Purana Qila has seen largest excavation in the capital so far- First in 1955, later in 1969-75 and now in 2014.
Indraprastha, the capital of the kingdom of Pandavas, as mentioned in the Mahabharata epic, did exist around the Purana Qila (Old Fort) in present-day New Delhi is what the archaeologists and historians believe but have not been able to ascertain. The studies performed at the site since the 1950s have until now failed to reveal structures and artifacts that could ascertain the existence of Pandavas and their capital city.
But the ongoing excavations at the site that began in mid- January this year, is expected to shed some light on that era. The clue that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) members are looking for to establish the link is Painted Grey Ware (PGW). “PGW is a pottery type that archeologists associate with the Mahabharata period. It is grey pottery painted with geometric patterns in black.
Though the earlier excavations could not give any significant link to the existence of Indraprastha, the ASI team is hopeful of making a breakthrough this time. In the last three months they have found a rare 18 cm tall, 12th century sand stone sculpture of Vishnu of Rajput period, a seal in terracotta from the Gupta period, miniature stone images of Ganesha from Mughal period, pottery of the Kushan and Gupta periods, terracotta human and animals figurines, sherds of (NBPW) and (PGW), ivory pendants, charred grains, a Gajalakshmi tablet and structures from the Gupta period and copper coins.
On the question of how does the ASI team relate the excavated artifacts with the different eras, Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India (Delhi Circle), who is seeing the project, said that, “Every artifact is distinct to the time it was made. For e.g., the knife faced rim pattern and the shapes of the pots, those found during the excavations dates back to architecture of the Rajput and Gupta period (700-800 years ago). Now, we are looking for the main clue, the Painted Grey Ware (PGW), a specific pottery type (grey pottery painted with geometric patterns) that the archaeologists associate with the Mahabharata period. Excavating 1.5 metres more is expected to expose the lowest cultural settlement that was there.” The new site has been dug up to the southeast of Sher Mandal, 20m away from the previous dig. One trench has been dug, two are being excavated simultaneously and a fourth has been marked out.
“In historical times, human settlements were either close to river banks or to a source of water. The excavation spot at Purana Qila is identified because of its proximity to the original flow of the Yamuna, and we are confident of finding some evidence of human settlement there,'' said Vasant K Swarankar.
Other places of historical significance within the premises of Puran Quila that links it to the Pandavas are: The Kunti Devi temple, which is said to be built by the mother of the Pandavas. Talaqi Darwaza (Forbidden Gate), which has a man fighting a lion. The Bhairon Mandir outside the northern wall of the Purana Qila that is closely associated with the strongest Pandava, Bhimsen.
Viji Mol, Trench Incharge, Purana Qila while brushing a pot in the trench said, “It is a life- time opportunity for us to be a part of this excavation, and it is a pleasure to see that a place which usually find couples all the year is being visited by children and families in the last two days.”
David, a school going student, who was excited to know about the artifacts found during the excavations, said, “If ASI is able to find links to ancient city of Indraprastha, it will be a great achievement for us.”
The Kunti Devi Temple
The Temple lies in the premises of purana Quila was built by Kunti, the mother of the five Pandavas, and is dedicated to deities Shiva and Durga. It is also known as Shiv-Durga Mandir. Kunti Devi used to worship at this temple when Yudhishtir was ruling in Hastinapur. The little temple was renovated in 1915 by Pandit Ghasiram Bhardwaj, the 108th Mahant of his sect.
Talaqi Darwaza (Forbidden Gate)
The gate has a man fighting a lion carved on the walls. Darwaza is located on the eastern side of India Gate and north of Humayun’s Tomb. This is considered to be the locked northern gate of the fort and it depicts the telltale ruins of the Mahabharata days.
– Monica Sangwan