.
There are different views on the subsistence base of the southern neolithic sites. One view is that
the neolithic people were fully sedentary farmers who made clearances in forests to carry out
agriculture. Another view is that while these people may have practised some amount of agriculture,
they were basically nomadic pastoralists. A third view is that they were sedentary pastoralists who
did not practise any agriculture whatsoever. Raymond and Bridget Allchin (1997: 104) argue that
ash mound sites such as those at Utnur and Kudatini represent seasonal cattle camps. They also
suggest that the evidence reflects a transition from cattle pastoralism (represented at the early ash
mound sites) towards agriculture (in the later sites). However, the early date from Watgal, which
does not have any ash mounds, shows that the ash mound sites were not necessarily the earliest.
The faunal remains, ash mounds, terracotta figurines of humped cattle, and rock bruisings of cattle
on rocks around some of the settlements testify to the importance of cattle rearing in the southern
neolithic. Cattle (Bos indicus) dominate the faunal assemblage, both in the ash mound and non-ash
mound sites. Sheep and goat bones also occur, but in much smaller quantities. Horse (Equus)
remains have been reported, but it is not clear whether a wild or domesticated species is
represented. Bones of water buffalo and pig (probably both wild and domesticated) occur
occasionally. Other faunal remains include the bones of wild and domesticated fowl.
Till recently, there was not much evidence of agriculture at South Indian neolithic sites. There
were the occasional discoveries of charred grain and the indirect evidence of grinding stones, but
cattle rearing seemed to dominate the picture. In fact, some scholars argued that the terrain, soil, and
dry climate of the area made it unsuitable for agriculture. Recent research has changed this picture
and has highlighted the range of plant remains found at southern neolithic sites (Korisettar et al.,
2003). Millets seem to have been the staple crop, but grains of pulses and seeds of her have also
been found. Fragments of areca nut, probably wild, were found at Watgal.
So far, there is not much evidence of craft or trade activities at these sites. Although copper and
bronze objects occur at several sites, there is no indication of the local smelting or working of
copper. Did these objects come via exchange or trade from elsewhere? A pair of gold earrings was
found at neolithic Tekkalakota and the Kolar fields of Karnataka are the likely source of the gold
found in Harappan contexts. This would imply trade between the urban Harappans and the neolithic
communities of South India. Marine shell and marine shell artefacts found at Watgal indicate
exchange with coastal areas, probably the western coast.
We can note the beginning of the chalcolithic phase at sites such as Singanapalli and Ramapuram
in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. Both have been excavated, but there are no full excavation
reports yet. The calibrated range of a date from Ramapuram is c. 2455-2041 BCE. This site gave
evidence of house floors plastered with lime, wheel-made painted pottery (mostly black-on-red),
microliths, and beads of semi-precious stones.

The Life of Early Farmers


As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, hunting-gathering and food production do not represent
two ends of a unilinear evolutionary scheme. In some areas, the advent of food production based on
animal and plant domestication did not lead to a complete eclipse of the hunting-gathering way of
life. Many communities continued to practise these activities, and continue to do so in some parts of
the world, even in the 21st century. Further, archaeological data clearly indicates the practise of
hunting and/or gathering at most early farming sites. It also suggests relationships of interaction and
exchange between early farmers and hunter-gatherers.
The neolithic stage is generally associated with relatively self-sufficient village communities with
equilibrium between food production and population However, the issue is not only one of the
quantity of available food. Food is an essential prerequisite for human survival, but it is also much
more. The obtaining and consumption of food is generally a social activity; food items may be part ol
systems of hospitality, gift giving, trade, and social taboos. Food preferences and ways of
preparation are important parts of social life, both within the family and in the larger social group.
The site of Budihal gives a graphic image of community food preparation and feasting at a neolithic
site.
Although certain inferences can be made about the social and political organization of early food-
producing communities, it is necessary to recognize the fact that they were not identical to each other.
Some sites reflect small communities with a relatively simple social organization, while larger sites
represent more complex societies. The details of the subsistence patterns of the communities would
have varied, depending on the resource potential of the environmental niche they lived in and on
their methods of adapting to it. Differences in material equipment such as tools, pottery, and houses
suggest differences in craft traditions and lifestyles. Burial practices and objects of possible cultic
significance reflect divergent belief systems and customs.
There is a view that compared to the struggle for existence and lack of leisure time that marked the
lives of prehistoric hunter-gatherers, the life of farmers was much easier. As indicated in the
previous chapter, the first part of such a view can be questioned. Similarly, it would be an
oversimplification to think of the life of early farmers as one marked by comfort and ease. Farmers
were in fact a vulnerable lot. As is the case today, lack of rain could mean a bad harvest, pests or
disease could wipe out an entire crop, and mould and rodents could destroy precious reserves of
stored grain.
In spite of the differences in the ways of life of early farmers and the need to abandon
stereotypical notions, it is possible to identify certain general features of the impact of the transition
from hunting-gathering to food production. It was earlier pointed out that elements of sedentary living
can be seen among certain hunting-gathering groups, while some farmers and pastoralists retain a
migratory lifestyle. Further, there are different views on whether sedentary living preceded or
followed the beginnings of agriculture. However, there is no doubt that in the long run, the transition
to agriculture did lead to increasing levels of sedentariness among most communities.
Studies of nutrition and disease based on an analysis of human bones suggest that hunter-gatherers
had a high-protein diet, one that was more varied, balanced, and healthy compared to that of early
farmers, whose diet tended to be high in carbohydrates, with an emphasis on cereals or root crops.
Sedentary people were also more vulnerable to infectious diseases and epidemics than nomadic
groups. This may help explain the high incidence of disease reflected in the bones of certain early
farming communities.

S e e C h a p t e r 5, p. 234 f o r d e t a il s o f Deccan c h a l c o l it h ic sk e l e t a l r e m a in s
f ig u r e 3 .7 h u n t in g sc en e eng raved o n st o n e , b u r z a h o m

Living for long periods of time in one place would have led to a more enduring relationship
between people and their environmental niche. A sedentary life and the diet associated with
agriculture would have meant less stress on women during pregnancy and more stable conditions for
mother and child after childbirth. Further, high-carbohydrate diets are connected with decreased
birth intervals. All these factors would have combined to produce higher birth rates. Sedentary
living would have been easier on children and old people, and may have resulted in reduced death
rates and increased life expectancy. Due to such reasons, the advent of food production would, in the
long run, have led to an increase in population and changes in the age profiles within communities.
Food production required new tool kits and equipment. It also involved a new kind of scheduling
of subsistence activities and shifts in the contributions of men and women, children, and aged folk.
There would also have been a change in the food ethichunter-gatherers generally collect as much
food as they can immediately consume on a short-term basis. Farmers would have had to produce
and store quantities of food for future use. The focus would no longer have been on the acquisition of
food to satisfy immediate needs on a daily basis, but rather on strategies that required much more
long-term planning.
It has been argued that women may have been in the forefront of experiments related to plant
domestication. This argument is largely based on ethnographic studies that connect women with
horticulture activities. If, in hunting-gathering societies, men generally hunted and women did the
food gathering, then it is indeed likely that the early experiments in agriculture were made by
women. Further, since pottery was connected to food storage and cooking, tasks that are generally
associated with women, they may have had a significant role to play in technical advances related to
pottery making. Studies of modern potters have pointed out that making pots is a lengthy process that
involves more than the hands of the potter who gives the pot its final shape. Womenand children
may have been involved in these other activities, including collecting and processing clay, collecting
fire wood, piling it in the kiln, and decorating the pots. While ethnographic evidence is never
conclusive, in these instances, it is fairly persuasive, and there is good ground to assume the
involvement of women in the important cultural advances made in the transition to food production.
Although the neolithic stage is generally associated with subsistence-level activities, there is
evidence of specialized crafts and long-distance exchange at sites such as Mehrgarh. Kunjhun and
Ganeshwar indicate fairly well-developed craft traditions and site specialization. Many sites give
evidence of separate areas within the settlement being earmarked for different activities (cattle
rearing, craft production, butchering, etc.). This reflects conscious, collective decisions made by
members of the community for organizing space and activities. Evidence cited in earlier sections
clearly indicates that some neolithic communities were interacting with proto-urban and urban
cultures.
When larger groups of people started living together in settled villages, they would have had to
devise new ways and norms of interaction and co-operation, ones that were different from those
associated with bands of hunter-gatherers. The communities of early farmers and pastoralists must
have been internally differentiated on the basis of age and sex. At some sites, differences in the sizes
of houses and in the quantity and quality of grave goods suggest the existence of social ranks. Among
larger groups, the regulation of economic activities and social relations would have required some
sort of effective political control and organization.

Changes in Cultic and Belief Systems


Changes in subsistence practices would have involved shifts in symbolic and belief systems. One
problem is: How are we to define religious or cultic activities, and how can their traces be
identified in the archaeological record? In the previous chapter, we noted that some of the
palaeolithic and mesolithic art remains may have been connected with magico-religious beliefs and
hunting rituals. The cultivation of crops and the domestication of animals must have led to increased
concerns with fertility and magico-religious ways of controlling it. Terracotta female figurines found
from neolithic levels onwards at certain sites (e.g., in the north-western zone) have often been given
the label of Mother Goddesses. It is very likely that farming communities connected women with
fertility because of the fact that women give birth. It is also possible that they worshipped images of
goddesses associated with fertility. However, the interpretation of female figurines is very
subjective. Were these figurines goddesses, or were they toys, decorative items, or clay portraits of
ordinary women? Similarly, were the humped bull figurines found at sites such as Rana Ghundai,
Mehrgarh, Mundigak, Bala Kot, Gilund, Balathal, and Chi-rand cult objects? Unless their form or
context suggest religious or cultic significance, it is necessary to be cautious while making
inferences about the role and function of terracotta figurines.

FURTHER DISCUSSION

Female figurinesordinary women or goddesses?

At one time, scholars tended to use the Mother Goddess label for all female figurines found at
sites. This was largely because of the belief that the worship of fertility goddesses was an
important part of agricultural societies all over the world, and also due to a tendency to look at
ancient remains through the lens of later-day Hinduism, in which goddess worship had an
important place. However, scholars are now increasingly aware of the stylistic and technical
differences among assemblages of female figurines. Further, all goddesses need not have been
part of a single goddess cult, and not all ancient goddesses were necessarily associated with
maternity.

In the light of such problems, the term Mother Goddess should be replaced by the longer but
more neutral phrase female figurines with likely cultic significance. This does not mean that
none of these figurines might have had a religious or cultic significance. It is indeed possible that
some were either images that were worshipped or votive offerings that were part of some
domestic cult or ritual. However, not all female figurines necessarily had such a function.
Whether we are looking at human or animal figurines, in all cases, their possible significance or
function has to be assessed, and cannot be assumed. Apart from their form, the context in which
they were found is crucial.

F em ale f ig u r in e , m e h r g a r h

Purposeful, standardized burials do not appear for the first time in the neolithic or neolithic-
chalcolithic phase, but they do increase in number. Such burials imply significance attached to the
bodily remains of the deceased. In cases where burials occur within the habitation area, it is difficult
to be certain whether the dead were respected or feared, or both. Patterns in the orientation and form
of burials show the existence of funerary customs followed by at least some members of the
community. Multiple burials may indicate simultaneous death or the strength of kinship ties. The
practice of covering bodies with red ochre prior to burial at Mehrgarh suggests a fertility ritual. The
joint burials of humans and animals at Burzahom reflect a close relationship between people and the
animals concerned. Simple versus more elaborate graves can be seen as reflections of differences in
funerary customs associated with people of different ranks. Food items among the grave goods
suggest a belief in afterlife. Secondary burials suggest multi-stage funerary practices and rituals. The
social implications of changes in burial practices at certain sites need to be investigated further.

CONCLUSIONS
There is considerable variation in the chronology of the early food-producing societies and in the
details of their adaptation to their environment. In c. 7000-3000 BCE, food-producing villages
emerged in Baluchistan and the northern fringes of the Vmdhyas. The number and geographical
spread of such settlements increased in c. 3000-2000 BCE. The beginnings of animal and plant
domestication did not lead to the extinction of hunting and gathering. One of the striking features of
this period was the co-existence and interaction among neolithic, neolithic-chalcolithic, rural
chalcolithic, urban chalcolithic, and hunter-gatherer communities. In the long run, the importance of
the advent of food production lay not only in its immediate consequences, but also in the potential it
created for future changes. In certain areas, the process of food production and its associated cultural
developments eventually led to the emergence of proto-urban settlements, and then full-fledged
cities.

www.pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh
Further resources
Chapter Four
The Harappan Civilization, c. 2600-1900 BCE

C hapter outline

C iv il iz a t io n a n d u r b a n iz a t io n : d e f in it io n s a n d im p l ic a t io n s

r e c e n t d is c o v e r ie s a n d c h a n g in g p e r s p e c t iv e s
HARAPPAN, INDUS, OR SINDHU-SARASVATI CIVILIZATION ?
ORIGIN: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE EARLY HARAPPAN PHASE
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE EARLY AND MATURE HARAPPAN PHASES
THE GENERAL FEATURES OF MATURE HARAPPAN SETTLEMENTS
PROFILES OF SOME HARAPPAN CITIES, TOWNS, AND VILLAGES
THE DIVERSITY OF THE HARAPPAN SUBSISTENCE BASE
HARAPPAN CRAFTS AND TECHNIQUES
NETWORKS OF TRADE
THE NATURE AND USES OF WRITING
RELIGIOUS AND FUNERARY PRACTICES
THE HARAPPAN PEOPLE
THE RULING ELITE
THE DECLINE OF URBAN LIFE
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LATE HARAPPAN PHASE
CONCLUSIONS
View of mohenjodaro (Sindh, Pakistan)

In 1826, C harles M asson, an adventurer w ho had deserted the E ast India C om pany army, stood on
the mounds o f H arappa, a v illag e in Sahiw al d istrict o f Punjab. H e w as convinced that this must
have b een the v ery p lace w here, in the 4th century BCE, the M acedonian invader A lexander had
defeated king Porus in battle. A few years later, a trav eller nam ed A lexander B urnes v isited
H arappa. He thought it w as an im portant site, but w as clueless about its p recise significance. M any
decades later, in the 1850s, H arappa w as v isited by A lexander Cunningham, a m ilitary engineer w ith
the E ast India C om pany w ho w as keenly interested in archaeology. H e conducted a sm all excavation
and d isco v ered the rem ains o f som e structures, but w as not im pressed.
W hen Cunningham re-v isited H arappa in 1872, he cam e as D irecto r G eneral o f the new ly
established A rchaeological Survey o f India (ASI). He w as dism ayed to find the mounds badly
disturbed by railw ay contractors w ho had b een busy extracting free bricks. Cunningham found stone
tools and ancient pottery, and also obtained a seal w ith a bull and som e strange w riting. He w as
intrigued, but concluded that since the bull d id not have a hump, the seal m ust be a foreign one. He
m issed a v ery im portant clue.

The officers o f the A rchaeological Survey o f India w ho explored H arap p a and M ohenjodaro in the
early 20th century w ere unenthusiastic about the sites. P andit H iranananda Sastri rep o rted that he did
not think there w as any point in excavating H arappa, and D. R. B handarkars assessm ent w as that
M ohenjodaro could not be m ore than 250 years old! The sites were eventually excavated. In 1920,
D aya R am Sahni started excavations at H arap p a and in 1921, R. D. B anerji started excavating
M ohenjodaro. But it took a few m ore years for the true significance o f the d isco v eries at these sites
to be understood. The form al announcem ent o f the d isco v ery o f the Indus or H arap p an civilization
w as m ade in in 1924 by John M arshall, D irector G eneral o f the A rchaeological Survey, alm ost a
century after C harles M asson had w andered over the mounds o f H arappa and sensed that there w as
som ething significant about the place (see Lahiri, 2005 for the details o f this fascinating story). The
im plications o f M arsh alls dram atic announcem ent w ere enorm ous. A n im portant and exciting
fragm ent o f In d ias p ast had b een uncovered, and the beginnings o f civ ilizatio n in India w ere pushed
back som e 2,500 years, to a tim e roughly contem poraneous w ith the civilizations o f M esopotam ia
and Egypt.

JOHN MARSHALL, DIRECTOR GENERAL, ASI, 1902-28

C ivilization and U rbanization: D efinitions and Im plications


The w o rd urbanization m eans the em ergence o f cities. C iv ilizatio n has m ore ab stract and grander
connotations, but refers to a specific cultural stage generally asso ciated w ith cities and w riting. In a
few instances, archaeologists have d escrib ed neolithic settlem ents as urban on the b asis o f size and
architecture, even in the absence o f w riting. This is the case w ith 8th m illennium BCE Jericho in the
Jordan v alley and the 7th m illennium BCE settlem ent at atal H yk in Turkey. It has also been
pointed out that the M ayan civ ilizatio n o f M esoam erica and the M ycenaean civ ilizatio n o f G reece
did not have true cities, w hile the Inca civ ilizatio n o f P eru d id not have a system o f true w riting.
H ow ever, ap art from a few such exceptions, cities and w riting tend to go together, and urbanization
and civ ilizatio n are m ore or less synonymous.
One o f the e a rlie st attem pts to define a city w as m ade by V G ordon C hilde (1950). C hilde
d escribed the city as the resu lt and symbol o f a revolution that m arked a new econom ic stage in the
evolution o f society. Like the e a rlie r neolithic revolution, the urban revolution w as neither sudden
nor violent; it w as the culm ination o f centuries o f gradual social and econom ic changes. C hilde
identified 10 ab stract criteria, all supposedly deducible from archaeological data, w hich
distinguished the first cities from the o ld er and contem porary villages.

RAKHALDAS BANERJI, WHO EXCAVATED MOHENJODARO IN 1921

C h ild es observations p ro v ed to be the starting point o f an im portant debate on the diagnostic


features o f urban societies. Some scholars d id not agree w ith his use o f the w o rd revolution to
describe urbanization, as it suggests sudden, d eliberate change. Further, his 10 criteria seem to be a
loose assem blage o f overlapping features, and are not arranged in any sequence o f relativ e
im portance. F o r instance, w ere sophisticated artistic styles as im portant as an agricultural surplus or
a state structure? Further, all 10 features (e.g., exact and pred ictiv e sciences) are not directly
deducible from the archaeological data. A nother o b jection is that som e features, such as monumental
architecture, sp ecialized crafts, and long-distance trade are occasio n ally found in non-urban contexts
as w ell. H ow ever, i f w e consider the 10 characteristics co llectiv ely instead o f individually, it has to
be conceded that C hilde d id succeed in identifying the m ost significant features and im plications o f
city life.
O ver the years, there have b een three different sorts o f trends in defining the city. One is to narrow
dow n the diagnostic features, focusing, for instance, on w riting, monumental structures, and a large
population. A second trend is to identify m ore specific criteria such as settlem ent size, architectural
features (e.g., fortifications and the use o f stone and brick), and a uniform system o f w eights and
m easures. A third trend is tow ards a m ore ab stract definition, highlighting features such as cultural
complexity, homogeneity, and far-reaching p olitical control.
The various hypotheses that have b een put fo rw ard to explain the rise o f the w o rld s first cities
are reflective o f how different scholars v ie w and understand the unfolding o f historical processes.
C hilde em phasized the im portance o f technological and subsistence factors such as increasing food
surpluses, copper-bronze technology, and the use o f w h eeled transport, sailboats, and ploughs.
Scholars such as R o b ert M cC. A dam s em phasized social factors, w hile G ideon Sjoberg asserted thal
political factors played the pivotal ro le in the em ergence o f cities.
A n im portant asp ect o f M cC. A d am s contribution to our understanding o f city life is his
highlighting the relationship betw een cities and their hinterlands (see M cC. A dam s, 1966 and M cC.
Adams, 1968). C ity and v illag e are not tw o opposite poles, but interdependent and interacting parts
o f a larger cultural and ecological system. W hile cities w ere no doubt ultim ately sustained by
agricultural surpluses produced in villages, the generation, appropriation, and deploym ent o f
agricultural surpluses w ere neither autom atic nor purely econom ic phenom ena and w ere governed by
social and p olitical factors. M cC. A dam s also highlighted the m ultiple ro les played by cities: They
w ere nodes for the ap p ro p riatio n and redistribution o f agricultural surpluses. They p ro v id ed a
perm anent base for new social and p o litical institutions that regulated the relationships betw een
sp ecialized producers occupying different econiches. They w ere centres for the safe storage o f
surpluses, concentration o f w ealth, and for expenditure on public building program m es by elite
groups. They w ere centres o f learning, artistic creativity, philosophical debate, and the developm ent
o f religious ideas.

KEY CONCEPTS

The 10 characteristics o f cities, according to Childe

The worlds first cities were larger and more densely populated than villages.
While the city population may have included some farmers and herdsmen, it also comprised full-time
craftspersons, merchants, transporters, officials, and priests. These groups were supported by the
surplus food produced by farmers.
Farmers had to hand over their surplus produce as tax or tribute to a ruling elite.
Monumental public buildings were hall marks of cities and reflected the concentration of social surplus
(i.e., surplus produce and wealth generated in a society) in the hands of the elite.
There was a trade-off between the ruling class and the rest of society. Rulers lived off the surplus produced
by farmers and in return provided them with peace, security, planning, and organization.
The invention of systems of recordingwriting and numeral notation helped meet the needs of
administration.
The invention of writing led to the development of exact but practically useful sciences such as arithmetic,
geometry, and astronomy, and the creation of a calendar.
Conceptualized and sophisticated styles of artistic expression made their appearance.
Cities implied a significant amount of long-distance trade.
1They also implied a state organization based on residence in a territory rather than on kinship. The state
provided security and materials to specialist craftspersons, enabling them to live a settled rather than an
itinerant life.

SOURCE C hilde, 1950

G ideon S joberg (1964) em phasized the close connection b etw een the history o f cities and the rise
and fall o f em pires. H e argued that p o litical control w as crucial in m aintaining the social
organization o f em pires and providing the stability necessary for the developm ent o f trade and
com m erce. H e also elaborated on the many facets o f the citys functions and features. The
concentration o f population in a relativ ely sm all space in a city allo w ed a greater level o f protection
and security than p o ssib le in a village. It also facilitated com m unication and the exchange o f goods
and services among specialists. E lite groups tended to be concentrated in the city and usually liv ed
near its centre. The city w as hence the p lace w here p o litical decisions w ere taken and m ilitary
strategies planned. A p art from being centres o f intellectual and com m ercial activity, since elite
groups w ere usually also patrons o f the arts, cities also becam e centres o f cultural and artistic
activity.

DAYA RAM SAHNI, WHO EXCAVATED HARAPPA IN THE 1920S

O ver the years, various factors such as population grow th, long-distance trade, irrigation, and
class conflict have b een suggested as having played an im portant ro le in the em ergence o f cities.
Actually, as is the case w ith all com plex cultural phenom ena, a v ariety o f factors social, political,
econom ic, technological, and ideological m ust have been involved, in co n ju n ctio n w ith each other,
and the details o f their interplay could have v aried from culture to culture. Since archaeology forms
the prim ary source for reconstructing the em ergence o f the w o rld s first cities, there is m ore d irect
inform ation on the technological aspect rather than other factors, w hich can be understood only in
very general terms.
The em ergence o f cities has to be v ie w e d as p art o f a longer history o f human settlem ents, both
rural and urban. The story o f urbanization is one o f increasing cultural complexity, a w idening food
resource base, greater technological sophistication, expanding craft production, social stratification,
and the em ergence o f a level o f p olitical organization that can be d escrib ed as a state.

R ecent D isco v eries and Changing P erspectives

O ver the eight decades or so since the momentous d isco v eries at M ohenjodaro and H arappa,
inform ation about the H arappan civ ilizatio n has increased enormously. N ew sites have been
discovered, o ld sites re-excavated, and there are sev eral new interpretations based on the o ld and
new discoveries. The amount o f data and inform ation has b een steadily grow ing and continues to
grow. Yet, many aspects o f the civ ilizatio n rem ain m ysterious and subjects o f vigorous debate.
In the initial years after its discovery, the M esopotam ian links w ere crucial for dating the
H arappan civilization, and som e archaeologists tended to com pare the tw o (Shaffer, 1982a). This
led to many questionable theories about H arap p an origins and the nature o f the H arap p an econom y
and polity. In recen t decades, scholars have becom e v ery conscious o f the e a rlie r bias and
acknow ledge the need to v ie w the H arappan civilization independently rather than through a
M esopotam ian lens.

MADHO SARUP VATS, WHO EXCAVATED HARAPPA IN THE 1920S AND 1930S

A nother feature o f the early decades o f H arappan studies w as an em phasis on urban settlem ents,
esp ecially M ohenjodaro and H arappa. A p art from being the first sites o f the culture to be excavated,
these tw o cities seem ed to stand out by virtue o f their size and architectural features. H ow ever,
several other sites are now know n to be as large or even larger than them, e.g., L urew ala and
G an w eriw ala in C holistan, R akhigarhi in H aryana, and D holavira in G ujarat. Scholars have
increasingly directed attention to the sm aller, less im posing sites, including tow ns and villages.
These include the site o f A llahdino (near K arachi), a v illag e settlem ent that m easures only about 5
ha, but w hich rev eals all the m ain features o f the H arappan civilization. A nother recently excavated
site is B alu in H aryana, a sm all fortified rural settlem ent that has y ield ed a rich v ariety o f plant
rem ains. P rofiles o f different kinds o f H arappan settlem ents are now availab le, and the
understanding o f the netw orks that connected cities, tow ns, and villag es is slo w ly growing.

MAP 4.1 DISTRIBUTION OF MAJOR HARAPPAN SITES

Although H arap p an sites share certain com m on features, there are also significant regional and
inter-site differences. T hese are v isib le, for instance, in the layout o f settlem ents and in the crops that
people grew and consum ed. T here are also differences in the types, range, and frequency o f
artefacts. F or instance, at A llahdino, the typical black-on-red H arap p an pottery form ed only 1 per
cent o f the total pottery finds. The m ud-brick platform s in the southern p art o f the citadel com plex at
K alibangan, w hich have b een interpreted as fire a lta rs, do not occur at m ost other sites. T here are
also differences in the frequency o f various funerary p ractices across sites. F or instance, post
crem ation burials w ere much m ore numerous at H arappa than at M ohenjodaro. A ll this suggests a
variety o f subsistence strategies, food habits, craft traditions, religious beliefs, cultic practices, and
social customs.
The nature and function o f certain structures have also b een re-co n sid ered in recent years. F or
instance, there is good reaso n to question w hether the great g ran aries at M ohenjodaro and H arappa
w ere granaries at all (Fentress, 1984). Less acceptable is Leshniks suggestion (1968) that the
dockyard at Lothal w as not a dockyard but an irrigation reservoir. The re-interpretation o f structures
has im portant im plications for the understanding o f the H arappan social and p o litical systems. F or
instance, the so -called g ran aries used to be cited to support the theory o f a strong, centralized state.
R ecent excavations at H arappan sites reflect the changes in approaches, goals, and techniques
w ithin the discip lin e o f archaeology. A good exam ple are the recent excavations at H arappa,
conducted by a jo in t A m erican and Pakistani team. C om pared to e a rlie r excavations at the site, these
have b een m arked by m uch m ore careful analysis o f the cultural sequence and details o f various
parts o f the residential areas. T here has also b een greater use o f scientific techniques, including the
analysis o f bone and teeth rem ains, w hich p ro v id e v ery specific inform ation about the d iet and health
o f the H arappans.
The debates about various aspects o f the H arap p an civ ilizatio n reflect both the potential o f
archaeology as a w indow into the ancient p ast and the im portant ro le o f interpretation in this
discipline. T here are many different theories about alm ost every asp ect o f the H arap p an civilization.
N ot all are equally acceptable; each has to be carefully examined. C onclusions can be reached on
certain issues, w hile in other cases, it is n ecessary to acknow ledge the current lim its o f our
know ledge.

H arappan, Indus, or S indhu-S arasvati C ivilization?

The first sites o f this civ ilizatio n w ere d isco v ered in the v a lle y o f the Indus and its tributaries. H ence
it w as given the name Indus v alley civ ilizatio n or Indus civ ilizatio n . Today, the count o f H arappan
sites has rise n to about 1,022, o f w hich 406 are in P akistan and 616 in India. O f these, only 97 have
so far b een excavated. The area co v ered by the H arap p an culture zone is huge, ranging betw een
680,000 to 800,000 sq km. Sites have b een found in A fghanistan; in the Punjab, Sindh, B aluchistan,
and N orth-W est F rontier P rovince o f Pakistan; in Jammu, Punjab, H aryana, R ajasthan, G ujarat, and
w estern U ttar P rad esh in India. The northernm ost site is M anda in Jam m u d istrict o f Jam m u and
Kashmir, the southernm ost is M alvan in Surat d istrict in southern G ujarat. The w estern-m ost site is
Sutkagen-dor on the M akran co ast o f Pakistan, and the easternm ost is A lam girpur in the Saharanpur
district o f Uttar Pradesh. T here is an isolated site at Shortughai in Afghanistan.
The v a st geographical extent o f the civ ilizatio n should make the o bjection to the term s Indus or
Indus v a lle y civ ilizatio n obvious. The term s In d u s-S arasv ati or S in d h u -S arasv ati civ ilizatio n
are also used by som e scholars. This is because a large num ber o f sites are located on the banks o f
the G haggar-H akra river, w hich is identified by som e scholars w ith the ancient Sarasvati m entioned
in the R ig Veda. H ow ever, the sort o f o b jectio n to the term s Indus or Indus v a lle y civ ilizatio n can
also be ap p lied to the term s In d u s-S a ra sw a ti or S in d h u -S arasw ati civilization. Since the
civilization w as not confined to the valleys o f the Indus or G haggar-H akra, the b e st option is to use
the term H arap p an civilization. This is b ased on the archaeological convention o f nam ing a culture
after the site w here it is first identified. The use o f the term H arap p an civ ilizatio n does not im ply that
all other sites are identical to H arappa or that the culture dev elo p ed first in this place. In fact,
Possehl asserts that it is n ecessary to b reak the H arappan m onolith into sub-regions, w hich he calls
D om ains (Possehl, 2003: 6 -7 ).
N ew sp ap ers and m agazines som etim es announce the d isco v ery o f new sites o f the H arappan
civilization. This is done on the b asis o f a checklist o f archaeological features. Pottery is an
im portant marker. The typical H arappan pottery is red, w ith designs painted on in black, and has a
certain range o f forms and motifs. O ther m aterial traits asso ciated w ith the civ ilizatio n include
terracotta cakes (pieces o f terracotta, usually triangular, som etim e round, w hose p recise function is
unclear), a standardized b rick size in the 1:2:4 ratio, and certain types o f stone and copper artefacts.
W hen the basic set o f H arappan m aterial traits are found asso ciated w ith each other at a site, it is
d escribed as a H arappan site.
The H arappan culture w as actually a long and com plex cultural pro cess consisting o f at least three
phases the early H arappan, m ature H arappan, and late H arappan. The early H arap p an phase w as
the form ative, proto-u rban phase o f the culture. The mature H arap p an phase w as the urban phase, the
full-fledged stage o f civilization. The late H arap p an phase w as the post-urban phase, w hen the cities
declined. O ther term inology is also used. F o r instance, Jim Shaffer (1992) uses the term Indus
valley trad itio n for the long series o f human adaptations starting from the n eo lith ic-ch alco lith ic
stage to the decline o f the H arappan civilization. W ithin this larger sequence, he uses the term
regionalization e ra for the early H arap p an phase, integration e ra for the m ature H arappan phase,
and lo calizatio n e ra for the late H arap p an phase. The early H arappan-m ature H arappan transition
and the mature H arap p an -late H arap p an transition are also treated as separate, distinct phases. In
this book, the sim ple and straightforw ard term inology o f early H arappan, m ature H arappan, and late
H arappan w ill be used. W hen the unqualified term H arappan culture/civilization is m entioned, the
reference is to the urban phase.
B efore the advent o f rad io carb o n dating, this civ ilizatio n w as dated by cross-referencing w ith the
M esopotam ian civilization, w ith w hich the H arappans w ere in contact and w hose dates w ere known.
A ccordingly, John M arshall suggested that the H arap p an civ ilizatio n flourished betw een c. 3250 and
2750 BCE. W hen the M esopotam ian chronology w as revised, the dates o f the H arappan civilization
w ere rev ised to c. 2 3 5 0 - 2000/1900 BCE.
The advent o f rad io carb o n dating in the 1950s offered the p ro sp ect o f a m ore scientific w ay o f
dating the civilization, and the num ber o f sites for w hich rad io carb o n dates are av ailab le have
gradually increased. The 1 9 8 6 -1 9 9 6 H arap p a excavations have given over 70 new rad io carb o n
dates, but none from the e a rlie st levels, w hich are subm erged in w ater. D. P. A graw al (1982)
suggested c. 2 3 0 0 -2 0 0 0 BCE for the nuclear regions and c. 2 0 0 0 -1 7 0 0 BCE for the peripheral zones,
but this is b ased on uncalibrated rad io carb o n dates. R ecent calib rated C -14 dates give a tim e fram e
o f about 2 6 0 0 -1 9 0 0 BCE for the urban phase in the core regions o f the Indus valley, the Ghaggar-
H akra valley, and G ujarat. This is quite close to the dates arriv ed at through cross-dating w ith
M esopotam ia. The dates o f individual sites vary.
C ollating the calib rated rad io carb o n dates from various sites gives the follow ing broad
chronology for the three phases o f the H arappan culture: early H arappan, c. 3 2 0 0 -2 6 0 0 BCE; mature
H arappan, c. 2 6 0 0 -1 9 0 0 BCE; and late H arappan, c. 1 9 0 0 -1 3 0 0 BCE.

Origin: The Significance o f the E arly H arap p an Phase

Issues o f origins are alw ays com plex and often contentious. In his rep o rt on M ohenjo-daro, John
M arshall asserted that the Indus civ ilizatio n must have had a long antecedent history on the soil o f
India (see C hakrabarti, 1984 for a sum mary o f the various theories). H ow ever, there w ere others
who put fo rw ard diffusionist explanations. A ccording to E. J. H. M ackay, a m igration o f people
from Sumer (southern M esopotam ia) m ay have led to the H arappan civilization; other proponents o f
the m igration theory included D.H. G ordon and S. N. Kram er. M ortim er W heeler argued for a
m igration o f ideas, not p eople the idea o f civ ilizatio n w as in the air o f W est A sia in the 3rd
m illennium BCE and the founders o f the H arap p an civ ilizatio n had a m odel o f civ ilizatio n before
them.
The fact that city life em erged in M esopotam ia a few centuries before it ap p eared in the Egyptian
and H arappan contexts does not m ean that the latter w ere d eriv ed from the form er in a direct or
indirect way. T here are in fact several striking differences b etw een the H arappan and M esopotam ian
civilizations. The M esopotam ians had a com pletely different script, a much greater use o f bronze,
different settlem ent layouts, and a larg e-scale canal system o f the kind that seem s absent in the
H arappan civilization.
I f the H arap p an civ ilizatio n cannot be explained as an offshoot or offspring o f the M esopotam ian
civilization, w h at is the alternative? The story o f its origins can, in fact, be traced to the em ergence
o f settled farm ing com m unities in B aluchistan in the 7th m illennium BCE. Its m ore im m ediate prelude
w as the cultural phase that used to be know n as pre-H arappan, and is now usually referred to as the
early H arappan phase.
A m alananda G hosh (1965) w as the first archaeologist to identify sim ilarities b etw een a pre-
H arappan culture and the m ature H arappan culture. G hosh focused on the pre-H arap p an Sothi culture
o f R ajasthan. H e asserted that there w ere sim ilarities b etw een Sothi pottery and the pottery o f (a)
Zhob, Quetta, and other B aluchi sites; (b) p re-H arap p an K alibangan, K ot D iji, and the lo w e st levels
o f H arap p a and M ohenjodaro; and (c) m ature H arappan levels at K alibangan, and perhaps also at
K ot D iji. In v ie w o f these sim ilarities, he argued that the Sothi culture should be d escrib ed as proto-
H arappan. A lim itation o f this hypothesis w as that it w as based exclusively on a com parison o f
pottery, and d id not consider other m aterial traits. A nd in em phasizing ceram ic sim ilarities, G hosh
had ignored the many differences b etw een the Sothi and H arappan cultures. The resu lt w as an o v er
em phasis on the Sothi elem ent in the account o f the em ergence o f the H arap p an civilization.

KEY CONCEPTS

The problems with diffusionist theories

D iffusionist theories w ere popular among archaeologists and historians in the 19th and early 20th
centuries and w ere invoked to explain developm ents as d iv erse as the beginnings o f agriculture,
the origins o f cities, the distribution o f m egalithic monuments, and sim ilarities in religious ideas.

D iffusion is not a theory but a w ay o f theorizing about cultural change. A diffusionist argum ent
can b ro ad ly be d escrib ed thus: The first thing to do is to figure out in w hich p a rt o f the w o rld the
change first occurred. This is identified as the point o f origin, from w here the change is
presented as having diffused or sp read to other areas. The pro cess o f diffusion is v ariously
d escrib ed as the result o f a m igration o f p eople, som e other form o f contact (e.g., trade, invasion)
or a m ore ab stract cultural stimulus.

Such theories often re st on a num ber o f questionable assum ptions and flaw ed logic:

One of these assumptions is that similar discoveries/inventions/ cultural changes in different parts of the
world must be connected to each other. This is not necessarily so. As we have seen in the case of the
origins of agriculture, at least three independent centres of early agriculture can be identified.
Diffusionist theories often take up superficial resemblances between cultures and ignore the differences.
They then hold up the superficial resemblances as very significant and as proof of diffusion.
These theories appear to offer an explanation, but actually do not explain anything at all. Technologies or
cultural transformations do not get transported and transplanted into new areas in a simple or automatic
way. There has to be a need and acceptance for them in the recipient culture, and a number of
preconditions have to be in place. Mere awareness of a different way of life does not lead to people
changing their ways of doing things or living their lives. For example, it was pointed out in the previous
chapter that there are several hunting-gathering groups who are aware of agriculture but do not practise it
themselves. Urbanization is a very complex process and the mere awareness of cities does not
necessarily lead to a transformation of village cultures into urban ones. As we shall see further on, a
number of things have to be in place before urbanization can happen.

This criticism o f diffusionist theories should not be taken to m ean that cultures never influence
each other. H ow ever, in all instances, w hile making a case for such influence, it is n ecessary to:

prove that there was some contact between the donor and recipient cultures before the change appeared
in the latter;
show that there is indeed a striking and significant degree of similarity in the developments in the two
cultures; and
demonstrate how and why the new technology/practice was transmitted to and absorbed into the cultural
fabric of the recipient culture.

The first com prehensive analysis o f the evidence from p re-H arap p an sites in the greater Indus
valley and north B aluchistan w as m ade by M. R. Mughal (1977). Mughal com pared the w hole range
o f evidence (pottery, stone tools, m etal artefacts, architecture, etc.) from p re-H arap p an and mature
H arappan levels, and explored the relationship betw een the tw o stages. The p re-H arap p an phase
show ed large fortified settlem ents, a fairly high level o f expertise in sp ecialized crafts such as stone
w orking, m etal crafting, and b ead making, the use o f w h eeled transport, and the existence o f trade
netw orks. The range o f raw m aterials used by the pre-H arappans w as m ore or less the sam e as that
used in the m ature H arap p an phase (except for ja d e , w hich is absent in the early H arap p an context).
The tw o things lacking w ere large cities and increased levels o f craft specialization. Mughal argued
that the p re-H arap p an phase actually represented the early, form ative phase o f the H arap p an culture
and that the term p re-H arap p an should therefore be rep laced by early H arap p an .
E arly H arap p an levels have b een identified at a large num ber o f sites, a few o f w hich are
discussed below . A t som e sites, the early H arappan phase represents the first cultural stage, at others
it is p a rt o f a longer cultural sequence. The dates v ary from site to site, but the general range is c.
3 2 0 0 -2 6 0 0 BCE. The early H arap p an phase is extrem ely im portant, not m erely as a stepping-stone to
urbanization, but in its ow n right as w ell.
A t B alakot (on the coastal p lain o f Sonm iani B ay on the M akran coast), P erio d II is early
H arappan. The pottery w as w heel-m ade and painted, som e o f it sim ilar to the polychrom e w are o f
Nal. There w ere m icroliths, hum ped bull figurines, a few copper objects, m iscellaneous artefacts
made o f terracotta, shell, and bone, and beads o f lapis lazuli, stone, shell, and paste. R em ains o f
barley, vetch, legum es, and b er w ere found and bones o f cattle, sheep, goat, buffalo, hare, deer, and
pig w ere identified.
M ention w as m ade in C hapter 3 o f the site o f N al in the K hozdar area o f B aluchistan. N al- and
A m ri-related sites rep resen t the early H arappan phase in the southern p art o f the Indus v alley and
Baluchistan.
PAINTED DESIGNS ON EARLY HARAPPAN POTTERY, NAL; KULLI
50

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MAP 4.2 SOME EARLY HARAPPAN SITES

A m ri in Sindh lies about 2 km from the right bank o f the Indus. The settlem ent goes b ack to c. 3500
BCE. P erio d I at A m ri is early H arap p an and is further sub-divided into four phases 1A, 1B, 1C,
and 1D. P erio d II represents a transitional phase and P erio d III is m ature H arappan. W ithin P erio d I,
there w as a gradual increase in the refinem ent and v ariety o f pottery. M ud-brick structures,
som etim es supplem ented w ith stone, m ade their appearance. A rtefacts included chert blades, stone
balls, bone tools, and a few fragments o f copper and bronze. In P erio d IC, there w ere m ultiple
cellular com partm ents, perhaps used for storing grain or as platform s for buildings. The pottery w as
dom inated by w heel-m ade w ares and show ed a great v ariety o f forms and painted designs, m ostly
geom etric. The painting w as m onochrom e or polychrom e, using brow n, black, and ochre.
K ot D iji lies about 160 km north-east o f A m ri, on the left bank o f one o f the o ld flood channels o f
the Indus. H ere, there is an early and mature H arap p an level w ith a burnt d ep o sit in betw een. E arly
H arappan P erio d I w as dated from c. 3300 BCE. F ortified w ith a m assive w all m ade o f lim estone
rubble and m ud-brick, the settlem ent consisted o f a citadel com plex and a lo w er residential area.
House w alls o f stone and m ud-brick w ere found in the upper levels. A rtefacts included objects o f
stone, shell, and bone; terracotta figurines (including a bull figurine), bangles, and beads; and a
fragm ent o f a bronze bangle. There is a great v ariety o f pottery in P erio d I, m ostly w heel-m ade and
decorated w ith b ro w n ish bands o f paint. The distinctive pottery is a short-necked o v o id pot, painted
w ith designs such as the horned deity,p ip a l leaves and fish sc a le s. A rtefacts sim ilar to those at
K ot D iji P erio d I have been found at other sites as w ell, and such lev els are know n as K ot D ijian .

F igure 4.1 Amri pottery

A t M ehrgarh, the excavators noted the occurrence o f K ot D iji style v essels, fragments o f triangular
terracotta cakes, v ery long flint blades, and fragments o f perforated ja rs , w hich suggest links w ith the
Indus v alley by the end o f P erio d VII. H ow ever, these links are not so strong as to constitute true
H arappan influence. A t nearby N ausharo, there is a c lear transition from the early H arappan to a
transitional and then mature H arap p an phase. The pottery o f P erio d IC (the later p art o f the early
H arappan lev els) at N ausharo w as sim ilar to that o f M ehrgarh P erio d VIIC. Jarrige (Jarrige et al.,
n.d.: 87) suggests that these tw o phases w ere contem poraneous and can be dated c. 2 6 0 0 -2 5 5 0 BCE.
T here are a num ber o f early H arappan sites in the D era Jat area in the w estern Indus plains. A t
Gumla in the G om al valley, new pottery styles, including som e sim ilar to the K ot D ijian, ap p eared in
P eriod II. P erio d III w as dom inated by K ot D ijian pottery forms and designs including the horned
deity. P erio d IV at G um la belonged to the mature H arap p an phase.
P erio d I at Rehm an D heri in the G om al v alley is early H arappan and its e a rlie st levels are dated
c. 3 3 8 0 -3 0 4 0 BCE. The settlem ent w as over 20 ha in size. A erial photographs show ed a planned,
rectangular settlem ent w ith a regular grid o f streets and houses, surrounded by a m assive w all that
belonged to a later phase, contem porary w ith the mature H arappan. H ow ever, it is clear that there
w as a w all m ade o f mud and m ud-brick around the settlem ent in the early H arap p an phase as w ell.
The pottery designs show K ot D ijian elem ents and som e o f the pots have graffiti. A rtefacts included
stone blades, co p p er and bronze tools, and terracotta figurines. B eads o f lapis lazuli and turquoise
w ere found, indicating exchange w ith A fghanistan and central A sia. P lant rem ains com prised grains
o f w h eat and barley. B ones o f cattle, sheep, and goat w ere identified.

F igure 4.2 kot dijian pottery from various sites

Sim ilar d isco v eries w ere m ade at several sites in the B annu basin. The early H arap p an settlem ent
at L ew an may go b ack to the early 3 rd m illennium BCE. A p a rt from a sm all habitation area,
excavations rev ealed an area m easuring about 450 * 325 m, littered w ith various kinds o f stone tools
in different stages o f production m icroliths (m ostly o f chert) as w ell as heavy stone artefacts,
including various types o f querns, stone balls, long triangular stone axes, ring stones, and pointed
hammer stones. L ew an w as clearly a factory site w here various kinds o f stone tools w ere made.
B eads and b ead making m aterial w ere also found in a p art o f this industrial area. Tarakai Q ila gave
evidence o f w heat, barley, lentils (L ens cu lin a ris), and field pea (P isum arvense), and there w ere
stone blades w ith the sheen typical o f sickles used for harvesting grain. B ones o f cattle, w ater
buffalo, sheep, and goat w ere found.
P erio d II at Sarai K hola in the northern p art o f Punjab province o f Pakistan is early H arappan.
There w as a transition w ithin this p erio d from p it dw ellings to m ud-brick houses. The dom inant
pottery type w as K ot D ijian. Stone artefacts included m icroliths, celts, and chisels. T here w ere other
objects such as terracotta figurines, terracotta and shell bangles, beads m ade o f steatite paste, and
one o f lapis lazuli. Some copper artefacts, including bangles, pins, rings, and rods, also m ade their
appearance.
In the previous chapter, m ention w as m ade o f recent excavations at H arap p a in Pun-jab province
o f Pakistan, w hich indicate that the first occupation o f the site (P erio d I) belongs to the R avi or
H akra phase. The settlem ent o f the early H arap p an phase at H arappa (P erio d II) w as over 25 ha in
area (M eadow and K enoyer, 2001). It w as d iv id ed into tw o mounds, each w ith m assive m ud-brick
platform s and fortifications. The layout o f the houses and streets suggest elem ents o f planning.
Remains o f m ud-brick w alls, hearths, and a sm all circu lar kiln w ere found. C raftspeople used a
variety o f raw m aterials to produce a diverse range o f items. Pottery included types sim ilar to those
found at K ot D iji. O ther artefacts included chert blades, a few stone celts, terracotta fem ale figurines
and bangles, and beads m ade o f lapis lazuli, carnelian, and steatite. T here is evidence o f w riting (on
pottery and seals), inscribed seals, and standardized w eights. C ertain types o f artefacts found in the
early H arappan phase including som e pottery types, figurines, triangular terracotta cakes, toys, and
bangles continued into the m ature H arap p an phase.
A s m entioned in C hapter 3 , the first v illag e settlem ents in the C holistan tract o f the H akra p lain
belong to the H akra w ares phase. The next cultural phase in this area is K ot D ijian, i.e., early
H arappan. In fact, the greatest concentration o f K ot D ijian sites lies in the C holistan region. In this
phase, there w as a dram atic change from a nom adic life to perm anent settlement. M. R. M ughals
study (1997) show s a drop in the num ber o f cam p sites from 52.5 p er cent (H akra w ares phase) to
7.5 per cent. M any o f the settlem ents had kilns, indicating a sharp increase in sp ecialized craft
activities. A bout 60 p er cent o f the sites are under 5 ha, and 25 per cent are b etw een 5 and 10 ha.
There are a few larger sites, nam ely Ja lw a li (22.5 ha) and G am anw ala (27.3 ha).
EARLY HARAPPAN POTTERY: ZANGIAN; SHAHI TUMP

P erio d I at K alibangan on the banks o f the G haggar riv e r is early H arappan. C alibrated
rad io carb o n dates give a range o f c. 2 9 2 0 -2 5 5 0 BCE. The settlem ent o f P erio d I w as about 4 ha in
size and w as surrounded by m assive m ud-brick fortifications. H ouses w ere m ade o f mud and mud-
brick, and w ere b u ilt around courtyards. There w as a standardization o f b rick size (3:2:1). H earths,
lim e-plastered storage pits, and saddle querns w ere found in houses. A rtefacts included stone
blades, terracotta cakes, shell bangles, disc beads m ade o f steatite, carnelian, faience, gold, and
silver, and over a hundred copper objects. The pottery o f P erio d I show ed great variety. Some o f the
pots w ere sim ilar to K ot D ijian pottery. The distinctive pottery w as red or pink in colour w ith
designs painted on in black, som etim es also in white. The designs included a m oustache-like scroll,
plants, fish, and cattle. Some o f the graffiti on pottery is sim ilar to the scrip t o f the m ature H arappan
phase. One o f the m ost exciting finds in P erio d I w as m ade to the south o f the site a ploughed field
surface, show ing the north-south and e a s t-w e s t furrow marks left by a plough hundreds o f years ago.
T here are a num ber o f early H arappan sites in the Indo-G angetic divide. A t Kunal, B anaw ali, and
Rakhigarhi in H issar d istrict o f H aryana, the early H arap p an phase is succeeded by a mature
H arappan phase. A t Kunal, P erio d IA belonged to the H akra w ares phase. P erio d IB show ed a
continuation o f the traits o f the earlier phase, but also a large quantity o f pottery o f the type found at
K alibangan I. T here w as also the first occurrence o f sturdy red beakers and ja rs o f the H arappan
type. P erio d IC w as transitional betw een the early and mature H arappan. The b elo w ground-level
houses o f the e a rlie r phases m ade w ay for ground-level houses m ade o f standardized m ud-bricks (in
the 1:2:3 and 1:2:4 size ratios). Six steatite seals and one shell seal bearing geom etric patterns w ere
found. Large hoards o f jew ellery , including tw o silv er tiaras, gold ornam ents, and beads m ade o f
sem iprecious stones such as lapis lazuli and agate, w ere d isco v ered in som e o f the houses.
A t B anaw ali, the early H arap p an phase w as m arked by m ud-brick houses w ith hearths and
plastered storage pits in the courtyards. The pottery w as sim ilar to that found at K alibangan I.
A rtefacts included stone blades, co p p er objects, beads o f gold and sem i-precious stones, and a
cubical chert blade. N earby, along the G haggar-H akra, early H arappan levels have been identified at
S isw al and B alu in H aryana and R ohira and M ahorana in Punjab.
R akhigarhi gives evidence o f a planned settlem ent and m ud-brick structures in early H arappan
P eriod I. The range o f pottery types w as sim ilar to that o f K alibangan I. A rtefacts included
uninscribed seals, pottery w ith graffiti, terracotta w heels, carts, rattles, and bull figurines, chert
blades, w eights, a bone point, and a muller. A lo t o f anim al bones w ere found during the excavations,
indicating the im portance o f anim al husbandry. A stacked set o f hopscotches w as found in an open
area behind the structural com plex. This suggests the p o ssib ility that a game sim ilar to p ith u , w hich
is popular among children in India and Pakistan, goes b ack to early H arap p an times!

F igure 4.3 painted motifs on pre-Harappan pottery from kalibangan

B hirrana, a recently excavated site in F atehabad d istrict o f H aryana (R ao et al., 2 0 0 4 -0 5 ), has


given valuable inform ation on the p ro cesses leading to the H arap p an civilization. P erio d IA belongs
to the H akra w ares culture, P erio d IB is early H arappan, P erio d II early m ature H arappan, and
P eriod IIB m ature H arappan. The rem ains o f P erio d IB included vestiges o f structures m ade o f mud-
bricks in the ratio o f 1:2:3, including a house com plex consisting o f six room s, a central courtyard,
and chullahs. T here w ere many different kinds o f pottery, including the types know n from
K alibangan, as w ell as the bi-chrom e w ares, a few sherds o f light incised w ares, and tan/chocolate
w ares know n from P erio d IA. O ther artefacts included copper arrow heads, rings, and bangles; beads
o f carnelian, jasper, steatite, shell, and terracotta; terracotta m arbles, pendant, bull figurine, rattle,
cake, w heel, and gam esm en (sm all p ieces that m ay have b een used as counters in som e sort o f
ancient b o ard game); p la in and segm ented terracotta bangles; faience bangles; bone objects; and
sandstone sling balls, m arbles, and pounders.
E xcavations at sites such as P adri and K untasi in Saurashtra have show n the existence o f a w ell-
developed early H arappan horizon in Gujarat. The site o f D holavira in the R ann o f K utch has early
H arappan levels. The settlem ent w as fortified w ith an im posing w all m ade o f stone rubble set in
mud mortar. B uildings w ere m ade o f standardized (1 :2 :4 ) m ud-bricks. Pottery included perforated
jars and dish-on-stand, and there w as evidence o f copper artefacts, stone blades, shell objects,
terracotta cakes, and stone beads.

The R elationship B etw een the E arly and M ature H arappan Phases

In spite o f the undeniable evidence o f cultural continuity from the early H arappan to the mature
H arappan phase, the outside influence factor still som etim es resurfaces in different forms. W hile
acknow ledging the indigenous roots o f the H arap p an civilization, som e archaeologists still invoke
Sum erian influence. A ttem pts have b een m ade to connect the pottery traditions o f the H arappan
tradition w ith those o f M esopotam ia and eastern Iran. L am berg-K arlovsky (1972) suggests that the
em ergence o f an early urban interaction sphere in c. 3000 BCE in Turkmenia, Seistan, and south
A fghanistan had an im portant ro le to play in H arap p an urbanism . Shereen R atnagar (1981) suggests
that Indus-M esopotam ian trade played an im portant ro le in the rise and decline o f the H arappan
civilization. Such theories are difficult to accep t in the absence o f substantive evidence.
A p art from the fact that som e features o f the m ature H arappan culture w ere alread y in p lace in the
early H arappan phase, w hat is also v isib le is a gradual transition from a v ariety o f regional
traditions tow ards a level o f cultural uniform ity cutting across regions, a process that the A llchins
call cultural convergence (A llchin and A llchin, 1997: 163). Some inferences can also be m ade
about the social and p olitical p rocesses that w ere underway. S pecialized crafts im ply specialized
craftspersons, trade im plies traders, and planned settlem ents im ply planners, executors, and
labourers. Seals have b een found at Kunal and N ausharo and m ay have b een connected w ith traders
or elite groups. The d isco v ery o f hoards o f je w e lle ry at Kunal, including a silv er p iece that has been
interpreted as a tiara, suggests a fairly high level o f concentration o f w ealth and m ay also have
political im plications. The d isco v ery o f sym bols sim ilar to H arap p an w riting at early H arappan
levels at P adri in G ujarat, K alibangan in Rajasthan, D holavira in Kutch, and H arappa in w est Punjab
show s that the roots o f the H arap p an scrip t go b ack to this phase.
A nother notable feature is the appearance o f the horned deity at a num ber o f places. He is
painted on a ja r found at K ot D iji and on several ja rs found at early H arap p an R ehm an D heri, in
contexts dated c. 2800-2600 BCE. A t K alibangan P erio d I, his figure w as incised on one side o f a
terracotta cake, on the other side o f w hich w as a figure w ith a tied anim al. A ll this suggests that the
process o f cultural convergence w as also operating in the religious and sym bolic spheres.
B ut how d id this convergence com e about? W hat led to the transition from the proto-urban early
H arappan phase to full-fledged city life? Was it the resu lt o f increased inter-regional contact, or
long-distance trade? Trade w ith M esopotam ia has been suggested as a factor, but the im portance o f
this trade has b een exaggerated even in the context o f the mature H arap p an phase. A ccording to
C hakrabarti (1995b: 4 9 -5 2 ), the catalyst for the transition m ay have b een an increasing level o f craft
specialization, instigated esp ecially by the developm ent o f copper m etallurgy in Rajasthan. He
suggests that another crucial factor for the spread o f settlem ents in the active flo o d p lain o f the Indus
may have b een agricultural grow th b ased on an organized irrigation system, but d irect evidence o f
this is lacking. The answ er m ay lie in the em ergence o f a new, d ecisiv e p o litical leadership,
significant changes in social organization, or perhaps a new ideology. Unfortunately, such changes
are difficult to deduce from the archaeological data.

FIGURE 4.4 HORNED DEITY ON TERRACOTTA CAKE AND POT, KALIBANGAN, PERIOD I

T here are several other gaps in our understanding o f the relationship betw een the early and mature
H arappan phases. The inform ation about the e a rlie st levels at sites such as M ohenjodaro and
H arappa is inadequate. There are several mature H arap p an sites w here there is no early H arappan
level, e.g., Lothal, D esalpur, Chanhudaro, M itathal, A lam girpur, and Ropar. There are several early
H arappan sites in the P o tw ar plateau w hich do not have m ature H arap p an levels. In C holistan, only
three o f the many early H arap p an sites C hak 76, G am anw ali, and Sandhanaw ala Ther continued
to be occupied in the m ature H arappan phase. Further, there are no early H arap p an sites in the active
Indus plain. A nd at sites w here there are both early H arap p an and mature H arap p an levels, the
transition from one to the other is not alw ays smooth. A t K ot D iji and Gumla, a burnt d eposit
betw een the tw o suggests a m ajor fire. E vidence o f burning w as also found at A m ri and N ausharo.
At K alibangan, the b reak in occupation m ay have b een due to an earthquake.

The G eneral Features o f M ature H arap p an Settlem ents


The fact that the H arap p an civ ilizatio n w as urban does not m ean that all or even m ost o f its
settlem ents had an urban character. A m ajority w ere in fact villages. The cities depended on villages
for food and perhaps also labour, and various kinds o f goods produced in cities found their w ay into
the villages. A s a resu lt o f the b risk u rb an -ru ral interaction, the typical range o f H arappan artefacts
reached even sm all village sites.
It is not easy to estim ate the exact size o f ancient settlem ents, as they are often sp read over many
mounds and buried under layers o f alluvium . N evertheless, it is clear that the H arap p an sites v aried
a great deal in size and function, from large cities to sm all pastoral camps. The larg est settlem ents
include M ohenjodaro (over 200 ha), H arappa (o v er 150 ha), G an w eriw ala (o v er 81.5 ha),
Rakhigarhi (o v er 80 ha), and D holavira (about 100 ha). L urew ala in C holistan, w ith an estim ated
population o f about 35,000, seem s to have b een as large as M ohenjodaro. O ther large sites (about 50
ha) are N agoor, Tharo W aro D aro, and Lakhueenjo-D aro in Sindh, and N ondow ri in B aluchistan.
Recently, som e v ery large H arap p an sites have b een rep o rted in Punjab D halew an (about 150 ha)
in M ansa d istrict and Gurni K alan I (144 ha), H asanpur II (about 100 ha), L akhm irw ala (225 ha),
and B aglian D a Theh (about 100 ha) in B hatinda district, but details are so far lacking. The second
rung o f H arap p an settlem ents are m oderate-sized sites ranging b etw een 10 and 50 ha, such as
Judeirjodaro and K alibangan. Then, there are the even sm aller sites o f 5 -1 0 ha, such as A m ri,
Lothal, Chanhudaro, and R ojdi. The many settlem ents in the 1 -5 ha range include A llahdino, K ot
D iji, Rupar, B alakot, Surkotada, N ageshw ar, N ausharo, and Ghazi Shah. There are also settlem ents
even sm aller than these.
The streets and houses o f H arap p an cities w ere once thought to be laid on a grid-pattern oriented
north-south and east-w est. A ctually, even M ohenjodaro does not show a perfect grid system. R oads
in the H arappan cities w ere not alw ays absolutely straight and d id not alw ays cross one another at
right angles. But the settlem ents w ere clearly planned. There is no strict co rrelatio n b etw een the
level o f planning and the size o f a settlement. F o r exam ple, the relativ ely sm all site o f Lothal show s
a much higher level o f planning than K alibangan, w hich is tw ice its size. The details o f the plans
differ. M ohenjodaro, H arappa, and K alibangan have a sim ilar layout, consisting o f a ra ise d citadel
com plex and a lo w er city. A t Lothal and Surkotada, the citadel com plex is not separate; it is located
w ithin the m ain settlement. In its m ost fully dev elo p ed phase, D holavira consisted o f not tw o but
three parts the citadel, m iddle tow n, and lo w e r town.
A m ajor difference betw een the buildings in large cities and those in sm aller tow ns and villages
w as in the type and com bination o f raw m aterials used. In villages, houses w ere m ade m ostly o f
m ud-brick, w ith the additional use o f mud and reeds; stone w as occasio n ally used for foundations or
drains. B uildings in tow ns and cities w ere m ade o f sun-dried and burnt bricks. In the rocky areas o f
Kutch and Saurashtra, how ever, there w as extensive use o f stone. The m assive fortification w alls
w ith a veneer o f d ressed stone at D holavira and the rem ains o f stone p illars in the citadel are very
distinctive and are not found at any other H arap p an site.
The fact that som e house w alls at M ohenjodaro survive upto a height o f 5 m is a tribute to the
strength o f the bricks and the brick-laying skill o f the H arappans. T here w ere various styles o f laying
bricks, including w hat is know n as the E nglish bond style. In this, bricks w ere laid together in a
sequence o f long side (stretcher) and short side (header), w ith an alternate arrangem ent in
consecutive row s. This gave the w all maximum load-bearing strength. A striking feature o f H arappan
structures is the uniform ity in the average size o f the bricks 7 * 14 * 28 cm for houses and 10 * 20
x 40 cm for city w alls. B oth these b rick sizes have an identical ratio o f thickness, w idth, and length
(1:2:4). This ratio first makes its appearance at a few sites in the early H arappan phase, but in the
mature H arap p an phase, it is found in all the settlements.
P eople liv ed in houses o f different sizes, m ostly consisting o f room s arranged around a central
courtyard. D oorw ays and w indow s generally faced the side lanes and rarely opened onto the m ain
streets. The v ie w from the lane into the courtyard w as blocked o ff by a w all. There are rem ains o f
staircases that m ay have led to the ro o f or a second storey. The fact that som e o f the houses at
M ohenjodaro w ere tw o stories high or m ore is also suggested by the thickness o f their w alls. F loors
w ere usually m ade o f hard-packed earth, often re-p lastered or co v ered w ith sand. The ceilings w ere
probably over 3 m high. R oofs m ay have b een m ade o f w o o d en beam s co v ered w ith reeds and
packed clay.

MOHENJODARO: WELL FLANKED BY HOUSE WALLS

The doors and w indow s o f houses w ere m ade o f w o o d and mats. C lay m odels o f houses show that
doors w ere som etim es carv ed or painted w ith sim ple designs. W indow s had shutters (perhaps m ade
o f w o o d or reeds and matting), w ith latticew o rk grills above and b elo w to allo w in light and air. A
few p ieces o f carv ed alab aster and m arble latticew o rk have b een found at H arap p a and
M ohenjodaro; such slabs m ay have b een set into the brickw ork. Small houses attached to large ones
may have b een the quarters o f service groups w orking for w ealthy city dw ellers. In the larger
houses, passages led into inner room s, and there is evidence o f frequent renovation activity.
B athroom s and toilets are facilities people use every day but w hich m ost books on ancient history
rarely discuss. In the case o f the H arap p an civilization, there is quite a b it o f inform ation on this
aspect (K enoyer, 1998: 5 9 -6 0 ). M any houses or groups o f houses had separate bathing areas and
toilets. B athing platform s w ith drains w ere often located in room s next to a w ell. The floor o f the
bathing area w as usually m ade o f tightly fitted bricks, frequently set on edge, to make a carefully
sloped w atertight surface. A sm all d rain led from here, cut through the house w all, and w en t out into
the street, connecting ultim ately w ith a larger sew age drain.
A lthough som e people m ay have used the area outside the city w alls to reliev e them selves, toilets
have b een identified at many sites. They ranged from the sim ple hole in the ground above a cessp it to
more elaborate arrangem ents. R ecent excavations at H arap p a have uncovered toilets in alm ost every
house. The com m odes w ere m ade o f b ig pots sunk into the floor, many o f them asso ciated w ith a
sm all lota-type jar, no doubt for w ashing up. M ost o f the pots had a sm all hole in the base, through
w hich w ater could seep into the ground. The w aste from the toilets w as in som e cases discharged
though a sloping channel into a ja r or d rain in the street outside. Some peo p le m ust have had the jo b
o f cleaning the toilets and drains on a regular basis.

MAIN STREET

W ell laid -o u t streets and side lanes asso ciated w ith an efficient and w ell-p lan n ed drainage system
are other notable features o f H arap p an settlements. E ven the sm aller tow ns and villag es had
im pressive drainage systems. The sew age chutes and pipes w ere separate from drains for collecting
rain w ater. D rains and w ater chutes from the second storey w ere often b u ilt inside the w all, w ith an
exit opening ju s t above the street drain. A t H arappa and M ohenjodaro, terracotta d rain pipes
directed w aste w ater into open street drains m ade o f baked bricks. T hese connected into large drains
along the m ain streets, w hich em ptied their contents into the fields outside the city w all. The m ain
drains w ere co v ered by co rb elled arches m ade o f b rick or stone slabs. T here w ere rectangular soak-
pits for collecting so lid w aste at regular intervals. These m ust have b een cleaned out regularly,
otherw ise the drainage system w ould have becom e choked and a health hazard.
The H arappans m ade elaborate arrangem ents for w ater for drinking and bathing. The em phasis on
providing w ater for bathing, evident at several sites, suggests that they w ere v ery p articular about
personal hygiene. It is p o ssib le that frequent bathing also had a religious or ritualistic aspect. The
sources o f w ater w ere riv ers, w ells, and reserv o irs or cisterns. M ohenjodaro is noted for its large
number o f w ells. H arap p a had much few er w ells but a d ep ressio n in the centre o f the city may
represent a tank or reserv o ir that served the citys inhabitants. T here are a few w ells at D holavira,
w hich is noted m ore for its im pressive w ater reserv o irs lined w ith stone.

P rofiles o f Some H arap p an C ities, Towns, and V illages

A v ery sm all p ro p o rtio n o f identified H arap p an sites have b een excavated. A nd w here excavations
have taken place, only sections o f the settlem ents have b een exposed (for site details, see, for
instance, K enoyer, 1998; P ossehl, 2003; and Lal, 1997).
M ohenjodaro in Sindh lies about 5 km aw ay from the Indus; in protohistoric tim es, the riv er may
have flow ed much closer. The site consists o f tw o mounds, a higher but sm aller w estern mound and a
lo w er but larger eastern mound. T here is an extensive area to the east that has not y et b een explored.
The size o f the site has b een estim ated as about 200 ha. O n the b asis o f the density o f houses in the
excavated area, F airserv is (1967) suggested that the lo w er city m ay have housed about 41,250
people.
The w estern mound at M ohenjodaro (know n as the citadel) rises up to 12 m above the plain. The
structures here w ere b u ilt on an artificial mud and m ud-brick platform , about 400 * 200 m The
mound w as c ircled by a 6 m thick m ud-brick retaining w all or platform w ith projections on the
south-w est and w est, and a to w er has been identified on the south-east. It has been suggested that the
elevated area at M ohenjodaro does not rep resen t a defensive fortification but p a rt o f a civic design
to create an elevated sym bolic landscape. H ow ever, the defensive nature o f the w alls here and at
other cities cannot be ruled out.

FIGURE 4.5 CITADEL AND LOWER TOWN, MOHENJODARO

The buildings on the citadel mound o f M ohen jo d a ro are among the things w e associate m ost
closely w ith the H arap p an civilization. In the north are the G reat Bath, the so -called granary, and
college o f p rie sts. The G reat Bath, an exam ple o f the H arap p an s engineering skill, m easures about
14.5 * 7 m, w ith a maximum depth o f 2 .4 m A w id e staircase leads d o w n into the tank from the north
and south. The floor and w alls o f the tank w ere m ade w ater-tight by finely fitted bricks laid edge to
edge w ith gypsum mortar. A thick layer o f bitum en w as laid along the sides o f the tank and p robably
also b elo w the floor, making this one o f the e a rlie st exam ples o f w aterproofing in the w orld. The
floor slopes to w ard s the southw est corner, w here a sm all outlet leads to a large co rb elled b rick
drain, w hich w ould have taken the w ater out to the edge o f the mound. R em ains o f b rick colonnades
w ere d isco v ered on the eastern, northern, and southern sides o f the bath and a sim ilar colonnade
must have existed on the w estern side as w ell. Two large doors lead into the com plex from the south
and there w ere also entrances from the north and east. T here are a series o f room s along the eastern
edge o f the building. One o f them has a w ell that may have supplied w ater to the tank. Im m ediately to
the north o f the G reat B ath is a large building consisting o f eight sm all room s w ith com m on bathing
platform s.

MOHENJODARO: NARROW LANE BETWEENHOUSE WALLS


G reat bath

A cross the street from the G reat B ath are the rem ains o f a large, im posing building (69 x 23.4 m)
consisting o f several room s, a 10 m square courtyard, and three verandahs. Two staircases led either
to the ro o f or an upper storey. B ecause o f its size and proxim ity to the G reat Bath, it w as tentatively
identified as the house o f the c h ie f p rie st or several priests, and w as lab elled the college o f p rie sts.
O n the w estern edge o f the citadel mound, at the south-w est corner o f the G reat Bath, raised on a
tapered b rick platform , is a structure that w as originally identified as a ham m am or hot-air bath, and
later as the great granary. The 50 x 27 m solid b rick foundation w as d iv id ed into 27 square and
rectangular blocks by narrow passagew ays, 2 running e a s t-w e s t and 8 running north-south. The
entire superstructure m ay have b een m ade o f w ood. A 4.5 m w id e b rick staircase led from the south
w estern edge o f the building to the level o f the plain. T here w as a sm all bathing platform at the top
o f the stairs and a b rick-lined w ell at their foot. To the north w as a burnt b rick platform , identified by
W heeler as a loading dock. A s it w as excavated w ithout recording the artefacts found in the
passagew ays or the room s, it is difficult to be sure about its function. B ut the absence o f reports o f
charred grain or storage containers has led som e scholars to question its identification as a granary.
In the southern p a rt o f the citadel mound, there is a large building (27 x 27 m) that has been
lab elled an assem bly h a ll. It is roughly square in shape and is d iv id ed into five aisles by row s o f
rectangular b rick piers.
The lo w er to w n to the east, covering over 80 ha, m ay also have b een surrounded by a fortification
w all. It w as d iv id ed into m ajor blocks by four north-south and e a s t-w e s t streets and numerous
sm aller streets and alleys. The m ain streets w ere about 9 m in w idth, the re st in the range o f 1.5-3 m.
The houses v aried in size, suggesting differences in w ealth and status. In the H R area (the sections o f
M ohenjodaro are nam ed after the excavators: H R stands for H. H argreaves, D K for K. N. D ikshit),
there w ere rem ains o f a large building w here many seals and fragments o f a stone sculpture o f a
seated m an w ith a shaw l over his left shoulder (sim ilar to the so -called priest-king found in the D K
area) w ere found. This building w as tentatively interpreted as a tem ple or the house o f an im portant
leader. In the w estern p art o f the H R area, there w as a double ro w o f 16 houses, each consisting o f a
single room w ith a bathroom in front and 1 or 2 sm aller room s in the back. These w ere tentatively
identified as shops or w o rk e rs quarters. A num ber o f shops and w orkshops asso ciated w ith copper
w orking, b ead making, dyeing, pottery making, and shell w orking w ere identified in the lo w er town.
T here m ay have been over 700 w ells in the city o f M ohenjodaro (Jansen, 1989). This gives a very
high average frequency o f about one in every third house. The w ells w ere 1 0 -1 5 m deep and w ere
lined w ith special w edge-shaped bricks. D eep grooves at the top edges show the spots w here the
ropes attached to buckets rubbed against them. M ost houses or house blocks at M ohenjodaro had at
least one private w ell. M any neighbourhoods had public w ells along the m ain street. We can im agine
people m eeting here, exchanging new s and gossip as they w aited to fill their pots w ith water.
Chanhudaro is a 4.7 ha site, about 130 km south o f M ohenjodaro. Today, the riv e r flow s 20 km to
its w est; in protohistoric tim es it m ay have been closer. This is a single mound site w ith no
fortifications. T here are m ud-brick platform s w ith rem ains o f various structures. The traces o f at
least three streets have b een identified. The m ain one w as 5.68 m w id e, and had tw o co vered drains
made o f burnt bricks on both sides. Chanhudaro w as clearly an im portant centre o f craft activity.
Some o f the houses y ield ed raw m aterial such as carnelian, agate, amethyst, and crystal as w ell as
finished and unfinished beads and drills. M ore striking w as the d isco v ery o f a b ead factory, w ith lots
o f finished and unfinished beads, m ostly m ade o f steatite. Seal making, shell w orking, and the making
o f stone w eights seem to have b een other im portant crafts p ractised here.
The mounds o f H arappa cover an extensive area o f about 150 ha. The R avi riv e r flow s som e 10
km aw ay from the site. The higher citadel mound lies to the w est, w ith a lo w er but larger lo w er tow n
to its south-east. South o f the citadel mound is a cem etery o f the mature H arap p an phase. The citadel
at H arap p a w as shaped roughly like a parallelogram , about 415 m north-south and 195 m east-w est.
It w as surrounded by a m ud-brick w all w ith m assive to w ers and gatew ays, and the structures inside
w ere raised on one or m ore high platform s. B ecause o f the dam aged nature o f the mound, clear
profiles o f the m ain citadel structures, such as those av ailab le for M ohenjodaro, are lacking.
FIGURE 4.6 CITADEL AND ADJACENT AREA, HARAPPA

To the north o f the citadel com plex, a num ber o f structures w ere located on a mound (M ound F)
surrounded by a m ud-brick w all. This seem s to rep resen t a northern suburb connected w ith craft
activity. One w a lle d com plex had at least 15 units (about 17 * 7 m), each consisting o f a courtyard in
front and a ro o m at the back, arranged in 2 ro w s w ith a lane in betw een. This has b een interpreted as
w orkm ens quarters. To the north o f this com plex w ere at least 18 circu lar b rick platform s, w ith an
average diam eter o f a little over 3 m, m ade o f bricks set on edge. T hese m ay have been threshing
platform s for grain. A w o o d en m ortar for pounding grain m ay have b een fitted into their centre, as
husked b arley and straw w ere found here. The granary w as located to the north o f these platform s.
It consisted o f 12 units arranged in 2 ro w s o f 6 room s, d iv id ed by a central passage. E ach unit
m easured 15.2 * 6.1 m, w ith three sleep er w alls w ith air space in betw een. There w as p ro b ab ly a
w ooden superstructure supported in p laces by large columns. A s in the case o f the M ohenjodaro
granary, no grains w ere rep o rted from this building. Its interpretation as a granary w as m ainly
based on com parisons w ith structures found in Rome.
The lo w er w a lle d to w n o f H arap p a (M ound E) is currently being excavated. A large open area
inside the southern gatew ay m ay have been used as a m arket o r as a place w here goods com ing into
the city w ere inspected. Various w orkshops w here shell, agate, and copper artefacts w ere m ade have
been identified. O utside the southern gateway, a sm all mound rev ealed houses, drains, bathing
platform s, and perhaps a w ell. This m ay have been a halting or resting spot for trav ellers or traders.
K alibangan (literally, b lack b an g les) gets its name from the thick clusters o f b lack bangles lying
all over the surface o f its mounds. This site lies on the banks o f the dry bed o f the G haggar river, in
the H anum angarh d istrict o f Rajasthan. It is fairly sm all, w ith a perim eter ranging from 1 to 3 km.
There is a sm aller w estern mound (know n as K LB -1) and a larger eastern one (know n as K LB -2),
w ith an open space in betw een. KLB-1 has evidence o f early and m ature H arappan occupation,
w hile K LB -2 represents only a m ature H arappan occupation. T here is also a sm aller, third mound,
w hich only has a large num ber o f fire altars. B oth the citadel com plex and lo w er tow n w ere
fortified.

KALIBANGAN: MAIN STREET


HOUSE WALLS

The mature H arap p an settlem ent on the w estern mound at K alibangan w as d iv id ed into tw o parts
by an inner w all w ith stairs on either side. The southern sector had no houses, but is noted for a
series o f m ud-brick platform s w ith a ro w o f seven clay -p lastered pits. N earb y w ere a w ell and bath
pavements. The pits have been interpreted as fire altars, i.e., sacrificial pits in w hich offerings w ere
made into the fire, and the area seem s to have been asso ciated w ith community rituals. The buildings
in the northern p art o f the citadel mound seem to have b een houses w here peo p le asso ciated w ith the
rituals perform ed in the southern sector may have lived. T here is a burial ground about 200 m w e s t-
south-w est o f the citadel. A p art from regular extended burials, there w ere also som e circu lar pits
w ith grave goods (pottery, bronze m irrors, etc.), but no human rem ains.
The lo w er to w n w as a rough p arallelo g ram in plan, enclosed by a m ud-brick w all. Several streets
w ere traced here. O blong fire altars w ere found in houses, w ith a central stele (rectangular piece)
around w hich terracotta cakes, ash, and charcoal w ere found. W hile co rb elled drains m ade o f bricks
have b een found on the citadel mound, street drains o f the M ohenjodaro type w ere absent in the
lo w er to w n at K alibangan. The sew age from houses w as discharged into troughs or large ja rs
em bedded in the ground outside. The large num ber o f bangles o f terracotta, shell, alabaster, steatite,
and faience at the site indicate that bangle making w as an im portant craft. O ther interesting artefacts
include an ivory comb, a copper buffalo or bull, w hat appears to be a stone phallic em blem w ith a
base, and a terracotta fragm ent incised w ith a horned figure.
B anaw ali in H issar d istrict (H aryana) is a fortified site m easuring about 300 * 500 m, close to the
dry bed o f the R angoi river. The site show s evidence o f the early, mature, and late H arap p an phases.
P eriod II represents the mature H arap p an culture. A w all d iv id ed the fortified area into tw o sections
a higher citadel area and a lo w er town. The citadel w as sem i-elliptical in p lan and had its ow n
m ud-brick fortifications, surrounded by a moat. A few streets and structures w ere identified inside.
A ram p led from the citadel into the lo w er town. The m ud-brick houses had raised platform s
(chabutaras) outside. B aked bricks w ere used only for w ells, bathing pavem ents, and drains.
E xcavations rev ealed a m ulti-room ed house, w here archaeologists identified a kitchen and a to ilet
w ith a ja r that seem ed to have functioned as a w ashbasin. Since many seals and w eights w ere found
in this house, it may have belonged to a w ealthy merchant. There w as another b ig house w ith a large
number o f beads o f gold, lapis lazuli, and carnelian, tiny w eights, and a touchstone show ing steaks
o f gold. This m ust have b een a je w e lle r s house. Interestingly, seals w ere only found in the lo w er
town, not in the citadel com plex. Lots o f stone w eights in sm all denom inations w ere found at the site,
as w as a terracotta m odel o f a plough. Several houses at B anaw ali gave evidence o f fire altars. In
one place, these altars w ere asso ciated w ith an apsidal structure w hich m ay have had som e sort o f
ritualistic function.

BANAWALI: EASTERN GATE

Cross-section of defence wall

Apsidal structure
F ive mounds have b een identified at R akhigarhi (H issar district, H aryana). The citadel mound,
surrounded by a m ud-brick fortification w all, had platform s, a b rick w ell, fire altars, som e streets,
and drains o f various sizes. A lap id ary w orkshop w as identified, w ith rem ains o f about 3,000
unfinished beads and roughly cut p ieces o f stone, m ostly carnelian, chalcedony, agate, and ja sp e r;
bead polishers for sm oothening the beads; and a hearth for heating the stones. In another p art o f the
site, bones, antlers, ivory pieces, and finished and unfinished bone points, com bs, needles, and
engravers gave clear evidence o f bone and ivory w orking. A cem etery rev ealed eight burials
consisting m ostly o f b rick-lined pits; in one case there w as a w o o d en coffin.
A t B hirrana in H aryana, P erio d IIA has b een d escrib ed as early m ature H arappan and P erio d IIB
as mature H arappan. The m ature H arappan settlem ent w as surrounded by a m assive fortification
w all m ade o f m ud-brick. T hree m ulti-room ed house com plexes w ere exposed. One o f them, in the
central p a rt o f the mound, consisted o f four room s. Two house com plexes, separated from each other
by a lane, w ere exposed in the eastern p a rt o f the mound. One o f these consisted o f 10 room s w ith a
verandah and a courtyard; terracotta cakes m ixed w ith ash and clay w ere found on the floors. Yet
another house com plex in the north-w estern p art o f the mound consisted o f six room s, a kitchen, a
central courtyard, three additional courtyards, and an open verandah. The floors w ere paved w ith
m ud-brick, and the b rick w alls w ere p lastered w ith mud. A circu lar ta n d o o r and chu lla h w ere found
in one o f the courtyards, and another chu lla h w as d isco v ered in the kitchen. C harred bones and the
skull o f a bovine anim al w ere found next to one o f the chullahs. A 4.80 m w id e street ran n o rth -
south along the fortification w all. Three lanes w ere also identified. The artefacts included a fragment
o f a thick, sturdy red w are w ith an incised fem ale figure, w hose pose is rem iniscent o f that o f the
bronze M ohenjo-daro dancing g irl.

welt, and drains, Lothal

Lothal is located betw een the Sabarm ati riv e r and its tributary, the Bhogavo, in Saurashtra in
Gujarat. The sea is now about 1 6 -1 9 km away, but at one tim e, boats from the G u lf o f C am bay could
have sailed right up to the place. It w as a m odest-sized settlem ent (280 * 225 m), roughly
rectangular in plan, surrounded by a w all w hich w as initially m ade o f mud and later o f mud- and
burnt bricks, w ith the entrance on the south. There w as a burial ground in the north-w est, outside the
enclosing w alls. The citadel (called the A c ro p o lis by the excavator S. R. R ao) w as roughly
trapezoidal in p lan and consisted o f an area elevated on a m ud-brick platform in the southern p art o f
the site. R em ains o f residential buildings, streets, lanes, bathing pavem ents, and drains w ere traced
here. To the south o f the residential area w as a com plex identified as a w arehouse, w here goods may
have b een packed and stored. Sixty-five terracotta sealings w ith im pressions o f reed, w o v en fibre,
matting, and tw isted cords on one side and im pressions o f H arap p an seals on the other w ere found
here.
Some o f the houses in the m ain residential area w ere quite large, w ith four to six room s,
bathroom s, a large courtyard, and verandah. A few had fire altars sm all pits w ith terracotta cakes
or round lumps o f clay and ash. The streets w ere pav ed w ith m ud-brick, w ith a layer o f gravel on
top. H ouses belonging to artisans such as coppersm iths, bead m akers, etc. w ere identified on the
basis o f the occurrence o f kilns, raw m aterials, and finished and unfinished artefacts. One o f the
streets w as identified as a bazaar street, the room s lining it interpreted as shops.

LOTHAL DOCKYARD

The m ost distinctive feature o f Lothal is the dockyard, w hich lies on the eastern edge o f the site.
This is a roughly trapezoidal basin, enclosed by w alls o f burnt bricks. The eastern and w estern w alls
m easured 212 m and 215 m resp ectiv ely in length, w hile those on the north and south m easured 37 m
and 35 m. The dockyard had provisions for m aintaining a regular level o f w ater by m eans o f a sluice
gate and a spill channel. A m ud-brick platform along the w estern em bankm ent m ay have been the
w h arf w here goods w ere lo ad ed and unloaded. A n alternative interpretation o f this structure as a
w ater re serv o ir is not convincing.
D holavira is located on K adir island in the R ann o f K utch in G ujarat. In protohistoric tim es, w ater
levels in the Rann m ay have been higher than they are today, allo w in g boats to sail from the coast
right up to the site. The architecture o f D holavira show s a larg e-scale use o f sandstone, com bined in
places w ith m ud-brick a feature o f the H arap p an sites o f G ujarat. The layout o f this settlem ent is
unlike that o f any other H arap p an site. It is surrounded by an outer fortification w all m ade o f mud-
brick w ith a veneer o f stone blocks on the outer face, w ith im posing bastions and tw o m ajor
gatew ays in the m iddle o f the northern and southern w alls. W ithin the outer w alls, at least three
different sections w ere identified. T here w as a sm all c a stle area, a b a ile y area to its w est, and a
larger m iddle to w n to the north, all w ith their ow n enclosing w alls. A lo w er to w n lay to the east.
An interesting feature is a large open area (called the stadium ) b etw een the c a stle -b a ile y and the
m iddle tow n, w hich m ay have b een used for special cerem onial occasions. T here w as also
substantial evidence o f habitation outside the fortification w all, w hich m ay rep resen t a suburb o f the
city. The site seem s to be looking out tow ards the sea and it m ust have b een an im portant stopping
point on busy m aritim e trade routes.

DHOLAVIRA: TANK
NORTHERN GATE

The fortified acro p o lis co v ered an area o f 300 * 300 m, w ith gatew ays in the centre o f its four
w alls. R em ains o f lim estone p illa r bases and p illa r fragments w ith a highly p o lish ed surface w ere
found in the eastern gateway. This d isco v ery has taken the history o f monumental stone
sculpture/architecture in the subcontinent b ack from the 4th century BCE (the M aurya p erio d ) to the
3rd m illennium BCE. In one o f the side room s o f the northern gatew ay o f D holavira lay w h at seem s to
be a fallen signboard. A n inscription had b een m ade w ith w hite gypsum paste inlaid into a w o o d en
board. The w ooden b o ard had fallen flat on its face, and although the w o o d decayed, the gypsum w as
found intact. The sym bols, each m easuring about 37 * 2 5 -2 7 cm, perhaps announced the name o f the
city or the title o f its ruler. The acro p o lis had a large w ell, an elaborate drainage system, and large
buildings w hich m ay have had adm inistrative or ritualistic functions.
figure 4.7 plan of Dholavira

The m iddle to w n o f D holavira w as surrounded by a 360 * 250 m w all w ith four gatew ays. The
lo w er to w n gave evidence o f houses and areas w here various types o f craft activities such as bead
making, shell w orking, and pottery making w ere carried out. O utside the city w alls, there w as
evidence o f additional habitation and burials. The cem etery area rev ealed rectangular p it burials
lined w ith blocks o f stone, but there w ere no skeletal rem ains. T hese m ay have been m em orials to
the dead.
The city had an im pressive and unique w ater harvesting and management system. It can be noted
that this area receiv es less than 160 cm o f ra in every year and is v ery prone to droughts. The site is
flanked by tw o stream s the M anhar and M andsar. D am s w ere b u ilt across these to channelize their
w ater into reserv o irs. Several large, deep w ater cisterns and reserv o irs (at least 16) located in the
citadel and lo w e r to w n p reserv ed precious stores o f rain water.
A llahdino is a sm all (1.4 ha) unfortified v illag e site o f the H arappan civilization, about 40 km east
o f K arachi. H ouses m ade o f m ud-brick, often resting on stone foundations, w ere laid out in a w e s t-
south-w est to east-n o rth -east orientation. A large m ulti-room ed building on a large m ud-brick
platform in the north-eastern p art o f the excavated area seem s to have had som e special significance.
Another building w as asso ciated w ith three w ells. The w ells at A llahdino had v ery sm all diam eters,
and their mouths ranged from 60 cm to 90 cm. This m ay have b een to enable the ground w ater to rise
higher due to hydraulic pressure. It has b een suggested that w ell w ater m ay have b een used to
irrigate the nearby fields.
The artefacts found at A llahdino included a large num ber o f copper items, seals, terracotta toy
carts, and triangular terracotta cakes. The m ost spectacular d isco v ery w as a sm all terracotta ja r
containing a profusion o f gold, silver, bronze, agate, and carn elian ornam ents. T hese included a
m assive b e lt or necklace consisting o f 36 long carn elian beads and bronze spacer beads and a m ulti
strand necklace o f silv er beads. The d isco v ery o f ornam ents o f precious m etals and stone at a village
site show s that at least som e o f the inhabitants o f this H arap p an v illag e w ere v ery rich.

w w w .pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh
PHOTOGRAPHS OF HARAPPAN SITES AND ARTEFACTS

The D iv ersity o f the H arappan Subsistence B ase

The H arap p an civ ilizatio n covered an enorm ous area w ithin w hich there w as great ecological
variety alluvial plains, mountains, plateaux, and sea-coasts. The resource potential o f this area w as
rich enough to generate the food surpluses that are an im portant asp ect o f urbanization. The diversity
o f the subsistence base m ay also have b een an im portant sustaining factor i f one food resource
failed, people could turn to others. A griculture w as the mainstay, supplem ented by anim al husbandry
and hunting. R iverine and m arine food resources w ere tapped, w here available. The sources o f
inform ation on the subsistence patterns o f the H arappans consist o f plant rem ains, anim al bones,
artefacts, motifs on seals and pottery, and analogies w ith m odern practices.
Subsistence is clo sely related to environm ent, and the nature o f the H arap p an environm ent is the
subject o f continuing debate. A rchaeologists such as M ortim er W heeler and Stuart Piggott suggested
a w etter clim ate in H arap p an tim es on the b asis o f the follow ing arguments: (a ) the large num ber o f
burnt bricks found at H arap p an sites w o u ld have req u ired large quantities o f fuel, w hich w ould only
have b een p o ssib le w ith a heavy forest cover, supported by heavier rainfall; (b) the gab a rb a n d s
(em bankments) constructed in the B aluchistan area suggest heavier rain; (c) the d epiction o f anim als
such as the tiger, elephant, and rhinoceros on seals indicates a forest and grassland vegetation that
could only have b een supported by h eavier rainfall; (d) the elaborate drainage system o f the cities
w as geared tow ards carrying o ff ra in w ater. The first and la st points can be refuted m ost easily. It is
not easy to estim ate ju st how much w o o d (and forest) w o u ld have been req u ired to make the burnt
bricks, and the H arap p an drains w ere largely p a rt o f a system o f sew age disposal.
M any scholars hold that clim atic conditions in the greater Indus v alley have rem ained m ore or less
constant since H arap p an times. H ow ever, som e studies suggest otherw ise. P lant palynologist G urdip
Singh (1971) analysed p o llen from the three salt lakes o f Sambhar, D idw ana, and Lunkaransar, and
the freshw ater Pushkar lake, and constructed a pro file o f rainfall in this p a rt o f R ajasthan from c.
8000 BCE to 1500 BCE. H e concluded that there w as an increase in rainfall in c. 3000 BCE and a
decrease in 1800 BCE. H ow ever, a recen t study o f the Lunkaransar lake (Enzel et al., 1999) suggests
that it had d ried up by 3500 BCE and that the clim ate had becom e d rier long before the em ergence o f
the H arap p an civilization. The issue o f the nature o f clim atic conditions in H arap p an tim es thus
rem ains unresolved.
G iven the area covered by the civilization, naturally there w ere regional variations in the plants
grow n by farm ers. W heat has been found at M ohenjodaro and H arappa; b arley at M ohenjodaro,
H arappa, and K alibangan; and sesam um at H arappa. H arappa has also given evidence o f
w aterm elon seeds, peas, and dates. R ice occurs at H arappa, K alibangan, Lothal, and Rangpur.
M illets have b een identified at H arappa, Surkotada, and Shortughai. G rapes w ere known, so w as
henna (m ehendi). C otton m ay also have been grown. D etailed evidence o f the plant econom y o f the
early and mature H arap p an phase is av ailab le from B alu (in H aryana) (S arasw at and Pokharia,
2 0 0 1 -0 2 ). The crop rem ains identified here included various types o f barley, w heat, rice, horse
gram, green gram, chickpea, field pea, grass pea, sesamum, m elon, w aterm elon, date, grapes, and the
earliest evidence o f garlic. A p art from the w id e range o f cereals, pulses, vegetables, and fruits
grow n by the H arappans, another striking point is the sim ilarity o f the p a st and presen t plant
econom ies in the various regions.

TERRACOTTA PLOUGH FOUND AT BANAWALI

M odern cropping p ractices p ro v id e som e clues to protohistoric patterns. Today, in Sindh, rainfall
levels are low , but the Indus brings d o w n flood w aters and silt. The fertile land requires no deep
ploughing, irrigation or manuring. Sesam um and cotton w ere pro b ab ly sow n in June/July and reaped
in Septem ber/O ctober, as k h a r if (sum m er) crops. C rops such as w heat and b arley w ould have been
sow n in N ovem ber and reap ed in M arch/A pril as rabi (w inter) crops. In G ujarat, rice is a k h a r if
crop, and it m ust have b een so in H arap p an tim es as w ell.
R eference has alread y b een m ade to the d isco v ery o f a ploughed field at early H arap p an levels at
K alibangan. The continuing use o f the plough into the m ature H arappan phase can be inferred.
Terracotta m odels o f ploughs at B ahaw alpur and B anaw ali give further evidence o f the use o f this
implement. The fact that no actual ploughs have survived is no doubt because they w ere m ade o f
wood.
Farm ers m ust have b u ilt bunds (em bankm ents) o f mud or stone to d iv ert riv e r w ater, as they do
today in areas like B aluchistan. Irrigation canals have been found at Shortughai. F airserv is suggested
that a w ell and asso ciated drains at A llahdino m ay rep resen t an irrigation system, but the evidence is
far from conclusive. Sim ilarly, L eshniks hypothesis that the dockyard at Lothal is actually an
irrigation reserv o ir is not convincing. E ven if the H arappans d id dig canals in the alluvial plains, it
w ould be v ery difficult to identify them. H ow ever, H. P. F rancfort (1992) has identified rem ains o f a
sm all-scale canal netw ork in the H aryana area, and som e o f the ancient canals traced in the Ghaggar-
H akra p lain m ay belong to the H arap p an phase.
B ones o f w ild anim als have b een found at H arappan sites. These include many v arieties o f deer,
pig, boar, sheep, goat, ass (?), and pig. B ones o f tortoise and fish have also b een found. R hinoceros
bones occur only at A m ri, although this anim al is depicted on numerous seals and in terracotta
figurines. E lephant and cam el bones occur in v ery sm all quantities, although the elephant appears on
seals. Tigers are represented often in figurines, leopards m ore rarely. R abbits, peacocks, pigeons,
ducks, monkeys, and w ild fow l are represented in figurines and paintings on pottery. The H arappans
exploited riv erin e and m arine resources w here these w ere available. A t coastal sites in G ujarat,
m olluscs p ro v id ed an im portant p ro tein -rich elem ent in p e o p le s diet. The d isco v ery o f m arine
catfish bones at H arappa suggests that coastal com m unities m ay have trad ed in d ried fish in inland
cities.
H arap p an sites have also y ield ed rem ains o f dom esticated anim als such as hum ped and hum pless
cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goat. C attle and buffaloes w ere the m ost im portant dom esticated anim als.
They w ould have b een used for meat, milk, and also as draught anim als. G oats and sheep could have
been used for meat, w ool, milk, and as p ack anim als (they are still used to carry loads o f salt and
grain in som e o f the H im alayan stretches). D og figurines suggest the dom estication o f this animal.
The issue o f the horse is controversial and hinges on the stratigraphic context in w hich the rem ains
have b een found and the identification o f the species they belong to. F or instance, it is not easy to
ascertain w hether the bones in question belong to the half-ass (E quus h em ionus khur) or
dom esticated horse (E quus caballus). H orse rem ains have been rep o rted at H arappa, Lothal,
Surkotada, K untasi, and K alibangan, and at superficial levels at M ohenjodaro. Sandor Bknyi
(1997) exam ined the equid bone sam ples from Surkotada and concluded that at least six o f them
probably belonged to the true horse. H is conclusions w ere challenged by M eadow and Patel (1997).
B rigadier R oss (1946) rep o rted horse teeth at p re-H arap p an levels at R ana Ghundai, but this
identification w as questioned by Zeuner (1963). W hile horse bones m ay not be com pletely absent at
H arappan sites, they are not p ro lific either.

NEW DIRECTIONS IN RESEARCH

Animal bones at Shikarpur

Shikarpur is a H arap p an site in K utch d istrict in G ujarat, excavated by the G ujarat State
D epartm ent o f A rchaeology in 1987-90. The excavation w as a sm all one. It rev ealed an over 3
m thick deposit, o f w hich the lo w er layers (layers 1 0 -1 9 ) rep resen t an early H arap p an phase and
the upper layers (layers 1 -9 ) the mature H arap p an phase. The anim al rem ains found at the site
w ere sent to the A rchaeozoology L aboratory at D eccan C ollege, Pune. The prelim inary results o f
the d etailed investigations by P. K. Thom as, P. P. Joglekar, A rati D eshpande-M ukherjee, and S. J.
P aw ankar have given im portant inform ation about the subsistence patterns o f the H arappans in
Gujarat:
A total of 15,483 pieces of bone were unearthed in the excavations. It was possible to identify
53.46 per cent of them, i.e., 8,267 fragments. There were cut marks and signs of charring on
some of the bones, indicating slaughtering and cooking. The faunal assemblage consisted of 47
species23 mammals, 3 birds, 2 reptiles, 5 fish, 13 molluscs, and 1 crustacea. The wild
animals included wild buffalo, nilgai, chowsingha, blackbuck, gazelle, various kinds of deer,
wild pig, wild ass, jackal, hare, and rhinoceros. The domesticated animals included cattle,
buffalo, sheep/goat, horse, pig, and dog.

The bones of domesticated animals comprised over 85 per cent of the total faunal assemblage in
both the early and mature Harappan phases. Cattle bones were most numerous. In the early
Harappan phase, 77.48 per cent of the bones were of cattle, while in the mature Harappan phase,
their percentage was 77.84 per cent. Sheep/goat bones (it is difficult to distinguish the two)
amounted to 11.26 per cent of the early Harappan phase, and were reduced to 4.63 per cent in the
mature Harappan phase. Buffalo bones were 4.28 per cent and 4.61 per cent in the early and
mature Harappan phases respectively. Dog bones were only found in the mature Harappan phase,
and that too in very small quantities (0.116 per cent). Very few horse bones were found (0.13 per
cent), and these occur only in the mature Harappan phase.

The evidence shows that the consumption of meat of domesticated animals was an important part
of the diet of the people of Shikarpur. The contribution of wild and aquatic animals varied
considerably in different layers.

The analysis of bones and teeth showed that domesticated animals were killed at different ages.
Most of the cattle and buffaloes lived up to the age of maturityabout 3 yearsand were killed
at various ages up to the age of about 8 years. The fact that some were older than 8 years
suggests that they were also valued for secondary products and used for draught purposes.
Sheep/ goats were killed at relatively younger agesbetween 6 months to their respective ages
of maturity, suggesting they were primarily reared for meat.

Towards the end of the mature Harappan phase at Shikarpur, there seems to have been an
increase in the exploitation of wild animals. It is not clear whether this was the result of a
decline in agricultural production, failure of rains, population pressure, or a combination of
several such factors.

SOURCE Thomas et al., 1995

Harappan Crafts and Techniques


Earlier writings tended to contrast the plainness of Harappan artefacts with the opulence of their
Egyptian and Mesopotamian counterparts. Nowadays, the technological sophistication and beauty of
some of the Harappan artefacts are recognized. There is a great variety of standardized, mass-
produced craft items at Harappan sites. The artefacts are far greater in quantity and range, and show
greater technical finesse than those found in earlier cultural phases. While some sites specialized in
the production of a single or a few items, others such as Harappa manufactured a wide range of
goods. Craft activity was often localized in a certain part of the settlement.
Ceramics include all items involving the heating of clay such as bricks, terracotta, and faience.
The Harappan pottery reflects efficient mass-production. Pottery kilns were found at Mohenjodaro,
Harappa, Nausharo, and Chanhudaro. The pots were fired in funnel-shaped up-draft closed kilns,
although open-firing kilns may also have been used. There is a great variety of pottery, including
black-on-red, grey, buff, and black-and-red wares. Most pots were wheel turned. Both fine and
coarse fabrics occur and their thickness varies. The typical Harappan pottery is a fine, sturdy,
wheel-made ware with a bright red slip, decorated with painted black designs. Polychrome painting
is rare. The red colour for the slip was made from red ochre (iron oxide, known as geru), while
black was made by combining dark reddish-brown iron oxide with black manganese. Distinctive
shapes include the dish-on-stand, vase with s-profile, small vessel with knobbed decoration, large
slender-footed bowl, cylindrical perforated jar, and goblet with pointed foot. The decorative
patterns range from simple horizontal lines to geometric patterns and pictorial motifs. Some of the
designs such as fish scales, pipal leaves, and intersecting circles have their roots in the early
Harappan phase. Human figures are rare and crude. At the earliest levels of Mohenjodaro, a
burnished grey ware with a dark purplish slip and vitreous glaze may represent one of the earliest
examples of glazing in the world. Although there is a certain level of uniformity in pottery styles and
techniques across the Harappan culture zone, there are also differences between regions.

I
f*T \ a * < n = b

0 36
c m 1 i i i err

FIGURE 4 .8 HARAPPAN POTTERY

Inferences can be made about the functions of some of the Harappan pots. The large jars may have
been used to store grain or water. The more elaborately painted pots may have had a ceremonial use
or may have belonged to rich people. Small vessels may have been used as glasses to drink water or
other beverages. The function of the perforated jars is not clear. One suggestion is that they may have
been wrapped in cloth and used for brewing fermented alcoholic beverages. Another possibility is
that they may have had a ceremonial or ritualistic use. Shallow bowls probably held cooked food;
flattish dishes were used as plates. Cooking pots of various sizes have been found. Most of them
have a red- or black-slipped rim and a rounded bottom; the lower part of the pot is often
strengthened by a thick slurry or clay mixed with ground pottery or chaff. The rims of the cooking
pots are strong and project outwards to help pick them up or move them around. Some of the forms
and features of the pots used by the Harappans can be seen in traditional kitchens even today. Apart
from ceramic vessels, the Harappans also made and used metal ones.

M in ia t u r e p e r f o r a t e d p o t ; b e a k e r ; p o t w i t h p o in t e d b a s e (w i t h s e a l i m p r e s s i o n ); r i n g s t w d

Harappan sites have yielded a profusion of terracottas. There are figurines of animals such as
bulls, buffaloes, monkeys, and dogs. There are toy carts with solid wheels. Human figurines include
male figurines and more numerous female figurines of various types. The Harappan craftspersons
also made terracotta bangles. Terracotta masks have been found at Mohenjodaro and Harappa.
Faience is a paste made out of crushed quartz and coloured with various minerals. The Harappans
made faience bangles, rings, pendants, miniature vessels, and figurines (including those of monkeys
and squirrels). Another distinctive Harappan craft was the making of hard, high-fired bangles known
as stone ware bangles. These were highly burnished red or grey-black, with a standard inner
diameter of 5.5-6 cm, and usually had tiny letters written on them.
POTTERY DESIGNS
TERRACOTTAS: HUMAN AND ANIMAL FIGURINES; MASK; CIRCULAR AND TRIANGULAR CAKES

Stone work was another important craft. Reference was made earlier to the stone masonry and fine
polished pillars at Dholavira. More visible at all Harappan sites were the mass-produced chert
blades made by the crested guided ridge technique. Some of these may have been used as knives for
domestic use, others as sickles. Harappan stone quarries have been identified in the Rohri hills of
Sindh. Some of the stone blades may have been obtained from contemporary hunter-gatherer
communities. The fact that stone flakes and cores occur in many houses at Mohenjodaro suggests that
at least some of the tools were made by people in their homes.
The Harappan civilization is marked by a large number of copper objects. Apart from making
artefacts out of pure copper, Harappan craftspersons alloyed copper with arsenic, tin, or nickel.
Copper and bronze artefacts included vessels, spears, knives, short swords, arrowheads, axes,
fishhooks, needles, mirrors, rings, and bangles. The axes were flat, without a shaft hole, and were
probably hafted in a split and bound handle. The number of pure copper artefacts was far greater
than alloyed bronze ones. Usually, tools like knives, axes, and chisels, which needed hardened
edges, were alloyed. Alloys increased over timefor instance, at Mohenjodaro, bronze tools
increased from 6 per cent to 23 per cent from the lower to the higher levels. The small proportion of
alloyed objects compared to those of pure copper may suggest cultural preference rather than
technological backwardness.
Sixteen copper furnaces were found at Harappa, and copper workshops were found at Lothal. A
large amount of copper oxide was discovered in a brick-lined pit at Mohenjodaro. That metal
objects were considered precious is clear from the fact that they were buried in hoards for
safekeeping by their owners. One hoard found at Harappa consisted of a large cooking pot with a
bronze cover. Inside were several types of copper tools and weapons, including various types of
axes, daggers, spearheads, arrowheads, chisels, and a bowl. Some of the objects were unused,
others used and worn.
Beautifully worked gold and silver jewellery including necklaces, bracelets, brooches, pendants,
and earrings have been found at Harappan sites. A hoard of jewellery made of gold, silver, and
semi-precious stones was found at the small village site of Allahdino. The Harappans used silver to
emboss conch shells and to make vessels. Lead was used to make plumb bobs and in copper casting.
It may be noted that two metal objects found at Lothal contain 39.1 per cent and 6 6 .1 per cent iron.
The latter can be called an iron object. What this suggests is that the Harappans (at least those of
Gujarat) may have had some familiarity with iron smelting.
Seal making was another important Harappan craft. Most of the seals are square or rectangular.
The average size of the square seals is about 2.54 cm, but there are larger ones, a little over 6.35 cm.
Some have a perforated boss at the back for handling and suspension. A few cylindrical and round
seals have also been found. Most of the seals are made of steatite, but there are a few silver, faience,
and calcite ones as well. Two fine silver seals with the unicorn motif were discovered at
Mohenjodaro, and some copper and soapstone ones were found at Lothal. To make the stone seals,
the stone was sawed and shaped with knives, and then carved, using fine chisels and drills. The seal
was coated with an alkali and heated, giving it a white lustrous surface. The carving is in intaglio
i.e., it is a sunken engraving, with the impression appearing in relief. Motifs include the elephant,
tiger, antelope, crocodile, hare, humped bull, buffalo, rhinoceros, and the one-horned mythical
animal referred to as a unicorn. There is often a small feeding trough or stand in front of the animal.
There are also composite animals, human figures, and plants. Most of the seals have a short
inscription. Some rectangular seals have writing, but no motif.

C hert b l a d e s ; sto n e g a m esm en

C o pper a r r o w h e a d a n d c elt
St o n e s e a l in g ; s e a l

Bead making was a craft known in earlier cultures, but in the Harappan civilization new materials,
styles, and techniques came into vogue. Anew type of cylindrical stone drill was devised and used
to perforate beads of semi-precious stones. Such drills have been found at sites such as
Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Chanhudaro, and Dholavira. The Harappan craftspeople made beads out of
steatite, agate, carnelian, lapis lazuli, shell, terracotta, gold, silver, and copper. The Harappan long
barrel cylinder beads made out of carnelian were so beautiful and valued that they found their way
into royal burials in Mesopotamia. Tiny micro-beads were made of steatite paste and hardened by
heating. Beads were also made of faience.

FURTHER DISCUSSION

Sculpture in stone and metal

Apart from utilitarian items made of stone and metal, a few pieces of stone and metal sculpture
have been found at Harappan sites. Most of them are small, but they display fine artistic skills
and sensibilities. They include the stone bust (17.78 cm high) of a male figure found at
Mohenjodaro, which has been labelled the priest-king. Two fine stone torsos of a male figure
(about 10 cm high) were found at Harappa, a seated stone ibex or ram (49 * 27 * 21 cm) at
Mohenjodaro, and a stone lizard at Dholavira. The only large piece of sculpture is that of a
broken, seated male figure from Dholavira.
Two bronze female figurines were found at Mohenjodaro. One of them has become famous as the
dancing girl. This figurine was found in a small house in the southwestern quarter of the city (in
the HR area) during the 1926-27 excavations. The figure is 10.8 cm high and was made by the
lost-wax method.

The lost-wax method involves first making a wax model and then covering it with a clay coating,
leaving some holes as passageways. When the clay-covered moulds are heated in ovens, the wax
melts out. Molten bronze is then poured in, and takes the place of the wax. When the mould has
cooled, the outer clay envelope is chipped off and the craftsperson can then put the finishing
touches to the solid bronze statue. This technique is still used in certain parts of India.

But to get back to the dancing girl: She represents a very thin woman standing with her right
hand on the back of her hip and left hand resting on her left thigh, just above the knee. She may
have once held some object in this hand. She is naked. She wears a necklace and has 24-25 of
bangles on her left arm and just 4 on her right arm. Her arms are unnaturally long. Her head is
tilted back, and she has a defiant, nonchalant air about her. Her hair is swept back in a low, loose
bun at the nape of her neck. John Marshall named her the dancing girl because he thought she
had the air of a semi-impudent nautch girl, hand on hip, beating time to the music with her feet.
The name has stuck. But the dancing girl may not have been dancing at all, and even if she was,
she may not represent a professional dancer.
THE DANCING GIRL

Bead making factories with tools, furnaces, and beads in various stages of preparation have been
found at Chanhudaro and Lothal. At Bagasra in Gujarat, there is evidence of the production of
artefacts of shell, faience, and beads of semi-precious stones (agate, carnelian, amazonite, lapis
lazuli, and steatite). Clay-lined silos, varying from 0.30 to 1 m in diameter and 0.15 to 0.30 m in
depth, were used to store semi-precious stones. The bead-making tradition in Gujarat today gives us
clues on how the Harappan craftspeople may have made their beads.
Beads, bracelets, and decorative inlay work of shell show the existence of craftspersons skilled in
shell working. Bangles were often made from conch shell. Chanhudaro and Balakot were important
centres of shell work. Further evidence of site specialization comes from Gujarat. An intensive
surface survey and excavations at Nageshwar (in Jamnagar district) have shown that this site was
exclusively devoted to shell-working and specialized in making bangles. Evidence of shell working
also comes fromKuntasi, Dholavira, Rangpur, Lothal, Nagwada, and Bagasra. This craft was clearly
very important in the Gujarat region of the Harappan culture zone. Bone working was another
specialized craft. Beads, awls, and pins were made out of bone. There are a few examples of ivory
carving in the form of combs, carved cylinders, small sticks, pins, gamesmen, and a carved plaque.
Sh e l l ladle, L othal

.TEWFLLFRY: NECKLACES OF CARNELIAN BEADS, GOLD; BANGLES OF TERRACOTTA, COPPER, STONEWARE, LAPIS
LAZULI BEADS; GOLD SPIRAL PIN; GOLD AND TERRACOTTA BEADS

It can be inferred from the available evidence that the Harappans made cotton and woollen
textiles. The terracotta figurines wearing clothes (shawls, skirts, etc.) reflect the kinds of clothes
people wore. Mesopotamian texts mention cotton as one of the imports from Meluhha (an area which
included the Indus valley). Traces of cotton cloth were found at Mohenjodaro, preserved over the
centuries due to their being in contact with a corroding silver jar. Several examples of cotton thread
and cloth were identified on copper tools. At Harappa, cotton threads were found wrapped around
the handle of a small copper mirror in a burial and also around the handle of a curved copper razor.
Recent excavations at Harappa have given evidence of woven textile impressions on the inside of
faience vessels. The uniform thickness and uniformity of the weave suggest the use of spinning
wheels. Various kinds of spindle whorls for spinning thread have been found at Harappan sites.
Weaving may have been a cottage industry practised in villages, and also to some extent in the cities.
Impressions on clay floors and fired clay lumps suggest traditions of making baskets and mats out of
reeds and grasses.
The Harappan crafts display an impressive level of standardization. Kenoyer (1998: 149-50) has
suggested that state control may have been responsible for the high level of standardization in crafts
that were considered to have a value in maintaining the socioeconomic or ritual order and which
used non-local raw materials and highly complex technologies (e.g., the making of seals, stoneware
bangles, and stone weights). Leaving aside pottery and bricks, crafts using local materials and
simple technologies tend to show greater variation.
Standardization extended to units of weights and measure. Cubical weights made of chert,
chalcedony, black stone, etc. have been found at all excavated sites, and their accuracy all over the
Harappan culture zone is remarkable. The system is binary in the smaller weights (1:2:8:16:32:64)
and decimal in the higher weights (with a ratio of 160, 200, 320, and 640). The largest weight found
at Mohenjodaro weighs 10.865 g. A shell scale was found at Mohenjodaro and an ivory scale at
Lothal; a shell object found in Saurashtra was probably used to measure angles.

St o n e w e ig h t s , D h o l a v ir a

What is the explanation of the high level of standardization in crafts such as pottery-making and
brick making? Does it imply centralized control by merchants or rulers? Some element of central
direction is suggested, but its nature and degree are far from certain. If not direct, it may have taken
the indirect form of facilitating or controlling the flow of at least some of the raw materials and
finished goods. On the other hand, the level of standardization could also indicate the fanning out of
hereditary craft specialists over large areas, or a well-developed network of internal trade. It is
possible that craftsmen and traders may have been organized in corporate groups similar to guilds,
but there is no proof of this.

NEW DIRECTIONS IN RESEARCH

The making of long carnelian beads

The city of Khambhat (Cambay) in Gujarat is one of the largest centres of stone bead- making in
the world today. Mark Kenoyer, Massimo Vidale, and Kuldeep K. Bhan conducted an
ethnoarchaeological study, examining the techniques used by modern bead makers of this place.
They supplemented this with experimentation and an analysis of the remains of bead manufacture
at the site of Chanhudaro in south Pakistan. The results throw light on how the Harappan
craftspersons may have made their beautiful long barrel cylinder beads. The process must have
been something like this:

Long nodules of carnelian (a reddish orange variety of agate) were brought from Gujarat to
Chanhudaro. The best were chosen and separated. These were dried in the sun for many months
and then heated in shallow ovens to make the stone easier to work. The heating also deepened the
red colour. The bead roughouts were made using a copper-tipped stake and an antler or horn
hammer, using indirect percussion or pressure flaking techniques. Larger nodules were cut
lengthwise and chipped to make bead roughouts. These roughouts were then partially ground on
grooved sandstone or on quartzite grinding stones.

Then came the drilling of holes through the beads. This was done using a special cylindrical drill
made out of a rare metamorphic rock which was heated to make an extremely hard and durable
tool. This material has been given the name o f Ernestite, after the archaeologist Ernest J. H.
Mackay, who was the first to discover the drills and understand their significance. It could have
taken a craftsperson a whole day of workheating, chipping, and grindingto make a drill. The
Harappan bead makers used many different sizes of drills (at least six sizes) to make a single
bead. The drilling was probably done with a hand-held bow drill. The friction would have
produced intense heat, so the work may have been done under water, or at least by dripping
water continuously on the drill hole.

The study conducted by Kenoyer and his team showed that even with these superior drills, it
would have taken over 24 hours or three 8 -hour days of steady drilling to perforate a single 6 cm
long bead. The beads on the belts found at Mohenjodaro and Allahdino vary from 6 to 13 cm in
length. It would have taken 3-8 days to make one of the longer beads, probably more,
considering that the bead makers of Khambhat take long breaks after a couple of hours of work,
as it is a very strenuous and tiring process. Once the beads were perforated, there was a
laborious polishing process.

Taking the process from start to finish, it would have taken over 480 work days to make a belt of
36 beads of the kind found at Allahdino. Even if more than one worker was put on the job, it
would still have taken up to a year. These beads must have been highly valued and worn only by
the rich. For people who could not afford the expensive long carnelian beads, Harappan
craftspeople made imitations in terracotta and painted them red.

Kenoyer, Vidal, and Bhan also analysed the archaeological patterns of manufacturing waste and
finished artefacts, the structural evidence, and settlement layout in order to make inferences about
the way in which bead manufacture was organized and controlled. Why did the Harappans
transport carnelian nodules from Gujarat to Chanhudaro, instead of getting at least some of the
preliminary work, such as discarding poor quality nodules, done near the source of the raw
materials? The evidence suggests that all stages of carnelian bead manufacture at Chanhudaro
were centralized and controlled by a powerful and wealthy group of merchants. This also
explains the uniformly good quality of the raw materials used and the high level of
standardization. This is in contrast to evidence from the Moneer area at Mohenjodaro, which is
suggestive of short-term production by several entrepreneurs.

SOURCE K enoyer et al., 1995

Networks of Trade
The discovery of the Harappan civilization generated a great deal of interest in Harappan-
Mesopotamian trade links. This is because before the advent of radiocarbon dating, these links gave
vital clues for dating the Harappan culture, and also due to the prevailing interest in cross-cultural
comparisons. Over the years, however, many scholars have come to the conclusion that Harappan-
Mesopotamian trade may not have been as substantial as earlier held. Other areas such as the Persian
Gulf have been identified as important zones of interaction as far as the long-distance trade of the
Harappans is concerned. However, it is clear that trade networks within the Harappan culture zone
and those linking the culture with other areas in the subcontinent were extremely significant; they are
crucial for understanding the structure of the Harappan civilization as well as its striking level of
cultural homogeneity. The importance of such trade is clear from the very wide range of raw
materials and finished goods that found their way to different parts of the vast Harappan culture zone.
This was an age before the advent of coinage, and the vibrant trade of the Harappans was based on
barter.
One of the important aspects of Harappan trade is the identification of the sources of major raw
materials used by the Harappans. The best way of doing this is to scientifically analyse the artefacts
and to compare the results with raw materials from various possible sources. Unfortunately, there
are not enough studies of this kind so far. Another method is to plot the location of the known
resources of various raw materials, especially those closest to the Harappan culture zone. Proof that
these were being used in protohistoric times would, of course, give clinching evidence.
Unfortunately, this is not usually available, and the earliest evidence of the exploitation of these
resources is often contained in 18th/19th century textual references. In spite of its limitations, this
kind of exercise is useful in helping identify probable sources of raw materials used by the
Harappans.
The discovery of factory sites in the limestone hills of Sukkur and Rohri indicates that chert
blades were mass produced here and sent to various Harappan settlements in Sindh. The Khetri
deposits of Rajasthan must have been an important source of copper. Reference was made in Chapter
3 to the links between the copper-manufacturing Ganeshwar-Jodhpura culture and the Harappan
civilization. Lead and zinc probably also came from Rajasthan. Tin is available in the Tosam area of
modern Haryana, but other possible sources are Afghanistan and central Asia. Gold may have come
from the Kolar fields of Karnataka, where it may have been obtained via trade from the neolithic
people who lived there. These neolithic herders may also have been exporters of cattle. (Fine disc
beads, probably of steatite paste, found at Piklihal may have been obtained from the Harappans.)
Gold could also have been panned from the sands of the upper Indus. Most varieties of semi
precious stone used for bead manufacture came from Gujarat. The exception is lapis lazuli, which
was probably obtained from Afghanistan, although it also occurs in the Chagai hills in Baluchistan.
Traders must also have been engaged in a brisk trade in grains and other food products, transporting
these between villages and cities.
Two-wheeled carts were an important mode of transport for people and goods. Bronze and
terracotta models of carts have been found at various sites. No carts survive, but their tracks have
been found at several sites, indicating spans roughly similar to those used today. Traders must also
have transported their merchandise across long distances in caravans of pack animals such as oxen,
sheep, goats, and donkeys. Towards the end of the mature Harappan phase, there is evidence of the
use of the camel. The use of the horse seems to have been very minimal. Boats are depicted on seals
and moulded tablets, and clay models have been found at Harappa and Lothal. River boats had
cabins, ladders leading to the roof, and a high seated platform on the stern for navigation. Seafaring
boats had a sharp keel, pointed prow, high flat stern, and mast and ropes for sails.

terracotta cart, h a r appa

Several routes of trade and communication connected the various parts of the Harappan culture
zoneBaluchistan, Sindh, Rajasthan, Cholistan, Punjab, Gujarat, and the upper doab. These routes
can be reconstructed by studying the geographical landscape, settlement patterns, and the distribution
of raw materials and finished products. Lahiri (1992: 112^13) points out that major trade routes
connected the following areas: Sindh and south Baluchistan; coastal Sindh, upper Sindh, and the
central Indus plains; the Indus plains and Rajasthan; the regions lying to the north of the Indus and
Harappa; Sindh and east Punjab; east Punjab and Rajasthan; and Sindh and Gujarat. Some of the
routes were already well defined in the early Harappan phasee.g., the Baluchistan-Sindh route via
the Kirthar mountains, and the route from east Punjab and Rajasthan via the Cholistan tract. The route
connecting north Afghanistan, the Gomal plain, and Multan with a feeder route going to the Taxila
valley also continued to be important. Certain routes that were being used in the earlier period
became more important in the mature Harappan phasee.g., the routes within Sindh, between Sindh
and the central Indus plains, and between Sindh and Baluchistan via Kutch and Kathiawar. It is likely
that the Indus saw a certain amount of riverine traffic. There was also a coastal route linking the
Gujarat sites such as Lothal and Dholavira to sites such as Sutkagen-dor on the Makran coast. The
location of some of the important sites can in fact be explained in relation to the trade routes of the
time. For instance, Mohenjodaro lay at the intersection of the water-route of the Indus and the east-
west land route that linked the Quetta valley and the Bolan river to Kot Diji and the western Nara.
MAP 4.3 HARAPPAN ROUTES OF INTERNAL TRADE (AFTER LAfflRI, 1992)

The main sources of information on long-distance trade include a number of Harappan or


Harappan-related (i.e., similar to Harappan types) artefacts found at sites outside the subcontinent,
and foreign objects found at Harappan sites. These are supplemented by textual sources in the case
of Indus-Mesopotamian trade (see Chakrabarti, 1990).
A number of Harappan and Harappan-related objects have been found in south Turkmenistan at
sites such as Altyn Depe, Namazga, and Khapuz. These include ivory dice, two types of metal
objects (a spearhead and ladle), an ithyphallic terracotta, perforated ware, a segmented bead, and a
silver seal. The most definite evidence comes from Altyn Depe, in the form of a rectangular
Harappan seal bearing the Harappan script. The sites in Iran which have yielded Harappan and
Harappan-related artefacts are Hissar, Shah Tepe, KallehNisar, Susa, Tepe Yahya, Jalalabad, and
Marlik. The main evidence consists of seals and carnelian beads (both the etched and long barrel
cylinder types). The most important evidence of trade with Afghanistan comes from an isolated
Harappan trading outpost at Shortughai.
Many years ago, a round seal with a short-horned bull motif and Harappan writing was found at
Failaka in the Persian Gulf. In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in the evidence of
Harappan trade contacts with the Persian Gulf area. Harappan and Harappan-related artefacts
(including a piece of ivory, a /mga-shaped object, a circular mirror, and seals with Harappan motifs
and/or writing) have been found at Rasal-Qala on the island of Bahrain. Excavations near Hamad in
Bahrain yielded a typical Harappan seal and carnelian beads in burials. A seal with the bull motif
and Harappan script was found at the site of Hajjar. From Failaka, apart from the Persian Gulf seal
mentioned above, there was a flat, round seal with the Harappan script. Jar fragments with Harappan
writing have been found at many sites in the Persian Gulf. These were probably containers used to
transport perishable goods from the Harappan culture zone to this region.
The Harappans were also trading with the Oman peninsula. An etched carnelian bead of the
Harappan type was found at Umm-an-Nar. There are similarities between certain other types of
objects found at this site (a square steatite seal, fragments of pottery, carnelian beads, a cubical stone
weight, etc.) and Harappan artefacts. Maysar, an excavated copper-smelting site, has yielded
evidence (e.g., pottery decorations and motifs on a seal) that suggests Harappan influence. The major
imports from Oman may have included chlorite vessels, shell, and perhaps mother-of-pearl. Copper
has been mentioned as another Omani export to the Harappans, but this is unlikely, as the metal was
available closer, in Rajasthan. As for Harappan exports to Oman, the items that survive in the
archaeological record include beads, chert weights, and ivory objects.
There is literary as well as archaeological evidence for Harappan trade with Mesopotamia.
Mesopotamian records of the time of king Sargon (2 3 3 4 -2 2 7 9 BCE) refer to ships from the lands of
Dilmun, Magan, and Meluhha tied along the quay of the capital city, Akkad. Dilmun can be identified
with Bahrain, and Magan with the Makran coast and Oman. Meluhha may have been a generic term
for areas lying to the east of Mesopotamia, including the Indus valley, or it may refer specifically to
the Indus valley. The archaeological evidence for Harappan-Mesopotamian trade consists mainly of
a few Harappan or Harappan-related seals and carnelian beads at Mesopotamian sites such as Kish,
Lagash, Nippur, and Ur. Carnelian beads (both the etched type and the long barrel-cylinder type)
were also found in the royal graves at Ur. Certain motifs such as the bull on Mesopotamian seals
have been cited as reflecting Harappan influence. Cylinder seals (which are common in West Asia)
with Harappan-type motifs suggest interaction between merchants of these two areas. The absence of
Mesopotamian seals and sealings in the Harappan context suggests that Mesopotamian traders were
not directly involved in the Harappan-Mesopotamian trade interactions.
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M AP 4 .4 LONG-DISTANCE TRADE ROUTES

Carnelian beads were clearly an important Harappan export to West Asia. Textiles and conch
shell objects were other possible exports. Ivory and ivory objects may have been exported by the
Harappans to Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and perhaps the Persian Gulf. Mesopotamian texts mention
the following items as imports fromMeluhha: lapl/22/2016is lazuli, carnelian, gold, silver, copper,
ebony, ivory, tortoiseshell, a chicken-like bird, dog, cat, and monkey. Mesopotamias general exports
included fish, grain, raw wool, woollen garments, and silver. It is possible that wool and silver
found their way to Meluhha, but there is no archaeological proof of this.
There are two very different assessments of Harappan-Mesopotamian trade. Ratnagar (1981)
highlights the importance of this trade, especially the trade in lapis lazuli, and even argues that its
decline was a reason for the decline of the Harappan civilization. Notwithstanding the long list of
items mentioned in texts, the fact remains that there are very few Harappan artefacts found in
Mesopotamia and even fewer Mesopotamian artefacts found at Harappan sites. A few
Mesopotamian-type stone weights have been reported from Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Three motifs
found on some Harappan seals are seen by some scholars as reflecting Mesopotamian influencethe
whorl design, a man grappling with two animals, and the gatepost motif. The evidence as a whole is
not very substantial. Chakrabarti (1990) and Shaffer (1982b) argue that Harappan trade with
Mesopotamia was not direct, extensive or intensive. This trade does not seem to have been
particularly important for the development or sustenance of the Harappan civilization.
Among the Harappan imports via long-distance trade, lapis lazuli was probably an import from
Afghanistan (or it could have been obtained closer from the Chagai hills of Baluchistan). Jade must
have come from Turkmenistan. Tin may have been obtained from Ferghana and eastern Kazakistan in
central Asia. Carved chlorite and green schist vessels were a popular item of trade in West Asia and
the Persian Gulf, and a few fragments have been found at Mohenjodaro. These may have been
imported from southern Iran or from Baluchistan. Very few West Asian artefacts have been found in
Harappan contexts. A seal of the Persian Gulf type was found at Lothal as a surface find. A lapis
lazuli bead from Mohenjodaro and a pendant with lapis lazuli inlay found at Cemetery-H levels at
Harappa were possibly imports from West Asia. A cylinder seal (as mentioned earlier, cylinder
seals were common in West Asia) with Indian motifs was found at Kalibangan.
Harappan objects in Mesopotamia can be dated from the Early Dynastic IIIA period (c.
2600/2500 BCE) to the Isin-Larsa period (c. 2000/1900 BCE) in the Mesopotamian sequence, which
corresponds to the entire span of the mature Harappan phase. The finds from other parts of West Asia
also belong roughly to this period. However, the discovery of a Harappan seal at the site of Nippur
in a 14th century BCE context suggests that Harappan contact with Mesopotamia may have continued,
although in a diminished form, into the late Harappan phase. The continuation of some amount of
trade with the Persian Gulf region is suggested by two Harappan seals found at Failaka in a 14th
century BCE context, and a late Harappan seal found at Bet Dwarka. The latter has Harappan writing
and a three-headed animal motif similar to that found on certain Persian Gulf seals.
The importance of overland routes from the Harappan civilization through Afghanistan is evident
from the location of Harappan sites near each of the passes and routes that lead through Baluchistan
into Afghanistan. Pathani Damb is near the Mula pass, Nausharo near the Bolan pass, Dabarkot in the
Gomal valley, and Gumla and Hathala in the Deraj at, along the route via the Gomal pass. The Gomal
route seems to have been the most important.
Two main overland routes connected the Harappan civilization with West Asia. The northern one
passed through northern Afghanistan, north Iran, Turkmenistan, and Mesopotamia, crossing sites such
as Shortughai, Tepe Hissar, Shah Tepe, and Kish. A southern route passed through Tepe Yahya,
Jalalabad, Kalleh Nisar, Susa, and Ur. The maritime route to Mesopotamia may also have been used.
It is likely that sites such as Sutkagen-dor, Balakot, and Dabarkot (the latter two may at that time
have been located at the coast instead of some distance away) were important points along this route.
Lo-thal (10 km away from the Gulf of Cambay) and Kuntasi (on the Phulki river, 4 km from the
coast), Dholavira (in the Rann of Kutch), and the sites along the coast of Kutch no doubt played an
important role in maritime trade.

FURTHER DISCUSSION

Shortughai a H arappan tra d in g p o s t in A fgh an istan

Shortughai is located near the confluence of the Oxus and its tributary, the Kokcha, in north-east
Afghanistan. It is a small site, only about 2 ha. The cultural deposit is 2.5-3 m thick, within
which four periods of occupation have been identified. Period I (50 cm thick) was dated by
radiocarbon to the end of the 3rd millennium BCE.

The discoveries of Period I included the following: pottery with Harappan designs, terracotta
cakes, fragments of toy carts, copper and bronze objects, pieces of gold and lead, a discoidal
gold bead; lapis lazuli, agate, carnelian, steatite, small barrel-shaped agate beads; long tubular
and etched carnelian beads; flint micro-blades and drill heads; shell bangles; and mud-bricks of
the typical Harappan size. Harappan graffiti occurred on the rims of jars and on beakers. There
was a square Harappan seal with the motif of a rhinoceros and the Harappan script. The
discovery of so many typical Harappan artefacts and manufacturing techniques proves that this
was not a site which had mere contact with the Harappan civilization, but a site belonging to the
Harappan civilization.

Shortughai also has some unique features. A ploughed field covered with flax seeds was found in
an area unsuitable for irrigation, showing the practice of dry farming. Small irrigation canals
drawing on the water of the Kokcha, located about 25 km away, were found in other parts of the
site.

What were the Harappans doing at Shortughai? This site seems to have been connected with the
lapis lazuli mines nearby. However, lapis lazuli objects are not particularly numerous at
Harappan sites. A second possibility is that Shortughai owed its importance to its proximity to
the tin mines of Afghanistan and Ferghana. A third possibility is that it had a role to play in camel
trade.

SOURCE Chakrabarti, 1990: 1-2, 86-89

The argument that the quantum of Harappan long-distance trade was not great is persuasive.
Unlike the resource-poor area of Mesopotamia, the Harappan culture zone was rich in a variety of
natural resources. Food requirements and most of the raw materials required by Harappan
craftspersons could have been met by resources available within the Harappan culture zone. The
diverse, well-developed craft traditions meant that most of the finished goods required by the
Harappans were likewise available from within this area. A few raw materials and products were
obtained from other parts of the subcontinent and from areas such as Afghanistan and central Asia.
Very few essential items had to be imported from distant places. Harappan trade must have involved
highly organized merchant groups as well as nomadic peddlers in the mountainous stretches. The
extent of state control over this activity is a matter of debate.

The Nature and Uses of Writing


Among the biggest mysteries about the Harappan civilization are the language (or languages) the
Harappans spoke and their writing system. It is likely that people living in various parts of the
Harappan culture zone spoke different languages and dialects. The writing on the seals was probably
in the language of the ruling elite. Some scholars have suggested that this language belonged to the
Dravidian family of languages, while others have argued in favour of the Indo-Aryan family.
However, there is so far no consensus on the affiliation of the Harappan language or on the
decipherment of the script.
A total of about 3,700 inscribed objects have been found at Harappan sites (for details, see
Mahadevan, 1977, Parpola, 1994). Most of the writing appears on seals and sealings (seal
impressions), some on copper tablets, copper/bronze implements, pottery, and other miscellaneous
objects. About 50 per cent of the inscribed objects have been found at Mohenjodaro, and the two
sites of Mohenjodaro and Harappa together account for about 87 per cent of all inscribed material.
Most of the inscriptions are very short, with an average of five signs. The longest one has 26 signs.
The script seems to have emerged in a fully evolved state and does not show any significant changes
over time. This conclusion may, however, be the result of the inadequacies of earlier excavations,
which did not record the stratigraphic context of all objects, making it difficult to sort out earlier and
later samples of writing.

T h e D h o l a v ir a s ig n b o a r d '

There are 400-450 basic signs and the script is logo-syllabic i.e., each symbol stood for a word
or syllable. It was generally written and meant to be read from right to left (this is reversed on the
seals). This is evident from that fact that in inscriptions, the letters are cramped on the left side,
where space had clearly run out, and from overlapping letters scratched onto pottery. There are a
few instances, however, of writing from left to right. Longer inscriptions that consisted of more than
one line were sometimes written in the boustrophedon style with consecutive lines starting in
opposite directions.
What was the connection between the motifs on the seals and the writing? What was the extent of
literacy among the Harappans? What was writing used for? In order to understand the uses of writing
in the Harappan civilization, it is necessary to try to interpret the functions of the inscribed objects.
Writing appears very frequently on the seals. Some of these were impressed onto small moist clay
tablets known as sealings, probably by merchants to authenticate their bales of merchandise. The
evidence of textile impressions on some sealings supports this interpretation. However, more seals
than sealings have been found, and the seals are generally worn at the edges and not inside. This
suggests that some of the so-called seals may have had other functions. They may have been tokens
used in the buying and selling of goods. They may also have been worn as amulets or used as
identification markers (like modern identity cards) by well-to-do people like landowners,
merchants, priests, artisans, and rulers. Those no longer in use must have been intentionally broken
so that they could not be misused by anybody. Tablets with narrative scenes may have had a religious
or ritualistic function. The so-called seals were thus used for multiple purposes.
Writing also appears on miniature tablets made of steatite, terracotta, and faience. Since these
objects were not used to make impressions, unlike the seals, the writing on them was not reversed.
Many of the objects were discovered at Harappa and other large cities. Rectangular copper tablets
with writing and animal motifs were found at Mohenjodaro, while a few tablets with raised writing
were found at Harappa. The limited number of places where they occur suggests a restricted use.
Interestingly, there are many duplicates of both the miniature and copper tablets.
The evidence of writing on pottery suggests a wider use in craft production and economic
transactions. Harappan potters sometimes inscribed letters onto pots before firing. At other times,
inscriptions were made on pots after they were fired (this is termed graffiti). Even if the potters
who made the marks on their pots were themselves illiterate, they must have been able to recognize
the symbols. Pointed goblets sometimes have seal impressions, which may have indicated the name
or status of the person for whom the pot was made.
Items like copper and bronze tools, stoneware bangles, bone pins, and gold jewellery were
sometimes inscribed. A copper vessel found at Mohenjodaro contained a large number of gold
objects. These included four ornaments with tiny inscriptions, all apparently written by the same
hand, probably giving the name of the owner. Some of the writing inscribed or painted on personal
possessions such as bangles, tools, beads, and bone rods may have had some sort of magico-
religious or ritualistic significance.
The Dholavira signboard may or may not indicate a high level of urban literacy, but it does
indicate a civic use of writing. It is likely that a very small proportion of Harappan written material
survives, and that people wrote on perishable material as well. The evidence of a common script all
over the vast Harappan culture zone shows a high level of cultural integration. The virtual
disappearance of the script by c. 1700 BCE suggests both a close connection of writing with city life
and the lack of sufficient downward percolation of writing.

HARAPPAN SEALS
* V * S ! F A (l)

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V 'S N
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f "

W t

V .Y ti&
THE SCRIPT-THE 'JAR' SIGN AND THE MARKER' SIGN ( Jj) ARE THE MOST FREQUENTLY OCCURRING SYMBOLS

Religious and Funerary Practices


The basic elements of what can be loosely described as Harappan religion were outlined by John
Marshall in 1931. Although some aspects of Marshalls interpretation can be criticizedespecially
his tendency to read elements of later Hinduism into the evidencehe did succeed in identifying
several important features of Harappan religion. Hypotheses about this issue are bound to be
subjective, especially in view of the fact that the script is undeciphered.
The worship of female goddesses associated with fertility has long been held as one of the major
features of Harappan religion. This conclusion is based on the following factors: (a) the concerns
that agricultural societies are invariably known to have with fertility; (b) cross-cultural parallels
with other ancient civilizations; (c) the importance of goddess worship in later Hinduism; and (d) the
discovery of a large number of terracotta female figurines that were labelled Mother Goddesses.
Certain representations on seals are also relevant. For instance, a seal showing a nude woman, head
downwards, with her legs apart and a plant issuing from her vagina is often interpreted as a
prototype of Shakambhari, the Earth Mother.
Describing all female figurines as representations of a single great Mother Goddess associated
with fertility and maternity clearly over-simplifies the situation. The attributes of the figurines and
the contexts in which they were found have to be considered carefully before assigning them a
religious or cultic significance. As pointed out in an earlier chapter, not all female figurines
necessarily represented goddesses (let alone a single goddess), and not all goddesses necessarily
had maternal associations. Some of the Harappan female figurines may have had a cultic significance
and may have been part of household rituals. Others may have been toys or decorative items.
A study of the Harappan terracottas by Alexandra Ardeleanu-Jansen (2002) has underlined the
great variety in the form of female figurines. The type which is frequently interpreted as having a
religious significance is a slim female figure with a distinctive fan-shaped headdress, wearing a
short skirt. She is heavily ornamented with necklaces, armlets, bangles, anklets, and earrings. Some
of the figurines have cup-like attachments and flowers on either side of the head. In certain cases, the
cup-like attachments have traces of black residue, suggesting that they were used to burn oil or some
sort of essence. Such figurines may have been religious images worshipped in households, votive
offerings made to a deity, or part of the paraphernalia of domestic rituals. It is interesting to note that
such figures do not appear on Harappan seals and tablets or in stone or metal sculpture.
There is also a matronly, pot-bellied type of female figurine who may represent either a pregnant
woman or a prosperous woman. She is naked and sometimes wears some jewellery and a turban or
head-dress. Both the matronly type and the slim type of female figurines may hold a baby in their
arms. The matronly type can stand without support, while the youthful, slimtype needs support. It
is interesting to note that female figurinesincluding those with possible religious significanceare
found in large numbers at sites such as Mohenjodaro, Harappa, and Banawali, but not at sites such as
Kalibangan, Lothal, Surkotada or Mitathal.
Most of the terracotta figurines (including the female ones) were found broken and discarded in
secondary locations. None were found in a context that could be interpreted as a temple. This was
one of the reasons why Marshall suggested that they were votive offerings rather than cult images.
The fact that so many of them were broken suggests that they may have been part of a ritual cycle and
were made for short-term use for certain specific occasions. The relationship between the female
figurines and the male and animal figurines with which they are associated needs to be explored.
F em ale f ig u r in e w i t h f a n - s h a p e d h e a d d r e s s

Marshall suggested that the Harappans also worshipped a male god represented on a steatite seal
discovered at Mohenjodaro, usually referred to as the Pashupati seal. This shows a male figure with
a buffalo horn head-dress seated on a dais with his legs bent double under him, heels together, toes
pointed down. His outstretched arms are adorned with bangles, his hands rest lightly on his knees.
He is flanked by four animalsan elephant, rhinoceros, water buffalo, and tiger. Beneath the dais
are two antelopes or ibexes. Marshall thought the male figure was three-headed and ithyphallic (with
erect penis). He saw a striking resemblance between this deity and the Shiva of later Hindu
mythology, who is also known as Mahayogi (the great yogi) and Pashupati (lord of the animals).
F em ale f ig u r in e , b a n a w a l i

Another aspect of the fertility-related beliefs of the Harappans was the worship of male and
female creative energy in the form of stone icons of fingas and y o n is (representing the male and
female sexual organs respectively). A number of such stones were identified by John Marshall. Many
years later, George Dales argued that the contexts in which these stones were found do not suggest
cultic significance. Some of the ring stones had lines on them and may have had architectural use,
either to guide masons in pillar building or to measure angles. Alternatively, they may have been
used to make astronomical calculations. Marshall himself had suggested that some of the linga-
shaped objects may have been grinders or unfinished weights. Dales made his arguments forcefully;
however, a terracotta piece which closely resembles a lin g a with a y o n i-p ith a (yoni base) has
recently been found at Kalibangan.
The Harappan seals, sealings, amulets, and copper tablets depict a number of trees, plants, and
animals, some of which may have had cultic significance. The p ip a l (F icu s relig io sa ) tree appears
often and may have been venerated. Sometimes, there is a figure peering out from between its
branches, possibly a tree-spirit. A seal found at Mohenjo-daro shows a row of seven figures with
long braids standing in front of a p ip a l tree which has a horned figure standing in it. It is not clear
whether the figures are male or female, but because they are seven in number, scholars have
speculated that there may be a connection with the later traditions of the seven rishis or the seven
mothers.
Some of the animals depicted on seals and sealingsfor instance, the humped and humpless bull,
snake, elephant, rhinoceros, antelope, g h a ria l , and tigermay have had cultic significance. The
bull, a symbol of male virility in many ancient cultures, seems to have been particularly important.
We can note the steatite bull statuettes discovered at certain sites, including a very sophisticated
terracotta bull found at Mohenjodaro. It is possible that some of the terracotta animals on wheels
may have been cult images rather than toys. Two Harappan sealings appear to represent animals
being carried in processions; one of them resembles a bull or cow. The composite animals (tiger-
human, bul 1-elephant, ram-bull-elephant, etc.) and the unicorn depicted on some seals and sealings
may also have had some sort of religious or mythological significance. Some of the terracotta, shell,
faience, and metal tablets may have been amulets. Their motifs, such as the svastika, may have been
associated with a protective function or auspiciousness. Terracotta masks and puppets found at
Mohenjodaro and Harappa include those in the form of real and mythical animals, and these may
have been used in religious, political, or politico-religious rituals.

M an, god, or g o d d e ss ?

THE 'PASHUPATI SEAL'

Marshall concluded that this seal showed that the Harappans worshipped a god who seems to
have been a proto-Shiva. This conclusion has not gone unchallenged. The questions that have
been asked include the following:

ft.the figure really sitting in ayogic posture of ritual discipline?


B.he really three-headed?
B.he ithyphallic?
M.the figure amale?
Shiva as Pashupati in later Hindu mythology protects domesticated cattle, while the figure on the seal is
associated with wild animals. In view of this difference, can the two really be connected?

The figure has been variously identified as a chieftain, a divine bull-man, Indra, or the demon
Mahisha of the Puranas. M. K. Dhavalikar and Shubhangana Atre (see Atre, 1985-86) have
suggested that it represents a goddessa lady of the beasts. Notwithstanding all these
alternative interpretations, the basics of Marshalls interpretation are still persuasive. The figure
can be accepted as that of a male seated in a yogic posture, although it is not certain that he was
three-headed. The similarities between the deityfor he seems to be no ordinary manand
certain attributes of the later-day Shiva remain striking. Of course, we do not know what name
the Harappans gave him.

We can recall here the horned deity that appears on a Kot Diji pot, Kalibangan terracotta cake,
and the Padri jar. This indicates that the worship of a horned deity goes back to the early
Harappan phase.

FURTHER DISCUSSION

The f i r e a lta r s

The citadel complex at Kalibangan consists of a northern and southern unit, separated from each
other by a wall. In the southern sector, archaeologists found five or more mud-brick platforms,
separated from each other and from the back of the fortification wall by streets. Steps or ramps
led up to the platforms. On one of these platforms, there was a row of seven clay-lined pits, each
about 75 x 5 5 cm. These have been identified as fire altars, i.e., pits in which offerings were
made into the fire as part of sacrificial rituals. Ash, charcoal, the remains of a rectangular clay
piece, and terracotta cakes were found in them. To the west of this row of pits, within easy reach
of whoever sat in front of them, was the lower half of a jar containing ash and charcoal,
embedded into the ground. Nearby was a well and the remains of bath pavements with attached
drains, all made of burnt bricks. A fire altar and a well were discovered on another platform in
the southern sector of the citadel complex. There was also a 1.25 x 1 m brick-lined rectangular
pit, containing cattle bones and antlers. This suggests the practice of animal sacrifice. The
southern sector of the Kalibangan citadel complex seems to have been a place where sacrificial
rituals of a congregational character were performed. The northern part of the citadel complex
contained houses. B. B. Lai suggests this may have been where the priests who performed the
rituals lived.

Fire altars have also been reported at Banawali, Lothal, Amri, Nageshwar, and Vagad in
Gujarat and at Rakhigarhi in Haryana. But it is only at Kalibangan and Banawali that they may
have signified some community event; in the other cases, they seem to have been associated with
domestic rituals. Again, as in the case with female figurines, the fact that the fire altars have
been found at a few sites but are absent at most, indicates variations in religious practice within
the vast area of the Harappan culture.

SOURCE Lai, 1984

The Great Bath was probably the scene of an elite ritual activity involving ceremonial bathing. A
triangular terracotta cake found at Kalibangan has a carving of a horned deity on one side and an
animal being dragged by a rope by a human on the other. The latter has been tentatively interpreted as
suggesting the practice of animal sacrifice. A Kalibangan cylinder seal shows a woman flanked by
two men who hold her with one hand and raise swords over her head with the other; this may
represent a scene of human sacrifice. The most striking evidence suggesting ritualistic practices
comes from the fire altars found on the citadel mound at Kalibangan.
Harappan cemeteries have been located at sites such as Harappa, Kalibangan, Lo-thal,
Rakhigarhi, and Surkotada. The most common method of burial was to place the body of the
deceased in an extended position, with the head towards the north, in a simple pit or brick chamber.
Grave goods including food, pottery, tools, and ornaments were placed along with the body, but they
were never too many or lavish. Clearly, the Harappans preferred to use wealth in life rather than
bury it with their dead. At Harappa, there was a coffin with a shroud made of reeds. Symbolic
burials with grave goods but no skeletons were found at Kalibangan. Fractional burials (where the
body was exposed to the elements and the bones then gathered and buried) were found at
Mohenjodaro and Harappa. These two sites also gave evidence of urn burials suggestive of
cremation. Multiple burials of men and women were discovered at Lothal.
The religious and funerary beliefs and practices of the Harappans show great variety. While there
are dangers in viewing these through the lens of later-day Hinduism, it is interesting to note that the
Harappan civilization does display a few features reminiscent of later traditions, except, however,
the important element of temple worship. Not a single structure found at any Harappan site can
conclusively be identified as a temple.

HARAPPAN SEALS WITH DEPICTIONS OF TIGER AND ELEPHANT

The Harappan People


What did the Harappan people look like? What sorts of clothes and ornaments did they wear? How
did they relax and have fun? Terracotta, stone, and bronze sculptures (some of which have been
described in earlier sections) help answer such questions. The form of human terracotta figurines
was connected to their function, stylistic conventions, and audience, and they may not be realistic
representations of what all or even most Harappans looked like. Nevertheless, they do help insert
three-dimensional people into our picture of the Harappan civilization.
The human terracottas can be divided into female and male figurines, those whose sex is not clear,
a few that have both female and male attributes (e.g., a figurine from Harappa which has breasts and
a beard), and a few m ales in fem inine dress. G oing by the figurines, H arappan w om en w o re a short
skirt m ade o f cotton or w ool. They w o re their hair v ario u sly in braids, ro lled into a bun at the back
or side o f the head, arranged in separate locks or ringlets, and w rap p ed around the head like a
turban, or left loose. W hat looks like a fan-shaped headdress could actually rep resen t hair stretched
over a fram e m ade o f bam boo or som e other m aterial. A t H arappa, it is supplem ented by flow ers or
flow er-shaped ornam ents. Such hairstyles or headdresses could indicate w om en o f distinction or
deities. Fem ale figurines w ear ornam ents such as necklaces, chokers, hair ornam ents, bangles, and
belts. We can recall the beautiful je w e lle ry found at many H arappan sites.
M ale figurines are usually bare headed, though som e are turbaned. M ost o f them are nude, so it is
difficult to say w hat sort o f clothes m en w ore. C ertain stone sculptures suggest the use o f a d h o ti-like
lo w er garm ent and an upper garm ent consisting o f a shaw l or clo ak w o rn over one shoulder and
under the other. There are various hairstyles braids, buns, and hair hanging loose. M ost o f the m ale
figurines have beards, in styles ranging from the goatee to the m ore com m on com bed and spread-
out style as in the case o f the priest-king. There is som e degree o f o v erlap in m ale and fem ale
hairstyles and ornam ents, but also som e differences. F o r instance, m en and w om en both w ear
bangles and necklaces, but m en rarely w ear m ulti-strand necklaces m ade o f graduated beads.
C hildren o f all cultures and all tim es p lay w ith toys, and H arap p an children w ere no exception.
Terracotta toys o f various kinds have b een found at H arap p an sites. They include balls, rattles,
w histles, gamesmen, carts w ith m oveable parts, and anim als on w heels. T here are spinning tops
made o f terracotta and shell. Some have a shallow depression, w hile others have a copper tip to
make them spin around a long time. C lay m arbles have b een found in courtyards o f houses. M iniature
terracotta cooking v essels, beds, and other toy furniture have been found, w ith w hich children must
have played house. There are figurines o f children playing w ith toys. One o f them holds w hat seem s
to be a clay disc. M any clay discs have in fact b een found at H arap p an sites, and it is p o ssib le that
these are rem nants o f a p ith u -like game played w ith a ball and piled-up p ieces o f clay or stone. Lots
o f terracotta figurines o f dogs have b een found at H arap p an sites, som e w ith co llars, suggesting that
people kept dogs as pets. Some o f the terracotta figurines o f peo p le and anim als have a com ic
appearance, reflecting a sense o f humour.
The social im plications o f the w orship o f fem ale deities are com plex. A lthough such w orship
reflects the ab ility to visualize divinity in fem inine form, it does not n ecessarily translate into p o w er
or a high social p o sitio n for ordinary women. W hile som e o f the fem ale figurines found at H arappan
sites m ay rep resen t goddesses, many seem to rep resen t ordinary, m ortal w omen. T erracotta figurines
o f w om en at w o rk are few. Figurines depicting w om en grinding or kneading som ething (food/clay?)
have b een found at N ausharo, H arappa, and M ohenjodaro, suggesting the asso ciatio n o f w om en w ith
food-processing activities. In ancient societies, childbirth w as a pro cess fraught w ith danger. Some
o f the fat fem ale terracotta figurines m ay rep resen t pregnant women. R ecent excavations at H arappa
have y ield ed a burial w ith a w om an and baby, perhaps a case o f death in childbirth. Some fem ale
figurines found at H arappan sites carry a suckling infant on the left hip; others show w om en carrying
infants close to their breast. A n unusual terracotta figurine found at N ausharo (P erio d ID ) show s a
male w ith fem inine headdress holding an infant. Tiny terracotta figurines o f sm all children have been
found at m ost sites. W ere all o f them toys or could they be votive objects? C an a statistical analysis
o f the child figurines help us identify w hether there w as a cultural bias in favour o f m ale or fem ale
children? This is a v ery interesting question, but answ ers can only be speculative.
TERRACOTTAS: FIGURINE; GAMES AND DICE
P erforated b ir d -s h a p e d r a t t l e ; b u l l w it h m o v e a b l e h e a d ; c a r t

N e w D ir e c t io n s in Research

How healthy w ere the H arappans?

The early excavations at H arappa focused on architecture and artefacts. The m ore recent
excavations carried out during the 1980s and 1990s reflect the advances in the field o f
archaeology and included a careful co llectio n and scientific analysis o f bone rem ains. The
results give us im portant inform ation about the health and nutrition o f the H arappans.
C em etery R -37 is lo cated in the southern p a rt o f the site. E xcavations w ere carried out under
the su pervision o f J. M. Kenoyer. A team o f four physical anthropologists K. A. R. Kennedy,
John R. Lucacs, N ancy L ovell, and B rian H em phill had the special jo b o f carefully excavating
the skeletons and rem oving them to the laboratory for analysis. N inety skeletons w ere reco v ered
from the cemetery. M ost o f them represented fem ales. The num ber o f skeletons in different age
ranges w ere as follow s:

Children ( <1 6 yrs) 15

Young adults (17-34 yrs) 35

Middle-aged adults (35-55 yrs) 27

Older adults ( >55 yrs) 13


The general health o f this sam ple o f the H arap p an population w as quite good. The skeletons
show ed a lo w incidence o f traum atic injury, chronic infectious diseases, and neoplastic diseases
(tumours). There w ere no traces o f nutritional inadequacy such as rickets, scurvy, or anaemia.
There w ere, how ever, three cases o f arrested grow th lines, suggesting that grow th during
childhood w as halted tem porarily. This could have b een due to m alnutrition or som e serious
illness. The m ost com m on ailm ent suffered by the people buried in this cem etery w as arthritis.
Signs o f this ap p eared in the spine and in the jo in ts o f knees, hands, and feet. There w ere also
several instances o f severe arthritis in the neck, w hich m ay have b een the resu lt o f unusual stress
on the neck vertebrae, perhaps due to carrying heavy loads on the head over a long p erio d o f
time.

The teeth o f the people w ere analysed and the dental pathology profile w as w hat w ould be
expected in a community o f agriculturists. The m ost com m on dental p ro b lem w as gross enamel
hypoplasia (pitted or m issing enam el) and the least com m on w as hypercem entosis (excessive
d ep o sit o f cementum, a calcified hard tissue covering the ro o t surface). D ental caries (cavities)
w ere presen t in 43.6 per cent o f the individuals examined. The dental caries rate w as w orked out
as 6.8 p er cent, w hich is a high rate typical o f agricultural groups. Tooth loss, calculus (hardened
plaque or tartar), and alv eo lar reso rp tio n (w asting aw ay o f the bony socket) occurred w ith
m oderate frequency. There w ere differences b etw een m ales and fem ales in the incidence o f tooth
loss and enam el hypoplasia. B ut the frequency o f dental abscesses, calculus, and alv eo lar
reso rp tio n w ere m ore or less the sam e for m en as for women.

The study show ed that the H arappans b uried in C em etery R -37 w ere relativ ely healthy
agriculturists. A statistical analysis o f the crania o f the skeletons show s b iological sim ilarity
among the people buried in the cemetery, a sim ilarity betw een them and the skeletons found in the
late H arap p an Cem etery-H , and w ith the m odern populations inhabiting this area today. This
show s a b ro ad biological continuity betw een the inhabitants o f the area from m ature H arappan to
late H arap p an into m ore recent times.

SOURCE D ales and K enoyer, 1991: 191-99, 2 1 0 -1 2

E arly studies o f H arappan skeletons focused on classifying the H arappans into racial types. M ore
recent studies have abandoned the old, rather arb itrary racial classifications. They have asked
different questions and given an interesting set o f conclusions. K enneth A. R. K ennedys study
(1997) o f skeletons found at H arap p an sites show s biological heterogeneity betw een the different
regions, and sim ilarity w ith the peo p le w ho live in these areas today. This m eans that the H arappans
o f Punjab resem bled the present-day Punjabis in appearance, w hile the H arappans o f Sindh
resem bled the m odern inhabitants o f Sindh. K ennedy also identified the incidence o f m alaria among
the H arappans.
T here is the larger question o f the analysis and assessm ent o f the structure o f H arap p an society.
The absence o f deciphered w ritten evidence is a m ajor handicap, and inferences have to be m ade
very carefully on the b asis o f archaeological data. The people w ho liv ed w ithin the H arappan
culture zone com prised villag ers and city folk. H arappan society included occupational groups such
as farm ers, herders, hunter-gatherers, craftspeople, fisherfolk, m erchants, sailors, rulers,
adm inistrative officials, ritual specialists, architects, carpenters, b rick m asons, w ell diggers, b o at
makers, sailors, sculptors, shopkeepers, sw eepers, garbage collectors, and so on. Some farm ers may
have liv ed in the cities and tille d their fields nearby. T erracotta net sinkers and arro w points found at
M ohenjodaro and H arappa suggest that the city population included hunters and fisher-folk. The
level o f social differentiation m ay not have b een as great as in M esopotam ia and Egypt, but
differences in house sizes and the hoards o f je w e lle ry do indicate a concentration o f w ealth and
differences in social and econom ic status. The affluent social groups w ould have com prised rulers,
land ow ners, and merchants. C lass and rank differences based on occupation, w ealth, and status must
have existed. H ow ever, claim s that the caste system existed in H arap p an society are highly
speculative.

The R uling E lite

P olitical organization includes a range o f issues related to the exercise o f p o w er and leadership in a
society. The debate on the nature o f the H arap p an p olitical system has focused largely on w hether or
not a state existed, and i f so, w hat sort o f state it w as. A great deal depends on our definition o f a
state and the interpretation o f the archaeological evidence. Cultural uniform ity does not n ecessarily
m ean p olitical unification; therefore there is the additional question o f w hether the evidence suggests
the existence o f one state or many.
M any scholars have o b serv ed that the elem ents o f w arfare, conflict, and force in the H arappan
civilization seem w eak com pared to contem porary M esopotam ia and Egypt. W eapons are not a
dom inant feature o f the artefacts found at H arap p an sites. T here are few depictions o f conflict
betw een people in the narrative reliefs on terracotta and faience tablets. H ow ever, fortifications,
esp ecially the im posing ones at sites such as D holavira, cannot be overlooked. It is indeed p o ssib le
that the elem ent o f force in the H arap p an culture has b een underestim ated. F orce and conflict could
not have b een com pletely absent in such a large area over such a long p erio d o f time.
T hat the H arap p an civ ilizatio n lasted for som e 700 years and its artefacts, traditions, and sym bols
seem to have continued m ore or less unchanged through this long period, suggests a strong elem ent of
political stability. T here m ust have b een groups o f rulers in the various cities. Just w ho they w ere
and how they w ere related to each other rem ains a mystery. T hese groups w ould have been
responsible for the m aintenance o f the city facilities w alls, roads, drains, public buildings, etc.
Some o f the seals m ay bear names, titles, and sym bols o f these elites and could throw im portant light
on the H arap p an rulers, i f the w riting could be read.
One o f the e a rlie st hypotheses regarding the H arap p an p o litical structure w as put forw ard by
Stuart Piggott and w as supported to som e extent by M ortim er W heeler (for details o f the various
theories, see Jacobson, 1986). Piggott suggested that the H arap p an state w as a highly centralized
em pire ruled by autocratic priest-kings from the tw in capitals o f M ohenjodaro and H arappa. This
view w as b ased on a num ber o f features, including the level o f uniform ity in m aterial traits, the use
o f a com m on script, and standardized w eights and m easures. M ohenjodaro and H arappa seem ed to
clearly stand out in the m idst o f the other settlements. U rban planning and monumental public w orks
im plied the m obilization o f a sp ecialized labour force. The g ran aries at M ohenjodaro and H arappa
fitted in w ith a v ie w o f the H arappan rulers as exercising a high level o f control over everything,
even m aintaining buffer stocks o f grain to tide over tim es o f food scarcity. The apparent lack o f
internecine w arfare betw een the settlem ents suggested that they w ere united under a single rule.
This v ie w o f the H arap p an state soon cam e in for criticism . W alter A. F airserv is (1967) argued
that the H arappans d id not have an em pire, not even a state. H e pointed to the absence o f evidence o f
priest-kings, slaves, standing arm ies, or court officials. A ccording to him, M ohenjodaro w as a
cerem onial centre, not an adm inistrative one. H e argued that the sort o f control reflected in the
H arappan civ ilizatio n could have been exercised by an elaborate v illag e adm inistration. Later,
F airservis m odified his v iew s to som e extent and agreed that there may have been som e elem ent o f
centralized control and a class structure. But he still m aintained that force d id not play a significant
role and that interdependence, religion, and trad itio n w ere resp o n sib le for regulating social
behaviour.
A nother v ie w o f the H arappan p o litical system cam e from S. C. M alik (1968), w ho argued that the
lack o f im posing monuments and suprem e gods goes against the id ea o f a strong, centralized state.
The H arap p an polity, according to M alik, is an exam ple o f w hat E lm an S ervice d escrib ed as the
chiefdom stage, transitional betw een a kinship society and civil state society.

KEY CONCEPTS

D efinin g a sta te

The w o rd state is used v ery often in historical and anthropological analysis; therefore, it is
im portant to know the various meanings attached to it. H ere are som e o f the frequently cited and
used definitions:

A ccording to E lm an R. S ervice (1975:14), a state is characterized by the existence o f civil law


and form al governm ent that are institutionalized, enacted, o fficial, and w hich employ, threaten,
or im ply the actual use o f fo rce. F o r him, the essential ingredients o f a state are the p o w er o f
force and authority.

R onald C ohen (1978: 69-70) identified the state as a specific type o f p o litical system
characterized by a centralized bureaucracy and dom inant control o f the m echanism s o f force by a
central authority. H e further em phasized that an im portant difference betw een a chieftaincy and
state w as the la tte rs ability to counter forces o f p o litical fissio n (b reakaw ay groups or
splintering).

The central elem ent in M orton H. F rie d s (1978) conception o f the state is social stratification
b ased on differential access o f the m em bers o f a society to basic productive necessities. F ried
m akes a distinction b etw een pristine states and secondary states. A pristine state is one w hich
em erges from indigenous stim uli, usually w ith no pre-existing m odels. A secondary state is one
w hich has the m odel o f an alread y existing state at hand and w hose origins are related to
pressures from this alread y existing state.
H enri J. M. C laessen and Peter Skalnik (1978) define an early state in the follow ing way: a
centralized so cio -p o litical organization for the regulation o f social relations in a com plex,
stratified society, w hich is d iv id ed into at least tw o basic strata or em ergent social classes the
rulers and the ruled and in w hich the relations o f p olitical dom inance and tributary obligations
b etw een the rulers and the ruled are legitim ized by a com m on ideology founded on recip ro city
(mutual relations o f give and take). They also suggest that early states can be d iv id ed into three
types on the b asis o f increasing lev els o f com plexity the inchoate early state, the typical early
state, and the transitional early state.

Since state form ation is a gradual process, it is often difficult to say p recisely w hen som ething
that can be called a state appeared. E lm an S ervice suggests that the transitional p erio d betw een
a pre-state kinship society and a state society should be considered a distinct stage in itse lf
called the chiefdom stage. This is characterized by centralized direction, hereditary
h ierarchical status arrangem ents w ith an aristo cratic ethos, but no form al, legal apparatus o f
forceful re p re ssio n . H e adds that leadership in a chiefdom w as exercised by an authority that
p o ssessed neither form al legal p o w er nor a bureaucracy. There w ere social ranks, but no
classes.

P art o f the p ro b lem in defining a state is that the many different kinds o f state systems that have
existed in history make it difficult to form ulate a universal definition. F or instance, although
F ried directs attention to the elem ent o f social stratification in state societies, his em phasis on
centralization sim ply does not fit all states. A p art from the p ro b lem o f definition, in the case o f
early states, there is also the p ro b lem o f identifying levels o f social and p olitical com plexity on
the b asis o f archaeological evidence.

R ecent studies o f the state have questioned various aspects o f the o ld er evolutionary m odels and
terminology. F or instance, N orm an Yoffee has challenged various m yths related to the evolution
and nature o f the e a rlie st states. T hese myths include the ideas that all these states w ere b asically
sim ilar: that they w ere ruled by pow erful to talitarian elites w ho exercised a m onopoly o f control
over goods, services, and inform ation; that they w ere m arked by territo rial integration o f large
areas; and that their social structure can be understood by invoking m odern ethnographic
parallels.

SOURCE C laessen and Skalnik, 1978; Yoffee, 2005

The tw o trends in recent w ritings are, paradoxically, a return to the idea o f a H arap p an em pire and
a com plete rejectio n o f such an idea. R atnagar (1991) analysed the archaeological evidence and
used cross-cultural p arallels w ith other early state societies to conclude that w e do seem to be
looking at a H arap p an em pire. The strongest critique o f such a v ie w has com e from Jim Shaffer
(1982b). Shaffer questions the level o f hom ogeneity in the H arap p an civ ilizatio n and suggests that it
could have b een the resu lt o f a w ell-d ev elo p ed netw ork o f internal trade rather than a strong,
centralized government. H e underlines the absence o f huge royal tom bs, palaces, and tem ples, and
the absence o f m arked social differentiation o f the kind v isib le in ancient Egypt and M esopotam ia.
At H arappan sites, artefacts o f various types are distributed throughout the occupational levels rather
than clustered in elite residences or structures. A ll the typical H arappan artefacts (including
ornaments o f precious m etals and sem i-precious stones, seals and sealings, and the script) occur in
sm all v illag e settlements. This suggests an equality o f access to w ealth or the sym bols o f w ealth
among v illag e and city d w ellers, w hich goes against the idea o f a centralized em pire.
The fact that som e form o f state structure d id exist in the H arappan civ ilizatio n cannot be denied.
The absence o f m arked social or econom ic differences and tom bs or p alaces o f the Egyptian or
M esopotam ian kind does not m ean that a state d id not exist, rather that it w as a different sort o f state.
The com m unications system, standardization in artefacts, site specialization, m obilization o f labour
for public w orks, the establishm ent o f the trading outpost o f Shortughai all these things indicate a
level o f econom ic com plexity and the existence o f a state. So does the level o f cultural hom ogeneity
and the use o f a com m on system o f w riting across areas in w hich many different languages and
dialects m ust have been spoken. The levels o f social differentiation indicate som e degree o f class
stratification. Some o f the buildings on the citadel com plex seem to have had an adm inistrative
function. C entralized control is apparent in the H arappan civilization. The questions are: H ow much
and by whom?

A p riest-k in g ?

In ancient M esopotam ia and Egypt, rulers are portrayed extensively in stone reliefs and
sculptures; their p alaces, tom bs, and tem ples further p ro claim their pow er. The H arappan case is
strikingly different. The stone bust o f a m ale figure found at M ohenjodaro has b een given the
label p rie st king. The figure is that o f a m an w ith a clo se-cro p p ed beard, h alf-closed eyes, and
a fillet w ith an encrusted d iad em around his head. A n arm let w ith a sim ilar but sm aller ornam ent
is tied around his right arm. A robe d ecorated w ith a trefoil design passes over his left shoulder
and under his right arm. H ow ever, w hether he represents a p rie st or king or both is far from
certain. The sam e is the case w ith a large dam aged seated figure found at D holavira. W hile large
houses have b een found at H arap p an sites, none o f them m atches our idea o f a palace, although it
is p o ssib le that certain buildings on the citadels o f cities such as M ohenjo-daro w ere the
functional equivalent o f palaces.

Jaco b so n (1986) suggests that the H arap p an state w as an early state w ith the follow ing
characteristics: a sovereign or sovereigns clo sely linked to a m ythical character and seen as
benevolent; a m ilitary com ponent lacking the dom inance characteristic o f m ore mature states; and
w eakly dev elo p ed econom ic stratification. A ccording to Possehl (2003: 57), H arap p an society w as
highly d iscip lin ed and had a strong corporate elem ent; the H arappans m ay have b een ruled by
councils rather than kings. K enoyer (1998: 100) suggests that the H arappan state m ust have
com prised many com peting classes o f urban elites, such as m erchants, ritual specialists, and those
who controlled resources such as land and livestock, w ith different levels and spheres o f control.
K enoyer also suggests that the anim als on the square stam p seals rep resen t totem ic sym bols
standing for a specific clan, perhaps along w ith som e additional information. A t least 10 clans or
comm unities are represented by these anim als the unicorn, hum ped bull, elephant, w ater buffalo,
rhinoceros, hum pless bull w ith short horns, goat, antelope, crocodile, and hare. The unicorn m o tif is
found at alm ost all sites w here the seals have b een found, including in M esopotam ia. A t
M ohenjodaro, over 60 per cent o f the seals have this motif, w hile it occurs on about 46 per cent o f
the seals at H arappa. The large num ber o f unicorn seals at m ajor cities led R atnagar to suggest that
the unicorn w as the symbol o f the H arappan ruling elite. K enoyer, on the other hand, argues that the
unicorn clan p ro b ab ly represented the aristo cracy or m erchants w ho had an im portant executive
role in the government. It is in fact the less frequent m otifs such as the bull, elephant, rhinoceros, and
tiger that m ay have b een sym bols o f the m ost pow erful rulers at the ap ex o f the H arap p an p o w er
structure.
W hile M ohenjodaro stands out in som e w ays (for instance, no other site has a structure
com parable to the G reat Bath), there are other large H arap p an cities such as Rakhigarhi, L urew ala,
G anw eriw ala, and D holavira. W ere they provincial centres knit together through a w ell-w o rk ed -o u t
system o f p o litical control? W ere they the capitals o f separate states? W ere they city-states? In the
past, scholars tended to sim ply presum e highly centralized p o litical structures, w hereas now there is
a greater acceptance o f the p o ssib ility o f decentralization. It is not, how ever, certain w hether w e
need to think in term s o f a H arap p an em pire or a num ber o f separate, perhaps inter-related states.
Another p o ssib ility that cannot be ruled out is that there may have b een several states w ith different
kinds o f p o litical organization.

The D ecline o f U rban Life

At som e point o f time, things started going w rong in the H arap p an cities. D ecline had set in at
M ohenjodaro by 2200 BCE and the settlem ent had com e to an end by 2000 BCE. In som e places, the
civilization continued till 1800 BCE. A p art from the dates, the pace o f decline also varied.
M ohenjodaro and D holavira give a picture o f gradual decline, w hile at K alibangan and B anaw ali,
city life ended all o f a sudden (see Lahiri, 2000 for the various theories regarding H arappan
decline).
A'UNICORN1 SEAL

One o f the m ost popular explanations o f the decline o f the H arap p an civ ilizatio n is one for w hich
there is least evidence. The idea that the civ ilizatio n w as destroyed by A ryan invaders w as first put
forw ard by R am aprasad Chanda (1926) he later changed his m ind and w as elaborated on by
M ortim er W heeler (1947). W heeler argued that references in the R ig Veda to various kinds o f forts,
attacks on w a lle d cities, and the ep ith etp u ra m d a ra (fort destroyer) given to the god Indra m ust have
a historical b asis and reflect an A ryan invasion o f the H arappan cities. H e identified a p lace called
H ariyupiya in the R ig Veda w ith H arappa. W heeler also pointed to certain skeletal rem ains found at
M ohenjodaro as p ro o f o f the A ryan m assacre. H e subsequently m odified his hypothesis, to the extent
that he acknow ledged that other factors such as floods, decline in trade, and over-utilization o f
natural resources may have had a ro le to play. B ut he insisted that the ultim ate b lo w w as given by an
A ryan invasion. The C em etery-H culture, he suggested, represented the culture o f the A ryan
invaders.
M any scholars such as R V K ane (1955), G eorge D ales (1964), and B. B. Lai (1997) have refuted
the invasion theory. The evidence from the R ig Veda, a religious text o f uncertain date, is far from
conclusive. M oreover, i f there had b een an invasion, it should have left som e traces in the
archaeological record. T here is, in fact, no evidence o f any kind o f m ilitary assau lt or conflict at any
H arappan site. The 37 groups o f skeletal rem ains at M ohenjodaro do not belong to the sam e cultural
phase and, therefore, cannot be connected to a single event. N o t one o f these skeletons w as found on
the citadel mound, w here w e w ould have expected a m ajor battle to have taken place. The fact that
there is a sterile layer betw een the mature H arap p an and C em etery-H levels goes against W h e e le rs
hypothesis that the latter represents the settlem ent o f the A ryan invaders. M oreover, K. A. R.
K ennedys analysis (1997) o f the skeletal rem ains does not show any discontinuity in the skeletal
record in the north-w est at this point o f tim e, making it clear that there w as no m ajor influx o f new
settlers w ith a different physiognomy. The H arap p an civ ilizatio n w as not destroyed by an Indo-
A ryan invasion.
N atural disasters, not n ecessarily sudden or single, d id have a ro le to play. Several layers o f silt
at M ohenjodaro give evidence o f the city being affected by repeated episodes o f Indus floods. M. R.
Sahni (1956), and later R o b ert L. R aikes (1964) and G eorge F. D ales (1966), argued that the floods
at M ohenjodaro w ere the result o f tectonic movements. D ales suggested that these m ay have
occurred at a p lace called Sehw an, about 90 m iles dow nstream from M ohenjodaro, w here there is
evidence o f ro ck faulting. The theory is that tectonic movem ents led to the creation o f a gigantic
natural dam that prevented the Indus from flow ing tow ards the sea, turning the area around
M ohenjodaro into a huge lake. The theory o f several such episodes o f flooding induced by tectonic
movements is not, how ever, convincing. N either is H. T. L am bricks hypothesis (1967), b ased on
w hat he h im self d escrib es as purely circum stantial evidence, that the Indus changed its course,
m oving som e 30 m iles eastw ards, starving M ohenjodaro and its inhabitants o f water.
W hile M ohenjodaro m ay have got w o rn out due to repeated episodes o f naturally occurring
floods, H arap p an sites in the G haggar-H akra v alley w ere affected by gradual desiccation. The Sutlej
or the Yamuna once flow ed into the Ghaggar. Tectonic movem ents led to riv e r capture either the
Yamuna jo in e d up w ith the G anga system or (w hat is m ore likely) the Sutlej w as captured by the
Indus, d rastically reducing the w ater flow ing into the Ghaggar. M. R. M ughals (1997) study o f
settlem ents in this region show s a drastic reduction in the num ber o f sites as the riv e r d ried up.
A sudden rise in the A rab ian Sea coastline o f w e st P akistan could have caused floods and a rise in
soil salinity. Such an uplift along the co ast and in the lo w er Indus v alley could also have seriously
disrupted the coastal com m unications and trade o f the H arappans.
R eference has alread y b een m ade to the debate on the nature o f the clim ate, esp ecially rainfall, in
protohistoric tim es. O n the b asis o f his study o f p o llen from R ajasthan lakes, G urdip Singh (1971)
suggests a connection b etw een the onset o f a d rier clim ate and the decline o f the H arappan
civilization. H ow ever, a study o f the sedim ents o f the Lunkaransar lake indicates that the onset o f
drier conditions in this area m ay have happened w ell before the em ergence o f the H arappan
civilization. W hether clim atic change played a ro le in the decline o f the H arappan civilization
therefore rem ains unclear.
The issue o f environm ental change can be connected to the w ays in w hich the H arappans w ere
treating their environment. Perhaps they w ere over-exploiting it through over-cultivation, over-
grazing, and excessive cutting o f trees for fuel and farming. This w ould have resulted in decreasing
soil fertility, floods, and increasing soil salinity. M aking estim ates o f population, land, food, and
fodder requirem ents on the b asis o f m odern data, F airserv is suggests that the civ ilizatio n declined
because the grow ing population o f people and cattle could not be supported from resources w ithin
the H arap p an culture zone.
Shereen R atnagar (1981) has argued that the decline in the lapis lazuli trade w ith M esopotam ia
w as a factor in the decline o f the H arap p an civilization. W hether this trade w as p articularly
im portant for the H arappans is, how ever, debatable; consequently, this could not have been a factor
responsible for the decline.
A rchaeological evidence does not give d irect access to the p o ssib le social and political
dim ensions o f the decline o f the H arap p an civilization. W hat it does indicate v ery clearly is that the
H arappan culture underw ent a gradual process o f de-urbanization. The mature H arap p an phase w as
follow ed by a post-urban phase, know n as the late H arap p an phase.

The Significance o f the Late H arap p an Phase

There are five geographical zones o f the late H arappan phase: Sindh; w e st Punjab and the Ghaggar-
H akra valley; eastern Punjab and H aryana; the G an g a-Yamuna doab; and K utch and Saurashtra. In
Sindh, the late H arappan phase is represented by the Jhukar culture at sites such as Jhukar,
Chanhudaro, and Am ri. The transition from the mature to the late H arappan phase in this region does
not show any sudden discontinuity. There w ere gradual changes in the seals, a decrease in the
frequency o f cubical w eights, and w riting cam e to be confined only to pottery. The evidence o f
pottery suggests recip ro cal contacts betw een the Jhukar culture o f Sindh and the late H arappan
culture at Lothal and Rangpur.
In the Punjab province o f P akistan and the G haggar-H akra valley, the late H arappan phase is
represented by the C em etery-H culture. There is a decline in the num ber o f settlem ents from 174 in
the m ature H arappan phase to 50 in the late H arap p an phase. In e ast Punjab, H aryana, and north
Rajasthan, the late H arappan settlem ents w ere sm all com pared to the m ature H arap p an ones. In the
G anga-Yamuna doab, com pared to the 31 mature H arap p an sites, there are 130 late H arap p an sites.
The settlem ents w ere sm all, houses w ere generally m ade o f w attle and daub, but the agricultural
base w as v ery diverse. In K utch and Saurashtra, there is a m arked increase in the num ber o f
settlem ents in the earlier p art o f the late H arap p an phase, from 18 in the mature H arap p an phase to
120 in the early late H arap p an phase.
W hile there w as abandonm ent or severe reduction in population in Sindh and C holistan, the
increase in the num ber o f settlem ents in Punjab, H aryana, w estern U ttar Pradesh, northern R ajasthan,
and G ujarat show s that this w as not the case everyw here (see C hapter 5 for details). In fact, at
around the tim e that peo p le w ere abandoning M ohenjodaro, the people o f R ojdi in Saurashtra w ere
expanding and rebuilding their settlement. The data suggests an eastw ard and southw ard shift o f
settlem ents and people.
The evidence from mature and late H arappan sites show s a com plex interplay o f elem ents o f
continuity and change. C om pared to m ature H arap p an pottery, the slip o f late H arappan pottery is
less bright. The pots tend to be thicker and sturdier. Some o f the classic H arappan shapes e.g., the
beaker, goblet, perforated ja r, s-sh a p e d ja r, and pyriform (pear-shaped) ja r disappear. O ther
shapes e.g., ja rs o f different shapes and the dish-on-stand continue. Various elem ents o f
H arappan urbanism such as the cities, script, seals, sp ecialized crafts, and long-distance trade
declined in the late H arap p an phase, but d id not com pletely disappear. Some o f the late H arappan
sites such as K udw ala (38.1 ha) in C holistan, B et D w arka in G ujarat, and D aim abad (20 ha) in the
upper G odavari v alley can be d escrib ed as urban, but they are few and far betw een. G raffiti on
pottery occurs in Saurashtra and northern G ujarat as w ell as in the eastern regions. Four potsherds
w ith H arappan letters w ere found at late H arappan levels at D aim abad. Some circu lar seals occur at
D aim abad and Jhukar; rectangular seals minus m otifs w ere found at D holavira. A rectangular conch
shell seal w ith the m o tif o f a three-headed anim al, sim ilar to that found on seals o f the P ersian Gulf,
w as found at B et D w arka. This suggests that contact w ith the P ersian G u lf continued in the late
H arappan phase, at least in the G ujarat region. The late H arap p an phase at B hagw anpura show s
flourishing sp ecialized craft activity; there are 2 clay tablets and 19 sherds w ith graffiti, w hich could
represent a script. In Punjab and H aryana, there are faience ornam ents, beads o f sem i-precious
stones, terracotta ca rt fram es, kilns, and fire altars.
A notable developm ent in the late H arap p an phase w as the d iv ersificatio n o f agriculture. A t P irak
in B aluchistan, there w as the beginning o f double cropping w heat and b arley w ere being grow n as
w inter crops and rice (w ith irrigation), m illet, and sorghum as summer crops. In the K achi plain,
there w ere fairly large settlem ents, grow ing a v ariety o f crops, supplem ented w ith irrigation. In
G ujarat and M aharashtra, various kinds o f m illets w ere being grow n as summer crops. R ice and
m illets w ere found at late H arappan levels at H arappa. E xcavations at H ulas gave evidence o f
diverse plant rem ains. G rains included rice, barley, d w a rf w heat, b read w heat, club w heat, oats,
jow ar, and finger m illet. Pulses included lentil, field pea, grass p ea (k h e s a n ), k u lth i, green gram
(;m oong), and chickpea. A lm ond and w alnut shells w ere found, and a single carbonized seed o f
cotton w as identified.
The general picture presented by the late H arap p an phase is one o f a b reakdow n o f urban
netw orks and an expansion o f rural ones. T here is an o v erlap betw een the late H arap p an and
Painted Grey Ware (PGW) culture at sites such as B hagw anpura and D adheri in H aryana, and
K atpalon and N agar in Punjab. A lso significant is the o v erlap betw een late H arap p an and Ochre
Coloured Pottery (OCP) levels in w estern Uttar P rad esh at sites such as B argaon and A m bakheri.
The evidence from this area, G ujarat, and north M aharashtra suggests an eastw ard and southw ard
m igration o f the H arappans due to a com bination o f pressures such as those d iscussed in the earlier
section.

CONCLUSIONS

The H arap p an civ ilizatio n w as the first urban culture in South A sia. The urban phase o f the
H arappan culture em erged from the proto-urban early H arappan phase. A rchaeological evidence
reveals a great deal about this civ ilizatio n its v aried subsistence base, v ib ran t craft traditions, and
extensive trade netw orks but given the non-decipherm ent o f the script, conclusions about many
other aspects such as religion, society, and polity rem ain speculative. There w as cultural
homogeneity as w ell as diversity w ithin the v ast H arap p an culture zone. Some o f the neolithic,
n eolithic-chalcolithic, and chalcolithic sites m entioned in C hapter 3 w ere roughly contem poraneous
w ith the H arap p an civ ilizatio n and interacted w ith it. The H arappan civ ilizatio n d id not com e to a
sudden end. The urban phase w as fo llo w ed by the late H arap p an phase, w hich w as m arked by the
decline o f urban features and the d iv ersificatio n o f agriculture.

w w w .pearsoned.co.in/upindersingh
Further resources
Chapter Five
Cultural Transitions: Images from Texts and Archaeology, c. 2000
600 BCE

C hapter outline

PERSPECTIVES FROM TEXTS


A r c h a e o l o g i c a l p r o f i l e s o f d i f f e r e n t r e g io n s o f t h e s u b c o n tin e n t, c. 2000
500 BCE
t h e p r o b l e m o f c o - r e l a t in g l it e r a r y a n d a r c h a e o l o g ic a l e v id e n c e

CONCLUSIONS
megalithic burial, hire -B enkal (Karnataka)

Janaka, king o f Videha, w as perform ing a great sacrifice, and B rahm anas had com e from far and
w ide to attend. The king announced a prize o f 1,000 cow s w ith 10,000 gold p ieces fastened to their
horns for the w ise st among all the assem bled Brahm anas. A t this, sage Y ajnavalkya asked his pupil
Sham ashravas to herd the cow s home. The other B rahm anas grew furious at his presum ption and an
intense philosophical contest ensued. One by one, eight interlocutors p osed a series o f questions to
Yajnavalkya on m atters related to the sacrifice, the senses, the w o rld s to w hich great m en departed,
the nature o f the atm an, the making o f the universe, and the resting p laces o f the gods and spirits. One
o f the interlocutors w as a w om an nam ed Gargi. A s her questions b u ilt up to a crescendo,
Yajnavalkya thundered at her to stop or else her head might fall off. G argi retreated, but sp irited ly
subjected the sage to a second round o f queries. Vidagdha, the la st questioner, had to pay the p rice o f
defeat w ith his head. A ll had b een silenced by Y ajnavalkyas b rillia n t responses.

This episode is narrated in the B rih a d a ra n ya ka U panishad, a text belonging to the Vedic corpus. Is
there a historical b asis to this incident? D id a great sage nam ed Y ajnavalkya ev er exist? D id a
w om an nam ed G argi p articipate in a philosophical quest dom inated by men? Was the p rice o f defeat
in such contests re a lly death? H ow many peo p le w ere actually interested in such esoteric issues? It
is difficult to an sw er such questions w ith certainty, but the episode does conjure a dram atic scene o f
philosophical inquiry in w hich the stakes w ere v ery high o f reputation and life itself.
The poets who com posed the Vedic hymns o f p raise and supplication to the gods and the priests
who explained how the rituals w ere to be perform ed w ere not historians. Vedic texts are religious
and ritualistic w orks, not w orks o f history. H ow ever, com bined w ith the av ailab le archaeological
evidence, they can be used as sources o f inform ation on various aspects o f the life o f people living
in the greater Indus valley, the Indo-G angetic divide, and the upper G anga v alley in the 2nd and 1st
m illennia BCE.
W hen discussing this period, m ost accounts o f ancient Indian history make a d ecisiv e shift from a
narrative b ased on archaeology to one b ased on Vedic texts. In general, archaeological evidence is
cited only w hen it supports w h at the texts seem to be suggesting. This app ro ach has resulted in an
undue focus on the northern and north-w estern regions o f the subcontinent and a neglect o f other
areas. It has led to the sidelining o f substantial archaeological evidence from neo lith ic-ch alco lith ic,
chalcolithic, and early iro n age cultures that tells us about the lives o f ordinary people living in the
various regions o f the subcontinent during c. 2 0 0 0 -5 0 0 BCE.
The challenge is to incorporate both literary and archaeological evidence, w herever they are
available. H ow ever, evidence from these tw o sources does not alw ays match. W hen dealing w ith
m aterial culture, p rio rity should be given to archaeological evidence. Vedic literature, on the other
hand, is a richer source o f inform ation on the developm ent o f philosophical concepts and religious
ideas and practices. A nother challenge is to explore and expand the historical potential o f the
archaeological evidence from regions for w hich no texts are av ailab le, and w here archaeology
rem ains the only w indow into the past.
In order to v ie w the com plex historical jig sa w puzzle o f the subcontinent in c. 2 0 0 0 -5 0 0 BCE, it is
necessary to carefully juxtapose the archaeology-based and text-and-archaeology-based profiles o f
the various regions, recognizing that in som e cases, the p ieces do not fit together perfectly.

P erspectives from Texts

USING THE VEDAS AS A HISTORICAL SOURCE


Extracting history from a literature as ancient, vast, and com plex as the Vedas is no easy task.
Unfortunately, critical editions identifying the original core o f the texts are not available. The 19th
century translations cannot be re lie d upon, and recent authoritative translations, w hether in the
E uropean or Indian languages, are few. A great deal depends on the interpretation o f w ords and
phrases, w hose meanings m ay v ary from one text and context to another.
The Vedic corpus w as not a popular literature and, therefore, does not n ecessarily represent
popular ideas or practices. It w as com posed, preserved, and transm itted by and for a section o f the
Brahmanas. (H ere, the reference is to B rahm anas as a social group. The B rahm anas are also a
category o f Vedic texts.) The texts w ere transm itted o rally for many centuries and it is not certain
w hen they w ere first w ritten down. The e a rlie st surviving m anuscripts belong to the 11th century CE.
M any historians use a rough chronology o f c. 1 2 0 0 -1 0 0 0 BCE or 1 5 0 0 -1 0 0 0 BCE for the
com position o f the e a rlie st sections o f the R ig Veda. It is p o ssib le that parts o f the R ig Veda w ere
com posed even earlier, perhaps in c. 2000 BCE, but there are lim its to how far b ack its dates can be
pushed. The uncertainty o f the p erio d o f com position o f the R ig Veda is a m ajor p ro b lem in using this
text as a source o f history.
B ooks 2 -7 , the o ld est books o f the R ig Veda Sam hita, are also know n as the fam ily books because
their com position is attributed to the fam ilies o f certain seer-poets G rit-sam ada, V ishvam itra,
Vamadeva, A tri, B haradvaja, and Vasishtha. B ooks 1, 8, 9, and 10 seem to be o f a later period. The
hymns o f this Sam hita are arranged in a p recise pattern. In the fam ily books, they are arranged
according to deity, num ber o f stanzas, and metre. The num ber o f hymns increases in each successive
book. W ithin a p articular book, the hymns are arranged in groups according to deity first com e the
hymns to Agni, then Indra, and then the other gods. A nd w ithin a group o f hymns ad d ressed to a
particular deity, the arrangem ent follow s a pattern o f a d ecrea sin g num ber o f stanzas per hymn (i.e.,
the preceding hymns have m ore stanzas than the succeeding ones). In instances w here tw o hymns
have the sam e num ber o f stanzas, the hymn w hich is in a m etre requiring m ore syllables is p laced
first. The arrangem ent o f hymns in the other books o f the R ig Veda S a m h ita follow s a different, but
recognizable order.
The pattern o f arrangem ent m akes it p o ssib le to detect interpolations. Hymns that d isrupt the
pattern m ust have been added to the co llectio n later. This does not n ecessarily m ean that they w ere
later in term s o f their p erio d o f com position. The la te r, i.e., less o ld books o f the R ig Veda
Sam hita m ay actually contain som e v ery o ld hymns, and the e a rlie r books contain som e not-so-old
hymns. Som etim es, certain hymns are assigned a later date because their content or ideas seem
different. H ow ever, such differences could be due to their originating in a different m ilieu or
reflecting different ideas current at the time.
The deliberate, careful arrangem ent o f the hymns o f the R ig Veda S a m h ita w as the w o rk o f its
com pilers. The language, and p o ssib ly also the content, o f the hymns m ay have b een m odified in the
process o f com pilation, w hich m ay have taken p lace in c. 1000 BCE. The Vedas m ay have b een
arranged and com piled because o f the d esire o f priests to create an authoritative text for the
sacrifices they perform ed. We know from other sources that there w ere various recensions o f the R ig
Veda, w hich m ay have differed from each other in content, arrangem ent, and traditions o f
interpretation. O f these recensions, only the Shakala has survived into our ow n time.
Vedic texts can be used as sources o f history for the areas in w hich they w ere com posed. The
fam ily books o f the R ig Veda S a m h ita w ere com posed in eastern A fghanistan and the Punjab, the
land o f S a p ta -S in d h u or the seven rivers. The riv ers in question w ere the Indus, its five tributaries,
and the Sarasvati (w hich can p ro b ab ly be identified w ith the m odern G haggar-H akra). The core
geographical area o f later Vedic texts w as K u ru - Panchala, w hich com prised the Indo-G angetic
divide and the upper G anga valley.

S e e C h a p t e r 1, pp. 17- 18 f o r d e t a il s o n t h e V e d ic corpus

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

The d a te o f the R ig Veda

The dates suggested for the com position o f the R ig Veda range from c. 6000 BCE to 1000 BCE.

The chronology o f c. 1 2 0 0 -1 0 0 0 BCE for the fam ily books o f the R ig Veda is based on the
tentative dates put fo rw ard by the G erm an Indologist M ax M ller in the 19th century. He w orked
backw ards from dates o f later texts to arriv e at c. 1200 BCE for the beginnings o f Vedic poetry.
The reasoning he used is as follow s:

The Vedanga and Sutra works were roughly contemporary with early Buddhism, so they can be dated c. 600
200 BCE. As Vedic literature is older than Buddhist literature, it must have been composed before the 6th
century BCE.
(Going by the lists of teachers and other contents of the Vedic Brahmana texts, it can be assumed that the
composition of these texts (i.e., the Brahmanas) must have stretched over at least 200 years before 600
BCE. That would mean a time bracket of c. 800-600 BCE for the Brahmanas.
The Vedic Samhitas are older than the Brahmanas. Their composition must also have stretched over about
200 years, i.e., c. 1000-800 BCE.
The Vedic hymns must have evolved over about 200 years. This suggests c. 1200 BCE as the date for the
beginnings of the composition of Vedic poetry.

M ax M ller suggested this chain o f reasoning only as a w ay o f arriving at a rough date for the
R ig Veda. Several Indologists such as H. H. W ilson, G. B hler, H. Jacobi, and M aurice
W internitz questioned the assigning o f 200 years (and not m ore) for the com position o f various
categories o f texts. W internitz thought that the R ig Veda w as p ro b ab ly o ld er than 1200 BCE. He
suggested that the beginning o f Vedic literature should be p laced clo ser to 2500 or 2000 BCE, but
added that he w ould p refer not to give any dates at all. M ax M ller accepted the criticism
provoked by his hypothesis, but rem inded his critics that his dates w ere m eant to be hypothetical
and provisional.

A stronom ical references in the R ig Veda have b een used to date the text, but have given different
results. F or instance, L udw ig concluded that the text w as com posed in the 11th century BCE,
w hile Jacobi arriv ed at a 3 rd m illennium BCE date. Recently, Subhash K ak (2001) has argued
that the astronom ical references in the R ig Veda can be dated c. 4 0 0 0 -2 0 0 0 BCE.

A 1380 BCE inscription found at B ogaz K oi in north-eastern Syria records a treaty betw een a
H ittite and a M itanni king. It mentions the gods Indara (Indra), M itras (M itra), N asatia (N asitya,
i.e., the A shvins), and U ruvanass (Varuna) deities w ho are m entioned in the R ig Veda. W hile a
m ajority o f the M itanni people spoke the local H urrian language, the inscription indicates that
their rulers had Indo-A ryan-sounding names and invoked Indo-A ryan gods. B elonging to about
the sam e p erio d is a H ittite text on horse training and chariotry, w ritten by a M itannian nam ed
Kikkuli. This uses several technical term s w hich resem ble Indo-A ryan ones. W hile these
inscriptions are relev an t for the history o f the Indo-A ryan languages and gods, they do not give
d irect or definite inform ation about the date o f the R ig Veda.

There are close sim ilarities betw een the language and culture reflected in the R ig Veda and an
ancient Iranian text called the Avesta. This could be an im portant clue to dating the R ig Veda, but
unfortunately, the dates o f the A vesta are not certain. Its o ld est parts m ay go b ack to c. 1500 BCE.

Very early dates for the R ig Veda that fall w ithin the 7th or 6th m illennium BCE are clearly not
acceptable. One reaso n is that w e know from archaeology that the north-w estern p art o f the
subcontinent w as at that tim e still in the stone age, and the R ig Veda clearly belongs to the
chalcolithic age. D ates falling w ithin the late 3rd m illennium BCE or the early 2nd m illennium
BCE (calculated on the grounds o f philology and/or astronom ical references) cannot be ruled out.
The date o f the R ig Veda rem ains a problem atic issue.

M any different kinds o f histories o f the Indo-A ryans have b een d eriv ed from the Vedas.
N ationalist historians extracted historical details from the texts but tended to idealize the Vedic age
(A ltekar [1938], 1991; M ajum dar et al. [1951], 1971). A subsequent trend w as m ore dispassionate
in approach, but concentrated on fitting data from the texts into long-term unilinear historical and
anthropological m odels (R. S. Sharm a, 1983; Thapar, 1990). R ecent studies (e.g., W itzel, 1997a,
1997b) offer a m ore nuanced textual analysis. N evertheless, w hen w e talk o f the Vedic ag e or
Vedic culture, w e m ust be conscious o f the p ro b lem o f dating the R ig Veda, the religious and elite
nature o f the texts, their specific geographical contexts, and the av ailab ility o f substantial
archaeological data for these and other regions.

WHO WERE THE INDO-ARYANS?

The use o f Vedic literature as a source o f history is linked to a num ber o f questions about the people
to w hom these texts belonged. W ho w ere the Indo-A ryans? W here d id they com e from? W hat w as
the relationship betw een the Vedic and H arap p an cultures? These issues have not alw ays been
treated as purely academ ic ones. They have p o litical im plications, and have b een used to serve
diverse p o litical agendas, both in colonial and post-colonial tim es (see Trautmann, 2005). A nd in
spite o f vigorous and often v o latile debate spanning over tw o centuries, there are still no definite
answ ers.
D uring the 19th and early 20th centuries, w hen large sections o f A frica and A sia w ere colonized
by E uropean nations, many scholars thought about history in term s o f the m ovem ent and interaction of
different races. Some scholars used the term ra c e lo o sely in the sense o f an ethnic or cultural group.
H ow ever, another trend w as to classify people o f the w o rld into different races such as C aucasian,
M ongoloid, N egroid, etc. on the b asis o f physical and other characteristics. T hese classifications
seem ed to be objective and scientific on the surface, but m ost o f them w ere racist. They p ro v id ed a
pseudo-scientific ju stificatio n for the E uropean subjugation o f A sian and A frican p eople, w hom they
presented as inferior races. The theory o f a superior w hite, blond-haired, and blue-eyed A ryan race,
w hich w as a p art o f N azi propaganda in 20th century Germany, is a myth and is not b ased on
historical facts. This is the case w ith all theories that claim that a p articular group o f people are
inherently superior to others. Today, m ost anthropologists have abandoned racial classifications.
There is no doubt that p eople living in different parts o f the w o rld look different. B ut the old,
prejudiced category o f race, w hich p resented peo p le in different parts o f the w o rld as separate,
unrelated, and unchanging entities, frozen in time, has b een rep laced by m ore meaningful and
objective w ays o f classifying and understanding human cultures.
The com posers o f the R ig Veda d escrib ed them selves as arya, w hich can be understood as a
cultural or ethnic term. The w ord literally m eans kinsm an or com panion, or it m ay be etym ologically
derived from a r (to cultivate). The term s Indo-E uropean and Indo-A ryan, as used by linguists and
historians, have nothing to do w ith racial classifications. They are linguistic term s, referring to
fam ilies o f languages and their speakers. The Indo-A ryans w ere the speakers o f a sub-group o f the
Indo-Iranian branch o f the Indo-E uropean fam ily o f languages.
The original hom eland o f the Indo-Europeans and Indo-A ryans is the subject o f continuing debate
among philologists (scholars who study o ld languages), linguists, historians, archaeologists, and
others. The dom inant v ie w is that the Indo-A ryans cam e to the subcontinent as immigrants. A nother
view , advocated m ainly by som e Indian scholars, is that they w ere indigenous to the subcontinent.
O ver the years, many original hom elands have b een p ro p o sed for the Indo-A ryans (see Bryant,
2002). T hese include Tibet, A fghanistan, Iran, the A ral Sea, the C asp ian Sea, the B lack Sea,
Lithuania, the A rctic, the C aucasus, the U rals, the Volga mountains, southern R ussia, the central
A sian steppes, W est A sia, Turkey, Scandinavia, Finland, Sw eden, the B altic region, and India. A ll
these claim s are not supported by equally convincing evidence, and none o f them is free from
problem s. One o f the m ore w id ely accepted v iew s locates the original hom eland o f the Indo-
Europeans in the plains o f E astern E urope, esp ecially the area north o f the B lack Sea.
The Vedas reflect a close connection w ith Iran. B ut w e do not know when, w here, or w hy the
Indo-Iranians and Indo-A ryans parted w ays. Today, m ost historians have discard ed the idea o f an
A ryan invasion o f the Indian subcontinent in favour o f a theory o f several w av es o f Indo-A ryan
migrations. H ow ever, there is no consensus on the routes or tim ing o f these m igrations. The Indo-
A ryan languages o f India include the non-Sanskritic or D ardic languages spoken in the mountains o f
the north-w est, w hich m ay rep resen t an e a rlie r w ave o f Indo-A ryan immigrants. Superior m ilitary
technology and the use o f the horse and ch ario t m ay have given the im m igrants the crucial initial
advantage, enabling them to estab lish their p olitical dom inance in the land o f the seven rivers.

THE CULTURE REFLECTED IN THE FAMILY BOOKS OF THE RIG VEDA SAMHITA
H istorians divide the Vedic corpus into tw o parts early and later Vedic texts, although recent
studies indicate a m ore com plex internal chronology. E arly Vedic literature refers to the fam ily
books o f the R ig Veda Sam hita. Later Vedic literature includes Books 1, 8, 9, and 10 o f the R ig Veda
S am hita, the Sam hitas o f the S a m a , Yajur, and A th a rva Vedas, and the B rahm anas, A ranyakas, and
U panishads attached to all the four Vedas. (A m ong these later texts, the M antra portions are the
earliest, fo llo w ed by the B rahm anas, A ranyakas, and U panishads.) The cultural stages reflected in
the tw o b ro ad strata o f early and later Vedic texts have com e to be know n as the early and the later
Vedic cultures. The principal Shrautasutras and som e o f the early G rihyasutras have b een dated c.
8 0 0 -4 0 0 B C E .1 T hese texts w ill, how ever, be d iscussed in the next chapter.

Tribe s a n d wars

The R ig Veda is p erv ad ed w ith the aura o f w arrin g tribes. A bout 30 tribes and clans are mentioned.
Five trib es the Yadu, Turvasha, Puru, Anu, and D ruhyu are co llectiv ely know n as the five
p eo p les (p a n ch a -ja n a , p a n c h a -k risth y a , o r p a n ch a -m a n u sh a ). The Purus and B haratas are the tw o
dom inant tribes. Initially, they seem to have been allies, but at som e point, they fell apart. The R ig
Veda mentions a c h ie f o f the Purus nam ed Trasadasyu. It also mentions a famous B harata king nam ed
D ivodasa and d escrib es his v icto ry over the D asa ruler Sham bara, w ho had many mountain
fortresses.
M any R ig Vedic hymns b eseech the gods for v icto ry in battle. It is difficult to distinguish betw een
mythical and historical events, betw een demons and real enem ies. T here are several references to
conflicts w ith the D asas and Dasyus. One v ie w is that these w ere the aboriginal people encountered
by the Indo-A ryan tribes. H ow ever, they may actually rep resen t earlier (pre-V edic) w av es o f Indo-
A ryan immigrants. Prayers to Indra to defeat not only the D asa but also the A rya enem ies indicate
that there w ere conflicts am ong the A ryas too.
T here are about 300 clearly non-Indo-E uropean w ords in the R ig Veda. T hese lo an w o rd s show
that the R ig Vedic people w ere interacting w ith people speaking D rav id ian and M unda languages.
There are many tribes w ith non-Indo-A ryan names in the R ig Veda, such as the Chumuri, Dhuni,
Pipru, and Sham bara. The text also refers to A rya chieftains w ith non-Indo-A ryan names, e.g.,
B albutha and B ribu. A ll this is indicative o f p ro cesses o f cultural interaction.
The battle o f ten kings (dasharajna), recounted in B ook 7 o f the R ig Veda S a m h ita m ay be based
on an actual historical incident. In this battle, the B harata c h ie f Sudas, grandson o f D ivodasa, fought
against a confederacy o f 10 tribes. The m ention o f the Purus, their form er allies, as a p art o f this
confederacy indicates that p o litical alliances w ere fluid and shifting. V ishvam itra, the B harata
purohita, seem s to have b een rep laced by Vasishtha before the battle, reflecting another sort o f
behind-the-scenes re-alignm ent. The great battle took p lace on the banks o f the riv e r Parushni (R avi).
The B haratas w o n by breaking a natural dam on the river. M arching on to the Yamuna, they defeated
a local ruler nam ed Bheda. Sudas eventually settled dow n along the Sarasvati and celeb rated his
victory and p o sitio n o f p o litical param ountcy by perform ing the ashvam edha sacrifice.
The w o rd ra ja n (or raja) occurs many tim es in the fam ily books o f the R ig Veda. Since a full-
fledged m onarchical state had not yet em erged, this w o rd is b est translated as chieftain or n o b le,
rather than as king. It is not alw ays clear from the hymns w hether the ra ja n w as the c h ie f o f a tribe,
clan, clan segm ent or several clans. B ut his m ain task w as to protect his people and to lead them to
victory in war. The reference to the chieftain as g o p a or g o p a ti (lo rd o f the cattle) indicates that
protecting and increasing the cattle herd w as his other m ajor role. The royal p rie st accom panied the
rajan to battle, recited prayers, and supervised the perform ance o f rituals. The im portance o f royal
priests such as Vasishtha and V ishvam itra is reflected in many Vedic hymns. B a li refers to an offering
made to a god; it also m eans tribute p erio d ically offered by the clansm en to the rajan. Tribute w as
no doubt also extracted from tribes defeated in battle. A regular taxation system had not y et emerged.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Hymn to arm s (Rig Veda Sam hita 6.75)

The follow ing benediction w as recited by the p u ro h ita (royal priest) either before the chieftain
se t out on a m ilitary expedition or in order to bless the w arrio rs accom panying the consecrated
horse in the ashvam edha sacrifice. N ote how the various w eapons are d escrib ed and praised,
one by one:

H is face is like a thundercloud, w hen the arm ed w a rrio r goes into the lap o f battles. Conquer
w ith an unw ounded body; le t the p o w er o f arm our keep you safe.

W ith the bo w le t us w in cow s, w ith the b o w le t us w in the contest and v io len t battles w ith the
bow. The bow ruins the enem ys pleasure; w ith the bow le t us conquer all the corners o f the
w orld.

She [the bow ] com es all the w ay up to your ear like a w om an w ho w ishes to say something,
em bracing her dear friend; humming like a w oman, the bow string stretched tight on the bow
carries you safely across in battle.

T hese tw o [the b o w tips] w ho go fo rw ard like a w om an going to a rendezvous, hold the arro w in
their lap as a m other holds a son. L et the tw o bow -tips, w orking together, p ierce our enem ies and
scatter our foes.

H e [the quiver w hich holds the arrow s] is the father o f many daughters [arrow s], and many are
his sons [arrow s]. H e m akes a rattling sound as he goes dow n into battle. The quiver w ins the
attacks and all the skirm ishes w hen he is strapped on a back and se t to work.

Standing in the chariot, the skilful charioteer drives his prize-w inning horses fo rw ard w herever
he w ishes to go. P raise the p o w er o f the reins: the guides fo llo w the m ind that is behind them.

N eighing violently, the horses w ith their show ering hoofs outstrip everyone w ith their chariots.
T ram pling dow n the foes w ith the tips o f their hoofs, they destroy their enem ies w ithout veering
away.

Spare us, O w eap o n flying true to its mark; le t our body be stone. L et Soma speak a blessing
upon us; let A diti give us shelter.
He beats them on the back and strikes them on the haunches. O whip for horses, drive forward
into battle the horses who sense what is ahead.

It wraps itself around the arm like a serpent w ith coils, warding o ff the snap o f the bowstring. Let
the gauntlet [the leather protecting the forearm], knowing all the w ays, protect on all sides, a man
protecting a man....

Once shot, fly far away, arrow, sharpened with prayer. Go straight to our foes, and do not leave a
single one o f them there....

I cover w ith armour those places on you where a wound is mortal. Let Soma the king dress you
in ambrosia (or immortality). Let Varuna make wider yet your w ide realm. Let the gods rejoice in
you as you are victorious.

W hoever w ould harm us, whether it is one o f our ow n people, or a stranger, or someone from far
away, let all the gods ruin him. My inner armour is prayer.

S o u r c e O Flaherty, 1986: 2 3 6 -3 8

The R ig Veda mentions assem blies such as the sa b h a and sam iti. The distinctions betw een their
functions are not entirely clear. The sa b h a seems to have been a smaller, more elite gathering,
whereas the sa m iti appears to have been a larger assem bly presided over by the rajan. Such
assem blies may have played an important role in the redistribution o f resources. Hymns express the
desire for harmony among members ( A ssem ble, speak together; let your minds be all o f one
accord.). The vid a th a has been understood as a tribal assem bly w ith diverse functions. H owever, it
actually seems to refer to a local congregation o f people meeting to perform socio-religious rituals
and ceremonies for the w ell-b ein g o f the settlement.
The family books contain several terms for socio-political units, many o f which were based on
kinship. These include ja n a , vish, gana, gram a, g rih a , and k u la . Their precise meaning, however, is
not alw ays clear. The ja n a o f the R ig Veda can be translated as tribe, vish is often translated as
people in general or as clan, and g a n a as lineage. G ram a, w hich later came to mean village, seems
to have originally referred to a m obile group o f people who may or may not have been related to
each other through kinship.

KEY CONCEPTS

Lineage, clan, trib e

Historians use several sociological terms and concepts w hile describing ancient cultures.
Kinship refers to socially and culturally recognized relationships among people, commonly
assumed to be based on natural or biological ties. These ties may be based on birth/descent
(consanguinal relations), marriage (affinal relations), adoption, or fosterage. There are also other
culturally specified kinds o f kinship e.g., in north India, there is the custom o f the rakhi
b ro th e r-siste r relationship and the m u h -b o la -b h a f (a m an d eclared to be a brother). K inship is
so im portant in Indian society that its language has sp read far and w ide. Younger people
routinely address their elders as un cle and aunty and people w ho are not even rem otely
related m ay address each other as b ro th e r, s is te r, m other, or father.

K inship systems can be unilineal or m ulti-lineal. U nilineal k in sh ip sy ste m s w hich recognize


descent relationships through the father are know n as p a trilin e a l or agnatic. U nilineal kinship
systems w hich recognize descent through the m other are know n as m atrilin eal. M u lti-lin eal or
cognatic systems are those in w hich descent through both the m other and father is recognized. In
both p atrilineal and m atrilineal systems, relationships through the other parent also receive
recognition for different purposes at different tim es for instance, at tim es o f m arriage, during
the perform ance o f rituals, and even in m atters o f inheritance. F o r exam ple, in a patrilineal
society, a son or daughter m ay inherit p roperty from their m others kin, and the m others brother
m ay have a significant ro le to play in the lifecycle rituals o f his s is te rs children.

A lineage is a group o f unilineal kin. In v ie w o f the p ro b lem o f draw ing the dividing line
b etw een fam ily and lineage, the latter term can be used to refer to relations beyond the three or
four generation family. Several unilineal descent groups w ho trace their descent from a com m on
ancestor, actual or m ythical, form a clan. M em bers o f a clan som etim es claim a com m on p lace o f
origin and m ay have clan p roperty or a clan god. A num ber o f related clans constitute a tribe.

T rib e is a problem atic term. It has often b een used by anthropologists to refer to people
considered prim itive, living in econom ically less-d ev elo p ed areas, and lacking a script. These
days, sociologists are careful to av o id v alu e-lad en term s such as p rim itiv e and are aw are o f the
p itfalls in defining a tribe. A ndre B eteille ([1960], 1977) suggests that a trib e can be defined as a
society w ith a p o litical, linguistic, and som ew hat vaguely defined cultural boundary, b ased on
kinship, and lacking in social stratification. W ithin this v ery general definition, tribes differ from
one another in many w ays. In the context o f early Indian history, historians often use the term
trib a l to refer to pre-chiefdom and pre-state societies. O thers prefer to avoid the use o f the term
altogether.

P a s t o r a l is m , a g r ic u lt u r e , a n d o t h e r occu patio n s

Anim als such as horses, goats, and sheep are m entioned in the fam ily books, but cattle w ere clearly
prized the most. R. S. Sharm a (1983: 24) has d raw n attention to the many derivations o f the w o rd
gau (cow ) in the R ig Veda. W ords for w ar w ith the infix g a u such as g a vish ti, gavesh a n a , goshu,
and g a vya suggest that many battles w ere in effect cattle raids. Further indications o f the
im portance o f cattle com e from other w o rd s containing the g a u infix. The tribal c h ie f w as know n as
janasya gopa. M easures o f tim e included g o d h u li (dusk) and sam g a va (m orning), m easures o f
area/distance included g a v y u ti and gocharm an. The buffalo w as know n as g a u ri or ga vala. The
daughter w as d u h itri (she w ho m ilks cow s). G o jit (w inner o f cow s) w as a w o rd for a hero. A
w ealthy p erso n w as know n as g o m a t (ow ner o f cattle). One o f the epithets o f the god Indra w as
gopati (lo rd o f cattle).
Some scholars have used the num ber o f references to pastoral versus agricultural activities in the
fam ily books as an index o f their relativ e im portance, and have concluded that w hile cattle rearing
w as o f overw helm ing im portance, agriculture w as either a subsidiary activity or one that w as
practised by non-Indo-A ryans. H ow ever, the frequency o f usage in religious or ritualistic texts and
contexts may not be an accurate indicator o f the relativ e im portance o f these activities in everyday
life. A p art from w o rd frequencies, it is n ecessary to exam ine the nature and content o f the references.
R. N. N andi (1 9 8 9 -9 0 ) has d raw n attention to the many references to agricultural activity in the
R ig Veda and argues that it w as by no m eans m arginal. The v erb s va p (to sow ) and krish (to
cultivate) occur, along w ith references to various agricultural im plem ents. P hala, langala, and sira
are w ords for the plough, w hich m ust have been m ade o f w ood. O ther im plem ents included the hoe
(khanitra), sickle (datra, srin i), and axe (p a ra sh u , kulisha). The w o rd ksh etra has a range o f
meanings, including a cultivated field. Hymns refer to the lev ellin g o f fields for cultivation, the
desire for fertile fields (urvara), and furrow s (sita ) drenched by rain, producing rich harvests. The
only term s for cereals are y a v a (b arley or a generic term for cereal) and d hanya (a generic term for
cereals). T here are references to seed processing, food p repared from cereals, and large ja rs that
w ere pro b ab ly used to store grain. Some hymns refer to conflicts among people for the protection o f
sons, grandsons, cattle, w ater courses, and fertile fields. P rayers to Indra b eseech him to grant or
enrich the fields. This god is d escrib ed as the protector o f crops, w inner o f fertile fields (u rva ra jit),
and one w ho show ers such fields on those w ho perform sacrifices to him. The later parts o f the
fam ily books invoke K shetrapati, w ho seem s to have been a guardian deity o f agricultural fields.
Wars w ere fought for cattle, but also for land.
Hymns refer to w arrio rs, priests, cattle-rearers, farm ers, hunters, barbers, and vintners. The crafts
m entioned include chariot-m aking, cart-m aking, carpentry, m etal working, tanning, the making o f
bow s and bow strings, sew ing, w eaving, and making mats out o f grass or reeds. Some o f these
occupations and crafts m ay have been the jo b s o f full-tim e specialists.
T here are hardly any references to m etallurgical activities in the R ig Veda, and v ery few o f these
occur in the fam ily books (see C hakrabarti, 1992). The w o rd ayas occurs in several contexts. There
are references to Indras thunderbolt o f ayas; the chariot o f M itra and Varuna having colum ns o f
ayas; and the home o f Indra and Som a m ade o f ayas. A hymn to Agni com pares his splendour to the
edge o f ayas. A nother hymn to Agni beseeches him to be like a fort o f ay as to his w orshippers. A
prayer to Indra asks him to sharpen his w o rsh ip p e rs thought as i f it w ere a blade o f ayas. The
fam ily books also refer to the D asyus cities o f ayas, forts o f ayas, a h o rse s ja w s o f ayas, a vessel
o f ayas. The few m etal objects m entioned in the R ig Veda are ksh u ra (razor), khadi (m aybe a
bangle), and a si/sva d h iti (axe). B ut it is not clear p recisely w hich metal these objects w ere m ade of.
A hymn (4.2.17) refers to the doers o f good deeds having freed their b irth from im purity in the same
w ay as ayas is purified. The m edieval com m entator Sayana explains this reference as follow s: A s
the smiths heat metal using b e llo w s . T here are a few references in the R ig Veda to the w o rd s dham
and karm ara, but these occur in the late books 9 and 10, and it is far from certain w hether they refer
to iron-w elding or iron smiths.
Some scholars have interpreted the references to ayas, m etal objects, and m etallurgical activity in
the R ig Veda as indicative o f iron artefacts and iron working. H ow ever, there is no definite evidence
that this w as so. There is in fact no clear or conclusive reference to iron in the fam ily books. Ayas
could have m eant copper, copper-bronze, or m ay have b een a generic term for m etals.
A nthropological studies have brought out the im portance o f gift exchanges in sim ple societies, and
some o f their observations are useful for understanding the culture reflected in the R ig Veda. In his
classic w o rk on the gift, M arcel M auss [1954], 1980) pointed out that such exchanges m ay appear on
the surface to be voluntary and spontaneous, but are actually strictly obligatory and governed by
conventions that have to be observed. It is not the individual but groups (fam ilies, clans, trib es) who
make the exchanges and are bound by their obligations. Such exchanges know n as prestations do
not only involve m aterial goods o f econom ic value. They also involve the exchange o f other things
such as courtesies, entertainm ents, m ilitary assistance, ritual, women, children, dances, feasts, and
hospitality. The rules o f the game in gift exchange are different from the logic that operates in
ordinary sorts o f econom ic exchanges. The offering, receiving, and reciprocating o f gifts are acts that
establish and cem ent social relationships and social hierarchies. In the R ig Veda, w e have noted that
gifts (b a li) w ere receiv ed by the ra ja n from m em bers o f the clan. P riests receiv ed d a n a (ritual gifts)
and d a k sh in a (sacrificial fees) at the conclusion o f sacrificial rituals.
G ift-giving and receiving do not rule out other kinds o f exchange, but trade in the R ig Vedic
context w as p ro b ab ly minimal. B arter w as the m ode o f exchange and cattle an im portant unit o f
value. The w o rd nish ka seem s to have m eant a piece o f g o ld or gold n eck lace, and there is no
indication o f the use o f coins. There are prayers to the gods to give b ro ad paths to tra v e l and ensure
a safe journey. M ention is m ade o f chariots and carts d raw n by oxen, m ules, or horses. The p a n is
(literally, those w ho possess w ealth ) in som e instances refer to m erchants and in others to stingy
people w ho d id not p erform sacrifices and hid their w ealth. T here are references to boats (nau) and
the o cean (sam udra). R ig Veda 1.116.3 refers to the A shvins rescuing Bhujya in the o cean w ith the
help o f a ship w ith a hundred oars (sh a ta ritra ). B ook 10 refers to the eastern and w estern oceans.
But both Books 1 and 10 are later books, and historians differ on w hether or not the com posers o f the
early sections o f the R ig Veda w ere fam iliar w ith sea travel, let alone sea trade.
W ar booty w as a m ajor source o f w ealth (pana, dhana, rayi, etc.). The references to w ealthy
people and those w orthy o f attending the assem blies suggest differences in w ealth and rank. The
rajan and the assem blies m ust have had a say in the redistribution o f w ar booty, and the rajan and
his im m ediate kinsm en m ust have got a larger share. A p art from cattle, other items so licited in
prayers and sacrifices include houses, horses, gold, fertile fields, friends, plentiful food, w ealth,
jew els, chariots, fame, and children. The notion o f individual private p roperty ow nership as w e
understand it asso ciated w ith the right to buy, sell, gift, bequeath, and mortgage d id not exist. The
clan as a w hole enjoyed rights over m ajor resources such as land and herds.
The household w as the b asic unit o f labour, and there is no m ention o f w age labour. The R ig Veda
is, how ever, fam iliar w ith slavery. Slavery, is an extrem e form o f social subordination. A slave,
w hether m ale or fem ale, has no rights, pow er, autonomy, or honour, is considered the property o f the
master, and is obliged to perform all kinds o f services, no m atter how m enial. The R ig Veda refers to
enslavem ent in the course o f w ar or as a result o f debt. The fact that in later tim es, d a sa and dasi are
terms used for m ale and fem ale slaves, suggests that initially, ethnic differences m ay have b een an
im portant b asis o f enslavem ent. Slaves, m ale and fem ale, generally w orked in the household, but
w ere not used to any significant extent in production-related activities. A s pointed out by G erda
Lerner (1986), in all cultures, throughout history, there w as an im portant difference in the experience
o f enslavem ent for m en and w om en for w om en, enslavem ent generally involved sexual
exploitation in addition to exploitation o f their labour.
A lthough the fam ily books reflect differences in rank and som e inequalities in w ealth, these do not
add up to distinct socio-econom ic classes in the sense o f significant differences in access to and
control over basic productive resources. H ow ever, the absence o f a class hierarchy does not m ean
that R ig Vedic society w as egalitarian. The fam ily books reflect inequalities betw een m asters and
slaves, and betw een m en and w om en. The ra ja n stood at the top o f the lad d er o f p o litical and social
pow er and status, the d a si stood at the v ery bottom.
The R ig Veda mentions food and drink, clothes, and leisure-tim e pursuits o f people. T here are
references to the consum ption o f m ilk and m ilk products, g h rita (ghee, clarified butter), grains,
vegetables, and fruits. Vedic texts refer to m eat eating, and to the offering o f anim als such as sheep,
goat, and oxen to the gods in sacrifice (M ajum dar et al. [1951], 1971: 396, 461). H ow ever, the
reference to cow s as aghnya (not to be killed) suggests a d isapproval o f their indiscrim inate killing.
This issue has som etim es becom e controversial in v ie w o f the sanctity that eventually cam e to be
associated w ith the cow in Hinduism . H ow ever, it should be rem em bered that religious and dietary
practices have alw ays v aried considerably over tim e and space. The drink know n as som a consisted
o f the ju ic e o f the som a plant, m ixed w ith milk, sour milk, or y a v a (cereal). S u ra seem s to have been
an intoxicating drink m ade out o f ferm ented grain. P eople w o re clothes o f cotton, w ool, and anim al
skin, and donned a v ariety o f ornam ents. There are references to singing and dancing, and to m usical
instruments such as the vin a (lute), va n a (flute), and drums. D ram as m ay have b een a source o f
entertainment, and chariot racing and gam bling w ith dice w ere popular pastim es.

VARNA IN THE RIG VEDA

The w o rd va rn a occurs in many p laces in the fam ily books and usually m eans light or colour.
H ow ever, in som e passages, it is asso ciated w ith the A ryas and D asas. The fact that sim ilar epithets
are ap p lied to D asas and D asyus, and that both these term s are used to d escrib e certain enem ies,
indicate an o v erlap in their connotations. The R ig Veda d escrib es them as a -vra ta (people w ho do
not obey the ordinances o f the gods) and a -kra tu (those w ho do not perform sacrifices). A nother
adjective used for them is m rid h ra -va ch a . This can be interpreted in different w ays as referring to
their speech being indistinct, unclear, soft, unintelligible, uncouth, hostile, scornful, or abusive. The
fact that this epithet is used in one place for the Purus, an Indo-A ryan tribe, m akes it unlikely that it
meant unintelligible. In three p laces in the R ig Veda, the term krish n a -tva ch or a sikn itva ch is
applied to the Dasyus. This can be interpreted literally as d ark skinned, or as a figurative use o f
darkness. In one passage, the D asas are d escrib ed as anasa. W hether this m eans noseless (i.e., flat
nosed), faceless (in som e m etaphorical sense) or m outhless (i.e., w hose speech is incom prehensible)
is uncertain.
The o ld v ie w highlighted the supposed physical differences, and d escrib ed the D asas and Dasyus
as the dark-skinned, flat-nosed aboriginal people o f India w ho w ere d isp laced and pushed
southw ards by the fair-skinned A ryans. The references cited above should make it clear that the
epithets used for the D asas and D asyus can be interpreted in different w ays. W hether or not there
w ere stark differences in physical appearance can be debated. W hat is certain is that there w ere a
range o f cultural differences, including those o f religious practice, and p o ssib ly in m ode o f speech,
language, or dialect. M any scholars think that the D asas and D asyus w ere not non-A ryan tribes but
earlier w av es o f Indo-A ryan immigrants w ho a rriv ed in the subcontinent before the Vedic A ryans. A
connection has b een suggested betw een an Iranian trib e called the D ahae and the D asas o f the R ig
Veda, and betw een the D ahyu tribe and the Dasyus. A lthough the R ig Veda talks o f conflicts betw een
the A ryas and the D asas and D asyus, there w ere also conflicts and m ilitary engagements among the
Indo-A ryan tribes as w e ll the conflict betw een the B haratas versus the Purus and their allies in the
battle o f ten kings is a case in point.
The w ords B rahm ana and K shatriya occur frequently in the fam ily books, but the term va rn a is
never asso ciated w ith them. T here is m ention o f B rahm anas drinking som a and reciting hymns, and
although they seem to have been a group who enjoyed respect, there are no indications that
m em bership o f this group w as b ased on birth. The w o rd s V aishya and Shudra are absent. The
earliest reference to the d iv isio n o f society into four strata occurs in the P u ru sh a -su kta , a hymn in
B ook 10 o f the R ig Veda Sam hita. A s this is a later book, the four-fold varna o rd er is seen as a
feature o f later Vedic texts.
The absence o f a strict social hierarchy and the existence o f an elem ent o f so cial m obility is
suggested in R ig Veda 3 .4 4 -4 5 . In this hymn, the po et asks Indra: O, Indra, fond o f som a, w ould you
make me the protector o f people, or w ould you make me a king, w ould you make me a sage who has
drunk so m a , w ould you im part to me endless w ealth ? This suggests that a man could asp ire to
different sorts o f vocations and goals in life.

W o m en , m e n , a n d t h e h o u s e h o l d

N ineteenth-century socio-religious reform ers and nationalist historians o f the early 20th century often
presented the Vedic age as a golden age for wom en. They pointed out that the Vedic people
w orshipped goddesses; the R ig Veda contains hymns com posed by w om en; there are references to
w om en sages; w om en p articip ated in rituals along w ith their husbands; they took p art in chariot
races and attended the sa b h a and various social gatherings. Such a presentation o f the high p osition
o f w om en in Vedic society can be seen as a response to the oppression and hum iliation o f colonial
rule. The id ea w as to show that in ancient tim es, Indians w ere better than the W esterners, at least in
the w ay they treated women. This could also be used as an argum ent to im prove the prevailing
condition o f w om en in Indian society (see C hakravarti, 2006).
R ecent scholarship has shifted the focus from discussing w om en in iso latio n to an analysis o f
gender relations. G ender refers to the culturally defined roles asso ciated w ith m en and women.
E arlier, historians tended to focus on the public, political dom ain, relegating the family, household,
and gender relations to the private, dom estic domain. Today, the distinction betw een the private and
political dom ains is recognized as an artificial one. Ideologies and hierarchies o f p o w er and
authority exist w ithin the fam ily and household, in the form o f norm s o f appropriate conduct b ased on
gender, age, and kinship relations. Further, there is a clo se connection b etw een relations w ithin the
household, m arriage and kinship systems, the control o f w om ens sexuality and reproduction, class
and caste relations, and larger p o litical structures. These are all like the interlocking building blocks
o f a v a st and com plex social pyram id. F o r these reasons, gender relations form an im portant p art o f
social history.
The experience o f w om en belonging to different groups in society v aried , and it is therefore
necessary to b reak dow n the category o f w om en into m ore specific subcategories b ased on rank,
class, occupation, and age. W omen have to be understood in relatio n to men, and their relationships
are em bedded in w id e r social, econom ic, and p o litical contexts. F o r all periods, the vague issue o f
the status o f w om en therefore has to be d isso lv ed into sm aller, m ore meaningful questions, such as:
W hat w ere the relations betw een m en and w om en in the dom estic sphere? H ow w as a p erso n s
descent recognized? W hat w ere the norm s o f property and inheritance? W hat w as the ro le o f w om en
in production-related activities? D id they have control over these activities or the fruits o f their
labour? H ow w as the sexuality and reproductive potential o f w om en controlled and regulated? W hat
w as the ro le o f w om en in the religious and ritual spheres? D id they have access to education and
know ledge system s? D id they have d irect or in d irect access to p olitical pow er? Further, structures ol
subordination and control w ere not total or all-encom passing, and an analysis o f gender relations has
to m ove beyond seeing w om en as p assiv e victim s o f o p p ressiv e social structures. In spite o f their
subordination, w om en occupied a v ariety o f social spaces, perform ed different roles, and w ere
participants and active agents in history. A v ery sm all p art o f their history has, how ever, b een w ritten
so far.
In the o ld er w ritings, a great p art o f the d iscussion about w om en o f the Vedic age focused on elite
women, ignoring the less p riv ileg ed m em bers o f this sex. A lthough the R ig Veda m entions goddesses,
none o f them are as im portant as the m ajor gods. The social im plications o f the w orship o f fem ale
deities are com plex. W hile such w orship does at least m ark the ab ility o f a community to visualize
the divine in fem inine form, it does not autom atically m ean that real w om en enjoyed po w er or
privilege. The pro p o rtio n o f hymns attributed to w om en in the R ig Veda is m iniscule (just 1 2 -1 5 out
o f over 1,000), as is the num ber o f w om en sages. This suggests that w om en had lim ited access to
sacred learning. There are no w om en priests in the R ig Veda. W hile w om en p articip ated as w iv es in
sacrifices perform ed on b e h a lf o f their husbands, they d id not perform sacrifices in their ow n right;
nor do they app ear as givers or receiv ers o f dana or dakshina. The Vedic household w as clearly
patriarchal and patrilineal, and w om en enjoyed relativ ely little control over m aterial resources.
Their sexuality and reproductive resources w ere controlled through the ingraining o f norm s o f w hat
w as considered ap p ro p riate behaviour.
E arly Vedic literature has several w o rd s for household units durona, ksh iti, dam / dam a, p a sty a ,
gaya, and g rih a w hich m ay have corresponded to different kinds o f households. C onsidering that
this w as a patriarchal and patrilineal society, it is not surprising that R ig Vedic prayers are for sons,
not daughters, and that the absence o f sons is deplored. The R ig Veda attaches im portance to the
institution o f m arriage and refers to various types o f m arriage m onogam y, polygyny, and
polyandry. The rituals indicate post-puberty m arriages, and there are references to w om en choosing
their husbands. A w om an could rem arry i f her husband d ied or disappeared. T here are also
references to unm arried w om en, such as the R ig Vedic seer Ghosha. Hymn 7 .5 5 .5 -8 tells o f
elopem ent, the m an praying that his b elo v ed 's entire household her brothers and other relativ es as
w ell as the dogs, should be lulled into a deep sleep, so that the lovers could creep out stealthily.

KEY CONCEPTS

The fa m ily a n d the household

The w o rd fam ily m eans different things to different people. If you ask a p erso n about the
m em bers o f her family, she might m ention herself, her siblings, and her parents. A nother p erson
might include grandparents and great-grandparents, dead or alive. Yet another p erso n might
include aunts and uncles, cousins, nephew s, nieces, etc.

A s pointed out by A. M. Shah ([1964], 1998: 15), the w o rd fam ily can refer to:

the household, i.e., all people living in one house or under one head, including parents, children, and
household employees
parents and their children, whether living together or separately
all those who are held to be close relatives by birth or marriage
all those who are either descended or claim to be descended from a common ancestor
djproperty-holding unit
a6ceremonial unit, for instance, including all those who have the right to perform the shraddha rites in
honour of deceased ancestors.

D efinitions o f the fam ily that are based on the issue o f property holding or the perform ance o f the
sh ra d d h a do not help in understanding social groups that are property-less or who do not
perform the sh ra d d h a rituals in the p rescrib ed way.

B ecause the w o rd fam ily can m ean so many different things, sociologists often qualify it w ith an
adjective that m akes it m ore specific. So, for instance, the term s e le m e n ta ry fam ily and
nuclear fam ily refer to a m arried couple and their children, w ho m ay or m ay not live together.
A n extended fam ily m eans tw o or m ore elem entary fam ilies (or parts o f them) jo in e d together.
This can take the form o f a patrilineal jo in t fam ily sons and their fam ilies living w ith their
father in societies b ased on patrilineal descent, and a m atrilineal jo in t fam ily in societies based
on the p rinciple o f m atrilineal descent. It is not easy to d raw the dividing line b etw een the jo in t
or extended fam ily and the lineage.

The household is m ore specific and easier to identify. M em bers o f a household share a com m on
residence. They perform different econom ic activities, som e w ithin, others outside the home. The
household is the site o f p e o p le s m ost intim ate and profound experiences in life. It is a place
w here many different kinds o f human em otions and experiences are played out every day those
involving love and hatred, conflict and cooperation, o p p ressio n and com passion, violence and
concern.

H ouseholds com e to be related to other households, fam ilies, and lineages through ties o f kinship
and m arriage. The institution o f m arriage grants social approval to a union o f tw o people
assum ed to be sexual partners and grants legitim acy to their offspring. M arriage and the
household do not n ecessarily go hand in hand. F o r instance, among certain m atrilineal groups in
K erala and the L akshadw eep islands, the husband does not live w ith his w ife, but v isits from
tim e to time.

Fam ilies can be d iv id ed into different types on the b asis o f descent, residence, m em bership, and
the num ber o f mates. M ention w as m ade e a rlie r o f patrilineal and m atrilineal social systems.
Some societies recognize cognatic descent i.e., descent in both the m others and the fath ers
line. F or exam ple, in A m erican and E uropean societies, although children often still take the
surname o f the father, property rights and ideas o f closeness and distance w ith the m others or
fath ers side do not vary.

P atriliny and m atriliny are not equivalent to patriarchy and matriarchy. P atriarchy means
so cieties in w hich m ales (usually the eld est m ale) exercise dom inant pow er and authority w ithin
the family. M atriarchy refers to a system in w hich such p o w er and authority is v ested in women.
W hile there are several instances, including in our o w n tim es, o f m atrilineal societies, no know n
society o f the p ast or the present can be d escrib ed as m atriarchal.

Fam ilies in w hich the w ife m oves to live in her husbands fath ers house (or his grandfathers or
uncles house, i f the father is not aliv e) are know n as patrilocal or v irilo cal. F am ilies in w hich
the husband m oves in w ith his w ife s m others fam ily are know n as m atrilocal or uxorilocal
(e.g., the N ayars o f K erala and K hasis o f M eghalaya). A nother type o f arrangem ent is called
duolocal w here the husband and w ife continue to live w ith their respective fam ilies even after
their m arriage (e.g., in the L akshadw eep islands and central K erala).

Fam ily types can also be distinguished from each other on the b asis o f the num ber o f mates.
M onogam y is a system in w hich a p erso n has only one spouse at a time. In polygam y, one p erson
can have m ore than one spouse at the sam e time. T here are tw o types o f polygam y polygyny is
a system in w hich a m an can have several w iv es, w hile polyandry is a system in w hich a w om an
can have several husbands. T here is a form o f polyandry w here the m arriage ritual m ay be
betw een a w om an and one man, but the w om an m ay either be considered the w ife o f all the
brothers, or the latter m ay have access to her sexual and dom estic services.

S ociological studies reveal a great deal o f diversity among fam ilies and households in different
parts o f the subcontinent today. Sim ilar d iv ersity m ust have p rev ailed in ancient tim es as w ell.

M ale dom inance and the subordination o f w om en is a feature o f all know n h istorical societies.
The issue is one o f the degree o f dom inance and subordination, and the structures in w hich these
w ere em bedded. C om pared to later Vedic literature, the fam ily books o f the R ig Veda S a m h ita
reflect a situation in w hich social status w as not as rig id ly defined or polarized as it came to be in
later times. H ow ever, it w as not a society o f equals rank and gender w ere the tw o m ain bases o f
inequality.

RELIGION: SACRIFICES TO THE GODS

The R ig Veda reflects the beliefs and practices o f a religious aristo cracy and its patrons, and there
are several striking sim ilarities w ith ideas reflected in the Iranian Avesta. The R ig Veda indicates a
diversity o f religious practice. F or instance, there is m ention o f peo p le w ho d id not w orship Indra,
and the D asas and D asyus are d escrib ed as not honouring the Vedic gods and not perform ing
sacrifices.
The Vedic hymns divide the universe into the sky (dyu), earth (p rith v i), and the m iddle realm
(a n ta riksh a ). The w o rd d eva (literally, shining, lum inous) is frequently used for the gods. The
gods are som etim es also called asuras. Initially, this w o rd referred to a pow erful being; in later
times it cam e to be used exclusively in a negative sense for demons. The R ig Veda asserts that there
are 33 gods asso ciated w ith the sky, earth, and the interm ediate region, but the actual num ber o f
deities m entioned in the text is more. Some gods are m entioned m ore often than others, but there is no
fixed order o f im portance nor a fixed pantheon. W hichever deity is invoked in a p articular hymn is
spoken o f as a suprem e god. M ax M ller d escrib ed this phenom enon as H en oth eism or
K athenotheism . A p art from the gods, the R ig Veda m entions g a n d h a rva s (celestial beings), apsaras
(celestial nymphs, w iv es o f the g a n d h a rva s), and m alevolent beings such as raksh a sa s (dem ons),
yatudhanas (so rcerers), a n d p ish a c h a s (sp irits o f the dead). D ifferent ideas o f how the w o rld w as
created are m entioned in passing e.g., as a resu lt o f a great cosm ic battle, the separation o f heaven
and earth, or the actions o f the gods.
D eities w ere w o rsh ip p ed through prayer and sacrificial rituals (ya jn a s). The sacrifice m arked a
movem ent from the everyday, mundane sphere o f activity and experience to the sacred sphere. The
gods are presented as pow erful, m ostly benevolent beings, who could be m ade to intervene in the
w o rld o f m en v ia the perform ance o f sacrifices. S acrifices took p lace in the house o f the y a ja m a n a
(the p erso n for w hom the sacrifice w as perform ed and who bore its expenses) or on a sp ecially
p repared p lo t o f land nearby. They consisted m ostly o f oblations o f milk, ghee, and grain poured into
the fire, accom panied by the recitatio n o f ap propriate sacrificial form ulae. Some y a jn a s involved the
sacrifice o f anim als. The gods w ere supposed to partake o f the offerings as they w ere consum ed by
the fire. A p a rt o f the offerings w ere eaten by the officiating priests. The goals o f R ig Vedic
sacrifices included w ealth, good health, sons, and a long life for the y a ja m a n a .
Some sacrifices w ere sim ple, dom estic affairs, perform ed by the householder. Others req u ired the
participation o f ritual specialists. Seven types o f sacrificial priests are m entioned in the R ig Veda
the H otri, A dhvaryu, Agnidh, M aitravaruna, Potri, N eshtri, and Brahm ana each w ith his particular
tasks clearly laid down. P riests w ere given a fee (d akshina) in return for the im portant duties they
perform ed. The R ig Veda does not m ention tem ples or the w orship o f im ages o f deities, w hich w ere
an im portant asp ect o f popular H induism o f later times.
The R ig Veda reflects a naturalistic polytheism a b e lie f in many gods w ho personified natural
phenomena. The connection is clear in som e cases from the v ery name o f the deity, as in the case o f
Agni (F ire), Surya (the Sun), and U shas (D aw n). H ow ever, the m ythology o f som e deities stretched
far beyond their asso ciatio n w ith a p articular natural phenomenon. F o r instance, although Indra
seem s to have b een originally asso ciated w ith the thunderstorm , he rap id ly outgrew this connection
to d evelop a much m ore com plex personality. The gods w ere conceived o f as anthropom orphic, i.e.,
as having a physical form sim ilar to that o f humans. The level o f detail v aries, but m ention is often
made o f their head, face, mouth, hair, hands, feet, clothes, and w eapons. There is an overlap in some
o f their physical features, epithets, and exploits.
Indra is the m ost frequently invoked god in the R ig Veda. The hymns v iv id ly d escrib e his
appearance and personality. H e is vigorous and strong, a great w arrior, his w eap o n is the
thunderbolt, and he leads the A ryas to v icto ry in battle. H e is bounteous (m aghavan) and loves to
drink som a. T here is reference to his m other and father (T vashtri is often m entioned as his father).
Indrani is his consort and the M aruts his com panions. T here are many references to Indra defeating
hostile forces and dem ons such as Vala, A rbuda, and V ishvarupa. The m ost im portant myth connected
w ith him is his v icto ry over the serpent dem on Vritra. In this episode, Indra is fortified by the god
Soma and accom panied by the M aruts. H e kills V ritra w ith his thunderbolt and frees the w aters that
had b een obstructed by the demon. The R ig Veda often m entions Indra as Vritrahan, slayer o f Vritra.
M any scholars interpret the conflict betw een Indra and V ritra as a creatio n myth, in w hich Vritra
sym bolizes chaos.

P r im a r y S o u r c e s

Hymn to Indra (R ig Veda 2.12)

This hymn p raises Indra, describing various aspects o f his personality and referring to various
myths connected w ith him. N ote the reference in the fifth v erse to people w ho doubt his
existence:

The god who had insight the m om ent he w as born, the first who protected the gods w ith his
p o w er o f thought, before w hose hot breath the tw o w o rld halves trem ble at the greatness o f his
m anly p o w er he, my people, is Indra.

He who m ade fast the tottering earth, who m ade still the quaking mountains, w ho m easured out
and extended the expanse o f the sky, w ho p ro p p ed up the sky he, my people, is Indra.

H e w ho k illed the serpent and lo o sed the seven riv ers, w ho drove out the cow s w ho had been
pent up by Vala, w ho gave birth to fire betw een tw o stones [this could refer to fire, the sun, or
lightning], the w inner o f booty in com bats he, my people, is Indra.

H e by w hom all these changes w ere rung, w ho drove the D asas d o w n into obscurity, w ho took
aw ay the flourishing w ealth o f the enem y as a w inning gam bler takes the stake he, my people,
is Indra.

H e about w hom they ask, W here is h e? or they say o f him, the terrib le one, H e does not ex ist,
he w ho dim inishes the flourishin