Social Scientist. v 25, no. 284-285 (Jan-Feb 1997) p. 16.


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IRFAN HABIB"

Unreason and Archaeology—

The 'Painted Grey-Ware' and Beyond*

One of the notable post-independence discoveries in which the Archaeological Survey of India has taken much pride is that of the Painted Grey-Ware (PGW) culture. The pottery was identified at Ahichchhatra in 1946 (cf. A. Ghosh and K.C. Panigrahi in Ancient India-1, pp.38, 40-41). The first systematic description of the culture was provided by B.B. Lal in his 'Excavation at Hastinapur and Other Explorations', Ancient India, Nos.10-11 (1954 & 1955).

Lal's report undoubtedly owed its popularity Jn part to his attempt to find in PGW a proof of the historicity of the sacred epic literature. Both Hastinapur and Ahichchhatra are place-names that occur in the Mahabharata^ so too are those of 'Mathura, Kurukshetra, ,Banawa, etc/ (pp. 6,7,51), and these places too had yielded PGW. The reader may notice the rather odd 'etc.' after only three names, seeing that 32 PGW sites had by then been located, and were duly listed by B.B. Lal (pp. 138-41). One may then think that the remaining 'Mahabharata sites' out of this number were those 'alleged to have been associated with the story according to local tradition'. But the only specific jexample of such 'local tradition' that he provided was that relating to Tilpat: 'According to local tradition, Tilpat is also associated with the Mahabharata story, and it was indeed gratifying to find there the same ceramic sequence observed as at Hastinapura' (p. 7). Lal thus not only openly proclaims his bias, but is apparently also not shaken by the enormity of the assumption of an oral report surviving for three millennia (according to his own chronology); nor is he vulnerable to the commonsense supposition that the popularity of the Mahabharata lore in time probably threw off local sub-lores about particular places, especially those containing some ruins.

Having, to his mind, satisfactorily linked PGW with the Mahabharata, a suitable date for the great battle had to be determined. Lal knew of the year 3,102 B.C. calculated by P.C. Sengupta, c.1424 B.C. by K.P. Jayaswal, c.1400 B.C. by A.S. Altekar, 1152 B.C. by S.N. Pradhan, and 9th century B.C. by H.C. Raychaudhuri,

Former Professor of History at CASH at AMU, Aligarh.

* Paper presented at the 2nd ASH A Conference, Aligarh, June 1996.

Social Scientist, Vol. 25, Nos. !-£> January-February 1997



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