Dholavira – India’s 40th UNESCO World Heritage Site
Dholavira, one of the five largest Harappan sites of the Indus Valley civilization became in 2021, the latest addition to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s the 40th UNESCO heritage site in India and the fourth in Gujarat given this distinction.
Situated on the Tropic of Cancer, at Khadirbet (Khadir Island) in the Bhachau Taluka of Kutch District of Gujarat, Dholavira is testament to a glorious past, well ahead of its time.
The settlement served as a preeminent settlement for over 1700 years between the Pre-Harappan to Late Harappan periods.
Dholavira’s discovery is credited to J. P. Joshi, of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), who officially located the ruins of this majestic city between 1967–68. Its past and heritage became the focus of great curiosity, and excavations continued until 1990.
A citadel city
A unique, quadrangular city of over 120 acres, Dholavira sat between two seasonal streams – Mansar in the north and Manhar in the south. It’s one of the best-preserved urban settlements from the period, boasting meticulous town planning, literacy, and a strong economic base because of its role as a vital, international trading post.
During excavations, archaeologists unearthed artifacts like pottery, gold and copper ornaments, fish hooks, tools, and imported vessels. They also found remains of a copper smelter, indicating an extensive knowledge of metallurgy. The presence of shells and semi-precious stones implies the strength of trade between Mesopotamia and the Oman region.
Today Dholavira serves as one of the most prominent archaeological sites on the Indian subcontinent. Extensive remains reveal a cascading series of water reservoirs, an outer fortification, two multi-purpose grounds, nine gates with unique designs, funerary architecture (hemispherical structures like Buddhist Stupas), multi-layered defense mechanisms, as well as extensive use of materials in construction, including special burial structures.
Innovative town planning puts modern cities to shame
The city’s glory days lasted from 2500 to 1900 BC. But even its ruins suggest that Dholavira was a remarkably well-planned citadel. Remnants of the cityscape indicate that the settlement consisted of a castle, a bailey, a middle town, and a lower town. It was designed with wide roads, spacious dwellings, public spaces, and sophisticated systems for harvesting and distributing water. The citadel was constructed with smooth, sun-dried brick and stone masonry. Dholavira is home to circular structures, some of which are believed to have been graves or memorials.
Surviving a Harsh Environment
Yet, of all of its discoveries, one of the most amazing is Dholavira’s formidable water management system. The presence of dams, reservoirs, drains, and water distribution channels reflects that the Harrapan community had considerable knowledge of hydraulics.
The gradient of its landscape, which directed the flow of domestic water to the entire city, its drainage systems, and the dispersal of water into agricultural fields, as well as rainwater harvesting, is testament to Dholavira’s elder statesmen who ensured its denizens had water access in their homes and fields.
Dholavira is considered an important example of a society’s innovation in adapting to a harsh environment.
A signpost with Indus Valley inscriptions
Its location on the Tropic of Cancer and the discovery of circular structures in the Bailey, suggest that the citizens of Dholavira had some knowledge of solar astronomy. A signpost perhaps the world’s earliest – comprised of 10 large stones carved with inscriptions in the Indus Valley script known as the Dholavira Signboard, was discovered in a room by the northern gateway of the city. The Harappans had arranged and set pieces of mineral gypsum on a big wooden board to form ten large symbols. However, the script, remains a secret, waiting to be solved.
Finding Examples of Heritage
It is often said that a mirror to the past is almost always a mirror to the future. Dholavira lasted a remarkable 1700 years. Its ruins offer a gold mine of knowledge for town planning, solar astronomy, water management, waste management, defense mechanisms, literacy, and engineering. UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site because of its significant ‘Universal Value’ over the span of time.
Sometimes all it takes is a glance in the rear-view mirror to rediscover the wisdom that permeates the history of a once flourishing land.