Significant excavations dating back to the Harappan period have added to the lure of Sanghol, near Chandigarh, says Seema Chopra
HOW many of us are aware that the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation stretched into and beyond Punjab? A drive on the Ludhiana-Chandigarh road leads to Khamano tehsil and finally to the tranquil beauty of Sanghol (Uchha Pind) where time stands still. Sanghol was a part of the Harappan civilisation and later a part of the kingdom of the Kushan and Gupta dynasty in the medieval times. The Kushan rulers, primarily Buddhists, built stupas for monks. The digging by the Archaeology Department has yielded objects that go back to the ancient Harappan civilisation as well as Buddhist rulers of the medieval times.
Situated less than an hour’s drive from Chandigarh or alternatively an hour’s drive from Ludhiana, it is an ideal outing for a day. It could also serve as a tourist attraction for Indians and hundreds of NRIs who visit Punjab every year.
First, a brief background of the remarkable civilisation that once existed in these areas of Punjab. After Mauryan emperor Ashoka, several groups like the Indo-Greeks, Sakas, Parths and Kushans from Central Asia and China found their way into Aryavrat (India). Kanishka was a prominent ruler of the Kushan dynasty and a follower of Mahayana Buddhism. He encouraged construction of several stupas of magnificent architecture. Gandhar, on one end of the empire, and Mathura on the other end were the two main centres of art from which developed the Gandhara School of Art and Mathura School of Art. The influence of both these styles can be seen in various relics discovered at Sanghol.
The excavated remains of the once grand circular stupa made of rows of burnt brick spread over a large area is now within a fence. The Archaeological Survey of India made a significant yet fascinating discovery of a stupa built in the 1st or the 2nd century by the Kushan dynasty. The remains of the stupa indicate that Sanghol was an important centre of Buddhism. There was a raised lime-plastered-platform in the centre of the stupa and stairs that led up to it. The centre of the platform contained ashes of Buddhist scholar Bhadras. The ashes were found in a casket whose lid was inscribed with Kharoshthi script. Now, the small pit at that spot is covered by glass to protect it. The inside of the huge stupa had three concentric walls intersected with spoke-like radial walls that formed a series of chambers created by clever mathematical calculations.
Another site containing the remains of three moats that were used for fortification has also been discovered. According to the Arthashastra, three moats were required to be dug around palaces and forts for safety from the approaching enemy.
Near the main stupa, several items of historical value were recovered from a pit. They were packed in that pit but why did someone do this is a question that is difficult to answer. There were 117 carved sculptures and other items that were perfect examples of the Mathura School of Kushan Art. Most of the excavated items were made of red stone and included 69 pillars, 13 coping stones and 35 cross bars. The stone slabs recovered were engraved with scenes from the Jataka Tales, and had figures of Yakshis. Several ancient gold coins, semi-precious stones, ivory and terracotta figurines and inscribed seals were also found by the ASI.
Nearby, upon digging another mound, remains of a large palace of the Kushan era were found. This discovery possibly speaks of a palace near the stupa. The brick wall remains of the palace enclose ‘fire altars’. Cisterns of different sizes have also been found.
After exploring the stupas and the palace, it is worthwhile to visit the museum with the beautiful garden close by. The red and cream-coloured circular Sanghol Museum, established in April 1990, showcases ancient artefacts. The board outside displays information about the excavations at Sanghol. There are 15,000 items in the museum. The master chart at the entrance gives the history of Sanghol. Each item carries a label bearing its name and period, which has been carefully ascertained by the carbon dating method.
The lower floor has an important exhibit of pottery belonging to the period between 2000 BC and 1200 B.C. The rest of the pottery display goes back to the times of Mauryan, Sung, Gupta and Mughal rulers. Also on display are toys, bangles, beads, seals, and coins — made of terracotta, ivory and metal. Inscriptions in Brahmi and Kharoshti script can be seen on a few items.
The coins are interestingly engraved with images of Shiva, Lakshmi, Nandi and monarchs of those times. The museum also displays ‘The Head of Buddha’ recovered from the Sanghol stupa.