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Sutradhara’s tales: Pune’s history goes back 2000 years… Satavahana era revealed

So far, the story of Pune has taken us through obscure lanes of prehistoric and proto-historic periods, where we witnessed the activities of early Punekars
By Saili K Palande-Datar
PUBLISHED ON FEB 10, 2021 01:38 PM IST

So far, the story of Pune has taken us through obscure lanes of prehistoric and proto-historic periods, where we witnessed the activities of early Punekars.

But, until recently there has no discussion about the “historical” man who inhabited the landscape in the form of some significant material evidence.

As we saw in previous pieces, the historical period for India begins when the evidence of readable script and significant material remains is noticed, which coincides with foundation of Buddhist and Jain religion in sixth century BCE.

For the Deccan region, which Pune is part of, the sporadic Ashokan inscriptions dating to third century BCE form the first evidence, but the rise in number of settlements can be seen during Satavahana period which is the first empirical dynasty rising amongst various ruling clans in the Deccan.

The Satavahanas find mention in Puranas and are known to rule from latter half of second century BCE to third century CE.

They are also credited with extending patronage to various Buddhist caves in the region and several inscriptions in Brahmi script are found in rock-cut caves in western Maharashtra.

Numismatists (studying coins) and epigraphists (studying inscriptions), have helped us refine the chronology of the various Satavahana rulers as well as the important contemporary dynasties and their vassals.

The principle town and capitals during that period were Junnar, Nashik and Paithan, where excavations have yielded archaeological remains of these times.

For the sake of ease, although approximately, the politically reigns of important dynasties have been used to classify certain periods of history.

But, it doesn’t mean all the evidence found from that period is due to direct patronage or belongs to the political rule.

There had been reports of Satavahana period habitation sites or early historic sites in the vicinity of Pune till 2002-2003.

Such sites have been reported from Junnar, Songaon, Inamgaon, Pavana valley, Shirval, near Indapur, etc.

But, the humble town of Pune was never thought of supporting any early historic remains. Bhosari explorations had also yielded remains of pottery from this early historic period.

Senior historian, Pandrang Balkawade has been traversing the bylanes of Kasba peth of Pune for years now as he went to work, or daily visited Bharat Itihas Samshodhak Mandal for study of medieval history.

Being a scholar of archival study, one may imagine him getting lost in the glorious folds of chronicles of Maratha history, but not particularly observe anything significant amongst the mundane rubbles of new constructions being erected in the old Kasba peth area.

But, inquisitive Balkawade noticed the foundations pits dug for new building yielding unusual amount of potsherds and ceramics, which definitely seemed to be of older origin (2002-2003).

Intrigued by the discovery, he invited Dr Rajguru and Dr Vasant Shinde of Deccan College to conduct an enquiry into these rather unusual finds.

As discussed in my earlier writings, conducting a full- scale excavation in a bustling old town is an uphill task.

But, the salvaging operation was done as part of an “Urban excavation” to study the archaeological material in the pits.

The entire study area was located to right bank of the river Mutha. The studied pits were located in the foundations at Ashtekar wada, Lawalekar wada, Tapare wada and two pits in Kagajipura. which was a medieval settlement manufacturing paper from Shaiste Khan’s occupancy of Pune in 17th century CE.

The area that was encompassing these scattered pits was roughly 10 hectares.

Later, from 2004 to 2006, some more pits located in Pawale chowk, Kasba Ganpati temple, Satatoti chowk, Jogeshwari temple, Shaniwar peth and assorted locations were studied.

Dr Joglekar’s team’s study later reconfirmed that these were not the scattered sites, but a continuous township which was occupied permanently.

Geographically, the two main southern tributaries of river Mutha, Ambil and Nagzhari flow to the river and the seasonal flood deposits of these streams and river have alluvial terraces on the base basalt bedrock.

These natural terraces were secured and selected for occupation by the historical inhabitants for security and to access the river water.

Dr Rajuguru and his team of geo-archaeologist who studied the strata and hydrology noted that in this part of the Holocene period, the area saw better rainfall and better vegetation which led to an increase in the number of permanent habitation sites.

This was seen all across the Deccan and especially along river banks.

The deposits were in the layers of approximately three metres of which 1.3 metres dated to the Satavahana era (second century BCE to third century CE). Like in the case of many historical archaeology excavations, the pottery and ceramics were reported in large numbers. They not only help us date the historical layers, but also provide an insightful peep into the food habits, cooking processes and manufacturing techniques of those times.

We shall see these types and their significance in the next part of this column.

Apart from the pottery, there were many shell bangles, beads, terracotta animal figurines, terracotta beads were reported.

Terracotta beads might have been used in slings or in ornaments. A rotary quern which was seen in early historically sites, possibly a Roman influence, were also found.

The later versions used for grinding grains are seen in many rural households even today. Skin rubbers known as vajri in Marathi were found (ancestors definitely paid attention to personal hygiene!).

Medieval, colourful glass bangles were found in excavations

Metal objects, minor antiquities were reported from the site. Some bone points sharpened that can be used on arrows hunting were found. Many animal remains including bones of cattle, goat, rat and wild animals such as Nilgai and Black buck were reported.

Fish bones were reported pointing to fresh water fishing activity.

A brick wall made of the early historic period bricks (more than foot long) were found at Ashtekar wada marking a significant structural find.

Busting the previous theories of Pune originating in Rashtrakuta times or even during Maratha period in 17th century, the study of evidences from these pits changed the history of Pune forever and took it back 2,000 years ago to Satavahana times!

It also informed us that Pune was under continuous occupation for the last 2s000 years.

And yet another significant highlight of this “salvage excavation” will be revealed where we trace Pune’s international connection in the next column!

Watch this space!

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