The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 8, 2001

Discovery of a lost world
Dinesh Rathod

THE discovery of an ancient submerged in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Gujarat has raised a flutter among the historians and geologists in India. Many are disputing the existence of such a site in isolation, while others insist that this could lead to several other unknown settlements lying submerged under sea.

At the centre of this speculation are two government organisations — the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The latter claims to have been kept in the dark about the discovery, till it was announced in the papers.

The discovery, as is common with most archaeological finds, was accidental. Late last year, while on a reconnaissance mission in the Gulf of Cambay for an underwater gas pipeline project, a NIOT vessel took a series of high resolution photographs of the sea bed (actually, acoustic images) about nine kilometres west of Hazira in Gujarat.

While processing the pictures in their lab at Chennai, the team members found tiny pebbles and stone boulders strewn around the seabed — the sort associated with the rubble found on the banks of flowing rivers. Curiosity grew into fascination and more photographs were obtained.


Before long, a full-scale investigation was ordered and for the next six months, NIOT scientists went to and for collecting seabed samples. Detailed photographs revealed geometric structures, which could not have been created by nature. All indicators suggested the remains of a forgotten riverine civilisation.

Yet, NIOT made no announcement of the find and even secretly engaged a few reputed archaeologists to study the evidence gathered, so as to be doubly sure. At the instance of the latter, several metallic objects, obviously man-made, were also salvaged.

Finally, armed with proof of "Harappan-like ruins under the Arabian Sea", NIOT director N. Ravindran spoke of the lost world of Khambhat: "The entire area is seen to be lined with very well laid-out features that resemble house basements, partially covered by the sand waves and ripples in water depths of around 30m to 40m.

He pointed out that all the basements could be seen as well-laid straight lines and at many places, there were channel-like features, suggesting the existence of a well-planned drainage system. A sub-bottom profiler revealed 44m x 19m dwelling units replete with enclosures, sanitation and ventilation facilities.

With the monsoon setting in and further exploration suspended till November, speculation is rife on how this mini acropolis, whether Harappan or not, could slide into the Gulf of Cambay. Assuming that it did due to tectonic factors, how come there is no mention of this civilisation in recorded history?

According to one theory, a couple of major rivers may have been flowing approximately in the east-westerly direction, coinciding with the course of the present day Tapti and Narmada rivers. Owing to geological events, the entire Cambay region could well have sunk — taking down with it the western-most section of the then river and the habitation settled along its banks.

The NIOT team, supported by Harsh Gupta, an expert seismologist, is propounding another theory. Due to the proximity of the region to the earthquake-devastated Bhuj district, nobody questions the argument that this has been a tectonically active terrain from time immemorial.

Then there are the religious fanatics who contend that the river (around which the settlement grew) must be none other than the mythical Saraswati. As science and technology minister Murli Manohar Joshi exulted the other day: "It seems what we read in literature is true. We have been proved right — the River Saraswati actually existed!"

The minister has gone to the extent of suggesting that there could even be a Hindu temple among the submerged remains, little realising that no such structure existed during the Harappan era. Some others are wondering if this could be an extension of Lord Krishna’s kingdom in Dwarka.

But then there are many, equally cynical about the discovery and dismiss NIOT’s claim of a grand city. Eminent archaeologist V.H. Sonawane (who is on the board of the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa) sees "no big deal" in the underwater findings.

"It is quite unlikely that this site exists in isolation," he avers. "Some years back, we had renowned archaeologist R.N. Mehta discovering ruins of three separate eras within a few kilometres of Cambay. He is unfortunately , no more...But it is possible there are other satellite sites around."

In November, when explorations begin again, the picture would be clearer.