Kolkata: It’s a perfect example of science meeting faith and technology buttressing myth. A detailed study conducted by IIT-Kharagpur – using GPS, one of the latest tech tools – could well turn the clock back on Varanasi, indicating that the holy town has been a continuous human settlement since the days of the Indus Valley Civilization, around 6000 years ago.
The project, funded by the Union ministry of human resources development (it has released Rs 20 crore just for the first phase), has even attracted the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The PM made it a point to explore the project’s progress on Sunday at Varanasi, when he met the IIT-Kgp faculty members and inquired about its possibilities and scope.
The results that have come from a detailed geo-exploration (exploration conducted through GPS technology) conducted by seven IIT-Kgp departments, tracing the different stages through which civilization progressed, and how Varanasi has been able to maintain continuity as a living civilization, unlike comparable seats of human settlement in the world. The researchers have dug 100-metre-deep boring holes all over Varanasi to conclude that there is evidence of continuous settlement at least till 2000BC. There are enough indications that by the time the data collection is over, there would be enough to prove that this date can be pushed back to about 4500BC.
The oldest part of this civilisation has been traced to the Gomati Sangam area of Varanasi, as indicated by the underground layers that have already been tested.
It is perhaps time to take a re-look at India’s history. IIT Kharagpur is about to make an explosive announcement. It is ready to put the clock 6000 years back on Varanasi, bringing it at par with the Indus valley civilisation, if not older. What’s more, the seven departments of IIT Kgp, that are working on the project, are tracing the different stages through which the civilisation has progressed and has yet been able to maintain its continuity as a living civilisation, unlike comparable ancient civilisations around the world.
The project, which is completely funded by the union ministry of human resources development, has attracted the attention of none less than Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who made it a point to explore its progress on Sunday at Varanasi, when he met the IIT Kgp faculty members and inquired about the possibilities and the scope of the project.
The results that have come from a detailed geo exploration through the GPS conducted through 100 metre deep bore holes all over Varanasi shows continuous settlement history till 2000 BC. The indicators are that at the end of data collection, this will be put back another ‘1500 years to establish the final habitable antiquity of Varanasi at 4500 BC.
The geo-exploration, that is being conducted jointly with the British Geological Survey, has already established the existence of Naimisharanya, a forest that finds mention in the Vedas and in the Kashipurana. This forest was considered mythological all these years.
The researchers are also trying to set up a riverine route from Kolkata to Varanasi to Prayag (Allahabad). “Since ancient times, people used this route but the advent of the railways stopped it. We are trying to re-establish that route,” said Joy Sen, a senior faculty member of the school of architecture and planning, who is also the chief of the project that has been christened Sandhi. The other departments that are involved in sandhi are humanities and social sciences, computer science, information technology, electrical, electronics and telecommunications and oceanography. The riverine route will be developed to carry tourists, said sources.
Separate heritage trails leading to the five oldest ghats – Asi, Kedar, Dasashwamedh, Panchaganga and Rajghat – are also being created. “We are tracing the ashrams of ancient yogis and spiritual leaders of all religions that dotted the lanes leading to the ghats. Some of these are extinct now, some dilapidated. We will reclaim and restore as much as possible,” Sen explained.
A large part of the project, which began in August last year, aims at creating a green rim and reclaiming the greenery and waterbodies that dotted the entire zone from Sarnath to the campus of Benares Hindu University. Efforts are on to remove encroachment and illegal constructions so that the earlier ecosystem is reclaimed as far as possible. “Varanasi has been the seat of all religions and their holy men, who will all be represented elaborately in the project. Efforts are also being made to establish special zones in areas that are dominated by old age homes and shelters for widows,” Sen added.
Language, music and iconograohy play a major role in Sandhi. Old texts like Kashipuran or Skandapuran, Mahabharata and Ramayana and the Buddhist text Anguttaranikaya are being re-read for descriptions of Kashi and Kashiraj that were considered mythological all these years.
“We are encountering surprises every day. What was thought to be lore or myth is gradually getting established as history, and that is our biggest achievement,” Sen said.
The MHRD is completely funding the project and has already released Rs 20 crores for it.
The assumptions on which IIT Kgp started work and are gradually moving towards proving are the following. Interestingly, these assumptions are being endorsed by senior Sanskrit scholars like Manabendu Banerjee, general secretary of the Asiatic Society and Nrisimha Prasad Bhaduri, who has been given the responsibility to set up the state’s first Sanskrit University:
1. Varanasi is the oldest sustainable uninterrupted record of human settlement; the epitome of human culture and deep pursuit of higher human ideals – spirituality
2. The arrival of the Buddha to Sarnath around 700 BCE or even earlier and the mention of Varanasi in the whole run of texts from the Vedas (tale of King Divodasa) and the Ramayana; the Skanda Purana; the tale of Kasiraj in Mahabharata and the celebrated Anguttara Nikaya of Buddhism and Bhagabati Sukta of Jainaism mentioning Kasi as a significant Mahajanapada of the 16 confederation of ancient India are finally about to be physically proved and have progressed from their mythological status.
3. Current evidences of continuous Human Settlements in Rajghat mound up to 2000 BCE makes Varanasi the oldest and sustainable Habitat of the world is a starting point.
4. The importance of the meeting of the Himalayan Alluvial foreshore and the Rocky Vindyachal Craton leading to the upturning (northbound) of southbound Ganges makes the geometry astral. The famous book on Kasi by Diana L. Eck of the Harvard University has proved this point. The Kasi Khanda chapter of the Skanda Purana gives a vivid description of the 11 (Rudras) + 12 (Adityas) + 8 (Vasus) and 2 (Aswinis) = 33 Cosmic structures embedded in Kasi. The rest are derivates (Koti). Hence, the term 33 Koti, so popular and yet misunderstood today in terms of quantity and polytheism characater. Actually, they are the 33 lattice structure of one Universal and transcendental divinity, as says the Rig Veda: Ekam sad Vipra Bahuda Badanti (First Mandala, 164 sukta).
5. The regional Gomati-Ganges confluence in the greater Varanasi district is directly contiguous to the historic Naimesha-Aranya where there had existed an ancient citadel of forest hermits, who practised both deep spiritual meditation and also had led a life in this world looking at the right philosophy of life (evolution of bhasa: sanksrit; dhyana, dana-seva, Mokhsa) – to this ancient flow, which probably preceded Buddha and Pareshnath by a few 1000 years, formed the basis and epitome of Indian spirituality, which is Varanasi.
Incidentally, river Gomati is mentioned a 100 times in the Rig Veda, pushing the Vedic epicenter of the Indian Aryan civilization not in the Indus valley but in the heart of the Aryabarta plain, which is Vindyas-Varanasi-Ganga-Gomati-Naimesha sangam.
What the MHRD has to say :
Amita Sharma – former additional secretary MHRD who has just moved out of the department – While humanities, science and technology have in their individual ways progressed quite well in our country, there has hardly been any integral approach and that is why the Sandhi project was conceived. We found IIT Kgp’s idea of going back to the ancient texts and using technology to go deep into the layers of civilisation that lay buried within, extremely interesting. And now they are about to announce their explosive findings!
Trupti Gruha — director, technical education (MHRD) – The first phase of funding is over and we are waiting for IIT Kgp to come to us for the next phase of funding. The entire country is eagerly waiting for IIT Kgp’s conclusions on the antiquity of Varanasi.