Kalibangan - the largest prehistoric site in Rajasthan

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Kalibangan - the largest prehistoric site in Rajasthan

Just as scholars and laymen all over India, have heard of Mohenjodaro, so scholars and laymen, particularly in Rajasthan, should have heard or read about Kalibangan.

Kalibangan is perhaps the largest prehistoric site in Northern Rajasthan. It is situated in the Ganganagar District (now Hanumangarh), which was formerly a part of the state of Bikaner. It is easily approachable from Hanumangarh Railway Station on the Delhi- Bikaner line.

People of Rajasthan and particularly the residents of Jodhpur, Jaipur and Bikaner know that this region is practically a desert, with occasional thorny bushes of babul and thor. In this surroundings, a village or a town with whitewashed mud houses, or timbas (tillas) – small mounds or hillock, strike the eye immediately. While many of these tillas are nothing but sand-dunes, some of these, as Rangmahal on Kalibangan are littered with innumerable potsherds. Because these potsherds were originally red or even bright red, these mounds even now after hundreds or thousands of years appear reddish. Particularly this is so at Rangmahal.

Normally no one cares for or looks at these potsherds, certainly not the caravan driver who passes by these tillas while carrying goods to and fro, from distant towns and cities. But to an archaeologist these potsherds are like open books. All these potsherds speak. Perhaps each potsherd has some story to relate. You may wonder “how”. The reason is simple. Though the shapes of the pots to which these potsherds belong are rarely intact, still the potsherds are not dead. It is one of the wonders of nature that once a clay pot is given some color, or naturally painted with some designs and then fired, neither the color nor the design goes, though the pot or its pieces may be exposed to the sun and rain and even used for hundreds of years. It is this Nature’s secret that archaeologists discovered some 150 years ago. For by carefully studying potsherds and intact pots if available, an archaeologist can gradually tell how old the pot is, he can also say by further study and by piecing together broken parts of the one and the same pot, what the original shape was, and what part it played in the life of the person who possessed it.

It is the peculiar feature – almost total indestructibility – of pottery – that is one of the main clues which an archaeologist looks for whole searching for bygone cultures and civilizations. Hence Shri Amalananda Ghosh during his exploration of the valleys of the Ghaggar, the ancient Saraswati and the Drishadvati primarily looked for collected potsherds. Of course he was not the first scholar to do so. Before him Shri Aurel Stein had done so for that part of the Ghaggar which flows into the Bahawalpur District of Pakistan. Stein thus had discovered numerous ancient sites. In some of these, he had discovered the kind of pottery which had been discovered previously at MohenJodaro and numerous other sites in Sind. Ghosh did exactly what Stein had done, but being more experienced and well acquainted with the Harappa or the Indus Civilization he noticed that three or four different kinds of potteries were found littered over these tillas in the Bikaner State. While those similar to or identical with that of the Indus Civilization can be easily assigned to the Indus Civilization, others belonged to different cultures. The pottery found at Sothi and other sites in and around the present town was designated as “Sothi”. While another – found at Rang Mahal was called “Rang Mahal Culture.” Because of its bright red color and painting, Rang Mahal appeared promising. It was certainly new. But when it was excavated by a Swedish Expedition, it was found to belong to the early Historical period, to the period of the Kushan ruler of Northern India, including Rajasthan. So when the Archaeological survey of India though of examining of pursuing Ghosh’s discoveries they took up the mounds at or near Kalibanga. For here had been found potsherds and chert knife blades indicative of the existence of the Indus Civilization and also another culture or civilization called the Sothi Culture by Ghosh.

And as rightly anticipated by Ghosh, several years of excavations at Kalibangan by Prof. B.B. Lal and Shri B.K. Thapar have brought to light the existence of a fairly extensive town of the Indus Civilization Harappan Culture, and also the earlier existence of a town to the pre- Indus or Sothi culture. However, as it is the practice with archaeologists, these Sothi or pre - Indus culture have been designate respectively Harappan cultures respectively.

The ancient habitations was spread over an area of a quarter of a square kilometer, and from the beginning consisted of two closely-knit but distinct mounds, an eastern and a western mound. These form a prominent feature of the landscape with their slopes strewn with dark brown nodules, mud-bricks, and numerous potsherds. No traveler in this desert, whether he be an archaeologist or not, could but be struck by this feature of the landscape with their slopes strewn with dark brown nodules, mud – brick, and numerous potsherds. No traveler in this desert, whether he be an archaeologist or not, could but be struck by this feature for these are so conspicuous among the masses of sand dunes on the west, east and south and the green fields on the north; the latter as a result of irrigation.



This pre – Harappan settlement was protected by a mudbrick fortification. When first built it was about 6 feet (1.90m) wide, but later the width of the wall was almost doubled. It varies between 3.70 and 4.10m. the brick size however remained the same. No corner angles of these walls have been found. The north – south distance of the fortified area measures approximately 250 m. The necessity of such an increase indicates that the inhabitants felt insecure with a wall that was only 6 feet wide and hence made it up to nearly 12 feet. This is certainly a good thickness for a fortification wall at this period, for it had to withstand only such missiles as stone or copper-tipped arrows and clay or stone sling balls. Whether this wall could be easily scaled or not cannot be said, there is no means of knowing its height, since the later people – the Harappans in our present knowledge had to break it or remake it to sit their requirements.

What is important is that the traces of a fortification wall have survived. We were told by Marshall some 40 years ago that the non-violent people. Then came Sir Mortimer Wheeler who was the first to identify a defense wall at Harappa and then later at Mohenjodaro. This discovery made him propound his famous theory that the Aryans destroyed the Indus Civilization, for he saw in indra, the Purandara, one who destroyed “walled” “fortified cities.”

Now with the discovery of fortification at Kalibangan, and also at Kot Dijji in Sind, where the mud-brick wall has a plinth of stone rubbles, the whole problem of fortification takes a different turn.

The least we can say is that the Harappans were not the first to have fortified cities in Sind and Rajasthan. And hence the question of Aryans along being “the Purandaras” does not arise. These might as well be the Harappans, who at Gumla destroyed the pre-Harappan habitation.

Again, they were not the first to introduce wheeled conveyance and metal tools/weapons, in these regions, for these were also known to the pre-Harappans. But what the latter did not have was the first access to the flint quarries of Sukkur and Rohri so that their tools for daily use in the house for cutting, slicing, and piercing had to be made from (presumably local) material such as agate, chalcedony and carnelian. These tools are in now way different from the microliths made by the Bagor and Tilwara people, except that at Kalibangan we have mostly straight-sided blades including serrated and banked and fewer lunates, trapezes and such geometric shapes. This small difference is significant, indicating that man no longer needed and made compound tools like the sickle and harpoon and the arrow-head with stone tips, but utilized (probably) copper tools instead.



However, the most striking difference between the pre – Harappan and the Harappan, which is of utmost importance to an archaeologist, is pottery. The Harappan pottery is bright or dark red and uniformly sturdy, and so well baked that no part of the core remains yellowish or blackish showing imperfect firing. This is not the case with the pre-Harappan pottery. The latter is pinkish, comparatively thinner, and not so well baked as the former. Some of it is distinctly carelessly made. One of its varieties, though well – potted, has its outer surface, particularly the lower part; roughened or rusticated (this is also seen at Ahar). Still another variety, represented mainly by basins, is decorated all over by obtusely incised patterns on the outside.

Not only the fabric and most of the decorative patterns, but the forms of the pre-Harappan pottery are strikingly different from the Harappan. While the graceful painted Harappan vase, the goblet and the cylindrical perforated vessel, and the variety of footed dishes or foot-stands are conspicuous by their absence, present are some six to eight types of small and medium-sized vessels. And amongst these, the most noteworthy is a small footed cup. This and its likes remind us on the one hand of the earlier Iranian goblets from Sialk and Hissar, and on the other the goblets or footed cups from Navdatoli on the Narmada.


New Features

Though in a general way all this conforms to what we know of the Indus Civilization, Kalibangan has revealed certain new features.

First there are the usual two habitations. One is the so-called “Citadel” on the western side located on the earlier pre – Harappan settlement overlooking the ancient Saraswati. It is a coincidence that in all the three sites – Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Kalibangan, the citadel is located on the western side and that on a previous habitation? The other is situating towards the east, at a little distance from the first, rich on the sandy plain. It appears now that both these – the “citadel” as well as the “lower city” was enclosed by a separate mud-brick fortification wall. Of the city fortification only the east west wall running for nearly 230 feet (over 80 m.) has so far been exposed. The north – south wall is not yet fully laid bare. Within the city, so far five-north south and three east – west roads, and a number of east – west running lanes have been explored, showing how well – planned the city was. The roads and streets were found to be clear of any intrusions from the house-owners and squatters – a civic feature which is becoming rare all over India today.

Whether there were too many carts moving in the streets or not we do not know. But to avoid damage to the houses at street comers, by the sudden turning of the cart, wooden fender posts were provided, a few of which survive.

Rectangular platforms outside some of the houses seems to have been made for two purposes. Either as outdoor rest-places, or contrivances specially made for mounting over an animal’s back, or rests for laborers carrying heavy load over their heads.



Such well laid out streets were not metalled, except in the late phase of the city, not were they provided with regular drains, as in Harappan cities. However, the houses had drains made of either wood scooped out in the shape of ‘U’, or more often with baked bricks. These drains emptied themselves in the soakage jars embedded in the street floor. It is observed that each house opened or had a frontage on at least two or three streets, as in Chandigarh, for instance. Normally, only one, the corner house, can have such a frontage, but others at the most two, a front and a back one, that too if there is only a single row of houses in a street or a lane. In the Harappan phase at Kalibangan there was only a single row of houses in each street, and this again, divided into several small blocks, so that many open to so much light and air in a region like N. Rajashtan? Or was it after the current fashion, as today in Chandigarh? Even internally the houses were well provided with light and air, for they were built on the Chatussala principle, that is, there was a central courtyard, at times provided with a well and six or seven rooms on its three sides. There is some evidence to say that these earliest houses in Kalibangan were storeyed, for in one house were found traces of a preserved stairway.

The roofs of these houses were probably flat. As today in Kalibangan and many villages in Rajasthan, the houses were built of mud-bricks. The size of which was 20x15x7½. cm. That is the length was twice the thickness, the proportion being 4:2:1. However, the Harappans of Rajasthan were judicious, for they have consistently used baked bricks in doorsills, wells and drains, all places where the wear and the tear was much, and the structures liable to be damaged if baked bricks were not used.

This common sense is again witnessed in the way the flooring of houses are made. Unlike Mohen-jo-daro and Harappa the floors were made firm by ramming (called Koba), and sometimes capped additionally with mud bricks or terracotta nodules.

However, in one case, the floor is found paved with tiles, bearing the typical intersecting design of circles. Exactly similar design occurs at Kot Diji in what is called a “bath tub”. While there is no doubt about the existence of this design in the tub-like large vessel at Kot Diji, it should be ascertained, if not already done, whether at Kalibangan it is real flooring or too is a part of a tub. Anyway, this is a most interesting feature, which does not seem to be merely ornamental, but perhaps of some religious significance, or else some other design would have been preferred. For we know this was a favorite design with the Harappans, and occurs on the graceful vase.

The Bikaner Harappans thus show considerable originality even in the make up or construction of their house. This is further illustrated by three other features. All these are seen in what is called the “Citadel Mound”.



The exposed fortification in this mound makes it look roughly like a parallelogram on plan, exactly as at Harappa, that at Mohenjodaro is not fully exposed, but would probably be of the same shape. This was divided into two almost equal halve. Each half may be described as a rhomb. Again each of this rhomb was enclosed by a fortification wall. The width of th8is wall was quite large, as much as 7 m. (about 20 feet) at places, the minimum being 3 m. (10 feet). This was further strengthened at intervals with rectangular salient (projections) and towers. The wall, it would appear was built in two phases or twice, for initially very large bricks measuring 40x20x10 cm. were used in its construction. Later the normal sized bricks (30x5x7½ cm.), used in civic houses were preferred.



The southern rhomb is found to contain five or six platforms of mud or mud bricks each separate from the other, and different in size, so that the space (passage) between the two platforms is never uniform. Now here are these platforms connected with the fortification wall. Access to these platforms had to be by a flight of steps, which rise from the passage between the platforms. Further the passage fronting the steps was paved.

These mud or mud-brick platforms seem to be quite different from the platform at Lothal, Harappa and Mohen-jo-daro, for instance, the latter were largely built for protecting the superstructures from recurring floods. But at Kalibangan they seem to have a religious function, though this cannot be ascertained, for except in one case the superstructures have disappeared. Or is (was) it because it had by this time become a custom, convention or fashion to build the citadel on artificial mud or mud-brick hillock?


Sacrificial Pits (?)

In the one surviving example was found a rectangular pit (1 x 1.25 m.) lined with baked bricks. This Kunda contained bones of a bovine and antlers, perhaps a sacrifice was performed. This suggestion is strengthened by the fact that adjoining the Kunda was found a well and a “fire-altar”.


Fire Altars

A row of such fire-altars was noticed on another platform and also in many houses in the “ Lower city”. These “fire-altars” invariably consist of shallow pits, oval or rectangular plan. Fire was made and put out in situ (that is there and then), as proved by lumps of charcoal in the open part of the pit. In the center of the pit was found a cylindrical or rectangular (sun-dried or pre-fired) brick. Around or near about were place flat, triangular or circular terracotta pieces, known hitherto as “terracotta cakes.” In a recent article it is said that towards the end of the Harappan settlement this practice was being gradually abandoned because the Saraswati was losing its water to the Yamuna, the fire-altars were poorly equipped – only with one centrally placed brick on edge in a small pit.

Such a “fire-altar” has also been noticed by Casal at Amri, and something similar, but perhaps not identical, was found by Rao at Lothal. Perhaps such fire-altars also existed at Harappa and Mohen-jo-daro, but were missed in mass digging and have only been revealed in slow, careful excavation.

That here in this platformed, well fortified enclosure we have first traces of a religious building with houses for its priests on the site which is also borne out by the fact that no barge, broad streets have been so far found within the citadel. In fact, there is no room for any vehicular traffic. So we have to presume that either every-body walked, or some people – like the priests and the like or the ruler – were carried in palan – quins. The general public could go to these platforms from the southern side through a stairway which ran along the outer face of the fortification wall between the two centrally located salient. A similar arrangement was made for the residents in the northern half of the “Citadel”.

At all the three sites, these citadels are built over a little higher ground, which at Harappa and Kalibangan is proved not to be quite natural but due to the remains of an earlier habitation. However, the elevation was further raised by mud or mud – brick platforms. And this at Harappa and Mohen – jo – daro (and Lothal) is explained as a precaution against recurring floods. But at Kalibangan there is (so far) no evidence of a flood, and again the platform are on separate block with paved flooring in the passage. Further the fire-altar-like structure and the sacrificial kunda on these platforms make the excavators feel (and I agree with them) that these are truly religious structures. Did they have a similar function at Mohen-jo-daro and Harappa? Or there was the real need of a mud-brick platform as a protection against floods, and this functional feature was later mechanically copied at Kalibangan?

The smaller, portable objects at least testify once again to the rich and comfortable life which we now associate with the Harappans. A varied and beautiful pottery (its manifold uses for eating, drinking, storing etc. could be imagined if the numerous platters, dishes and other vessels found intact in a grave are drawn function-wise), ornaments, beads and bangles – in shell, terracotta, semi – precious stones and faience, and some in gold, weights and measures (one in graduated scale as at Lothal), the undeciphered seals including one cylinder seal with half human and half animal figures on it, recalling Sumerian contact and features, and above all, exquisite figure sculpture in the round of a charging bull.



There is nothing specific to tell us about the Harappan religion except the so called fire-altars and the Kunda and an oblong terracotta cake, incised on both sides with a figures reminds once again of the figure in gold in Hissar III, and a painting on a pot at Kot Diji from the junction layers. The incised figure seems extent we are familiar with a horn-headed deity from the famous Pasupati-like seal. But there the horns are not quite clear, and hence some scholars doubt it identification. But in the Kalibangan figure there is no room for doubt. And this as shown here can be derived from the mouflon (or wild mountain sheep) head in gold form Hissar in Iran through the painting of a bullas head on a pot at Kot Diji in Sind, and also at Gumla and Burzahom.



The Kalibangan Harappans were both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Wheat and barley they must have eaten, though so far only traces of barley have been fond. Among the animals they knew and probably cooked for food the largest percentage is that of humped cattle (cow/bull), then Indian buffalo, pig, arasingha, elephant, ass (domesticated) rhinoceros and camel. The camel is again important, proving its antiquity in this region (sind and Rajasthan).


Burial Methods

By and large the Kalibangan Harappans buried the dead, as at west south west of the citadel has been found, on the present flood plain of the river. Not only this cemetery sheds some light on the different burial practices current at Kalibangan, but the varying provision of grave goods, and the construction of the graves enlightens us about the social stratification prevalent in the city. So far three types of graves have been found. In the first type, which seems to be fairly frequent, we have an oblong pit dug into the ground. The dead body was laid in the pit in an extended position with the head towards the north and the feet towards the south. Then around the head were arranged pots, dishes, platters, small water vessels, cups, but not large storage jars, in one case numbering over seventy. This illustrates that there was no fixed number of pts which one had to provide for the dead. If one could afford, and probably belonged to a higher social order, he could have a large number. Besides pots, at times a copper mirror was placed near the head. This is further proved by the fact that this particular grave ad a lining of mud bricks on all the four sides, which were then plastered with mud from inside.

In the second type the grave-pit was oval or circular on plan and contained besides an urn, other pots including platters and dishes-on-stand.

Here again the number varied from 4 to 29, depending upon the wealth (and position) of the person. Again, besides pottery, ornaments such as beads, shell bangles and objects of steatite were kept.

In the third variety, the grave-pit was rectangular or oval on plan with the larger axis oriented north south, but curiously contained no skeletal remains. Usually nothing but pottery was found within these simple pits, though in one case a shell bangle and a string of satellite disc beads and one of carnelian were found.

This is the first time that burials without any human skeletal remains have been found on a site of the Indus Civilization. But the reason behind this non-occurrence is not easy to gauge. It is because that there was the custom of cremation-cum-burial, so that the body was burnt, and later only the ash and a few bones were buried in the urn, or even these were not kept but thrown in the river or sea, as some people do today?



Kalibangan has also provided a very interesting example of ancient medical belief and surgery. In a child’s skull were found six circular holes. These holes were made while the child was alive, for the wounds made by these holes have healed, that is the edges of the holes have nor remained sharp, as when first cut. This practice of boring holes in the head while alive is called trepanning, and was widely current in prehistoric times in Europe, about 3,000 B.C., and was still witnessed in some of the aboriginal tribes of Peru in Central America. Trepanning was resorted to, it is believed, to relieve headache, and alleviate inflammation of the mastoid (conical) prominence in the temporal bone to which the muscles are attached), and on the brain due to injury.

So far the only example of trepanning we had was from Langhnaj in north Gujarat, Kalibangan (and Lothal) have provided two more. These thus give a wide base to a belief and practice which was current in Europe and Africa, some 4,000 years ago; exactly the time is was prevalent in Western and Northern India, including Gujarat, Sind and the Punjab.

The Kalibangan has given us considerable food for thought. Again the paved road and flooring. These are new features not so far met with at Mohen-jo-daro. But we must also note the absence of certain well-known features, such as street-drains, and among the portable smaller objects the complete absence of lingas, yonis, and figurines of mother – goddesses. This is also a feature of the Lothal (Saurashtra) Harappan, and thus underlines the importance of Mohen-jo-daro and Harappa as “religious capitals” as well.

In many respects then the Rajasthan Harappan has a distinct individuality. It is not an exact copy of the Indus. Such a regional variation is but natural, though it would be worth inquiring who introduced or brought about this variation, viz. the indigenous element in the population or because during migration from the centre, the original features got lost or changed.


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Kalibangan - the largest prehistoric site in Rajasthan

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