IN CONVERSATION WITH B.R. MANI, SECRETARY GENERAL OF INDIAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY
Dr B.R.Mani (b.1955) has been a renowned field archaeologist, numismatist and art critic, and has also served as Additional Director General in the Archaeological Survey of India. Since then he has been involved in conservation of monuments in Maharashtra, Goa, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir. He has discovered a large number of archaeological sites in these places besides also in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana during his explorations. He has directed more than 14 excavation projects in the country, some of which are Lal Kot (Delhi), Salimgarh (Delhi), Muhammad Nagar and Harnol (Haryana), Siswania, Sankisa, Ayodhya, Lathiya (UP) and Kanispur and Ambaran (J&K). He is member of various national and international organizations in the field and has widely traveled to European and Asian countries in international seminars and conferences. He has four books and about 170 research papers to his credit.
Q1 From which college have you completed your graduation? What were your favourite subjects?
I have always been a bright student, since childhood. I completed my bachelors from Banaras Hindu University and then Masters and P.H.D. from the same college.
Q2 What was your subject in graduation?
There are three sister departments in BHU, one is history of art, 2nd is history and 3rd is ancient history, culture and archaeology. So I did my Masters in ancient history, culture and archaeology in 1976 and completed my Ph.D. on ‘Life in the Kushana Age’ in 1980 from B.H.U itself.
Q3 Why did you choose archaeology as your career?
From the beginning itself I was interested in nothing else but archaeology. During those times we children had these hobbies like collecting coins of different time frames, different countries and cities. I also developed the hobby of collecting small antiquities like seals and sealings. We had a site near our house in Basti District, Gorakhpur, which I used to visit with my father and grandmother, they were also interested in this field of study. By the age of 10, I had mastered the Brahmi script. My grandmother used to write letters to me in Brahmi script and I replied to them in the same. That’s how my interest got inculcated in this subject.
Q4 Initially have you worked as an apprentice with other senior archaeologists?
YES, of course. When I did my P.H.D. from B.H.U. I had to do it under a professor. Later I also taught in B.H.U. as a professor for 3 years and also at Sarnath. Then I was selected by Union public service commission straight for the post of Deputy Superintendent Archaeologist. After that I underwent 6 months training for this which was must at that point of time. During this time I was engaged in a lot of field work which help me gain practical exposure and apply the knowledge on the field, which we learned in books.
Q5 Have you had a mentor or any kind of inspiration which has helped you come to this position?
As I said earlier, my grandmother and my father have always been supportive and encouraged me since childhood to develop my interest in this subject and later convert it to my career. My maternal grandfather was also a veteran archaeologist who completed his degree from Holland. So this thing has been there in the family since the beginning. And after joining archaeological survey of India I always got good amount of support and encouragement from my seniors who helped me grow and work even harder.
Q6 How does the site formation take place? How do you get to know that a digging should be conducted at a particular site?
There are several reasons for this. Like in literary texts, there are mentions of different cities, town which are also sometimes labeled as something (probably a town famous for copper, a city where cotton was found, a manufacturing site) Also sites have been mentioned in the travel accounts of various travelers which have visited India time to time (like Chinese travelers) sometimes they have also mentioned the distance from one site to another. The areas with a large number of artifacts are good targets for future excavation, while areas with small number of artifacts are thought to reflect a lack of past human activity.” Many areas have been discovered by accident. The most common person to have found artifacts are farmers who are plowing their fields or just cleaning them up often find archaeological artifacts. Many people who are out hiking and even pilots find artifacts they usually end up reporting them to archaeologist to do further investigation. There are many ways to find sites; one example can be through surveys. Surveys involve walking around analyzing the land looking for artifacts.
Q7 You have done diggings at various places. What were your findings?
The excavation at All Kit was taken up with the view of study the layout and settlement pattern of the palaces and other allied structures of the citadel and to conform the literary evidences about the location and shifting of the royal seat in Delhi. Another objective was to confirm the structural conception of the huge depression on the eastern side of the mound known as Anangtal. The citadel area area must have been at a distance from the temple-mosque complex, preferably at higher level of strategic importance with better water facility. Such suitable spot of the citadel in the front of lal kot could be searched only at a massive main mound having large structural of rubble stones a butings, the Anangtal at the western side. The earlier excavation conducted by Y.D. Sharma were mainly confined to fortification walls.
During the excavation it was noticed that debris of the adjoining damaged structures have fallen from all the sides in the tank and hence it is not possible to take accurate measurements of the tank unless the structures are properly exposed. A preliminary study of the excavated remains revealed a sequence of two cultural periods. Period I Rajput period (middle of the eleventh century of the end of the 12th century AD) Period II Sultanate period (end of the 12th century to the middle of the 14th century AD). The phase I of Rajput period is represented by plain red ware also with designs. Amongst the vases some are decorated with incised horizontal bangs wavy lines. Some pots are painted with black zigzag lines on the top or side of the rim of vases, small basins and lids and crisis cross patterns on the shoulder of the vases. Mention may be made of a single potsherd from layer 12 with inscribed Brahmi letters of Gupta period mentioning perhaps a name. The phase II of Rajput period is characterized by the occasional appearance of plain glazed ware of ordinary terracotta core, black slipped grey ware with associated red ware. Small spouted vases and double mouthed, sharp edged medium sized bowls, cooking Handi, inverted flat terminal top lid, small to large size basin, miniature bowls and vases are the characteristic shapes of the period I.
A conical hollow nobbed lid and ring base were introduced in the II phase. The presentation of glazed ware of ordinary core indicated that this phase was much closer to the Turkish invasion of terracotta beads, a lipped earthen lamb, red ware and circular disk or hop scotches.
The pre Muslim association of this cultural period is evident by a number of scattered architectural and sculptural fragments in the following period. Among them mention may be Varaha figure, two stone amalakas, decorated pillar bases and a number of other
The Sultanate period is represented by four structural phases. Phase I is characterized by small lime plastered water tanks of brick masonry of which the western one has a small circular hole provided in the southern wall at the bottom, a lime floor and magnificent circular, eight lotus petal designed water cistern with brick masonry and lime plaster with brick masonry and lime plaster. The same drains were covered by stone chips and plastered over succeeding phase that is phase II. The phase III is represented by a degenerated form of the earlier phase and is characterized by hearths ovens, large sized storage jars buried into the floors and a thick random rubble wall north to south which fortified the mouth in the western side. The residents of this reused the structures of the former phase. The phase IV is limited only in a small area at the top of the mound and is characterized by random rubble wall. On the basis of numismatic and other evidences, it seems the first two phases of period II represent the age of mamluk and Khalji Sultans (13th c.) when the royal seat was located in Lal Kot. The later phases represent late Khalji and Tughlaq periods (first half of the 14th c.) and was shifted to Siri or Tughlaqabad and the site was perhaps occupied by common folk.
the significant feature of this period was the use of plain and painted glazed ware of sandy friable with whitish gritty core as well as ordinary terracotta core with red ware, black slipped grey ware and thick grey ware. Among other finds mention may be made of 31 copper coins of Horsemen and Bull type and coins of Muhammad Ghori, Iltumish, Razia Sultana, Jalaluddin Khalji, Alauddin Khalji, Ghayasuddin Tughlaq and other Tughlaq coins without names.
Q8 What has been one of your most exciting discoveries?
(Laughs) and says so many, each site we excavate, we tend to find something or the other which is concrete and useful. You know I was responsible for excavating the disputed site of Ayodhya. The objective was to find out whether there were any remains prior to the construction of Babri masjid. This was the court order which was given to ASI, which was now assigned to take in charge. My basic aim as an archaeologist was to know the earliest deposit and whether it was related to birth of Lord Ram or not. Moreover the sites around this was excavated by BHU and B.B.lal. luckily I also got the opportunity to excavate below the mosque itself which was apparently the main place called the Ram Janm Bhumi and there I could get the remains which could be dated back to 1500 B.C. through C14 dating. We got seven samples dated right from the lowest deposit, 1500bc onwards. On one hand people believed that there was nothing earlier than 700 B.C. in Ayodhya, the story of Ramayan was a myth or reality. But yes, I did get this opportunity and was very exciting.
Q9 How do we get to know about the time frames of the objects found?
There are direct as well as indirect evidences for this. Direct evidences could be collected by the charcoal remains or any other organic material which we later get dated from several labs which commonly use the C14 method to confirm the age because carbon decays and remains half of its size. Also in which condition and in which stratigraphic layer an object has been found indirect evidence would be in that strata you could find coins and then we can say that this strata belongs to particular time period. Also we can find some inscribed material, some writing and on the basis of palaeography, we can connect with a time period. Also we can depend on art styles, like terracotta of kushana period are differnet from that of shunga or gupta period. Also as we have spoken before, pottery has always been an important factor.
Q10 Can you describe what is included in an archaeological research design?
The first step in an archaeological project generally requires detailed historical research in the library. This enables us to produce an Archaeological Research Design, which summarizes the known history of the site in question and sets forth specific questions and objectives to be addressed by the archaeological field research. The government of the India sends us a proposal and the budget in which we have to do the digging. This stage is followed by field investigations – the actual digging of the site – where the archaeologist attempts to answer the research questions that have been formulated. When the field investigations have been completed, the data that have been recovered are analyzed and interpreted in the laboratory. Sometimes detailed scientific studies – like listed above are conducted during this phase of the work. Then, the data and conclusions of the project are all brought together in the form of a written report, or publication. Finally, sometimes a museum exhibit is created using the artifacts that have been collected and analyzed.
Q11 When you find artefacts from your excavated areas, what happens to them? Where do they go?
When we recover the artefacts from stratified layers and mounds, the most important step we undertake immeadiately is to preserve them so that their colour, shine and shape does not change (coins and metal objects) if possible they are sent to national or site museums or are stored at branch offices and executive branch offices. Nobody can keep antiquities, and if they handle its just till they complete their report writing.
Q12 How does the Archaeological Survey of India publicizes their findings and create awareness through them?
The centralized system functions in a way in which after the excavations the assigned archaeologists have to produce reports of their methods, artifacts found and other discoveries whether small scale or big scale. These reports can be found in libraries as well as the Delhi circle office at INA. Moreover the findings are at display in most of the museums present which also helps to gain knowledge.
Q13 How has this new digital age helped this field?
The scientific dating of materials has created a paradigm shift in this field. Very important thing which has started now is Aerial Photography which is used to know about the area, extent and nature of the site. It creates a view of the site required to study, which by a camera (unless it’s kept at a height of 100ft) is not possible. In Lal Kot site I was the first person in India to use the Geo Radar which helped me locate and gain an insight of the different structures of Anantal. It gives an indication of the structures present under the earth, without digging it and gives an idea about its alignment.
Q14 What are the projects you’re currently working on?
I am currently completing my report writing work which is pending. After my retirement in 2015, I have completed 3 books and now as you now I am working as the general secretary of the Indian archaeological society and have worked on the yearly edition of the publication of Puratatva
Q15 What advice would you offer women considering a career in archaeology?
I would advise that they should take up the risk. There are very less colleges in India providing an integrated course in this field. There’s a dearth of talented minds in areas of prehistory, numismatics (shortage of experts). He/she should consider these fields in this broad subject
Q16 What do you see as the major challenges facing archaeology at the millennium?
Archaeology needs to get its information out to the public and to other scientists. The danger I see is that the value of their information is not being recognized. Thus, systematic studies of human remains are being ignored. Less people want to take up this profession as they thing that in this age there’s less scope to find something new as everything has been already researched upon,which is wrong. Archaeology is a forever living science. No other agency has been certified by the government to take up the excavation work, which is a difficulty.
Q17 What can archaeology offer in the future?
Archaeology’s great usefulness is that it offers a view into the process of history, of change through time. So many fields operate with theories and finds based on undocumented and documented assumptions about what happened in the past in relation to today. What archaeology can do is test those assumptions. It can show what certain regions were like at certain times and what earlier peoples were like, in this way checking the principles of important theories that are being used to guide the future. Through archaeology, the past can contribute to useful knowledge for the future of the world.
(References to the text can be provided on request)