Recent archaeological excavations at Nagardhan in Ramtek taluka, near Nagpur, have provided concrete evidence on the life, religious affiliations and trade practices of the Vakataka dynasty that ruled parts of Central and South India between the third and fifth centuries (A.D).
• Nagardhan is a large village in Nagpur district, about 6 km south of Ramtek taluka headquarters. The researchers excavated the site during 2015-2018.
• A Koteshwar temple dating back to the 15th-16th centuries stands on the banks of a stream. The existing village sits on top of the ancient habitation. The Nagardhan Fort stands south of present-day Nagardhan village.
• This was constructed during the Gond Raja period and later renovated and re-used by the Bhosales of Nagpur during the late 18th and 19th centuries. The area surrounding the fort is under cultivation and has archaeological remains.
• Some of the temples identified as KevalNarasihma, Rudra Narasimha and the one dedicated to Varaha could be traced to Ramtek, and showcase strong affinity to the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
Why is the excavation important?
Very little was known about the Vakatakas, the Shaivite rulers of Central India between the third and fifth centuries. All that was known about the dynasty, believed to hail from the Vidarbha region, was largely through some literature and copperplates.
There were assumptions that the excavated site of Nagardhan is the same as Nandhivardhan, the capital city of the eastern branch of the Vakatakas. It was after archaeological evidence from here that Nagardhan was understood to have served as a capital of the Vakataka kingdom.
Scholars say archaeologists who had previously excavated the site had not done detailed documentation; thus an archaeological exploration was needed. During the joint excavations carried out by archaeologists some new facets of the life of the Vakatakas have emerged.
Besides, the scholars have traced archaeological evidence revealing the dynasty’s religious affiliations — the types of houses and palaces of the rulers, coins and sealings circulated during their reign, and their trade practices.
What is the significance of these finds?
It is the first time clay sealings have been excavated from Nagardhan. The oval-shaped sealing belongs to the period when Prabhavatigupta was the queen of the Vakataka dynasty. It bears her name in the Brahmi script, along with the depiction of a conch.
The presence of the conch, scholars say, is a sign of the Vaishnava affiliation that the Guptas held. The copperplate issued by Queen Prabhavatigupta starts with a genealogy of the Guptas, mentioning the Queen’s grandfather Samudragupta and her father Chandragupta II. These are strong indicators of Vaishnava signatures on the royal seals of the Vakatakas, reiterate that Queen Prabhavatigupta was indeed a powerful woman ruler.
Since the Vakataka people traded with Iran and beyond through the Mediterranean Sea, scholars suggest that these sealings could have been used as an official royal permission issued from the capital city. Besides, these were used on documents that sought mandatory royal permissions.
What else has been excavated from Nagardhan so far?
Earlier results from the excavations here had traced evidence in the form of ceramics, ear studs of glass, antiquities, bowls and pots, a votive shrine and tank, an iron chisel, a stone depicting a deer, and terracotta bangles. Some terracotta objects even depicted images of gods, animals and humans, along with amulets, scotches, wheels, skin rubbers and spindle whorls.
An intact idol of Lord Ganesha, which had no ornaments adorned, too was found from the site. This confirmed that the elephant god was a commonly worshipped deity in those times. On the means of living of the Vakataka people, researchers found animal rearing to be one of the main occupations. Remains of seven species of domestic animals — cattle, goat, sheep, pig, cat, horse and fowl — were traced in an earlier study by the team.
Excavation is the most time-honoured archaeological tool for understanding the processes of the human past, and it certainly represents the type of activity that most people attribute to archaeology. Thus, recent archaeological excavations at Nagardhan have provided concrete evidence on the life, religious affiliations and trade practices of the Vakataka dynasty that ruled parts of Central and South India between the third and fifth centuries.
PEPPER IT WITH
Excavation carried out by ASI at Maharashtra’s Phupgaon, Excavation by ASI in Gottiprolu, Andhra Pradesh.