Chariots & Swords: Looking for Mahabharata Clues in Sanauli

Does the newly excavated site near Delhi has any link with the Mahabharata?

Published
India
5 min read
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“Does it have any link with the Mahabharata?”

The discovery of an ancient burial site about 70 km from Delhi was exciting in itself, but visiting journalists were perhaps slightly disappointed at being denied an eyeball-grabbing headline when their query was not answered categorically in the affirmative by the two archaeologists present on location.

An ancient burial site about 70 km from Delhi
An ancient burial site about 70 km from Delhi
(Photo: Vivian Fernandes)

“It is too early to say,” said Sanjay Kumar Manjul, an archaeologist and Director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Archaeological Society of India (ASI), who made the discovery along with his wife Arvin, a Superintending Archaeologist with ASI.

Sanjay Kumar Manjul, an archaeologist and Director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Archaeological Society of India (ASI).
Sanjay Kumar Manjul, an archaeologist and Director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Archaeological Society of India (ASI).
(Photo: Vivian Fernandes)

Chariots from Mahabharata?

The discovery of two chariots was significant because it is the earliest such finding in the Indian subcontinent, dating back 3,800 years to 2000-1800 BC. One of them had two wheels decorated with triangles, suggestive of the sun. In the centre of the chariot were four copper tubes into which wooden poles – now decomposed – were inserted to hold the roof. An axle and a yoke were also found.

Chariot wheels excavated in Sanauli.
Chariot wheels excavated in Sanauli.
(Photo: Vivian Fernandes)

The chariot wheels, 65-70 cm in diameter, were similar to those found in Mesopotamia, though it is premature to suggest a link with that civilisation, SK Manjul said. An antenna sword, a shield, a torch and a dagger were also found. These are markers of a warrior class, he added.

Antenna sword.
Antenna sword.
(Photo: Vivian Fernandes)

Bringing Back the Dead

In all, there were eight burials at the site, three in cot-like, four-legged coffins. Two of them had designs engraved in copper. One, which is pretty intact, had engravings of horned headgears on the cover.

Art of burial: Horned headgears
Art of burial: Horned headgears
(Photo: Vivian Fernandes)

Other burials were secondary, that is the deaths had taken place elsewhere but the bones had been interred at the site. Some others were symbolic. A skeleton of a dog was also found. It had been given a ceremonial burial. The animal is associated with Yama, the god of death, and may have been buried to ease the passage of its master into the other world.

A woman’s skeleton.
A woman’s skeleton.
(Photo: Vivian Fernandes)

An exposed skeleton of a woman can be seen at the site. Other findings include beads, a copper mirror, a copper bowl, a copper finger ring, a comb with a peacock motif, a small gold earring and the silver top of a stick.

One hundred and sixteen burials had been discovered about 120 metres from the present site in 2004-05. In 2015-16, a 40 kg copper hoard comprising pots, mirrors and goblets were found in Bijnor. In December 2017, a crown made of copper was found at nearby Barnava, at a burial ground.

Gold earrings.
Gold earrings.
(Photo: Vivian Fernandes)

Arvin Manjul said that ancient sites are usually found under heaps and mounds, but in the Baghpat area, which is in the confluence of the Yamuna and Hindon rivers, they are under flat land. These can be found at intervals of about three kilometres, she said.

Archaeologist Arvin Manjul.
Archaeologist Arvin Manjul.
(Photo: Vivian Fernandes)

The site in Sanauli was discovered when the archaeologists were exploring a 50 km area. They had come to the village in August and had been given pottery shards and copper pieces by village folk, who had found them while working their fields with spades. Digging had commenced in December. It is a shallow site, next to a metalled road, and some of the findings were made just two feet below the surface.

Sanauli has a population of about 18,000 people. Its pradhan (leader), Satyender Kumar, said they have given the archaeologists a free hand. They could dig wherever they wanted. “This is our history. It has made our village famous. We are not in it for money,” he said.

Satyender Kumar, Village Pradhan, Sanauli 
Satyender Kumar, Village Pradhan, Sanauli 
(Photo: Vivian Fernandes)

Arvin said they had dug a 4 sq metre pit in the village to look for signs of habitation, but they could not dig extensively because of little open space.

“This is contemporary to mature or late Harappan period, but not Harappan,” SK Manjul said. Typical Harappan markers like bronze seals, beads and pottery are not there. The people buried at the site may have had contact with the Harappans, he added.

The site has drawn publicity hounds. One of them claimed to be a historian and entertained no doubts about the site’s link with the Mahabharata. He dismissed the caution of ASI officials, ascribing it to the fear of “demotion.”

Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma had sought a report on the findings. His ministry wants them flaunted. Visits by journalists have been arranged. Since the BJP’s politics is about cultural pride with a religious twist, did the minister seek a report out of curiosity, or was he also looking for clues to the Mahabharata?

(Vivian Fernandes is editor of www.smartindianagriculture.in. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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