Marshalling The Past (Ancient India and Its Modern Histories)

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Item Code: NAH313
Author: Nayanjot Lahiri
Publisher: Permanent Black
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 8178243482
Pages: 462 (18 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 650 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Marshalling The Past

Iconic sites and ‘monumental’ subjects in Indian history are the core of this fascinating collection of essays. Nayanjot Lahiri ranges from the Indus cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro to Buddhist Mahabodhi and Sanchi, from the political imprint of the 1857 revolt on parts of Delhi to the partitioning of India’s archaeological heritage in 1947.


Archaeologists find unexpected things during their digs - as does Lahiri. By unearthing new archival material and by looking at the ways in which the personal and the professional mix in their writings, she gives us new facets of two iconic scholars of ancient India, the archaeologist John Marshall and the historian D.D. Kosambi. Both are crucial figures: Marshall headed the group that discovered the Indus civilization; Kosambi changed the way in which ancient Indian history was written after Independence. Lahiri gives us pictures of them that no one else has.


Scholarly, perceptive, and entertaining, Marshalling the Past offers readings of ancient India and its modern histories that will confirm Nayanjot Lahiri’s reputation as one of the most accessible and interesting historians of her generation.


About the Author


Nayanjot Lahiri is a professor at the Department of History, University of Delhi, where she teaches archaeology. She has taught at Hindu College (1982-93) and has written several books, including Pre-Ahom Assam (1991), The Archaeology of Indian Trade Routes (1992), The Decline and Fall of the Indus Civilization (edited; 2000) and Finding Forgotten Cities (2005). She writes widely in the press as well, for publications such as the Telegraph, the Times Higher Education, and the Hindustan Times.




THE ESSAYS IN THIS BOOK, INDEPENDENT ARTICLES here brought together, were written over some twenty years, from 1990 to 2010. As they lie before me now, I’m wondering whether they might yield threads, a unifying pattern, any of those straws that the solemnity of the academic trade obliges one to search out in an effort to suggest that what’s arrayed isn’t a jumble but a tapestry.


The straightest thing common to all of them is me. It is my way of writing and putting things together which provides some coherence to this bunch. The thirteen pieces here constitute about a third of my corpus of academic articles written since 1984. This particular culling is based on a number of factors which relate to my trajectory as an academic, and to some of the subjects and sources pertaining to the Indian past and its modern recovery that have fascinated me. So, let me weave some of that personal history into the fabric of this collection.


When I began my teaching and research career in 1981, I was 21. A privilege, a very great one in hindsight, fell to my lot: Professor Dilip Chakrabarti, who taught archaeology at the Department of History in the University of Delhi, began to guide me. DKC, as he is usually called, was a tough taskmaster who never supervised research to win a popularity contest but only to train his students, so there was much scolding and some cajoling-the latter when it seemed apparent that the former might prove counterproductive.


But the end result was that DKC inculcated in his students, through his own formidable writings and across his office table, the desire to produce quality written work and publish in journals of out- standing pedigree. These I would read in libraries or elsewhere, wherever I could find the published works of scholars that I ad- mired. For that supervision and example, grateful appreciation seems wholly insufficient: this book is dedicated to DKC, and even then it is only part recompense.


Publishing in reputed journals and making presentations at international conferences is part of the trajectory of seasoned academics and this was true of my work as well. I now know that this was both empowering and limiting. Seeing something I’d authored in journals-in which I’d earlier read the works of admired others never failed to thrill me to bits, in part because it so gratifyingly embellished my curriculum vitae. It seemed a great pity, therefore, that such journals and conference proceedings had a very limited circulation in India, since that meant a big chunk of my work was not going to be read as widely in my own country as I would have wanted. This is the reason why the bulk of the papers I have selected for inclusion here are those that have not been easily accessible in India. Apart from introducing a degree of uniformity in the system of citation, pruning the titles of the original publications, and removing some glaring errors of fact and the odd phrase-including the royal ‘we’ that I initially used in imitation of the much used tone of Indian scholars-the essays more or less retain their original format. Themes recur which make for some repetition, but the thought springs conveniently to mind that these repetitions may in fact have an argument in their favour-they link the essays unexpectedly to each other, a virtue quite lacking when they were forlornly singular and uncollected.


What I wrote in academic journals, on many occasions, began outside the cloistered solitude of academia, in the course of pleasant wanderings around all kinds of places, monuments, and museums. Some of the research on John Marshall’s early years in Simla, for instance, happened during the summer of 1997 when my husband and son had to spend part of their summer holiday searching out with me the buildings that housed Marshall and his office establishment. Again, my essay on the history of the 1857 landscape owes much to various visits that I made to the monuments of old Delhi with my son in tow, sharing my attachment to them with him. During those excursions it was his questions and comments that made me realize important facets that then crept into what I was writing: for example, the fact that while the British conquest had created a landscape of imperial sacrifice and bravery, the Indian perspective by contrast-thousands of citizens dead fighting the British or hanged on charges of treason and sedition-was practically invisible in the city. In much the same way, my exploration of the partitioning of India’s past in 1947 began in New Delhi’s National Museum, which houses an excellent collection of artefacts and antiquities from Harappa and Mohenjodaro. It was a collection I frequently looked at, especially whenever I needed a break from the archives in the head office of the Archaeological Survey of India (which stands next to the Museum, a place of wondrous discovery in its own right where I spent years digging out the little-known story of the Indus cities: Lahiri 2005).


Speaking of the Indus cities, ever since I can remember there has been this idea that India lost its Indus heritage in 1947 because practically all the Indus sites fell within the national boundaries of Pakistan. This notion of cataclysmic loss seems to have been drilled into the minds of every student of ancient Indian history, giving credence to the view that nationalism influences understandings of the past. Then, one day, while admiring the Indus collection of the Museum, a question suddenly popped up in my head. How had India, in spite of that loss, managed to retain such a large collection from those cartographically sundered cities? It was in search of an answer to that question that I started sifting through the 1940s files of the Survey.


Mohenjodaro and Harappa inevitably conjure up in my mind’s eye an image of the archaeologist John Marshall who put together the pieces of the puzzle that had emerged from the excavations of those cities, the man who in 1924 first announced the discovery of the long-forgotten Indus civilization. The title of the present volume, Marshalling the Past, plays on that connection and links many of these essays. The word ‘marshalling’ suggests things logically arranged, and I hope the intended coherence is visible in the three thematic sections into which I have marshalled the essays.


More than its connection with the idea of individual essays as wayward horses in need of corralling, however, ‘marshalling’ forms part of the title because my publisher pointed out that the character who constantly makes an appearance in them is John Marshall. A set of essays (nos. 10-12) teases out the circumstances of Marsh all’s appointment and the contours of his early years as director general of the Archaeological Survey of India; in some, he figures among the dramatis personae (nos. 1 and 2); in others, his definitive volumes on the excavations at Mohenjodaro are used to understand, on the one hand, the character of trade and the size of cities in Harappan times (nos. 6-7) and, on the other, the impact of Independence and Partition on museum collections and the nature of research on the Indus civilization (no. 5). His importance to me is personal as well: he was responsible for the beginning of my love affair with the archives. In 1996 I came upon some unknown documents connected with him (see no. 10), and since then the excitement involved in the recovery and resolution of little-known puzzles, people, and places in dusty files and memos has continued to grip me. Not surprisingly, eight of the essays in this volume use archival documents.


Much of the past marshalled here, thus, began with my discovery of Marshall memoranda.









Ancient Heritage and Modern Histories


Archaeology and Identity in Colonial India



Sanchi: From Ruin to Restoration



Bodh Gaya: An Ancient Buddhist Shrine and its

Modern History



Delhi: Memorializing 1857



Partitioning the Past



Artefacts and Landscapes


Harappa and Ancient Trade Routes



South Asian Demographic Archaeology and

Harappan Population Estimates



Indian Metal Artefacts and their Cultural Meanings



The Sacred Geography of Late Medieval Ballabgarh






An Archaeologist and a Historian



Orienting Marshall: Appointing the First Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India



Marshall’s Early Years at the Archaeological Survey of India



Marshall’s Coming to Grips with India’s Past and its ‘Living Present’



D.D. Kosambi: The Historian as Writer






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