When history books come alive

When history books come alive
Some of the rarest archaeological finds in India in the past half a century — including one dating back 1.5 million years — will be on display at a month-long exhibition starting in the Capital Wednesday. In what is seen as a unique way to open up India’s historical treasures to the people, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is showcasing under one roof, for the first time, some of the greatest finds since 1961. The exhibition will also mark the ASI’s 150th year.

‘The exhibition will bring alive the sequence of human creativity in the Indian context and help rediscover India,’ said Gautam Sengupta, who heads ASI and is highly regarded for his archaeological expertise. The ASI had organised a path-breaking exhibition of its work when it completed 100 years in 1961. It was inaugurated by then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The exhibition will focus on the next 50 years of ASI. On display will be an array of priceless tools, seals, implements, artefacts, pottery, figurines, sculptures, ornaments and inscriptions unearthed from all over India.

There will also be maps, photographs and other textual panels to support the objects on display and to help visitors appreciate the significance of these objects and their relevance to the understanding of India’s past. ‘Some of the treasures on display have already led to a rethink on many of the earlier inferences pertaining to our pre-history and history,’ said Sengupta.

There will be stone tools that date back 1.5 million years, bone implements, the only portrait of Emperor Ashoka ever excavated, a sixth century stone image of Lord Vishnu, a fourth century stone statue of Mahishasuramardini, and an elegant 13-14th century Garuda in bronze. Also seen will be a 9-10th century Standing Buddha that was discovered in Bodh Gaya but which had been illegally exported to the US. Another attraction will be the now rusting iron implements of 1,000 BC found in Kottayam district in Kerala.

The archaeological treasures have come from Bhimbetka and Sirpur (Madhya Pradesh), Burzhom and Gufkral in the Kashmir Valley, Harappan sites at Dholavira (Gujarat) and Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Mathura and Vaishali (Bihar), besides many other places. Chinese porcelain of the Sultanate period (1206-1526) discovered in the Feroz Shah Kotla area in Delhi would be one of the major attractions.

‘Whatever we have done in the past 50 years has thrown light on understanding our past,’ explained AK Sinha, a director in ASI. The major discoveries by the ASI between 1961 and 2011 include the earliest ploughed field, the dockyard at Lothal, gold ornaments in Gujarat as well as Uttar Pradesh and a Harappan water harvesting system. In all, 307 antiquities, including four replicas, will be on display. ‘Many of the excavations force us to rethink how our culture evolved,’ Sinha said.

Architect AR Ramanathan has helped the ASI mount the exhibition in a very short period of less than a month. ‘The exhibition is very significant since the treasures which have been brought under one roof may never get to be viewed like that again,’ he said.
‘The National Museum has been kind enough to give ASI their temporary exhibition hall. However, a larger space would have allowed ASI to display representative treasures more comprehensively,’ he added. (IANS)


At: National Museum, near India Gate
When: 27 December to 31 January
M R Narayan Swamy

M R Narayan Swamy

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