The Unseen History of Kalibangan: From an Archaeological Perspective
Many of us probably remember the first chapter of our history textbooks in 12th grade- Bricks, Beads, and Bones, about the Indus Valley Civilization. We have read about Indus Valley civilization through books, articles, online, or visited the National Museum’s gallery on the same, however, have never seen what it looks like in the present-day. The moment someone mentions Indus Valley Civilization, the first thing that strikes us is Harappa and Mohenjodaro, which are situated in present-day Pakistan. What should come to us as a surprise is we have not read about the Indian sites of the Indus-Valley Civilization, as much as we have read about the ones now located in neighboring Pakistan.
Kalibangan which literally translates to black bangles is situated on the banks of river Ghaggar, present-day located in district Hanumangarh of Rajasthan is reminisce from the past, which we may have read in our books, but have blatantly ignored.
As the very first evidence of the Indus Valley Civilization was discovered from Harappan in 1921, the civilization was thus named after it, known as the Harappan Civilization. The majority of the sites that were discovered afterward are now located in present-day Pakistan. In conversation with Dr. Praveen Singh, Assistant Archeologist, ASI (Kalibangan in 2016) it was clarified that it was not until the 1950s when Indian Archaeologists realized that India has lost a significant amount of Ancient Historical Sites and thus began excavations in Northern Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, and Gujarat. Kalibangan thus emerged as a significant site that showed proof two cultural periods, i.e. Pre-Harappan and Harappan.
What Makes a Site Harappan?
The on-going excavations at Kalibangan revealed that the artifacts and archeological evidence were exact matches to Harappan sites which were excavated earlier. Harappan sites are known for their pottery, excellence in social development, agricultural development, and evidence of social inequalities, which were found in abundance at the site of Kalibangan.
1. Harappan Pottery and Kalibangan
As the excavation of the Harappan sites took place in Kalibangan, as well as in other parts of Rajasthan, several sites from contemporary civilizations were found, causing a great deal of ambiguity as to which sites are Harappan and which are not. To solve such confusion an index for Harappan pottery was curated by BB Lal, BK Thapar, and JK Joshi.
The index worked as an indicator with a specific description for each pottery-related artifact found at the excavated sites and if matched, the site was declared to be Harappan. The index was as followed: (i) bichrome (pottery that has use of two colors, i.e. red and black); (ii) in-sized (pottery with deep impressions and minute details); (iii) dilex (use of fire for pottery making); (iv) rusticated (pottery with a rough surface); (v) buff (pottery with lime contents) and (vi) grey ware (pottery that is grey in color). Artifacts of the excavated site that matched all six descriptions from the index were thus Harappan. Matching the pottery index, Kalibangan was thus termed as a Harappan Site.
1. The Society of Kalibangan
What makes Harappan sites stand out as compared to other contemporary sites is the social development achieved through (i) Town Planning; (ii) Trade; (iii) Meteorology; (iv) Luxury Items and (v) Painting.
(i) Town Planning
Harappan sites are known for their town planning and urbanization model and Kalibangan is no different in this case. Evidence of Kalibangan shows that the main streets run from north to south and meet at an intersection of right angles with other streets. One can see that residential quarters, made of sun-dried bricks could be found on both sides of the streets. Almost all houses have four to six rooms apart from the kitchen and bath with a well attached to the outer wall in order to provide to visitors. In Kalibangan also, the drains carry wastewater to the main underground drain through the pipes which are made from burnt bricks.
Excavation at Kalibangan also revealed the citadel. In the southern part of the citadel, one can find mysterious brick platforms, perhaps a sacrificial ground. The streets in the lower town resemble the streets of Mohenjodaro and one can notice the uniformity of the ratio of the bricks used.
The steatite seals and terracotta seals were also found in Kalibangan, which were important in trade. Mesopotamian pottery was also found at the site, indicating trade ties between the two sites.
Trade brought in alien metals in Kalibangan, copper was brought from Khetri mines, Rajasthan, whereas evidence of Oman tools is also found. Kalibangan also had an abundance of chert, which were used as knives and were brought from the Rohiri Hills or present-day Pakistan.
(i) Luxury Items
Luxury items reveal a lot about the standard of living or social inequalities for a particular civilization. Kalibangan also has an immense amount of evidence of semi-precious stones like Maulla, moonga, and shells, and sometimes lapiz lazuli. Such items were not native to Kalibangan, it is therefore clear that trading was a prominent activity.
Paintings could depict leisure time or ritualistic practices. One can find utensils and earthen pots with paintings of nature. It could either mean that people worshipped nature and thus as a form of ritual, they painted it on the pottery or that they enjoyed painting as a leisure activity, to simply decorate their utensils. There is also evidence of script followed by paintings; archaeologists assume that important trading events were painted along with some important trading details.
3. Agricultural Development
Excavation of Kalibangan revealed plowed fields with furrows in two directions intersecting each other at a right angle, thus representing the growth of two crops simultaneously. As the site is located along the sides of river Hakra-Ghaggar, the old bed of river Saraswati and channel of river Sutlej, providing an ecological balance for a unique subsistence pattern to carry out livestock raising and well as multi-cropping.
The site also shows evidence of the use of manures, and gypsum calcium sulphate for fertilizers. It could be concluded that Kalibangan was one of those sites where the earliest form of artificial irrigation started to evolve. Cattle were used for agricultural purposes as well.
4. Social Inequalities
The division or citadel and the lower town, along with the evidence of luxury items reveal that social inequalities also existed in Kalibangan. Though it cannot be said if the phenomenon of the Priest-King was also true here, however symbolic burials do reveal that the highest authorities existed. An ordinary person was buried in an extended burial, where the body was laid down with the head pointing towards north and feet to the south, while the face would face east. An urn burial was usually considered for those who came from further down the social strata because it took the least amount of space than the other two burials. A pot is made as per the height of the deceased and then is carefully seated in the same and buried. It was also known as pot burial. The symbolic burial is usually associated with someone with great power and authority. The deceased in the burial is laid along with an earthen pot beside the body that consists of precious materials for his after-life.
Downfall of Kalibangan
Like all the other Harappan sites, Kalibangan also declined without clear reasoning. The decline of this site is also debatable. Several theories of invasion, climatic change or the Bond event do not justify the sudden abandoning of an important site.
An argument by Robert Raikes states the Kalibangan was abandoned because the river dried up. This argument was further supported by BB Lal, providing the radiocarbon dates indicated abandoning the same site due to hydrological evidence. However, the theories of downfall are still debatable.
Dr. Praveen Singh, Assistant Archeologist, ASI (Kalibangan in 2016 ASI, Jaipur Circle) Penn Museum, Philadelphia VK Jain, Pre-history to Proto History of India
*all photos are taken by Ishita Roy