Understanding Archaeology

Interview with Sanjay Godbole, an Indian Archaeologist

TECODH, 20 December 2012,

Sanjay Godbole holds B.Com., LLB., M.A. in History, Anthropology, and Indiology respectively. He is a Fellow of the

England’s Numismatic Society Royal and Royal Asiatic Society Britain. He’s name entered in Limca Book of Records for biggest historical curious and document collection in India.

Q: A part from your educational qualifications referred above, would you please tell us more about yourself? I have written around seven hundred articles mostly on Indian culture, history, art, and antiquities. These articles are published in Oriental Numisrnatic Soceity, Numisrnatic Society of India, BISM Journal, Samana, Maharashtra Times, Loksatta, Indian Express, Prabhat, and so on. I have also authored and compiled nine books, and as my profession, I work as a publisher and book distributor. I have my private museum in which you can find historical documents, paintings and artworks.

Q: Based on your academic data, you have extensively worked on many areas including archaeology. What is your understanding of archaeology? The word ‘Archaeology’ is derived from the combination of two Greek words ‘Archios’ meaning ancient and ‘Logos’ meaning discourse. Archaeology, in brief, is a science, which analyses the origin of mankind. Archaeology also can be called a science, studying the history of mankind. It deals with pre-historic and proto historic antiquities.

Q:What does archaeology aim at? In the initial stages of archaeological studies, the scope of archaeology was confined to furnishing evidence in support of historical documents. Along with the passage of time the concept of collecting antiquities and preservation thereof was accepted and was officially included in the ambit of archaeology. Now, as on today, in the 21st century, the far-flung limits of archaeology have reached far too wide. Today, archaeological science does not aim at studying a specific human ancestry anthropologically, nor does it aim at studying a specific region geologically or geographically. It now has in its ambit the study of the human race as a whole. Archaeology carefully takes into account the progressive achievements of all human beings with special attention to their development as a whole. It studies the evolutionary effects and the radical changes in the human race during the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age.

Q: What are the steps in human life development according to archaeology? Geologically, the last time slot or period in the history of mankind is named as Pleistocene Age, during this Pleistocene Age, the last known Ice Age also occurred. From archaeological angle, the history of mankind could be studied from the following two main aspects: 1) Pre-historic Period. 2) Protohistoric Period. In India, the history of mankind has since been studied as: Paleolithic period: Here the Sohan culture was studied in Punjab and Kashmir. During these studies, stone made hand axes dating back to one lakh years were surfaced. During this period man usually settled down near the banks of rivers. Hence stone tools surfaced at the banks of rivers. Late Paleolithic tools have surfaced at Godavari, Pravara, Tapi, etc. Mesolithic period: During these times, microliths of cultures from Gujrath and Bengal, dating back some 50,000 years has been found. Neolithic Period: Here tools dating back to 10,000 years have been found in Kashmir, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Pit dwellings at Burzom have also been found. Indus valley civilization: The new carbon dates of these civilizations go back to 7000 years B.C. So also, after this, Banas Culture 2000 years B.C., Malwa culture 1600 B.C., Jorwe culture 1500 B.C., are the chief and important cultures traced in India.

Q: What is the importance of application of other sciences in archaeology? Archaeological studies do not merely include the excavational exercises and are definitely not confined to these. Subsequent to excavation, the remains of antiquities are required to be carefully preserved. This necessitates the availability of an elaborate chemical laboratory. Similarly, various sciences such as botany, geology and zoology prove helpful for furtherance of archaeological inferences and logical conclusions therefrom. The ancient samples of antiquities and the remains thereof are required to be studied, scrutinized and analyzed with the logistic support of these sciences.

Q: Explanation of Vedas? The Aryans who came to India from North Pole, spoke ‘Sanskrit’ language, which is one of the ancient languages in the world. Actually, ‘Sanskrit’ is a branch of Asiatic parent language of the Aryans. We get most of the information about ‘Aryans’ from ancient scriptures called ‘Vedas’. These Vedas believed to be born without the creator. Out of these ‘Vedas’ the most ancient ‘Veda’ is ‘Rigveda’. These are 10 ‘Mandalas’ and 1028 ‘Suktas’ in ‘Rigveda’. ‘Richas’ are sentences written in Meters. The collection of such ‘Richas’ is called a ‘Sukta’. These ‘Suktas’ are stored in volumes by ascetics. ‘Rigveda’ contains prayers for Lord Indra, Lord ‘Varuna’ and the ‘fire God’. These deities were pleased by a special ritual of Fire Sacrifice’. The detailed procedure of these rituals is given in ‘Yajurveda’. All those Richas, which are helpful in preventing calamities, have been collected in ‘Atharv Veda’. Those ‘Richas’ that were sung during performance of ‘Yagya’ – fire Sacrifice were collected in ‘Sam Veda’.

Q: Vedic Gods and their similarity or difference to Zoroastrian religion? Basically, religion is not my domain, but since I have to refer to some stray references about religious and allied matters pertaining to my studies, I give details of Avesta in short. The religion prevalent in Iran prior to Zaratrushta was known as ‘Devas.’ After this period, a new religion was established under the able guidance of ‘Zaratrushta’. The sacred volume containing principles and teachings of this religion is called ‘Avesta’. There is a reference in Avesta to ‘Sapta Sindhu’ the ancient land of the Aryans who settled in India. The copies of original ‘Avesta’ were carefully preserved in the archives of ‘Persia polis’ and ‘Samarkand’. But Alexander the great destroyed them during the invasive onslaughts. Between the years 309 to 379 AD during the regime of ‘Shapour’ a ‘Sasani’ ruler, the Avesta was carefully rearranged. The opening chapter of Avesta is ‘Yasna’. The followers of ‘Vedas’ call it as ‘Yadnya’. There are in all 72 different rituals and hence as a symbol of these 72 rituals, the ‘Kashti’ sported by Zoroastrians have 72 threads joined together. The followers of ‘Vedas’ also wear a sacred thread called ‘Janva’. The second chapter from ‘Avesta’ is ‘Vishparad’. This contains various prayers and many religious rites and rituals. The third chapter in Avesta is Vendidad and the fourth is ‘Yasht.’ There is a striking similarity between the deities in Avesta and those from vedas. Some deities in Avesta are, however, Iranian. ‘Vishtasp’ in Avesta is ‘Isthashva’ in Veda and Arajaspa is Rujasva in Veda. Avesta calls ‘Vrutrasure’ of Vedas as ‘Wereth’ and Lord Indra is shown as his enemy. ‘Trit’ in Rugeda appears as ‘Thretan’ in Avesta. Iranians call ‘Mitra’ as Mithra, Varuna as Varan, Soma as Hom, Asur as Ahur, Yatudhana as yataman. The language of Avesta is similar to Sanskrit. There is also a similarity in vowels and pronunciations. Following are some words showing similarity. Sanskrit Iranian 1. Pitru Pider 2. Matru Madar 3. Gow Gav 4. Sharkara Shakar 5. Sapt Haft 6. Grishma Garam 7. Ashva Aspa 8. Data Dadan 9. Masa Mah 10. Chakshu Chashm

Q: Indus civilization; what are the reasons of its rise and decline? In the last century, the excavations at Mohanjo-daro in Sindh and at Hadappa in Punjab, unearthed remains of full fledged flourished cities, confirming the conclusion that civilized people, lived here in 2000 B.C. Many valuable remains surfaced such as neatly planned houses, the best road intersections walls constructed out of strong and well burnt bricks, permanent drains, ware houses, citadels, public baths and toilets during these excavations. This civilization extended to a vast area of 600 miles x 100 miles. The seals, terracotta, weights, blades made out of chert stone, pots, vessels and utensils throw much light on the progressive art there. This civilization was flourished due to fertility of Indus River and had trade links with overseas countries. The new carbon dates received for the samples found near the Bolan river in Baluchistan date back to year 7000 B.C. So, we can say that this civilization flourished in stages. Dr. Marshall found some human skeletons at Mahon-jo-daro. Dr. Wheeler, therefore, expressed his opinion that Aryans elevated this civilization. As per a different theory, advocated by some, due to earthquake, the waters of river Sindhu spread and the city was deserted. At Kalibangan, due to sudden change in climate the rivers dried up, resulting in, the dwellings to be in a state of desolation and were deserted.

Q: Tell us about Hindu calendar? The Hindu calendar begins with the month called ‘Chaitra’ and ends by the month called ‘Falgun’. The twelve months, serially, are as follows: (1) Chaitra, (2) Vaishakh, (3) Jyestha, (4) Ashadh, (5) Shravan, (6) Bhadrapada, (7) Ashwin. (8) Kartik, (9) Margashirsha, (10) Poush, (11) Magha, (12) Falgun. The six seasons are as follows: (1) Greeshma, (2) Varsha, (3) Sharada, (4) Hemanta, (5) Shishira, (6) Vasanta. The Hindu calendar year consists of 365 days. There are two systems of counting the year. (1) The Vikram Sanvant, and (2) The Shalivahan Shaka.

Q: Why and when Taj Mahal was constructed? Who was the architect? The Mughal Emperor Shahajehan loved his wife, Mumtaz-e-Mahal’ immensely. Shahjahan got ‘Taj Mahal’ erected as an emblem of his love for his wife. Taj Mahal is identified as an emblem in Marble of the world of dreams. In the year 1631, Mumtaj passed away and the work of construction for Taj Mahal commenced. This monumental building is erected on the banks of river ‘Yamuna’ at Agra in North India. The work period of constructing this structure took 22 long years, and 20,000 workers toiled for completing the erection of this beautiful monumental memorial. There is an unparalleled harmony of art of India and Iran in the construction of Taj Mahal. 300 pairs of Bullocks and 1000 elephants were deployed for transport of building materials. The expenses totaled to a whopping 32 million Rupees. 28 types of gems and precious stones were used for beautifying this unique building. The cardinally main dome of the Taj Mahal was conceptualized and designed by one Ismail Afandi an architect from central Asia. Two Iranian architects Ustad Isa and Isa Mehmud Efandi worked under an expert from Turkey named Sinan Agha Amanat Khan, a resident of Shiraz was the chief calligrapher, and Muhamed Hanif supervised the work of masons.

Q: Our last question is about the most significant era in India that affected upon by ‘India and Iran cultural contacts,’ Comment? The interactive contacts between Iran and India exist since very long times. ‘Cyrus’ the ruler from Iran invaded India between the years 558 BC to 530 B.C. Many historians from the West have referred to this event in their works. Dariyush, the Iranian emperor also invaded India and had almost reached the banks of river ‘Sindhu’. There has been a record of the fact that one of the Indian rulers had deputed his envoy to the courts of king ‘Cyrus’. In one of the stone inscriptions at Behistan we find special mention of Gandhara, Punjab and Sapta Sindhu. The teak wood, required for the erection of the ‘Susa’ palace of ‘Dariyush’ was imported from India. The famous historian ‘Hirodotas’ has mentioned the Indian contingent in the army of the emperor of Iran. Chandragupta Maurya had made an in depth study of the organizational and strategic planning techniques of the Iranian empire and put those effectively to use in his own system. The art of rock cut cave making soon reached India from Iran. The Kushan rulers reached India in the 1st century B.C. Kushan rulers depicted the images of several Iranian deities on their coins. The deities used were Mihiro, Aatisho, Mazdo. Next, the Persian extended their conquered territories up to Taxshila. The Iranian Khaharat king ‘Nahapan’ like the Persian kings struck his coins (the portrait ones) in western India. One of the murals at Ajantha depicts an envoy of king Khushroo who called upon king Pulakeshi. In Mediaeval times, Jalaluddin and Momin Arif reached Maharashtra and introduced the ‘Sufi’ tradition there. So also Sultans of Iran introduced ‘Persian’ to Indian soil. Use of ‘Persian was thus made compulsory in all administrative matters. One finds frequent use of ‘Persian’ in most of the official documents and on coins, in vogue then. The founder of Bahamani rule in south India, Alla-u-ddin Bahman Shah also was of Iranian origin. All the edicts and notifications during Bahamani rule were in ‘Persian’, on some coins there were epithets in ‘Persian’. During this period only, the ‘Persian’ literature bloomed in India. Not only this, but Hafeez Shirazi, the poet of Persia was given a special invitation by Mahmad Shah Bahamani to visit India and Hafeez Shirazi was all set to travel to south India, but had to drop his travel plans for some reasons. The Madrasa at Mehmud Gawan at Bider is considered to be an excellent specimen in architecture in the central Asian style. The Persian art had a telling impact on Indian architecture. This resulted in creation of many beautiful buildings in India. The buildings at Bidar, Bijapur, Golkonda stand testimony to this impact. The Persian language had an interactive influence on the local dialect and thus a new language called Urdu was born. Marathi and many south Indian languages had a wide effect by Persian. Many new styles of painting were given birth by a pleasant combination of Persian and north Indian styles of paintings. Many landscaped gardens of Persian style were developed around the Indian palaces. Colored Iranian tiles were set in the walls of these palatial buildings. Iranian vases, ceramics with attractive flowery designs, Iranian carpets, the chicken work on fine cloth, the inlay work of colored stones on walls and many such other intricacies were introduced in India, on account of impact of Iranian culture. One can say in a nutshell that the social and cultural life of the Indian society was highly influenced from most of the angles by Iranians in Mediaeval times.

Q: Dear Sanjay, many thanks for joining us. I just would like to add that in fact answering such questions requires more space and cannot be fully answered within few lines but due to shortage of time, I tried my best to summarize them as much as possible…wish you all the best.

TECODH (Pune, 20 December 2012).

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