The Srijan Foundation organized a talk by Sanjeev Sanyal at the Jawahar Lal Nehru University. The topic of his talk was ‘The forgotten history of India’s Maritime Past’.

Here, Sanjeev discusses the coastline of Gujarat and the ports of Dholavira and Lothal.

Sanjeev Sanyal:


I will start with Gujarat because my story starts with Gujarat.

And the coastline of Gujrat would be quite different even from now. People think that sea levels rise and fall in a linear way. That’s not how it actually works. Within those big falls and rises, there are lots of variations. So during Harappan times sea levels were a little bit higher than they are now. And the Saurashtra peninsula was, in fact, an island and you could actually go from the Gulf of Khambhat through, past Saurashtra into the Rann of Kutch because the Rann of Kutch was navigable and not only was it navigable but it had 2 major rivers flowing into it.

There was the Indus which originally used to flow. In fact till the 19th century, into the Rann of Kutch. And of course, there was this massive river, the Saraswati which also flowed into it.

Satellite photographs clearly show that these two rivers flowed into it. Even today, with a little bit of messing around, you can see that there are these two old channels flowing into it and of course climate was also quite different. It was significantly wetter than it is now.

So what is now Balochistan was a savannah type area. Much of early human migration happened through Balochistan. This is important to remember because today it is such an impossible desert that we tend to think of that, (you know) that people could not be going back and forth. That if u wanted in pre-modern times to go from Iran to India, you would have to go through Afghanistan. That is in fact, not the case through much of history.

So anyway u had the coastline. And in that coastline cities began to spring up. In, 4th – 3rd millennium B.C. where they really begin to sprout out. And the largest of that we have is Dholavira.

Dholavira is well inland in Rann of Kutch. As I mentioned the Rann of Kutch is now a salt plain, which occasionally is marshy in monsoons but otherwise is a salt plain and Dholavira is a hillock marooned in the salt plain.

But in the Harappan time, it would have been an island and it developed then into a major port. But there were other ports as well, and one of the other ports was Lothal. From the history books you will remember, it had dry docks.

The map of Gujrat that I laid in front of you suggests that it would have been possible to go from Lothal to Dholavira by boat. And similarly there was on the other side, on the northern side, there was an entry from what is now Dwarka where there is a still an island called Bet Dwarka, where also a lot of Harappan artifacts have been found.

And so what it basically seems like that there was this network of ports in Gujrat, where they were sailing back and forth out of it.

Those coming from south have gone through Lothal which was possibly a customs post before you reach Dholavira and there was probably another post for people who were coming from west at Bet Dwarka and then they made their way to Dholavira probably did some trading and then perhaps some of these chaps made their way up north through the Indus and while the Saraswati was still flowing; up the Saraswati as well.

//This is snippet from the talk, to view the entire talk, please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoyPwRh4nRg&t=517s//

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