Sardar K. M. Panikkar & Saraswati Civilization

Featured in the second Indian History Carnival was a book review of John Keay’s India Discovered.

As in a book on India’s discovery which I have read in Time Life Books series, this book also concentrates more on the visionary historians rather than on pure history, and the author too mentions this in his Introduction. Thus, William Jones’s discovery of Chandragupta Mourya, Prinsep’s decoding of Ashoka’s edicts, Alexander Cunningham’s excavations at Indus Valley and James Alexander’s visit to Ajantha caves are all presented in a dramatic way, in beautiful language, which makes this book an exciting and pleasurable one to read. Like professor V Raghunathan’s book on the current state of Indian society, I think India Discovered is also a must-read for every Indian to understand how our glorious past was discovered, studied and protected by foreigners, who didn’t always have great support from their Governments. Their passion, dedication and continuous focus on their study and quest for knowledge should hopefully inspire us.[India Discovered]

When it comes to the role of Indian historians our knowledge is not that deep and we now learn that some  people who facilitated great discoveries were not even archaeologists. In his book Finding Forgotten Cities: How the Indus Civilization was Discovered, Nayanjot Lahiri writes about the contribution of Sardar K. M. Panikkar in pushing for the discovery of Indus sites along the path of Saraswati.

It was in March 1948, less than a month before he took over as ambassador to China, that Panikkar wrote to Prime Minister Nehru about the necessity of a survey in the desert area of Bikaner and Jaisalmer. Panikkar had just finished serving Bikaner, as its Prime Minister. Incidentally, it is strange that he had no knowledge about the archaeological exploits of the late Lugi Pio Tessitori there. He had, however, met the famous archaeological explorer, Aurel Stein, who himself had undertaken field work in Rajasthan. Stein had mentioned to Panikkar that if his work was carried forward, it would show that the Indus civilisation originated in that tract. This was something that Panikkar himself wanted to undertake but owing to various difficulties had not found it possible to do so. He was, therefore, writing to Nehru to try and take this scheme forward.

Panikkar urged India’s Pm to direct the ASI to explore the possibilities of such research. As he put it, “With the separation of the Pakistan Provinces, the main sites of what was known as the Indus Valley Civilisation has gone to Pakistan. It is clearly of the utmost importance that archaeological work in connection with this early period of Indian history must be continued in India. A preliminary examination has shown that the centre of the early civilisation was not Sind or the Indus Valley but the desert area in Bikaner and Jaisalmer through which the ancient river Saraswati flowed into the gulf of Kutch at one time”.[What lies beneath]

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