T.S. Subramanian

CHENNAI: In a rare discovery, the Archaeological Survey of India has found at Bhirrana, a Harappan site in Fatehabad district in Haryana, a red potsherd with an engraving that resembles the ‘Dancing Girl,’ the iconic bronze figurine of Mohenjodaro. While the bronze was discovered in the early 1920s, the potsherd with the engraving was discovered during excavations by the ASI in 2004-05.

A few hundred kilometres separate Mohenjodaro, now in Pakistan, and Bhirrana. The potsherd, discovered by a team led by L.S. Rao, Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Branch, ASI, Nagpur, belonged to the Mature Harappan period. Mr. Rao called it the “only one of its kind” because “no parallel to the Dancing Girl, in bronze or any other medium, was known” until the latest find.

In an article in the latest issue of Man and Environment (Volume XXXII, No.1, 2007), published by the Indian Society for Prehistoric and Quaternary Studies, Pune, Mr. Rao says, “... the delineation [of the lines in the potsherd] is so true to the stance, including the disposition of the hands, of the bronze that it appears that the craftsman of Bhirrana had first-hand knowledge of the former.”

In his article, Mr. Rao has said the bronze was justly known for its stance and workmanship. “With its tilted head, flexed legs, right hand resting on the hip and the left suspended by its side, the bronze sculpture, although nude, enjoys a modest ornamentation with a necklace, wristlets and armlets. A statuette of 11 cm in height, it occupies a unique position in the sculptural art of the Mature Harappan period.”

Mr. Rao called the engraving on the potsherd “a highly stylised figure whose torso resembles that of an hour-glass or two triangles meeting at their apex.” Upon the horizontal shoulder line, a partly damaged round head was visible. In consonance with the bronze, “here too, the right hand is akimbo, and the left is suspended by its side. Slight oblique strokes on the right upper arm are suggestive of the presence of armlets. The lower portion of the body is missing owing to damage on the sherd. The clothing is indicated by horizontal hatchings on the chest and abdomen, and vertical hatchings on the thighs.”

Mr. Rao called Bhirrana an “exemplary” and “paradigmatic” site that stood out on two more grounds. For the first time in the post-Independence period, artefacts called Hakra ware, belonging to the pre-early Harappan period, were found as independent, stratified deposits at Bhirrana. This and other discoveries established the presence of an unbroken cultural sequence at Bhirrana: from the Hakra ware culture and its evolution into early Harappan, early Mature Harappan and Mature Harappan until the site was abandoned.

The discoveries of these periods include underground dwelling pits; house-complexes on streets; a fortification wall; bichrome pottery; terracotta cups; arrowheads, fish-hooks and bangles, all in copper; incised copper celts; terracotta toy-carts and animal figurines; and beads of semi-precious stones.

Seals made of steatite of the Mature Harappan period were found. They have animal figures such as a unicorn, a deer with wavy antlers, a bull with outsized horns, and an animal with three heads — of a deer, a unicorn and a bull. The seals also have typical Harappan legends on them. All these were found during excavations in 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06.

Mr. Rao and colleagues have written on their work in Puratattva (Nos. 34, 35 and 36), a bulletin of the Indian Archaeological Society.

More In: Today's Paper