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
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”
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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”.
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).
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
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
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
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