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Hold fast to the past

The Haryana government's plan to develop the Mangar region will ruin its archaeological and ecological heritage, writes Nayanjot Lahiri.

india Updated: Feb 05, 2012 20:53 IST

Mangar in Haryana has recently been making headlines. This is because the Haryana government plans to facilitate the conversion of a part of the village’s land for what sound like seemingly innocuous ‘non-polluting’ activities. These can be hotels and motels, educational institutions or farmhouses for the rich. While the judgement is still out about whether such profitable residential and commercial use conflicts with the Supreme Court’s decision to protect the Aravallis, that this will destroy Mangar’s little known heritage is unequivocally clear.

Located in the northern outliers of the Aravalli hills of Faridabad and Gurgaon districts, Mangar is accessible from the Dhauj lake whose rocks used to be used by college friends in the 1970s for rappelling. My visits to Mangar began much later, in the 1990s, when, along with my colleague Upinder Singh, I undertook a field survey of Faridabad district, involving an archaeological documentation of about a 100 villages and a dozen urban localities.

The urgency of such documentation would have been obvious to anyone familiar with the alarming pace of industrialisation and population growth in Faridabad. Factory installations and residential colonies by then were fast swallowing up large chunks of land in the heart of the district as also historical relics ranging from ‘protected’ kos minars to settlement mounds. Archaeological observations on whatever still survived of that area’s fast disappearing past, thus, needed to be put on record.

In an area with a past that was disintegrating at an unstoppable pace, Mangar in the 1990s was like an untouched oasis. Relatively remote, it was then marked, as it still is, by a spectacular sacred forest of Dhau trees, spread over several acres and supported by three villages. This forest flourished around Gudariya Baba’s shrine and no villager dared to cut wood from the Mangarbani for fear of divine retribution. In the midst of the thorny, scrub vegetation of the Aravallis, this sacred forest was always a delight to visit. It is an instance that I have often cited in my academic writings, which illustrates the limited but important ways in which the perceptions and ecological wisdom of village people have helped sustain forests around temple complexes. Let me add, there were other such spots in the Faridabad pahadi, such as the Parsaun ravine, where Parashara Rishi’s tapasthana was locally believed to be located. There, too, was a thick tree cover with Gugal, Parsendhi, Gular, Khirni and many other such trees.

The other facet of Mangar’s past that is worth mentioning is the Dorji mound on that plateau, near the hill stream that flowed from there. A mound is basically an artificial elevation created out of the accumulated debris generated by people over hundreds of years. Mounds in this part of Haryana range from high hills dominating the countryside like the one on which the village of Tilpat stands to more humble elevations like Dorji, then some two-three metres in height and cut up in many places.

Entombed in such mounds are the physical traces of bygone cultures. So, for instance, what made Dorji enormously significant was that in the thick scatter of pottery that emerged from it, there were some superb ceramics of the early centuries AD. The bottlenecked sprinkler fragments are one example of this and they are similar to the ones from excavated sites where Kushana and Gupta phases have been unearthed. There is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that the arable Mangar plateau was first inhabited some 1,700 years ago and the fact that the material signposts of that past had survived till the present is as remarkable as its spectacular sacred forest.

For decades, the Faridabad-Gurgaon Aravallis have been subjected to much levelling and quarrying and, in spite of such pressures, Mangar managed to survive, and survived well. So my question to the Haryana government is this: instead of a development plan which is likely to erase its renowned ecological and archaeological features, why can’t it declare the Mangar plateau to be a heritage zone? If it displays this wisdom, it is likely to earn accolades which, in the long run, will be far more meaningful than the revenue that it hopes to earn in the short term. But I realise that this may be too much to expect. Can the Supreme Court not take suo motu the cognisance of Mangar’s endangered heritage and pass directives that will ensure its survival?

( Nayanjot Lahiri teaches at the Department of History, University of Delhi )

The views expressed by the author are personal