Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The absurdities of Indian Archaeology: The Temple of Gloom and the ASI

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The Archaeological Survey of India which was established more than a century and a half ago has earned a name for itself and  its history has been ably documented by the Prime Minister's daughter, Professor Upinder Singh in a fascinating book, The Discovery of Ancient India Sir Alexander Cunningham who was the first archaeologist to uncover the material past of India realized that there were no written records on which a reconstruction of the historical archaeology of India could be based and so he turned to the Chinese pilgrims who visited India in the early medieval period in search of Buddhist manuscripts. It was left to another great archeologist, Sir Aurel Stein to discover the letters written by some of these early pilgrims in monasteries all along the famous Silk Road. Archaeological discoveries stimulated anb interest in the past and it was only a short hop step and jump to "nationalism" underpinned by a robust historical base in which India was imagined in myriad forms and one of the forms was that of a nation state.  History and Archaeology were inscribed in the very start of the long and tortuous journey to "nationhood" as articulated by politicians like Nehru and Jinnah. Apart from the political uses of an "ancient" past to justify Indian "nationhood" there was also the "medieval|" past to legitimize the quest for nationhood by the Islamic minorities of the Gangetic plains. Further, the discovery of the early urban civilizations in the Indus River Valley led to the appropriation of the ealy urban culture to the so called Dravidian cultural strand of India whose most vehement exponents were the Tamils of the deep south. One enterprising IAS officer, Mahadevan, even created cult following for himself by "reading" certain symbols on the seals of the Harappan civilization as Tamil characters and this man before he slipped into dotage even "deciphered" a seal as the representation of the Tamil god, Muruga. Therefore, Indian Archaeology is full of twists and turns and one is not totally surprised at the present rather strange developments.

On the banks of Ganges there is the non nondescript temple illustrated above. The temple has been the scene of a most bizarre treasure hunt.  A local god man declared that 1000 tonnes of gold was hidden in the temple and he claimed that the last king of the region had appeared in a dream and instructed him to dig out the gold. In any other part of the civilized world this story would have been dismissed with the contempt it deserves. Indian Universities like the infamous Jawahar Lal University which was in the forefront of the so called Ramajanmabhoomi Controversy have maintained a stony silence over this alacrity with which the UPA Government dominated by the Congress pary ordered the Archaeological Survey pf India to excavate in the area suggested by the godman. The last king of the kingdom was hanged by General James Neill when his forces reconquered the area with the help of soldiers from Madras. And so the king is a martyr to "Indian Nationalism".  The last week has seen hectic activity at the site. The Geological Survey of India used ground penetrating radar and declared to anyone who cared to listen that there were solid metal objects under the thick vegetation lenmding a degree of credence to the story of the god man, Om Swami as he is styled. A congress member and a Minister in the Cabinet of Man Mohan Singh instigated the ASI to order an extensive dig at the site of the temple. The result is that a major historical site has been vandalized as a consequence of governmental actions and decisions. No one has ever heard of an archaeological  excavation taking place anywhere in the world on the thin foundation of a senile god man. The frantic pace of digging has not unearthed a single piece of copper and the site,a  potentially important medieval site has been utterly devatated.

The Government of India bypassed all regulatory agencies governing the management of archaeological sites. At the whim of a Minister who happened to be a follower of the senile god man the excavation was ordered. Not a penny was found as there is no hoard buried there. Already the smae god man has spred stories of another treasure waiting in a place closeby the Unnao, Fatehghar. The upcoming Parliamentary Elections which is certain to see a landslide in favour of the Opposition has made the Government of India undertake this ridiculous excavation as the snile god man enjoys a strong support among the backward castes of the region. Indian Government is in the news all for the wrong reason: scams, scandals and now the mad cap treasure hunt.

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