Dholavira always had a touch of mystery to me. “It is one of the five largest Harappan sites and most prominent archaeological sites in India belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization. It is also considered as grandest of cities of its time” (Source Wikipedia). I have never been to a pre-historic site before. And Dholavira was a unique one in so many ways. Most of the sites of Indus Valley Civilisation were located at the banks of the river. Which makes sense because agriculture was a chief source of food. Dholavira, however, was an island in the sea. The rainfalls in the region were erratic and there were only two seasonal rivers.
This pre-historic settlement survived on trade. The excavations and research has revealed that they traded with Mesopotamia and Egypt as well as other parts of Indian subcontinent, like Bijapur in Karnataka.
Our guide and host Jaimal bhai is an expert on Dholavira. He has worked as a translator with ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) since the excavations began. His knowledge of Hindi, which he picked up from the BSF personnel, was useful to the ASI. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have been able to make sense of half the excavated site. (Not only is he an expert at Dholavira, he is a great host. The dinner we had at his place is amongst the best we have had in Kuchchh.)
The town planning of the ancient civilisation and the way they harvested and stored rain water was like a slap in the face of those miserable urban plans. It’s like they thought of everything and every angle while designing water tanks, shower baths and drainage. And to think that they carried humongous slabs of stones for architecture and dug the earth till bed rock with mere hand tools!
Somehow, it didn’t surprise us that most of the excavated city was not affected by 2001 earthquake. Those guys were geniuses and we have screwed up badly. The walls in those times were at least 5 times thicker than today’s (the exterior fort wall was 18 ft thick) and had Multani mud sandwiched between two thick layers of brick walls. The mud not only provided natural insulation; it also absorbed the shocks of earthquake, hence giving a stability of the stone structure.
We saw similar practice in old city of Ahmeabad during Ahmedabad Heritage Walk. Wooden beams were installed between stones in the wall to absorb the shocks. And these were relatively newer homes (only 150 years old – nothing in comparison to the Indus Valley Civilisation).
I don’t understand why we simply ignored these marvellous indigenous construction practices for the cardboard like boxes prone to all calamities? May be because there are just too many people to accommodate and a 10 ft thick wall is a real estate suicide these days.
In words of Jaimal bhai, these stones speak. They tell you stories and lifetimes of people who inhabited those walls. And the stories were fascinating. The life they lived seemed so much in sync with nature and so pragmatic. This place has a vibe that connects you back to the ground.
There are 7 layers of construction at the Dholavira excavation sites, indicating that there have been 7 stages of occupation at this very place. This means people have built and rebuilt on the very same place every few centuries after the previous settlement had been submerged in layers of soil. And I sincerely feel that it has to do with the energy of the place. Some places have that aura. I think I will come back again to drink in some of that.