The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusionAlbert Einstein
Let not a quote from the great Albert Einstein impress upon you the misconception of this blog post being one about relativity and physics. On the contrary, this one is far from those seemingly “trepidatious” subjects mentioned above.
In line with the title and the aforementioned quote of Albert Einstein, this blog post will take you through a short walk down the “timeline” (not the wormhole sort of timeline in quantum realm, don’t worry) and help you get acquainted with some of the facets of India’s past. As you might have guessed by now, a small jewel of the huge gamut of a facet will be explored in this blog post – the saga of the Indus Valley Civilization City of Lothal, in present day Gujarat, India.
It feels pleasantly preternatural when the thin lines between reality and legend seem to vanish before our eyes..
Of course, most of us might be acquainted with the Indus Valley Civilization. This Bronze Age Ancient Civilization flourished in India from around 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE. Astounding architectural and Civil Engineering feats were observed for a civilization so ancient, with the effect amplified due to juxtaposition of the aforesaid stupendous feat with the humbling fact that those ancient engineers had no access to CAD and other marvelous tools of Modern Engineering which the contemporary Engineers use. Towns were meticulously planned as per Modern Standards – with multi-storeyed buildings, efficient water supply and drainage systems, paved roads. This is one of the many astounding hallmarks of the Indus Valley Civilization. Though it has been named after the Indus River (owing to the discovery of its well known cities Mohenjodaro and Harappa along the banks of the Indus River system), the Indus Valley Civilization actually stretches to places far flung from the Indus River, in India, Pakistan and even as far as the Afghan border. One such city is located in the Sabarmati river estuarine area in south Gujarat, named Lothal. And that is what we shall explore now.
Wait a minute.. You must be wondering why on Earth am I flooding your head with quite a high dose of archaeological lexicon? What is it that I might want to convey? Let me reveal the reason now..
The reason is in line with the title or subject of the entire blog, i.e., the Uncliche. You might be wondering what is so “uncliche” about a seemingly nondescript 4000 to 5000 year old town, yet to be unearthed in totality?
The “grand revealing” of the answer will surely happen, without doubt. However, to satiate the curiosity a little bit, I can safely say that there is more to this “uncliche” than meets the eye – by a long shot..!! Let us blur the lines, in line with the thoughts of Prof. Einstein.
I so wish that the concept of time travel were true. A vivid description of time travel through the Quantum Realm, explained by Michael Crichton (author of the Jurassic Park, which definitely doesn’t need introduction) in his novel Timeline, makes me quite optimistic about the possibility of the same….
Anyways, till Science turns such a Fiction into Reality, I can try to achieve a Quantum of Solace through excursions to places like these. And to a history buff like me, experiences like these are nothing short of time travel.
The juxtaposition of the paradox seems so vivid and enthralling by itself - akin to someone from the contemporary world, while walking through the ancient ruins of the city, is charmed and awed enough by the wonders of the ancient walls so much so that he/she is actually able to visualize a typical day in the city operating in its full majesty and glory - some 4000 years back, empowered by the application of the modern knowledge, practiced so impeccably and meticulously, thousands of years ago.
And pray, what “modern concepts” are being implied over here in this supposed “time travel”? Let us dust off the sands of time from this place, layer by layer.
Brushing off the “Sands of Time”
Docks with Locks
To the uninitiated – Lothal is itself an “uncliche” among the regular Indus Valley Cities like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Ropar, Kot Digi etc. A major differentiator for Lothal is the fact that Lothal was the Major Port City of the Indus Valley Civilization.
The images of harbours, merchant ships, berths, dockyards with cranes and many more related images easily crop up in our minds if we see the mention of a port anywhere, as far as the physical appearance is concerned.
Quite astonishingly, there was not much of a difference between a Modern Port and the Ancient Port of Lothal – the biggest similarity being the presence of locks to control the flow of water.
The concept of locks in docks seems to be quite modern. Locks help control the flow of water in and out of the berths or harbour to facilitate the entry, berthing and exit of ships. Thanks to the advancements in Modern Science, the concept of locks no longer is alien to the modern ports.
However, given the epoch of history under consideration, one must give due credit to the Indus Valley City Planners and Architects for constructing a well functional estuarine dock with locking mechanism – an idea which would be replicated several millennia later.
So, the next time you need to think about examples of advanced Architecture which are aeons ahead of their times, think no further beyond the Indus Valley Civilization.
Globalization and International Business
The jargons under discussion are quintessentially modern.
Globalization, in its modern context, has its etymology starting from the later phase of the Industrial Revolution, which has matured (rather, the process is still continuous) from 1960s onwards. International Business and Trade is thus an effect of increased globalization.
International Business and Globalization might have recent etymology, but the concepts and actions involved there are not at all new. However, the time-frame of the Indus Valley Civilization, particularly Lothal, strongly imply that the city might have been the pioneer in Maritime International Trade.
The Geographical location of the Port and the flourishing cotton cultivation, coupled with bead manufacture supplemented by the evidence of coins and seals from Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Sumerian Civilizations bear testimony to a flourishing business between the matured contemporary civilizations of the ancient world. And why should it not be?
Logistically, Lothal offered a brilliant artificial dockyard system to enable smooth maritime trade through merchant ships.
Another facet of globalization and international trade falls back to the basic supply and demand theory. Clearly, a flourishing trade enabled by a Port City is unsustainable in the long run, if logistical advantage is the only benefit offered by the city. The city needs to develop some other revenue stream through a new value added product or service to complement the logistics and generate sustained income in the long run.
The best modern day exemplification of the aforesaid concept is none other than Singapore
Logistical advantage of Singapore, which helped anchor the merchant ships to the Country, paved the way for the Country to scale up and attract banking and finance sector, followed by a limited set of manufacturing Companies, which have now transformed Singapore from a pure logistic hub to a Major Banking and Finance hub of the World. And we should not forget the thriving tourism sector and tourist offerings of Singapore (currently stands at 4% of GDP of Singapore as per STB, and growing)
If we delve a bit deeper into the case of Lothal, then though we can say that the lack of evidence might be inconclusive to prove the presence of a strong Banking or Financing system back then, irrefutable evidence of manufacturing and trading of value added “niche” or “premium” products is available for Lothal.
And this product, commanding a “premium”, is none other than beads – shiny, polished, intricate beads used for jewelry, ornaments, toys or decorative purposes.
Bead Manufacturing was a flourishing business in Lothal. Intricately designed and polished beads commanded premium and were in great demand abroad. The finesse of the manufacturers is evident from the samples excavated from Lothal.
One can be absolutely flabbergasted if he/she notices the microscopic level of polish and accuracy in bead manufacturing – even for the ones which are too small to be observed by the naked eye.
Not just beads, other pieces of jewelry were also unearthed from Lothal. The astounding skills of the Indus Valley Civilization people is quite evident from the fact that they knew almost inside out of working on a number of materials, ranging from Copper Metal to Ivory, to create exquisite pieces of jewelry, which would command premium abroad undoubtedly.
Is that not uncliche enough? Architecture, Global Business and now Top Class Manufacturing of Premium Products – the Indus Valley Port City of Lothal hardly fails to strike the observer with awe for its hallmarks – which are millennia ahead of their times.
The lines separating the past from the present seem to blur over here, isn’t it?
Punctilious Town Planning
Town Planning akin to Modern Urban Cities is a major hallmark of any Indus Valley Civilization City, and Lothal is no exception to this. The Central Schema of town planning, viz., stepwells, reservoirs, locality segregation might be different for different cities. But the basic civic facilities like drains, water supply, paved roads and more such facilities remained the same for all the cities.
The water supply in Lothal was predominantly taken care of by wells and the Sabarmati river, on whose estuary the city was constructed. The individual houses had private bathrooms connected with covered drains, made of bricks and emptying into cesspits, which were cleaned periodically.
The city had separate subdivisions:
- The Upper Town: For the elites of the town
- The Acropolis: The bustling marketplace for trade and bead manufacturing
- The Lower Town: For housing the common folk of the town
- Dock: For berthing of ships, loading and unloading the cargo
It may be reiterated that the Town Architects did not build the dock directly on the banks of the river, to prevent silting of the same. However, the artificial canal, dock and lock system was built to allow seamless entry/exit of ships from/to the river and its estuary.
Town planning, punctilious to its minutest detail. Ancient, yet Modern in almost every respect. Perhaps Prof. Einstein was right after all.
Your Fable-ous (Harry) Pot-ter
You might as well be thinking: Wait, what does this even mean? Harry Potter?
Well, the “Potterheads” might be disappointed to know that the City has nothing much to do with Harry Potter. But it did have a lot to do with Pottery and Pots. And uncovering those pots from the annals of the Earth did release some “magic” akin to Aladdin’s lamp (sort of). Let us explore more.
Pottery is another distinctive feature of the Indus Valley Civilization. One can find several varieties of plain, coloured and painted pottery wares, commonly made out of clay and terracotta.
Now from where did this “magic” come from?
The fact that the artisans during 3300 BCE were able to build such coruscating pieces of artwork without modern technical advancements is nothing less than magical. Any observant eye is bound to get limitless latitude for observing the magic in the air, whether he/she decides to be awe inspired by the meticulous town planning, or the intricate beads or the magnificent pottery. But there is more to the magic.
One of the pots unearthed from Lothal is shown above. If you look closely in the highlighted sections, one of the figures (Top Right Side highlight) depict a bird (possibly a crow) with some food perched on a tree. If you observe the Left Side highlight in the mid-section of the pot, you can easily find a fox standing below that tree, eyeing the food.
Now the question comes up as to why am I mentioning this?
Does the mise en scene described above not seem to ring any bell about any fable? Something you might have heard during your kindergarten days? No? Alright.
The backdrop is eerily similar to one of Aesop’s Fables. The fable mentions about the guile and persuasion of the fox into flattering the foolish crow to sing, thereby causing the latter to drop the food, much to the delight of the clever fox.
The debate on the exact origins of this fable will open up an entire different discourse, something I am not interested in venturing into at present without more conclusive piece of evidence. However, the setting, evidence and the context cannot negate the possibility of the fable originating not from Greece, but from the Indus Valley Civilization itself. For the record, Indus Valley Civilization predates Aesop by almost 1300 years, and had flourishing business relations with several contemporary Middle Eastern Civilizations, quite close to or even overrunning the present day Greece and Europe. Fascinating to know isn’t it?
Uncliche. Fable-ous. Magical.
…. Until Next Time….
Upon a bit of retrospection, Prof. Einstein’s quote does feel quite apt with respect to this context. There can be hardly any illusion between (our) past, (the Indus Valley People’s) present and their future.
No amount of credits or praise would suffice if one tries to appreciate the genius and work of the people who lived in this part of the World, about 5000 years back. They thought ahead of their times, manifested in almost every walk of their lives.
Many of us living in the bustling Mega Cities of the likes of London, New York, New Delhi, Moscow, Frankfurt, Mumbai and similar might think of our lives being fast paced, lacking enough time or balance in life. And this is quite true to a large extent.
I hope now we will all appreciate the fact that long long time ago, there did exist Metropolises with nearly all the Modern amenities, millennia before Christ. There did exist vibrant and flourishing maritime international trade and modern docks akin to the present day Singapore. Long before B-Schools taught about premium products and niche marketing, the Civilization people were already manufacturing and selling precious ivory and terracotta beads to Global Markets, with finesse reflecting on even the minutest of the details, aptly commanding a high premium.
These and more of these wonders of the ancient world lie scattered in over 600 odd Indus Valley Civilization Cities of India, waiting to strike the inquisitive souls with pure wonder and awe.
Go, visit them, get awestruck..!!
© Abirbhav Mukherjee. All the pictures / videos posted in this article are my own unless otherwise mentioned.