Pick up any Sunday Newspaper and you will find page after page splattered with advertisement of acres of land developed into various townships incorporating numerous tall residential complexes, malls, play grounds, gym, club house and schools. Each one boasts to be equipped with latest amenities and other initiatives. But what if someone tells you there was a better, well planned, much organized and more eco-friendly townships which were built around 5000 years ago! Pretty hard to believe isn’t it? With its exquisite planning and aesthetic architecture, an outstanding example of a township of the 3rd millennium BC awaits at the ancient site located in the small island of Khadir Bet. The excavated site of Harappan civilization has been named as Dholavira as it is situated near the village that goes by that name.
If one dares to compare it with any of the contemporary townships built by the leading real estate owners of our times, then Dholavira doesn’t fall behind in any aspect. In fact, it might even be a step ahead in its innovation for building an eco-friendly township. Erected on an area of 250 acres of land, it comprised of a grand castle, a bailey, a middle town, a lower town, 2 ceremonial grounds or stadiums, market place, and more than 16 amazing systems of water reservoirs. Each of these sections was guarded by enormous fortifications running on all four sides. One of the most ardently guarded of all the sections was the castle with impregnable defenses. The castle was also the only section furnished with impressive gates, wells, and drainage systems. Dholavira evince quietly its innumerous pool of talent, by what they built in an era when technology was not even defined.
Built on terrain so difficult to tackle that building a house is no less than a challenge, an environment so dry that drinking water would not be available all through the year, a locality so remote that settling down here would be considered unwise. But without technology how did they build it? A city this old might persuade one to think – what possible engineering or architectural skills would they have possessed at such an ancient time?
Dholavira site uncovers this townships enormity and magnificence, leaving its visitors dumbfounded at the sheer astuteness of the people who constructed it. You don’t have to dig deep to understand that. Just a look at the blueprint, the dimensions allocated to each of the sections of this city, would be enough to clear all warring doubts out of one’s mind. Some of the mindboggling facts lie merely in the length to width ratio by which the city was planned. For instance, the exterior walls of the city and that of the castle are in the same ratio of 5:4. Also, the length of the castle to that of the middle town is in same proportion to the length of the middle town to that of the city walls. These are not mere coincidences but a result of scrupulous planning of the aesthetic architects, who according to many scholars, are believed to have a thriving obsession for perfection in every aspect of planning. These striking revelations give an immense understanding of the mathematical and architectural knowledge they were endowed with, in those times.
If these facts don’t enchant you, then wait till you stand inside one of the massive excavated reservoirs which were built by cutting through rocks in the ground. The sheer size of the reservoir would startle anyone witnessing it for the first time. One of the largest reservoirs recently excavated was approx 74 m long, 30 m wide and 10 m deep! This one reservoir has the capacity to store 2 crore litres of water. To put things in perspective, the city of Mumbai is sourced by four dams which has a combined capacity of 11 crore litres!!! This is just one in a series of 16 such reservoirs of varying size skirting the city. They are walled from all sides with stone and clay, and have a series of steps leading to its base. Walk down these steps to stand at the base, and you would to feel dwarfed by these monstrous structures. It was pure skill and intelligence that they could build such enormous structures without the use of machinery. A pit of that enormity would require hundreds of excavating machinery and trucks to get the debris out. They would also require explosives to cut into the rocks else it would be termed impossible. But not for these people, they had enough knowledge that led them to overcome any barriers they might have come across, building them.
But the rain water harvesting system doesn’t end there. The area where this city stood was deprived of rainfall, so it was important to store every drop that they could find. There are two streams flowing from outside the city’s north and south boundaries. They built dams to trap the water from these streams and directed them to the reservoirs. Each of these reservoirs has a feeding drain to feed water into the next one. So whenever water enters one of the reservoirs, it automatically starts entering the subsequent water tanks too, thus filling up every tank simultaneously. Some of feeding drains if examined closely have rectangular grooves suggesting that some sort of filter equipment were used which fitted into these grooves. So the water they stored was even filtered!
The whole city stands on a 13 m east to west natural gradient ground. And this fact was utilized to its fullest potential in positioning the reservoirs so that the water filling system becomes automated. This system of cascading reservoirs to auto fill them, wouldn’t have been possible without a deep knowledge in hydraulic engineering. Such an elaborate system of water conservation was not seen in any other cities built in those times making Dholavira, one of the extraordinary cities of that era! Furthermore, such elaborate and detailed water conservation systems are not seen in townships even today.
They can be referred to be too technical in their town planning skills, but that doesn’t make them a serious bunch of people, entertainment was also given equal importance. A conclusive evidence of it is the 2 stadiums or ceremonial grounds built on the north and east of the castle. The one to the north was the larger of the two, and was built on an area of 4 acres of land. The excavations revealed four narrow terraces like a seating arrangement estimated to seat 10,000 people at a time. There are various theories about this ground. As the north gate of the castle leads to this ground, it has been speculated that it might have been used for royal ceremonies. The seating arrangements indicate many other ceremonies or functions would also have taken place. The remnants of various jewelry, fragments of pottery and other items from the ceremonial ground itself, indicate it might have also been a makeshift market place too. The theories about it can have no end, but these analytical facts are too intriguing.
The presence of numerous seals excavated indicated the very purpose of this town being built at a location where fresh water was scarce. It was a port city and therefore had many seals to identify the origin of the merchandises. Many of them had Indus valley scripts, while others had animal figurines. Many of the ancient artifacts discovered at Dholavira such as pottery, seals, weights, beads, pictures of jewelry made from gold, silver, copper, ivory, shell, faience, steatite, clay and stones are at the display at the museum built right at the entrance of the site.
The most fascinating of all the discoveries at Dholavira was a sign board with 10 letters of Indus script embossed on it. It was a 3 meter long sign board and was found near the northern entrance of Dholavira. As Indus scripts has never been deciphered, it remains a mystery to this date as to what it means. No such signboards have ever been excavated from any other sites of the time making it one of the first signboards to be ever discovered. It suggested that common people were literate too!
Dholavira, in the present time, is a small laid back village in the Khadir Bet Island situated in Bhachau Taluka of Gujarat State. The roads leading to this site passes through the spellbinding landscape of White Desert as this island stands amidst Rann. This makes the drive to Dholavira, a pleasure in itself. There aren’t many options to stay at Dholavira, except for one hotel named Toran Tourist Complex which is a decent bet. Although many tourist visiting Dholavira would rather prefer staying at the main town called Rapar, which is around 75 kms from Dholavira. It is considered more ideal place to stay as there are many hotels here. Taking the tour of the site can take just an hour or may be the entire day depending on the interest level of the visitors. But Dholavira itself has many marvels to offer its visitors.
This site’s excavation has been going on for many years and there might still be many more things yet to be discovered. All the findings about this place are equally spectacular. May it be the artifacts or the township itself; nothing is less than a wonder. The more you see, assimilate and understand, the more you feel astounded by the incredible aptitude they possessed at such an ancient time. It might not be an overstatement to say that many of the townships of today have a serious inspiration from such ancient cities. A city so remarkable for its conscientious planning, monumental structures, aesthetic architecture, and amazing water harvesting that one might even question – if we really have gone ahead in township planning at all! Such is the magnificence of this place. Visit Dholavira to witness and get amazed by this unique heritage of India.