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A peek into the past, via the relic hunters of Mumbai

mumbai Updated: Jul 17, 2016 01:35 IST
Anesha George
Anesha George
Hindustan Times
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Inscriptions found in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre [BARC], which date back to the early 13th century.(Photo: University of Mumbai)

Did you know that Vijayanagar Police Camp in Marol has fragments of a long, lost temple that once lay beneath its foundation? Or that Gorai Village is sprinkled with stone structures called ‘Gai-Vasru’ that date back to the early 12th century?

These were some of the research findings released on Saturday by a group of archaeologists and students from the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies (CEM) under the Archaeology department of the University of Mumbai, and Sathaye College.

Work on the project began last year, with the aim of unearthing archaeological evidence of urban settlements in Mumbai in the pre-Portuguese era (before the 15th century).

The team of 15 student researchers was led by five archaeologists — Kurush Dalal, Abhijit Dandekar, Vinayak Parab, Suraj Pandit and Prachi Moghe. They began their research last year and started their field work in April.

For three months, they had been on the prowl, collecting data from gaothans and forgotten temples, examining ancient stone relics and mysterious inscriptions tucked away in nondescript corners.

“With the rampant urbanisation of the city, we realised that we had very little time to search for our rich past, which was getting lost under layers of concrete. We knew that we had to find out more about the various dynasties that had settled in the city even before the Portuguese era,” says Dalal, who spearheaded the project.

On Saturday, the team held a day-long seminar at the university’s Kalina campus, explaining how they had found relics, artefacts and memorial stones dating as far back as the 12th century.

“The common notion is that not much of Mumbai’s history was recorded before the Portuguese colonies were established here. But with the findings of inscriptions like those in Bhabha Atomic Research Centre [BARC], which dates back to the early 13th century, we now know that Mumbai was then referred to as ‘Mahim Bimbastha’ and that places like Marol and Nanale existed even then,” says Pandit, who is also head of the Department of Ancient Indian Culture at Sathaye College.

One of the team’s greatest finds was stone tools and microliths along the edges of the Tulsi lake in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, dating back to the 13th century.

“We also found several temple ruins in and around areas like Sion, Bhandup and Mulund, which were never looked upon by locals as holding historical value,” says Parab.

In Khindipada, Mulund, the teams also found several stone tools and a relic bearing an image of Tara, a female Bodhisattva, that are similar to those found on the walls of the Buddhist caves in Kanheri. “The experience has been exhilarating,” Parab says.

Describing her field experience, student Krishma Shah, 30, recalls, “It was 9.30 pm and we were all quite tired walking through the narrow lanes of the Pond gaothan in Vile Parle when we stumbled upon a run-down well. On closer inspection we realised that it bore a plaque that dates it back to 1633.”

Such exploration is the need of the hour, adds conservation architect Vikas Dilawari. “We must now protect and restore these elements of historical importance. The city is full of antiquity and the government must assist such explorations and help in conserving the rich heritage of Mumbai.”

The Mumbai-Salsette archaeological exploration project was funded by the India Study Centre Trust and will continue for another three years.