Ancient port town Lothal to get heritage complex

Source: By Divya A: The Indian Express

Prime Minister on 18 October 2022 evening reviewed the construction of the National Maritime Heritage Complex (NMHC) site at Gujarat’s Lothal via video conferencing. “There are many such tales of our history that have been forgotten,” the PM said. “Lothal was not only a major trading centre of the Indus Valley Civilisation, but it was also a symbol of India’s maritime power and prosperity.”

Where is Lothal?

Lothal was one of the southernmost sites of the Indus Valley civilization, located in the Bhāl region of what is now the state of Gujarat. The port city is believed to have been built in 2,200 BC. Lothal was a thriving trade centre in ancient times, with its trade of beads, gems and ornaments reaching West Asia and Africa. The meaning of Lothal (a combination of Loth and (s) thal) in Gujarati is “the mound of the dead”.

Incidentally, the name of the city of Mohenjo-daro (also part of the Indus Valley Civilisation, now in Pakistan) means the same in Sindhi.

Indian archaeologists started the search for cities of the Harappan Civilisation post-1947 in Gujarat’s Saurashtra. Archaeologist SR Rao led the team which discovered a number of Harappan sites at the time, including the port city of Lothal. Excavation work was carried out in Lothal between February 1955 and May 1960. According to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Lothal had the world’s earliest known dock, connecting the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati river.

Additionally, the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa discovered marine microfossils and salt, gypsum crystals at the site, indicating that sea water once filled the structure and it was definitely a dockyard.

In later excavations, ASI unearthed a mound, a township, a marketplace, and the dock. Adjacent to the excavated areas stands the archaeological site museum, where some of the most prominent collections of Indus-era antiquities in India are displayed.

Heritage Value

Lothal was nominated in April 2014 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its application is pending on the tentative list of UNESCO. As per the nomination dossier submitted to UNESCO, “The excavated site of Lothal is the only port-town of the Indus Valley Civilisation. A metropolis with an upper and a lower town had in on its northern side a basin with vertical wall, inlet and outlet channels which has been identified as a tidal dockyard.

Satellite images show that the river channel, now dried, would have brought in considerable volume of water during high tide, which would have filled the basin and facilitated sailing of boats upstream. The remains of stone anchors, marine shells, sealings which trace its source in the Persian Gulf, together with the structure identified as a warehouse further aid the comprehension of the functioning of the port.”

Its heritage value is comparable to other ancient port-towns around the world – including Xel Ha (Peru), Ostia (Port of Rome) and Carthage (Port of Tunis) in Italy, Hepu in China, Canopus in Egypt, Gabel (Byblos of the Phoenicians), Jaffa in Israel, Ur in Mesopotamia, Hoi An in Vietnam, as per the dossier. In the region, it can be compared with other Indus port towns of Balakot (Pakistan), Khirasa (in Gujarat’s Kutch) and Kuntasi (in Rajkot).

The Project

The project began in March 2022, and is being developed at a cost of Rs 3,500 crore. It will have several innovative features such as Lothal mini-recreation, which will recreate Harappan architecture and lifestyle through immersive technology; besides four theme parks – Memorial theme park, Maritime and Navy theme park, Climate theme park, and Adventure and Amusement theme park.

It will also house the world’s tallest lighthouse museum, 14 galleries highlighting India’s maritime heritage starting from the Harappan time till today, as well as a coastal states pavilion displaying the diverse maritime heritage of Indian states and UTs.

The Prime Minister said that the National Maritime Heritage Complex at Lothal will act as a centre for learning and understanding India’s maritime history. The NMHC is being developed with the aim of displaying India’s diverse maritime heritage and also help Lothal emerge as a world-class international tourist destination.