From the Bara cul­ture: R.S. Bisht

FrontLine - - ESSAY -

THE dis­cov­ery of wooden cof­fin buri­als “with ide­o­log­i­cally driven mo­tifs” at Sanauli in Ut­tar Pradesh was a “strong in­di­ca­tion” of the then peo­ple’s faith “in a be­lief sys­tem”, and so it was a “sig­nif­i­cant dis­cov­ery”, said Ravin­dra Singh Bisht (74), former Ad­di­tional Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia (ASI).

“The eight beau­ti­fully crafted mo­tifs, which are stylis­tic bull heads, form a new chap­ter in the his­tory of art in In­dia,” he said. If the string of mo­tifs pro­vided an in­sight into the then peo­ple’s “be­lief sys­tem”, the dis­cov­ery of three full-sized char­i­ots, cop­per hel­mets, cop­per an­tenna swords, big ter­ra­cotta pots and red vases with flar­ing rims threw light on the burial cus­toms preva­lent then. Bisht, who vis­ited the Sanauli ex­ca­va­tion three times be­tween March and May this year, praised the “sci­en­tific tem­per­a­ment”, the “artis­tic skill” and the “pa­tience” of San­jay Man­jul and Arvin Man­jul, both of the ASI, in un­cov­er­ing the wooden cof­fin buri­als. He con­grat­u­lated the Man­juls and their team for their dis­cov­er­ies.

Wooden coffins were first dis­cov­ered at Harappa, now in Pak­istan, by Mor­timer Wheeler, then ASI Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, when he was di­rect­ing an ex­ca­va­tion there in 1944. Later, the Amer­i­can ar­chae­ol­o­gists Richard H. Meadow and Mark J. Kenoyer also found wooden coffins at Harappa.

At Dholavira, a Harap­pan site in Kutch dis­trict in Gu­jarat, where Bisht led the ASI ex­ca­va­tion for 13 field sea­sons from 1990 to 2005, he found imi­ti­a­tions of the coffins there. They were found inside a cist in the Harap­pan ceme­tery at Dholavira. They were sym­bolic/ me­mo­rial buri­als be­cause there were no skele­tons inside the im­i­ta­tion-coffins. “Thus the dis­cov­ery of the wooden cof­fin buri­als at San­u­ali is not new,” he said.

How­ever, Bisht ar­gued: “The im­por­tance of the wooden cof­fin buri­als at Sanauli is that the buri­als have been done in a very elab­o­rate man­ner and the coffins are crafted with ide­o­log­i­cally di­rected mo­tifs on wood and then cov­ered with cop­per sheets. The wood has dis­in­te­grated and the cop­per re­mains. Near the head of the skele­ton was a dif­fer­ent mo­tif which can­not be fig­ured out prop­erly be­cause of the dis­turbed con­di­tion of the burial now. All the mo­tifs are strong in­di­ca­tors of their be­lief sys­tem.”

The dis­cov­ery of three char­i­ots in two of the cof­fin buri­als was im­por­tant be­cause it would help in pro­vid­ing a date to the buri­als, he said. The char­i­ots formed part of the en­tire burial. He was con­fi­dent that a lot of or­ganic ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing char­coal, which had been found dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion, would help in dat­ing the buri­als.

In Bisht’s assess­ment: “Cul­tur­ally, the cof­fin buri­als ex­ca­vated at Sanauli do not be­long to the Harap­pan civil­i­sa­tion. They be­long to the Bara cul­ture, which was preva­lent in Haryana, Pun­jab and the Ganga-ya­muna Doab.” The Bara cul­ture was ba­si­cally con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous with the Harap­pan cul­ture of the late phase. Since the Bara cul­ture lasted for a longer time, it was af­ter the Late Harap­pan phase. “The phase you see in Sanauli is post-harap­pan. What­ever you see at Sanauli is pos­te­rior to Harappa,” Bisht said.

T.S. Subra­ma­nian

RAVIN­DRA SINGH BISHT (right), former Ad­di­tional Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of the ASI, study­ing a burial dur­ing one of his vis­its to the ex­ca­va­tion site be­tween March and May. Along with him are San­jay Man­jul and Disha Ah­luwalia, re­search scholar in the ASI.

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