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Discovering Harappan Cities

Jaya Menon

By Nayanjot Lahiri
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2005, pp. x 354, Rs. 750.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

Nayanjot Lahiri’s aim in Finding Forgotten Cities has been to detail the story of the discovery of Harappan cities. For this, she has  followed in the footsteps of various explorers and adventurers, antiquarians, military men, literary scholars and archaeologists, amateur and otherwise. The chapters are imaginatively titled, beckoning one to read and deal with the various actors in the story of the discovery. These have been Charles Masson, Alexander Burnes, Alexander Cunningham, E. Mockler, Hiranand Shastri, D.R. Bhandarkar, Zafar Hasan, H. Hargreaves, Daya Ram Sahni, R.D. Banerji, M.S. Vats and of course, John Marshall. Necessarily so, the story has much to do with the Archaeological Survey of India, an institution that itself has had a long and tumultuous history that has been mapped before, as early as the 1960s, by S.N. Roy.       For the scholar there are several details that are of interest. For example, the bringing to light of Malik Muhammad Din’s report on an exploration in 1909-1910 in the Bahawalpur region. This is the earliest report on a region that still holds great archaeological promise. The section on the role of Tessitori in Indian archaeology too was useful, more so because Tessitori worked in the early twentieth century and was a man devoted to written sources. Lahiri correctly points out in the context of Masson and Burnes (of the early nineteenth century) that neither were archaeologists, which in itself was not surprising given that archaeology itself was not a specialized discipline at that time. Indian archaeology clearly at this time followed the trajectory in the West where an interest in the material was the purview of several individuals who had primarily other interests. What is different and hence interesting about Tessitori in the Indian subcontinent is that in the early twentieth century, Indian archaeology still depended on non-specialists. Only gradually was the distinctive character of archaeology realized.       E.D. Ross’s suggestion in 1911 of the setting up of an Oriental Institute where the concerns would be epigraphy, numismatics and anthropology along with comparative philology and languages was illuminating. Even if Ross did not think it worth his while to include archaeology, it was pertinent that Lahiri noted its absence and distinguished archaeology from epigraphy (p. 85), even if in the context of Tessitori (p. 139), she merges archaeology and epigraphy once again. Too often has Indian archaeology included epigraphy as one of its branches – ...

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