Revisiting the archaeological site at Harwan

Harwan tiles are stamped in Kharoshti numerals which means that during the manufacturing of these tiles Kharoshti alphabet was very popular here
"The site is about 19 Km from Lal Chowk, Srinagar. The moulded brick tiles unearthed at Harwan depict a unique art trend, in that they do not deal with religious, but with secular themes."
"The site is about 19 Km from Lal Chowk, Srinagar. The moulded brick tiles unearthed at Harwan depict a unique art trend, in that they do not deal with religious, but with secular themes."Special arrangement

Kashmir has yielded number of evidences of terracotta tile and sculpture art at its various archaeological sites.

The remains of terracotta art along with its wonderful pavement were first time found in the year 1921 in the hills of Zabarwan forest near the tourist resort of Harwan, all around the remains of Buddhist stupa and the apsidal temple.

The site is about 19 Km from Lal Chowk, Srinagar. The moulded brick tiles unearthed at Harwan depict a unique art trend, in that they do not deal with religious, but with secular themes.

We find life and nature as the artist found around him. There are figures of men, wearing Central Asian costumes; and curiously enough the relief figures of Scythian and Parthian horsemen, women, heads and busts appear side by side with early Gupta motifs.

The excavator R C Kak, writes about this pavement and other finds of the site, “wonderful pavement of the courtyard round the temple, consisting of large molded brick tiles having various shapes and forming different patterns. The favorite pattern seems to have been a large disc consisting of several concentric circles with a single central piece. Each circle is composed of a series of arc-shaped tiles of different dimensions, one of the tiles measure 40 cm in length, 34 cm in width and 4 cm in drat each shaped with a special motif. The principal motifs on the tiles so far discovered are:

(1) Designs consisting of frets, wavy lines, fish-bone patterns, conventional flowers, and flower-designs consisting of different combinations of leaves.

(2) Leaves of an aquatic plant common in the neighboring Dal lake, leaves of the lotus plant, some indigenous flowers in full bloom grouped in various ways.

(3) Geese running or flying in rows with flower petals or leaves in their bills, ducks, cocks or pheasants often placed in the centre of a floral pattern,also cocks fighting

(4) Rams fighting, cows suckling their young, elephants, deer looking with head turned backwards at the moon, archers on horseback chasing deer and shooting arrows at them.

(5) A lady carrying a flower vase, a dancing girl, a female musician beating a drum, a soldier in armour hunting deer with bow and arrow, men and women conversing, seated in a balcony, boys carrying a floral festoon on their shoulders.

These tiles occupied exactly the position they were laid in by ancient workmen is borne out by the fact that each one of them bears a number in Kharoshthi script.

This ancient script has been in vogue in north-western India, between 2nd century BC to 2nd Century AD. It follows therefore that the tiles belong to a period prior to that century, possibly a considerable period.

The fact that the Kharoshthi numerals at Harwan were intended for the guidance of common labourers indicates that the script must have been at the highest pitch of popularity at the time the tiles were made.

I should accordingly place the date of the tiles, and consequently that of the diaper pebble masonry with which they are associated, in between 100 BC to about 200 AD. This conclusion receives further support from the style of the human figures and other designs stamped on the tiles.

For example, the physiognomy and, to some extent, the dress of the men and women are wholly unlike that of any of the races at present residing in Kashmir.

Their facial characteristics bear close resemblance to those of inhabitants of the regions round about Yarkand and Kashgar, whose heavy features, prominent cheekbones, narrow, sunk, and slanting eyes, and receding foreheads, are faithfully represented on the tiles. Some of the figures are dressed in trousers and Turkoman caps.

The only period when Kashmir had any intimate connection with Central Asia was during the supremacy of the Indo Scythians and Kushans in the early centuries of the Christian era, when Kashmir formed part of the Kushan Empire, which extended from Mathura in India to Yarkand in Central Asia.

Indeed, then as now it appears to have occupied a pre-eminent position; in as much as Kanishka (circa A.D. 78 AD ), the greatest of Kushan emperor, is said to have convened here his great council of Buddhist divines.

It may be that some pious and prosperous Kushan built this shrine at Harwan, where, according to the ancient history of Kashmir, resided the great Buddhist patriarch, Nagarjuna.

The peculiar interest of the Harwan monument lies in the fact that they are the only remains of their kind found in the subcontinent (possibly in the world), and that they supply a life-like representation of the features of those mysterious people.

Although the archaeologists have been dating the Harwan terracotta site to 3rd and 4th century AD, but to me the date of Harwan tiles shall be earlier to 3rd century AD, when Kharoshti script was very much popular in northern India and these tiles can be dated to the period in between 1st century BC to 2nd Century AD and not beyond it because the Kharoshti script has started to cease from 2nd century AD onwards.

Almost all the Harwan tiles are stamped in Kharoshti numerals, which means that during the manufacturing of these tiles Kharoshti alphabet has been very popular here.

Besides the human motifs and the techniques adopted in devising these, motifs looks very advanced, not less than that of indo-Greek Scythians and Parthians traditions.

The sites clearly looks represent an urban civilization not of any nomadic tribe. Scholars who believe that the site artifacts are influenced by any nomadic tribe of central Asia have not perhaps gone through the wonderful human motifs devised on several of its tiles.

I do not question the dating of the other remains of the Harwan site but regarding its tiles the scholars have to re-consider their earlier theories in light of the Kharoshti numerals and human motifs devised on these tiles.

In fact the wonderful tile collection recovered from this site have already been removed and are housed somewhere in the stores of Archaeological Survey of India, while few of the tiles found during the excavation of the site are displayed in the archaeology gallery of the Srinagar museum.

Unfortunately, none of the tiles have been left here at this site. The layout plan of the tile pavement also stands invisible.

The site these days showcases only the remains of Buddhist stupa and the apsidal temple, while the wonderful tile collection for which this has been famous is quite absent at this site.

The tourist visiting this site has to return without seeing its terracotta collections.

For the connivance of the tourists and for the promotion of the heritage tourism, there is a dire need of setting up an archaeological museum at this historic site, which shall showcase the wonderful terracotta collections of this site.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir