The 2,700 year old skeletal remains of an ancient yogi sitting in samadhi have been found in an Indus valley civilization archaeological site located at Balathal, Rajasthan.
Many Indus Valley seals depict pictures of yogis sitting in lotus position. Here are two examples showing ancient yogis sitting in meditation and keeping their hands on their knees as done in modern yoga meditations. If we see the skeletal remains of the yogi above, we can note that his fingers are in gyana mudra (with thumb touching index finger), resting on his knees as well.
Balathal is an archaeological site located in Vallabhnagar tehsil of Udaipur district of Rajasthan state in western India. This site, located 6 km from Vallabhnagar town and 42 km from Udaipur city, was discovered by V. N. Misra during a survey in 1962-63. Excavation began in 1994 jointly by the Department of Archaeology of the Deccan College Post-graduate and Research Institute, Pune and the Institute of Rajasthan Studies, Udaipur.
The following article provides some information on the archaeological excavations done at Balathal.
Excavation of sites from the 4,500 year old Ahar culture provide clues to the link between the Harappans and their predecessors.
That it existed at all was a surprise – a fortified enclosure of mud and brick, comparable to the citadels of the Harappans, spread over 500 sq m. It was filled with ash and cowdung. A people called the Ahars had built it in Balathal near modern Udaipur some 4,500 years ago.
Carbon dating established that they had lived in and around the Mewar region in Rajasthan between 3,500 and 1,800 B.C. They were Mewar’s first farmers, older even than the Harappans. But why had they built a fort only to fill it with ash and cowdung? To solve the mystery, a team of Indian archaeologists excavating the site went on removing layer after layer of civilisation.
The mystery deepened. They found five skeletons, four in layers between 2,000 B.C. and 1,800 B.C. That was the age of stone and copper, the chalcolithic age. This was the first time human skeletons had been found at any Ahar site. The Ahars, it had been thought, cremated their dead. And the Harappans buried theirs.
Who Were The Ahars?
There are 90 sites of Ahar – a rural society. The recent round of excavations is establishing that Ahar culture and Harappan civilisation were different though contemporary and related. This village life emerged much before the mature Harappan era.
Harappa’s progress in the mature Harappan period (2,500 B.C.) helped the rural Ahar people to flourish and develop their own township and stone and brick houses. On the scale of civilisation, they emerged far ahead of other chalcolithic cultures in the subcontinent.
And they may be the missing link to show how the Indus people made such a quantum leap from small rural communities to an advanced civilisation.
Ahar culture flourished predominantly in the Mewar region of Rajasthan, on the eastern side of the Aravallis, and in undulating rocky plateaus and plains along the Banas river and its tributaries.
In modern Rajasthan, Ahar sites have been reported in Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Dungarpur, Bhilwara, Rajsamand, Bundi, Tonk and Ajmer dotting10,000 sq km. “There is a commonality in all 90-sites located in South eastern Rajasthan and parts of Madhya Pradesh,” says Jaipur-based Rima Hooja, a scholar on Ahar culture.
Their name comes from a mid-1950s excavation led by R.C. Aggarwal, former director of archaeology, Rajasthan, at Ahar near Udaipur. A few years later, one excavation was carried out at Gilund in Rajsamand and then the focus shifted to the Harappans.
The Deccan College, Pune and Institute of Rajasthan Studies, Rajasthan Vidyapeeth, Udaipur turned their attention to Ahar culture in 1994 and began excavations in Balathal. Deccan College and the University of Pennsylvania began digging in Gilund in 1999 and the Jaipur circle of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) began excavation at Ojiyana in Bhilwara in 2000. And discoveries began pouring in.
Gwen Robbins, a biological anthropologist from the University of Oregon, USA, in her ongoing preliminary analysis of the bones, found the first skeleton uncovered was of a male. Dead at the age of 50, he suffered from a joint disease and had lost all but four of his teeth at least five years before death. On closer inspection of the remains, a left mandible and a few cranial fragments were found to be of a second individual aged 35 whose sex couldn’t be determined.
The third skeleton was of a female approximately 35 years of age.The fourth was of a 35-year-old woman, and it caught the archaeologists’ interest. It had been buried with a small earthen lota (pot) near the head. Why was the lota there? “I am certain that the fortified enclosure had a ritual function,” says Dr V.N. Mishra, former principal of the Deccan College, who led the excavations: “You don’t find such selective burials in cow dung and ash anywhere else.”
The fifth skeleton, from a different era, was of an adult male 35 to 40 years old, and had been buried in a seated position that resembles the modern samadhi burial of sadhus who renounce the world. The ritual of burial in ash and cowdung raises the need to look at related traditions in present-day Hindu communities such as Gosain and Jogi which bury their dead.
Were They Cow Worshippers?
The excavations reveal a large number of bull figurines indicating the Ahar people worshipped the bull. At Marmi, a site near Chittorgarh, these figures have been found in abundance indicating it could be a regional shrine of the bull cult of this rural population. Discovery of cow-like figurines in Ojiyana, the first site found on the slope of a hill, has baffled archaeologists.
Cow-worship was not a known Ahar practice. “There are no humps and we can see small teats,” B.R. Meena, superintendent, asi Jaipur circle, who undertook the excavation, says, “These are certainly cows.” Other archaeologists suspect them to be bull calves but insist if further studies prove these to be cows, one could infer that the cow was a revered animal and the Hindu practice of treating the cow as a holy animal can thus be of pre-Aryan antiquity.
There is no other evidence of idol worship or Harappan religious practices like worship of the mother goddess. The Harappans flourished in a far larger area, along the alluvial plains of the Indus and its tributaries, by the Saraswati, in Baluchistan and in the relatively semi-arid environment of
Kutch and Saurashtra and the sandy south-western plains of Gujarat. But there is evidence that the Ahar people may have had links with Gujarat’s Harappans.
Did The Harappans Learn From Them?
The technique of decoration in pottery known as “reserved slip” which was seen only in a few shards at the Harappan sites of Mohenjodaro and Surkotada in 2,400B.C. is a very common feature at Balathal.
This technique consists of putting a second slip over the earlier (lower) slip on the pot and then removing it in thin bands before it completely dries up. This produces various kinds of motifs like straight and wavy bands and criss-cross patterns in two colours. Says V.S. Shinde of Deccan College: “The Harappans apparently borrowed this technique from Balathal.”
Speculation about intense fire-modelling activity has been supported by the discovery of kilns at Ahar sites. The coarse pottery in the earliest levels of excavations confirms that Ahar culture grew independently of Harappans. In later levels, fine deluxe ware of three varieties was found.
Decorated black-and-red pottery is a mark of Ahar culture distinct from the Harappan where the interiors of vessels was black. In Balathal, the black-and-red ware constitute only 8 per cent of the ceramic assemblage whereas in Ahar it is 70 per cent.
Balathal apparently imported this ware from other Ahar sites. Tan ware, mainly dishes and dishes-on-stand very similar to those of the Harappans, and thin red ware appear only in the “fortification phase” of Ahar civilisation and suggest contact with the Harappans of Gujarat.
An unusual discovery last year was a set of six clay pots arranged inside a large clay jar in Balathal. Of the six pots three are large black-and-red bowls decorated with geometric designs in white. One of the other vessels contained steatite beads and flowers both of which were used for stringing into necklaces. “This, to me, is a lady’s jewellery box,” says Mishra.
Unlike other chalcolithic cultures which had stone tools, the Aharites made copper tools such as chisels, razors and barbed and tanged arrow heads, apparently for hunting. Probably, they had the advantage of access to copper from the Khetri mines and in the nearby Aravalli hills. There is evidence of copper melting too. Harappans probably imported copper ores and even finished copper goods from Ahar people.
Were They The First Planners?
If Balathal surprised archaeologists with its skeletons, Gilund has excited them with its massive burnt-brick structures. A sand, clay and lime mix was used as plaster. Even Balathal and Ojiyana had sun-dried mud-brick and stone structures and fortifications. The findings club Ahar sites in the same category as the Harappans who were, until now, the only known pre-iron people known to have used these techniques.
In stone structures, mud bricks were often used to raise partition walls. In Balathal, the 2,500 B.C. fortification phase reveals a succession of stone structures inside the fortification and below the wall that ran around the residential complex.
There are high-built stone platforms on the eastern edge. This implies that people knew of stone architecture when the settlement began around 3,500 B.C. though fortification began later. Wooden beams and rafters made the roof, capped by mud in case of stone walls and by thatch in case of smaller structures of wooden posts and mud walls.
Mud and cow dung were used as plaster – as villagers use them even today. Locally available granite and gneiss rock were used in construction and the average size of stone blocks was 25 cm long, 20 cm wide and 15 cm thick.
The mud bricks were often of the same length but narrow and slimmer. As the copper tools were too small for quarrying, people apparently heated rocks with fire to create cracks and poured water to loosen the stones, using stone hammers and copper and wooden wedges to remove the stone blocks.
The Balathal and Gilund settlements also show incipient planning with a wide street and a narrow lane dividing the residential complexes. At Balathal, there are remains of a wall that probably surrounded the residential complex and a fortified structure in the centre of the habitation.
Like Harappan citadels, it is built over mud-brick platforms, and fortification walls are broadened towards the base. Gilund had long and wide parallel walls. Shinde who began excavations at the site with a University of Pennsylvania team says, “Gilund is emerging as an urban centre of the Aharites.” One complex is of 8,000 sq ft, and there are more like it around.
Apparently, it was controlling the settlements around it with its own organisational set-up of a chiefdom-based society but the construction activity was influenced by Harappa. Says Shinde: “The Harappans did help them flourish but the farmers retained their culture intact.” Chairman of the Archaeological Society of India S.P. Gupta says, “The Harappan model of city planning has a clear impact here.”
It was a mixed economy based on farming, stock raising, hunting, fowling and fishing. There was sufficient agricultural surplus to undertake fortifications as in Balathal. P.K. Thomas and P.P. Joglekar of Deccan College studied animal remains and found domesticated animals accounted for 73 per cent of bones, sheep and goat 19 per cent, buffalo only 3 per cent.
Wild animals such as nilgai and blackbuck constituted 5 per cent. Remains of pig, fish, turtle and molluscs were also found. A large number of bones were charred and split open, perhaps to extract arrows. M.D. Kajale of the same college found that the cultivated plants included wheat, barley, lentil, common pea,finger millet and Italian millet.
Hooja points out that at Ahar, rice was also grown. The rotis were made, as they are today, on earthen tawas, food cooked on U-shaped chulhas, and lentils and cereals grounded in pounders and querns – handmills of stone.
What Happened To Them?
Aharites abandoned the sites in 1,800 B.C., a period by when Harappa had also declined. Apparently, it was climatic changes or natural calamities that compelled Aharites to quit farming which might not have remained remunerative in that area. Their economies must have been hit by the decline of Harappa too. So either they left for other places for farming or took to cattle and stock raising.
Balathal, for example, remained unoccupied until 300 B.C., when in the Mauryan era, some people re-occupied the sites. Lalti Pandey of the Institute of Rajasthan Studies says of these people that “they knew of iron smelting and manufactured iron implements”. Two iron smelting furnaces have been found in Balathal in this phase. It is around this period’s layer that the fifth skeleton was found.
In Mewar, there is a long and continuous history of human habitation. It seems that influenced by Ahar culture, hunter-gatherer-herders of the region took to farming and became the forerunners of today’s rural society in southern Rajasthan.
Mishra says others took to stock breeding and became Gadris (shepherds)and Rabaris (camel breeders). Then there are communities like the Gemetis, Meghwals and Bawarias who continue to practise their traditional occupation of hunters to this day. Some of them used to eat carrion until a few decades ago.
The odhnis of Gameti women bear a tell-tale resemblance to the trademark red-and-black pottery of Ahar culture. And evidence of the folk religion of the Ahars survives among the Kalbelias, the community to which the dancer Gulabo, famed in Rajasthani folklore, belonged. The Ahars aren’t dead. They still live among us.