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Smog enveloping the Taj Mahal
Image credit Scott Burdick and Susan Lyon

Tann, in The Archaeology News Network, reports on the pollution that’s turning the 366 year-old Taj Mahal yellow –

India’s white marvel, the Taj Mahal, is slowly turning brownish-yellow because of air pollution, says an Indo-US study which also identifies the pollutants responsible for the effect. It says the Taj is changing colour due to deposition of dust and carbon-containing particles emitted in the burning of fossil fuels, biomass and garbage. The study confirms what has been suspected for long – that Agra’s poor air quality is impacting India’s most celebrated monument.

The research was conducted by experts from US universities – Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Wisconsin – as well as Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and Archaeological Survey of India. The paper was published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal in December.

The findings can lead to targeted strategies to curb air pollution in and around Agra and more effective ways to cleanse the marble surface of the 366-year-old mausoleum, which remains by far the most visited man-made structure in the country with footfalls of more than 6 million in 2013.

More here.

   

 
Subhashis Das at the megalithic site of Rola, India
 
Gargi Gupta, writing for the Diligent Media Corporation Ltd on Sunday, 30 March, reports on the plight of megalithic structures in Chhattisgarh, India –
 
They look like large stone boulders plonked randomly on the red, mineral-rich soil on the outskirts of Chitarpur town in Chhattisgarh’s Ramgarh district. To look at, no one would think these are remnants of an Iron Age settlement, and date back to between 1000 BC and 1500 BC. Rough-hewn and uncarved, these large stones called megaliths lack the grandeur of the temples, tombs and palaces built by our ancient kings and emperors, the sophistication of the Indus Valley Civilisation’s urban system or the obvious aesthetic appeal of the sculptures or rock art of Ajanta caves. Neither are they as distinctive as Stonehenge in Britain, arguably the most famous megalithic structure in the world.
 
So you can’t really blame the owner of the brick-kiln near these menhirs (standing stones) in Chitarpur who has slowly been encroaching on the field where the stones lie scattered. “We are not very sure how many, but some of these megaliths have already been lost,” says Rituraj Bharti, a conservative architect with Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which is preparing a plan to document and preserve megalithic sites in Chitarpur and Hazaribagh (in neighbouring Jharkhand). An interpretation centre to spread awareness about these structures among visitors and locals is also planned.
 
This would be the first time an official body is taking steps to conserve the megalithic heritage of Chhattisgarh, says Subhahsis Das, a Raipur resident who has also been documenting megalithic structures in and around Hazaribagh and campaigning to preserve them for the past two decades. Sadly, the Archaeological Survey of India has not excavated and does not preserve all but a handful of the most well-known megaliths such as Junapani in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, the unique ‘umbrella-stone’ megaliths of Cheramanganad in Thrissur, Kerala and Burzahom in Kashmir. His website megalithindia.in is the single largest repository of information on the subject.
 
Full article here. Read more about Subhashis Das here.
 
K R Ranjith, writing in The New Indian Express today, reports that –
 
The State Archaeology Department will soon launch a mega project to identify and explore megalithic monuments lying scattered across the state [of Kerala]. The initiative is a run-up to a mission to identify and protect megalithic sites and artifacts of historical importance that go unnoticed and unprotected on private lands.
 
“We are planning a statewide exploration to identify megalithic sites. To begin with, we will organise a national seminar in coordination with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI),” said Dr Premkumar, director of the Archaeological Department.
 
Experts and researchers will conduct the statewide exploration to identify the sites. The initiative comes in the backdrop of the limitations the department faces to protect monuments in areas under private ownership. “Numerous megalithic monuments like rock-cut caves, muniyaras, Jain pillars and umbrella rocks are laying unidentified and unprotected in different parts of the state,” said Dr Premkumar.
 
“A survey on archaeological remains in two panchayats in Idukki district has already been completed. Many interesting findings have emerged out of the study and we will publish a record of the sites and findings soon. Similar surveys would be conducted in all districts and each district will have a book on the sites of archaeological importance, especially megalithic sites,” he added. “I have also submitted a proposal with detailed plan to buy and protect megalithic sites that fall under private ownership.”
 
Full article here.
 
 
 
The 16th century tombs and gardens of Isa Khan Niyazi and Bu Halima, part of the World Heritage Site of Humayun’s Tomb. The site has now been restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and funds from the World Monuments Fund
 
Image Wikipedia 
 
Madhur Tankha, writing for The Hindu last month, reports that –
 
“For conservation to be successful in our country it is necessary that we return to a craft-based approach where master craftsmen are empowered to match the work of their forefathers using traditional materials, tools and building craft traditions,” said Aga Khan Trust for Culture project director Ratish Nanda, who has been associated with the restoration work of the two Mughal era garden tombs of Isa Khan Niyazi and Bu Halima over the past two years.
 
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Nanda said traditional materials were used while carrying out the restoration work on the two tombs. Restoration was a daunting task as it involved in-depth research, and experts from India and abroad had to be roped in. It was a challenge to produce authentic parts which could fit in the broken areas of the tombs. “It was driven by the understanding of the multi-disciplinary project team that the outstanding universal value of the Humayun’s Tomb world heritage site – of which these monuments are a part – lies in it being an ensemble of 16th Century garden-tombs,” said Mr. Nanda.
 
The conservation work was undertaken to successfully restore the dignity of the Mughal era garden tombs and create an understanding of these sites as well as to establish a model conservation philosophy.
 
According to landscape architect of the project Mohammad Shaheer, during the Mughal period the ground around the tomb was used for maintaining orchards. “The produce would be sold and used for the upkeep of the tomb.”
 
Apart from working on the conservation of the two tombs, the AKTC also involved the local community of Hazrat Nizamuddin basti in the conservation work which has been carried out on these tombs and the garden setting with co-funding from the World Monuments Fund and in constant dialogue with the Archaeological Survey of India.
 
Full article here.
 
 
  Purni Mandar
 
 
Purni Mandar, Jharkhand, North-East India
©
Subhashis Das
 
 
Coetan Arthur, Pembrokeshire, Wales
©
The Heritage Trust
 
Two examples of earth-fast, sub-megalithic  tombs; the first in Jharkhand, North-East India and the second in Pembrokeshire, Wales. So far apart geographically yet so near in concept.
 
 
 
Subhashis Das at the megalithic site of Rola
 
Subhashis Das was born on 16 July 1956 in the State of Assam, North East India. He attended St. Xavier’s School, Hazaribagh, in the State of Jharkhand, East India. Subhashis graduated in history from St. Columba’s College, Hazaibagh, University of Ranchi. He obtained a Bachelor of Education degree from Annamalai University and subsequently worked in marketing for 25 years. Although Subhashis was not particularly interested in megaliths to begin with, general history, ancient races and civilisations, Indian tribes and their ancient myths interest him immensely. A sudden discovery of  a dolmen near his hometown changed him altogether and he left his job to become a full-time ‘megalith explorer’. To support himself during these activities he served as a principal in a high school for some 10 years.
 
His first book, Sacred Stones in Indian Civilization was published in 2009 and is the first book detailing megaliths in his home state of Jharkhand, and one of the first of its kind published in India. His next book, The Unknown Prehistory of Primitive India, is slated to be released in July or August 2013 and will include a few complimentary pages by Dr Terence Meaden. Subhashis Das’ website, Megaliths of India is the only one of its kind in the country and was created in August 2010.  Subhashis once engaged in professional music and played the guitar; age, however, ‘taking the better of me’ as he puts it, he is now more involved with the spiritual songs of Rabindranath Tagore (known as Rabindra sangeet). He is also interested in spiritualism itself, photography, writing poems and also loves to sketch. In his own words he will, “Walk miles with the wind on me. Walking in the rain or under the blue sky. Enjoying the sunshine, the call of the doves, talking to myself and meditating.”
 
Among his other accomplishments, Subhashis Das has discovered countless primitive megaliths across India, many of which are his own study sites. 16 years ago he found that not all megaliths were used for sepulchral purposes but that many were created for astronomical observations, and even to function as calendars. About the same time he discovered the astronomical significance of the megaliths of Punkri Burwadih, and also that the monument was used to observe the equinoxes and the summer solstice sunrises. He revived the ancient tradition of equinox viewing at this megalithic complex. Hundreds of people from all over the country gather to view the equinox sunrises at Punkri Burwadih twice every year, thus making Punkri Burwadih the only megalithic site in India used today for this phenomenon.
 
For a sample of Subhashis Das’ contributions to The Heritage Trust please enter Subhashis Das in our search box at the top of this page.
 
 

The equinox sun rising between two menhirs at Punkri Burwadih, India
©
Subhashis Das

For a full report on the restoration of the fallen menhir of Punkri Burwadih see our earlier report by Subhashis Das here.

 

A guest feature by Subhashis Das.

Subhashis Das is well known for his work recording and publicising the rich megalithic heritage of Indian. In this feature he describes how, with the help of local officials, friends and villagers, the fallen megalith of Punkri Burwadih was restored to its original position.

The Punkri Burwadih in all her glory

Punkri Burwadih is perhaps the most eminent megalith of India, yet it is not protected by the government. Here people gather to view the Equinox sunrises twice every year during the vernal and the autumnal equinoxes thereby making it the only megalith in India for this purpose.

The fallen menhir. Aloke Rana stands by (a depressed) me

The Equinox sun rising from between the two menhirs. The menhir M1 is a major stone as along with its partner M2 the Equinox and the Summer Solstice sunrises are visible through the “V” notch procured due to their positioning

7th August 11:30am.

On the morning of 7th August one of the Hindi National Dailies reported the falling of one of the menhirs at Punkri Burwadih. The news was also conveyed to me on Facebook. This was heart-wrecking. I, along with one of my co-workers Aloke Rana, dashed to the site some 23 kms from my hometown of Hazaribagh. What I saw there could not stop my tears from gushing out. One of the main menhirs, M1, which along with the other menhir, M2, enabled the creation of the “V” form, had fallen. Seeing me the villagers immediately gathered. I was told by Krishna Sao, my local help, that village children every day would climb or dash upon it after a race… this being done everyday, and with the earth around it becoming loose due to the heavy rains, were the factors which caused the menhir to fall.

We immediately rushed to the Block Office to meet the local Block Development Officer. He, being absent, the Circle Officer in charge had already read of the catastrophe in the papers and was expecting me. He assured me of immediate help and whatever else I needed. I requested the local administration to immediately have the menhir restored to her original position. The CO agreed to do this under my supervision and the date that was fixed for the job was the next day.

To have the menhir M1 to her earlier place, I was to keep a few things in mind:

1) The azimuth of the stone as it was oriented towards the Winter solstice sunrise.
2) Her incline towards the Summer Solstice sunset so much so that the peak of the Mahudi Hills in the southern horizon was perfectly viewed between the M1 and M2 menhirs.
3) The correct tilt to her left (North) so as to regain the “V” window to view the Summer Solstice and the Equinox sunrises once again.

Would I be able to do it?

8th August 10:00am.

The local administration in response to my plea of yesterday had sent a man named Chotu with a few helping hands. They had shovels, ropes, iron rods and a few other implements.

The villagers help in the digging

I was nervous but even felt blessed to be able to restore this menhir of the ancestors. Aloke kept cheering me saying that the endeavour would be successful. The digging began and soon the broken part of the menhir was exposed. A few more stones which were used to hold the stones at the desired angle too were visible. A small cinerary urn which housed two rusted “singhis” was exposed. These singhis contain the ashes and the bones of the dead. This artefact wasn’t old as it formed a part of the local “satbharwan” ritual.

One of the two singhis found in a broken cinerary pitcher. This was replaced during the cementing of the broken menhir

Aloke supervises while Chotu looks worried

Discussing the tilt and the incline of the megalith according to old photographs

The setting up of the megalith

The villagers too leant a hand hauling the heavy menhir, with Aloke supervising the entire process. Rope and logs of wood were used to restore the stone to its original position. I too meticulously ensured all the alignments I had earlier mentioned and attained the desired positions, only thereafter mortar was put in the pit to secure the stone and finally, by 3:30, she was set. Prior to the pouring of the cement, the broken urn and its contents along, with the excavated stones, were replaced.

The menhir finally stands on the broken segment of the megalith… and there you are… the fallen stone again sits pretty next to her lifelong partner

Part of the triumphant team

Everyone was exhausted after the ordeal but were happy and satisfied seeing the stone once again in her original position… a difficult job satisfactorily done with everyone’s assistance. I wondered how long it will remain safe but I knew I would have a good night’s sleep that night!

A full report on the restoration of the fallen menhir of Punkri Burwadih by Subhashis Das can be found on his Megaliths of India website. See also his Megaliths of India: Part I. Save Rola megaliths from destruction feature here, Megaliths of India: Part II, and Megaliths of India: Part III. The Enormous Megalithic Site of Chokahatu, the Land of Mourning.

 

The Zulzul (Seotagarha) pahari (The She-hill). The recumbent pregnant Mother Goddess taken on the winter solstice morning of 2011

Image credit and © Prantik Das

 

Prantik Das is the son of the well-known Subhashis Das, whose website Megaliths of India we have highlighted here several times.
 
 
 
 
A guest feature by Subhashis Das
 
Chokahatu, in the austric Mundaric language (one of the most abundantly spoken languages in primitive India and currently the language of hundreds and thousands of tribals in the east and central part of contemporary India) means ‘the Land of Mourning’. Chokahatu, situated about 80 kms south-east of the capital city of Ranchi, is primarily a megalithic burial ground of the Mundas. Such burial grounds are known as sasandiri, harsali, haragarhi etc in the local Mundaric languages and can be found in almost all the tribal villages in and around Ranchi.
 
But Chokahatu is different.
 
 
It is enormous in size. It is so huge that you can get lost amidst the sea of stones
 
Chokahatu has only two menhirs and the rest are all burial slabs and dolmens. The dolmens are also known as sasandiri to the Oraons, Hos, Mundas and the Asurs. The site was discovered by one T F Pepe way back in the late 19th century (Mr Pepe like Mr Babington has the rarest distinction of discovering numerous megaliths in India in the 19th century). Pepe reported the site to Col. Dalton who visited here in 1871.
 
 
Dalton was bewildered at the enormity of the site. He wrote in the Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal Vol. 42 in 1872 that his helpers counted the sepulchral slabs to be around 8000 and the area was more than a whopping 7 acres. He believed that there must be an under stratum of these graves and this site must be about two thousand years old. The villagers however disagreed with me, they affirmed the site is of about 14 acres and must be more than two thousand years of age. Well that’s for the archaeologists to decide, if they ever arrive here.
 
 
 The villagers told me that people since very olden times must have been bringing the bones of the deceased for burial in this sacred land from all over the country. Even today people come from far off places for burial in this holy land. They build dolmens over the dead of their relatives, carting the slabs on vehicles.
 
 
What makes Chokahatu more significant to the scholars and the common man is its continued use since its inception.
 
 
These are modern day dolmens
 
Chokahatu is one of the oldest historical sites in India, and has been used since ancient times in an uninterrupted manner.  Chokahatu is also a place that can claim the status of a ‘continuing living heritage’. Surely, therefore, Chokahatu is a worthy contender as a World Heritage Site. Chokahatu, such a significant site, still lingers in utter negligence like any other megalithic sites in India; but then megaliths, being tribal heritages, are not worthy of respect here.
 
Subhashis Das.
 
 
Read more about the Megaliths of India by Subhashis Das on his website here.
 
 

The Scottish Ten project reports that –

A team of experts from Scotland are using laser scanners to digitally record the incredible Rani ki Vav stepwell, near Gujurat in India. Working with the Archaeological Survey of India, they will record the intricate statues in the well. This will allow them to create virtual replica’s of the monument to aid with its conservation and maintenance. It is part of the Scottish Ten project launched by the Scottish Government to record Scotland’s five UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites and five international sites.

More on the Scottish Ten project here and here.

 

Megaliths of India: A guest feature by Subhashis Das.

India is a treasure house of megaliths of the most stunningly wide, diverse and fascinating kind; megaliths built by our tribal adivasis (आदिवासी)  from hoary antiquity to modern times. These megaliths are not only enthralling local scholars and tourists but also, increasingly, visitors from abroad. Strangely, these megalithic treasures from our ancient past are never promoted as worthy ‘Heritages of India’ and consequently are being deprived of the dignity and protection such ancient monuments demand – that is to say as true relics of our country’s prehistory… so very sad.

Jitendra Tewary has discovered many megalithic sites in the region

The architecture of many of these megaliths varies from one region to another, and many are startlingly similar to those found elsewhere – eg in Britain, China and India. Many are being raised in the same manner since hoary antiquity. Megaliths of Chatra, or more specifically speaking megaliths of Pathalgadda, are typical of the region. The name of the village Pathalgadda is a Hindi name for tribal megaliths. As when the Hindi speaking folks walked this region, after the tribals had started to move away, they must have had been surprised to find so many standing stones in and around the vicinity.

Menhirs in Angarha

The megaliths are in their thousands… look anywhere… go anywhere; megaliths are everywhere. I have never seen a place quite like this… all this was conveyed to me by one young fellow in his late twenties, Jitendra Tewary. Jitendra who is a correspondent of a Hindi daily, and who also owns a studio, has discovered many megaliths around the region. The area is ringed with some spectacular hills in the landscape – for example in Puraniya, Likhlahi, Dasi, Lamboiya etc.

The megaliths are solely burial and memorial stones. They can be found jumbled up at single places suggesting that they were the respective “Jangarhas”, “Hargarhis”, or “Sasandiris” of the erstwhile adivasi villages, for which these burials were once created in the deep past.

The opposite facing tilted stones are inclined towards East and West

The distinctive feature of the megaliths here is that many of the sepulchral stones can be seen placed inclining towards the west and to its opposite, a little to the left there would be another stone tilted towards the west. Such stones are seen placed side-by-side creating a row with a north-south alignment (the orientation of the dead in India).

The sites have revealed iron and copper slags, black pottery, black and red pottery, red pottery, and ochre pottery. Several of the sites can be dated back to the Chalcolithic Period. Most of the sites I saw were damaged by non-tribal villagers scrounging for treasure from below the stones slabs, or the stones themselves had been towed away by them to serve either as washing stones by a well, or to function as drain covers. Jitendra is trying to have the sites protected; a task more than impossible in a country like ours.

A menhir in a ruined megalithic site in Rohma

This is the second in a series of features on the Megaliths of India by Subhashis Das. In subsequent features we hope to look more closely at the archaeology, history and spread of these astonishing structures, the people who made them, and what might be done to protect the structures from further development and destruction.

 

Save Rola megaliths from destruction is the first in a series of features from the Megaliths of India website hosted by Subhashis Das.
 
 
 
Subhashis Das at Rola. The fascinating megaliths that once were
 
A boundary wall adjacent to the north of the Rola megaliths has been built. Apart from the wall, new buildings have also appeared in the vicinity. As a consequence of these new structures many of the precise alignments of the stones in the complex, which once pointed towards major sunrises, sunsets and the cardinal points, and which had elevated this crude megalithic burial into a major calendar and an observatory built during primitive times, has now ceased to function as such. Although the megaliths themselves remain unscathed in their physical form (as yet) the buildings so close to this primitive monument have now become a serious threat to them.
 
Rola is a primitive burial site of the erstwhile tribals, with many stone slabs functioning as covers for the burial – known to the austric tribes as sasandiri. The site, sacred to the tribals even a few years ago, is a neglected temple today after the tribals migration elsewhere. Besides the sepulchral connotations, Rola demonstrates distinct astronomical features as well. Sadly, the landscape which forms the outer periphery of such temples, having now been obstructed due to the new buildings in the vicinity, has rendered these megaliths of Rola dysfunctional.
 
 
 
The present state of Rola. The boundary wall and the houses have cropped up in the vicinity obstructing the orientations. Sheer Government indifference towards megaliths and heritages
 
Rola is one such site which needs to be seen to be believed. The megalithic complex demonstrates brilliant positioning of the stones within the megalithic complex vide ratios and hex sectioning. How the north-south and the east-west axis was once obtained within the megaliths by the positioning of the stones, and how they were also made to intersect inside the site by the ancient megalithic astronomers, is a feat which must be seen to be believed.
 
The  alignments towards the hills in the landscape are vividly demonstrated. The site is also comprised of stones oriented towards the sunrises and sunsets of the summer and winter solstices. Sadly, most of these have now become things of the past with the mushrooming of buildings in the vicinity – buildings which pose a great threat to their very existence.
 
 
The pointed menhir can be seen here positioned in alignment to the phallus in the middle, and to the hill on the horizon
 
Rola has the potential to change the course of India’s ancient history as it clearly revealed that observational astronomy and mathematics was known to the tribals (who built the megaliths) thousands of years prior to the Brahmin mathematicians and astronomers.
 
 
The pointed menhir is made to point towards the Kanhari Hill on the horizon
This is one of the saddest events of archaeology, not only for India but for the world at large
 
Rola was discovered by the author around 2002 and it still is one of his study sites. He has been successful in bringing the following governmental authorities to the megaliths in the hope of having the primitive site preserved under governmental protection.
 
Here I am explaining the orientations of the stones in Rola to Mr V. S. Dubey, the Principal Adviser, Governor of Jharkhand State. Mr.Pandey, the Commissioner of North Chotanagpur Div (in checked shirt) and Mr. Chaubey, the Dy. Commisioner of Hazaribagh district (in blue shirt) look on.
 
a) Mr. Vinay Chaubey, the Deputy Commissioner of Hazaribagh in 2010
b) Mr. Pandey, The Commissioner, North Chotanagpur Division in 2010.
c) Mr. V. S. Dubey, Chief Secretary of Governor Jharkhand State in 2010.
d) Mr. Chauhan. Superintending Archaeologist Archaeological Survey of India, Ranchi Circle.
e) Mr T. J. Vaidya, Superintending Archaeologist Survey of India. Ranchi Circle.
f) Mr. Harendra Sinha, Dy Director Jharkhand State Archaeological Dept. Ranchi.
g) Mr. A .K. Sharma, ex-Director State Archaeological Dept, Chattisgarh. Raipur.
h) Numerous other officials of the state, archaeological depts.
 
The site has also been visited by students of numerous schools, universities, and by scholars and tourists both from this country and abroad. Almost all have expressed surprise in witnessing such stunning, primitive sciences at work in such a tiny and insignificant megalith, something which many had not known or seen earlier. Governmental officials had promised protection of the site, but despite their promises the government, as expected, did nothing, nothing at all for the protection of the site. The government ought to have acquired the land around the megalith and should have granted protection to the site but, due to their inactivity, the land around the site was sold and the situation is now out of their hands.
 
Heritages in India are lost nearly every day due to the negligence of the government. As for megaliths, they have the least regard for them – perhaps because of their tribal origin. If megaliths are protected and are studied in perspective then a new, unknown history of India is bound to surface.
 
Subhashis Das.
 

In subsequent features on the Megaliths of India by Subhashis Das we hope to look more closely at the archaeology, history and spread of these astonishing structures, the people who made them, and what might be done to protect the structures from further development and destruction.

 

Subhashis Das checking the azimuth of a menhir near Obra village

Writing in Megaliths of India Subhashis Das reports that –

Road making has destroyed a significant megalithic site in the outskirts of Obra village in Pathalgadda block of Chatra district in Jharkhand. The site is a primitive tribal memorial site having tall menhirs. The site already destroyed by villagers with many tall menhirs being lugged away by them, the road making has come as a blow to this tribal heritage of our country.

Full article here.

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