An early metropolis

Print edition : April 17, 2015

The eroded mounds show the mud bricks with which the entire Harappan township of Kalibangan was built. Photo: S. Subramanium

The excavated mounds with a visible terracotta drainpipe at Kalibangan. Photo: S. Subramanium

A terracota toy cart now on display at the site museum in Kalibangan, about 25 km from Suratgarh town in Rajasthan. Photo: S. Subramanium

Kalibangan's site plan showing where the citadel, the middle town, and other areas were situated. Photo: S. Subramanium

A bar seal found in one of the trenches at Kalibangan, an Early and Mature Harappan site. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

Kalibangan, an important Harappan site belonging to the early and mature periods, was excavated between 1961 and 1969.

OUR plan was to visit the Harappan site of 4MSR in Rajasthan, where excavation is under way, by travelling by train from New Delhi to Sri Ganganagar and then driving down to 4MSR. When we told P.S. Sriraman, Superintending Archaeologist-in-charge, Jodhpur Circle, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), about our plans to visit 4MSR from Sri Ganganagar, he told us: “You have made a mistake. You should get down at Suratgarh railway station, which is 80 km beyond Sri Ganganagar and drive down from Suratgarh to 4MSR. Kalibangan lies on the way. Anyway, you have to cross Kalibangan to reach 4MSR. Do visit Kalibangan, which was a big Harappan site, which the ASI excavated from 1961 to 1969. We have a good site museum at Kalibangan.”

That was music to the Frontline team’s ears. Behind the spacious site museum of the ASI in Kalibangan lie three big rolling mounds which, in their innards, had concealed a big Harappan town that belonged to the Early Harappan period (3000 BCE–2600 BCE) and the Mature Harappan period (2600 BCE–1900 BCE). Pravin Singh, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI, Kalibangan, led us to the mounds. “You put your foot anywhere on the mounds, and you will trample on a prodigious amount of pottery,” he said. He knew the rolling, desolate mounds like the back of his hand. The entire Harappan town at Kalibangan was built of mud bricks, Pravin Singh stressed. He took us to the KLB-1 mound, which housed the citadel where the ruling elite lived and the KLB-2 mound where the lower town was built. (Kalibangan in the Rajasthani language means black bangles. Nearby is Pilibangan, which means blue bangles).

It was eerie visiting the greatly eroded mounds, with millions of potsherds, broken terracotta bangles, and idli-shaped terracotta cakes lying everywhere. Rows of Harappan bricks or terracotta drainpipes jutted out of the eroded mounds, giving us an insight into how the town would have been built with mud bricks more than 4,500 years ago.

Sriraman calls Kalibangan an important Harappan site and ranks it “on a par with Dholavira, Rakhigarhi and Lothal”. It was a site that belonged to both the Early Harappan and the Mature Harappan phases. It did not have a Late Harappan phase, he stressed.

“It was a typical Harappan settlement, with fortification walls, an upper town and a lower town,” Sriraman said.

Like 4MSR, situated about 120 km away, Kalibangan was built on the banks of the now-dry Ghaggar river. According to Michel Danino, a specialist in Harappan civilisation, Amalananda Ghosh, who became the ASI Director General in 1953, spent two winters in 1950 and 1951 exploring the valleys of Saraswati and Drishadvati rivers, as he called the Ghaggar and the Chautang rivers respectively, and identified the Harappan culture of Kalibangan in about December 1950. Professor B.B. Lal, B.K. Thapar and J.P. Joshi excavated the mounds for nine field seasons from 1961 to 1969.

The late B.K. Thapar, in his article entitled “Kalibangan, A Harappan Metropolis Beyond the Indus Valley”, says that “the excavations at Kalibangan brought to light the grid layout of a Harappan metropolis, perhaps truly ‘the first city’ of the Indian cultural heritage.” The significant part of the evidence from the excavation, according to Thapar, “relates to the discovery of a non-Harappan settlement immediately underlying the occupational remains of the Harappan citadel (KLB-1). Kalibangan thus became the fourth site, after Amri, Harappa and Kot Diji, all in Pakistan, where the existence of a preceding culture below that of the Harappan has been recognised.”

“An outstanding discovery” of the excavations at Kalibangan, Thapar said, was the discovery of a ploughed field, situated south-east of the settlement, outside the town wall. The ploughed field revealed a criss-cross pattern of furrows. The nine field seasons of excavation revealed a series of seven fire altars, residential buildings for the elite, drains and wells built with baked bricks, large quantities of beads, copper artefacts, and so on.

Sriraman said the ASI had plans to refurbish the site museum at Kalibangan, add more galleries displaying the artefacts found there and provide more facilities to tourists.

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