This volume highlights new research on a variety of themes related to ancient and early medieval India. Bringing together detailed case studies from different regions – Kashmir, south India, Gujarat, Vidarbha, Delhi ridge, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Gangetic Plains- it raises fresh, interesting question and represents recent emerging directions of research. The essays interrogate the construction of archaeological and historical Knowledge, connect literary and archaeological data, and devise ways of historicizing texts. They also explore the complex interrelationship between ideas, norms, and sociopolitical practice.
The book will be of immense interest to Scholars, teachers, and students of ancient and early medieval history, archaeology, and anthropology.
This book emerged out of the initiative of the Devahuti Damador Svaraj Trust, which was established in 1990, to further the legacy of Professors Devahuti and Damodar Singhal.
Devahuti (1929—1988) was a renowned scholar of ancient Indian and early Southeast Asian history and taught at the Universities of Malaya and Adelaide, Australia, and at the University of Delhi. He works as a writer/editor include Harsha: A Political Study (three editions), India and Ancient Malaya, Problems of Indian Historiography, Bias in Indian Historiography, Historical and Political Perspectives, and The Unknown Hsuan-Tsang. Damodar Prasad Singhal (1925—1986) was a lecturer in history at the University of Malaya and later, professor of history at the University of Queensland, Australia, from where he retired as Professor Emeritus. His books include India and World Civilization (2 vols); Nationalism in India and Other Historical Essays; The Annexation of Upper Burma, India and Afghanistan: A Study in Diplomatic Relations, 1876-1907; and A History of the Indian People; Pakistan; Buddhism in East Asia; Modern Indian Society and Culture, and Gypsies: Indians in Exile.
Since its inception, the Devahuti Damodar Svaraj Trust, under its organization named Manana, has supported several projects in the areas of Indian history, philosophy, and culture. The Devahuti Damodar Library at Greater Kailash has an old and valuable collection of more than 6,364 titles on modern and ancient Indian history and related areas of Southeast, East, and Central Asia. Apart from its excellent collection of books, what sets it apart is that it is library which welcomes readers from all walks of life with open The Trust has also been involved in the publication of journals, and other printed materials; helping scholars in research and preparation of books for publication; holding workshops, seminars, public lectures, and nominating scholars to attend the same; providing scholarships and fellowships; running a support school for underprivileged children; assisting libraries, and organizing ancillary and administrative work connected with the above. The activities of the Trust show how the initiatives of two dedicated people—the founder, Veena Sachdev, and her colleague, Anshu Dogra, who is now the executive director of Manana—can make a difference.
In September 2004 Veena approached us for ideas for a seminar or workshop on ancient Indian history. We discussed various possibilities with our former teacher, P.S. Dwivedi. In view of the spirit of the Trust she had founded, we felt that we had, to think of an event that would be meaningful and off the beaten track. The result of our various discussions was the workshop held in the India International Centre on 27—28 August 2005. It did turn out to be an academic event with a difference. The usual hierarchies were reversed as older scholars listened carefully and reacted to the ideas and work of younger scholars who ranged from undergraduate to postgraduate students and scholars. We are grateful to Veena Sachdev, Anshu Dogra, and the staff of Manana for attending to all the organizational details with such efficiency and care.
The essays in this book are essentially reworked versions of some of the papers presented at that workshop. Perhaps this can be one of a series of publications which showcase the ideas and research of a younger generation of scholars working on different aspects of the history of ancient and early medieval India.
THE ESSAYS in this volume cannot be simply introduced in terms of either a unity of theme or a similarity of source material. There is historiography, there are archaeological writings ranging from prehistory to the archaeology of medieval temples, and there are contributions that are anchored in texts and inscriptions. This volume brings together new research that reflects certain approaches that are recognized as central to the study of ancient India. There are essays on individual and institutional initiatives in the production of archaeological knowledge; surface surveys as a means of reconstructing the archaeological history of micro-regions; subsistence practices and palaeoenvironments of macro-regions; and the use of material remains to recreate variegated religious landscapes. The interrogation of ancient texts in creative and nuanced ways, to reveal the complex relationship between ideas, norms, and social and political practice is another significant thread, as is an emphasis on the need to generate histories that are more socially inclusive. There is also a strong awareness of the fact that although the correlation of archaeology and texts is desirable, the enterprise is fraught with many difficulties that must be addressed rather than ignored.
ARCHAEOLOGY, PREHISTORY, AND PROTOHISTORY The first essay of this book by Sanjukta Datta investigates the history of archaeology in Bengal, and the interface of official and non-official institutional and individual endeavours in that area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Although this is not the place to review previous research on the history of Indian archaeology, there is a notable trend towards examining the development of archaeology in British India through a close analysis of the perspectives and work of Indian antiquarians and archaeologists in different regions, at different points of time, anchoring the analysis firmly in the colonial context. Exemplifying this trend, Datta describes the activities and writings of a range of Indian scholars who were devoted to the recovery of the pre-modern past of Bengal.
These were Bengali scholars whose primary focus was Bengal, but Datta demonstrates that they also wrote about other parts of India and attempted to weave the history of this region into the larger narrative of Indian history. Rajendralala Mitra, whom she describes as the ‘first professional Bengali archaeologist’, is one polymath whose formidable repertoire admirably exemplifies this. Mitra was the author of many works, including two major studies on the art and antiquities of Orissa and Bodh Gaya, and many antiquities he collected from these areas were donated by him to the Indian Museum, Calcutta. He was an editor of Sanskrit texts and of inscriptions. He was also the first Indian president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (in 1885), and the first cataloguer of the entire range of objects in the possession of the Society.
In the twentieth century, the relationship of the Archaeological Survey of India—a government department of archaeology—and scholars associated with antiquarian and archaeological societies was especially close. Names like Ramaprasad Chanda and Nanigopal Majumdar are usually remembered in the history of Indian archaeology as officers of the Survey and as authors of volumes published as Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey, which continue to be usefully mined by scholars of the Indian past even today. However, before they were co-opted by the Archaeological Survey, both these scholars were active members of the Varendra Research Society, established at Rajshahi in 1910 by Kumar Sarat Kumar Ray of the Dighapatiya royal family. Pioneers like Akshay Kumar Maitra who wrote on the archaeology of Bengal in the vernacular, and other scholars like Rakhaldas Banerji who wrote in English and Bengali, and were associated with private societies and also employed by the Archaeological Survey, organizations like the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, which were seriously interested in recovering all kinds of archaeological remains and became repositories of manuscripts and artefacts collected by its members—all these are explored and woven by Datta into a rich tapestry which showcases and analyses the approaches and interests of Indians in a British Indian province.
It is striking, though, that advances in the field of prehistory appear to have had little impact on the research interests of the scholars and organizations discussed in Datta’s essay. This also remains true for the Delhi region, the geographical focus of the second essay in this volume by Mudit Trivedi. In the writings of pioneer explorers like Alexander Cunningham and documenters of monuments and sites like Maulvi Zafar Hasan, the prehistory of Delhi remains a blank. The presence of Stone Age sites on the hillsides of Delhi first came to be recognized in the 1970s, and since then their pervasive presence has been underlined through surface collection and excavation.
Trivedi’s own work is focused on a small segment of the Delhi ridge. His study is, in fact, an exposition of what has emerged from essentially a one-man survey of the roughly 1,500 acres of the Aravalli hills enclosed within the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University. What makes this survey distinctive is the way in which one individual (Trivedi) has successfully extracted unknown dimensions of the prehistory of this landscape through a careful and meticulous surface exploration. The essay combines a close examination of the landscape and the prehistoric remains that it yielded, with the available geological information. Instead of the general division of this micro-region into mountainous and alluvial segments, the landscape is shown as being made up of three different geomorphological elements—Aravalli hills, Yamuna alluvium, and aeolian deposits. Most importantly, the interleaving of the Delhi quartzite rocks with sediments that represent deposits of aeolian sands from the Thar is discussed at length, as are the implications of this for the artefacts that are scattered across this surface. Perhaps this is the first publication where a threefold geological division of the Delhi region and its ramifications for understanding the site formation and the weathering of prehistoric artefacts has been undertaken.
Trivedi also carefully studies the archaeology of the Aravalli landscape. With reference to the palaeolithic phase of prehistory, quartzite was the preferred raw material for the production of Acheulian artefacts, although rare specimens of sandstone and quartz are also found. The reasons why some of these stone tools bear a red stain while others are marked by a yellow-brown patination are discussed, as is the cause for differential abrasion on their surface. The time frame for these assemblages is roughly placed between 350,000 to 128,000 years ago. The younger microlithic complex was fashioned in a different context in terms of location as well as raw material. Ridges which provided clear, views of the landscape and edges of large and small ravines formed the favoured locales of microlith users. The presence of prehistoric humans is mainly reflected in the form of scatters of microliths of crystal and clear quartz, with rare examples of artefacts made from ferruginous nodules and sandstone. Trivedi has also made the first discovery of petroglyphs in the Aravalli belt of Delhi, and while they are difficult to date, their spatial contiguity to microlithic scatters suggests that they may have been contemporaneous with microlith-using communities.
If Trivedi’s work is based on a micro-region, Shibani Bose offers a macro-perspective of a large region, namely, the Middle Gangetic Plains. She offers a synthesis of the available archaeobotanical evidence in order to explain the patterns of human exploitation of plants from the mesolithic till the first phase of the early historic period (around the third century BC). Wild and cultivated varieties of rice have been identified at rock shelter sites and at sites situated in the Ganga alluvium, along with a broad spectrum of wild vegetal food. As Bose’s overview of the dates suggests, these hunter-gatherers coexisted with early agriculturists. The peninsular edge of the central plains has revealed early neolithic strata representing rice-producing communities. The essay draws attention to the recent excavations at Lahuradeva in Uttar Pradesh, which have revealed that early rice cultivation was not confined to the Vindhyan hills, but extended into the Gangetic alluvium.
If the documentation of the early presence of rice is one important element in the human—plant interaction in the Middle Gangetic Plains, the other is the sheer variety of crops that were cultivated at sites ranging from neolithic Chirand and Senuwar in Bihar to Tokwa and Jhusi in Uttar Pradesh. The diversification of the agricultural tradition seems to have continued into the neolithic—chalcolithic phase. The diversity of cereal varieties—rice, wheat, barley, millet, pulses—is interesting in itself, as is the presence of several other plant species. An instance in point is that bhang (Cannabis sativa) was enjoyed in the late second millennium BC by the inhabitants of Imlidih Khurd (in Uttar Pradesh) and Senuwar (in Bihar). There is also unequivocal evidence that some of the exotic plants and trees present in the repertoires of advanced agricultural societies of the Ganga plains may have come through contacts with contemporaneous cultures in other regions. The range is fascinating—from grapes and dates at Narhan to Himalayan deodar at Senuwar.
This diversity has important implications for understanding the evolution of the agricultural geography of the Ganga valley. Bose’s essay clearly underlines that no one culture or one society can claim to be the harbinger or pioneer in the creation of a strong agricultural base in this area. For instance, the trajectory of cultural development in eastern Uttar Pradesh clearly differs from the manner in which village cultures in Bihar evolved. What is common to them is that, in more ways than one, they represent a kind of watershed for the advent of stable agricultural societies in their respective tracts. In fact, the palaeobotanical remains from Iron Age and early historic cultures clearly indicate the creation of a diverse and stable agrarian base by neolithic—chalcolithic farmers. The crops that later came to support an early historic urban base in the Ganga plains were first farmed by these third and second millennia BC cultivators.
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