ARCHAEOLOGY in India has been one of the most argued subjects among the academics. It has been influenced by ideological bias, scanty research into primary sources and most important of all the lack of interest on the part of the government to support, sponsor and spread the information on the deep roots of our history and civilization. Hence, the book by one of the most renowned archaeologists B B Lal on the Indian civilization has come as a fresh breath. Lal, an academic of international repute and author of several acclaimed books has written How Deep are the roots of Indian Civilization? Archaeology Answers. Adopting narrative style, he has minimised the academic lingo and made it easy for a common reader to sail with the content.
Right at the outset, the book connects today’s reader with our forefathers thousands of years ago, by pointing out the similarities in rituals and daily practices. The tradition of applying sindoor in the centre parting on the forehead by married women has been observed in the terracotta figurines that have been carbon dated to be circa 2800-2600 BCE (Before Common Era), even before what is known as Harappan civilization. Bangles and the ‘chauk’ on the forehead were also in vogue then, as they are now. Utensils similar to the ones in common use now in our kitchens have also been excavated from the Harappan region. The tradition of bead craft in Gujarat region too dates back to thousands of years.
The excavations yielded six-faced dice, evidences of chess game and reading and writing material like takhtis. Some of the commonly narrated bedtime stories, like the cunning fox that makes the crow drop the food on its beak and the intelligent crow that made water rise in the pot by dropping pebbles into it have been found in illustrations in vases and jars, indicating these stories have been coming down generations for thousands of years. They prove an incontrovertible continuity in our culture and habitation. Lal has dedicated the book to his illustrious student Dr SP Gupta.
In the dedication he writes, “Dedicated to my most beloved student Dr SP Gupta whose pursuit of knowledge, balanced judgement, unflinching devotion, self-sacrifice and institute-building capacity
will ever remain enshrined in the annals of Indian Archaeology.”
Gold, silver, copper and bronze were known to the Harappan people, so were horses and spokes wheels. For decades the Indian students had been taught in their history text books that these were unknown to the Harappan civilization. Lal roundly dismisses the Aryan invasion theory and provides unassailable proof for his argument. He is equally dismissive of the recent academic propaganda of an Aryan ‘immigration,’ implying that they were a nomadic community. He quotes the Rigveda and the Satpathabrahmana to fortify his position that there was neither invasion from outside nor immigration within and that the Vedic people, the Harappan people and the present Indian society are a continuum of the same race and civilization. Says he, “Looking back, one finds that the most ancient civilization of India, known variously as the Harappan, Indus or Indus-Sarasvati civilization, was indeed remarkable in many respects. It may not have given to the world the high-rising pyramids of Giza or the immensely rich royal tombs of Ur, but it has shown how an ideal and well balanced community lives – in which the differences between the rich and the poor are not glaring. In the other two countries, symbolised by the pyramids and the royal tombs, the haves had it all, while the have-nots none at all.” This observation is very much an illustration of our concepts of vasudeva kutumbakam and the Ram Rajya, where everyone was happy and none sad on account of materialistic disparities.
Some of the most famous archaeologists in modern India are Britishers, like Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Sir John Marshall. Though their contribution to the study of Indian archaeology cannot be disputed, they have tended to jump to conclusions and pronounce judgements on excavations, influenced by their own academic upbringing and prejudice. Lal, who calls Wheeler his guru does not hesitate to point out the incongruities in their arguments.
The heavily illustrated book is a precious work Lal has done to the cause of understanding our civilization. It must be included in the curriculum of young classes so that they imbibe the wealth of knowledge of our ancient and glorious past. It is a must read for every Indian. There are a few printer’s devils, which one hopes will be corrected in the subsequent editions. Lal needs no introduction. He was the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (1968-72) and took early retirement when he was 51 to pursue his research programmes. He has excavated several sites and made immense contribution. His publications include 150 seminal research papers and several books.
(Aryan Books International, Pooja Apartment, 4B, Ansari Road, New Delhi-110 002; [email protected])