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Dholavira: A Harappan City

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Gujarat, Dist Kutchchh, Bhachau Taluk
Coordinates: N23 53 10 E70 11 03
Ref.: 5892
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The City of Dholavira located in Khadir island of the Rann of Kutchch belonged to matured Harappan phase. Today what is seen as a fortified quadrangular city set in harsh arid land, was once a thriving metropolis for 1200 years (3000 BCE-1800 BCE) and had an access to the sea prior to decrease in sea level.

This 47 ha quadrangular city lay between two seasonal streams, the Mansar in the north and Manhar in the south, and had three distinct zones-the Upper, Middle and Lower Towns and shows the use of a specific proportion, considering the basic unit of measurement as 1 dhanus equivalent to 1.9 meters. First, the citadel, consisting of enclosures identified as a castle and a bailey (by excavators), having massive mud-brick walls flanked by dressed stones. To the north of the citadel was the quadrangular middle town having an area identified as the ceremonial ground or stadia. The latter served as a transition from the citadel to the middle and was accessed from the citadel through a grand gateway on its northern wall. Measuring 283 meters in length and 47.5 meters in width, the stadia had four narrow terraces possibly as seating arrangement. The middle town was characterised by a network of streets with defined hierarchy, intersecting at perfect angles. Beyond the middle town and enclosing it and the citadel was the lower town where commoners or the working population lived.

Dholavira show large scale use of dressed stone in construction. Few rooms have been found to have been built of dressed stone and in some cases show segments of highly polished stone pillars of square or circular section having a central hole. To create a pillar, such segments were piled to attain requisite height and a wooden pole was inserted to ensure stability. This method of constructing a column was an ingenious alternative to a monolithic column.

Water conservation of Dholavira speaks volume of the ingenuity of the people who developed a system based on rainwater harvesting to support life in a parched landscape, with scanty sweet water. Relying partly on rain-water and little from the ground a complex water system comprising of large rock-cut reservoirs, located at the eastern and southern fortification and rock-cut wells were developed. Huge stone drains can be seen in the city the directed storm water to the western and northern section of the lower town separated by broad bunds, creating in-effect a series of reservoirs. The most imposing well was located in the castle and is possibly the earliest example of a rock cut well. The city also drew water from the seasonal streams flowing on the northern and southern faces of the fortification. The water from these streams was slowed by a series of dams and partly channelized water into the lower town. Every drop of water was conserved to ensure survival.

Among antiquities recovered during excavation, an inscription measuring 3 meters long had been recovered from the chamber near the northern gate of the castle. Though its content is yet to be deciphered but based on the size of the incised letters, its conspicuous location and visibility, it has been identified as a sign-board. This is an exceptional find unlike any other sites, also suggesting that common people were versed in letters.

No one theory can explain the eventual abandonment of Dholavira. The urban order gradually ruralised and the eastward shift of habitation at a period of time when geo-climatic conditions challenged life in Khadir Island. The site seen today is the partly excavated area of a settlement abandoned for more than four millennia.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The City of Dholavira located in Khadir island of the Rann of Kutchch belonged to matured Harappan phase. Today what is seen as a fortified quadrangular city set in harsh arid land, was once a thriving metropolis for 1200 years (3000 BCE-1800 BCE) and had an access to the sea prior to decrease in sea level.

The excavated site of Dholavira demonstrates the ingenuity of Harappan people to evolve a highly organised system of town planning with perfected proportions, interrelation of functional areas, street-pattern and an efficient water conservation system that supported life for more than 1200 years (3000 BCE to 1800 BCE) against harsh hot arid climate. Its scale of enclosures, the hierarchical street pattern and defined spatial utilization i.e. land for industries, administration etc, as well as infrastructure like waste water disposal system, show the sophisticated urban life enjoyed between in this metropolis. With its acropolis or citadel within the fortified area Dholavira remains the most expansive example of the Harappan town-planning system where a three-tier zonation comprising of a distinct upper (citadel, bailey) and middle (having a distinct street-pattern, large scale enclosure and a ceremonial ground) towns enclosed by a lower town (with narrower streets, smaller enclosures and industrial area (suggested by articles recovered)) – distinguishes the city of Dholavira from other metropolises of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

The importance of Dholavira`s planning was furthered with the excavation of Kampilya (the capital of South Panchala of Mahabharata), Uttar Pradesh, a city considered of mythical origin in the Gangetic plains. Belonging to the Gangetic Civilization, which is considered the second phase of urbanization of the Indian, sub-continent, Kampilya adopted the town planning principles (in terms of scale, hierarchy of space and road network) established in Dholavira. Kampilya, transformed under continued habitation, the importance of Dholavira remains lie in its ability to illustrate planning and urban life in two distinct subsequent cultural phases of the Indian Subcontinent.

The expansive water management system designed to store every drop of water available shows the ingenuity of the people to survive against the rapid geo-climatic transformations. Water diverted from seasonal streams, scanty precipitation and available ground was sourced, stored, in large stone-cut reservoirs which are extant along the eastern and southern fortification. To further access water, few rock-cut wells, which date as one of the oldest examples, are evident in different parts of the city, the most impressive one being located in the citadel. Such elaborate water conservation methods of Dholavira is unique and measures as one of the most efficient systems of the ancient world. 

The property after excavation has been stabilized ensuring protection of its physical integrity. The site excavated over a period of time has been retained as partly exposed to avert deterioration due to weathering.

The excavated remains retain the hierarchy and inter-relationship of spaces, street patterns, large cavities that were once the water-reservoirs and altogether illustrate the sophisticated life in metropolis of Dholavira. The archaeological remains of the city, together with the dried of rain-fed channels and moveable articles demonstrate life and geo-climatic condition between 3000 BCE-1800 BCE in Khadir Island.

The property comprising of the excavated remains and the Buffer including the dried channels are protected and managed by the Archaeological Survey of India where mandates are governed by the Ancient Monuments and Sites Remains Act’1958 (amended in 2010). The site is set in a barren landscape, devoid of habitation where negligible exogenous factors exist that could impact the property.  

Criterion (v): The excavated site of Dholavira demonstrates the ingenuity of Harappan people to evolve a highly organised system of town planning with perfected proportions, interrelation of functional areas, street-pattern and an efficient water conservation system that supported life for more than 1200 years (3000 BCE to 1800 BCE) against harsh hot arid climate. Its scale of enclosures, the hierarchical street pattern and defined spatial utilization i.e. land for industries, administration etc, as well as infrastructure like waste water disposal system, show the sophisticated urban life enjoyed between in this metropolis. With its acropolis or citadel within the fortified area Dholavira remains the most expansive example of the Harappan town-planning system where a three-tier zonation comprising of a distinct upper (citadel, bailey) and middle (having a distinct street-pattern, large scale enclosure and a ceremonial ground) towns enclosed by a lower town (with narrower streets, smaller enclosures and industrial area (suggested by articles recovered)) – distinguishes the city of Dholavira from other metropolises of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

The importance of Dholavira`s planning was furthered with the excavation of Kampilya (the capital of South Panchala of Mahabharata), Uttar Pradesh, a city considered of mythical origin in the Gangetic plains. Belonging to the Gangetic Civilization, which is considered the second phase of urbanization of the Indian, sub-continent, Kampilya adopted the town planning principles (in terms of scale, hierarchy of space and road network) established in Dholavira. Kampilya, transformed under continued habitation, the importance of Dholavira remains lie in its ability to illustrate planning and urban life in two distinct subsequent cultural phases of the Indian Subcontinent.

The expansive water management system designed to store every drop of water available shows the ingenuity of the people to survive against the rapid geo-climatic transformations. Water diverted from seasonal streams, scanty precipitation and available ground was sourced, stored, in large stone-cut reservoirs which are extant along the eastern and southern fortification. To further access water, few rock-cut wells, which date as one of the oldest examples, are evident in different parts of the city, the most impressive one being located in the citadel. Such elaborate water conservation methods of Dholavira is unique and measures as one of the most efficient systems of the ancient world.  

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity

The excavated remains retain the hierarchy and inter-relationship of spaces, street patterns, large cavities that were once the water-reservoirs and altogether illustrate the sophisticated life in metropolis of Dholavira. The archaeological remains of the city, together with the dried of rain-fed channels and moveable articles demonstrate life and geo-climatic condition between 3000 BCE-1800 BCE in Khadir Island. 

Integrity

The property after excavation has been stabilized ensuring protection of its physical integrity. The site excavated over a period of time has been retained as partly exposed to avert deterioration due to weathering.

Comparison with other similar properties

Globally, Dholavira can be compared to the cities of Ancient River Valley Civilization the urban metropolises of Egyptian, Chinese and Mesopotamian.

In the region, Dholavira can be compared to the other major cities of Harappan culture like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Rakhigadi, Banavali and Lothal. The excavated remains of the complete water system distinguishes this site from others.