History of archaeologyJul 14th, 2009 | By editor | Category: City Culture, Heritage, The Literary world
ARCHAEOLOGY IN INDIA — Individuals, Ideas and Institutions: Edited by Gautam Sengupta and Kaushik Gangopadhyay; Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers (P) Limited, in association with the Centre for Archaeological Studies and Training, Eastern India, Kolkata, 54, Rani Jhansi Road, New Delhi-110055. Rs. 1495.
This book contains 20 essays presented at a national seminar held in Kolkata in 2005. They provide glimpses of the methods and means adopted by the pioneers in archaeology to unravel India’s past, with the focus on the efforts made during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Although numerous conferences are organised by various institutions, papers presented at such gatherings seldom see the light of day, and the fault lies with the organisers as well as the participants. In such a scenario, the effort taken by the Centre for Archaeological Studies and Training to get the proceedings of the Kolkata seminar published, though belated, should be welcomed by all.
The volume begins with the reminiscences of M.C. Joshi, a former Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. According to him, the kind of emotional bonding that existed among the scholars of the ASI was the primary reason for the institution’s growth and scholarly publications. Sadly, the absence of such a bond among the present-day officers of the ASI is reflected in the diminishing academic output.
The efforts of Mackenzie in documenting and cataloguing of what he observed in his long career are great. His manuscripts are a mine of lost information that would be useful in linking with the past. The sincerity and commonsense approach of many British officer-scholars indeed provided a different but simple interpretation of our past. Paddayya’s article brings out not only how he was responsible for the discovery of the great stupa of Sanchi but also underlines the need to tap these sources for more information about lost vestiges. In all likelihood, such information will be useful in understanding the changing archaeological context of Indian monuments.
Similar to Mackenzie’s were the efforts of Alexander Cunningham. He is often criticised for his methods of examination. Cunningham’s contribution, as brought out by Upinder Singh in her article, makes one rethink about his role. She is able to establish that his contribution must be evaluated from his list of publications and his manner of recording. But for him the architectural surveys would have dominated the fundamental field surveys. It requires to be read by all to understand the foundation of a great institution.
Another giant, who laid emphasis on a scientific interpretation of the evidences to understand the past, was H.D. Sankalia. Like Cunningham and Marshall, he too was an institution-builder. S. Atre sketches his other side from his personal papers and letters. Many scholars proposed some great hypotheses about past, not in their writings in academic publications, but in their private papers, expecting at some point in the future there will be clinching evidence to prove them. Sankalia’s perception on Ayodhya should be one like this. It is indeed heartening to know that the personal papers of Sankalia are available for academic research.
Ideas that turn into theories are always a concomitant feature of scholarly pursuits. The articles on the importance of numismatics and pottery, two major archaeological resources, bring this out saliently. Sharmi Chakraborty’s analysis of the study of early historic pottery is a welcome change in the historiography of archaeology. It requires a correct combination of individuals, ideas, and institution for scholarship to emerge.
The minor States ruled by ‘intellectual maharajas’ played a very significant role in unravelling the past. The roles of Hyderabad and Baroda are well brought out by the respective authors.
There are however some aspects the editors have failed to address. The role of Marshall in shaping the ASI and its conservation efforts is not discussed by any scholar except briefly in a paper on conservation. Secondly, the significant role of Indian scholars and technicians like photographers and draughtsmen during the 19th century is a subject many have not studied. In the event, the historiography of archaeology in the 19th century largely remains the study of European-scholars and their contribution. This requires to be rectified by the present-day scholars. Thirdly, while the contribution of major princely States like Vadodara, and Mysore are well known, that of minor States like Pudukkottai and Travancore needs to be highlighted.
The publishers could have paid more attention to typesetting since there is no consistency in the fonts used, something not expected from a well-established institution like Munshiram Manoharlal, who have a legacy of their own.