• Avik

From Indus to Ganges, where the Harappan Graves lie?

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

Burials have never been just the morphological remains of the dead ancestors, rather over the period they have been great storytellers. From time to time they have been causing huge stirs in the minds of the experts. Undeniably, they have been more influential than living and have always been the very cause of the growth of society and all the motives of human conduct. That is the reason, from the very beginning, the deads have been tickling the curious nerve of the expert archaeologists and the Harappan Civilization was no exception. The numerous archaeological surveys that have been carried out till date on the Harappan cemeteries could not satiate the hunger for more.

The only 'anthropologically confirmed' joint burial from the necropolis at Rakhigarhi, the largest Harappan city has sparked fresh interest among the archaeologists due to the positions of the skeletons. It, however, is not the first.

Earlier a joint burial found at Lothal, another Harappan site, was regarded as a probable instance of a widow's self-sacrifice (suicide) demonstrative of grief over her husband's death. Although the self-sacrifice angle was never proven and has remained in the realm of speculation. 

But the recent discovery has opened some new doors of speculations, the burial has two skeletons, a young male and a female, buried at the same time in the same grave with the man’s face turned toward the woman. The burial seems more like that the man is looking in an ‘intimate way’ towards the female. The burial gained the limelight after being compared to burials like lovers of Valdarno of Italy or Alepotrypa cave in Greece.

“This is the first time we are finding a couple burial, and the burial seems more like dignified burial where there are no signs of any injury on the skeletons,” said Prof. Vasant Shinde, Vice Chancellor, Deccan College.

He further added that the Harappan believed in life after death which explains the pottery and bowls found in the graves. He added, “The pots may have contained food and water for the dead, a custom probably fuelled by the belief that the dead may need them after death. Hence, the contemporary view of life after death may actually be as old as 5,000 years.”

Harappan studies have always been replete with speculations, mysteries and surprises. Another thread of new information from the same site was of the 4,500-year-old skeleton, which possibly belongs to the Indus Valley era, was exhumed from the site and reveals an interesting quirk found in its DNA composition.

The DNA  found in the petrous bone shows that ancient denizens of the area were “a mix of two populations” – one of Dravidian ancestry and the other of Iranian Agriculturalists, both not native to the Indian subcontinent.

Though the burial find has created quite an interest, it was not the only way of disposing of the dead. Dr R S Bisht Harappan expert, excavator of Dholavira said, “ All these methods of disposal of deals has been referred to in Rigveda too.The custom of burying the dead was followed by one section of society and the same continued even after the Harappan.” as has been found at Sinauli in UP and Farmana in Haryana.

Sinauli has also been in limelight due to a copper chariot found buried amongst the coffins, only of its kind in India. Earlier Sinauli has thrown up more than 125 elaborate burials with material that were different from anything discovered so far.

“There were no coffin burials found in Rakhigarhi but Sinauli had quite a few and also the period of Rakhigarhi graves and Sanauli graves are different, the Rakhigarhi is Harappan and Sanauli Burials are late Harappan , ” Dr. V.N. Prabhakar Director, Archaeological Survey of India who has done PhD on the burials of Sinauli.

Kind of unique finds from Sinauli to the east of Yamuna, reminds one of a big gold haul, a couple of decades ago, at Mandi village. At Mandi village in Muzzafrnagr, a large quantity of gold jewellery was found which was labelled as Harappan though nothing of that kind was found in regular excavations at various Harappan sites.

The find surprised archaeologists “First, Mandi is located to the east of the Yamuna river, and this area has been considered peripheral to the main distribution area of the Harappan civilization. Second, the sheer quantity of the jewellery recovered from the site makes it the largest hoard of ancient jewellery ever found in India, if not the entire subcontinent.” as reported by Rakesh Tiwari, Ex-Director General ASI.

Not only Mandi, Harinagar, in Sharanpur, but a total of 78 objects (as estimated so far) were also found which included 55 vessels weighing 44824g, 20 tools and weapons weighing 6902g and a mirror 245g. In per cent share of vessels and other objects in number is 73% and 27%, and, in weight is 86% and 14% respectively in a big copper cauldron.

Suddenly the region between Yamuna and Ganga becomes the new area of interest and is being looked upon as holding the possibility of a parallel culture dispelling the clouds of the Dark Age’. Not so much Harappan character of Sinauli chariot and the burials give support to this premise.

Another significant discovery that took rounds in the archaeological circle was the discovery of a large cache of copper utensils further east across Ganga in district Bijnor. These finds become important as now they are scientifically dated to pre 2000 BC era, contemporary to Harappan yet distinct. These discoveries, exciting as they appear, are yet to get currency.

Like every new thing requires a gestation period, the significance of these finds will take a long to be digested and accepted. The high standards of urban life set by the first civilisation did not allow scholars to accept anything less grand than Harappans as civilized. Time stores the fate of these significant new finds, but for now, it seems that these discoveries are still not enough for the undeciphered civilization.

“The issue of Late Mature Harappan-Late Harappan-OCP gets compounded due to the usage of different terms to denote the archaeological culture, the lack of definition and scientific dates, or, perhaps the ‘Harappanism’ itself is not well understood,” said Dr. Bhuvan Vikrama, Superintending Archaeologist in ASI.

The civilization that started and evolved in the most spectacular manner ended in not so particular way. The age-old civilization is, yet, in the mood to throw up some more revelation. The unresolved puzzle of the settlement lies in its unsystematic decline. But the recent discoveries have started to dust the mysteries that surrounded the civilization and other related mysteries. Many other traces of some of the contemporary or parallel civilizations are waiting to be exhumed. Whether these findings hold the capability to turn some new and completely unknown pages of the history and change the age-old viewpoint or will they be silently buried in the grave beneath the already accepted and settled theories.

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