Relics, caves put Mumbai in different league

Relics, caves put Mumbai in different league

Relics, caves put Mumbai in different league

New archaeological finds in Mumbai and its suburbs--like the pre-historic tools dating back to nearly 30,000 years ago, inscriptions found at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and several small temples--seem to put the country's commercial capital into a different league.

Some of these discoveries in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) are a mere accident and throw light on very little- known pre-Portuguese era. Many need further research to join the missing links. “Mumbai is a unique city and has a unique history. These discoveries throw more light on this great city,” said Prof A P Jamkhedkar, former Director of Maharashtra State Archaeology and Museums and President of Deccan College, Pune.

The Mumbai-Salsette Archaeological Exploration Project (2015-16) was undertaken by the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies (CEMS), Centre for Archaeology of University of Mumbai, the Sathaye College, and was funded by the India Study Centre Trust (INSTUCEN Trust). Teachers, faculty members, students and ex-students of CEMS are involved in the project.

Salsette is bounded on the north by Vasai creek, on the north-east by the Ulhas River, on the east by Thane creek and Bombay Harbour, and on the south and west by the Arabian Sea. The original seven islands of Bombay, which were merged by land reclamation during the 19th and early 20th centuries to form the city of Mumbai, are now practically a southward protruding peninsula of the much larger Salsette Island.

“The major discovery was by an accident,” says Mugdha Karnik, the Director of CEMS. She casually enquired with C K Salunkhe, who is the Head of Horticulture Department of BARC at Trombay, whether he had come across any archaeological remains on the BARC premises, which is part of the old Salsette. He said he had found one inscription and sandstone Shikhara. “It’s very important and in the times to come could lead to a new dimension to the history of Mumbai,” said Kurush Dalal, Director and Field Director, CEMS and INSTUCEN Chandore Excavations.

After confirmation from BARC side, the inscription was seen by the team of Mumbai Salsette exploration project. Karnik, Suraj Pandit, Dalal and journalist-archaeologist Vinayak Parab visited BARC.  “The inscription makes clear references to Sultan of Delhi, local vassal of Bimba Dynasty- Hambir-Rao. The place referred to is Konkan-Bimbasthana and there are names of villages identifiable today, which include Marol, Nanale, Devnare (Deonar). The reference is clearly made to Salsette or Sashti in the word Sansathi. The inscription gives clear date as Kartika Shuddha Dwadashi, (3rd November) Saka Samvat 1290 (CE 1368). It is possible that the etymology of Mumbai-Bombay-Bombahem may have originated from the name Bimbasthana," say researchers.

“In the past there are studies that had shown that the urbanisation of Bombay (Mumbai) began only with the arrival of the Portuguese. However, the structural fragments and artefacts point towards the fact that urban settlements existed as early as the 12th century,” said Dalal.

Another discovery is of new places in  Kanheri. Pandit and his research assistants-- Parab and Akash Pawar-- were combing the adjoining area of the Kanheri Caves with the help of references made to them in the relevant literature. They found seven new caves in the process at Kanheri, which is located inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, spread over 100 sq km.

The Mumbai-Salsette project was undertaken in the wake of the new findings and help and permission of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was taken. In fact, the Kanheri Caves is approached from the Borivli side, which is in western suburbs of Mumbai. But when, Parab and his team approached the Kanheri from the eastern suburbs side of Mulund-Bhandup, they stumbled upon pre-historic tools from the Tulsi lake area.  Parab, Nishigandha Usapkar, Snehal Pawar, Mruga Banaye and Leanne Thothiyil found microliths from Tulsi lake area, larger size stone tools were found at Khindipada. “In those days, perhaps this was the approach,” says Parab, stressing on the need for further exploration and studies. 

The team also managed to find out a Gadhegal or Ass-curse stone,  which was about to be discarded in the Powai lake. “We have gone through a lot of temples, artefacts and tribal artefacts during the course of the exploration,” said Parab.

Some of the artefacts were also found at the Aarey Colony area, which is next to the SGNP, and part of Mumbai's green lung. In fact, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority and the Maharashtra Government want a Metro rail depot on this  land, and are facing stiff opposition from environmentalists. 

His team has stumbled on sculptures, including some dating back to the Shilahara dynasty (765 to 1029 AD). Marol used to be the economic capital of this dynasty. Temple pillars dating back to the Shilahara dynasty were found near the old Aarey Colony toll-booth. “In the Aarey area, we could survey only seven padas owing to the paucity of time,” said Parab.   

They are Ultanpada, Bangoda, Maroshipada, Mataipada, Khambachapada, Charandevpada and Keltipada. “In Thane-Ghodbunder, we not only found several relics dating back to several centuries, but also old cannons and remanents of railways," said Dalal. 

Siddharth Kale, who had conducted exploration in the Vasai taluka, said: “Sopara seems to be the only site hitherto known in the Konkan where human habitation has continued unchecked for the last 2,300 years.” Sopara (now Nalasopara) was a unique port site and administrative centre which has been mentioned in various inscriptions and literature right from the 1st century CE till at least the 14th century CE.