The Delhi of numerous fallen cities has a new myth, legend or historical fact emerging every day, if you know where to look.
South of the Capital city, resting on a rocky terrain is Jawaharlal Nehru University which has a short history of about 40 years. However, the rocks in the university claim a different legacy.
“The rocks are older than the Mughuls, Prithviraj Chauhan or even the legend of Indraprastha, the fabled city of the Mahabharata that is claimed as one of Delhi's fallen cities. It is older than the Stone Age or even the Ice Age. It is 2,400 million years old, pre-Cambrian rocks actually,” says Glacier specialist and Geography Professor at JNU, Harjit Singh, before proceeding to explain: “Cambrian means dawn of earth's history. The rocks here are metamorphic rocks of the quartzite variety and are part of the Aravalli hills, relic mountains actually, belonging to a period before the dawn of earth's history.”
There are many legends and claims that university scholars have made over the years. In the late 1970s, a group of history students had found tools dating back to the Stone Age. “Some other research scholars had gone on an expedition to Bhimbetka (pre-historic rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh) and had come back with some tools which they abandoned in the university. Then they were found by these history students from whom the Stone Age theory emerged,” he says.
There have also been claims of pre-historic rocks and pictorial engravings that were found by other scholars. “All rocks are pre-historic,” he says, and proceeds to explain the glorious past of the university's rocks.
The desolate rocks did not encourage human settlement but were an important trade route to reach the Walled City of Delhi; there were seven routes through the hills for traders, one of them being through this area. “If you notice, all the villages surrounding the campus end with the word Sarai which means inn, and there are very old, stone structures in these villages. These houses have one single door that leads into a courtyard with small rooms surrounding it. There is hardly any ventilation. These strange houses were built for a very special purpose.”
The stone houses were inns let out to rich traders as protection and as a resting house before they tackled the bustling bazaars of Delhi. The rocky terrain was home to the deadly and legendry dacoits whose only livelihood was robbing these rich traders.
The area was taken over by the university by the early 1970s but was fertile ground for illegal mining the famous red Badarpur sand and stones for a long time. “There used to be depressions in the ground at many places in the university, clear evidences of mining activity, but were filled up with special ash, although a few are remaining.”
The illegal mining also gave birth to a myth of another sort. “There were cave-like structures formed as a result of the mining for which some scholars suggest cavemen antecedents,” says Prof. Singh.
However, refined tools belonging to the late Stone Age and pictorial engravings dating back to around 500 B.C. have been found on the campus, but a final report from the Archaeological Survey of India about the authenticity of these findings is still awaited.