Rising from the Dead
         Date: 22-Apr-2018

Multiple ways of disposing of the dead in the Harappan civilisation find an overt reference in the Rgveda raising questions about the similarity of the times. 

Ajay Bhardwaj 
 
Rakhigarhi: India's Largest Harappan Site
 
If the practice of disposing of dead bodies during the Harrapan times is any indication it goes on to establish that the Harappans were a multi-ethnic society which had an echo of Rgvedic times. Excavations carried out in Rakhigarhi in Haryana have revealed that there were at least four distinct methods of disposing of the dead bodies, though predominantly cremation seemed to have been the most observed practice.
 
According to officials of the Archeological Survey of India, about two dozen skeletons recovered from the mounds demonstrated that burial was certainly in practice because all the skeletons have been found buried in an order. "It is not random recovery of a skeleton", said a senior official.
Along with the officials have also found burial ground where only offerings are kept in some earthen pots, which indicate that the Harrapans might have been practising silent burials of their community people who would die off in far-off areas. Their death is confirmed, but their bodies not recovered. So for them, the burial place would simply have some offerings.
 
"Keeping the offerings in an empty grace in the name of somebody who has died could also indicate that the concept of life after death must have been prevalent", the officials believe.
The third practice, of course, is cremation as traces of ash have been also recovered from the same mound where graves were dug.
 
Unlike the present times when ashes and bones of the dead are made to flow in the Ganges or any other holy river, the practice during the Harrapan times seemed to be to bury the bones and ashes together. Dr RS Bisht, a former joint director general of the ASI, who first identified the Rakhigarhi site way back in the early 1980s, said these practices of disposing of the dead indicated what was frequently referred to in the Rgveda.He said there was a reference to it in a prayer which says that " Oh revered pitar, whether you were consigned to fire or not, please accept the offerings made by me".
 
Of the total nine mounds identified so far for excavations, the cremation and burial remains have been recovered from the seventh one which indicated that for the disposal of dead bodies a particular mound was fixed. However, Dr Bisht feels that since the number of skeletons recovered is minuscule, the practice of burial does not seem to be widely prevalent.
 
So far, 15 skeletons have been recovered in two phases. The ASI officials recovered 11 of them in 2002-03, while the Deccan Post-graduate college and Research Institute, Pune, along with the Haryana government officials, during an excavation in 2016, recovered four more skeletons. All of them have been taken to the Deccan College for the DNA test which is likely to establish the genesis of the community people and their habits.
 

So far, 15 skeletons have been recovered in two phases. The ASI officials recovered 11 of them in 2002-03, while the Deccan Post-graduate college and Research Institute, Pune, along with the Haryana government officials, during an excavation in 2016, recovered four more skeletons

 
The leader of the research team from the college had said that "The deposits we have found in various layers at Rakhigarhi go as deep as 22 meters. No other site has such extensive deposits. For example, deposits at Mohanjodaro go down to only 17 meters. This shows, Rakhigarhi area was a bustling metropolis as long back as 5000 to 5500 BC and continued to thrive. People continued to live there for long."
 
"Apart from DNA samples, we have noticed a continuity in the traditions and art in Rakhigarhi. The residents there today use the same pottery designs as seen on the artefacts recovered during digging. It is also visible in food and other habits," he added. According to officials of the Archeological department, the DNA samples would be analysed at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad; Howard University, USA; and the Seoul National University, South Korea.
 

 
Archaelogists inspecting a 5,000-year-old human skeleton unearthed at Rakhigarhi in Hisar 
 
The excavation task in the village has met a number of hurdles lately primarily because of the inhabitation around. More than 200 households on the four major mounds have been asked by the ASI to evacuate, but there has been stiff opposition to it as the rehabilitation plan hit a roadblock. Even after the entire site stretching to over 350 hectares has been earmarked as "surveyed and protected", its vandalisation by the locals has been going on for long bringing frustration to the archaeologists. "Keeping in view the significance of the site, which has now been identified as the largest one to know about the Harrapans times, the government's initiative to preserve and protect has been niggardly", said Dr Bisht.
 
Archaeologists segregate the Harappan civilisation in three phases; the early Harappan from 3,500 to 2,600 BC, the peak Harappan period from 2,500 BC to 2,000 BC and the late Harappan period from 2000 BC to 1600 BC. It was earlier presumed that the origin of the early Harappan phase took place in Sind (Pakistan). However, excavations during the last ten years in Rakhigarhi and other parts in Haryana the signs of the early Harappan period have been amply clear. "The proto-urban Harappan civilisation could go back as far as 4,000 BC," said an archaeologist. It might lead to conclusions that the beginning of the Harappan civilisation happened around the Ghaggar basin in Haryana before it spread to other nearby places.
 
Did it slowly moved to the Indus Valley civilisation? What would be the status of the Indus Valley, Harappan and the Mohenjodaro civilisations put together? These are some of the points archaeologists have been studying. In that case, the outcome of the DNA tests could be path-breaking in many ways.