A Village Sleeps on History

It’s been over a year of my stay in Ludhiana, Punjab, and there is a certain route I traverse almost daily. Lined up on the kilometer-long stretch are beauty salons, departmental stores, a single-screen theatre, Gurudwaras, a gym and various small eateries selling pizza, ice-creams and momos. Yesterday, I chanced upon an article on the internet and discovered that a huge fenced ground at a turn on that route – that barely catches attention and looks like a piece of commercial real estate property waiting for construction – buries in it remnants of a civilization that existed 3,800 years ago! The story said that during excavations carried by National Department of Archaeology, Punjab, in 1984, the site threw up thousands of coins and seals dating back to the times of Yaudheeys, Hermaeus, Gondophernes, Chandragupta and Samudragupta. The land has been declared protected by Archaeological Survey of India ever since, the instruction announced by a small rust-eaten board in a corner.

This was incredulous to me. I wondered how a site of such massive historical importance could lie in total disregard. No friend who accompanied me to that area for evening strolls had mentioned this. To my shock, it emerged they had no clue and, in fact, didn’t show much interest either. Those few who did know had only a vague idea about the excavations and were more like – “Yeah, there was some talk of rare coins back then.”! In this city of flashy cars, deep pockets, colossal houses and a long roster of successful home-grown industries, history is neither preserved nor bothered about.

Curious to know more, I met a family today, with the help of a local, living in the area for more than 60 years. The eldest member, an ever-smiling male Sikh, though hard of hearing, chatted with me happily and offered me such glimpses into the land’s recent history that my eyes popped out. It was 1965 and the family began construction of a new pucca house in the area, moving from a rundown tenement only nearby. As the masons dug the earth, the family discovered a seven-feet deep pot – a matka – buried underneath. As the digging continued, they found eleven similar pots hiding underneath in a row! What did they do with the pots? “One or two were cracked so we broke them down. The ones that were in good shape, we used them to store grains. But they burst in a few months. Until a year ago, I had one of those pots,” he said with childlike excitement. While I sat stunned regretting it all, he saw my disappointment. “Nobody like you ever came to me asking anything about those things. My children and grand-children never valued them and eventually I too began to think little of them.

Anyway, he showed me three coins he had saved over the years. Interestingly, people from faraway places in the country used to visit the village asking villagers about the rare coins and artifacts. The innocent villagers would barter the rare possessions for what they thought was a princely sum. There are quite a few elderly people in the village who have safeguarded these artifacts in cupboards, he said, but with little hope that their children will take care of their prized possessions. Not that they understand their real value either.

Sadly, owing to uninhibited commercial activity in the village, the historical site has been reduced to the fenced ground spread in 10-12 acres of land. Further excavation work on the site has not commenced since 1984, archeological department blaming the inactivity on the lack of required technology.

This village has the potential of being declared a tourism site. If only the city wakes up to its roots.

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