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Books > History > Ancient > Delhi Ancient History
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Delhi Ancient History
Delhi Ancient History
Description
Back of the Book
Delhi: Ancient History

Not many people know that the busy and bustling capital city of Delhi and its surroundings have a long past, going back thousands of years. Prehistoric stone tools have surfaced here and many ancient remains have been found, sometimes accidentally by farmers tilling their fields, and at other times by archaeologists carrying out systematic excavations. A mound one passes everyday or a narrow strip of stream tells a story of ancient times. Centuries of history coexist with metro stations and plush cars.

The readings in this book give us glimpses of the lives of people who lived over the centuries in the Delhi area, and how these details are pieced together by historians. It brings into focus the importance of the historian’s method and the sources of information found in ancient texts, archaeology and even legends and folklore, sometimes hanging on the thread of a slender historical fact.

The editor of the volume, points to the urgency of further exploration and documentation to fill in the still all-too-meagre details of Delhi’s ancient history. However, she ends on a note of caution, bordering on alarm, when she points out that invaluable evidence of the city’s past is being extensively destroyed due to quarrying and the construction of new roads and buildings. Such activities are an integral part of the modernization of a living city but the balance between modernization and the preservation of ancient remains is indeed very fragile and needs to be maintained from an informed and realistic perspective.

Upinder Singh teaches ancient Indian history at the University of Delhi. She is the author of Kings, Brahmanas and Temples in Orissa:An Epigraphic Study (A.D. 300-1147) (Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1994), The Discovery of Ancient India: Early archaeologists and the beginnings of archaeology (Delhi, Permanent Black, 2004) and Ancient Delhi (Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1999, 2’ edition with a new Preface and Introduction, 2006).

This collection of essays has been put together by a teacher for students of history,but will also be of enormous value to a large number of other interested readers.

Other books in the series:

Cultural History of Modern India Edited by Dilip M. Menon

Cultural History of Medieval India

Edited by Meenakshi Khanna

Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge all authors and pubusi-iers who have been generous in allowing us to excerpt their works in this book of readings. We have had to make some minor editorial changes and reductions in the interest of our readers. In a few chapters, there is some overlap in content. This has been unavoidable, as the essays have been drawn from various sources.

Introduction

Delhi’s history is etched over its landscape in stone. magnificent forts, mosques and tombs of the Sultanate and Mughal periods evoke the aura of the medieval world while the stately layout and architecture of Lutyens’ Delhi bear the imposing imprint of British imperial rule. Apart from the well- known monuments that symbolize the power of those who ruled here (e.g. the Qutb Minar, Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, the Viceroy’s residence, the Secretariat and Council House), glimpses of the city’s eventful history can also be seen in countless other places. These include the narrow galis and havelis of Chandni Chowk, the dargah of SheikhNizamuddin Auliya in Nizamuddin, the Flagstaff on the ridge near the main gate of Delhi University, St. James’ Church in Kashmiri Gate, Delhi College near Ajmeri Gate and the Coronation Park near Kingsway Camp.’ The structures and spaces proclaiming independent India mainly consist of memorials to deceased national leaders. Several colonial monuments have been converted into symbols of national identity through marginal modification, the sheer fact of their new function and occupancy, or through announcement.2 But where are Delhi’s ancient remains?

The Delhi area has an incredibly long and eventful ancient past, beginning thousands of years ago in the stone age and merging at the other end into the medieval period when the Rajputs made way for Delhi Sultans in the twelfth century This collection of readings aims at making people aware of this history. It is inspired by the idea that history does not necessarily have to be something distant and remote that one reads about in books; it can be something exciting whose relics one can often see in the immediate neighbourhood, something which one can imagine, explore and enjoy. The ancient history of the Delhi area also opens up many other issues, such as the different types of sources historians use, how they interpret the evidence from these sources, the distinction between well-established facts and the grey areas of continuing doubt and debate. Further, since Delhi occupies a space that has been lived in over many mifiennia, it gives many fascinating examples of the interface between the ancient, medieval and modern, which makes it possible to retlect on the connections, continuities and ruptures across the ages.

The writings collected in this book deal with various phases and facets of Delhi’s ancient and early medieval past. They give us glimpses into the lives of people who lived in the many settlements—some rural, some urban—located in this area over the centuries. Since the boundaries of states and cities with which we are familiar did not exist in ancient times, we are justified in surveying the evidence from the National Capital Region, which includes the National Capital Territory of Delhi as well as neighbouring areas such as Faridabad and Gurgaon in Haryana and Ghaziabad, NOIDA and Greater NOIDA in Uttar Pradesh.

Some of the readings are fairly technical and detailed and may make for somewhat terse and dry reading. This is because they have been written for professional historians and archaeologists. In order to understand and appreciate the readings, it is essential to decode the scholarly language and technical vocabulary and to identify the basic data and arguments. It is also necessary to go beyond the text by reading around and expanding on the larger context and implications of specific details. It is possible to visit the places mentioned in the excerpts, to see the objects they describe, and to animate their details through imagination.

The Sources of Delhi’s Ancient History

References to Delhi’s history In ancient literature frequently take the form of legends, which have to be examined carefully and critically. Myths cannot be treated as historical facts but they sometimes encode historical elements in an indirect way. The same applies to local traditions, i.e. beliefs that are current in a place about that place. In some cases, these traditions have been recorded and written down, but more often than not, they survive in people’s memory and in the form of oral narratives. The legends about how Delhi got its name are good examples of myths and local traditions that reflect interesting claims and connections, even though they are clearly not historical facts. One such legend, recorded in medieval texts, connects Delhi with the epic king Dilipa. Giving historical persons and places legitimacy and prestige by anchoring them to the epic-Puranic tradition was a practice that is encountered in other contexts as well, for instance in royal genealogies in ancient and early medieval inscriptions. Another more colourful legend, recorded in Rajasthani bardic literature, connects the founding of Dilli with the Mehrauli iron pillar, the Rajput king Anangapala Tomara and a serpent demon Vasuki.3 This too is obviously a myth. However, it is a myth woven around a single, slender historical fact—the establishing of a political centre in Delhi by Anangapala.

Apart from the few references in indigenous and foreign literary sources, more direct clues to Delhi’s ancient past lie in archaeology, the discipline which deals with the human past as it is revealed through material remains. rchaeOlOgical data includes artefacts (objects made by humans) and other tangible remains such as structures, burials, plants and bones. Taken together, such data can tell us quite abit about the everyday lives of ancient people. Pottery is an especiallY significant type of artefact, not only because it was an important part of daily life, but also because archaeologists can identify various types of pottery with cultural sequences and specific periods of time.4 chaeOlOgiSt5 use the term ‘culture’ in a technical sense for recurring assemblages of material traits. One of the issues that needs to be explored is how this technical sense of ‘culture’ can be linked to the wider meaning of the word, which includes within it all the patterns of behaviour which an individual learns and absorbs from the larger social group.

The remains of ancient sites in the Delhi area are sometimes visible in the form of inounds.A few of these (such as the Purana Qila, Bhorgarh and Mandoli) have been excavated, but many more have not. The remains embedded deep in ancient sites often get disturbed due to human activities such as farming or construCtiOn and find their way to the surface. Because of this, it is possible to get clues to the ancient history of a site by a careful survey of what lies on its surface. This 50 of archaeological exploration does not require fancy equipment or huge sums of money. it requires planning energy, a recognition and nderstaflding of ancient remains and an ability to accurately document and describe them.

The history of Delhi—Or any other place for that matter__canflot’0e treated in isolation. It has to be understood within larger frames of referenCe. To do this one has to conteXtuali this history within the larger patterns of political socioeconOmic and cultural history of northern India or of the subcontinent as a whole. But it, is equally if not more important to look closely at the relationship between settlements in the Delhi area and their immediate physical environment and with settlements elsewhere. This gives usa different kind of history, one whose texture and rhythms differ from those of the larger, conventional, macro-le storical narratives we are used to, but which is perhaps a more meaningful way of understanding the way of life of ancient people.

The Ancient Environment

The history of people and their settlements is intimately connected with the specificities of their physical environment. The basic physiOgraPhY of the Delhi region using local terminOl0Y, consists of the kohi or pahari , the khadar, the hangar, and the dabar. The kohi or pahari are the hills, which we know as the different sections of the Delhi ridge. The khadarOr the’neW alluvium’ consists of the more recent deposits of the Yamuna river. To its west lies the bangar, the higher ‘old alluvium’ created by the deposits set down by the river in its older courses long, long ago. The dabar is a low-lying, flood-prone area in southwest Delhi. It lies to the west of the hills and consists of the catchment area of the streams that flow westwards from them.

The contours of the physical landscape of Delhi as we see it today, including its flora and fauna, are in many ways very different from what they were thousands of years ago. Take the case of the various sections of the ridge, which consists of four parts—the Southern, South-central, Central/New Delhi, and NorthernlOld Delhi sections. Together, these constitute the very eroded, northernmost extensions of the Aravallis, the oldest mountains in India, formed hundreds of millions of years ago. The Aravallis stretch across from Gujarat into Rajasthan and Haryana and enter Delhi from Gurgaon inihe southwest. The hills run through the city in a roughly north-eastern direction, terminating in Wazirabad in north Delhi on the right bank of the Yamuna. Today, the height of the rocky outcrops of the Delhi ridge range between 2.5 m and 90 m above the flood plain in north and south Delhi respectively. In ancient times, they must have been much higher.

Those who enjoy the ‘natural’ (though somewhat manicured) scenic beauty of the northern ridge on their morning walks may not be aware of the fact that the forest here is largely an artificial creation. The first steps in the ‘vegetal renovation’ of sections of the northern and central ridge took place during the years after the 1857 revolt and the major afforestation of the central ridge happened after the British shifted their capital to Delhi in 1912. The original vegetation of the ridge can be inferred from the Rajasthan Aravallis or, closer home, from the small Mangarbani forest lying to the south of Delhi, on the border with Faridabad.5 There is no doubt that in ancient times, the flora and fauna of the ridge was radically different from what it is today.

The Yamuna is another major landmark of Delhi’s physical landscape. With its depleted and polluted waters, the river cuts a rather sorry figure, attracting attention only during the monsoons when it often swells above danger levels. But the Yamuna has a long and eventful history and has played an important role in the history of settlements in the Delhi area. Geologists suggest that the river once flowed into the Ghaggar-Hakra and had a much more westerly course. Overtime, it tended to move more and more eastwards, until it finally joined up with the Ganga. The jhils (lakes) at Najafgarh, Surajkund and Barkhal represent remnants of the Yamuna’s old courses. While the Yamuna is the major perennial river flowing through Delhi, the smaller streams are also important. These have often taken the form of nalas noted by the urban population of Delhi more for their dirty, stinking water than for their ecological or historical importance. Some of the old streams have dried up completelY others carry much less water than they once did. Several streams, the most important of which is the Bhuriya nala, emerge and flow eastwards from the hilly stretches of Ballabgarh, south of Delhi. Ancient settlements often tended to cluster in the catchment areas of such water resources.

There is so far very little detailed work on the palaeoeflvir0nmt (the old or ancient environment) of the Delhi region. Grover and Bakliwal’S short article illustrates how modern scientific tchniqUe5 of satellite imagery can give significant information about ancient landscPeS, and therefore remains importantY Charting six successive stages in the migration of the Yamufla, Grover and BakliWal’s major conclusion is that the river’s migration ranged over about 100 km in the northern and western parts of Delhi to 40 km in the south. About 4,000 years ago, the river apparentlY flowed through the Badarpur hills, it gradually moved eastwards into the plains area till it came to flow closer to, and then, along its present course.

Prehistoric StoneTools

The part of the human past covered,bY written records is very minuscule. PrehistorY_historY before writing—is the longest part of the human past, and stone tools are its most ubiquitouS of prehistoric remains requires an understanding of the vocabulary and termiflOl0Y used by prehistorians. ThiS includes the classification of the stone age into three broad pháseS_.pa1aeolit mesolithic and neolithic—On the basis of geological age, typical stone tools, and subsistence base (i.e., how people obtained their food). It also requires a familiarity with the basic stone tool types and the technologies involved in crafting them.

Since 1956, when Surajit Sinha found four lower palaeolithic tools near the main gate of Delhi UniverSitY, many more discoveries have been reported and it is clear that stone age humans found Delhi’s habitat suitable for their purposes. Stone age sites tended to be concentrated in the rocky areas of the ridge where animal and plant food,water, shelter, and raw materials for making tools were available in adequate quantities. The stone tools documented so far range from lower palaeolithic artefacts to tiny stone tools known as microliths. Specific dates are unavailable,t a rough guess is that human activity in this area may go back to around 100,000 years.

AnangpUr in the BadarpUr hills is the only excavated stone age site in the Delhi area.9 The thousands of palaeolithic tools found in the course of the excavations indicate that this was an exceptionally large prehistoric hbitatiOfl site and also a factory site (a site where stone tools were made). A.1C. Sharma and his team connected the stone tools found at AnangPUr with the remains of palaeochaflnel5 (old channels) of the Yarnufla, identified via Landsat imagery.

As mentioned earlier, archaeological exploration in the form of a careful survey of artefacts and other features found on the surface of the ground can yield valuable results. Chakrabarti and Lahiri’s 1985—6 survey of stone age sites in the Aravalli stretches of south Delhi and adjoining areas of Haryana resulted in the discovery of forty-three sites ranging from the lower palaeolithic to the microlithic.’° Many more stone age sites are no doubt waiting to be discovered and there is a great need to extend the search for prehistoric stone tools to other parts of Delhi. More research is also required into the details of the prehistoric environment. All this would add considerably to the information on the prehistory of the Delhi area, so that it becomes more than just a catalogue of sites and tools.

Protohistoric Remains

‘Protohistory’ and ‘protohistoric’ are words that are used in different senses by scholars. They can refer to non-literate cultures mentioned in the written records of contemporary literate cultures, Or they can be used for literate cultures (such as the Harappan civilization) whose script has not yet been deciphered. They can also refer to periods for which we have literature, but no evidence of writing. Archaeologists often use the term protohistory to cover cultures stretching from the beginning of food production to the advent of iron technology.

The most significant protohistoric remains in the Delhi area are the late Harappan remains at the sites of Bhorgarh near Narela and Mandoli near Nand Nagari. The late Harappan culture represents the post-urban phase of the Harappan or Indus civilization. The evidence from late Harappan sites clearly indicates that the civilization did not come to an abrupt end, rather it underwent a progressive ‘ruralization? The reasons for this phenomenon remain the matter of a fascinating, on-going debate.” B.S.R. Babu, who directed the Bhorgarb and Mandoli excavations, has summarized the major finds.’2 Among the most spectacular discoveries were two graves (one with grave goods) at Bhorgarh. The location of these two late Harappan sites in the Delhi area is not surprising as many sites of this phase have been found in Flaryana and western Uttar Pradesh. However, B.R. Mani has raised doubts about the description of the earliest levels at Bhorgarh and Mandoli as late Harappan.’3 This can be used to discuss the crucial role of interpretation in archaeology at levels ranging from the classification of artefacts to making historical inferences.

The documentation of ancient sites has to take into account the specificities of terrain, soil and climate that are so crucial to the quality of human life. A preliminary survey by R.C. Thakran gives glimpses of possible protohistoric andiarly historic remains in north-western Delhi and tries to relate them to their physiograPhic setting, specifically the khadar and bangar.’4 There is much that remains to be discovered and worked out in relation to the protohistoric settlement history of the Delhi area. While recognizing the significance of the discoveries made at the earliest levels at Bhorgarh and Mandoli, it is equally important to note that these form part of a much longer cultural sequence. Mandoli was occupied from about the second millennium ac to the sixth century n, while the occupation of Bhorgarh extended from about the second millennium Bc to the sixteenth- seventeenth century P,D. Thus,lth sites provide a sort of archaeological snapshot of different stages in the history of oldsettlemeflts in the Delhi area. At Bborgarb, remains of medieval structures made of Iakhori bricks (slim bricks used in medieval times) were noted, but the medieval levels were too disturbed to yield much detailed evidence. An investigation of archaeological data from medieval settlements is likely to give valuable insights into every-day life in those times, insights that would not be so evident from Persian court chronicles or fabulous royal monuments.

Ancient Indraprastha and the Pürana Qua

There are many different views on the historicitY of the great Sanskrit epic, the Mahal,hafata. Is the story a myth, or does it have a historical kernel? Did the Mahabharata war ever happen? If so, when? Was ancient Indraprastha located at the Purana Qila (Old Fort) in New Delhi? Scholarly opinion is dIvided on such questions.’5 Rather than simply cataloguing the different views, it is useful to look at the sorts of evidence and arguments that have been marshalled in the course of this interesting debate.

If you visit the Purana Qila, you will notice the upward gradient as you walk from the road towards the entrance gate. This is because the fort rests on a mound which marks an ancient settlement. The site was excavated over many years from the 1950s onwards. Brief information about the goals and results of these excavations appeared from time to time in Indian Archaeology— A Review,’6 but unfortunately, the full report has not yet been published. The excavations revealed a sequence from theNorthern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) phase (the dates of this phase range anywhere between the seventh century to the second-first centuries ac) to the medieval period. Pieces of Painted Grey Ware (PGW) were found on the 5face, suggesting that an even older settlement, possibly going back to c. 1000 Bc, may have been located nearby.’

There is a strong belief—the earliest records of this are in fourteenth century texts—that the Purana Qua marks the site of ancient indraprastha, capital of the Pandava heroes of the Mahabha ra a.TheM ,hamta describes the massive walls of the city 05jg magnificent buildings, lakes,and gardens and housing people from different walks of life. The description of the great assembly hail of lndraprastha in the Sabha’Parva, translated from the Sanskrit into English by van Buitenen, provides an entry point into the grand drama of the epic.’8 The background is an episode narrated towards the end of the Adi Parva, the first book of the epic Muna and Krishna help the godAgni bum down the Khandava Ibrest. Only three survivors emerge unharmed from this terrible fire—a serpent named Ashvasena, four birds and a demon-architect named Maya. Maya wants to express his thanks to Arjuna, and Krishna suggests that he could do so by using his talent to build a great assembly hail in the Pandava capital. When we juxtapose the Mahabharata descriptions of Indraprastha and its grand assembly hall with the brief details of the results of the Purana Qua excavations, we are faced with the following undeniable fact: There is no comparison between the colourful description of the city in the epic and the bland, stray. pieces of pottery that represent what may have been the earliest settlement at or near the Purana Qua. This is not surprising. The Mahabharata is a work of imagination (even if it may have been woven around a historical kernel of events) composed over many centuries between c. 400 ac and AD 400. On the other hand, archaeological evidence, by its very nature, reveals the tangible objects of every-day life and is not very helpful when it comes to giving information about specific persons or events.

B.D. Chattopadhaya’s discussion of the correlations between archaeology and the Sanskrit epics’9 raises a number of important questions: What sorts of history can be extracted from the epics? Are the epic characters and places real or imaginary, or a mixture of both? What are the implications of the problematic term ‘epic age’? While some archaeologists and historians have argued that the Mahabharata legend was woven around certain characters and events that may have happened in c. AD 1000, the archaeological data from the Purana Qua or any other site is unlikely to provide clinching evidence for or against this. Ultimately, there is no way of conclusively proving or disproving whether the Pandavas or Kauravas ever lived or whether they fought a bitter war against each other. The limits of the evidence must be acknowledged and A. Ghosh’s word of caution in this respect is important.2° However, regardless of whether the war was ever fought or whether the site of the Purana Qila had anything to do with Indraprastha of epic fame, the archaeological evidence does prove that it was the site of one of several very ancient settlements in the Delhi area.2’

Remains of the Historical Period

From the early historical period, which in north India began in c. 600 BC, the Delhi area acquired a strategic commercjal importance. Due to its location in the watershed between the Indus and Ganga river systems, at the gateway to the Ganga plains, it was well-placed on the Uttarapatha—the major transregional route of travel, trade and communication of north India. This route stretched from the north-western part of the subcontinent, across the IndoGangetic plains up to the port of Tamralipti at the Bay of Bengal. The northern sector of the route ran through Lahore, Jullundar and Saharanpur, along the Ganga plains to Bijnor, and then through Gorakhpur, into Bihar and Bengal in the east. The southern sector connected Lahore, Raiwind, Bhatinda, Delhi, Hastinapur, Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi and Ailahabad and then moved on towards Pataliputra and Rajagriha. Many feeder routes intersected with the main arteries of the Uttarapatha.22 These connected settlements in the Delhi area with others such as Mathura, Taxila, Varanasi, Shravasti and Kaushambi. They also linked up with routes leading into Rajasthan, central and southern India and beyond.

Settlements of the early historical period in the Delhi area can be identified through the presence of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) pottery and archaeological levels belonging to the early centuries AD?3 Although these levels are often referred to as’Mauryan’ or’Shunga-Kushana’ in archaeological writings, political history and archaeological cultures do not neatly dovetail into each other. The chronologies of political history are based on the rise and fall of kingdoms while those of archaeological cultures are based on the changes in the material relics of the daily life of ordinary people. The cultural vibrancy of the period c. 200 Bc—An 200 is evident from the coins, seals, terracottas and other artefacts found at the Purana Qila.

A more visible but not especially well-known witness to these centuries is the rock bearing an inscription of the Maurya emperor Ashoka (269—32 ac) just off Raja lJhir Singh Margin Srinivaspuri/BahaPur, close to Nehru Place.24 The inscription is a version of Ashoka’s Minor Rock Edict I and this is the only Ashokan inscription in Delhi that is in situ (in its original place). The account of how it was discovered and identified, just before the rock was on the verge of being blasted awa shows the accidental manner in which major historical finds are often made, and the vulnerability of ancient remains in the face of the aggressive agencies and agendas of urban, expansion.

The Srinivaspuri edict suggests that the Delhi region was part of the Maurya Empire. The inscription can be used as an introduction to a discussion of early Indian scripts and languages, the classification and distribution of Ashokan inscriptions their contents, and the. nature of Ashoka’s dhamma. The two versions of the text and translation of the Srinivaspuri edict can be compared.25 D.C. Sircar was one of. the most, skilled of Indian epigraphists..HOWever his assertion that the Srinivaspuri edict proves indirectly that Indraprastha was one of the flourishing cities of the Mauryan age is questionable. While some place of importance must certainly have been located in the vicinity of the rock edict, exactly which one it was and what it was known as, is uncertain.

Remains of the period c. 300—600 AD have been found at sites such as the Purana Qua and Mandoli. But the most striking and best known is the iron pillar in the Jami Masjid in the Qutb complex in Mehrauli. Many think that this is an Ashokan pillar, no doubt because of the large number of pillars that this Maurya emperor erected. But Ashoka’s pillars were made of sandstone, while this one is of metal. The iron pillar raises a number of interesting questions such as its exact metallic composition and original location?6 Scientific analysis has shorn the pillar of some of its mystery and has demonstrated that although it is an impressive example of ancient metallurgy, it is not entirely rust-free.

Just as enigmatic as the pillar is the major inscription on its surface. This evokes the memory of a great king in elegant and evocative Sanskrit.27 The question is: Who was the king eulogized in the inscription? The strongest contender is the Gupta king Chandragupta II (in 375—413/14), but there are others as well.28 The inscription provides an entry point into discussing other issues such as the evolution of the Brahmi script, the increasing use of Sanskrit in royal inscriptions, and the way in ancient Indian political history is constructed.

The Early Medieval Period

Today, one of the most important aspects of Delhi’s personality is its role as a capital city, the premier centre of political power and activity in India. In ancient times (leaving aside the debatable issue of Indraprastha), the first time the city clearly assumed such a role was in the early medieval period during the time of the Tomara Rajputs. The relics of Tomara rule can be seen in the ruins of a fort and stone masonry dam at Anangpur village and in the citadel of Lal Kot.29 The Tomara connection is also marked on the Mehrauli iron pillar, which has a short inscription referring to a king named Anangapala. Tomara rule made way for that of the Chauhans (also known as the Chahamanas) and the Lal Kot fortifications were enlarged to form Qila Rai Pithora. Remains of what is often referred to as the ‘Rajput Period’ have also been found at the Purana Qila, but these are not associated with the name of any specific king. Apart from these tangible remains, the Tomara connection with Delhi also surfaces in legends that link the naming of the city with a king of this dynasty.3°

It is evident that settlements in the Delhi area go back to stone age times, and that many different settlements, urban and rural, emerged and flourished at different points in the historical period. However,—again with the possible exception of Indraprastha—we do not know what these settlements were known as. The earliest reference to a place name close to the name ‘Diii’ (Delhi is its anglicized form) belongs to the early medieval period_AnangaPa1a Tomara’s inscription on the Mehrauli iron pillar seems to refer to Dhihi or Dihali.3’

A similar name occurs in three thirteenth and fourteenth century inscriptions, which, among other things, confirm the sequence of rulers over the area and also mention the name Hariyana or Hariyanaka.32 A thirteenth century inscription found in a baoli (step well) in Palam village, not far from the airport, records the building of a step well by Uddhara, a householder of Dhilli. it states that the land of Hariyanaka was first enjoyed by the Tomaras, then by the Chauhans and then by the ‘Shakas Shaka, in this case, is used for the early Delhi Sultans, as the inscription lists kings from Muhammad Ghor to Balban.33 It also gives Yoginipura as another name for Dhilhi. The thirteenth century Delhi Museum Stone inscription found at Sonepat near Delhi records the construCtiOn of a well in SuvarnapraStha village and tells us that Dhillika in the Hariyana country was ruled successively by the Tomaras, Chahamanas and Shakas.A fourteenth century inscription discovered in Sarban village near Raisina road records the building of a well by two merchants named Khetala and Paitala in Saravala village in the administrative division known as sequence of rulers is given, except that’Shaka is replaced by ‘Turushka A fourteenth century inscription found at Naraina records the construction of a well by a person named Shridhara. it mentions Dhilli as situated in the great province of Hariyafla, and locates Nadayafla (i.e. Naraina) village to the west of indraprastha. Apart from throwing light on the participation of wealthy people such as merchants in the construction of public works such as wells, these inscriptions contain some of the earliest references to names similar to Dilli and Haryana.

The Interface between the Ancient, Medieval and Modern

The Ashokan pillar that stands today in Firoz Shah Kotla was brought here from Topra in Haryana in the fourteenth century at the direction of Sultan Firuz Shah Tughluq. The one that stands opposite Bara Hindu Rao hospital on the northern ridge, not far from Delhi University, was brought here from Meerut at the orders of the same king. How and why these pillars were transported to Delhi make us reflect on an important fact—that ancient artefacts were often re-used and reinterpreted in radically different ways in later times.M The story of the Mehxauli iron pillar,which came tobe and a legend about the naming of Delhi, is another reminder of the interesting medieval and modern histories of ancient remains.

The case study of the 1abgarhtehSilbYYanj0t Lahiri and myself moves beyond what scholars think about the historical landscape towards how this landscape is experienced and understood by the villagers who live inits midst.35 ft demonstrates how the hills and plains are geographical segments which are intimately connected with each other politically, socially, economically and culturally. We are used to viewing and admiring ancient artefacts as exhibits in museums, but they can occur in other settings as well, as part of the lived environment of communities. Villagers in the Ballabgarh area routinely assemble sculptural fragments found from time to time in their fields, in village shrines. Some of these fragments can be identified as being very old on stylistic grounds. This practice is known in other areas as well and goes back at least to the nineteenth century. It is yet another striking example of the re-use and reinterpretation of ancient artefacts in modern times.

The ancient history of the Delhi area is still very imperfectly understood and there is a great need for further exploration and study. Since Delhi is a living, growing city ancient sites are being systematically destroyed by the combined impact of modernization, ignorance, indifference and neglect. Stone age sites in the Badarpur hills are fast disappearing due to quarrying while those on the southern ridge may soon be destroyed by the building of apartment complexes and shopping malls. Ancient mounds are being levelled to make houses, factories and roads or converted into agricultural fields. Some sort of compromise needs to be worked out between the pressing demands of modern lives and livelihoods and the need to preserve fast-vanishing relics of ancient times. An understanding of the early history of the Delhi area will hopefully make people aware of just how fragile and vulnerable its ancient remains are and also stimulate a concern for their documentation and conservation.

Contents
Acknowledgementix
Introductionxi
PART ISTONE AGE SITES IN THE DELHI AREA
River Migration and the Floods: A Study of a Section of Yamuna River through Remote Sensing3
A.K. Grover and P.L. Bakliwal
A Preliminary Report on the Stone Age of the Union Territory of Delhi and Haryana6
Dilip K. Chakrabarti and Nayanjot Lahiri
Prehistoric Delhi and its Neighbourhood: Physical Features14
A.K.Sharma
PART IIPROTOHISTORIC SETTLEMENTS: LATE HARAPPAN REMAINS AT BHORGARH AND MANDOLI
Mandoli: A Late Harappan Settlement in Delhi29
B.S.R. Babu
Excavations at Bhorgarh33
B.S.R. Babu
Bhorgarh and Mandoli36
B.R.Mani
Protohistoric Archaeological Remains of Union Territory of Delhi41
R.C. Thakran
PART IllARCHAEOLOGY AND LEGEND
Excavations at the Purana Qila, New Delhi53
Indian Archaeology: A Review
The l3uilding of the Assembly Hall62
JAB. van Buitenen
Indian Archaeology and the Epic Traditions68
B.D. Chattopadhyaya
Mahäbharata: Myth and Reality77
S.R Gupta and K.S. Ramachandran
PART IVTHE EARLY HISTORIC PERIOD: THE ASHOKAN ROCK EDICT AT SHRINIVASPURI/BAHAPUR
A Tale of Two Pillars119
Upinder Singh
A Newly Discovered Inscription of Asoka atBahapur, Delhi123
M.C. Joshi and B.M. Pande
New Delhi Inscription of Asoka126
D.C. Sircar
PART VTHE MEHRAULI IRON PILLAR INSCRIPTION
The Mehrauli Iron Pillar133
M.C. Joshi
Mehrauli Iron Pillar Inscription of Chandra179
B. Chha bra and G.S. Gal
PART VITHE EARLY MEDIEVAL PERIOD: Lalkotandanangpur
Excavations at Lal Kot 1991—92 and Further Explorations in Delhi185
B.R. Mani
Anangpur Fort: The Earliest Tomar Settlement Near Delhi 200
B.R. Mani and I.D. Dwivedi
PART VIITHE MEDIEVAL AND MODERN HISTORY OF ANCIENT REMAINS
The Later Histories of the Ashokari and Mehrauli Pillars207
Upinder Singh
In the Shadow of New Delhi: Understanding the Landscape through Village Eyes212
Nayanjot Lahiri and Upinder Singh
Index225

Delhi Ancient History

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Back of the Book
Delhi: Ancient History

Not many people know that the busy and bustling capital city of Delhi and its surroundings have a long past, going back thousands of years. Prehistoric stone tools have surfaced here and many ancient remains have been found, sometimes accidentally by farmers tilling their fields, and at other times by archaeologists carrying out systematic excavations. A mound one passes everyday or a narrow strip of stream tells a story of ancient times. Centuries of history coexist with metro stations and plush cars.

The readings in this book give us glimpses of the lives of people who lived over the centuries in the Delhi area, and how these details are pieced together by historians. It brings into focus the importance of the historian’s method and the sources of information found in ancient texts, archaeology and even legends and folklore, sometimes hanging on the thread of a slender historical fact.

The editor of the volume, points to the urgency of further exploration and documentation to fill in the still all-too-meagre details of Delhi’s ancient history. However, she ends on a note of caution, bordering on alarm, when she points out that invaluable evidence of the city’s past is being extensively destroyed due to quarrying and the construction of new roads and buildings. Such activities are an integral part of the modernization of a living city but the balance between modernization and the preservation of ancient remains is indeed very fragile and needs to be maintained from an informed and realistic perspective.

Upinder Singh teaches ancient Indian history at the University of Delhi. She is the author of Kings, Brahmanas and Temples in Orissa:An Epigraphic Study (A.D. 300-1147) (Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, 1994), The Discovery of Ancient India: Early archaeologists and the beginnings of archaeology (Delhi, Permanent Black, 2004) and Ancient Delhi (Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1999, 2’ edition with a new Preface and Introduction, 2006).

This collection of essays has been put together by a teacher for students of history,but will also be of enormous value to a large number of other interested readers.

Other books in the series:

Cultural History of Modern India Edited by Dilip M. Menon

Cultural History of Medieval India

Edited by Meenakshi Khanna

Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge all authors and pubusi-iers who have been generous in allowing us to excerpt their works in this book of readings. We have had to make some minor editorial changes and reductions in the interest of our readers. In a few chapters, there is some overlap in content. This has been unavoidable, as the essays have been drawn from various sources.

Introduction

Delhi’s history is etched over its landscape in stone. magnificent forts, mosques and tombs of the Sultanate and Mughal periods evoke the aura of the medieval world while the stately layout and architecture of Lutyens’ Delhi bear the imposing imprint of British imperial rule. Apart from the well- known monuments that symbolize the power of those who ruled here (e.g. the Qutb Minar, Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, the Viceroy’s residence, the Secretariat and Council House), glimpses of the city’s eventful history can also be seen in countless other places. These include the narrow galis and havelis of Chandni Chowk, the dargah of SheikhNizamuddin Auliya in Nizamuddin, the Flagstaff on the ridge near the main gate of Delhi University, St. James’ Church in Kashmiri Gate, Delhi College near Ajmeri Gate and the Coronation Park near Kingsway Camp.’ The structures and spaces proclaiming independent India mainly consist of memorials to deceased national leaders. Several colonial monuments have been converted into symbols of national identity through marginal modification, the sheer fact of their new function and occupancy, or through announcement.2 But where are Delhi’s ancient remains?

The Delhi area has an incredibly long and eventful ancient past, beginning thousands of years ago in the stone age and merging at the other end into the medieval period when the Rajputs made way for Delhi Sultans in the twelfth century This collection of readings aims at making people aware of this history. It is inspired by the idea that history does not necessarily have to be something distant and remote that one reads about in books; it can be something exciting whose relics one can often see in the immediate neighbourhood, something which one can imagine, explore and enjoy. The ancient history of the Delhi area also opens up many other issues, such as the different types of sources historians use, how they interpret the evidence from these sources, the distinction between well-established facts and the grey areas of continuing doubt and debate. Further, since Delhi occupies a space that has been lived in over many mifiennia, it gives many fascinating examples of the interface between the ancient, medieval and modern, which makes it possible to retlect on the connections, continuities and ruptures across the ages.

The writings collected in this book deal with various phases and facets of Delhi’s ancient and early medieval past. They give us glimpses into the lives of people who lived in the many settlements—some rural, some urban—located in this area over the centuries. Since the boundaries of states and cities with which we are familiar did not exist in ancient times, we are justified in surveying the evidence from the National Capital Region, which includes the National Capital Territory of Delhi as well as neighbouring areas such as Faridabad and Gurgaon in Haryana and Ghaziabad, NOIDA and Greater NOIDA in Uttar Pradesh.

Some of the readings are fairly technical and detailed and may make for somewhat terse and dry reading. This is because they have been written for professional historians and archaeologists. In order to understand and appreciate the readings, it is essential to decode the scholarly language and technical vocabulary and to identify the basic data and arguments. It is also necessary to go beyond the text by reading around and expanding on the larger context and implications of specific details. It is possible to visit the places mentioned in the excerpts, to see the objects they describe, and to animate their details through imagination.

The Sources of Delhi’s Ancient History

References to Delhi’s history In ancient literature frequently take the form of legends, which have to be examined carefully and critically. Myths cannot be treated as historical facts but they sometimes encode historical elements in an indirect way. The same applies to local traditions, i.e. beliefs that are current in a place about that place. In some cases, these traditions have been recorded and written down, but more often than not, they survive in people’s memory and in the form of oral narratives. The legends about how Delhi got its name are good examples of myths and local traditions that reflect interesting claims and connections, even though they are clearly not historical facts. One such legend, recorded in medieval texts, connects Delhi with the epic king Dilipa. Giving historical persons and places legitimacy and prestige by anchoring them to the epic-Puranic tradition was a practice that is encountered in other contexts as well, for instance in royal genealogies in ancient and early medieval inscriptions. Another more colourful legend, recorded in Rajasthani bardic literature, connects the founding of Dilli with the Mehrauli iron pillar, the Rajput king Anangapala Tomara and a serpent demon Vasuki.3 This too is obviously a myth. However, it is a myth woven around a single, slender historical fact—the establishing of a political centre in Delhi by Anangapala.

Apart from the few references in indigenous and foreign literary sources, more direct clues to Delhi’s ancient past lie in archaeology, the discipline which deals with the human past as it is revealed through material remains. rchaeOlOgical data includes artefacts (objects made by humans) and other tangible remains such as structures, burials, plants and bones. Taken together, such data can tell us quite abit about the everyday lives of ancient people. Pottery is an especiallY significant type of artefact, not only because it was an important part of daily life, but also because archaeologists can identify various types of pottery with cultural sequences and specific periods of time.4 chaeOlOgiSt5 use the term ‘culture’ in a technical sense for recurring assemblages of material traits. One of the issues that needs to be explored is how this technical sense of ‘culture’ can be linked to the wider meaning of the word, which includes within it all the patterns of behaviour which an individual learns and absorbs from the larger social group.

The remains of ancient sites in the Delhi area are sometimes visible in the form of inounds.A few of these (such as the Purana Qila, Bhorgarh and Mandoli) have been excavated, but many more have not. The remains embedded deep in ancient sites often get disturbed due to human activities such as farming or construCtiOn and find their way to the surface. Because of this, it is possible to get clues to the ancient history of a site by a careful survey of what lies on its surface. This 50 of archaeological exploration does not require fancy equipment or huge sums of money. it requires planning energy, a recognition and nderstaflding of ancient remains and an ability to accurately document and describe them.

The history of Delhi—Or any other place for that matter__canflot’0e treated in isolation. It has to be understood within larger frames of referenCe. To do this one has to conteXtuali this history within the larger patterns of political socioeconOmic and cultural history of northern India or of the subcontinent as a whole. But it, is equally if not more important to look closely at the relationship between settlements in the Delhi area and their immediate physical environment and with settlements elsewhere. This gives usa different kind of history, one whose texture and rhythms differ from those of the larger, conventional, macro-le storical narratives we are used to, but which is perhaps a more meaningful way of understanding the way of life of ancient people.

The Ancient Environment

The history of people and their settlements is intimately connected with the specificities of their physical environment. The basic physiOgraPhY of the Delhi region using local terminOl0Y, consists of the kohi or pahari , the khadar, the hangar, and the dabar. The kohi or pahari are the hills, which we know as the different sections of the Delhi ridge. The khadarOr the’neW alluvium’ consists of the more recent deposits of the Yamuna river. To its west lies the bangar, the higher ‘old alluvium’ created by the deposits set down by the river in its older courses long, long ago. The dabar is a low-lying, flood-prone area in southwest Delhi. It lies to the west of the hills and consists of the catchment area of the streams that flow westwards from them.

The contours of the physical landscape of Delhi as we see it today, including its flora and fauna, are in many ways very different from what they were thousands of years ago. Take the case of the various sections of the ridge, which consists of four parts—the Southern, South-central, Central/New Delhi, and NorthernlOld Delhi sections. Together, these constitute the very eroded, northernmost extensions of the Aravallis, the oldest mountains in India, formed hundreds of millions of years ago. The Aravallis stretch across from Gujarat into Rajasthan and Haryana and enter Delhi from Gurgaon inihe southwest. The hills run through the city in a roughly north-eastern direction, terminating in Wazirabad in north Delhi on the right bank of the Yamuna. Today, the height of the rocky outcrops of the Delhi ridge range between 2.5 m and 90 m above the flood plain in north and south Delhi respectively. In ancient times, they must have been much higher.

Those who enjoy the ‘natural’ (though somewhat manicured) scenic beauty of the northern ridge on their morning walks may not be aware of the fact that the forest here is largely an artificial creation. The first steps in the ‘vegetal renovation’ of sections of the northern and central ridge took place during the years after the 1857 revolt and the major afforestation of the central ridge happened after the British shifted their capital to Delhi in 1912. The original vegetation of the ridge can be inferred from the Rajasthan Aravallis or, closer home, from the small Mangarbani forest lying to the south of Delhi, on the border with Faridabad.5 There is no doubt that in ancient times, the flora and fauna of the ridge was radically different from what it is today.

The Yamuna is another major landmark of Delhi’s physical landscape. With its depleted and polluted waters, the river cuts a rather sorry figure, attracting attention only during the monsoons when it often swells above danger levels. But the Yamuna has a long and eventful history and has played an important role in the history of settlements in the Delhi area. Geologists suggest that the river once flowed into the Ghaggar-Hakra and had a much more westerly course. Overtime, it tended to move more and more eastwards, until it finally joined up with the Ganga. The jhils (lakes) at Najafgarh, Surajkund and Barkhal represent remnants of the Yamuna’s old courses. While the Yamuna is the major perennial river flowing through Delhi, the smaller streams are also important. These have often taken the form of nalas noted by the urban population of Delhi more for their dirty, stinking water than for their ecological or historical importance. Some of the old streams have dried up completelY others carry much less water than they once did. Several streams, the most important of which is the Bhuriya nala, emerge and flow eastwards from the hilly stretches of Ballabgarh, south of Delhi. Ancient settlements often tended to cluster in the catchment areas of such water resources.

There is so far very little detailed work on the palaeoeflvir0nmt (the old or ancient environment) of the Delhi region. Grover and Bakliwal’S short article illustrates how modern scientific tchniqUe5 of satellite imagery can give significant information about ancient landscPeS, and therefore remains importantY Charting six successive stages in the migration of the Yamufla, Grover and BakliWal’s major conclusion is that the river’s migration ranged over about 100 km in the northern and western parts of Delhi to 40 km in the south. About 4,000 years ago, the river apparentlY flowed through the Badarpur hills, it gradually moved eastwards into the plains area till it came to flow closer to, and then, along its present course.

Prehistoric StoneTools

The part of the human past covered,bY written records is very minuscule. PrehistorY_historY before writing—is the longest part of the human past, and stone tools are its most ubiquitouS of prehistoric remains requires an understanding of the vocabulary and termiflOl0Y used by prehistorians. ThiS includes the classification of the stone age into three broad pháseS_.pa1aeolit mesolithic and neolithic—On the basis of geological age, typical stone tools, and subsistence base (i.e., how people obtained their food). It also requires a familiarity with the basic stone tool types and the technologies involved in crafting them.

Since 1956, when Surajit Sinha found four lower palaeolithic tools near the main gate of Delhi UniverSitY, many more discoveries have been reported and it is clear that stone age humans found Delhi’s habitat suitable for their purposes. Stone age sites tended to be concentrated in the rocky areas of the ridge where animal and plant food,water, shelter, and raw materials for making tools were available in adequate quantities. The stone tools documented so far range from lower palaeolithic artefacts to tiny stone tools known as microliths. Specific dates are unavailable,t a rough guess is that human activity in this area may go back to around 100,000 years.

AnangpUr in the BadarpUr hills is the only excavated stone age site in the Delhi area.9 The thousands of palaeolithic tools found in the course of the excavations indicate that this was an exceptionally large prehistoric hbitatiOfl site and also a factory site (a site where stone tools were made). A.1C. Sharma and his team connected the stone tools found at AnangPUr with the remains of palaeochaflnel5 (old channels) of the Yarnufla, identified via Landsat imagery.

As mentioned earlier, archaeological exploration in the form of a careful survey of artefacts and other features found on the surface of the ground can yield valuable results. Chakrabarti and Lahiri’s 1985—6 survey of stone age sites in the Aravalli stretches of south Delhi and adjoining areas of Haryana resulted in the discovery of forty-three sites ranging from the lower palaeolithic to the microlithic.’° Many more stone age sites are no doubt waiting to be discovered and there is a great need to extend the search for prehistoric stone tools to other parts of Delhi. More research is also required into the details of the prehistoric environment. All this would add considerably to the information on the prehistory of the Delhi area, so that it becomes more than just a catalogue of sites and tools.

Protohistoric Remains

‘Protohistory’ and ‘protohistoric’ are words that are used in different senses by scholars. They can refer to non-literate cultures mentioned in the written records of contemporary literate cultures, Or they can be used for literate cultures (such as the Harappan civilization) whose script has not yet been deciphered. They can also refer to periods for which we have literature, but no evidence of writing. Archaeologists often use the term protohistory to cover cultures stretching from the beginning of food production to the advent of iron technology.

The most significant protohistoric remains in the Delhi area are the late Harappan remains at the sites of Bhorgarh near Narela and Mandoli near Nand Nagari. The late Harappan culture represents the post-urban phase of the Harappan or Indus civilization. The evidence from late Harappan sites clearly indicates that the civilization did not come to an abrupt end, rather it underwent a progressive ‘ruralization? The reasons for this phenomenon remain the matter of a fascinating, on-going debate.” B.S.R. Babu, who directed the Bhorgarb and Mandoli excavations, has summarized the major finds.’2 Among the most spectacular discoveries were two graves (one with grave goods) at Bhorgarh. The location of these two late Harappan sites in the Delhi area is not surprising as many sites of this phase have been found in Flaryana and western Uttar Pradesh. However, B.R. Mani has raised doubts about the description of the earliest levels at Bhorgarh and Mandoli as late Harappan.’3 This can be used to discuss the crucial role of interpretation in archaeology at levels ranging from the classification of artefacts to making historical inferences.

The documentation of ancient sites has to take into account the specificities of terrain, soil and climate that are so crucial to the quality of human life. A preliminary survey by R.C. Thakran gives glimpses of possible protohistoric andiarly historic remains in north-western Delhi and tries to relate them to their physiograPhic setting, specifically the khadar and bangar.’4 There is much that remains to be discovered and worked out in relation to the protohistoric settlement history of the Delhi area. While recognizing the significance of the discoveries made at the earliest levels at Bhorgarh and Mandoli, it is equally important to note that these form part of a much longer cultural sequence. Mandoli was occupied from about the second millennium ac to the sixth century n, while the occupation of Bhorgarh extended from about the second millennium Bc to the sixteenth- seventeenth century P,D. Thus,lth sites provide a sort of archaeological snapshot of different stages in the history of oldsettlemeflts in the Delhi area. At Bborgarb, remains of medieval structures made of Iakhori bricks (slim bricks used in medieval times) were noted, but the medieval levels were too disturbed to yield much detailed evidence. An investigation of archaeological data from medieval settlements is likely to give valuable insights into every-day life in those times, insights that would not be so evident from Persian court chronicles or fabulous royal monuments.

Ancient Indraprastha and the Pürana Qua

There are many different views on the historicitY of the great Sanskrit epic, the Mahal,hafata. Is the story a myth, or does it have a historical kernel? Did the Mahabharata war ever happen? If so, when? Was ancient Indraprastha located at the Purana Qila (Old Fort) in New Delhi? Scholarly opinion is dIvided on such questions.’5 Rather than simply cataloguing the different views, it is useful to look at the sorts of evidence and arguments that have been marshalled in the course of this interesting debate.

If you visit the Purana Qila, you will notice the upward gradient as you walk from the road towards the entrance gate. This is because the fort rests on a mound which marks an ancient settlement. The site was excavated over many years from the 1950s onwards. Brief information about the goals and results of these excavations appeared from time to time in Indian Archaeology— A Review,’6 but unfortunately, the full report has not yet been published. The excavations revealed a sequence from theNorthern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) phase (the dates of this phase range anywhere between the seventh century to the second-first centuries ac) to the medieval period. Pieces of Painted Grey Ware (PGW) were found on the 5face, suggesting that an even older settlement, possibly going back to c. 1000 Bc, may have been located nearby.’

There is a strong belief—the earliest records of this are in fourteenth century texts—that the Purana Qua marks the site of ancient indraprastha, capital of the Pandava heroes of the Mahabha ra a.TheM ,hamta describes the massive walls of the city 05jg magnificent buildings, lakes,and gardens and housing people from different walks of life. The description of the great assembly hail of lndraprastha in the Sabha’Parva, translated from the Sanskrit into English by van Buitenen, provides an entry point into the grand drama of the epic.’8 The background is an episode narrated towards the end of the Adi Parva, the first book of the epic Muna and Krishna help the godAgni bum down the Khandava Ibrest. Only three survivors emerge unharmed from this terrible fire—a serpent named Ashvasena, four birds and a demon-architect named Maya. Maya wants to express his thanks to Arjuna, and Krishna suggests that he could do so by using his talent to build a great assembly hail in the Pandava capital. When we juxtapose the Mahabharata descriptions of Indraprastha and its grand assembly hall with the brief details of the results of the Purana Qua excavations, we are faced with the following undeniable fact: There is no comparison between the colourful description of the city in the epic and the bland, stray. pieces of pottery that represent what may have been the earliest settlement at or near the Purana Qua. This is not surprising. The Mahabharata is a work of imagination (even if it may have been woven around a historical kernel of events) composed over many centuries between c. 400 ac and AD 400. On the other hand, archaeological evidence, by its very nature, reveals the tangible objects of every-day life and is not very helpful when it comes to giving information about specific persons or events.

B.D. Chattopadhaya’s discussion of the correlations between archaeology and the Sanskrit epics’9 raises a number of important questions: What sorts of history can be extracted from the epics? Are the epic characters and places real or imaginary, or a mixture of both? What are the implications of the problematic term ‘epic age’? While some archaeologists and historians have argued that the Mahabharata legend was woven around certain characters and events that may have happened in c. AD 1000, the archaeological data from the Purana Qua or any other site is unlikely to provide clinching evidence for or against this. Ultimately, there is no way of conclusively proving or disproving whether the Pandavas or Kauravas ever lived or whether they fought a bitter war against each other. The limits of the evidence must be acknowledged and A. Ghosh’s word of caution in this respect is important.2° However, regardless of whether the war was ever fought or whether the site of the Purana Qila had anything to do with Indraprastha of epic fame, the archaeological evidence does prove that it was the site of one of several very ancient settlements in the Delhi area.2’

Remains of the Historical Period

From the early historical period, which in north India began in c. 600 BC, the Delhi area acquired a strategic commercjal importance. Due to its location in the watershed between the Indus and Ganga river systems, at the gateway to the Ganga plains, it was well-placed on the Uttarapatha—the major transregional route of travel, trade and communication of north India. This route stretched from the north-western part of the subcontinent, across the IndoGangetic plains up to the port of Tamralipti at the Bay of Bengal. The northern sector of the route ran through Lahore, Jullundar and Saharanpur, along the Ganga plains to Bijnor, and then through Gorakhpur, into Bihar and Bengal in the east. The southern sector connected Lahore, Raiwind, Bhatinda, Delhi, Hastinapur, Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi and Ailahabad and then moved on towards Pataliputra and Rajagriha. Many feeder routes intersected with the main arteries of the Uttarapatha.22 These connected settlements in the Delhi area with others such as Mathura, Taxila, Varanasi, Shravasti and Kaushambi. They also linked up with routes leading into Rajasthan, central and southern India and beyond.

Settlements of the early historical period in the Delhi area can be identified through the presence of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) pottery and archaeological levels belonging to the early centuries AD?3 Although these levels are often referred to as’Mauryan’ or’Shunga-Kushana’ in archaeological writings, political history and archaeological cultures do not neatly dovetail into each other. The chronologies of political history are based on the rise and fall of kingdoms while those of archaeological cultures are based on the changes in the material relics of the daily life of ordinary people. The cultural vibrancy of the period c. 200 Bc—An 200 is evident from the coins, seals, terracottas and other artefacts found at the Purana Qila.

A more visible but not especially well-known witness to these centuries is the rock bearing an inscription of the Maurya emperor Ashoka (269—32 ac) just off Raja lJhir Singh Margin Srinivaspuri/BahaPur, close to Nehru Place.24 The inscription is a version of Ashoka’s Minor Rock Edict I and this is the only Ashokan inscription in Delhi that is in situ (in its original place). The account of how it was discovered and identified, just before the rock was on the verge of being blasted awa shows the accidental manner in which major historical finds are often made, and the vulnerability of ancient remains in the face of the aggressive agencies and agendas of urban, expansion.

The Srinivaspuri edict suggests that the Delhi region was part of the Maurya Empire. The inscription can be used as an introduction to a discussion of early Indian scripts and languages, the classification and distribution of Ashokan inscriptions their contents, and the. nature of Ashoka’s dhamma. The two versions of the text and translation of the Srinivaspuri edict can be compared.25 D.C. Sircar was one of. the most, skilled of Indian epigraphists..HOWever his assertion that the Srinivaspuri edict proves indirectly that Indraprastha was one of the flourishing cities of the Mauryan age is questionable. While some place of importance must certainly have been located in the vicinity of the rock edict, exactly which one it was and what it was known as, is uncertain.

Remains of the period c. 300—600 AD have been found at sites such as the Purana Qua and Mandoli. But the most striking and best known is the iron pillar in the Jami Masjid in the Qutb complex in Mehrauli. Many think that this is an Ashokan pillar, no doubt because of the large number of pillars that this Maurya emperor erected. But Ashoka’s pillars were made of sandstone, while this one is of metal. The iron pillar raises a number of interesting questions such as its exact metallic composition and original location?6 Scientific analysis has shorn the pillar of some of its mystery and has demonstrated that although it is an impressive example of ancient metallurgy, it is not entirely rust-free.

Just as enigmatic as the pillar is the major inscription on its surface. This evokes the memory of a great king in elegant and evocative Sanskrit.27 The question is: Who was the king eulogized in the inscription? The strongest contender is the Gupta king Chandragupta II (in 375—413/14), but there are others as well.28 The inscription provides an entry point into discussing other issues such as the evolution of the Brahmi script, the increasing use of Sanskrit in royal inscriptions, and the way in ancient Indian political history is constructed.

The Early Medieval Period

Today, one of the most important aspects of Delhi’s personality is its role as a capital city, the premier centre of political power and activity in India. In ancient times (leaving aside the debatable issue of Indraprastha), the first time the city clearly assumed such a role was in the early medieval period during the time of the Tomara Rajputs. The relics of Tomara rule can be seen in the ruins of a fort and stone masonry dam at Anangpur village and in the citadel of Lal Kot.29 The Tomara connection is also marked on the Mehrauli iron pillar, which has a short inscription referring to a king named Anangapala. Tomara rule made way for that of the Chauhans (also known as the Chahamanas) and the Lal Kot fortifications were enlarged to form Qila Rai Pithora. Remains of what is often referred to as the ‘Rajput Period’ have also been found at the Purana Qila, but these are not associated with the name of any specific king. Apart from these tangible remains, the Tomara connection with Delhi also surfaces in legends that link the naming of the city with a king of this dynasty.3°

It is evident that settlements in the Delhi area go back to stone age times, and that many different settlements, urban and rural, emerged and flourished at different points in the historical period. However,—again with the possible exception of Indraprastha—we do not know what these settlements were known as. The earliest reference to a place name close to the name ‘Diii’ (Delhi is its anglicized form) belongs to the early medieval period_AnangaPa1a Tomara’s inscription on the Mehrauli iron pillar seems to refer to Dhihi or Dihali.3’

A similar name occurs in three thirteenth and fourteenth century inscriptions, which, among other things, confirm the sequence of rulers over the area and also mention the name Hariyana or Hariyanaka.32 A thirteenth century inscription found in a baoli (step well) in Palam village, not far from the airport, records the building of a step well by Uddhara, a householder of Dhilli. it states that the land of Hariyanaka was first enjoyed by the Tomaras, then by the Chauhans and then by the ‘Shakas Shaka, in this case, is used for the early Delhi Sultans, as the inscription lists kings from Muhammad Ghor to Balban.33 It also gives Yoginipura as another name for Dhilhi. The thirteenth century Delhi Museum Stone inscription found at Sonepat near Delhi records the construCtiOn of a well in SuvarnapraStha village and tells us that Dhillika in the Hariyana country was ruled successively by the Tomaras, Chahamanas and Shakas.A fourteenth century inscription discovered in Sarban village near Raisina road records the building of a well by two merchants named Khetala and Paitala in Saravala village in the administrative division known as sequence of rulers is given, except that’Shaka is replaced by ‘Turushka A fourteenth century inscription found at Naraina records the construction of a well by a person named Shridhara. it mentions Dhilli as situated in the great province of Hariyafla, and locates Nadayafla (i.e. Naraina) village to the west of indraprastha. Apart from throwing light on the participation of wealthy people such as merchants in the construction of public works such as wells, these inscriptions contain some of the earliest references to names similar to Dilli and Haryana.

The Interface between the Ancient, Medieval and Modern

The Ashokan pillar that stands today in Firoz Shah Kotla was brought here from Topra in Haryana in the fourteenth century at the direction of Sultan Firuz Shah Tughluq. The one that stands opposite Bara Hindu Rao hospital on the northern ridge, not far from Delhi University, was brought here from Meerut at the orders of the same king. How and why these pillars were transported to Delhi make us reflect on an important fact—that ancient artefacts were often re-used and reinterpreted in radically different ways in later times.M The story of the Mehxauli iron pillar,which came tobe and a legend about the naming of Delhi, is another reminder of the interesting medieval and modern histories of ancient remains.

The case study of the 1abgarhtehSilbYYanj0t Lahiri and myself moves beyond what scholars think about the historical landscape towards how this landscape is experienced and understood by the villagers who live inits midst.35 ft demonstrates how the hills and plains are geographical segments which are intimately connected with each other politically, socially, economically and culturally. We are used to viewing and admiring ancient artefacts as exhibits in museums, but they can occur in other settings as well, as part of the lived environment of communities. Villagers in the Ballabgarh area routinely assemble sculptural fragments found from time to time in their fields, in village shrines. Some of these fragments can be identified as being very old on stylistic grounds. This practice is known in other areas as well and goes back at least to the nineteenth century. It is yet another striking example of the re-use and reinterpretation of ancient artefacts in modern times.

The ancient history of the Delhi area is still very imperfectly understood and there is a great need for further exploration and study. Since Delhi is a living, growing city ancient sites are being systematically destroyed by the combined impact of modernization, ignorance, indifference and neglect. Stone age sites in the Badarpur hills are fast disappearing due to quarrying while those on the southern ridge may soon be destroyed by the building of apartment complexes and shopping malls. Ancient mounds are being levelled to make houses, factories and roads or converted into agricultural fields. Some sort of compromise needs to be worked out between the pressing demands of modern lives and livelihoods and the need to preserve fast-vanishing relics of ancient times. An understanding of the early history of the Delhi area will hopefully make people aware of just how fragile and vulnerable its ancient remains are and also stimulate a concern for their documentation and conservation.

Contents
Acknowledgementix
Introductionxi
PART ISTONE AGE SITES IN THE DELHI AREA
River Migration and the Floods: A Study of a Section of Yamuna River through Remote Sensing3
A.K. Grover and P.L. Bakliwal
A Preliminary Report on the Stone Age of the Union Territory of Delhi and Haryana6
Dilip K. Chakrabarti and Nayanjot Lahiri
Prehistoric Delhi and its Neighbourhood: Physical Features14
A.K.Sharma
PART IIPROTOHISTORIC SETTLEMENTS: LATE HARAPPAN REMAINS AT BHORGARH AND MANDOLI
Mandoli: A Late Harappan Settlement in Delhi29
B.S.R. Babu
Excavations at Bhorgarh33
B.S.R. Babu
Bhorgarh and Mandoli36
B.R.Mani
Protohistoric Archaeological Remains of Union Territory of Delhi41
R.C. Thakran
PART IllARCHAEOLOGY AND LEGEND
Excavations at the Purana Qila, New Delhi53
Indian Archaeology: A Review
The l3uilding of the Assembly Hall62
JAB. van Buitenen
Indian Archaeology and the Epic Traditions68
B.D. Chattopadhyaya
Mahäbharata: Myth and Reality77
S.R Gupta and K.S. Ramachandran
PART IVTHE EARLY HISTORIC PERIOD: THE ASHOKAN ROCK EDICT AT SHRINIVASPURI/BAHAPUR
A Tale of Two Pillars119
Upinder Singh
A Newly Discovered Inscription of Asoka atBahapur, Delhi123
M.C. Joshi and B.M. Pande
New Delhi Inscription of Asoka126
D.C. Sircar
PART VTHE MEHRAULI IRON PILLAR INSCRIPTION
The Mehrauli Iron Pillar133
M.C. Joshi
Mehrauli Iron Pillar Inscription of Chandra179
B. Chha bra and G.S. Gal
PART VITHE EARLY MEDIEVAL PERIOD: Lalkotandanangpur
Excavations at Lal Kot 1991—92 and Further Explorations in Delhi185
B.R. Mani
Anangpur Fort: The Earliest Tomar Settlement Near Delhi 200
B.R. Mani and I.D. Dwivedi
PART VIITHE MEDIEVAL AND MODERN HISTORY OF ANCIENT REMAINS
The Later Histories of the Ashokari and Mehrauli Pillars207
Upinder Singh
In the Shadow of New Delhi: Understanding the Landscape through Village Eyes212
Nayanjot Lahiri and Upinder Singh
Index225
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