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As we build smart cities, let’s look at our ancestors, the Harappans

There are several reasons why the town planners and designers are unable to capitalise on our own knowledge of these advanced traditional systems.

gurgaon Updated: Mar 04, 2019 04:34 IST
Shikha Jain
Shikha Jain
Gurugram
ancestors,harappans,gurugram
The region of Gurugram and the state of Haryana at large present an interesting phenomenon of historical, archaeological and mythological facts that are yet to be completely deciphered and interpreted.(Reuters)

The region of Gurugram and the state of Haryana at large present an interesting phenomenon of historical, archaeological and mythological facts that are yet to be completely deciphered and interpreted. One needs to realise that in today’s quest of making Gurugram and others smart cities in Haryana, we may need to pick up some lessons from the smartly designed Harappan (now termed as the Sindhu Saraswati) cities of this region.

Renowned archaeologist professor Vasant Shinde mentions “Excavations over three consecutive years (between 1997 and 2000) carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had uncovered evidence of a well-established road, drainage system, large rainwater storage facility, and additional city infrastructure in Rakhigarhi site.” While professor Shinde’s own excavations focus more on the skeletons excavated in the necropolis of Rakhigarhi and their DNA testing, his recent book and Pupul Jayakar Memorial Lecture at INTACH reiterate the ancient Indian knowledge system in terms of town planning principles, which are relevant for cities even today. These include basic infrastructure, accessibility to water supply and efficient drainage systems, among others.

There are several reasons why the town planners and designers are unable to capitalise on our own knowledge of these advanced traditional systems. To begin with, the hiatus created by our current colonial mindset leads us to believe that there is a total disconnect with our past and these principles cannot be applicable to the needs of the advanced societies today. Adding to this, there is a complete gap in a holistic approach towards understanding and interpreting these age-old town planning systems. The current bodies of knowledge exist in silos of various disciplines like archaeology, geology, anthropology and mythology, researching within their limited disciplinary frameworks with no attempt at convergence and absolutely no aim at linking with the current planning of cities and towns. Even though some of the later rural settlements in these archaeological areas actually existed on the footprints of the ancient Sindhu Saraswathi settlements and even though the rural- urban inhabitants of today reflect continuity in rituals from ancient times such as placing the bindi on the forehead, wearing of bangles, culinary practices, such as the use of herbs, and observance of Vedic fire rituals in most ceremonies, it is difficult for us to ascertain their connect and relevance for our future existence.

INTACH’s Haryana chapter is in the process of understanding and documenting the convergence of all the above strands of research to determine the extent, boundary and component of this ancient cultural landscape along with its alignment with the existing landscape with the aim of using this interpretation for a way forward in capitalising this knowledge for today’s planning as well as showcasing it as Haryana’s heritage for local, national and international audience.

Sudhir Bhargava, the Rewari chapter convener has mapped ‘Brahmavarta’ through detailed studies and mentions in the Vedas. Parallelly, archaeologists have traced the maximum number of archaeological sites in the state of Haryana that coincide with the Ghaggar basin, the most recent one being Rakhigarhi by Prof. Vasant Shinde, along with other sites such as Bhirrana, Farmana, Girawar earlier excavated by the ASI. More recently, excavations are being carried out in Kunal by the Haryana State Directorate of Archaeology and the National Museum. The Sanauli ‘rath’ excavations in the region by SK Manjul, ASI, in 2018 open up possibilities for dating Mahabharata period somewhere between 1100 BCE and 2000 BCE.

INTACH is also working on the awareness of the Sindhu Sarawati heritage by collaborating with various institutions, such as the internship programme of Ashoka University. Listing of works is also being undertaken by the Sushant School of Art and Architecture. A picture book titled ‘Legend of Rakhigarhi’ designed and conceptualised by the interns of Ashoka University was released in 2017 and a heritage trail for Rakhigarhi was conducted by INTACH’s Hisar chapter on February 17, 2019, with the active involvement of local villagers and Ashoka University interns. The children book on Rakhigarhi centres around ‘Rakhi’ a girl child who is the resident of Gurugram and visits her grandfather at Rakhigarhi. It concludes on how she wants her friends in Gurugram to visit the place with her next time, so that she can tell them stories about the interesting history of the region.

Working together with all stakeholders and Government organisations may help to create a deeper understanding of our past and possibly lead to some long-term, sensitive proposals for the future cities that are planned on these past foundations.

(Shikha Jain is state convenor, INTACH, Haryana Chapter and member of Heritage Committees under ministries of culture and HRD. She is co-­editor of the book ‘Haryana: Cultural Heritage Guide’; director, DRONAH Development and Research Organisation.)

First Published: Mar 04, 2019 04:34 IST