Sunday, 16 February 2014

A Dholavira Surprise

A wall at Dholavira
Dholavira is not as famous as Mohenjadaro or Harappa. But it is one of the largest cities of the Harappan civilization though not part of the Indus valley, it is in India rather than in Pakistan, it is well excavated and documented and worth viewing.

As part of our fifth Site Seminar, we visited the state of Gujarat, and Dholavira was one of the main attractions. We had three lectures in preparation –one by Badri Seshadri summarizing Michel Danino’s book on Sarasvati; one by TS Subramaniam of Frontline magazine who has written widely about it and showed some excellent photographs; and one on Harappan seals by Krishnakumar.

On the second day we visited Lothal – I’ll write about it later – the most famous sea-port of the Harappan civilization. We saw the standard sized bricks, the settlements, the large port and so on. A long strong desire fulfilled, a stroked curiosity somewhat satiated, several minor surprises.
Harbour at Lothal, made with bricks, not cut stone
Bricks at Lothal- not stones

But the major surprise was at Dholavira : not a single brick! Every reservoir or tank, every “house”, every well, the “Citadel”, the “Stadium” : every building in Dholavira was made out of cut stones. 

Cut stone at Dholavira
There seems no mention of it in the literature. The first thing we read about this massive civilization is its uniformity: uniform script, uniform roads, uniform houses, uniform drains, and most tellingly uniform bricks the uniform size in the ratio 1:2:4 height to width to length. And yet here was the largest site without a single brick, and the stones of all shapes and sizes.

Another cut stone at Dholavira - notice difference from previous one as measure by my finger
Crude stone wall at Dholavira - stones of varying sizes - contrast with first photo
Badri Seshadri, for one, shocked at this obvious neglect by scholars. Wikipedia mentions it, but in a passing line: a pity we never read it.  I thought he would have blogged about it, but since he hasn’t in two weeks, here goes.

The contrast with Lothal could not be more stark. Why was such a large harbor in Lothal made with so many bricks, when stones would have done just as well and would have been simpler, while heavy stones hauled up on the mounds and hills of Dholavira when it would have been easier to lift standard bricks?


  1. Hello 'Varahamira Gopu,'

    // Badri Seshadri, for one, shocked at this obvious neglect by scholars

    Thanks for the interesting info, dunno what BSeshadri's response was, but, it is not very correct to say that Scholars have neglected to mention the fantastic and intriguing differences (stones, bricks etc) between Dholavira and the rest of IV sites. Wikipedia is NOT a scholarly site, IMO. At best, you get some kichadi kind of mostly amateurish information from it, that's all.

    I can rattle off names like - Gregory Possehl, Ravi Singh Bisht, Upinder Singh, Jane McIntosh who have done this - but thanks to Frontline kind of rabblerousing pseudo journals talking stridently about IV and supporting only certain negatively biased views, one does NOT hear of solid viewpoints based on research findings.

    So perhaps, it is correct to say that, Scholars who talk about these facts based on ground realities are neglected as they are not the mainstream, left, dravidian superiority spouting, aryan invasion theorist kind of folks. They do not get enough publicity, which is unfortunate.

    Also, the ASI site at mentions the information that you have seen in person.

    Of course, I have not been to Dholavira or any of the IV sites, but have been following these for the past few decades and have been fortunate enough to discuss with a few fantastic and level headed archaeologists, that's all.

    When you get a chance, please go thru the great works of scholarship by the aforesaid folks.

    Thanks, my two paise and what not,


    1. Thank you, sir. I had a copy of DP Aggarwal's excellent and extensively researched book on Harappan technology - you can see it in the photo. He references Possehl, Bisht and other scholars in his book, but I have not read those : my, our group's, oversight.

      I find Wikipedia very useful as a first source of information. Similarly, while I disagree with the far left views expressed in Frontline & the Hindu on economics, social and political affairs, I find their articles on archaeology, culture, science and technology generally informed and informative. That other newspapers pay very little attention to these aspects is sadder.

      Lothal and Dholavira were first visits for most of our group to Indus-Sarasvati sites - except Badri who has visited Harappa, I think. I strongly recommend it - a visit is worth a reading a thousand articles. I intend to visit other sites in the future as well.

  2. "...while heavy stones hauled up on the mounds and hills of Dholavira when it would have been easier to lift standard bricks?"

    If you haven't already found the answer, could this be the answer?
    "Dholavira,situated on the Tropic of Cancer,is believed to be a port city for trading with West Asia during the peak period of the Harappan civilization when the sea levels were higher."

    If this is true, your observation is so pertinent.