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Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
1. From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism
2. Archaeology
3. Contemporary Theory and the Archaeology of Religion
4. Minting Identity and Hegemony
5. Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap
6. The Archive at Sanghol
Conclusion: A Brief Look Ahead
About the Author
Recommend Papers

Negotiating Cultural Identity: Landscapes in Early Medieval South Asian History [1° ed.]
 9781138822528, 1138822523

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Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

Archaeology and Religion in South Asia

Series Editor: HIMANSHU PRABHA RAY, Chairperson, National Monuments Authority Editorial Board: GAVIN FLOOD, Academic Director, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies; JESSICA FRAZIER, Academic Administrator, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies; JULIA SHAW, Institute of Archaeology, University College, London; SHAILENDRA BHANDARE, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; DEVANGANA DESAI, Asiatic Society, Mumbai; VIDULA JAISWAL, Jnana Pravaha, Varanasi, former professor, Banaras Hindu University. This Series, in association with the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, reflects on the complex relationship between religion and society through new perspectives and advances in archaeology. It looks at this critical interface to provide alternative understandings of communities, beliefs, cultural systems, sacred sites, ritual practices, food habits, dietary modifications, power, and agents of political legitimisation. The books in the Series underline the importance of archaeological evidence in the production of knowledge of the past. They also emphasise that a systematic study of religion requires engagement with a diverse range of sources such as inscriptions, iconography, numismatics and architectural remains. Also in this Series Negotiating Cultural Identity: Landscapes in Early Medieval South Asian History Editor: Himanshu Prabha Ray ISBN 978-1-138-82252-8

Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India History, Theory, Practice

Daniel Michon


First published 2015 in India by Routledge 912 Tolstoy House, 15–17 Tolstoy Marg, Connaught Place, New Delhi 110 001

Simultaneously published in the UK by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

© 2015 Daniel Michon

Typeset by Glyph Graphics Private Limited 23 Khosla Complex Vasundhara Enclave Delhi 110 096

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-138-82249-8

Contents Figures






1. From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


2. Archaeology


3. Contemporary Theory and the Archaeology of Religion



4. Minting Identity and Hegemony


5. Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap


6. The Archive at Sanghol


Conclusion: A Brief Look Ahead






About the Author




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Figures 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 6.9 6.10 6.11

Dioscuri: Eucratides I Lifetime Issue c. 170–145 BCE and Yuezhi Eucratides I Imitation c. 145–70 BCE Zeus Radiate: Hermaeus Lifetime Issue c. 90–70 BCE and Yuezhi Hermaeus Imitation c. 70–55 BCE Sapalbizes and Arseiles Issues c. 20 BCE–20 CE Kujula Kadphises Heraus-Kushanno Issues c. 40–90 CE Kujula Kadphises Su Hermaeus Imitations c. 40–90 CE Kujula Kadphises, Various Issues c. 40–90 CE Vima Takto, Various Issues c. 90–110 CE

114 120 125 132 138 140 147

Map of Sirkap with Find-spots of Dice Indicated Sirkap Block C’: Location of Die Found in Stu¯pa Dice and Other Objects Found in Block C’ sq. 47-48.95’ Dice and Other Objects Found in Block G sq. 110.52’ Dice and Other Objects Found in Block H sq. 121.49’ and 120.49’ Dice and Other Objects Found at Location 1C’ Dice and Other Objects Found at Location 1G’

169 170

Site Map of Sanghol Showing Excavated Areas SGL-5 Stu¯pa Layout Plan SGL-5 Plan of Buddhist Stu¯pa and Monastery Complex Layout of SGL-5 Assembly Hall 2-D Image of a 3-D Model of SGL-5 Section Across Mound of SGL-5 Looking East SGL-5 Trench Layout with Site Map Overlaid with Important Artifacts and Structural Features Artifacts Found on Surkhi Path at SGL-5 2-D Image of a 3-D Model of SGL-11 SGL-2 Mound and Trench Layout Artifacts Found at SGL-2 BX-1

208 216

173 178 182 190 195

217 217 218 220 222 224 226 232 233

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Acknowledgements I

wish to express deep gratitude to all the friends, family, teachers, and scholars — many belonging to more than one category — who supported and helped me through this book project. While I was a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Gurinder Singh Mann introduced me to Punjab, and through my travels across much of the state with him, I grew to love the land and its history. It was our mutual love of all things agricultural, particularly cows and their milk, that started this whole process. During the research process, Professor Mann was instrumental in opening archives that otherwise would have remained forever closed to me. Christine Thomas took my nascent interest in material culture and encouraged me to pursue it more vigorously. She taught me the basics of excavation technique in Turkey, and back home in Santa Barbara she patiently led me through the intricacies of archaeological method and theory. The experiences she afforded and knowledge she imparted were indispensable in reading through old excavation reports and searching through musty archives. David Gordon White’s influence concerning the sources of ancient religion turned me from a strict textualist to a developing archaeologist, numismatist and art historian. This project would not have been possible without his watchful eye and sharp pen. Beyond these three influences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I was fortunate to have many excellent teachers. I would like to thank, in particular, Professor Vesna Wallace for her patient instruction in Sanskrit. I must also mention the many fellow graduate students who were instrumental in my development, and I thank them all. I have had the fortune of teaching at two fine institutions in Southern California. At Loyola Marymount University, both Christopher Chapple and Jeffrey Siker were instrumental in allowing me the time and space to finish the research for this project. Claremont McKenna College has supported subsequent trips to India and given me the space to finish the manuscript. I want to offer a special thanks to Cynthia Humes and Aseema Sinha for reading much of the nascent manuscript and giving comments. Richard


Archaeology and Jharna Religion in Early Northwest India Amita Shah and Pathak

Heffern and the IT department created the figures, and they did a spectacular job. Tony Luu at the University of California, Riverside also helped usher the manuscript to final completion. In India, it was only with the help of friends and scholars that the research for this book was completed. I would like to thank the members of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology, Museums, and Archives of Punjab for always helping me find what I needed. The members of the Archaeology Section were particularly helpful; my thanks go to K. K. Rishi, Kuldeep Singh, Hira Singh, Gurdev Singh, Rajinder Singh, Brij Mohan, and G. B. Sharma. Professor Devendra Handa, formerly of Panjab University, was key in my exploration of numismatics. In Haryana, Professor Manmohan Kumar of Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak was my guide and mentor. A particularly heartfelt thank you goes to Himanshu Prabha Ray and Aakash Chakrabarti at Routledge India. They both offered much needed support through the final stages of completion of the project. In both Chandigarh and Delhi, Mahesh Sharma, Jyotirmaya Khatri and Nandini Dutta were indispensable as friends, guides, and to their surprise, medics. It was Mahesh and Jyotir who picked me up off the pavement after a pretty nasty accident and made sure I would heal properly so that I would be able to return to India and finish my research. They also provided various kinds of drinks for the long conversations that have found their way, in some form or another, into this book. As for the images contained within, I would like to thank Cambridge University Press for granting me permission to reproduce so many of the images from Sir John Marshall’s 1951 excavation report, Taxila; Peter Linenthal and Pankaj Tandon for allowing me to reproduce images from their personal coin collections; the British Museum; and the Punjab Department of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology, Museums, and Archives. Funding for the research of this book was provided by the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Grant, the University of California, Santa Barbara Department of Religious Studies, and Claremont McKenna College. I hope they find that their trust in me as a researcher, and now a professor, was well worth it. Finally, I would like to thank my immediate family for all their support. My mother- and father-in-law, Rajni and Nanoo Patel, always asked inconvenient questions that made me rethink many of

Acknowledgements Introduction  xi

my theoretical perspectives and returned my thoughts to the practical. My mother and father, Linda and Joseph Michon, have given me the gift of curiosity. As they continue to work for social justice both in the States and abroad well after their appointed retirement time, they serve as an inspiration that good hearts and good work are well rewarded. And to my wife, Lina Patel, and my daughter, Frances, who remained steadfast in their love and support through it all.

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Spurred in part by the 1978 publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism and the subsequent 1980s publications of the Subaltern Studies Group, the vast canvas of South Asian history has been employed for understanding the process of identity formation in the colonial and postcolonial periods. This desire to write a ‘non-Eurocentric history’ or a ‘history from below’ inevitably influenced the field of archaeology. The archaeological archive created under colonial influence was subjected to postcolonial critique in order to expose the implicit colonial assumptions that drove its generation. In turn, the archaeological archive created in India’s post-Independence period served as a source of national identity formation. Perhaps the two most heated, and thus highest profile, debates have been over the proper ‘origin’ of the protohistoric cultures in the northwest of the subcontinent, termed either the Harappan Civilisation or the SindhuSarasvati Civilisation, and over the existence of a medieval Ra¯ma temple built in Ayodhya. In both cases, questions of both colonial and neo-colonial biases have led to alternative nationalist interpretations. While both the identity of the protohistoric Indian Civilisation and the facticity of particular medieval temples are certainly important issues, my concern in this study is the under-appreciated archaeological archive of the early historic period in the undivided Punjab plains.1 And while I continue in the project of uncovering various colonial and nationalist uses to which this particular archive has been put, I further argue that there is a third time frame in which


In this study, the geographic term ‘undivided Punjab plains’, or more simply ‘Punjab’, is used to identify a territory bounded on the west by the Indus River and on the east by the seasonal Ghaggar river-system. To the north, Punjab is hemmed in by the foothills of the Sivaliks, and to the south the region gives way to the Thar Desert. Of course, as with any geographic boundaries, these limits are not inviolable. Drawing the western boundary


 Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

early historic archaeological material is a valuable source for tracing the formation of cultural identities: the ancient world itself. That is, we need not focus solely on the colonial and postcolonial periods, but can productively use the early historic archaeological record to discern the motivations and concerns of those who actually created the material culture that we study.2 This study, then, is divided into three parts. In Part I, I take up the task of understanding how the early historic archaeological record of Punjab was put to use in the process of identity formation in the colonial and postcolonial periods. In Part II, I argue that we need not focus just on colonial or postcolonial identities, but can rather study the archaeological material with an eye towards how it was shaped by ancient identities as well. I provide a theory and method for how one might convincingly discern the motivations of ancient peoples in the material record. Curiously, the early historic period has been the most neglected time frame in the study of the ancient world on the subcontinent. That is, scholars have been more interested in writing about colonial British identity or postcolonial Pakistani and Indian national identity than they have been about the lives of those who created the material culture. One reason for this lacuna is that archaeological material is often understood as a poor source for discerning the agency of past peoples. The general view

at the Indus River, for example, is somewhat arbitrary, as on the western side of the Indus, the Peshawar Valley has much in common with Punjab (see the Introduction to Pia Brancaccio and Kurt A. Behrendt, Gandha¯ran Buddhism: Archaeology, Art, Texts [Vancouver: UBC Press, 2006], 1). However, as the balance of Part I will show, the region to the west of the Indus in the early historic period (ancient Gandha¯ra as defined by the ancient sources) has received extensive study both in the colonial period and in the post-Independence period, while the region to the east of the Indus, the Punjab plains proper, has received much less attention. This imbalance has skewed the picture of the archaeological heritage of Punjab. Thus, while I will engage with the previous scholarship on Gandha¯ra, I focus more intensely on the less studied Punjab plains. 2 Certainly there has not been a lack of such inquiry for the archaeology of Gandha¯ra. The Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente (IsIAO, formerly IsMEO) has perhaps been the most prolific, but not the only one.



has been that History, that is text, tells us about the desires of past peoples, and Archaeology, that is material culture, merely illustrates that narrative. In Part III, I practise what I preach. That is, I offer three case studies in which I highlight the agency of the inhabitants of early historic Punjab in the creation of their material world.

PART I Historiography: Colonial and Postcolonial Identities Many studies of early historic archaeology have explored how colonial actors, in particular the British, used the archaeological record to justify their notions of self and other, of ruler and ruled, and of ‘the modern’ and ‘the traditional’. This is an important field of study, as Janice Leoshko points out in her study of Buddhist sculptures from eastern India, because ‘[d]espite many advances in our understanding of these past traditions over the last hundred years, the ways this visual record were [sic] first studied continue to impede us’.3 Leoshko’s study of British explorations of Buddhism in the eastern part of the subcontinent is a welcome addition to previous works that focus on the use of archaeology to support British colonial identities. Such work includes, among others, that of Nayanjot Lahiri (on the influence of Sir John Marshall),4 Himanshu Prabha Ray (on Sir Mortimer Wheeler),5 Upinder Singh (on 19th-century British


Janice Leoshko, Sacred Traces: British Exploration of Buddhism in South Asia (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), xiii. 4 Lahiri has published three studies on the life and work of Sir John Marshall:‘Coming to Grips with the Indian Past: John Marshall’s Early Years as Lord Curzon’s Director-General of Archaeology in India — Part I’, South Asian Studies 14, no. 1 (1998): 1–23; ‘Coming to Grips with India’s Past and Her “Living Present”: John Marshall’s Early Years (1902–06) — Part II’, South Asian Studies 16, no. 1 (2000): 89–107; and ‘John Marshall’s Appointment as Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India: A Survey of the Papers Pertaining to His Selection’, South Asian Studies 13, no. 1 (1997): 127–139. 5 Himanshu Prabha Ray, Colonial Archaeology in South Asia: The Legacy of Sir Mortimer Wheeler (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008).


 Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

archaeologists),6 Philip Almond (on the discovery of Buddhism),7 and Thomas Trautmann (on the racial theories that drove much of the British research).8 Of course, the meta-narrative that links all these studies together is the production and reproduction of colonial forms of knowledge and how those ‘knowledges’ were used in controlling the Indian populace. Thus, in Chapter 1, I detail how early historic archaeology in Punjab contributed to the production of pre-20th-century British colonial identity. I trace the dominant paradigm shifts in the understanding of the material culture of Punjab from circa 1600 to 1902. I demonstrate that the expectations brought to the field by European antiquarians and explorers significantly affected both the methods by which the ancient landscape of Punjab was approached and the interpretations put forth. Contrary to some of the popular postcolonial narratives, I show how the goals of the early European antiquarians and explorers active in the Punjab from the 17th century through the mid-19th century were not explicitly centred on gathering knowledge of the indigenous cultures in the service of the colonial state. Instead, while my findings do agree with recent postcolonial studies in discovering that while their project served to justify and legitimise strong imperial power, the dominant motivations of antiquarians and explorers in northwest India lay elsewhere. I argue that the early European travellers to Punjab sought, in a romantic spirit, to experience — or better, to participate in — the excitement and splendour of the Classical World as described by historians of Alexander the Great. In the mid-19th century, a shift occurred in both the motivations and methods in the study of the material culture of Punjab. The motivation to discover and experience ‘Classical’ India gave way to interest in a different ancient India: Buddhist India. Here, again, it was not the primary purpose of those interested in Punjab’s Buddhist past to gather information in support of the colonial state. Rather, they understood themselves as engaged

6 Upinder Singh, The Discovery of Ancient India: Early Archaeologists and the Beginnings of Archaeology (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004). 7 Philip C. Almond, The British Discovery of Buddhism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). 8 Thomas R. Trautmann, Aryans and British India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).



in a properly scientific endeavour. Thus, the method of study also shifted from a haphazard, often capricious antiquarianism, to a more organised and thoughtful nascent scientific antiquarianism. The second time frame in which archaeological material has been a key element in the process of identity formation is the late colonial and postcolonial period. In the first half of Chapter 2, I trace the history of archaeological research in Punjab in the late colonial period, marked by the turn of the 20th century and the appointment in 1902 of Sir John Marshall as the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). I argue that from 1902 to 1947, Indian archaeology was dominated by the methods and goals introduced by Sir John Marshall of a specific type of ‘culture–history’ archaeology. While there was significant interest in the early historic period during the early 20th century, interest in that period gave way to the excitement fuelled by the discovery in 1925 of the prehistoric Harappan Civilisation. In the second half of Chapter 2, I take up the postcolonial period from 1947 to the present. I argue that these 20th- and 21st-century processes need to be divided into two narratives as the nation-states of Pakistan and India look to their past in different ways. For the Archaeological Survey of Pakistan, despite a brief period when Sir Mortimer Wheeler remained the Director-General and continued to focus on the Harappan period, interest in the pre-Islamic period quickly began to wane and the focus turned to Muslim architecture. This is not to say that there has been no interest in the early historic period material located in Pakistan, but this interest has been mostly driven by foreign archaeological missions and has focused most intently on Gandha¯ra. German, French, Japanese, Korean, and most productively in the Swa¯t Valley, Italian missions continue to explore and excavate Gandha¯ran sites. In the Pakistani Punjab plains, however, there has been much less activity. In the first 40 years of Pakistan’s existence, from 1947 to 1987, the 1968 excavation at Manikyala stands as the only significant excavation in Punjab outside the Taxila Valley.9 In the Taxila Valley, that is the western most limit of the Punjab plains, there have been a number of small excavations led by both foreign and Pakistani missions, all

9 See Saifur Rahman Dar, ‘Excavation at Manikyala — 1968’, Pakistan Archaeology 7 (1970–71): 6–22.


 Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

of which put their central focus on fleshing out the cultural history of Gandha¯ra. Nasim Khan, the most active Pakistani archaeologist who studies the early historic period, also puts his focus primarily on Gandha¯ran archaeology.10 Within the narrative of early historic archaeology in Pakistan, then, we must recognise that this period was not, and still is not, essential in establishing the cultural identity of the Pakistani nation, but rather, archaeological interest continues to centre on the cultural traits of Gandha¯ra. On the other side of the border in India, there was much more interest in the early historic period as a cultural identifier, but in this case the Gangetic Plains became the focus of research. Because the Gangetic Plains became the standard by which all things North Indian were measured, much of the archaeology of Punjab was understood through categories created there; not through categories created from the archaeological record in Punjab. We see this most clearly in surface surveys. That is, archaeologists of the early historic period Punjab in India have looked east to the Gangetic Plains for their ceramic sequences and chronologies.11 As a result, early historic Punjab is fitted under the rubric of ‘S´¯n.a’, a designation, as I will show in Chapter 4, which is misleading. But as Akinori

10 In 2007, Nasim Khan started the journal Gandha¯ran Studies, which continues to publish new findings on a timely basis. This is a welcome addition to other journals such as the Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente’s (IsMEO) East & West, which specialises in the archaeology of Gandha¯ra. 11 Looking east to the Gangetic Valley was a good strategy in the 1980s, because although there was a paucity of exploration and excavation data for eastern Punjab, there was certainly no lack of data for the Gangetic Valley. Thus, with most of the archaeological geography focused there, the conclusions drawn for the Gangetic Valley were applied to eastern Punjab. Some of the more important studies focused on the Gangetic Valley from the 1980s include: Makkhan Lal, Settlement History and Rise of Civilization in Ganga-Yamuna Doab, from 1500 BC to 300 AD (Delhi: B. R. Pub. Corp., 1984); Tribhuvan N. Roy, The Ganges Civilization (Delhi: Ramanand Vidya Bhawan, 1983); and George Erdosy, Urbanisation in Early Historic India (Oxford: B.A.R., 1988). Although published more than a decade after these, the best study of the archaeological geography of the Gangetic Plains is Dilip K. Chakrabarti, Archaeological Geography of the Ganga Plain: The Lower and the Middle Ganga (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001).



Uesugi has shown, the pottery sequences in Punjab do not match those of the Gangetic Plains,12 and thus we should not assume that the development of Punjab always progressed in the same way as its eastern neighbours. In my study of the post-Independence period, I focus more on the ASI than on the collaborations between the Archaeological Survey of Pakistan and various foreign archaeological teams, as these collaborations have been well-funded and copiously published for the past half-century. Thus, while the Gandha¯ran material is certainly important, I argue that much material still remains to be studied in the excavation reports, archives, museums, and archaeological depots of Indian Punjab as well.

PART II Theory and Method: Archaeology, Religion and Agency In Chapter 3, I turn to late 20th- and early 21st-century developments in the theory of archaeology and religion. In the first half, I provide a brief review of the last half-century of archaeological debates between the processual and post-processual schools of archaeological thought. I highlight how disengaged South Asian archaeology has been in the study of early historic archaeology with these theoretical shifts that have had a large impact on EuroAmerican archaeology and prehistoric Indian archaeology. That is, I argue that study of the early historic period in Punjab archaeology remains firmly situated within the more traditional culture–history model of archaeological reasoning. The second half of Chapter 3 introduces the complex relationship between archaeology, history, and the study of religion. First, I briefly summarise the contentious debate between those who understand religion(s) as a discrete category that derives from an experience of the transcendent, and those who would deny that the category of ‘religion’ has any heuristic value at all. I then demonstrate how an archaeology of religion might find a middle-ground between these 12

Akinori Uesugi, ‘Re-Evaluation of the Pottery Sequence in North India during the First Millennium BC’, in Puraratna: Emerging Trends in Archaeology, Art, Anthropology, Conservation, and History in Honour of Shri Jagat Pati Joshi (Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, 2002), 182–196.


 Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

two positions. I next turn to archaeology and religion in India and argue that the overemphasis on the textual archive has not only left the material culture under-analysed, but even when material culture is taken into consideration, a misunderstanding of how text and artifact relate has led to even greater problems concerning the reconstructed picture of early Indian religious life.

PART III Practice: Agency in the Ancient World In Part III, I present three case studies that focus on the material consequences of intentional actions of people in the past. Each study draws upon the theoretical and methodological strategies outlined in Chapter 3, and each study addresses a lacuna in the debates described in Chapters 1 and 2. To do this, I write macro-, site-, and microarchaeological histories of Punjab in the heart of the early historic period, the years 180 BCE to 300 CE.13 Unlike the first two parts of the book, which cover broad expanses of time and geography, each of these studies is narrowly focused and quite detailed. I argue that if we intend to recover the agency of past peoples, we must pay very close attention to the archival sources. On the macro-level, in Chapter 4, I write a religio-history of early historic Punjab based on the numismatic evidence of the early Kus.a¯ found in the various catalogues raisonne´s, journal articles and numismatic treatises. The focus is on how the Yuezhi and early pre-Imperial Kus.a¯, namely Kujula Kadphises and Vima Takto, actively sought to convince their subjects of their authority. The iconographic and epigraphic content of these sovereigns’ coins are treated as evidence of purposive action rather than as reflections of pre-existing cultural norms. I conclude that the coins are not residues of behaviour, but rather must be seen as an active engagement with the religio-political situation in Punjab. That is, these coins were a


The years between 180 BCE and 300 CE fall ‘between the Empires’, that is, between the Mauryan and Gupta Empires. This period, as an object of study, was explored most recently in an edited volume; see Patrick Olivelle, ed., Between the Empires: Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).



medium of communication that was manipulated in various ways to create new social and political realities. Most importantly, the religious imagery employed did not signal a profession of a personal faith; rather this imagery was a means to bring together different groups under the domain of one sovereign. In Chapter 5, I demonstrate how the use of classification as the structural principle of archaeological excavation reports often obscures the potential that archaeology holds for studying religion, particularly when it comes to discerning between objects used for gaming and objects used for ritual. In a case study, I explore the impact of Sir John Marshall’s 1951 excavation report of the early historic site of Sirkap (one of three cities uncovered at the archaeological complex of Taxila, now located in Pakistani Punjab) on the study of early historic India. I examine a very specific example of an artifact class that, I argue, has been both under- and misinterpreted: dice. I argue that the dice uncovered at Sirkap are better understood as ritual objects used in oracular gambling rather than, as Marshall suggests in his excavation report, ‘playthings’ to be used in mere games. However, let me say here before I get too far, that material objects can have multiple purposes; so my argument that these dice were used for oracular gambling does not mean that all dice were used in this way, or even that these particular dice could not have been used in multiple ways for both non-ritual gaming and oracular gambling. However, I do hope to show that they most likely did serve, in some contexts, a ritual function. In Chapter 6, I write a site-history of early historic Sanghol. This is a complicated task because there have been 13 campaigns conducted in which 13 different sites were excavated at the location of Sanghol. From these campaigns, over 20,000 artifacts were catalogued, numerous site maps and line drawings were produced, and excavation notebooks were kept. However, there has not been a holistic understanding of the site due to the fragmented nature of the excavations. Not only were the excavations done by three different archaeological teams under the control of two different archaeological units, but the antiquities, excavation books, and line drawings are stored in four locations: (a) an on-site museum at Sanghol, (b) a storeroom at the Punjab Department of Archaeology in Sector 38A, Chandigarh, (c) a storeroom in Patiala at the Qila Mubarak, and (d) a storeroom at the ASI depot in Purana Qila, Delhi. In my analysis of this material, I move beyond the canonical writings on Sanghol that


 Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

focus almost exclusively on the railing pillars and crossbars uncovered in the 1984–85 excavation season and offer new insights into the ritual world of early historic Punjab. Other than the geographic and chronological boundaries that frame this last part of the book, what ties the three studies together is the concern for the motivations and interests of human actors in the creation of the material past.

Part I


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From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism The antiquary’s aim was to gather and present uncommon objects, chosen for their individual qualities, which distinguished them from current objects because they symbolised a lost, invisible world. Carefully described, methodically displayed, these objects thus acquired new properties which made them different, precious, moving, material witnesses of time’s physical depth.1

Introduction: The Figure of the Antiquarian in the Early Modern Period Archaeology — which in its most basic definition refers to the systematic excavation and scientific description and study of material remains to gain a more comprehensive knowledge of the past — emerged from the antiquarian impulse, but it is now considered quite distinct from antiquarianism. Antiquarianism, as used in contemporary scholarly idiom, refers to the dedicated collection, description, and classification of material objects, the goal of which is not insight into history and its processes, but rather the very act of collecting itself. Or as Upinder Singh argues in the context of India, the goal of these antiquarians was the ‘discovery, collection, and description of antiquities, or the amateur study of artifacts or monuments . . . treated as ends in themselves’ (italics mine).2 The modern archaeologist, in contrast, seeks to avoid this ‘absorption into 1

Alain Schnapp, The Discovery of the Past (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997), 39–40. 2 Upinder Singh, The Discovery of Ancient India: Early Archaeologists and the Beginnings of Archaeology (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004), 1.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

the sterile, antiquarian inventory of tradition’.3 In short, as commonly understood, the antiquarian does not practise archaeology, but rather seeks to acquire objects of value, wonder or mystery. Used in this way, the label ‘antiquary’ is most often employed disparagingly to indicate a contrast with the superior scientific techniques, historical consciousness, and professionalism of the modern scholar.Thus, antiquarianism, used in this pejorative sense, describes a particular early modern Western attitude towards the remains of the past, an attitude that has since been superseded by modern archaeological techniques and reasoning. This is not to argue that the modern West was the first culture to take an interest in material remains of the past — certainly many cultures chronologically prior to and geographically separate from the modern West had interest in such objects.4 However, the European antiquarian holds an important and,

3 This is the felicitous phrasing of Karl Christ, ‘Arnaldo Momigliano and the History of Historiography’, History and Theory 30, no. 4 (1991): 7. 4 Alain Schnapp provides a fine introduction to pre-modern interest in the material past in The Discovery of the Past, 39–120. Briefly, Schnapp cites a number of instances from the ancient world where new empires sought to legitimise their rule by linking themselves to the material culture of the past. Such examples include the 6th century BCE Babylonian king Nabonid and the 5th century BCE Chinese interest in Bronze Age cult tripods. In another piece, Schnapp adds to these early examples the circa 1300 BCE Egyptian Pharaoh Khaemois; see Alain Schnapp and Kristian Kristiansen, ‘Discovering the Past’, in Companion Encyclopedia of Archaeology, ed. Graeme Barker (London: Routledge, 1999), 3. He then details how the ancient Greek understanding of history and material culture saw the past as ‘no longer the property of a dynasty or even of an ethnic group, but the common heritage of humanity’ (43). After a brief excursus into GraecoRoman treasure-hunting and the first millennium CE Chinese passion for antiquities (for a more detailed treatment of Chinese interest in material objects, particularly bronze and jade artifacts, see K. C. Chang, ‘Archaeology and Chinese Historiography’, World Archaeology 13, no. 2 [1981]: 156–169), Schnapp details the ambivalent attitude of medieval Europe towards the material past. This attitude fluctuated between suspicion of the interest in objects of the past — a suspicion that derived from an aversion to idolatry and an unease with the imperfect fit of Greek and Roman history and the biblical account of creation — to the veneration of past objects as sacred relics and the search for the historical locations of Christian history.

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


as I will argue here, often misunderstood place in the development of modern archaeology. While at the crudest level, antiquarians could be construed as narrow-minded dilettantes interested in the minutiae of the material past carefully stored in their curio-cabinets, this understanding of the antiquarian misses two important points. First, the figure of the antiquary described here is not representative of the insightful and complex scholarship sometimes produced by such figures in the early modern period: these collectors opened up new avenues of thought in their attention to detail and dedication to the material past. For example, the antiquarians’ renewed interest in Greek and Roman antiquity during the Renaissance eventually led to an interest in local histories.5 Second, the antiquarian not only set the conditions for which the development of a scientific archaeology became possible, but the spectre of the antiquarian also lingers in much of modern archaeological practice. Not only were the terms ‘antiquarian’ and ‘archaeologist’ often interchangeable in the 19th and early 20th century — in some contexts scholars displayed antiquarian tendencies, and in other contexts they worked well within a scientific understanding of archaeology — but also within contemporary archaeology, these two ‘spirits of inquiry’ are not as distinct as one would like to imagine.

Antiquarianism in Punjab (1400–1902) The predominant narrative concerning the study of ancient material remains in India begins with the arrival of European travellers to the subcontinent in the early modern period. These travellers often displayed an antiquarian spirit that frequently found much state support during the colonial period. In the words of Bruce Trigger: 5

Arnaldo Momigliano has charted this progression in his various lectures, articles, and books. In particular, for the rise of antiquarianism during the Renaissance, see his Sather Lecture titled ‘The Rise of Antiquarian Research’, delivered at University of California Berkeley in 1961–62 and reprinted in The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 54–79. For the changing relationship between history and antiquarianism, in particular the move from Graeco-Roman history to local history, see Momigliano’s classic article ‘Ancient History and the Antiquarian’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 13, no. 3/4 (1950): 285–315.


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[a]rchaeological research in India began in a colonial setting and for a long time remained remote from traditional Indian scholarship. European travellers began to note ancient monuments as early as the sixteenth century and systematic scholarly interest in these monuments dates from about 1750.6

Writing about early European travelogues, Dilip K. Chakrabarti adds, ‘[w]ithout doubt these records constitute the first group of archaeological writings on India’.7 However, some have suggested that prior to the arrival of European antiquarians, there were examples of indigenous efforts to uncover the distant past in India. For example, Michael A. Cremo argues that the recovery of ancient images and the re-imagining of ancient landscapes by Caitanya and the early 16th-century Bengali devotees of Kr.s.n.a, that is the Gaudiya Vais. n.ava tradition, represent a non-European, indigenous archaeological tradition.8 In most cases that Cremo cites, a dream, vision, or other miraculous event — such as a cow inexplicably releasing milk on a stone under which a Kus. a¯n.a era image of Balarama had been hidden centuries earlier during a Muslim invasion — led a devotee to a buried image, hidden temple, or unknown natural feature such as a pond or grove. The image, temple, or natural feature was then consecrated and worshipped by the devotee. Cremo calls this work a sustained, deliberate, and systematic archaeological endeavour. To consider divining the location of sacred objects or natural features as an archaeological programme requires a significant stretch in the definition of archaeology; nor does this activity have much in common with antiquarianism. However, Cremo writes in his conclusion that ‘some Braj Mandal Goswamis employed a methodology much like that of modern classical or medieval archaeologies in Europe, in

6 Bruce G. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 [1989]), 181. 7 Dilip K. Chakrabarti, A History of Indian Archaeology from the Beginning to 1947 (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1988), 1. 8 Michael A. Cremo, ‘Excavating the Eternal: An Indigenous Archaeological Tradition in India’, Antiquity 82, March (2008): 178–188. To be fair, despite the provocative title and the bold thesis put forth at the beginning of the article, Cremo backs off these claims a bit when he clarifies that the activity described is more akin to modern heritage or cultural resource management than modern excavation techniques.

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


that historical texts were used to guide archaeological exploration’.9 This method, that is text-aided discovery of ancient sites in order to ‘bring them back to life, so that people could experience what it was (and is) like to be with Krishna in Braj Mandal’,10 certainly resonated with the goals of early European antiquarian practice in India. However, these kinds of examples of a pre-colonial Indian antiquarian or archaeological programme are few,11 and thus we must begin our study here with European motivations and interpretations. There was some Indian involvement in archaeological research during the colonial period, however. Much of such work was done either under the direct supervision of or in very close contact with colonial institutions. Exceptions to this general statement include a number of Princely States that engaged in such activities12 and some


Cremo, ‘Excavating the Eternal’, 187. Ibid. 11 K. Paddayya takes up the question of the possibility of a pre-modern Indian tradition of antiquarian and/or archaeological activity in his ‘A Review of Theoretical Perspectives in Indian Archaeology’, in Indian Archaeology in Retrospect Volume 4: Archaeology and Historiography — History, Theory, and Method, ed. S. Settar and Ravi Korisettar (Delhi: Manohar, 2002), 119–126. He produces a list of five ‘suggestive examples indicating an interest in ancient times in the remains from still earlier ages’, (126) from the Mauryan to Mughal periods. 12 See Singh, The Discovery of Ancient India, 290–312 and three essays in Gautam Sengupta and Kaushik Gangopadhyay, eds., Archaeology in India: Individuals, Ideas, and Institutions (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2009): V. H. Sonawane,‘Archaeology Under the Baroda State’, 247–262; Rajasri Mukhopadhyay,‘Archaeology: A Construction of Regional Identity in Mayurbhanj State, Orrisa’, 263–272; and K.P. Rao,‘Contributions of Nizam State to Archaeology’, 273–288. However, I have found no evidence that any Princely State located in the northwest of the subcontinent engaged in such organisational activity. Ranjit Singh saw no problem with his French generals engaging in rudimentary excavations within his territories in the first half of the 19th century, but he did not exhibit much interest in having his Indian officials participate in such research. As for pre-colonial antiquarian or archaeological interest, the record suggests there was not much. For an outdated, but at times useful, review of pre-colonial Indian interest in material remains, see Sourindranath Roy, The Story of Indian Archaeology, 1784–1947 (Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1961), 1–11. 10


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regional, non-official programmes that developed in Bengal.13 That there were, or could have been, Indians with antiquarian interest in colonial Punjab is a question that needs more research,14 but until the beginning of the 20th century, Indian contributions to the antiquarian study of Punjab were mostly hidden from view. There are snapshots of Indians who may have had some antiquarian interest in Punjab and who worked alongside Europeans. For example, Sayyed Karamat Ali was born in 1796 at Jaunpur in the United Provinces (modern Uttar Pradesh), left home at age 18, worked in Lucknow for two years, lived in Persia for 10 years, then befriended and became a companion of many British explorers in Afghanistan and Punjab in the 1820s and 1830s.15 In 1837, Ali was appointed superintendent of the Hughli Imambara in Bengal, where he kept a manuscript library and a coin collection, the latter of which famed Orientalist and antiquarian James Prinsep drew upon quite often while in Bengal.16 Whether Ali began to collect coins as objects of historical value on his own, or whether his acquisition of such coins began with the requests from his European friends, is not known, 13 Sanjukta Datta, ‘Artefacts and Antiquities in Bengal: Some Perspectives within an Emerging Non-Official Archaeological Sphere’, in Ancient India: New Research, ed. Upinder Singh and Nayanjot Lahiri (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 11–38. 14 See two examples of such research in Nayanjot Lahiri’s brief exploration of Indian reactions to British attempts at conservation and restoration of local monuments in ‘Coming to Grips with India’s Past and Her “Living Present”: John Marshall’s Early Years (1902–06) — Part II’, South Asian Studies 16, no. 1 (2000): 94 and 98–101. In the first case, Lahiri cites a 1904 letter from Pandit Hirananda to Sir John Marshall in which he reports the inhabitants of Pariar village were treating implements ‘as objects of worship and considered relics of a fight “between Rama’s hosts and sons!”’ (94 and n. 32). In the second case, Lahiri points to the reluctance of devotees and guardians of various religious edifices to allow British restoration attempts (98–101). 15 For a very brief account of Sayyed Karamat Ali’s life and work, see Charles Edward Buckland, Dictionary of Indian Biography (London: Sonnenschein, 1906), 229. 16 Throughout Prinsep’s writings, he often mentions coins he obtained from the ‘collection of Karamat Ali’. See James Prinsep, Essays on Indian Antiquities, Historic, Numismatic, and Palaeographic, of the Late James Prinsep (Varanasi: Indological Book House, 1971 [1858]), 119, 123, 129, 188, 231, 334.

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


but it is clear that he was a great source of knowledge for European antiquarians. Similarly, Mohan Lal served as a ‘Persian’ guide for Alexander Burnes and Dr Gerard in Afghanistan and Punjab in the 1830s, and Lal published a travelogue in 1846.17 He, too, seemed to have had his own collection of coins, but like Ali gave no indication of the motivations behind such a collection. In addition to these two notable Indians, there were the ever present, anonymous ‘market dealers’ who supplied the Europeans with, literally, tens of thousands of coins. Why did the dealers collect them? What was the value of these coins, both cultural and economic, before Europeans offered sums of money for them? We learn from early European travelogues that Punjab was populated by counterfeiters ready to sell their goods to any buyer.18 This tells us that Indians knew the pictorial content and the method of manufacture of these coins intimately, so much so that they could produce passable fakes that plagued European collectors. As for the value put on such items by Indians, again, we have only evidence that came from Europeans themselves, which offers no real insight into what others — or perhaps better ‘the Other’ — thought. The Hungarian John Martin Honigberger tells us that he was robbed of his ‘treasure’ by Dost Muhammad Khan, ruler of the region of Kabul and Jelalabad.19 Honigberger’s treasure consisted of boxes of coins and other antiquities he had obtained from opening many stu¯pas in and around the region, and while he tells us that this ‘robbery’ was 17

Lal’s travelogue stands alongside Alexander Burnes’; see Mohan La¯la, Travels in the Panjab, Afghanistan, Turkistan, to Balk, Bokhara, and Herat (London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1846). (While the 1846 book was published with his surname spelled ‘La¯la’, it is more commonly spelled ‘Lal’ in almost all subsequent publications.) 18 The problem of forgeries, particularly of coins, plagued not only early antiquarians, but continued to be an issue well into the colonial period. See Lahiri, ‘Coming to Grips with India’s Past and Her “Living Present”’, 96–98. In fact, this is still an issue for contemporary Indian archaeology; for example, see the archives of http://www. As accessed on 30 May 2014. 19 John Martin Honigberger, Thirty-Five Years in the East (London: H. Baillière, 1852), 60–62. For details of Honigberger’s relationship with Ranjit Singh in Punjab, see Devendra Kumar Verma, ‘John Martin Honigberger — A Hungarian At the Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’, Panjab Past and Present 17–18 (1983): 211–215.


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committed because of the collection’s enormous worth, we are left to wonder if it was really for purely economic reasons, or whether it was a form of resistance to this kind of activity for other reasons. But the fact remains that European travelogues present the Europeans in the best possible light, and they often portray the local inhabitants negatively, so we are left in the dark as to the quantity and quality of Indian antiquarian interest in Punjab before the 20th century.

Early Antiquarianism in Punjab: The Search for Greek Civilisation, 1600–1840 So, we know very little about Indian antiquarian interests apart from Orientalist notions of local temperaments and motivations. And while there has been enormous attention centred on the impact of British colonialism, the earliest antiquarian of Punjab was neither geographically nor temporally tied to the British colonial state, but rather can be traced to the collections and writings of the 17th-century French humanist Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580–1637).20 Peiresc’s interest in Egypt, the Far East, and India came from his early journeys, but by 1609 his travels had all but ceased, and he came to rely on a massive network of correspondents spread across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and India.21 Peiresc left behind well over 10,000 letters, a library of over 6,000 volumes, and a collection of 12,000 ancient coins and medals.22 His interests were broad — he collected works on the natural sciences 20 The history of Indo-French relations was relatively unexplored until the last three decades. We owe much to the works of Jean-Marie Lafont for bringing this story to light. His major essays, published in various journals from 1978 to 1997, along with two previously unpublished pieces, have been collected and published in one volume titled Indika: Essays in IndoFrench Relations, 1630–1976 (Delhi: Manohar, 2000). This is in addition to his 1992 work La Présence Française dans le Royaume Sikh du Penjab: 1822–1849 (Paris: Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1992). Lafont has continued to publish on the relationship of the French military support for Maharaja Ranjit Singh as well as other aspects of Indo-French relations. 21 For a map of the geographic breadth of Peiresc’s correspondents, see Peter N. Miller, Peiresc’s Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), xvi. 22 Jean-Marie Lafont, ‘India and the Orient in Fabri de Peiresc: Mémoire pour les Indes’, in Indika: Essays in Indo-French Relations,

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


such as zoology, botany, and geology — but in relation to India, he was particularly keen to gather information regarding the exploits of Alexander the Great.23 Peiresc relied on Augustin Hirriart, a fellow Frenchman who arrived in Lahore in 1612 and lived there for many years, to supply him with lead moulds and drawings of ancient Indian coins. Peiresc wrote to Hirriart asking for ‘medals with Greek writing, those carrying “samartian [sic] letters” and [those] “looking almost like them”’.24 In addition, he asked for drawings of ruins and copies of inscriptions, both Greek and ‘barbarian’. From this wealth of material, Peiresc published only one pamphlet ‘on a second-rate antiquarian subject’.25 Unfortunately, part of Peiresc’s library was dispersed, and the rest was destroyed, and we are left to reconstruct it from various sources. Peiresc’s early interest in the material culture of Punjab is remarkable for several reasons. One, for the next century and a half, except for a few published coins of the Graeco-Bactrians and a single Kus.a¯n.a

1630–1976 (Delhi: Manohar, 2000), 51, originally published as ‘L’Inde et l’Extrême-Orient dans la Correspondance de Fabri de Peiresc (1580–1637)’, Topoi. Orient-Occident 7, no. 2 (1997): 693–732. 23 In military campaigns that spanned the years 329–327 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the Central Asian Achaemenid satrapy of Bactria and Sogdiana. His army then crossed the Hindu Kush and conquered a significant portion of Punjab from 327 to 326 BCE. Of course, there was Greek interest in knowing India even before Alexander’s campaigns, as evidenced by Herodotus’ 5th century BCE accounts of gold-digging ants and other wondrous tales. After Alexander, the Greeks continued to write about India, perhaps the most detailed work being Philostratus’ 3rd century CE story of Appollonius of Tyana, who lived in the 1st century CE. These events and texts are wellknown. The impact these campaigns and tales had on European antiquarian interest in Punjab is of great interest in the history of Punjab archaeology. 24 Jean-Marie Lafont, ‘The Numismatic Collection of General Court and Instructions of the French Academy for an Archaeological Survey of Punjab, 1836’, in Indika: Essays in Indo-French Relations, 1630–1976 (Delhi: Manohar, 2000), 288; originally published as ‘Les Indo-grecs. Recherches Archéologiques Françaises dans le Royaume Sikh du Penjab, 1822–1843’, Topoi. Orient-Occident 4, no. 1 (1994): 9–68. Lafont notes that the ‘samartian letters’ of interest to Peiresc are probably Kharoshti, and the phrase ‘looking almost like them’ refers to imitations. 25 Momigliano, The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography, 55.


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coin — which was not identified as such, but was only identified two centuries later as a regular issue of Huvis.ka — there was no systematic cataloguing of the material finds of the region.26 Two, Peiresc’s motivations behind his interest in Punjab — that is, his desire to learn more about Alexander the Great, not to understand Punjab as a region or cultural unit — were the very same motivations as those of antiquarians who came to the region in the late 18th and early 19th century. And three, Peiresc saw that the numismatic record of Punjab was the key to understanding the political situation, and he has been proven right as even today the political history of ancient Punjab is a story told primarily by numismatists. As noted above, Peiresc did not publish his findings in a systematic way — his collections were rehabilitated only in the 20th century — so his interest did not inspire other 17th-century intellectuals to pursue the material links between Alexander the Great


T. S. Bayer, in his 1738 study of the Graeco-Bactrian kings, identifies two coins of these monarchs, one of Diodotus and one of Eucratides. He offers a sketch of the silver coin of Eucratides; see Historia Regni Graecorum Bactriani: In Qua Simul Graecarum in India Coloniarum Vetus Memoria (St. Petersburg: Petropoli, 1738), 99–100 and Figure I. However, 24 years later, Joseph Pellerin convincingly rejected the idea that the Diodotus coin was of Graeco-Bactrian origin, but confirmed, and published again, the Eucratides silver coin; see Joseph Pellerin, Recueil de Médailles de Rois Qui N’ont Point Encore Été Publiées (Paris: H.L. Guerin & L.F. Delatour, 1762), 129–31 and Plate XV. A Huvicka gold coin was published in Joseph Pellerin, Troisieme Supplément aux Six Volumes de Recueils des Médailles de Rois, de Villes, & c: Publiésen 1762, 1763 & 1765 (Paris: Chez L. F. Delatour, 1767), iii. For a short review of the discovery and identification of Bactrian coins in the 18th and early 19th centuries, see Horace Hayman Wilson, ‘Graeco-Bactrian Coins’, The Numismatic Journal 2 (1837–38): 144–181, and Frank Holt, Into the Land of Bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 129–133. While the field is huge and much has been written regarding the coins of this period, most scholars recognise Osmund Bopearachchi as the foremost expert on Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek numismatics. For a good introduction, see his Monnaies Gréco-Bactrienneset Indo-Grecques: Catalogue Raisonné (Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale, 1991). As for Kus. a¯n.a coins, despite the fact that he got the date for Kanis. ka I wrong, the best introduction is still Robert Göbl, System und Chronologie der Münzprägung des Kuša¯nreiches (Wien: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1984).

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


and Punjab. For much of the rest of the 18th century, the volatility of the region, stemming from the struggle for control between the Mughals and the Sikhs, prevented further exploration. 27 This situation left the ancient past of Punjab unstudied. Indeed, O. P. Kejariwal argues that for much of the 18th century, India had lapsed into a sort of amnesia about its ancient past, and in the process become apathetic to its historical remains. Manuscripts were destroyed, coins melted and turned into amulets and ornaments, new structures were constructed on historic sites, and ancient buildings raided by marauders in search of hidden treasures, or pulled down by zamindars for ‘nothing more than collecting bricks for their new houses’.28

But as the 18th century came to a close and the Sikh political order began to coalesce and assert its power throughout the region, a period of relative stability led to a more welcoming environment, and interest in the material culture of Punjab grew. Events in Europe, too, contributed to the renewed interest in the subcontinent: the antagonism between the French and British in Europe spilled over into their economic and political interests in India, leading to a more competitive environment.29 Thus, by the late 18th century, while the British East India Company controlled significant portions of the subcontinent, it also met significant resistance from indigenous sources such as 27 For an overview of this conflict, see J. S. Grewal, The Sikhs of the Punjab (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 82–98. 28 Om Prakash Kejariwal, The Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Discovery of India’s Past 1784–1838 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988), 221. 29 In fact, in 1808 the British were so concerned that the French were going to bring the war to India that they sent a mission to Kabul to ascertain what side the local leaders might support. For a contemporary account of the British suspicions of French intentions in India, see Mountstuart Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and Its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India; Comprising a View of the Afghaun Nation and a History of the Dooraunee Monarchy, vol. 1 (London: Bentley, 1839 [1815]), 1. See also Jean-Marie Lafont, ‘From Taq-I Bustan to Lahore: French and Italian Officers in Persia and the Punjab 1816-1846’, in From Persepolis to the Punjab: Exploring Ancient Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, ed. Elizabeth Errington (London: British Museum Press, 2007), 141.


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the Marathas, the Sikhs, and the Sindhia Dynasty from Gwalior, as well as from the French, particularly in the south. Two French military men, although not stationed in Punjab, deserve particular attention for re-igniting European interest in numismatics. In the 1750s, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Gentil, stationed in French-controlled Pondicherry, collected Mughal coins. He was particularly interested in the ‘zodiac’ coins of Jahangir.30 Closer to Punjab, General Perron, chief administrator of the Raja of Sindhia’s territories in the Yamuna–Ganga Doab from 1796 to 1803, paid particular attention to Greek numismatics. Gentil shared his collections with the public after returning to France, and his exhibitions piqued the curiosity of antiquarians not only in France, but in the general cultured public of Europe, a constituency whose knowledge of Punjab up to that time was limited solely to the Greek histories of Alexander, histories they would have read in their school days.31 Despite these early forays into the numismatic record of the Mughals and the Greeks, the public journals of Europe in the last decades of the 18th century and the first two decades of the 19th century rarely mentioned the material culture of India, let alone Punjab. The first 14 volumes of Asiatick Researches, published between 1786 and 1822, present an eclectic range of studies but only a few fields of interest: (a) translations of Sanskrit texts and inscriptions; (b) ethnographic essays often dedicated to folk wisdom, a favourite being the various cures for snakebites; (c) detailed lists of the flora and fauna found in the subcontinent; (d) daily observations of (bordering on an obsession with) the daily weather; and (e) studies of Indian astrology. The accounts of material culture are few: in addition to a few very short descriptions of various sites,32 the only significant contributions in this field deal with the caves at Ellora, the temples at Mahabalipuram, and the caves at Elephanta,


Lafont, La Présence Française, 78 n. 10 and 79 n. 12. Col. Gentil published his researches as Mémoires sur l’Indoustan ou Empire Mogol (Paris: Petit, 1822). 31 Lafont, ‘The Numismatic Collection of General Court’, 290. 32 For example, see Sir William Dunkin’s very brief, and very superficial, description of the ruins at Sarnath in ‘Extract from a Diary of a Journey over the Great Desert, from Aleppo to Bussora, in April 1782’, Asiatick Researches 4 (1798): 416–419.

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none of which is in Punjab.33 The only report on Punjab to find its way into the pages of Asiatick Researches before 1822 was Brigadier General John Malcolm’s ‘Sketch of the Sikhs’,34 a report that makes no mention of any archaeological or numismatic material.35 In the second and third decade of the 19th century, the notion that there was an abundance of Greek material to be discovered


For Ellora, see Sir Charles Warre Malet, ‘Description of the Caves or Excavations, on the Mountain, about a Mile to the Eastward Town of Ellora’, Asiatick Researches 6 (1799): 389–423; for Mahabalipuram, see William Chambers, ‘Some Account of the Sculptures and Ruins at Mavalipuram’, Asiatick Researches 1 (1788): 145–170, and J. Goldingham, ‘Some Account of the Sculptures at Mahabalipooram; Usually Called the Seven Pagodas’, Asiatick Researches 5 (1795): 69–80; and for Elephanta, see J. Goldingham, ‘Some Account of the Cave in the Island of Elephanta’, Asiatick Researches 4 (1793): 409–417. These, of course, were not the first accounts of India’s monumental past. For at least two centuries before Goldingham the caves of Elephanta had served as the mark of Indian otherness. From the Dutchman Jan Huygen van Linschoten’s accounts of the deformed and strange carvings in the 16th century, to the more favourable descriptions provided by the English Company men Dr John Fryer and John Ovington in the late 17th century, Elephanta held a privileged place in the European imagination of India’s past. And this European imagination almost always used the Classical tradition as its touchstone: both Linschoten and Fryer entertained the idea that it was Alexander himself who had been responsible for these structures. For an analysis of these works and bibliographic information, see Michael S. Dodson, ‘Orientalism and Archaeology: Writing the History of South Asia, 1600–1860’, in The Marshall Albums: Photography and Archaeology, ed. Sudeshna Guha (Delhi: Mapin, 2010), 70–73, nn. 7–16; 82–83, nn. 49–50. 34 Sir John Malcolm, ‘Sketch of the Sikhs’, Asiatick Researches 11 (1810): 197–292. 35 Of course, there were other venues in which work on material culture was published before 1822. For instance, I will discuss popular travelogues here. There were also other scholarly journals. For example, the first issue of Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay contains two articles related to material culture: Henry Salt, ‘Account of the Caves in Salsette, Illustrated with Drawings of the Principal Figures and Caves’, Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay 1 (1819): 41–52; and William Erskine, ‘Account of the Cave-Temple of Elephanta, with Plan and Drawing of the Principal Figures’, Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay 1 (1819): 198–250. However, despite these articles, the focus was clearly on the literary sources available.


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in Punjab began to take hold, and travellers to Punjab were on the lookout for traces of Alexander the Great, often to the exclusion of other possibilities.36 The goals of these new European antiquarians active in the northwest Indian subcontinent in the first half of the 19th century did not explicitly centre on gathering knowledge of the indigenous cultures as part of a project that served to justify and legitimise imperial power.37 This is not to deny that the data generated by this antiquarian activity perhaps ended up serving this purpose,38 but at least in the early 19th century, the dominant 36 This adherence to the ancient Greek and Roman accounts was not particular to India. Michael Dodson details the high profile, public argument between Claudius James Rich and James Rennell concerning the archaeology of ancient Babylon. In brief, Rich failed to discover archaeological evidence to support the account of Babylon given by Herodotus. Rennell, without ever setting foot on the site, challenged Rich’s dating of the mounds, suggesting they could not have been from ancient Babylon, but from the ‘Muhammedan’ period. Dodson writes, ‘For Rennell, the primacy of his classical sources had been eroded by the man on the spot’ (see Dodson, ‘Orientalism and Archaeology’, 84). 37 The connection between knowledge, power, and imperialism is now well travelled territory, so an extensive bibliography is not necessary. However, two particularly relevant discussions of how various forms of empirical knowledge served British imperial interests are C. A. Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870, Cambridge Studies in Indian History and Society 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) and Peter van der Veer, Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). But also see O. P. Kejariwal’s balanced defence of the early members of the Asiatic Society in The Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Discovery of India’s Past 1784–1838, 225–233, and Dilip K. Chakrabarti’s defence of colonial archaeologists in general in Archaeology in the Third World: A History of Indian Archaeology since 1947 (Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2003), 212–213. 38 I do not mean to elide the ways in which archaeology was used to justify European imperial machinations in India. See Himanshu Prabha Ray, ‘Alexander’s Campaign (327–326 BCE): A Chronological Marker in the Archaeology of India’, in Memory as History: The Legacy of Alexander in Asia, ed. Himanshu Prabha Ray and Daniel T. Potts (Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2007), 107, where she demonstrates that by 1900 Alexander’s empire was being used as a justification for British empire. For a book that attempts to ‘rehabilitate’ the early British antiquarians and Orientalists in

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


motivations of antiquarians in northwest India lay elsewhere. On the other hand, nor were these men after an objective anthropological account of the ‘Other’; they, of course, were deeply steeped in Orientalist assumptions about the superiority of Europe and all that it brought with it. However, on a day to day level, it was the romantic spirit of Classical studies that moved them. That is, what many of these early travellers sought was to experience — or better, to participate in — the excitement and splendour of the Classical world as described by the historians of Alexander the Great.39 Alexander Burnes made these motivations explicit in the Preface to his travelogue Travels into Bokhara: My success in this undertaking, which was attended with many difficulties, and the sight of so many tribes hitherto little known, gave fresh strength to a desire that I had always felt to see new countries, and visit the conquests of Alexander. As the first European of modern times who had navigated the Indus, I now found myself stimulated to extend my journey beyond that river — the scene of romantic achievements which I had read of in early youth with the most intense interest.40

Burnes went as far as to include a portrait of himself ‘in the Costume of Bokhara’ as the frontispiece to his volume on his travels in Kabul.41 These romantic notions, centred most keenly around the desire to retrace the steps of Alexander, influenced antiquarian interest in

India, but is itself often deemed orientalist in outlook, see Charles Allen, The Buddha and the Sahibs: The Men Who Discovered India’s Lost Religion (London: John Murray, 2002). 39 Phiroze Vasunia, in his Classics and Colonial India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), covers this same subject but with an eye towards textual representations. Here, I focus solely on the European engagement with the archaeological remains. 40 Alexander Burnes, Travels into Bokhara; Being the Account of a Journey from India to Cabool, Tartary and Persia; Also, Narrative of a Voyage on the Indus, from the Sea to Lahore, with Presents from the King of Great Britain; Performed Under the Orders of the Supreme Government of India, in the Years 1831, 1832, and 1833, vol. 1 (London: John Murray, 1834), ix–x. 41 Alexander Burnes, Cabool: A Personal Narrative of a Journey To, and Residence In, That City, in the Years 1836, 7, and 8 (London: John Murray, 1842), frontispiece.


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India, and thus the focus, logically, centred on the northwest corner of the subcontinent. The ruins at Manikyala, located near the Grand Trunk Road about 16 miles southeast of Rawalpindi, served as the focal point for much antiquarian speculation in Punjab. Mountstuart Elphinstone travelled through Punjab from 1808 to 1810 and kept a detailed diary of his journeys that was published in his travelogue in 1815.42 While travelling near Rawalpindi in 1809, Elphinstone came across a large ‘tope’ at Manikyala, and after a lengthy description, he wrote: There was nothing at all Hindoo in the appearance of this building; most of the party thought it decidedly Grecian [sic]. It was indeed as like Grecian architecture as any building which Europeans, in remote parts of the country, could now construct by the hands of unpractised native builders. The natives called it the Tope of Maunicyaula, and said it was built by the gods.43

This short passage is remarkable as it exposes the fundamental assumptions of the early antiquarians in Punjab. Elphinstone, and it seems the local inhabitants as well,44 had no knowledge of the profound influence of Buddhism on northwest India, and thus the available categories for classification were Muslim, Hindu or Greek. As no Muslims claimed the site, and it was clearly not Hindu, the only category left was Greek. Elphinstone did note in the 1839 new and revised edition of the text that William Erskine, in an 1821 paper read in Bombay,45 had identified the structure as ‘belonging to 42

Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul. As Lafont notes, the ‘Caboul’ of Elphinstone’s travels is in fact Peshawar; see Lafont, ‘From Taq-I Bustan to Lahore’, 141. 43 Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, 107–108. 44 Elphinstone makes a note in the 1815 version of his text, ‘Tope is an expression used for a mound or barrow as far west as Peshawer’ (see Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, 108 n. †), and he makes no indication that the local villagers knew it was a Buddhist stu¯pa. 45 The paper was read on 31 July 1821, but was published as William Erskine, ‘Observations on the Remains of the Bouddhists in India’, Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay 3 (1823): 494–537. In this paper he compares the ‘top’ [sic] at Manikyala (changing the spelling from Elphinstone’s ‘Maunicyaula’) to such structures in and around Benares; Erskine, ‘Observations on the Remains of the Bouddhists in India’, 519–520.

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


Boodh’,46 but in the early decades of the 19th century, this knowledge was not yet available. Thus, by 1822, while in other parts of the world Buddhism was being reconstructed, or as some argue actively constructed, as an object of the Orientalist gaze,47 knowledge of the Buddhist presence in Punjab was in its infancy. It is unclear how quickly Erskine’s speculations were disseminated. In November of 1822, William Moorcroft and George Trebeck visited Manikyala and, without any knowledge of Erskine’s paper, came to the conclusion that ‘it [the tope] has not at all the character of a Grecian [sic] edifice. It has a much greater resemblance to the monumental structures of the Tibetans’.48 Almost two years later, in 1824, as Moorcroft and Trebeck crossed the Hindu Kush deep into Afghanistan, they continued to speculate on the origin of the ruins they had come across: With regard to the buildings, it seems most likely that they were Hindu, and either monuments of Satis, or Buddhists, and tombs of the ashes of Lamas or of persons of rank. The latter is the most likely, for the general form of the edifice strongly resembles that of the Mani-pani appropriated to the ashes of the Rajas of Ladakh and the principal Lamas.49

Moorcroft and Trebeck were not confident in their Tibetan comparison, and in this passage they understood Buddhism as part of Hinduism. Despite these men’s insights, the driving force in the examination of such monuments was still tied to Alexander and the Classical world. And it was not just the British who were interested in the conquests of Alexander in Punjab, but the French, once again — this time


Elphinstone, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, 108 n. *. For more details see Donald S. Lopez, Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 1–29; and Philip C. Almond, The British Discovery of Buddhism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). 48 William Moorcroft and George Trebeck, Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Panjab; in Ladakh and Kashmir; in Peshawar, Kabul, Kunduz, and Bokhara from 1819 to 1825 (London: John Murray, 1841), 311. 49 Ibid., 367. 47


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stemming from the quaternary of French officers in the service of Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Kingdom: Jean-François Allard, Paolo Avitabile, Claude-Auguste Court, and Jean-Baptiste Ventura — continued the systematic collection of Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek coins50 and performed the first rudimentary ‘excavations’ of extant monuments.51 While Allard and Ventura had been in the service of Ranjit Singh since 1822, it was Court’s arrival in 1826 that catalysed their interest in the antiquities of Punjab. Court began to systematise his coin collection in 1828 in hopes of learning more about Alexander’s conquests. As Lafont tells us, ‘[t]he “Itinerary” [of General Court’s travels] also has the merit of demonstrating Court’s interest in tracing Alexander’s passage in this region [of Punjab] right from [his arrival in] 1826’.52 Court eventually published an article that does exactly this — it traces Alexander’s route based on the Greek and Roman historians, and in this article he ties the coins found around Manikyala to Alexander’s invasions.53 Thus, despite Erskine and Moorcroft and Trebeck’s suggestions in 1822–24, in the early 1830s many European antiquarians were still flummoxed by these ‘mounds and topes’. Manikyala took centre stage again as Le Chevalier Ventura, clearly inspired by Court’s speculations, opened a shaft down the centre of the structure in the spring of 1830. Only small portions of his findings trickled out in numismatic reports54 and second hand speculations by other travellers,55 until James Prinsep, about whom more will be said here,

50 For details see Lafont, ‘The Numismatic Collection of General Court’, 285–342. 51 For details see Lafont, La Présence Française, 331–338. Court’s fivevolume Mémoires is not published, but it is kept in manuscript form in the Musée, Genet, Paris. 52 Lafont, ‘The Numismatic Collection of General Court’, 293. 53 Claude-Auguste Court, ‘Conjectures on the March of Alexander’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 5 (1836): 387–395. See Lafont, ‘The Numismatic Collection of General Court’, 327 n. 30 for a full bibliography of Court’s publications of his conjectures regarding Alexander. 54 Horace Hayman Wilson, ‘Description of Select Coins from Originals or Drawings in the Possession of the Asiatic Society’, Asiatick Researches 17 (1832): 559–606; James Prinsep, ‘Note on Lieutenant Burnes’ Collection of Ancient Coins’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 2 (1833): 310–319. 55 Alexander Burnes, ‘On the “Topes” and Grecian Remains in the Panjab’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 2 (1833): 308–310; J. G. Gerard,

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


obtained a more comprehensive report and published it in 1834.56 It may seem obvious now that the structure is a Buddhist stu¯pa and the cylindrical containers filled with coins, gemstones, and even bits of bone are Buddhist reliquaries, but until 1836, they were still, as Prinsep wrote, ‘mysterious monuments of past ages’.57 In the winter of 1832, Alexander Burnes visited the tope of Manikyala, and he was joined by General Ventura himself. Burnes made no reference to the structure being Buddhist, and it is clear that both he and Ventura were unaware that Buddhism was at one time present in Punjab. Burnes continued attempting to find links to the conquests of Alexander the Great in Punjab, and, using the 1st century CE Greek account of Arian, misidentified Manikyala as the location of Taxila.58 He also suggested that the stu¯pas were sepulchres of the Bactrian or Indo-Scythic Dynasties.59 This confusion did not only pertain to Manikyala and Punjab. In Afghanistan, too, European antiquarians puzzled over these topes. In 1833, Charles Masson explored the area around Kabul.60 From his descriptions, he was clearly encountering both extant and buried stu¯pas, but he did not identify them as such. Masson argued that most of the mounds and topes were from the Ghaznavid era, and that they had been purposely filled up with earth, which indeed was evident, or that it might have been so filled up at some crisis

‘Memoir on the Topes and Antiquities of Afghanistan’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 3 (1834): 321–329. 56 James Prinsep, ‘On the Coins and Relics Discovered by M. Le Chevalier Ventura, General in the Service of Maha Raja Ranjit Singh, in the Tope of Manikyala’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 3 (1834): 313–320. 57 Ibid., 320. 58 Alexander Burnes, ‘On the Reputed Descendants of Alexander the Great, in the Valley of the Oxus’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 2 (1833): 305–307; and Burnes, Travels into Bokhara, 64–68. 59 Burnes, ‘On the “Topes” and Grecian Remains in the Panjab’, 310. Burnes’ use of the word ‘tope’ does not indicate that he thought they were Buddhist. ‘Tope’ was the local word for these mounds. 60 Charles Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab, Including a Residence in Those Countries from 1826–1838 (London: Bentley, 1842), vol. 3: 92–99. For the most recent review of all of Masson’s work in Afghanistan, see Elizabeth Errington, ‘The Explorers and Collectors’, in From Persepolis to the Punjab: Exploring Ancient Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan (London: British Museum Press, 2007), 11–14.


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when the torrent of invasion was rolling upon Kâbal [Kabul], and it was judged necessary to conceal the temples and funereal localities to preserve them from desecration.61

At no point does Masson indicate any knowledge that some of these structures might be Buddhist. By the early 1830s, the state of knowledge of the material culture of Punjab, and for much of India for that matter, had become chaotic. The various discoveries, which were being made ever more rapidly, were not published promptly despite the existence of Asiatick Researches.62 Rather, they were merely read out at antiquarian meetings in Bombay or Bengal, or remained unshared until each individual antiquarian wrote his travelogue. Thus, the lack of a single repository for this information impeded the development of any kind of holistic picture and rendered coherent progress almost impossible. This situation changed considerably when James Prinsep was given the task to edit and publish the three-year-old journal Gleanings in Science, which in 1832 he renamed The Journal of the Asiatic Society.63 For the next six years, Prinsep masterfully collected and organised much of the information that was scattered throughout India and Europe, and even more importantly, he published his findings in


Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys: 1826–1838, vol. 3: 96. As detailed here, Asiatick Researches was thin on essays dealing with the material culture. From 1822 to 1832 only four volumes were published, and in these volumes only four essays deal with material remains of India: Captain Mackintosh’s study of Indian arches (B. Mackintosh, ‘On an Indian Method of Constructing Arches’, Asiatick Researches 14 (1822): 476–479); H. Voysey’s essay on the stones and mosaics of Agra (H. Voysey, ‘On the Building Stones and Mosaic of Akberabad or Agra’, Asiatick Researches 15 (1825): 429–435); and two articles by H. H. Wilson, one an account of the Hindu remains at Chattisgher (sic) (R. Jenkins, with translations and remarks by H. H. Wilson, ‘Account of Ancient Hindu Remains in Chattisgher’, Asiatick Researches 15 (1825): 499–515) and the other a numismatic study of the coins held in possession of the Asiatic Society (H. H. Wilson, ‘Description of Select Coins, from Originals or Drawings in Possession of the Asiatic Society’, Asiatick Researches 17 (1832): 559–606). Wilson’s numismatic essay makes reference to coins from Punjab. 63 Kejariwal, The Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Discovery of India’s Past 1784–1838, 163–164. 62

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


a timely fashion.64 As is well known, Prinsep had a tragically short career in India: he arrived there in 1819, returned to Britain in 1838, and died two years later in 1840 at the age of 40. But his six years at the helm of The Journal of the Asiatic Society were incredibly fruitful. As O. P. Kejariwal argues, ‘[w]ithin six years, between 1833 and 1838, many of the ruling dynasties of ancient India came to light, and more of its ancient history reconstructed than ever before or since in the same span of time’.65 Prinsep advanced knowledge of the material culture of Punjab in a number of ways. In the field of numismatics, he published a series of essays in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal’s first few issues, which not only collated much of the dispersed numismatic information but also came to many new conclusions.66 For example, using numismatic information, Prinsep confirmed the identity of both Menander and Apollodotus, but more importantly he was the first to identify a coin belonging to Kanis. ka.67 Prinsep was also responsible for deciphering two ancient Indian scripts, Bra¯hmı¯ and Kharos. t.hı¯, the latter being essential in the unravelling of Punjab’s political history in the early historic period. He also was the first to read, with a proper understanding of their import, the As´okan inscriptions of the 3rd century BCE, which opened the door to further understanding of the Mauryan Empire in the northwest.68

64 Prinsep made sure the Journal was published each year after he had collected papers read out at the Society every month. Thus, each journal contains at least four, and as many as 14, essays per month. 65 Kejariwal, The Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Discovery of India’s Past 1784–1838, 164. 66 Prinsep published these year after year in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. See volumes 1–6 for his review essays on Roman coins, Greek coins, Bactrian and Indo-Scythic coins, Sassanian coins, Muhammadan coins, and Hindu coins. For the best, and most detailed, review of the discovery of Kushan coins, see Joe Cribb, ‘Rediscovering the Kushans’, in From Persepolis to the Punjab: Exploring Ancient Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, ed. Elizabeth Errington (London: British Museum Press, 2007), 179–210. 67 Prinsep, ‘Note on Lieutenant Burnes’ Collection of Ancient Coins’, 314–317. 68 For a full explication of Prinsep’s role in these decipherments, see Kejariwal, The Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Discovery of India’s Past 1784–1838, 168–215.


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James Prinsep’s death in 1840 occurred just one year after the British had annexed the Punjab in 1839. With the British now in control of Punjab, officers were free to move about and work in the region in ways that had been impossible in previous decades. Thus, 1839–40 serves as a pivotal point to periodise the archaeology of Punjab. The modern French archaeologist Gérard Fussman correctly argues that it was only in 1840 when the full impact that Buddhism had had on Punjab was realised with the publication of H. H. Wilson’s Ariana Antiqua.69 Wilson had first made the suggestion of Buddhist influence in the introduction to his study of Indian coinage, published in 1832 in volume 17 of Asiatick Researches. There, he not only notes William Erskine’s paper on Buddhist monuments, but also adds: [A]bout that time [circa 0–200 CE], and for one or two centuries after it, we know from Chinese accounts, as well as from the fathers of the Christian Church, that the Buddhist religion flourished, especially in Bactria and the north western provinces of India — circumstances strongly corroborative of the supposed origin and history of the monument [at Manikyala], leaving no doubt of its being a Bouddha structure.70

However, it took almost another decade for Wilson’s insight of 1832 to become part of the mainstream narrative of ancient Indian history. The year 1840, then, was an important turning point in the European understanding of the ancient material culture of Punjab. This turning point coincided with another important development: the mid-19th century witnessed the beginning of a move away from antiquarianism and towards what modern science would characterise as archaeology.

Gérard Fussman, ‘Le “Masque Court”: Une Effigieen Lation de S´iva au Gandhara’, Journal Asiatique (1991): 157; he writes, ‘en 1836, ni Court ni Prinsep ne savaient encore que les antiquités de Peshawar étaient majoritairement bouddhiques. Ce fait ne fut découvert qu’à partir de 1836 et admis seulement lors de la parution d’Ariana Antiqua (Wilson 1840)’. 70 Wilson, ‘Description of Select Coins from Originals or Drawings in the Possession of the Asiatic Society’, 606. 69

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism: The Search for the Buddha, 1840–1902 The shift from a dedicated, but still amateur, antiquarianism to a professional archaeology emerged slowly. I find an apt description of this transition period, to borrow a phrase from Bruce Trigger, to be ‘scientific antiquarianism’.71 The study of antiquities was influenced by the emerging standards of scientific methodology, but the goals of these studies were decidedly antiquarian.72 James Prinsep was certainly one of the key figures in that move; however, even by his own account, Prinsep relied heavily on a collaboration with one of his closest companions, Alexander Cunningham.73 After Prinsep’s death in 1840, Cunningham would go on to advance the archaeological history of Punjab much further. He published voluminously until his own death in 1893, and there are even a few posthumous publications to his name. Cunningham was the impetus behind the first formation of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI); in fact, he was its Director-General from 1861 to 1865, at which time it was discontinued, and again from its reestablishment in 1871 to 1885. Cunningham was a champion for the importance of material evidence over and against textual sources;74

71 Trigger uses this phrase to describe some developments in early modern antiquarianism in Europe, but I think it conveys the idea of transition quite nicely; see A History of Archaeological Thought, 61–65. 72 This was not peculiar to India, but was a larger trend in archaeology in general. 73 See Prinsep’s comments in James Prinsep, ‘New Varieties of the Mithraic or Indo-Scythic Series of Coins and Their Imitations’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 5 (1836): 652. For Cunningham’s reciprocal admiration for Prinsep, see Upinder Singh’s discussion of their relationship in The Discovery of Ancient India, 25–28. 74 Throughout his career, Cunningham argued for the importance of using material culture as an independent source of evidence. In his now famous 1848 ‘Proposed Archaeological Investigation’, a brief two-page note in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, he argued vehemently for the value of material culture in historical reconstruction (Alexander Cunningham, ‘Proposed Archaeological Investigation’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 17 [1848]: 535–536). In that proposal, Cunningham also used exaggerated rhetorical force when he called the contents of the 18 Pura¯ rubbish — a statement for which he has come under attack. See


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

because of this, he is regarded as the most important antiquarian and archaeologist of India in the second half of the 19th century.75 The core of his research can be divided into two genres: (a) numismatic studies and catalogues and (b) archaeological travelogues and reports. Cunningham’s intense interest in numismatics expanded the knowledge of early historic Punjab in important ways. Not only did he clarify the chronology of Indo-Roman contact in the northwest of the subcontinent76 and add to the knowledge of the Graeco-Bactrian realm,77 but he brought a new focus to the history of non-Western empires and trade routes through his study of the ‘Indo-Scythian’ coins, which for Cunningham included the S´akas, the Kus. a¯, and the White Huns.78 Further, he was the first to understand that

also Cunningham’s original memorandum sent to Lord Canning (reprinted in the Preface to his Four Reports Made during the Years, 1862–63–64–65, vol. 1, Archaeological Survey of India [Simla: Government Central Press, 1871], iii–viii) requesting that an actual Archaeological Survey be set up, and where he argues that the ancient monuments of India were ‘the only reliable sources of information as to the early condition of the country’ (iii). 75 By far, the best short(er) summary of Cunningham’s archaeological work in India can be found in Singh, The Discovery of Ancient India, 23–134. Singh argues that Cunningham developed quite a bit during his career: from an antiquarian, with all the biases and behaviours that attend to that designation, to a more careful archaeologist. For Cunningham’s life story, see Imam Abu, Sir Alexander Cunningham and the Beginnings of Indian Archaeology (Dacca: Asiatic Society of Pakistan, 1966). 76 Alexander Cunningham, ‘Correction of a Mistake Regarding Some of the Roman Coins Found in the Tope Opened by M. Court’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal 3 (1834): 635–637. However, while Cunningham correctly adjusts the time of Roman contact with India to the centuries before the birth of Christ, he also engages in some typically antiquarian uses of material culture as a ‘proof’ of textual excurses — in this case he claims the Roman coins found in the second stu¯pa at Manikyala may have belonged to the ‘soldiers of the army which Antony led into Parthia’, 636. 77 Cunningham published no fewer than five articles on Bactrian coins from 1840 to 1842 in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. 78 Alexander Cunningham, ‘Notice of Some Unpublished Coins of the Indo-Scythians’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal 14 (1845): 430–441. Cunningham would return to the Indo-Scythic coins later in his career, publishing eight separate articles in the Numismatic Chronicle between 1888 and 1894; the last in 1894 was posthumous.

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


‘indigenous coins’ of Punjab were actually better attributed as ‘tribal coins’ — a term still used in contemporary scholarship — and to identify a number of tribes in ancient Punjab based on his ethnographic notes.79 Cunningham would return to these numismatic issues later in life in a single volume,80 as well as eight studies, published between 1888 and 1894, in the Numismatic Chronicle. Cunningham’s archaeological studies, published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the 24 volumes of his Reports of the Archaeological Survey of India, cannot be considered modern archaeological reports, but are rather a combination of histories, travelogues, and archaeological guide books. His early style of reportage drew heavily on the early travelogue genre of the previous centuries. In fact, the desire to be ‘the first’ to visit an exotic locale marks his early work. For example, Cunningham writes of the ‘proud consciousness that I was the first European who had ever visited that part of the Chundra Bhaga’ in his 1841 narrative of this visit to the ‘source’ of the rivers of Punjab.81 But Cunningham also sought to augment the well-worn method of following the travels of Alexander and his historians by introducing similar travel accounts by two Chinese Buddhist pilgrims: Fa Xian, who travelled in India from circa 399 to 413 CE, and Xuan Zang, who did the same from circa 629 to 645 CE.82 Cunningham wrote in 1848, ‘As Pliny in his Eastern Geography 79 For an historiography of tribal coins, see S. R. Goyal, The Coinage of Ancient India (Jodhpur: Kusumanjali Prakashan, 1995), Appendix 2, 471–475. 80 Alexander Cunningham, Coins of Ancient India: From the Earliest Times Down to the Seventh Century A.D. (Varanasi: Indological Book House, 1963 [1891]). 81 Alexander Cunningham, ‘Abstract Journal of the Route of Lieutenant A. Cunningham, Bengal Engineers, to the Sources of the Punjab Rivers’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 10 (1841): 105. 82 As Upinder Singh points out, parts of these Chinese travel narratives came to the attention of the West only with their translation and publication in 1836; see The Discovery of Ancient India, 36. In the subsequent decade, they would be fully translated and published, and Cunningham would take full advantage of this fact. H. H. Wilson had already begun the process of identifying the place names as he followed, from his armchair and not in the field, the path of Fa Xian. See Horace Hayman Wilson, ‘Account of the Foe Kue Ki, or Travels of Fa Hian in India, Translated from the Chinese by M. Remusat’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland 5 (1839): 108–140.


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follows the route of Alexander, so an enquirer into Indian archaeology, should tread in the footsteps of the Chinese pilgrims Hwan thsang and Fa hian’.83 He also included detailed accounts of the local stories that explained the presence of the mounds that he had visited. These accounts left an invaluable record of both the folklore and the ideological presuppositions of the colonial period, and they are still consulted in contemporary folklore studies. As Cunningham’s career progressed, his Reports became less like travelogues and more like archaeological guide books. As for Punjab, he took three tours through the region: in 1863–64 (volume 2), 1872–73 (volume 5), and 1878–79 (volume 14).84 However, in assessing the value of these reports, as Elizabeth Errington points out, one must take that Cunningham relied heavily on those who had come before him as well as his contemporary colleagues: [L]arge sections of his reports simply summarise or repeat verbatim the information gleaned from investigations or excavations carried out by others — Ventura and Court at Manikyala, Bellew and the Sappers and Miners in the Yusufzai — to which he added observations derived from his own, often superficial, excavations.85

Further, the antiquarian desire for objects of beauty, and the appreciation of beauty only through thoroughly Western ideals, permeate Cunningham’s early career in India. While his later archaeological reports are quite thorough in the descriptions of monuments and sites that he encountered, and notably devoid of the ‘adventurer’ language so common in most works in this genre, Cunningham’s earlier explorations tended to dispense with the broader archaeological picture in order to get quickly to the objects of ‘value’. Once he had 83

Cunningham, ‘Proposed Archaeological Investigation’, 535. In addition to these archaeological narratives, Cunningham published two articles in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal regarding a ‘BactroPali’ inscription found at Taxila. Kharoshthi was variously called Bactro-Pali, Kabulian, Indo-Bactrian, Bactrian, and Ariano-Pali in the 19th century, and is now referred to as either Kharos.t.hı¯ or Ga¯ndha¯rı¯. Cunningham actually suggested ‘Gandharian’ in 1891. See Richard Salomon, Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the Other IndoAryan Languages (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 50 and n. 148. 85 Elizabeth Errington, ‘Exploring Gandhara’, in From Persepolis to the Punjab: Exploring Ancient Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan (London: British Museum Press, 2007), 223. 84

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figured out that many stu¯pas contained relic caskets, Cunningham devised a system in which he could sink a shaft down the centre of a stu¯pa so as to extract the relic casket in a few hours.86 This desire for beautiful objects was coupled with the tendency to ascribe such beauty to the influence of the Greeks. From the temples of Kashmir, whose beauty according to Cunningham was unsurpassed in India because it was the result of Greek influence,87 to Ashoka’s Lion Capital at Bhilsa, which again, according to Cunningham, must have been done by a Greek artisan due to its precision and beauty,88 Cunningham sought Western inspiration for works of art and architecture that impressed him. While Cunningham was certainly the most prolific writer on the early historic archaeology of Punjab in the second half of the 19th century, many others engaged in explorations within the region as well. In 1864, Henry Bellew published A General Report on the


See such descriptions in Alexander Cunningham, The Bhilsa Topes or Buddhist Monuments of Central India: Comprising a Brief Historical Sketch of the Rise, Progress and Decline of Buddhism; With an Account of the Opening and Examination of the Various Groups of Topes around Bhilsa (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1854), 285, 297 and 331. Further, it should be noted that while his methodology became more scientific as his career progressed, this does not mean Cunningham had left the antiquarian spirit completely behind. In fact, some have suggested, although no documentary evidence has come to light to prove it, that when he was appointed as the British colonial government’s archaeological surveyor in 1861, Cunningham was to be given a portion of the antiquities he found. This was first suggested by Abu Imam, Sir Alexander Cunningham and the Beginnings of Indian Archaeology, 232; see also Upinder Singh, ‘Alexander Cunningham’s Contributions to Indian Archaeology’, in Archaeology in India: Individuals, Ideas, and Institutions, ed. Gautam Sengupta and Kaushik Gangopadhyay (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2009), 67–68. 87 Alexander Cunningham, ‘An Essay on the Arian Order of Architecture, as Exhibited in the Temples of Kashmir’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 17 (1848): 241–327. Note in particular his ‘Concluding Remarks’, 325–327, where he labels Kashmirian architecture as the ‘Arian Order’. 88 Cunningham writes, ‘But there is one reason which more than others inclines me to attribute these lions to a Grecian artist, namely, the correct delineation of the feet’. He then compares As´oka’s Greek-born sculptor to King Stakarni’s Indian-born sculptor who had also carved a Lion Capital at Bhilsa: ‘The native sculptor of Stakarni’s reign was no match for the Greek artist employed by Ashoka’, Cunningham, The Bhilsa Topes, 195–196.


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Yusufzais, and in addition to giving a general description of the climate, topography, history, inhabitants,89 and government, he included a number of detailed descriptions of the antiquities in the area.90 His report, while surely ‘the most comprehensive account of the remains of the Peshawar Valley’,91 was far from an archaeological report. It contains only three line drawings — an arch, a tope, and a monastery92 — which are not of specific sites, but generalised diagrams. In the last three decades of the 19th century, official British support for the study of archaeology was quite uneven. A. Ghosh wrote of the wavering nature of the archaeological policy of the [British colonial] Government [. . . Because t]he persistent belief that the archaeological work in this country could be completed within a specified time precluded even a remote proposal of placing the Surveyorganization on a permanent footing.93

Further, when James Burgess took over as Director-General in 1885, he moved the ASI towards art history rather than archaeology. Despite this tenuous situation, excavations, both inside and outside the strict purview of the Archaeological Survey, increased at an astounding rate. Cunningham’s excavations from this period are well known and well documented in his Reports: he carried out major excavations at Taxila, Manikyala, Jamalgiri, Sahri Balol, and Shahbazgarhi. He also carried out many smaller excavations that most often consisted of sinking a shaft down the middle of a stu¯pa in search of relic deposits, at sites such as Baoti Pind, Jaoli, Kurmal, 89 Bellew was obsessed by race, particularly the original race of the inhabitants of Afghanistan. He first suggested that certain Afghans were descended from a direct line to the Israelite King Saul in Journal of a Political Mission to Afghanistan, in 1857, Under Major (now Colonel) Lumsden: With an Account of the Country and People (Lahore: Orient Research Centre, 1978 [1862]), 46–77. 90 Henry Walter Bellew, A General Report on the Yusufzais (Lahore: Sange-Meel Publications, 1977 [1864]), 109–151. 91 Errington, ‘Exploring Gandhara’, 222. Errington also notes that Bellew was the first to find evidence of the reuse of cult statues. 92 Bellew, A General Report on the Yusufzais, 124 and 126. 93 A. Ghosh, ‘Fifty Years of the Archaeological Survey of India’, Ancient India 9 (1953): 29.

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Thareli, Takkal, etc. In addition, British officers and infantry, in particular the Sappers and Miners and the Guides, were often enlisted to help in excavations (for a list of the officers who led excavations and the sites they excavated, see Appendix 1.1). Most of these excavations focused on finding antiquities of value, and one class of antiquity in particular, sculpture, became the focus. The excavators were almost too successful in finding stashes of sculpture, and what to do with the plethora of Buddhist sculptures obtained from these activities quickly became an issue. The British colonial government decided not to keep the sculptures in situ, but rather opted to fill the museums of India with them. And fill the museums they did — the museums that received portions of these sculptures included the Central Museum, Lahore; the Imperial Museum, Calcutta; the Central Museum, Madras; the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bombay; the Phayre Museum at Rangoon, Burma; and the Museum at Jaipur.94 Thus, expeditions in the latter half of the 19th century were split between two impulses: the archaeological and the antiquarian. On one hand, scientific archaeological methods, albeit in rudimentary form, began to be practised in earnest. The British officers and infantry drew site plans and elevations of ancient monuments with varying degrees of precision and detailed architectural features, paying particular attention to the types of columns encountered. On the other hand, a strong strain of antiquarianism still remained, and often the primary goal of these expeditions was not to acquire detailed archaeological information, but to obtain the maximum number of sculptures possible. James Burgess assessed the situation in his Preface to the 1901 translation of Albert Grünwedel’s 1893 handbook on Buddhistiche Kunst in Indien: The difficulties in interpreting the Gandhara Buddhist sculptures arise chiefly from their fragmentary and unconnected condition. This has been lamentably increased by the ignorance or disregard of scientific methods on the part of the excavators of these remains. Monasteries and stupas were dug into and demolished without regard to what


Henry Hardy Cole, Preservation of National Monuments: Third Report of the Curator of Ancient Monuments in India for the Year 1883–4 (Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing, 1885), Appendix S; and Henry Hardy Cole, Preservation of National Monuments: Second Report of the Curator of Ancient Monuments in India for the Year 1882–83 (Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing, 1883), Sheet no. 26, para. 61.


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might be learnt in the process by modern methods; the more complete fragments only were saved, without note of their relative positions or any attempt to recover smaller portions and chips by which they might have been pieced together; and the spoils were sent to various museums, often without mention of the sites from which they emanated. They were often further scattered at the will of excavators among different museums and private collections, and we cannot now place together the whole of the find from a single site, so as to compare the style, — and still less the order of the reliefs; — while, of the more carefully surveyed, such plans and sections as were made are defective, and without explanatory descriptions.95

Despite the scarce details of provenance data, European scholars still made attempts to make sense of this burgeoning archive of sculptures. To do that, they compared the Buddhist sculptures to ancient Greek, Roman and Persian styles.96 Not surprisingly, the chronological framework given for Gandha¯ran sculpture depended upon which one of the three aforementioned civilisations was thought to be the primary influence. For example, Vincent Arthur Smith argued for a particularly strong Roman influence97 and dated the origin of Buddhist sculpture in Gandha¯ra to the first five centuries of the Common Era, placing the high point in the 3rd century and first half of the 4th century CE.98 Émile Senart99 and Alfred Foucher,100 on the 95

Albert Grünwedel, Buddhist Art in India, ed. James Burgess, trans. Agnes C. Gibson (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1901 [1893]), iii–iv. 96 For an exhaustive study of the 19th- and 20th-century theoretical approaches to the style of Gandha¯ran sculpture, see Rekha Morris, ‘Prolegomena to a Study of Gandha¯ra Art’ (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1983). 97 Vincent Arthur Smith, ‘Graeco-Roman Influence on the Civilization of Ancient India’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal 58, no. 1 (1889): 107–198. 98 Henry Cole already saw such resemblances in 1882 when he compared a copy of Leochares’ The Rape of Ganymede to a particular Gandha¯ran image (see Figure 1.1 for images and bibliographic information). Now, although Leochares was Greek, the copy of The Rape of Ganymede found in the Vatican was done by a Roman sculptor and has certain Roman features. 99 Émile Senart, ‘Notes d’Épigraphe Indienne’, Journal Asiatique 8me Ser., tom.15 (1890): 113–163. Senart’s essay is divided into two parts: the first is on epigraphy, and the second, part ‘B’, is dedicated to the influence of the Greeks on Gandha¯ran Buddhist art. 100 Alfred Foucher, ‘L’Art Bouddhique dans l’Inde’, Revue de l’Histoire des Religions tom. 30, Nov.–Dec. (1894): 365–368.

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


other hand, argued for a stronger Greek influence and placed the principal period of production a few centuries back to the beginning of the Common Era or even earlier.101 Albert Grünwedel saw both Roman and Greek influence, but also pointed to Persian and ‘even Christian’ influences.102 In all these late 19th-century interpretations, little consideration was given to the influence from India itself. In fact, it was not until Ananda Coomaraswamy’s now famous 1927 article in The Art Bulletin, ‘The Origin of the Buddha Image’, that the Indian contribution to such sculpture was recognised.103

Conclusion: Paradigms and Archaeological Knowledge Antiquarian interest in Punjab was initially dominated by the search for Alexander and evidence of the Greeks, and explorers saw their imprint on the land everywhere, often to the exclusion of other possibilities. However, in the crucial decade of the 1830s, the paradigm shifted and much of the subsequent archaeological investigation was dominated by the search for Buddhist civilisation. From circa 1840 to 1900, archaeologists saw the imprint of Buddhism everywhere, often to the exclusion of other possibilities, as had happened earlier regarding the Greek imprint. This can be most readily seen in the British understanding of the monuments and artifacts discovered at Harappa. 101 Foucher continued to hold into the 20th century the view that the origin of Graeco-Buddhist art was in the 1st century CE, and this is the date he argues for in his monumental two-volume study, L’Art Gréco-Bouddhique du Gandhara; Étude sur les Origines de l’Influence Classique dans l’Art Bouddhique del’Inde et de l’Extrême-Orient (Paris: Leroux and Imprimerie Nationale, 1905–23). However, Foucher modified that view in his The Beginnings of Buddhist Art, and Other Essays in Indian and Central-Asian Archaeology (Paris: P. Geuthner, 1917), 127, where he suggests the reign of Menander (circa 150–100 BCE) as the most likely origin of Greek influence (through Bactrian Greeks) on Gandha¯ran sculpture. 102 Grünwedel, Buddhist Art in India, 83–87. Grünwedel’s theory of Persian influence is quite simplistic and has little to do with later, more subtle notions of Parthian/Sasanian influence discussed in Harald Ingholt, Gandha¯ran Art in Pakistan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1957) and Daniel Schlumberger, Descendants Non-Méditerranéens de l’Art Grec (Paris: Geuthner, 1960). 103 Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, ‘The Origin of the Buddha Image’, The Art Bulletin 9 (1927): 287–328.


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Harappa was first noticed in 1829 by Charles Masson. Masson, very much under the romantic thrall of Alexander’s great battles in India, identified the site with Sangala, the capital of King Porus. King Porus was known to Masson through the Greek historian Arrian, who wrote about the city of Sangala as the site of the last great victory in Alexander’s oriental campaign. I quote Masson at length to give the reader a sense of how thoroughly Alexander, and the continued Greek settlements in Bactria, permeated his vision of the land: It was impossible to survey the scene before us, and to look upon the ground on which we stood, without perceiving that Arrian’s Sangala was here fulfilled, — the brick fortress, with a lake, or rather a swamp, at the north-eastern angle; the mound, protected by a triple row of chariots, and defended by the Kathi before they suffered themselves to be shut up within their walls; and the trench between the mound and fortress, by which the circumvallation of the place was completed. The data of Arrian are very minute, and can scarcely be misapplied to Haripah [Harappa], the position of which also perfectly coincides with what, from inference, we must assign to Sangala. I have made public my convictions on this point, but repeat them, as I doubt not they are just; and the identification of Sangala gives a point from which we may safely calculate upon the site of the celebrated altars of Alexander, which, in all probability, were in the neighborhood of Pak Pattan, on the Satlej, two marches from Haripah, Alexander having there gained the high road into India, which was afterwards followed by Taimur. The verification of the site of Sangala is further important, because, subsequent to its destruction by the Macedonian leader, it again rose into consequence under the name of Euthydemia, clearly referring to a renowned king of Bactria, and which change in its fortunes is supposed to be owing to one of his sons; and we now know is none other than Demetrius.104

By the 1840s, the search for Alexander and the Greeks, while still a concern for European explorers, had given way to the search for Buddhism. Alexander Cunningham visited Harappa during his tour of the Punjab in 1872–73, over four decades after Masson. Although Cunningham had clearly read Masson and cited his Narrative with


Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys: 1826–1838, vol. 1: 453–454.

From Antiquarianism to Scientific Antiquarianism


regard to the extant castle and fortifications, he omitted any mention of Alexander and the Greeks.105 Instead, Cunningham focused on the Buddhist identifications of the site: In another place [The Ancient Geography of India] I have advocated the claims of Shorkot to be identified with the city of Po-fa-to, or Po-fa-tolo, where the Chinese pilgrim [Xuan Zang] halted for two months to study the principles of the sect of Sammitiyas. But I have now visited Shorkot, and I have satisfied myself that it never could have reached the size of 20 li, or upwards of three miles in circuit, which the pilgrim assigns to Po-fa-to, or Po-fa-to-lo. But the size agrees almost exactly with that of Harapa [sic], and as the position otherwise corresponds, I believe that Harapa must be the very city visited by the Chinese pilgrim. He describes the population as very dense. There were four stupas and twelve monasteries counting about 1,000 monks, besides twenty Brahmanical temples. Near the town there was a large ruined monastery which had been destroyed by lightning.106

With Harappa now clearly identified as a Buddhist site, other possibilities were foreclosed, and any evidence that did not fit the Buddhist paradigm was explained away. This is why Cunningham did not understand the import of Major Clark’s discovery of a small seal at the site: The most curious object discovered at Harapa [sic] is a seal […which is] a smooth black stone without polish. On it is engraved very deeply a bull, without hump, looking to the right, with two stars under the neck. Above the bull there is an inscription in six characters, which

105 The single exception was Cunningham’s remark that although thousands of coins of the Indo-Scythians and their successors had been found at Harappa, not a single Greek coin had been found. Cunningham did mention Alexander the Great in relation to Harappa in his earlier work, The Ancient Geography of India: The Buddhist Period, Including the Campaigns of Alexander and the Travels of Hwen-Thsang (London: Trubner and Co., 1871), 210. But even there, he ignored Masson’s identification of Harappa with Sangala and instead suggested that Harappa had been a minor city that had been abandoned by the local inhabitants upon threat of invasion. 106 Alexander Cunningham, Report for the Year 1872–73, vol. 5, Archaeological Survey of India (Varanasi: Indological Bookhouse, 1875), 107–108.


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are quite unknown to me. They are certainly not Indian letters; and as the bull which accompanies them is without a hump, I conclude that the seal is foreign to India.107

What is well known now, and what Cunningham could not have imagined, was that the seal had belonged to a civilisation that had existed long before the Greeks or the Buddhists had set foot in Punjab: the Harappan Civilisation.108 There would need to be another paradigm shift, this time away from the historical period and towards Indian prehistory, for a full understanding of these seals to come forward. This paradigm shift would be accompanied by another important landmark in Indian archaeology— the full participation and recognition of Indian archaeologists.109


Ibid.,108. The proto-historic civilisation that occupied the northwest of the subcontinent (and beyond, as far as Gujurat) from circa 3500 BCE to circa 1300 BCE has been called by many names: the Indus Civilisation, the Indus Valley Civilisation, and more recently, the Indus-Saraswati Civilisation. However, as Dilip K. Chakrabarti (and others) argue, the use of ‘Harappan Civilisation’ is most appropriate as it is geographically noncommittal; see Dilip K. Chakrabarti, The Oxford Companion to Indian Archaeology: The Archaeological Foundations of Ancient India, Stone Age to AD 13th Century (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006), 136. 109 The discovery of the Indus Valley Civilisation is usually attributed to Sir John Marshall, but as Gregory L. Possehl makes clear in his The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective (Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2002), 9–19, Marshall had great help from Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni and Rao Bahadur Kashinath Narayan Dikshit, among other Indians. 108


Archaeology The disjuncture between pre-colonial modes of history-writing and the way Indology developed from the close of the eighteenth century to the achievement of political independence, from a colonial regime and beyond, has been of supreme significance for the shaping of our cultural consciousness itself.1

Introduction: Archaeology in the Service of the Colonial State and the Nation State The 17th- and 18th-century development towards a modern scientific inquiry combined with the Enlightenment belief in the progress of humanity set the stage for a revolution in the understanding of the human past. In the 19th century, the chronological frame for human progress that extended back only 6,000 years became increasingly obsolete as new archaeological and geological evidence came to light. Simultaneously, the development of the social sciences brought the study of culture to the centre of inquiry in many disciplines. This expanded chronological frame and emphasis on the study of culture took two main intellectual forms that ran side by side. The first intellectual trend was an evolutionary view of culture that understood there to be a universal process of cultural development that went through a series of progressive stages from primitive bondage to civilisational freedom. The contribution of archaeology to this line of thinking was in the use of the ancient material record to develop an outline of what these stages were — an outline that then could be used to categorise contemporary cultures along the scale of cultural 1 Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, ‘The Study of Early India’, in Studying Early India, Archaeology, Texts, and Historical Issues (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003), 1.


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and civilisational evolution. This archaeological proof, which began to be associated with the emerging paradigm of ‘scientific proof’, of civilisational development was put into service of the colonial state throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The second intellectual shift was toward an understanding of archaeology as ‘culture–history’, a line of thinking that sought the particularity, rather than the universals, of cultures by identifying discrete culture-units in the archaeological record. These discrete archaeological units were associated with ethnic identities, which were in turn associated with rising nation states. In this way, culture–history archaeology supported the emerging European nation states of the late 19th century by providing identifiable autochthonous ancestors, and in turn, it also supported the Indian nation state after Independence in the mid-20th century.2 While both these lines of thought were developed most fully in the study of prehistory, they were applied to historical periods as well. This chapter briefly outlines evolutionary and culture–history archaeology as practised in the West, but then quickly moves to the impact of culture–history archaeology in India. I trace the contours of the decidedly colonialist archaeology from 1902 to 1947, and then take up the impact of independence on the archaeologies of the new nation states of Pakistan and India.

Evolutionary and Culture–History Archaeology in the West The early evolutionary model of culture as applied to archaeology linked prehistoric cultural change to environmental conditions in a functionalist manner. That is, it was believed that the geology, geography, and climate of the immediate environment determined the nature and development of cultural formations. Thus, cultures with similar environmental conditions were thought to develop in similar ways. Darwinian ideas of biological evolution were integrated into this understanding very easily, but perhaps more importantly, the subsequent Spencerian ideas of social evolution, in which differences were a product of racial characteristics, moved environmental 2

The Archaeological Survey of Pakistan was much more interested in the medieval, Muslim archaeological history of the new nation, so the culture– history paradigm did not play nearly as important a role. I detail the differing uses of the early historic archaeological record in India and Pakistan here.



functionalism to the background and brought out racial notions of hierarchy.3 In the colonial context, archaeologists from European nations sought to prove the superiority of contemporary European society over their colonial subjects through the archaeological record. As Bruce Trigger writes, ‘It was accepted that arranging modern cultures in a series from simplest to most complex illustrated the stages through which the most advanced cultures had developed in prehistoric times’.4 This ranking was no mere innocuous, objective enterprise, but rather it clearly advocated that advanced cultures, i.e. European cultures, had developed more rapidly than others due to their racial superiority. Differences in societies were now thought not to be the result of environmental factors, as had been previously argued, but rather the result of biological and racial differences, and white Europeans were found to be evolutionarily more advanced compared to darker skinned peoples. The archaeological record, it was believed, supplied ‘evidence’ of this racial difference, which served as one of the key justifications for colonial domination.5 Culture–history archaeology followed closely the evolutionary model, both in time and in theory, but it was fuelled more by western European conceptions of nationalism rather than the ideology of colonialism. As each European nation sought to emphasise the historical continuity and natural solidarity among its own people, archaeological evidence was increasingly used to buttress these claims. The evolutionary emphasis on broad cultural or biological evolution — the notion that progress could be traced through the archaeological record — and its indifference to identifying to which particular culture each archaeological complex belonged, gave way to an intense search for cultural specificity. Thus, this early culture–history model sought to justify the distinctiveness of each

3 These two ways of describing evolution, when applied to archaeology particularly, are quite distinct. Biological evolution continues to be an influential paradigm in archaeology. It took the form of the ‘cultural ecology’ of Julian Steward and was very influential in the New Archaeology of Lewis Binford. 4 Bruce G. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 [1989]), 110. 5 For an extended discussion of race theory and its connection to philology, ethnology, and science in Britain and India, see Thomas R. Trautmann, Aryans and British India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).


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ethnic group — whether French, German or English — and traced this unity back to prehistoric times. The task of the archaeologist was to describe the development of these discrete archaeological cultures in the service of identifying a normative view of the ‘nature’ of each culture. Early culture–history archaeologists emphasised the conservative nature of culture and the rigidity of human behaviour. It was argued that the French, German and English were ethnically and culturally different from one another, and it was these ethnic and cultural differences, not environmental factors, that determined their behaviour. Change was inimical to culture, and when it did occur, albeit rarely and with much effort, two main explanations emerged: diffusion and migration. In the late 19th century, Friedrich Ratzel warned ethnologists and archaeologists about the folly of assuming that a particular technology was invented more than once in separate societies, as humans were fundamentally resistant to change. Rather, he argued that the world was small and any technological innovation could be traced back to one common source.6 The most radical application of this model of diffusion and migration came from the British archaeologist Grafton Elliot Smith, who posited Egypt as the primary source for many innovations that were subsequently carried all over the world.7 But by the 1920s, this kind of hyper-diffusionist argument had lost its steam, at least in the West, though less grandiose scenarios of diffusion and migration continued to fuel archaeological theories. The most influential culture–history

6 Friedrich Ratzel, The History of Mankind, trans. Arthur John Butler (Macmillan, 1896–98 [1885–88]). 7 Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought, 152. We will see the Indian correlate of such reasoning in Chapter 3. Rather than positing Egypt as the primary source for much of world culture, India (in particular the Vedic Period of Indian history) is posited as the primary source. 8 Gustaf Kossinna’s (1858–1931) work made the strongest link between archaeology and culture as he explicitly identified the similarities and differences in material culture with similarities and differences in ethnicity. However, because of Kossinna’s German bias, his work did not have much influence outside of his home country, so it was Childe who successfully brought culture–history archaeology to the fore of European research. See V. Gordon Childe, The Dawn of European Civilization (New York: Knopf, 1925).



archaeologist was V. Gordon Childe.8 His seminal work, The Dawn of European Civilization (1925), became the model on which the study of archaeology hinged for the next 50 years.9 Childe sought to identify prehistoric cultures situated within a complex mosaic. According to Childe, the most useful artifacts in identifying a culture were homemade pottery, ornaments and burial items as they were hypothesised to be the most resistant to change and reflected local tastes. Tools, weapons and other utilitarian items were believed to be the most prone to rapid diffusion and as such were poor indicators of distinct cultures. Despite their differences, the evolutionary and culture–history models make similar assumptions about how the archaeological record can be interpreted. In both models, the artifact is evidence of a reified culture. It is the culture, not the people within that culture, that is to be studied. People are reduced to mere bearers of culture, and it is this abstract ‘culture’ that is the agent, not humans. As Peter Johansen argues, the culture–history approach essentialises the past ‘by constructing archaeological cultures coterminous with ethnolinguistic communities, races, or “peoples” from material–culture trait lists’.10 Further, cultural change is accounted for by external factors, usually by ‘diffusion of ideas from one group to another or [by] migrations that led to the replacement of one people and their culture by another’.11 These approaches lend themselves to nationalist archaeologies, that is, archaeologies that glorified a nation’s history by positing discrete racial/ethnic groups in a Golden Age of truth, morality, and purity. Remarkably, this model remains the dominant approach to archaeology in many countries.12

Culture–History Archaeology in Punjab (1902–47) At the turn of the 20th century, the study of material culture in South Asia underwent a significant shift. As detailed in Chapter 1, 9

Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought, 172. Peter G. Johansen, ‘Recasting the Foundations: New Approaches to Regional Understandings of South Asian Archaeology and the Problem of Culture History’, Asian Perspectives 42, no. 2 (2003): 194. 11 Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought, 154. 12 See Trigger’s analysis of nationalist archaeologies in Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought, 174. 10


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the British colonial government’s support for the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) faltered as the 19th century came to a close; however, in 1902, the ASI was revived with renewed vigour.13 This vigour certainly had Orientalist overtones. For example, in a speech delivered at the annual meeting of the Asiatic Society at Calcutta on 1 February 1899, the new Viceroy Lord Curzon ‘accepted the encouragement of research, the promotion of archaeological study, and the preservation of the relics of the past as “part of our imperial obligation to India”’.14 Or, as an anonymous reviewer in The Calcutta Review wrote: Every one who feels a real interest in our Indian Empire must be grateful for the work done year by year by the Archaeological Survey of India, there is a kind of noblesse oblige about the very existence of the department, working as it does to restore, renovate and preserve countless temples, mosques and tombs which otherwise would fall into decay; the large-hearted Titus did not wish the temple of Jerusalem destroyed, no doubt he would have founded an Archaeological Survey of Palestine if such had been the manner of his day.15

In Curzon’s statement and in this short paragraph, both the feelings of British superiority and the historical justification of empire were inextricably intertwined. For our anonymous reviewer, it was not the comparison between the British and Alexander the Great that was put to political use — a comparison that fuelled much of the research in Punjab in the late 18th and early 19th century, as we

13 Nayanjot Lahiri has published three excellent studies detailing this revival of the ASI in the early 20th century: ‘John Marshall’s Appointment as Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India: A Survey of the Papers Pertaining to His Selection’, South Asian Studies 13, no. 1 (1997): 127–139; ‘Coming to Grips with the Indian Past: John Marshall’s Early Years as Lord Curzon’s Director-General of Archaeology in India — Part I’, South Asian Studies 14, no. 1 (1998): 1–23; and ‘Coming to Grips with India’s Past and Her “Living Present”: John Marshall’s Early Years (1902–06) — Part II’, South Asian Studies 16, no. 1 (2000): 89–107. 14 John Hubert Marshall, ‘Introduction’, in Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report, 1902–03 (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1904), 8. 15 ‘Summary of Annual Reports’, The Calcutta Review 117, July (1903): 332.



saw in Chapter 1 — but now it was the comparison between the British and the great Roman emperor Titus that did the necessary work of justifying British intervention in India.16 But there is another important element to these two statements beyond the Orientalist discourse. Viceroy Curzon and our anonymous reviewer understood archaeology as a State enterprise. As discussed in the previous chapter, although the ASI was organised as a British government undertaking in 1861, for the first four decades of its tenuous existence (it was non-functional from 1866 to 1870 and for a longer period after the retirement of James Burgess in 1889) it lacked a clear mission statement, successful central leadership, and a systematic programme for conservation, research, exploration, and excavation. This changed as the British sought to further legitimise their rule in the face of a crisis in confidence in the Empire due to significant indigenous challenges throughout their global colonies.17 As conservators of India’s cultural heritage, the ASI would help demonstrate how much the British State was giving back to her subjects.18 In his Introduction to the first volume of the Annual Report, the publication vehicle for the newly revived ASI, John Marshall in 1904 both looked back into the past and looked forward into the future of archaeology in India. In a brief review of the archaeological activity in the late 19th century, Marshall identified two inadequacies that he sought to remedy: (a) the lack of a conservation programme for the vast number of monuments that covered the Indian landscape, 16

For more on this connection, see Phiroze Vasunia’s Chapter 3, ‘Greater Rome and Greater Britain’ in his Classics and Colonial India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 119–155. 17 For example, the events leading up to the Boer War in South Africa impressed upon the British the importance of justifying their rule in ways beyond military dominance. See Dilip K. Chakrabarti, India, An Archaeological History: Palaeolithic Beginnings to Early Historic Foundations (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), 12–13. 18 State control of the archaeological agenda did not diminish after Independence. Rather, the State, whether the federally administered ASI or the state-administered local government departments, remains the primary vehicles through which archaeological knowledge is produced. Indian archaeology has been routinely criticised for being unduly politicised and bureaucratised. The issue of State control of archaeology is a major theme in Himanshu Prabha Ray, Colonial Archaeology in South Asia: The Legacy of Sir Mortimer Wheeler (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008).


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

and (b) the lack of regular publication of data collected. As for the first objective, he argued that the most important function of the Director-General of the ASI was to secure that the ancient monuments of the country are properly cared for, that they are not utilised for purposes which are inappropriate or unseemly, that repairs are executed when required, and that any restoration, which may be attempted, are conducted on artistic lines. In this respect his position will be generally similar to that occupied by the Curator of Ancient Monuments, who held office from 1800 to 1882.19

This emphasis on preservation did not mean that Marshall was not interested in new research and exploration. He certainly was, and the 38 volumes of the ASI Annual Report from 1902 to 1939 contain a tremendous amount of excavation material that is still of great use to those interested in Indian archaeology today. However, Marshall wanted to end the haphazard manner in which exploration, research, and most of all, publication had been conducted in the 19th century. He recognised that the 19th century was marked by what had been characterised as antiquarian methods of exploration and research as well as an antiquarian manner of publication. Research tended to be conducted at the behest of a single individual, or a small group of individuals, working on their own in relative isolation. The material collected was subsequently often considered the property of those who had found it and kept in personal ‘cabinets’, or as a scientific antiquarianism began to emerge, the material collected was considered the property of a private learned society and kept

19 Marshall, ‘Introduction’, 1904, 10. To this end, Marshall created a Conservation Manual in 1923 that details the procedures for such work. For a detailed account of the conservation activities before the 20th century, see Upinder Singh, The Discovery of Ancient India: Early Archaeologists and the Beginnings of Archaeology (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004), 184–248. 20 The first museum in India was officially established in 1814 on the corner of Park Street in Calcutta under the auspices of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The Asiatic Society Museum, as it was called for over four decades, became the state-run Indian Museum in 1866. Many government museums were created in the late 19th century, but it was only under the leadership of Sir John Marshall and Jean-Phillipe Vogel in the early 20th century that a concerted effort was made to get the general public to visit these institutions.



in a private society museum.20 Government involvement did not significantly expand scholarship, and archaeological publications, no matter what the source, found a limited audience. Marshall offered a lengthy quotation from a recent Correspondence communiqué in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in which the author, R. Sewell, notes that the archaeological discoveries in India are circulated among a few favoured individuals and institutions, but [they] do not reach the public [. . .] Whatever is done in India is done almost in secret, and everybody knows that nothing will be heard of it for fifteen or twenty years, so that no one cares to support it.21

Here, Sewell refers to the beautiful but much delayed publication of the work of James Burgess on the monuments of South India. Sewell notes that Burgess’ seven volumes appeared sporadically over a 27-year period, and that nothing had been published since 1887. But this critique could be applied to the work of Alexander Cunningham in Punjab as well. While Cunningham’s publications were more frequent than Burgess’, they still were only presented as a finished product by the hand of one author, Cunningham himself, and they ceased after Cunningham’s retirement from the ASI in 1879. In addition to the completed reports of Burgess and Cunningham, reports of archaeological activity were distributed in many government publications, but these publications were often for internal review only, and they never reached the general public. Thus, the new ASI Annual Report, as envisioned by Marshall, would contain yearly updates on the ongoing but mostly unfinished conservation activities, research and exploration campaigns, and epigraphical decipherments throughout India. Marshall’s vision, for the most part, was a success. From 1902 to 1939, the volumes of ASI Annual Report were published in a timely fashion, usually appearing two to three years after the yearly

See Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Postcolonial India (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 43–82; and Ray, Colonial Archaeology in South Asia, 113–136. 21 R. Sewell, ‘Correspondence: 1. Prehistoric Burial Sites in Southern India’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1902): 165 as cited in Marshall, ‘Introduction’, 1904, 1.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

campaigns had ended, and moreover, the volumes were quite large, most often running well beyond 250 pages of text and containing another 50–100 large plates.22 The publication of the Annual Reports ceased in 1939 as the Second World War rapidly approached. The volumes were divided into three major sections: conservation, research and excavation, and epigraphy. While funding was far greater for conservation activities,23 the research and excavation carried out by the ASI increasingly became the focus for the Annual Reports. This is not surprising: conservation activities, while necessary, are not terribly exciting to recount, and Marshall explicitly desired that the Annual Reports ‘do for India something of what the volumes issued by the Egypt Exploration Fund . . . have done for the Land of the Pharaohs, — to attract wider and more abiding attention to India’s grand treasure-house of historical relics’.24 For the study of the early historical period in Punjab, the conservation reports are for the most part not relevant as conservation activities focused almost exclusively on early medieval Hindu temples and later medieval Muslim structures. The exploration and excavation section, however, makes up an invaluable archive of early historic material culture. The reports in this section are more than just progress reports; while they are certainly unfinished excavation reports, they are detailed reports nonetheless. They are not commensurate with contemporary archaeological excavation reports — one must remember that scientific archaeological standards of practice and publication were still developing in the first half of the 20th century — but they do provide much data and insights that are still valuable today. Further, while the intention might have been to continue


Two exceptions need to be mentioned: (a) from 1916 to 1920, during World War I, the volumes were much smaller, and (b) the years 1930–34 also were lean years for the ASI Annual Report. 23 Up to 1925, the allotment for excavation was only 10 per cent of the overall ASI budget, and the actual amount never reached one lakh of rupees. This changed with the discovery of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. However, the increase in excavation funds went to these two pre-historic sites, not to the excavation and exploration of early historic sites. See John Hubert Marshall, ‘Introduction’, in Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report, 1926–27 (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1930), xv. 24 Marshall, ‘Introduction’, 1904, 3.



excavation at these sites for many years to come, culminating in a final excavation report that would synthesise all the data, for most sites in northwest India, except for Taxila, these were the only extensive excavations that had been carried out, and thus these are the only reports we have. This is because in post-Independence Punjab — that is both the Pakistani and Indian provinces — Pakistani and Indian archaeologists moved away from the early historic period as a priority.25 This gap was subsequently filled by non-Indian archaeological teams that have taken great interest in Gandha¯ran remains, but rather than continuing excavation at these sites, they have focused elsewhere, particularly on sites in the Swa¯t Valley.26 From the turn of the century through World War I (1902–20), most of the early historic sites chosen for excavation in the northwestern corner of India were those that had already been discovered by Charles Masson, Alexander Cunningham, and others in the 19th century. In the Peshawar Valley, major excavations were undertaken at Cha¯rsada, Sahrı¯ -bahlol, Takht-i-Ba¯hı¯, Sha¯h-jı¯-kı¯-D . herı¯, and Jama¯lgar.hı¯.27 East of the Indus, the only major excavations of early historic sites were made at Taxila and Ra¯ja¯ Karn.a¯ ka¯ Kı¯la

25 This observation — that historical archaeology has been neglected in the post-Independence era by the ASI and the Archaeological Survey of Pakistan — has been pointed out by many scholars. See Nayanjot Lahiri, Vaishali Sethi and Baldev Purushartha, ‘Historical Archaeology of India: An Outline of the Work of the Archaeological Survey of India’, in Indian Archaeology in Retrospect Volume 4: Archaeology and Historiography — History, Theory, and Method, ed. S. Settar and Ravi Korisettar (Delhi: Manohar, 2002), 113. 26 See Early Historic Archaeology in Pakistan (1947–present). 27 For a historic survey of archaeological activity in Gandha¯ra, complete with very detailed bibliographic references, see Kurt A. Behrendt, The Buddhist Architecture of Gandha¯ra (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 12–38. For a detailed study of Western archaeological exploration in Gandha¯ra from 1820 to 1875, see Elizabeth Errington’s unpublished dissertation, ‘The Western Discovery of the Art of Gandha¯ra and the Finds at Jama¯lgar.hı¯’ (Ph.D. diss., University of London, 1987). Of course, there are many more sources related to Gandha¯ran art and architecture, but it is worth noting a very useful meta-bibliography created by Stefan Baums and Andrew Glass: the oft-updated website for the study of the Gandha¯rı¯ language at http:// As accessed on 3 June 2014.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

(a mound in the general area of Kuruks. etra),28 but there were also minor, more exploratory excavations carried out at Chaitru29 and Rokhari,30 as well as an exploration of the Salt Range.31 This focus on ancient Gandha¯ra, however, does not mean there was a great interest in Indian history. Rather, much like the 18th- and 19thcentury British habit of finding traces of the Greeks under every stone, colonial archaeologists continued to posit foreign influence as the most salient cultural feature of ancient India. For example, John Marshall never referred to Taxila as a truly Indian city, but rather he discussed the phases the city had gone through as ‘the Greek-city’, the ‘Indo-Scythian city’, the ‘Indo-Parthian city’, and the ‘Kushana city’. But perhaps the best example of the erasure of indigenous Indians from early historic Indian archaeological history is D. B. Spooner’s relentless pursuit of a Persian imprint. Spooner, in his two papers published in 1915 titled ‘The Zoroastrian Period


For a complete bibliography of the excavations at Taxila, which is included in surveys of Gandha¯ran art, architecture and archaeology as its easternmost limit, see the previous note, but in particular see Behrendt, The Buddhist Architecture of Gandha¯ra, 18 n. 17. For the excavations at Kuruks. etra, see Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni’s work: ‘Excavations at Kurukshetra’, in Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report, 1921–22 (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1924), 46–49; and ‘Excavations at Kurukshetra’, in Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report, 1922–23 (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1926), 87–90. In the area of Kuruks. etra, Sahni also explored the mounds at close-by Thanesar; see ‘Explorations at Thanesar’, in Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report, 1922–23 (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1926), 90–91. For a complete description of the antiquities found in the region of Kuruks. etra, see Ratna Chandra Agrawala, ‘Early History and Archaeology of Kuruksetra and Ambala Division’, in Haryana: Past and Present, ed. Suresh K. Sharma, vol. 2 (Delhi: Mittal Publications, 2005), 41–82. 29 Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, ‘Excavations at Chaitru’, in Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report, 1924–25 (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1927), 50. 30 Madho Sarup Vats, ‘Excavations at Rokhari’, in Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report, 1925–26 (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1928), 58–59. 31 Madho Sarup Vats, ‘Exploration of the Salt Range’, in Archaeological Survey of India Annual Report, 1927–28 (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1931), 89–90.



of Indian History’, suggested that Chandragupta Maurya was a Parsi and that the Buddha was Persian.32 Spooner’s wife, the great linguist Elizabeth Colton Spooner, suggested that the Buddha was but one of the pantheon of Zoroastrian guardian deities, the Fravishi.33 At the time of Spooner’s untimely death in 1925, he was working on yet another version of his Persian thesis, which he had titled ‘Gautama the Archi-Magus’.34 Certainly, some disagreed with the Spooners’ theory of ubiquitous Persian influence,35 but their responses to Spooner’s theory were short and buried in the back pages of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, and the idea that the cultural achievements of ancient India were primarily derived from outside influence remained strong. The intense exploration of Gandha¯ran remains in northwest India came to a halt in the mid-1920s for two reasons: (a) the discovery of the Harappan Civilisation and (b) the build-up to the Second World War. While this study does not focus on the Harappan Civilisation, its ‘discovery’ and interpretation do bear on the trajectory of early historic archaeology, and thus I will treat it very briefly here. The realisation that the ancient mounds at Harappa and Mohenjo Daro contained the remains of a previously unknown prehistoric Indian civilisation was a gradual one.36 The mound at

32 David Brainerd Spooner, ‘The Zoroastrian Period of Indian History I’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1915): 63–89; and David Brainerd Spooner, ‘The Zoroastrian Period of Indian History II’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1915): 405–455. 33 Elizabeth Colton Spooner, ‘The Fravashi of Gautama’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1916): 497–504. 34 David Brainerd Spooner, ‘Gautama the Archi-Magus’ (Stanford, 1920), Box 5, Department of Special Collections and University Archives. 35 Vincent Arthur Smith, ‘Review of D. B. Spooner’s “The Zoroastrian Period of Indian History”’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1915): 800–802; A. Berriedale Keith, ‘Review of D. B. Spooner’s “The Zoroastrian Period of Indian History”’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1916): 138–143; F. W. Thomas, ‘Dr. Spooner, “Asura Maya”, Mount Meru, and “Karsa”’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1916): 362–366. 36 For two good, short reviews of the discovery of the Harappan Civilisation, see Gregory L. Possehl’s articles: ‘Discovering Ancient India’s Earliest Cities’, in Harappan Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective (Delhi: Oxford and


 Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

Harappa was first reported by Charles Masson in 1826, but Masson was more interested in finding Greek parallels than thinking about Indian history. He suggested the site was the ancient city of Sangala where Alexander the Great had defeated King Porus in 326 BCE.37 Alexander Cunningham also visited the site in 1853 and then again in 1872–73. But Cunningham, too, was not inclined to see Indian history at the mound, and he suggested that the inhabitants had been of non-Indian origin because on a seal showing a unicorn and bull, the bull had no hump.38 From 1873 to 1923, no fewer than five survey teams visited the mounds at Harappa at the behest of the ASI, but they all were less than enthusiastic about the potential of the site to add anything of significance to Indian history. Even after 1924, the year when Marshall announced to the world that both Harappa and Mohenjo Daro had belonged to a heretofore unknown indigenous Indian civilisation,39 archaeologists routinely sought foreign influence. Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni excavated at Harappa in 1923–34 and concluded that much of the material culture had parallels in Ur and Kish.40 M. S. Vats excavated large walls at Harappa in 1926–27 that Marshall immediately compared with storage rooms at Cretan palaces.41 This erasure of indigenous Indians from Indian history

IBH, 1982), 405–413; and ‘A Short History of Archaeological Discovery at Harappa’, in Harappa Excavations 1986-1990: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Third Millennium Urbanism, ed. Richard Meadow (Madison: Prehistory Press, 1991), 5–11. 37 Charles Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab, Including a Residence in Those Countries from 1826–1838, vol. 1 (London: Bentley, 1842), 452. 38 Alexander Cunningham, Report for the Year 1872–73, vol. 5, Archaeological Survey of India (Varanasi: Indological Bookhouse, 1875), 105–108. 39 For a discussion of Marshall’s pronouncement in the Illustrated London News, see Nayanjot Lahiri, ‘Harappa and the Indus Civilization: Revisiting the Discovery’, Proceedings from the Panjab History Conference: Thirty-Ninth Session (2007): 34–36. 40 Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, ‘Exploration and Research, Northern Circle, Punjab, Harappa’, in Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India for 1923–24 (Delhi, 1923–24), pl. XIX, p. 22, cited in Possehl, ‘A Short History of Archaeological Discovery at Harappa’, 8. 41 John Hubert Marshall, ‘The Indus Culture’, in Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India for 1926–27 (Delhi: Government of India Central Publication Branch, 1926), 53.



did not go completely unchallenged, however. In fact, Marshall’s desire to control the flow of information coming out of the ASI and his slow acceptance that the prehistory of India was not merely the result of foreign influence, created serious conflicts between him and the Indian officers of the ASI. As Sudeshna Guha documents, in 1925 both M. S. Vats and R. D. Banerji gave interviews to Indian newspapers about the finds at Harappa and Mohenjo Daro without permission from Marshall and for which they were reprimanded.42 Thus, it was not just in respect to early historic sites that the British sought foreign influence to explain cultural change, but rather the entire British archaeological programme was inclined to posit external factors for internal Indian developments. This habit of mind no doubt stemmed from an understanding of Indian culture as passive and inert and Western culture as active and progressive — a classic Orientalist reading of history. But even the excitement of discovering an unknown civilisation could not keep the ASI from decline as political crises in Europe and the run-up to the Second World War diverted funding and attention elsewhere. Despite attempts by leaders of the ASI — including such figures as Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, K. N. Dikshit, N. G. Majumdar, and Harold Hargreaves — to maintain a robust archaeological programme, by the late 1930s archaeology in India was in the same position it had found itself in at the end of the 19th century: poorly funded and thus struggling.43 This situation lasted until the end of the war and the arrival of R. E. M. Wheeler in 1944.44 Wheeler is most often credited for the revival of Indian archaeology, but it should be noted, as seen in the paragraphs here, that the ASI had


Sudeshna Guha, ‘Negotiating Evidence: History, Archaeology, and the Indus Civilization’, Modern Asian Studies 39, no. 2 (2005): 418–419. 43 Ray, Colonial Archaeology in South Asia, 19. 44 Despite the fact that Wheeler was involved in Indian archaeology for only four years while Marshall headed the ASI for almost three decades, there has been much more scholarship on Wheeler than Marshall. While there is not yet a full-length biography of Marshall, for Wheeler we have Jacquetta Hawkes, Mortimer Wheeler: Adventurer in Archaeology (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1982). Wheeler himself published a number of works about his ‘campaigns’ in India, including his Still Digging: Interleaves from an Antiquary’s Notebook (London: M. Joseph, 1955); and My Archaeological Mission to India and Pakistan (London: Thames and Hudson, 1976).


 Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

employed a number of excellent Indian archaeologists since the turn of the century. Certainly, these Indians worked within colonial structures, but they had also become well versed in the material past of India. Wheeler, as he had had no experience with Indian archaeology prior to his appointment as Director-General of the ASI, made good use of their expertise to situate himself in his new position.45 While the five Director-Generals of the ASI from 1902 to 1944 — John Marshall, Harold Hargreaves, Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, J. F. Blakinston, and K. N. Dikshit — had worked loosely within the emerging culture–history paradigm of archaeology, Wheeler explicitly sought to establish culture–history as the working method for Indian archaeology. As Himanshu Prabha Ray argues: [Wheeler] censured modern scholarship for its inordinate emphasis on literature and philology and argued in favor of archaeological investigations and material culture . . . He was a ‘humanist’, seeing archaeology as a new instrument for the reconstruction and writing of history.46

To this end, Wheeler created a separate Excavations Branch of the ASI tasked with establishing a single chronology for India by fleshing out an uninterrupted cultural sequence from the third millennium BCE to the medieval period. He emphasised the importance of stratigraphy and pottery sequences, and he implemented a rigorous excavation style in which the language of a military campaign was adapted to excavation work.47 Wheeler standardised this style of archaeology through his archaeological training school at Taxila, whose students were to become the leading archaeologists of India and Pakistan for the remainder of the 20th century.48 Wheeler’s term


See Ray’s overview of the most respected Indian archaeologists with whom Wheeler had contact as he prepared to depart for India in 1943–44 in Ray, Colonial Archaeology in South Asia, 27–39. 46 Ray, Colonial Archaeology in South Asia, 45. 47 The link between military campaigns and excavations made by Wheeler is one of the most oft-cited impacts of Wheeler’s short tenure as DirectorGeneral. For a recent exploration of this topic, see Ashish Chadha, ‘Visions of Discipline: Sir Mortimer Wheeler and the Archaeological Method in India (1944–1948)’, Journal of Social Archaeology 2, no. 3 (2002): pp. 378–401. 48 Wheeler published a number of tracts on proper archaeological method in Ancient India, the very journal he had started in order to document



as Director-General of the ASI, and a short stint as Director-General of the Pakistan Department of Archaeology, would end shortly after the partition of the subcontinent.

History of Archaeological Research in Independent Punjab (1947–Present) After Partition, the archaeological work on the early historic period in India and Pakistan developed differently. In India, while the colonial administrative structure remained intact, the ASI made a concerted effort to ‘Indianise’ the field. The early historic period was understood as an important chapter in the long, unified history of the Indian subcontinent, and this understanding supported Indian goals of national unity. In Pakistan, however, the project of nation building was focused more on promoting the rich Islamic archaeological heritage within its borders, and most early historic sites, therefore, were left to the spades of foreign missions.

Research in Pakistani Punjab Archaeological research in post-Independence Pakistan has generally focused in three areas: (a) the protohistoric Harappan Civilisation, (b) medieval archaeology and Muslim sites, and (c) Gandha¯ran civilisation.49 The pre- and protohistoric periods are by far the most researched periods in post-Independence Pakistan. As M. Rafique Mughal wrote in 1990:

the progress of Indian archaeology. See in particular his trio of articles: ‘Archaeological Planning for India: Some Factors’, Ancient India 2 (1946): 125–133; ‘The Recording of Archaeological Strata’, Ancient India 3 (1947): 143–150; and ‘Archaeological Fieldwork in India: Planning Ahead’, Ancient India 5 (1949): 4–11. 49 The most complete and up to date resource for the Gandha¯ran material is Dorothee von Drachenfels and Christian Luczanits, eds., Gandhara: The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Legends, Monasteries, and Paradise (Bonn: Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2008). This edited volume is the culmination of a German exhibit of Gandha¯ran archaeology. The contributors include many of the foremost experts in the field from all over the world who give summaries of the current state of their research.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

The pre- and protohistoric periods of Pakistan have somehow received much greater attention than the sites of later periods, largely due to the specific orientation and scope of the research projects rather than searching for the antiquity of Pakistan.50

The ‘specific orientation and scope of the research projects’ in Pakistan to which Mughal refers are often driven by foreign missions. Mughal continues: Another significant feature of archaeological research has been the involvement of foreign archaeologists from countries in Pakistan whose number and size have been increasing progressively particularly since the 1970s.51

Thus, the questions posed and research pursued have been driven by foreign interest in the Harappan Civilisation, rather than a national Pakistani desire to link this period to the modern nation-state. This is in stark contrast to the research conducted on the protohistoric Harappan Civilisation in India. That is, on the Indian side of the border, the protohistoric period has been key in Indian claims to a long, uninterrupted, unified cultural past that serves the Indian nation-state. The impact of foreign missions in Pakistan, however, has been largely absent in the second area of research noted previously, medieval archaeology and Muslim sites.52 The study of this research area has been carried out almost exclusively by Pakistani archaeologists, and it has been loosely linked to the emerging Pakistani identity.53 These first two categories, however, fall chronologically outside the early historic period. 50

M. Rafique Mughal, ‘Archaeological Field Research in Pakistan since Independence: An Overview’, Bulletin of the Deccan College Post-Graduate & Research Institute 49 (1990): 261. 51 Ibid. 52 The exception here is the work of two Italian archaeologists, Luca Mariani and Umberto Scerrato, who were part of the Italian missions in Swa¯t. See Mughal, ‘Archaeological Field Research in Pakistan since Independence: An Overview’, 270–271. 53 For two relatively recent summaries of such research, see Ahmad Hasan Dani, Recent Archaeological Discoveries in Pakistan (Paris: UNESCO, 1988), 99–102; and Ahmed Nabi Khan, Studies in Islamic Archaeology of Pakistan (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1997).



The third area of interest, Gandha¯ran archaeology, flourished within the early historic period; however, geographically, the vast majority of the Gandha¯ran material is located to the northwest of Punjab in the Peshawar Valley, Swa¯t Valley, and into Afghanistan. Much like the pre- and protohistoric period, the research here has seen a significant foreign presence. Fazal Dad Kakar explains how this came to be: [T]he research history of Gandharan culture in the young state of Pakistan then started in 1956 with Italian activities in Swa¯t under Professor Tucci. Due to his personal connections to the ruler of Swa¯t, His Majesty General Myangul Jahazeb, he had received a special permit to excavate in the area.54

Kakar provides a comprehensive list of the excavation activities of archaeological teams from Italy, Japan, Germany, Britain, and South Korea. Finally, he reviews the excavations carried out by Pakistan’s Federal Department of Archaeology and Museums and its sister organisations, the Department of Archaeology of the University of Peshawar and the Provincial Department of Archaeology NWFP.55 In all these excavations, it is remarkable how much attention has been given to Gandha¯ra proper, that is the region to the west of the Indus River, and how little attention has been given to the Punjab plains. The exception to this generalisation is research conducted in the Taxila Valley, but again, that research has been prompted by a desire to understand Gandha¯ra rather than a desire to understand Punjab as a whole. Thus, we can divide the research on the early historic period in the Pakistani Punjab plains into two groups: research within the Taxila Valley and research outside the Taxila Valley. There was significant contact between ancient Gandha¯ra and ancient Punjab as the regions shared the Indus River as their eastern


Fazal Dad Kakar, ‘Archaeological Research in the Gandhara Region during the Pre- and Post-Independence Period’, in Gandhara: The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Legends, Monasteries, and Paradise, ed. Dorothee von Drachenfels and Christian Luczanits (Bonn: Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2008), 42. 55 For a complete list of these excavations and an accompanying bibliography, see Kakar, ‘Archaeological Research in the Gandhara Region during the Pre- and Post-Independence Period’, 42.


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and western border respectively, and the Taxila Valley stands as the paradigmatic border region. In addition to Sir John Marshall’s 1951 publication of Taxila, there have been a number of small excavations, most of them led by Pakistani archaeologists. These include Bhir. Mound (1969 and 1998–2002), Serai Khola (1972), Hathial (1983), Haji Shah Morr (1985–86),56 Jinan Wali Dheri (2002–06), Jaulian II (by the South Korean mission, 2004–05) and Badalpur (2005–08).57 These post-Taxila excavations have focused almost entirely on architectural (stu¯pas and monasteries) and sculptural remains, and other archaeological material recovered was scant. Mohammad Sharif’s excavation at Haji Shah Morr near Attock is a good example of the desire to learn more about Gandha¯ra to the exclusion of other issues. In his conclusion to his brief excavation report, Sharif expresses disappointment that the site is not more useful for understanding Gandha¯ran artistic forms: With respect to the identification of those decorative images . . . the new examples from Haji Shah Morr do not seem to help very much our previous iconographical knowledge. Over and over again, we have only been able to recognize Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Vajrapani, Devas, Yakshas, and in these generic denominations we have not succeeded in super-adding any proper name. Upon the whole, therefore, the excavations at Haji Shah Morr do not bring any substantial addition to the pantheon of the Gandhara school, we can only say that they provide some stepping stones for future discoveries.58

56 While Attock, the city closest to the Haji Shah Morr site, is really at the edge of the Taxila Valley, I include it here as it fits better with those excavations conducted within the Taxila Valley with its focus on Gandha¯ran culture. 57 Again, for complete bibliographic details of all these excavations, see Kakar, ‘Archaeological Research in the Gandhara Region during the Pre- and Post-Independence Period’, 42. 58 Muhammad Sharif, ‘Excavation at Haji Shah Morr’, Pakistan Archaeology 10–22 (1974–86): 56. Maurizio Taddei is a bit more optimistic about the value of certain sculptural fragments for Gandha¯ran studies; see ‘Recent Archaeological Research in Gandha¯ra: The New Evidence’, in Gandha¯ran Buddhism: Archaeology, Art, Texts, ed. Pia Brancaccio and Kurt A. Behrendt (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2006), 53.



Thus, what is remarkable about all these excavations listed above is their singular focus on understanding Gandha¯ran architectural and sculptural forms to the exclusion of other research agendas. Outside the Taxila Valley, very little archaeological exploration and research on the early historic period have been done. There have been only two excavations with a significant publication:59 Muhammad Rafique Mughal’s 1967 excavation at Tulamba60 and Saifur Rahman Dar’s excavation at Manikyala in 1968.61 Dar’s excavation at Manikyala is notable because he makes it clear that the site can be understood apart from Gandha¯ran culture. He writes, ‘the styles of masonry as revealed at Manikyala bear little comparison with any type in the Taxila Valley or elsewhere in Gandhara’.62 Thus, this site is of particular interest as it could possibly shed light on the diversity of cultures in early historic Punjab. For example, Dar briefly makes an interesting comparison of incense burners from Manikyala and Tulamba, but he does not carry the discussion very far. There is still much to be done at Manikyala, as Dar notes, Manikyala village and the great stupa are not the only archaeological remains surviving there. In fact, a large tract of country, covering an area of six square miles, around Manikyala village is littered with ancient sites mostly of the Buddhist period.63

But despite this potential, Manikyala has yet to receive a full-scale excavation. Tulamba was excavated primarily to obtain a ‘chronological sequence for assigning an approximate date to a number of settlements . . . discovered in the central Punjab plain’,64 and thus it


Other early historic sites in Pakistani Punjab have been explored or excavated, but these have not seen significant reports. For example, there was an excavation at Mian Ali Faquiran (1978–81), but there has been no publication of a significant excavation report. 60 M. Rafique Mughal, ‘Excavations at Tulamba’, Pakistan Archaeology 4 (1967): 11–152. 61 Saifur Rahman Dar, ‘Excavation at Manikyala — 1968’, Pakistan Archaeology 7 (1970–71): 6–22. 62 Ibid., 20. 63 Ibid., 6. 64 M. Rafique Mughal, ‘A Summary of Excavations and Explorations in Pakistan (1971 and 1972)’, Pakistan Archaeology 8 (1972): 114.


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was primarily a vertical excavation, not a horizontal one. The success in creating a preliminary chronological sequence at Tulamba that could be used for all of Punjab prompted Mughal to embark on a multi-year surface survey to identify all the archaeological sites in Punjab. This resulted in a massive database of the archaeological sites and monuments in Punjab published in volume 29 of Pakistan Archaeology.65 While this data can be used to make generalisations about the changing settlement patterns in Punjab from the prehistoric era to the medieval period,66 it does not lend itself to the kind of cultural analysis provided by the details of extensive horizontal excavations. However, recognising that the early historic period has not played an important role in fashioning Pakistani identity certainly does not mean that Pakistanis do not find these remains remarkable. For example, in 1979 the archaeological complex of Taxila was nominated and accepted to be included as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. Attaining the status of a World Heritage Site is no small commitment. Indeed, the government of Pakistan has committed significant resources to protect and maintain the site. And while it is true that the unstable political and economic situation in the past decade has slowed archaeological research on the early historic period in Pakistan, it is noteworthy that research does continue under such difficult conditions.

Research in Indian Punjab In contrast to the situation in Pakistan outlined here, there have been significant excavation and exploration of early historic sites in Indian Punjab. The excavations have fit snugly into the culture–history model of archaeology, with its emphasis on the connection between discrete spatio-temporal units of material culture and ethnolinguistic human groups, that has dominated the work of the ASI with respect to the early historic period. As Peter Johansen argues, 65

M. Rafique Mughal, Farooq Iqbal, Muhammad Afzal Khan, and Muhammad Hassan, ‘Archaeological Sites and Monuments in Punjab’, Pakistan Archaeology 29 (1994–96): 1–476. 66 See Mark A. Smith, ‘Settlement Geography for the Punjab during the Early Historic and Medieval Periods: A GIS Approach’ (Ph.D. Thesis, New York University, 2007).



the notion of culture that is prevalent with a culture-history of South Asia’s archaeological past is a descriptive rather than explanatory category. The ‘culture’ in culture-history consists of the artifacts themselves, which are viewed as the reflection of a people’s normative customs, beliefs, and behavior. It is decidedly disinvested of any sense of diverse systems of meaning, agency, socio-political difference, or any form of internal variability, nor does it appreciate the dynamic and processual nature of human behaviour through time. As closed-off spatio-temporal, analytic entities, archaeological cultures essentialize past peoples into units of identity that have little character beyond a description of the artifacts they produced.67

The clearest example of this kind of culture–history analysis at work is in the correlation of cultural-ethnic groups with pottery analysis. For example, B. K. Thapar, T. N. Roy and C. Margabandhu all sought to identify a ‘Painted Grey Ware Culture’ and a ‘Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) Culture’. That is, they understood that a particular style of pottery had a one-to-one correspondence with a cultural/ethnic group.68 These investigations yielded further studies with titles such as The N.B.P. Culture of Eastern India,69 The Painted Grey Ware: An Iron Age Culture of Northern India,70 and A Study of Northern Black Polished Ware Culture: An Iron Age Culture of India.71 From 1947 to 1967, the most important excavations carried out by the newly independent, Indian-controlled ASI employed almost exclusively field archaeologists from Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s Taxila School of Archaeology.72 Their methods, theories, and the very


Johansen, ‘Recasting the Foundations’, 197–198. Each of these scholars makes explicit connections between a style of pottery and an ethnic–cultural complex. See B. K. Thapar, Recent Archaeological Discoveries in India (Paris: UNESCO, 1985); T. N. Roy, A Study of Northern Black Polished Ware Culture: An Iron Age Culture of India (Delhi: Ramanand Vidya Bhawan, 1986); C. Margabandhu, Archaeology of the Satavahana Kshatrapa Times (Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan, 1985). 69 Durga Basu, The N.B.P. Culture of Eastern India, 1st ed., 2 vols. (Kolkata: R. N. Bhattacharya, 2005). 70 Vibha Tripathi, The Painted Grey Ware: An Iron Age Culture of Northern India, 1st ed. (Delhi: Concept Pub. Co., 1976). 71 Roy, A Study of Northern Black Polished Ware Culture. 72 For a brief list of important members of the school in 1944, see Wheeler, My Archaeological Mission to India and Pakistan, 33–34. There is also a photograph taken in 1944 at the Taxila School of Archaeology 68


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problems they sought to solve slowly moved away from the earlier focus on the protohistorical Harappan Civilisation,73 and shifted to an exploration of the period immediately before the Harappans, that is the prehistory of the subcontinent,74 and the period between the Harappans and the early historic period, known by the mid-20th century as the Dark Age.75 While new explorations encountered early historic remains, these layers were passed through quickly in the effort to reach lower layers, and thus older material. As

in which many of these men appear; it is reproduced with the archaeologists identified in Grahame Clark, Sir Mortimer and Indian Archaeology (Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1979), 26 fig. 5. 73 This civilisation has been called the Harappan Civilisation, the Indus Civilisation, the Indus Valley Civilisation, and most recently, the IndusSaraswati Civilisation — and all four can be found in use today. I use the term ‘Harappan’ to be consistent with the majority of publications dealing with Punjab archaeology. For an introduction to various uses of the names and their politico-ideological background, see Dilip K. Chakrabarti, The Oxford Companion to Indian Archaeology: The Archaeological Foundations of Ancient India, Stone Age to AD 13th Century (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006), 136, where he concludes that ‘the term “Harappan civilization” is geographically non-committal and thus the most correct term to use. Only out of deference to its long usage, the term Indus Civilization may be retained’. 74 For example, V. D. Krishnaswami solidified his position as the pre-eminent Indian prehistorian with his wide ranging and theoretically sophisticated articles published in Ancient India between 1947 and 1962. 75 The Harappan Civilisation was still an important area of research in the sense that Indian archaeologists began looking for major Harappan sites in India as the known major Harappan sites were ‘lost’ to the newly created Pakistan. But no sites as large as Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were discovered in those early years, and therefore interest in other periods quickly took over. For a review of the ‘Dark Age’ in South Asia, see Robin Coningham, ‘Dark Age or Continuum? An Archaeological Analysis of the Second Emergence of Urbanism in South Asia’, in The Archaeology of Early Historic South Asia: The Emergence of Cities and States, ed. F. R. Allchin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 54–72. For a good review of the agenda of Wheeler, and thus Indian archaeology, during this period, see Ray, Colonial Archaeology in South Asia, 44–47. Other areas of research also took centre stage, such as the megaliths of the South, but these have no bearing on our subject here, viz., the northwest corner of the subcontinent.



M. K. Dhavalikar writes in his Preface to Historical Archaeology of India, published in 1999: The most neglected aspect of Indian archaeology is the archaeology of the historical period. Although from Cunningham to Marshall historical sites received due attention; from the time of Wheeler onwards Indian archaeologists concentrated more on protohistoric archaeology. The historical strata encountered in an excavation was a sort of hindrance which had to be removed, and the same situation still prevails.76

This situation does not only pertain to excavations in the field, but it is also true in the university where, Dhavalikar continues,‘only important excavations [of historical sites] such as that at Taxila, Hastinapur, etc., are covered as there is no in-depth study of the entire span of the historical period’.77 To cite just one example of the inattention to the artifacts of the historic period, particularly in the early decades after Independence, reading through B. B. Lal’s report of the excavations at Hastinapur one is struck by the abundance of early historic period terracotta figurines and other artifacts, but the focus of the report, and also of Ghosh’s prefatory comments,is the serial locations of earlier Ochre-Colored Potter (OCP), Painted Grey Ware (PGW), and early Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW).78 These changes in the direction of Indian archaeology are clearly reflected in the paucity of archaeological investigation in Punjab, a region rich in early historic sites, in the first two decades after Independence. In the century and a half before Independence, Punjab was the primary site for the study of early historic India, 76 Madhukar Keshav Dhavalikar, Historical Archaeology of India (Delhi: Books & Books, 1999), xii. This is also expressed by Brajesh Krishna, who writes, ‘historical archaeology [in Punjab] . . . has been denied its due share in the limited resources in the country. The archaeology of medieval sites is also sadly neglected . . . Punjab had hundreds of cities and towns in early historical and later periods’; see ‘Archaeology of Punjab: Some Observations’, in Mahasenasiri: Riches of Indian Archaeological and Cultural Studies: A Felicitation Volume in Honour of Dr. I. K. Sarma, ed. P. Chenna Reddy (Delhi: Sharada, 2006), 106. 77 Dhavalikar, Historical Archaeology of India, xii. 78 B. B. Lal, ‘Excavations at Hastinapur and Other Explorations in the Upper Ganga and Satluj Basins, 1950–1952’, Ancient India no. 10 and 11 (1954–55): 5–151.


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particularly the period between the Mauryan and Gupta empires.79 Between 1947 and 1967, however, there were only four excavations in Punjab, as Table 2.1 shows. Table 2.1 Excavations in Punjab from 1947 to 1967 Site Rupar Bara and Salaura Bhatinda Fort Sugh

Years 1953–54, 1954–55 1954–55 1954–55 1963–64, 1965–66

Lead Excavator Y. D. Sharma Y. D. Sharma Ragbhir Singh Suraj Bhan and B. Ch. Chhabra

Source: Indian Archaeology — A Review.

The Bhatinda Fort excavation consisted of one trench, which uncovered pottery from circa 12th to 13th century CE. The Bara and Salaura excavations, located five miles to the north of Rupar, were really an extension of the work at Rupar. Bara, however, became important in its own right because it remained occupied after the Harappan Civilisation had disappeared from the region but before the ubiquitous Painted Grey Ware ceramics were introduced. In fact, the late Harappan/post-Harappan levels at Bara revealed new pottery shapes and an increased emphasis on decoration by horizontal and incised lines. This ceramic assemblage had not been recorded at Harappa or Mohenjo Daro, and therefore was thought to be unique to the upper Sutlej Basin.80 Thus, the Bara phase represented a late 79

This period in Indian history, from circa 300 BCE to 400 CE, was the subject of an international conference held at the University of Texas at Austin, 3–6 April, 2003. See Patrick Olivelle, ed., Between the Empires: Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). 80 Y. D. Sharma, ‘Excavations at Bara and Salaura, District Ambala’, in Indian Archaeology 1954–55 — A Review, ed. A. Ghosh (Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1955), 11. This identification of ‘Bara culture’, a culture different from Harappan culture, stood unchallenged for decades. However, Dilip K. Chakrabarti is now convinced that ‘Bara-ware’ is part of the Harappan tradition. Chakrabarti points to the non-ceramic assemblage of bricks, furnaces or hearths, terracotta cakes, copper bangles, beads, etc., and notes that these all belong to a generic Harappan tradition. Thus, Chakrabarti calls for a more detailed analysis of the ceramic forms at Bara as well. See his Y. D. Sharma Memorial Lecture published as ‘Globalization and Indian Archaeology’, Puratattva 38 (2008): 7.



Harappan/post-Harappan community, a community distinct from Harappan culture, which at Bara, however, did not overlap with PGW ceramics. An important aim of post-Independence Punjab archaeology, then, was to find a link between the Bara phase and the PGW phase, as this would purportedly provide evidence of continuous habitation in Punjab right from the Harappan period to the present day. Rupar was chosen as a site because it presented a clear cultural sequence between the Harappan Civilisation and the early historic period. In other words, the ASI saw an opportunity to shed light on the Dark Age and perhaps find overlap between the Bara phase and the PGW phase. Y. D. Sharma writes in his initial report: The problem of the wide gulf between the end of the Harappa culture in the mid-second millennium B. C. and the beginning of the historical period about the epoch of Buddha continued to engage the attention of the Excavations Branch of the Department. Members will remember that I made a reference last year to the excavation at Rupar, 60 miles north of Ambala (Panjab), with an almost continuous sequence of occupations from the Harappa to the medieval times, thus linking the protohistoric with historical archaeology.81

Sharma found a gap between the Harappan settlements and the arrival of the PGW, and this gap was confirmed at Bara: The object was to investigate if further evidence could be had to confirm the gap between the end of the Harappa culture and the arrival of the Painted Grey Ware people that was evident at Rupar. The excavations confirmed this gap by evidence of an indirect kind.82

Further, no evidence emerged of an overlap between Bara and PGW ceramics. Since the focus of the excavation was to provide chronological details regarding the Dark Age of India, Sharma only carried out a vertical excavation at Rupar, and the mound, which is quite large, has never been excavated horizontally. In the subsequent year of excavation at Rupar, 1954–55, the goals

81 Y. D. Sharma, ‘Excavations at Rupar, District Ambala’, in Indian Archaeology 1953–54 — A Review, ed. A. Ghosh (Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1954), 6. 82 Sharma, ‘Excavations at Bara and Salaura, District Ambala’, 9.


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of the campaign were further narrowed to uncovering a Harappan grave site.83 Unfortunately for Punjab archaeology, the excavations ceased after this second year and have not been revived.84 The other significant excavation, at Sugh, was carried out by Suraj Bhan and B. Ch. Chhabra under the joint authority of the Panjab University Department of History, Culture, and Archaeology and the Government of Haryana Archaeological Department in 1963–64 and 1965–66. Only two trenches were opened, and both found a cultural sequence that went from PGW to NBPW to early historic pottery and figurines. The excavation was not taken up again, as apparently the information Bhan and Chhabra were looking for, the ceramic sequence between the PGW and the early historic period, had been found. In addition to these excavations, there were yearly surface explorations in the region. These explorations also conformed to the general shift in Indian archaeology in that they focused on the pre-historic/ protohistoric period and paid particular attention to both PGW and NBPW ceramics (the ‘cultures’ of the Dark Age), while at the same time almost completely ignoring the early historic period. Between 1953 and 1962, repeated explorations sought out sites related to the Stone Age ‘Sohan industry’.85 The exploration in 1957–58 of 83

Y. D. Sharma, ‘Excavations at Rupar, District Ambala’, in Indian Archaeology 1954–55 — A Review, ed. A. Ghosh (Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1955), 9, Plate Nos VI–IX. 84 The date of the genesis of the Bara ceramic assemblage has undergone a number of revisions, the most important of which is Y. D. Sharma’s study that pushes the date back to the mid-mature Harappan phase circa 2300 BCE. See Y. D. Sharma, ‘Fresh Light on the Bara Culture from Mahorana’, in Archaeology and History: Essays in Memory of Shri A. Ghosh, ed. B. M. Pande and B. D. Chattopadhyaya (Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, 1987), 157–176. But the terminus ante quem, a problem for which — as we shall see later in this chapter — the Sanghol excavations seemed to supply an answer, remains a contested issue. See K. C. Nauriyal, ‘Chronological Assessment of Bara Culture’, Puratattva 35 (2005–06): 85–93. 85 While the Sohan industry was located in what is now Himachal Pradesh, the Siwalik Hills are often considered part of the cultural milieu of Punjab, and in these early years Himachal was part of Punjab State. For the origins of the idea of the ‘Sohan industry’, see Helmut De Terra, Studies on the Ice Age in India and Associated Human Cultures (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1939).



the Banganga Valley in District Kangra is notable for the number of important Indian archaeologists who took part in the campaign: the team included B. B. Lal,86 H. D. Sankalia, B. Subbarao, K. N. Puri, and R. V. Joshi.87 Clearly, the best and brightest of Indian archaeology were interested in pushing Indian prehistory to the fore. A shift occurred circa 1962 when the number of surface explorations dedicated to the discovery of PGW and NBPW sites in Punjab increased. Although the early historic period was represented in the finds, the notices of any discoveries were short and only rarely were any follow-up campaigns pursued. In 1963, the Punjab State Government officially created a position under control of the Director of Museums and Archives for the study of archaeology. Within a few years, that single post, under the title Assistant Archaeological Officer, was provided the support of a full staff, and by 1968 the new Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Punjab (DAM-GP) was ready to undertake its own research agenda. The Department’s first excavation, from 1969 to 1973 at Sanghol, marked interest in two issues: (a) the link between the Bara phase and the PGW phase, and (b) the extent of Buddhist activity in the early historic period. From 1973 to 2000, almost all the excavations carried out by the Government of Punjab spoke directly to one of these two issues. For example, in the 1976–77 season, four sites — Kathpalon, Nagar, Ghuram, and Dadheri — were excavated with these goals in mind. Similarly, in the 1980s four more sites in addition to Sanghol were excavated. Two sites, Singh-Bhagwanpur and Nagiari, were chosen to shed light on the Bara-PGW link, and two other sites, Rohira and Sunet, were


B. B. Lal had explored the region two years earlier; see B. B. Lal, ‘Palaeoliths From the Beas and Banganga Valley: A Look Back’, Puratattva 11 (1979–80): 59–92. 87 Ibid., 1–9. See also Indian Archaeology — A Review for the years 1953–62, but in particular see A. Ghosh, ed., ‘Stone Age Sites on the Sohan’, in Indian Archaeology 1954-55 — A Review (Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1955), 58; and A. Ghosh, ed., ‘Exploration in the Banganga Valley, District Kangra’, in Indian Archaeology 1957–58 — A Review (Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1958), 43. The expedition involved members of the Department of Archaeology, the Geological Survey of India, the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, and the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.


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chosen for their potential to reveal early historic remains. However, none of these sites received the attention given to Sanghol. The discovery and subsequent excavation of the archaeological site of Sanghol stand at a pivotal point in Indian archaeology. Sanghol gained serious consideration for excavation at the end of the Formative period (1947–67), and its qualifications for excavation exemplify the new direction of thought in Indian archaeology. Sanghol did not qualify as a potential site for excavation in the way that most early historic sites had traditionally been selected: that is, it was not identified through a textual source. In fact, Sanghol represents a reversal of the traditional process of site identification, and it was only after the excavations had begun and the size of the site was realised that a textual identification was made.88 For most of India’s archaeological history, early historic sites were chosen for excavation because they had been mentioned in ancient texts, and it was believed their excavation would corroborate the textual understanding of Indian cultural history. This method was employed most fully by Alexander Cunningham’s research plan. In his northwest Indian campaigns, Cunningham paid particular attention to three sources: classical accounts of Alexander the Great’s invasions of India, the 5th century accounts of the Buddhist monk Fa Xian, and the 7th century accounts of the Buddhist monk Xuan Zang. While these sources served Cunningham well and helped him map the archaeological landscape of Punjab, and much of India for that matter, none of these sources led him to Sanghol. Much has been written about Xuan Zang’s description of the country of She-to-tu-lu and its capital,89 which Cunningham identified with the 88

This is an example of what R. S. Sharma called for in a 1988 National Seminar in Calcutta when he argued that ‘what we need is archaeologyaided texts’ as opposed to ‘text-aided archaeology’; see ‘Keynote Address’, in Historical Archaeology of India: A Dialogue Between Archaeologists and Historians (1988 National Seminar in Calcutta, July 26 to 29), ed. Amita Ray and Samir Mukherjee (Delhi: Books and Books, 1990), 5. 89 See the most popular translation of the passage in Thomas Watters, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India, 629–645 A.D., ed. Thomas William Rhys Davids and Stephen Wootton Bushell (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1904), 300–301. From Kulu the pilgrim travelled south, over a high mountain and across a great river, for about 700 li, and reached the country called She-to-tu-lu. This was above [sic] 2000 li in circuit, bounded on the west by a large river



region of S´atadru and city of Sirhind respectively,90 and for nearly a century after Cunningham’s explorations, Sirhind was taken to be the site that Xuan Zang had written about. Thus, the antiquities of Sanghol remained buried beneath the ground, and the possibility of their discovery remained buried beneath ideological understandings of the relationship between text and archaeological sites.91 There were moments in the early 20th century when Sanghol came to the attention of the ASI. Local villagers often found antiquities as they tilled their fields or attended to other daily business, and they attempted to give Sanghol a voice within the official story of Indian archaeology. But while the villagers were thanked for their efforts, they were never taken very seriously. Sanghol yielded finds of not only coins and pottery, but also larger antiquities such as terracotta figurines and fragments of statues. The first mention of Sanghol as an archaeological site is in a 1933 official letter from Pandit Madho Sarup Vats, the ASI Superintendent, Frontier Circle, to the curator of the Central Museum in Lahore, accompanying the donation of a large ‘Buddha head found in the ruins of Sanghol by Mahashe [sic] Krishan Dev Sharma of Sanghol in the Patiala State’.92 The letter also answers Krishan Dev Sharma’s inquiries (supposed to be the Satluj), and its capital was 17 or 18 li in circuit. It was an agricultural and fruit-producing country, and yielded much gold, silver and other precious substances. The inhabitants were in good circumstances and led moral lives, observing social distinctions and adhering devoutly to Buddhism. In and about the capital were 10 monasteries, but they were desolate and the Bretheren were very few. About three li to the southeast of the capital was an Asoka tope about 200 feet high, and beside it were traces of spots on which the Four Past Buddhas had sat and walked up and down. 90 Cunningham first made this identification in his 1863–64 campaign in Punjab; see Alexander Cunningham, Four Reports Made During the Years 1862–63–64–65 (Simla: Government Central Press, 1871), 212 and 242, and he then gave further details in The Ancient Geography of India: The Buddhist Period, Including the Campaigns of Alexander and the Travels of Hwen-Thsang (London: Trubner and Co., 1871), 147. 91 That Xuan Zang’s capital of She-to-tu-lu is Sanghol is still not proven, but it is a likely candidate as it fits well within the stated distances, and the city was certainly a significant centre with numerous Buddhist monasteries in and around it. 92 See G. B. Sharma and Manmohan Kumar, Coins, Seals, and Sealings from Sanghol (Chandigarh: Department of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

about some coins that he had collected. The coins seem to be those of the ‘Kushana rulers Kadphises I and Kadphises II’.93 Krishan Dev Sharma’s discoveries were followed by an informal exploration of the site by Tara Chand, a retired professor of Sanskrit, and Dr V. S. Suri.94 Their finds, all on the surface, confirmed that the site had been occupied in the early historic period. However, despite these indications of settlement, Sanghol was not taken up for excavation as it had failed the key test: there was no textual confirmation of its importance. Sanghol would have remained buried if not for the new emphasis on local knowledge in the ASI. Indian archaeologists brought a familiarity with the land that most of the British lacked, and this familiarity bred a certain respect for local collectors.95 As these local collectors began to enter the ASI, they slowly began to turn to their home villages as sites for serious exploration. For Sanghol, it was G. B. Sharma, a local who lived about two kilometres to the northeast of Sanghol in the village of Bathan Kala, who filled this role. Born in 1929, Sharma spent his childhood picking up coins, coin molds, seals, and pottery. In 1948, at age 19, he joined the Indian Air Force and served for 26 years. While in the Air Force, he went back to school and earned an MA in Archaeology from the University of Kurukshetra. Sharma kept collecting antiquities throughout his life, and in 1956 he began to organise his collection as he grew more interested in archaeology.96 In the early 1960s, Sharma brought his collection of coins and seals to Dr A. K. Narain and Dr B. Ch. Chhabra, asking for their

& Museums, Punjab, 1986), Plate No. II for a reprint of the letter no. 176–357 dated 5 July 1933. M. S. Vats began his training in Sanskrit, but his interest in archaeology began early in his career, and he applied for and received the Archaeological Survey’s Sanskrit scholarship for training in archaeology in 1921; see Archaeological Survey of India: Annual Report for the Years 1920–21, n.d., 141. 93 Sharma and Kumar, Coins, Seals, and Sealings from Sanghol, Plate No. II. 94 Swarajya Prakash Gupta, ed., Kusha¯n.a Sculptures from Sanghol, 1st–2nd Century A.D.: A Recent Discovery (Delhi: National Museum, 1985). 95 It should be noted that some British colonial officers did take local knowledge seriously. In fact, much of the success of both James Prinsep and Alexander Cunningham depended upon local informants. 96 Personal communications with G. B. Sharma, 2004.



input. In 1962, Dr Narain visited the site in person and suggested a systematic investigation of the site.97 A few antiquities from Sanghol made their way into Indian Archaeology — A Review in 1962–63: A Buddha head in spotted red sandstone and a terracotta bust of a male, both of the Kushan period, were discovered at Sanghol, locally known as Ucha-Pind, in District Ludhiana. Other finds from the site include: Kushan and Huna coins, a fragmentary panel showing a seated Jina figure assignable to the medieval period, and fine grey ware of the early historical period.98

After these finds and with the publication in the local papers of a few articles on the cultural importance of Sanghol to the history of Punjab, the Government of Punjab began to look seriously at the site as a potential project. But it was only with the creation and expansion of a full-fledged archaeological unit within the newly formed Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Punjab that the funds for such an excavation were procured. On 20 January 1969, S. S. Talwar and R. S. Bisht began the excavation at Sanghol — an excavation that would eventually see 13 excavation seasons spread across two decades.99 While there were more than a dozen other sites excavated in Punjab after 1968, Sanghol dominated the scene and had a profound effect on the direction of the Department of Archaeology and Museums. First, the desire to find a link between the Bara phase and the PGW phase — a desire first developed at Bara and Rupar in the mid-1950s, but laid before the Department again at the excavation site SGL-2 in the late 1960s — set the agenda for excavation throughout the 1970s. Excavations at Kathpalon, Nagar


Sharma and Kumar, Coins, Seals, and Sealings from Sanghol, 1. Suraj Bhan Chowdhary, ‘Exploration in Districts Ambala and Ludhiana’, in Indian Archaeology 1962–63 — A Review, ed. A. Ghosh (Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1965), 17. 99 There are a number of summaries of the excavation history of Sanghol. For those interested in a full period-by-period summary, two good pieces are Fauja Singh, ‘Sanghol and Dolbaha’, in A History of Punjab, ed. L. M. Joshi, vol. 1 (Patiala: Department of Punjab Historical Studies, Punjabi University, 1997), 300–308; and Sharma and Kumar, Coins, Seals, and Sealings from Sanghol, 3–8. 98


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and Dadheri explicitly sought to fill this gap, but none of them did. G. B. Sharma’s 1977–78 excavation work at Sanghol, however, found the link in Trench EX-1. Yet the discovery of the stu¯pa and monastery complex at the excavation site SGL-5 had an even greater effect on Punjab archaeology. Due to this find, the early historic period once again became a key focus of exploration and excavation. The excavation at Ghuram in 1976–77, the excavations in the early 1980s at Sunet and Rohira, and the excavations in the late 1980s and into the 1990s and early 2000s at Brass and Chhat all were undertaken in the hopes of filling out the period.100 The discovery of the 117 Mathura sculptures in 1984–85 stirred the imagination of the Punjab Archaeological Department, and as the excavations at Sanghol came to a close in the late 1980s, funds were made available for exploration in the hopes of another such find in Punjab. But the post-Sanghol excavations all came up empty in this regard. At the beginning of this millennium, then, it became clear that the Government of Punjab was not interested in funding excavations that did not yield spectacular finds. Excavations that would merely add nuance to the ceramic seriations or fill out the finer details of house construction were deemed too insignificant to be funded. In 2004, the archaeological team in Chandigarh requested funds to explore the area around Sanghol in the hopes of finding the other stu¯pas mentioned by Xuan Zang, but the team was denied.101 While the first decade of the new millennium has seen little archaeological activity, the accomplishments over the first 50 years of post-Independence Punjab archaeology are significant. S. S. Talwar, R. S. Bisht, G. B. Sharma, and C. Margabandhu have received most of the attention, but there is a core archaeological team still intact in Chandigarh whose members have devoted their lifetimes to hard, diligent work. The results of this collective toil are two archives full of material, but little recognition for their efforts. It is certainly

100 For details of the excavations at Ghuram, Rohira and Sunet, the best source is a hard to find and undated Sanghol Museum Exhibition Catalogue by G. B. Sharma, A Summary of Archaeological Excavations in Punjab (Chandigarh: Department of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology & Museums, Punjab, n.d.). This publication is not in regular circulation, but can be found at the archives in Chandigarh. 101 Personal communication with the Punjab Department of Archaeology.



unfortunate that much of the material has not been published.102 The works of K. K. Rishi, who retired from his post in 2009, and Kuldeep Singh Sidhu, are particularly impressive. Each year, they explored new territory, discovered potential sites, excavated them with care, and catalogued their finds with precision. I can personally attest to the considerable efforts of their support staff. The draftsmen Gurdev Singh and Pardeep Singh Loyal have produced beautiful site maps; Hira Singh and Brij Mohan have kept the archives, both in Chandigarh and Patiala, organised and were most helpful in my research; and Rajinder Singh was always willing to take me on his motorcycle to visit hard to reach sites. Finally, we should not forget those who did the actual digging. The local villages supplied the labour for these endeavours, and the men and women often became quite skilled. In 2005, as I visited the excavation site SGL-9 with Kuldeep Singh Sidhu, we stopped by the house of a labourer who had worked on the excavations at Sanghol throughout the years. Time, and the digging, had taken a toll on his body, and he was confined to a small cot. As he and Kuldeep Sidhu began to talk, his body began to shake and tears streamed down his cheeks — he missed the work so much; he missed the camaraderie and excitement. So, 40 years after the first shovel broke ground in Sanghol and we begin to comb through the archival record of 13 years of excavation, we owe a great debt to those who spent a good portion of their lives doing the heavy lifting and digging to provide us with this opportunity.

102 The only exception to this is the monograph by K. K. Rishi, Palaeolithic from Aitbarpur (Chandigarh: Department of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology & Museums, Punjab, 1989).

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Part II


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Contemporary Theory and the Archaeology of Religion Archaeology is cultural history or it is nothing . . . Archaeology is the study of what survives of the material culture of people who lived in the past. Insofar as archaeology is about people who lived in the past, it is historical; insofar as it is about material culture, it is cultural. Therefore, it is cultural history.1

Introduction: Building a Bridge This chapter serves as a bridge between Parts I and III. In Part I, I reviewed the ways that the archaeological archive of early historic Punjab was used in the colonial and post-colonial periods to support various identities. In Part III, I will explore the ways we can use this same archaeological archive to explore the agencies of the peoples who actually created the material that constitutes this archive, that is, it seeks to uncover the agency of Indians who lived in early historic Punjab. In this bridge section, I detail the theoretical and methodological tools that I will employ in Part III, and discuss why they were not employed by the constituencies reviewed in Part I. I begin by outlining the most common understanding of the relationship between history and archaeology, a relationship that finds archaeology lacking in the ability to uncover the agency of past peoples. The next section of this bridge chapter argues that early historic Indian archaeology has largely ignored the fierce debates between the two most recent schools of archaeological theory in the West,

1 Ian Morris, Archaeology as Cultural History: Words and Things in Iron Age Greece (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2000), 1.


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the processual and postprocessual schools, and has continued to operate under the culture–history paradigm introduced by Sir John Marshall in the early 20th century. Finally, I suggest that while it is important to continue the work of culture–history archaeology, there is enough data for various sites that enables us to work with postprocessual paradigms as well.

History and Archaeology In most historical reconstructions of the past, the understanding of the relationship between the written word and the material artifact is quite simple: the textual sources speak to the historian, offering insight into the social, political, economic, religious, and overall cultural history of a people or region, while the material evidence serves merely as confirmation and illustration of that history. From this perspective, archaeology is useful as an independent source only in making inferences about simple production and consumption activities, and any higher order insights can come only from texts.2 These assumptions are illustrated most clearly in Christopher Hawkes’ oft-quoted 1954 ‘ladder of inference’: (i) To infer from the archaeological phenomena to the techniques producing them I take to be relatively easy. (ii) To infer to the subsistence economies of the human groups is fairly easy. (iii) To infer to the social/political institutions of the groups, however, is considerably harder. (iv) To infer to the religious institutions and spiritual life . . . is the hardest of all.3 While Hawkes does not go as far as to say it is ‘impossible’ to infer social, political, or religious history from the archaeological record, his influential American Anthropologist article unmistakably rejects such attempts in certain circumstances. For Hawkes, perhaps attempting to infer non-material processes and structures from the


John Moreland, Archaeology and Text (London: Duckworth, 2001), 10. Christopher Hawkes, ‘Archaeological Theory and Method: Some Suggestions from the Old World’, American Anthropologist 56 (1954): 161–162. 3

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material record is forgivable in the study of prehistory, where the absence of text leaves the archaeologist with no other option, but certainly such speculation is foolish when texts can be consulted. This elevation of the text over the artifact is pervasive in historical reconstructions, as Moses Finley, a respected Greek classicist and archaeologist of the second half of the 20th century, argues: ‘it is self-evident that the potential contribution of archaeology to history is, in a rough way, inversely proportional to the quantity and quality of the available written sources’.4 Clearly, from this perspective historical archaeologists do not write history; rather, they simply illustrate it.5 This understanding of the value of the archaeological archive is not just the purview of the historian, however; many archaeologists concur with these conclusions reached by historians. David Clarke, the doyen of European archaeology, argues that ‘[a]rchaeological data is not historical data and consequently archaeology is not history’.6 This led to his famous statement, ‘archaeology is archaeology is archaeology’.7 However, Clarke’s idea of what an archaeologist does is quite narrow. For Clarke, the archaeologist’s activities are limited to three spheres: (a) excavation, that is data recovery; (b) systematic description, that is the organisation of the data into taxonomies and classifications; and (c) integrating and synthesising, that is the creation of models and theories.8 Clarke’s is but one voice among a majority of archaeologists who understand archaeology as 4 Moses I. Finley, ‘Archaeology and History’, in The Use and Abuse of History (London: The Hogarth Press, 1986), 93. 5 Recently, a number of contemporary theorists have detailed this bias quite extensively. For the best short introduction, see Moreland, Archaeology and Text, 9–32. For other general overviews, see C. Arnold, ‘Archaeology and History: The Shades of Confrontation and Cooperation’, in Archaeology at the Interface: Studies in Archaeology’s Relationship with History, Geography, Biology, and Physical Science (Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, International Series, 1986), 32–39; J. N. Postgate, ‘Archaeology and Texts — Bridging the Gap’, Zeitschrift Für Assyriologie 80 (1990): 228–240; P. Geary, ‘The Uses of Archaeological Sources for Religious and Cultural History’, in Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages (New York: Cornell University Press, 1994), 30–45; and Ian Morris, Archaeology as Cultural History. 6 David L. Clarke, Analytical Archaeology (London: Methuen, 1968), 13. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid.,12.


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a predictive science rather than a humanistic endeavour involving historical reconstruction.9 This general view of the relative value of both the textual archive and the archaeological archive is clearly evident in the study of early historic India. Within Indian archaeology, the traditional word/artifact hierarchy is further entrenched due to the nature of Indology. From its inception, Indology has been a discipline of the word since for many years it was dominated by philology, and mastery of Sanskrit and Pali; and other ancient languages was, and is still to a large extent, the litmus test for good scholarship. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, studies of ancient India combined philological acumen with anthropological research, and the study of the voice was put alongside the study of the word. Archaeology has fared much worse in both Indian and western scholarship on India, as those working in the dirt are most often relegated to footnotes and ‘interesting asides’. The object, that is the material artifact, is subservient to both the word and the voice.10 In recent years, however, historians who make a claim for the extended evidentiary value of the artifact have begun to question this state of affairs, and the understanding of the relationship between word and artifact is changing. This movement began as archaeologists accepted the postmodern challenge to objectivity and subjected the discipline to interrogation by a vast theoretical corpus derived from anthropology, history, and even literary criticism. In the works of these archaeologists, who still form quite a small cadre within the vast field of archaeology, it is not uncommon to see the likes of Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, Robin Collingwood, and Michel Foucault invoked alongside images of pot sherds, analyses of carbon-14 dating, and discussions of thermoluminescence testing. According to these scholars, not only must archaeologists be able to read and digest the minutiae of the excavation report, but they must also actively participate in theoretical discussions concerning the interpretation of this data. These theoretical discussions have extended far beyond mere interpretation, and the sceptical gaze 9 Julian Thomas, ‘Where Are We Now? Archaeological Theory in the 1990s’, in Theory in Archaeology: A World Perspective, ed. Peter J. Ucko (London: Routledge, 1995), 343–362. 10 See Moreland, Archaeology and Text, 35–44, for a clear statement on how these relationships have historically been understood.

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has been turned on the very methods of excavation itself. The politics of the archaeologist and the human impact on the process of excavation have come under scrutiny. These internal archaeological debates over the objectivity of methods and interpretations of material culture inevitably led to new ways of assessing the interpretive value of archaeological data in general, and as archaeologists gained confidence in their ability to theorise with the postmodern literary critics, historians and anthropologists, they began to challenge their status as the lowly stepchild to the word and voice. One of the most important theoretical moves that has emerged in archaeological interpretation has been the focus on human agency. Too often artifacts have been stripped of their human agency and understood as representatives of a singular, homogenous historical culture. At its worse, this approach to archaeological interpretation, often termed ‘culture–history archaeology’, tends to flatten the historical landscape and can potentially serve the interests of the present moment rather than help us understand the past. That is, a past without the complications of a clear human agency becomes the location from where those in the present project back onto the past their particular ideology. Historians of religion who seek to write histories based on archaeological evidence must pay attention to the real concerns of human actors. The negative consequences of culture–history archaeology, where the past has served the present, can be seen through three interrelated paradigms: (a) colonialist archaeologies have justified ‘the control of one region by another by showing (to the dominators’ satisfaction) that the dominated were always inferior’, (b) nationalist archaeologies have fostered ‘unity with a state by studying its ancient greatness’, and (c) imperialist archaeologies have supported ‘worldwide ambitions by downgrading local histories’.11 All three of these paradigms of culture–history archaeology find their expression in Indian archaeology; let me give one example of each. In British colonialist archaeologies, a fallacy of presentism manifested as the tendency 11

The preceding quotations are found in Ian Morris’ modification of Bruce Trigger’s tripartite division. See Bruce G. Trigger, ‘Alternative Archaeologies: Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist’, Man 19, no. 3 (1994): 355–370; and Ian Morris’ modification in Archaeology as Cultural History, 37. Trigger applies this tripartite structure to the study of prehistory; Morris then modifies and applies it to the study of historical archaeology.


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to write about a passive, inferior indigenous Indian population who was merely carried along in the course of history by the activities of foreign peoples who actually ‘made’ history, a narrative that served to justify colonial rule in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.12 In response to these colonialist archaeologies, post-Independence Indian nationalist archaeologies have emphasised the continuity of the archaeological record in India that serves to bolster the modern nation state. As Sraman Mukherjee writes, for the 1961 celebrations of the centenary of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI): ‘books and articles published by the Survey and special archaeology-numbers of journals like Cultural Forum sang the paeans of Indian archaeology as constituting the moral and spiritual core of the nation’.13 And in the contemporary west, imperialist archaeologies have imposed a ‘protestantised’ religious ethic on early Indian Buddhists. That is, the western model of the wealth-abjuring, always-meditating, rational Buddhist has effectively erased the historical particularity, the ‘local quality’, of ancient Indian practitioners of Buddhism. This is not to reject culture–history archaeology altogether, however. Rather, I agree with Ian Morris’ assertion in the epigraph here that ‘archaeology is cultural history or it is nothing’. Morris continues by defining the work of the historian: ‘[Historians] study how people construct and contest culture and meaning through time; and second, they explore these issues empirically, through concrete analyses of real people in the past.’14 Thus, the ‘traditional’ work of archaeology is very important as it provides this concrete data. Data accumulation — that is ‘extraction, description, classification, and compilation of archaeological evidence relating to a particular period’15 — creates the archive with which we can work. However, cultural history should be about the

12 In textual studies, this is mirrored by British colonialist writing about irrational indigenous Indians practising false religion, which also served to justify colonial rule. 13 Sraman Mukherjee, ‘Being and Becoming Indian: The Nation in Archaeology’, South Asian Studies 26, no. 2 (2010): 219. 14 Morris, Archaeology as Cultural History, 3–4. 15 Thomas, ‘Where Are We Now? Archaeological Theory in the 1990s’, 343.

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people who made that culture, not ‘culture’ as a pre-determined fact. The problem with poor applications of culture–history archaeology, then, is not the focus on ‘culture’, but rather the focus on culture as an independent actor, or as a monolithic force that ‘does things’ in the world. John C. Barrett similarly argues that the problem with culture–history archaeology is that it treats ‘individuals . . . as given, pre-existing the material consequences of their actions . . . [but it should instead] investigate the more interesting questions concerning the ways in which lives were constituted as knowable and motivated’.16 Certainly, what past individuals knew, and what motivated them to act, were influenced by the culture they lived in, but this knowledge and these motivations were not completely determined by culture.

Contemporary Theory in India Processual and Postprocessual Archaeologies in India Despite the vast amount of scholarship produced since the 1960s in the Euro-American sphere dedicated to re-evaluating archaeological theory and practice, and despite the lip-service given to such theories in India, the actual impact of processual and postprocessual theorising on Indian archaeology, and in particular early historic archaeology, has been minimal.17 For some, like Dilip Chakrabarti and Nayanjot Lahiri, this is as it should be; they argue that South Asian archaeology 16

John C. Barrett, Fragments from Antiquity: An Archaeology of Social Life in Britain, 2900-1200 BC (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 4–5 as cited in Morris, Archaeology as Cultural History, 5. 17 As stated in the introduction to this section, I will not outline the theoretical debates between the processual and postprocessual schools here. Such outlines are ubiquitous. For a very good introduction to these debates, see Matthew Johnson, Archaeological Theory: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999). For the most recent critical examination of the impact of both processual and postprocessual methods in India, see Dorian Q. Fuller and Nicole Boivin’s excellent articles in S. Settar and Ravi Korisettar, eds., Indian Archaeology in Retrospect Volume 4: Archaeology and Historiography — History, Theory, and Method (Delhi: Manohar, 2002): ‘Beyond Description and Diffusion: A History of Processual Theory in the Archaeology of South Asia’, 159–190 and ‘Looking for Post-Processual Theory in South Asian Archaeology’, 191–215. See also an earlier review


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need not mimic the developments in the Euro-American world, but rather it should be attentive to its own needs.18 For example, in his 2008 Y. D. Sharma Memorial Lecture delivered at the Indian Archaeological Society, Chakrabarti, despite beginning the lecture with a withering critique of the state of Indian archaeology, offers words of hope for an Indian-led archaeological renaissance. This will happen, according to Chakrabarti, only if Indian archaeologists ‘realize that a blind obedience to the dictates and fashions of the First World archaeology is unlikely to do us any good’.19 He becomes even more specific when he further argues that the ‘American archaeology of the anthropological school [here, an oblique reference to processualism] has yet to contribute anything fundamental to the historical knowledge of ancient India’.20 Rather than a global perspective, Chakrabarti contends that ‘despite the underlying stratum of widely applicable methods, principles, and techniques, archaeological data are first and foremost regional data’,21 and thus a deep knowledge of a region is paramount in interpreting such data.

of theory in India by K. Paddayya, ‘Theoretical Perspectives in Indian Archaeology’, in Theory in Archaeology: A World Perspective, ed. Peter J. Ucko (London: Routledge, 1995), 109–147. Fuller and Boivin argue that processual methods and practices in India are found in five different threads of emphasis: cultural ecology, social evolution, a systemic view of culture, the problem of site formation processes, and epistemology. All of these strands lend themselves to the study of prehistoric material and are not applied to the early historic period. As for postprocessual methods and theories, the very title of the article itself, ‘Looking for Post-Processual Theory in South Asian Archaeology’, suggests that it has been largely absent. Most of their discussion revolves around the impact of present concerns on archaeological reasoning, not the application of theories and methods to archaeological data. Any postprocessual theorising, as with processual theorising, has been applied to prehistoric India, not the early historic period. 18 Dilip K. Chakrabarti, ‘South Asia’, in Encyclopedia of Archaeology: History and Discoveries, ed. Tim Murray, vol. 3 (California: ABC-CLIO, 2001), 1183–1194; Nayanjot Lahiri, ‘Archaeological Theory: A Perspective from Outside the Western Academy’, Puratattva 36 (2005-06): 1–11. 19 Dilip K. Chakrabarti, ‘Globalization and Indian Archaeology’, Puratattva 38 (2008): 11. 20 Ibid., 11. 21 Ibid., 8. I think by ‘regional data’, Chakrabarti intends to invoke the whole of South Asia as a region to be studied as a discrete unit. But this

Contemporary Theory and the Archaeology of Religion


Chakrabarti is joined by his former student Nayanjot Lahiri in this call for an ‘Indian archaeology’ that takes India’s needs, not, as they see it, the neo-Imperial West’s needs, as a priority.22 Like Chakrabarti, Lahiri argues that Indian archaeology does not need to follow either a processual or a postprocessual theoretical agenda, but rather needs to continue to flesh out a ‘culture–history’ of ancient India. Lahiri is unapologetic that this kind of archaeological research and writing has been, and for the foreseeable future should be, the focus of Indian archaeology: [A]s far as I am concerned, the knowledge that a major chunk of India’s archaeological research has been structured in this way, in what is described as the first major phase in the history of archaeological theory — cultural or culture history — and one which has a kind of dinosaur status in the production centers of global theoretical kind of argument for a ‘regional’ archaeology can be extended to the various regions of South Asia itself, as Peter Johansen argues in ‘Recasting the Foundations: New Approaches to Regional Understandings of South Asian Archaeology and the Problem of Culture History’, Asian Perspectives 42, no. 2 (2003): 193–206. 22 This is not the place to critique Chakrabarti and Lahiri’s contention that Western academics are neo-Imperialists who misrepresent Indian archaeology with an arrogance that harks back to the British Raj. However, briefly, I think that the issue is less about the geographic location of the scholar and more about what is and is not good scholarship. In fact, Chakrabarti himself seems to be conflicted on this issue. For example, he faults Western archaeologists for not citing enough Indian scholars (a dubious methodology, at best, for determining the quality and ideological perspective of a piece of research), but elsewhere he openly states that much of what passes for scholarship by Indian archaeologists is unprofessional. See ‘Globalization and Indian Archaeology’, 7–15, where he does this within the same article, but he also has made the same critique of Indian archaeology in many other places; see, for example, the relevant passages in Archaeology in the Third World: A History of Indian Archaeology Since 1947 (Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2003), 25–26, 62–72 and 209–224; see also Dilip K. Chakrabarti, ‘Archaeology in West Bengal — A Review’, Antiquity 82, March (2008): 218–220. However, I do not want to give the impression that Chakrabarti and Lahiri’s concerns about the impact of Western theory, prestige and money on Indian archaeology are unwarranted. In fact, they are not alone in their concerns. See M. Paranjpe, ‘The Invasion of Theory: An Indian Response’, New Quest 81 (1990): 151–161 and Thomas, ‘Where Are We Now? Archaeological Theory in the 1990s’.


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archaeology, is hardly of concern. The reason is that it is through research of this kind that a weighty database has been created, on whose strength all kinds of skewed frameworks, ranging from simple diffusionary postulates to racist cultural ones can be questioned.23

And in the balance of this book, I do exactly what Chakrabarti and Lahiri call for. I strive to do the traditional work of paying attention to local landscapes, of exploring local Indian archives, and of engaging with the work of Indian archaeologists in the field in a serious way — in sum, conducting the very basic culture–history work that still needs to be done for the rich resources available in Punjab. I seek to create a ‘weighty database’ out of both the published and unpublished sources, and I often use traditional culture–history methods to interpret that database. But I also hope to show that innovation in both methodology and theory does not necessarily have to be in opposition to culture–history. Rather, it is time that these old labels are discarded, and we take the best methods and theoretical frameworks available from both camps and use them together when possible. In practice, this approach is what has been going on in a lot of fine Indian archaeological research and writing for a long time.24

Archaeology and the Study of Religion In archaeological interpretation, ‘religion’ and ‘ritual’ are notably under-theorised categories. Lars Fogelin charts the archaeological aversion to any discussion of religion and ritual, and suggests that ‘[a]rchaeologists traditionally assumed that rituals were understood best in light of religious doctrines, beliefs, and myths. Given the material focus of archaeology [that is, as opposed to a textual or anthropological focus], archaeologists believed that ritual was a particularly unsuitable area for archaeological inquiry’.25 Fogelin 23 Lahiri, ‘Archaeological Theory: A Perspective from Outside the Western Academy’, 10. 24 Paddayya, ‘Theoretical Perspectives in Indian Archaeology’, 133–135 points to the work of Ananda Coomaraswamy and Stella Kramrisch (Coomaraswamy from the 1920s to the end of the 1940s and Kramrisch from the 1940s into the 1970s) as examples of ‘postprocessual’ interpretations of Indian material long before postprocessualism proper arrived. 25 Lars Fogelin, ‘The Archaeology of Religious Ritual’, Annual Review of Anthropology 36 (2007): 55.

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demonstrates how this attitude is changing by reviewing the last 25 years of advances in the interpretation of material culture and religion. Fogelin concludes that while there have been advances made in discerning religious ritual in the archaeological record, these studies still tend to focus on the functionalist aspects of past ritual. Symbolic meanings of ritual still rely on ethnohistoric or historic sources. Timothy Insoll similarly argues: ‘the relationship between archaeology and religion is predominantly one of neglect’.26 While this neglect has many sources, Insoll points to the two most prevalent views. First, religion is thought to be a relatively simple area of investigation that does not need any special treatment. The result of such a view is that the theorising that does occur is naïve in many ways, and religion and ritual become ‘the archaeologists’ favorite catchall category of “odd” or otherwise not understood behavior’.27 Second, ‘the frequent absence of religion in archaeological interpretation is also perhaps a reflection of the archaeologists’ world view themselves; often largely a secular one. Hence in turn this might be projected onto the past, even if inappropriate’.28 Insoll concludes that religion is a complex system that is not easily defined, let alone understood with some certainty, and even more importantly, the modern dichotomy of the religious and the secular is highly dubious at best. Insoll argues that religion suffuses all aspects of ancient societies, that it is a superstructure that informs many aspects of past behaviour. Insoll makes this argument not from a theological understanding of the inherent truth of any particular religion, but rather from a very basic kind of ethnoarchaeology.29 In many contemporary traditional

26 Timothy Insoll, ‘Are Archaeologists Afraid of Gods? Some Thoughts on Archaeology and Religion’, in Belief in the Past: The Proceedings of the 2002 Manchester Conference on Archaeology and Religion, ed. Timothy Insoll (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2004), 1. This introduction to the Manchester Conference Proceedings is a shortened version of Insoll’s Chapter 1, ‘Introduction to the Theme’, in his book Archaeology, Ritual, Religion (London: Routledge, 2004), 1–32. 27 Insoll, ‘Are Archaeologists Afraid of Gods?’, 1. 28 Ibid. 29 For a good introduction to the methods and theories supporting ethnoarchaeology, see Nicholas David and Carol Kramer, eds., Ethnoarchaeology in Action (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).


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societies, religion permeates every aspect of life. If this is so, it stands to reason, by analogy, that ancient societies would have functioned in much the same way if not even more so.30 Clearly the category of religion is fraught with anxiety and ambiguity in archaeology. In the academic discipline of Religious Studies the analytical value of the category of religion also suffers from two equally extreme positions. One position understands religion as ‘an inherently meaningful, non-empirical, uniquely personal experience that transcends historical difference’.31 This conception of religion, what Russell McCutcheon calls the ‘religionist’ position, is still powerful in the field of Religious Studies today, and although it has its roots in the liberal Protestant tradition, it is the model for many scholarly works, both western and Indian. In this tradition of inquiry, religions are understood as discrete traditions that derive from experiences of the divine. These expressions take the form of the major world traditions, and thus the analyses are divided into Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc. I will show how using this understanding of religion is inadequate and distorts the evidence before us by collapsing time and space. In addition, it does not take seriously the impact of local concerns that blur the lines of these major traditions. In fact, with respect to ancient northwest India, I will argue that using the categories of Hinduism, Buddhism, Brahmanical Religion, and Jainism — the ubiquitous categories in use — inhibits the interpretation of these local traditions and obscures more than it reveals.32 However, I also reject the notion that the category of religion is useless for academic studies. This position, most forcefully put forth by Timothy Fitzgerald, argues that the category of religion is ‘analytically redundant and even misleading’, and therefore should

30 See Timothy Insoll, The Archaeology of Islam (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999) for an extended discussion of this argument. See also Insoll, Archaeology, Ritual, Religion, 13. 31 Russell T. McCutcheon, Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), 4. 32 For an excellent example of how the local blurs the boundaries of the universal in central India circa 6th century CE, see Richard Cohen, ‘Na¯ga, Yaks. in.ı¯, Buddha: Local Deities and Local Buddhism at Ajanta’, History of Religions 37, no. 4 (1998): 360–400.

Contemporary Theory and the Archaeology of Religion


be thrown out altogether.33 Fitzgerald recommends the dissolution of Religious Studies or its incorporation into other fields. I think there is a middle ground between a ‘religionist’ use of the category of religion and the absolute denial of the category altogether. This middle ground does precisely what Insoll argues for — it conceives of religion as an integral part of much of lived life, but religion is not identical to politics, society or economics. Religion in this case can be understood as that body of thought and practice that explains past, present and future existence based on supernatural assumptions and the ability to contact and participate with/in that supernatural. This understanding of religion, particularly the idea that religion serves as the framework for much of the thought and activity in what moderns would consider the ‘non-religious’ realm, dovetails nicely with those few studies that deal with the subject in postprocessual theorising. Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, although not considered postprocessualists proper,34 brought the incipient attempts to outline a cognitive archaeology to the fore in their work on the ancient Zapotec Indians.35 In an influential American Scientist article, 33 Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 5. 34 Flannery and Marcus’ work put into practice what many archaeologists involved in the processual/postprocessual debate would come to recognise 20 years later: that while there are some irreconcilable differences between the two regarding theory (most clearly the postprocessual rejection of the processual commitment to a Hempelian notion of positivism), methodologically they are very close. As Peter Kosso argues, ‘[a] look at the substance behind the slogans of these two positions [Binford’s approach of “middle range theories” and Hodder’s approach of “reading the past”] will reveal that there is little methodological difference . . . these models of archaeology [are] presenting essentially the same structure of justification of archaeological knowledge’, in Knowing the Past: Philosophical Issues of History and Archaeology (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2001), 61. Kosso’s chapter on the structure of justification in archaeology is an exceptionally clear presentation of these issues; see Kosso, Knowing the Past, 59–74. Lars Fogelin’s ‘Inference to the Best Explanation’, 603–625, is even more explicit. He argues that most archaeologists, no matter what ‘school’ they adhere to, use inference to best explanation as their primary epistemological methodology. 35 Kent V. Flannery and Joyce Marcus, ‘Formative Oaxaca and the Zapotec Cosmos’, American Scientist 64 (1976): 374–383. This type of theory


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

Flannery and Marcus move beyond processual subsistence-settlement archaeology by demonstrating how one could explain a higher proportion of ancient Zapotec subsistence behaviour if instead of restricting oneself to a study of agricultural plants and irrigation canals, one took into account what was known of Zapotec notions about the relationship of lightning, rain, blood sacrifice, and the ‘satisfizing ethic’.36

While this article met with quite a bit of resistance from mainstream processual archaeology, Flannery and Marcus continued to explore those aspects of ancient culture that were the product of the human mind that survive in the archaeological record: cosmology, religion, ideology, and iconography. Thus, rather than treating the previous four aspects of human culture as epiphenomenal, they began to pursue a ‘holistic/contextual archaeology’ in which a comprehensive investigation of all aspects of human society (a holistic approach) is coupled with a method of placing artifacts in their depositional context (a contextual approach). Thus, the archaeologist is concerned not with single artifacts, but with the relationships among artifacts as found at the site.37 This kind of contextual approach serves as the basis for the three case studies in this book, and I will come back to Flannery and Marcus’ holistic/ contextual approach there.

Archaeology and Religion in South Asia The discussion in the beginning of this chapter concerning the theories and methods most appropriate to the interpretation of

has been called ‘cognitive processualism’. It bridges the divide between processualism and postprocessualism nicely, and I think it clearly leans more towards postprocessualist assumptions. 36 Kent V. Flannery and Joyce Marcus, ‘Cognitive Archaeology’, in Reader in Archaeological Theory: Post-processual and Cognitive Approaches, ed. David S. Whitely (London: Routledge, 1998), 36. 37 Elizabeth Demarais, ‘Holistic/Contextual Archaeology’, in Archaeology: The Key Concepts, ed. Colin Renfrew and Paul G. Bahn (London: Routledge, 2005), 144.

Contemporary Theory and the Archaeology of Religion


material culture bears directly on the study of early historic South Asian archaeology. The temporal frame from the historic period in South Asia began with two processes: the rise of urbanism and the production of text. Both these phenomena occurred circa 3rd century BCE to 4th century CE,38 but they are not given equal value in most scholarship. The overemphasis on the textual archive has not only left the material culture under-analysed, but even when material culture is taken into consideration, a misunderstanding of how text and artifact relate has led to even larger problems concerning the reconstructed picture of early South Asian life. This is particularly true in the study of religion. The modern understanding of religion as a discrete set of beliefs and practices — with an emphasis on beliefs — that can fit into one of the contemporary ‘world traditions’ — in this case Buddhism, Brahmanism–Hinduism, or Jainism — has obscured the local quality of religion. The focus on the ‘World Religions’ as discrete categories of analysis is most evident in historical archaeology; however, prehistoric archaeology is often co-opted into this framework as well. For example, Timothy Insoll has edited two volumes organised around


The periodisation of early South Asia is divided into two phases of urbanism: the Bronze Age Indus (Harappan) period, circa 2500–1900 BCE, and the Early Historic period, circa 400 BCE–300 CE. See Monica L. Smith, ‘The Archaeology of South Asian Cities’, Journal of Archaeological Research 14, no. 2 (2006): 99. For general discussions of the Early Historic period as a ‘second urbanisation’, see F. R. Allchin, The Archaeology of Early Historic South Asia: The Emergence of Cities and States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); George Erdosy, Urbanisation in Early Historic India (Oxford: B.A.R., 1988); A. Ghosh, The City in Early Historical India (Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1973); and R. S. Sharma, ‘Urbanism in Early Historic India’, in The City in Indian History, ed. Indu Banga (Columbia: South Asia Publications, 1991), 9–18. However, the division of early India into the pre-textual and textual periods is poorly understood. Sheldon Pollock argues that the earliest writing in South Asia, in this case in the form of inscriptions, was in the 3rd century BCE, and that around the beginning of the Common Era there was a transformation of culture and power centred on the production of Sanskrit texts for literary and political purposes. See Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 39–89.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

the use of major world religions as discrete categories.39 Writing on the archaeology of Hinduism for the volume Archaeology and World Religion, Dilip Chakrabarti argues that it is inadequate to begin such a study with the last three centuries BCE when iconographic attributes of the gods and goddesses of India began to emerge in the archaeological record. Rather, he draws the archaeology of Hinduism back to the 9th millennium BCE at the site of Baghor in the upper Son valley in central India. Here, he identifies stone platforms and triangular shaped stones with modern S´akta practices.40 In making this link, Chakrabarti can claim a continuous ‘Hindu’ tradition dating back 11 millennia. Here is a clear case where the categories through which early Indian religion is studied reflect modern categories of religion and inhibit broader understandings of historical processes. In South Asian archaeology in general, the identification of certain archaeological sites as ‘Buddhist’, ‘Brahmanical-Hindu’, or ‘Jain’ often prevents a holistic approach to the study of each particular site. Within South Asian archaeology, a better approach is emerging that challenges the above trifurcated paradigm. The most recent manifestation of this is a volume of the journal Asian Perspectives dedicated to the study of regional understandings of South Asian archaeology and culture. In the introductory essay, Peter Johansen observes that South Asian archaeology is slowly moving away from the dominant culture–history model and toward ‘many newer approaches [that] examine sociocultural organization within regional-scale contexts, rather than focusing on static “archaeological cultures” [i.e. the culture–history model]’.41 In this formulation of the categories of analysis, the delimiters are not the discrete ‘world religions’, i.e., the well-known ‘-isms’, but rather a geographic distinction broadly construed as South Asia, and, more importantly, narrowed to a regional unit of analysis that recognises that the lines between the ‘great religions’ in these early periods are blurred.

 39 Timothy Insoll, Case Studies in Archaeology and World Religion: The Proceedings of the Cambridge Conference (Oxford: Archaeopress, 1999); and Timothy Insoll, Archaeology and World Religion (London: Routledge, 2001). 40 Dilip K. Chakrabarti, ‘The Archaeology of Hinduism’, in Archaeology and World Religion, ed. Timothy Insoll (London: Routledge, 2001), 36. 41 Johansen, ‘Recasting the Foundations’, 193.

Part III


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Minting Identity and Hegemony Minting from ancient times down to the present has been a planned mass production of activity. Planning considers (1) the requirements of the money economy, which seeks a graded product to suit the demands of the area of circulation; and (2) the goal of political and religious propaganda. The authorities have something to describe or announce . . . Of basic importance is the fact that the scientific value of a coin does not depend on its story alone, but rather on its position in the overall system, which must also be reconstructed.1

This chapter seeks to uncover the religio-political motivations that produced the images and legends found on the coinage of the Yuezhi and early Kus. a¯n.a rulers from circa 145 BCE to 110 CE. In doing so it demonstrates that the post-Independence desire to create a unified Indian narrative based on the archaeological archive, evidenced by the dominant classificatory designation for this period ‘S´ a¯n.a’, has flattened the religio-political landscape of early historic period Punjab. I argue that the numismatic evidence compels us to abandon the ‘S´ a¯n.a’ designation and all it implies. Further, this chapter turns its attention away from the much discussed ‘Imperial’ Kus. a¯, a period that includes the reigns of Vima Kadphises, Kanis. ka I, Huvis. ka, etc., and instead focuses on the less studied religio-politics of the Yuezhi rulers (most of whose names we do not know) and the pre-Imperial Kus. a¯, Kujula Kadphises and his son Vima Takto, also known as Soter Megas.2


Robert Göbl, System und Chronologie der Münzprägung des Kuša¯nreiches (Wien: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1984), 11. 2 The identification of Vima Takto and Soter Megas as the same sovereign, a hypothesis made popular by Joe Cribb in 1995–96, has recently come


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

Introduction: Dynastic Labels and the Periodisation of Indian History In studies covering the early historic period ‘between the empires’ in northern India, that is the post-Mauryan to pre-Gupta centuries circa185 BCE to circa 350 CE, the class of evidence examined determines the nature of the history written. Histories based on numismatic evidence tend to be dynastic histories untangling the web of succession and geographic boundaries among the many competing rulers, both local and foreign. Histories based on literature tend to focus on the Gangetic plains, and in doing so often do not pay close attention to the differences that exist between these plains and Punjab.3 Studies based on the archaeological material simply refer to the post-Mauryan to pre-Gupta period as the ‘S´ a¯n.a Era’. In popular histories, no matter what the perspective, the politics of northern India prior to the Common Era is a well-established narrative: with the death of A´soka Maurya in 213 BCE and the subsequent disintegration of the Mauryan Empire, which ended dramatically with Pu s´ yamitra S´’s assassination of Br.hadratha in 185 BCE, the eponymous S´ Empire began its rule of northern India. Its borders were vague, but it is generally assumed that the S´un.gas continued to rule a

under close scrutiny by Osmund Bopearachchi[see Osmund Bopearachchi, ‘Le Premiers Soverains Kouchans: Chronologie et Iconographie Monétaire’, Journal de Savants 1 (2008): 45–52; and Osmund Bopearachchi, ‘Chronology of the Early Kushans: New Evidence’, in Glory of the Kushans: Recent Discoveries and Interpretations, ed. Vidula Jayaswal (Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2012), 129–133]. I address this issue more fully in note 103. 3 I have argued elsewhere [see Daniel Michon, ‘Mapping the World: Mahabharata VIII 30 and the Hermeneutics of Place’, International Journal of Punjab Studies 9, no. 2 (2002): 163–189] that there were significant differences between the Gangetic plains and Punjab in this period, differences that many texts composed in the years bracketing the start of the Common Era — including the Maha¯bha¯rata, the Ma¯nava Dharma´sa¯stra, the Dharmasu¯tras, and Patañjali’s Maha¯bha¯s. ya — recognise. All these texts make a clear distinction between Madhyade´sa (the middle country), which is the seat of classical Brahmanism where the normative texts were composed, and a land to the northwest, called Saptasindhu (Land of the Seven Rivers), Madrade´sa (Land of the Madras), or Pañcana¯da (Land of Five Rivers), a foreign land populated by mlecchas,‘barbarians’.

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relatively unified northern subcontinent. A dynastic list of the S´un.gas is presented in which the surname ‘Mitra’ is the unifying link, and the other Mitras found in northern India establish a commonality amongst the rulers of northern India. The S´ repelled brief territorial challenges from the Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, and Indo-Parthians, and remained unified until the beginning of the Common Era. The empire began to wane and was eventually conquered by the Kus. a¯ in the middle of the 1st century of the Common Era. The Kus. a¯ continued the unifying work of the S´un.gas and ruled a peaceful empire until their gradual disintegration and usurpation by the Guptas. The Guptas were the culmination of this lengthy process, establishing a Golden Age of Indian civilisation. Amid all this, many local communities, labelled ‘tribes’, played a minor role in this overarching dynastic history. Thus, between the Mauryan Empire and the Gupta Empire, north Indian history is dominated by the categories of S´ and Kus. a¯n.a. However, these labels are misleading, and a careful consideration of their actual impact on north-western India reveals a more complicated political and religious history.

S´un. ga More so than the ‘Kus. a¯n.a’ designation, the naming of the first half of the dyad, the ‘S´ Empire’, reflects the Indian post-Independence interest in creating a long, unified history to support national goals of unity rather than an accurate historical assessment. This notion of a S´ hegemony comes primarily from Pura¯n.ic sources, sources written at least four centuries, and often many more, after the events described. These textual references are supported by a single inscription that mentions the rule of Pu s´ yamitra S´un.ga4 and two inscriptions that mention S´ rule.5 The ‘S´ Empire’ was in fact a 4

‘The Ayodhya Inscription of Dhanadeva’, in Epigraphia Indica, vol. 20 (Delhi: Manager of Publications, 1939), 57. 5 One is an inscription celebrating the rock-cut caves at Pabhosa near ¯ s. a¯d.hasena and uses a regnal year Kausambi by the king Vaihadariputra A . thought to be set by the S´unga ruler Uda¯ka. The second is an inscription . at Barhut that begins, ‘during the S´unga rule’. See Shailendra Bhandare, ‘Numismatics and History: The Maurya-Gupta Interlude in the Gangetic Plain’, in Between the Empires: Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE, ed. Patrick Olivelle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 76–77 and 96.


 Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

short-lived, relatively minor kingdom and certainly not the model of a culturally or politically unifying state. Its centre, in Madhyade´sa, was one of many small kingdoms that had emerged at the end of the Mauryan Empire, and in the adjoining regions it is doubtful that the S´un.gas had much influence. This led Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya, as early as 1968, to conclude ‘that there was no empire of the S´un.gas after the death of Pu s´ yamitra and it is, therefore, a misnomer to think of a S´ age in ancient Indian history [italics Chattopadhyaya’s]’.6 Shailendra Bhandare comes to the same conclusion in his 2006 numismatic study, where he writes, ‘“S´un.gas”, if they ever existed, were probably as localized as the rest of the groups we know from the coins in terms of their political prowess’.7 Despite studies such as Chattopadhyaya’s and Bhandare’s, the idea of a Brahmanical, orthodox S´ Empire following the Buddhist, heterodox Mauryan Empire survives in contemporary studies of Indian history. Many studies still see Pu s´ yamitra S´ as the defender of the Brahmanical faith, boldly fighting foreign invasion and cultural intimidation to bring back the purity of Vedic religion, while still allowing for religious freedom of Indian Buddhists. As Vijay Kachroo wrote in 2000, Pushyamitra showed himself a leader of significance. His resorting to the ancient practice of [the] Asvamedha sacrifice to strengthen [sic] the morale of the people who had felt humiliated at the Yavana invasion [that was] perceived [as a] danger to their religion and heritage in view of the peculiar Yavana practices. The movement of the sacrificial horse through the dominions of the independent states, [and] their submission and subsequent sacrifice of the horse must have boosted the spirits of the people and strengthen[ed] their political will. Pushyamitra, though orthodox, was not a fanatic. His orthodoxy need not be taken to imply that he was a persecutor of Buddhist monks.8

6 Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya, Early History of North India, from the Fall of the Mauryas to the Death of Har´sa, C. 200 B.C.–A.D. 650 (Calcutta: Academic Publishers, 1968), 22. 7 Bhandare, ‘Numismatics and History: The Maurya-Gupta Interlude in the Gangetic Plain’, 97. 8 Vijay Kachroo, Ancient India (Delhi: Har-Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd., 2000), 253. Kachroo’s interpretation is mild compared to those of some nationalist historians; for example, see the description of Pu´syamitra’s re-introduction of Brahmanical norms and persecution of Buddhism in B. G. Gokhale, Ancient India: History and Culture (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1959 [1952]), 46–47.

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In the field of Indian archaeology, the persistence of the S´ designation is remarkable. It is still used as the geo-temporal category to cover much of the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent between circa 180 BCE and circa 100 CE.9 In fact, the postIndependence state archaeological departments use it to this day. For example, in Punjab, where it is certain that there was very little S´ influence, all pottery and terracotta found in the post-Mauryan to pre-Gupta strata are labelled S´ a¯n.a by the Punjab State Archaeological Department. There has been no attempt to find a more appropriate designation for this period.

Kus.a¯n. a Thus, when thinking and writing about Punjab in the early historic period, we can effectively remove the term ‘S´’ from this designation; the situation is a bit more complicated with the second half of the dyad, the Kus. a¯n.a Empire. Unlike the S´un.gas, there certainly was quite a strong empire under the Kus. a¯ The remarkable journey of the nomadic people, called the Yuezhi in Chinese sources, who resided in the area west of China’s Ordos desert — roughly in the area of the modern Chinese province of Gansu — in the 3rd and 2nd centuries before the Common Era, to the imperial Kus.a¯ who ruled wide swaths of territory from India, through Afghanistan, and into Central Asia by the 3rd century of the Common Era, has been told many times and need not detain us here.10 Of course, many groups

9 Shankar Goyal, Recent Historiography of Ancient India, 1st ed. (Jodhpur: Kusumanjali Prakashan, 1997), 156–157. 10 The most recent detailed review of this migration can be found in Craig Benjamin, The Yuezhi: Origin, Migration and the Conquest of Northern Bactria (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007). For a shorter discussion, see Jason Neelis, ‘Passages to India: S´aka and Kus. a¯n.a Migrations in Historical Contexts’, in On the Cusp of an Era: Art in the Pre-Kus. a¯n.a World, ed. Doris Srinivasan (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 55–93. For a succinct discussion of this journey and the most recent attempt to make sense of the diverse materials regarding the Kus.a¯ and the spread of Buddhism, see Raymond Lam, ‘Kus.a¯n.a Emperors and Indian Buddhism: Political, Economic and Cultural Factors Responsible for the Spread of Buddhism through Eurasia’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 36, no. 3 (2013): 434–448. This latter publication contains detailed bibliographic notes on the state of the latest debates in Kushanology over religion.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

entered India from Central Asia by crossing through the northwest mountain passages in the centuries surrounding the Common Era, but most studies of the Kus. a¯’ impact in India highlight the overwhelming unifying nature of the Kus. a¯n.a Empire. As Bhaskar Chattopadhyay states, ‘[t]he grievances of the indigenous people under [Kus. a¯n.a] foreign rule, if there may have been any, found no expression in any form till the decline of the Kus. a¯n.a power towards the middle of the third century A.D.’11 This unification, it is argued, did not come from the introduction of a Central Asian culture into Indian society; rather the rulers themselves were drawn to the culture of the conquered. In other words, the Kus. a¯ became more Indian than the Indians became Central Asian. The most common language used in this argument is one of synthesis, but it is always clear that there was an imbalance and that Indian culture gained pre-eminence. Peter van der Veer calls this ‘“big Indianism”, namely, the idea that India simply absorbs all foreign influences without changing fundamentally’.12 Or in Buddha Rashmi Mani’s words, this ‘broad synthesis’ created by the Kus. a¯ tended towards an ‘Indian expression’. For Mani, this wide cultural assimilation of Indian artistic, social and political values was not a conscious choice, but rather occurred by a ‘cultural osmosis’.13 This ‘internal harmony’,‘unity’ and ‘syncretism’ were certainly bolstered by a uniform bureaucracy; however, all these mechanisms pale in comparison to the ultimate unifying force: religion. Mani argues that this tendency towards syncretism ultimately came ‘from Maha¯ya¯na — specifically its principle of ma¯dhyamika dialectic — [and] shaped the thought of the times and helped in developing common culture’.14 Buddhism is not just understood as the unifying force, but also the personal religion of the Emperor Kanis. ka. Mani brings together historical personages with ease, and thus A´svaghosha, the author of such works as the Buddhacarita and the Saundaranand, is held as 11

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay, The Age of the Kus. a¯ A Numismatic Study (Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1967), xxi. 12 Peter van der Veer, Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 6. 13 Buddha Rashmi Mani, The Kushan Civilization: Studies in Urban Development and Material Culture (Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation, 1987), 238. 14 Mani, The Kushan Civilization, 239.

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Kanis. ka’s personal spiritual advisor, and Caraka, the author of the great work on Ayurveda, is taken as his personal physician. Further, Kanis. ka’s Buddha coins issued in gold are submitted as evidence of his deep allegiance to Buddhism.15 Kanis. ka emerges as a Philosopher King ruling with wisdom and grace, both traits acquired by osmosis from his Indian environment. He is ultimately compared to the other great convert to Indian civilisation, Akbar: The conciliatory policy of the Kushans may be compared to [a] certain extent with the policy of Akbar who tried to bring harmony in a postulated manner [sic]. They had been so greatly influenced by the Indian sentiments and India’s cultural heritage that their process of assimilation, though not sudden or radical, became a reality.16

For Mani, the harmony of the Kus. a¯n.a Empire derived from Indian benevolence, most clearly expressed in the Indian ideal of ahim ˙ sa or non-violence, which invariably seeped into the consciousness of her conquerors. Mani’s 1987 monograph is just one example of such thinking, but others write of the Kus. a¯n.a’s spiritual and cultural transformation in the same way. In fact, Buddhism becomes the primary vehicle through which this transformation took place. As Raymond Lam argues in his 2013 article on the spread of Buddhism under the Kus. a¯, ‘[Kanis. ka’s] devotion to Buddhism remains a popular perception in academic circles’.17 Again, what is striking in all of these accounts is the attention given to Buddhism as the medium through


Lam, ‘Kus. a¯n.a Emperors and Indian Buddhism’, 440, n. 39. These Buddha coins must be put in context. Kanis. ka minted many deities on the reverses, not just the Buddha, and this expansion demonstrates his eclecticism, not his devotion to Buddhism. 16 Mani, The Kushan Civilization, 240. 17 Lam, ‘Kus. a¯n.a Emperors and Indian Buddhism’, 440. Lam cites explicit examples of this view in popular works such as János Harmatta, ‘Religions in the Kushan Empire’, in History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Vol. 2., The Development of Sedentary and Nomadic Civilizations: 700 B.C. to A.D. 250, ed. János Harmatta, B. N. Puri, and G. F. Etimadi (Paris: UNESCO, 1994), 323–324; Paul Williams, Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2009), 130; and Xinru Liu, The Silk Road in World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 43.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

which Indian civilisational mores can be grafted onto other cultures. In a further move, it is the culture of ahim˙sa, an attitude attributed not just to Buddhists or Jains but to almost all early Indians, that conquered the invaders. However, what the above narrative obscures is, to use a phrase from Lam, the profound cultural–religious eclecticism of the Kus. a¯ That is, the Kus. a¯ were not just supporters of Buddhism; rather, as Lam continues, ‘[w]hat we do know is that Kanis. ka certainly supported all religions, but the current evidence does not testify to his personal enthusiasm for Buddhism, despite some legends about his piety’(italics Lam’s).19 This cultural–religious eclecticism developed slowly as the Yuezhi sought ways to gain legitimacy, and then, as the early imperial Kus. a¯, sought hegemony. This slow development can be traced through their coinage.

Yuezhi Imitations The Yuezhi’s slow transition from a loose union of five chiefs, or yabgus, each having control over only his own small clan, to a unified community under a single yabgu of the Kuei-shuang, the Kus. a¯n.a, took almost two centuries (circa 145 BCE to 40 CE).20 We can track this development by noting the ways the Yuezhi imitated


See also Jason Neelis, Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks: Mobility and Exchange Within and Beyond the Northwestern Borderlands of South Asia (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 137–142, for a concise summary of the most recent arguments concerning the spread of Buddhism under Kanis. ka and Huvis. ka. 19 Lam, ‘Kus. a¯n.a Emperors and Indian Buddhism’, 440, nn. 40–42. For evidence of Kanis. ka’s support for all religions, see Xavier Tremblay, ‘The Spread of Buddhism in Serindia: Buddhism among Iranians, Tocharians and Turks before the 13th Century’, in The Spread of Buddhism, ed. Ann Heirman and Stephan Peter Bumbacher (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 87. 20 Good overviews of the link between the Chinese usage of the names ‘Yuezhi’ (Yüeh-chih), the ‘Kuei-shuang-wang’ (Ruler of the Kuei-shuang), and the self-identification of the Kus.a¯ can be found in John M. Rosenfield, The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 7–9, and A. N. Lahiri, ‘What the Numismatist Expects from the Archaeologists’, in Historical Archaeology of India: A Dialogue between Archaeologists and Historians, ed. Amita Ray and Samir Mukherjee (Delhi: Books & Books, 1990), 1–3.

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the images and legends of other coinages. That is, the Yuezhi did not mint coins in their own name for almost two centuries. Rather, they imitated the images and legends of the rulers they were trying to replace.21 The Yuezhi first encountered the Graeco-Bactrians, and these encounters were violent. They overran and destroyed GraecoBactrian cities, forcing the local inhabitants to flee elsewhere. The most striking evidence for this is the city of Ai Khanum, located at the intersection of southern Sogdiana and the far north-eastern parts of the Bactrian plain at the confluence of the Amu Darya (Oxus) and Kokcha rivers.22 There seemed to be a disdain shown for Ai Khanum in its destruction, and the Yuezhi, as nomadic herdsmen led by mounted warriors to new pasture land, showed no intention of either ruling the city or inhabiting it. As a hierarchic paramilitary community, always on the move and dependent on the strength of the battle-leader-chieftain who was possibly worshipped in close association to the gods,23 the Yuezhi did not settle in one area but kept moving. Clearly, this early incursion into southern Sogdiana and northern Bactria was not meant for the settlement and creation of a dominant imperial structure, but was a vicious raid aimed at looting and destruction.


See Joe Cribb, ‘Money as Metaphor 4’, Numismatic Chronicle 169 (2009): 498–507 for a succinct review of the political and religious uses of ancient coins. In these pages, Cribb highlights the power and uses of the visual metaphors of coin design, coins as signs of authority, coin designs as ‘propaganda’, the power dynamics behind the right to issue and control coinage, and the sources of power invoked in ancient coinage. 22 The most recent work on Ai Khanum and the Yuezhi can be found in Jeffrey D. Lerner, ‘Eastern Bactria under Da Yuezhi Hegemony’, in Glory of the Kushans: Recent Discoveries and Interpretations, ed. Vidula Jayaswal (Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2012), 79–86. Osmund Bopearachchi makes the argument that Ai Khanum was in Sogdiana, not Bactria as is so often assumed, in ‘Graeco-Bactrian Issues of Later Indo-Greek Kings’, Numismatic Chronicle 150 (1990): 97 n. 69. 23 See Osmund Bopearachchi, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian Coins in the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC: Manohar Publishers, 1993), 15–16; and Martha L. Carter, ‘Coins and Kingship’, in A Treasury of Indian Coins, ed. Martha L. Carter (Bombay: Marg Publications, 1994), 33 and 38 n. 5.


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The Politics of Yuezhi Imitations circa 145 BCE–70 BCE: Imitating Eucratides I and Heliocles I By the early 2nd century and late 1st century before the Common Era, however, the once-nomadic Yuezhi began to settle down and function as a loose confederation of incipient states — each ruled by a yabgu — asserting direct control over Sogdiana and Bactria. These early Yuezhi rulers not only imitated established coinages, but in time, they also overstruck the coinage of powerful kings with their own designs. Their own issues were no mere slavish copying of previous designs, but instead involved a clever selection of iconographies from the abundant choices they encountered. By minting coins that would be familiar to those they were seeking to control, the Yuezhi created continuity between previous rule, here mostly Greek, and their own.24 Not unexpectedly, the two most common imitations that the Yuezhi cast were of Eucratides I and Heliocles I, the last two Greek kings to control territories north of the Hindu Kush.25 Thus, while the Yuezhi did not choose new legends or new iconography on their early Graeco-Bactrian imitations, they did limit the range of iconography to those images with which they most identified and through which they wished to present themselves to their new subjects.


In the western Sogdian territories, territories taken from the Parthians, another branch of the Yuezhi minted coins that imitated the Sogdian rulers, but the legends proclaim the yabgu as the ruler; see Michael Mitchiner, Indo-Greek and Indo-Scythian Coinage (London: Hawkins Publications, 1975) vol. 4, 293–294, types 493–495. These are reduced tetradrachms minted on the Persic standard. The legend in Aramaic reads, ‘MaLHAT YaVUG’ or ‘MaLHAT SUG’, meaning ‘King Yavug’ or ‘King Sug’. Here, it seems the Yuezhi were already confident enough to put their own names on the coins, but the situation in the Graeco-Bactrian territories was a bit more precarious, and the Yuezhi in these eastern regions did not put their own names on their coins until after the beginning of the Common Era. This also supports the theory that the Yuezhi, in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, were divided into a number of separate groups, each ruled by its own yabgu. 25 The Yuezhi also imitated the coins of Demetrius I as evidenced by a single coin; see Osmund Bopearachchi, Monnaies Gréco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques: Catalogue Raisonné (Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale, 1991), 52, pl. 4, n. 5.

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Eucratides I, while king of Bactria from circa 171 to 145 BCE, issued coins with two portraits of himself on the obverse — both busts, one diademed and the other with a crested helmet. He chose a variety of images for his reverses: Apollo, Hercules, a winged Nike, the busts of Heliocles and Laodice, the palms and pilei of the Dioscuri, the Dioscuri on horseback, the Dioscuri standing, and the city goddess of Kapisa with elephant.26 Eucratides I’s coins were not the only coins in circulation. Residents of Bactria also would have been familiar with the coinage of the previous Graeco-Bactrian kings Euthydemos, Demetrios, and even further back to the Dioditoi, and thus the available repertoire of iconography would have included various forms of Hercules and Athena as well. However, the Yuezhi chose to ignore most of these devices. Rather, they minted almost all their Eucratides I imitations on one design: the helmeted bust of Eucratides I on the obverse and the Dioscuri on horseback on the reverse (see Figure 4.1).27 It is clear, then, that the Yuezhi made purposeful choices with these early imitations to suit their own designs to rule. It is unlikely the Yuezhi chose the helmeted bust of Eucratides I because the crested helmet resembled a Boeotian design recommended by the Greek historian Xenophon as the best headgear for cavalrymen.28 It is also unlikely that on the reverse they imitated the Dioscuri on horseback because the image evoked Castor and Pollux, who


Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 1, 86–100, types 164–195. See Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 1, 102, types 200–202. The only exception here is a few obols with a reverse showing the palms and pilei of the Dioscuri; see Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 1, 102, type 201. There seems to be a typographical error regarding coin type 200. The text indicates they are ‘tetradrachms imitating type 115 above’. But type 115 refers to the coins of Euthydemos I as associated king of Demetrius, which are silver hemidrachms: obverse, diademed bust of young king; reverse, Hercules standing holding club and lion skin in left hand, wreath in right (vol. 1, 62). It seems Mitchiner means type 185, which are Eucratides I bronze Afghan obols (approximately 16 grams): obverse, helmeted bust of king right; reverse, Dioscuri with palms and spears mounted on horseback charging right. Type 200 are tetradrachms, making them close to 16 grams as well, and have the same obverse and reverse as type 185. 28 A. D. Fraser, ‘Xenophon and the Boeotian Helmet’, The Art Bulletin 4, no. 3 (1992): 99–108. 27


 Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India Figure 4.1 Dioscuri: Eucratides I Lifetime Issue c. 170–145 BCE and Yuezhi Eucratides I Imitation c. 145–70 BCE

Source: British Museum 1841,1221.100; © Trustees of the British Museum. Note: Obverse: Helmeted bust facing right. Reverse: Dioscuri on horseback. Legend in Greek: BAIE MEAOY EYKPATIOY (of Great King Eucratides).

Source: Peter A. Linenthal Collection. Reproduced with permission. Note: Obverse: Helmeted bust facing right. Reverse: Dioscuri on horseback corrupt Legend in Greek.

in Greek mythology are the valiant sons of Zeus. But surely the choice of these designs to the almost complete exclusion of others is not accidental. The Dioscuri on horseback certainly would have resonated with the Yuezhi and would have reminded them of their own mounted militias and nomadic ways. Indeed, the Yuezhi were known in China as great horsemen, and this reputation extended to their newly conquered territories in Sogdiana and Bactria as well.29 As an anonymous Sogdian observer remarked, ‘[w]hile China is famous for its numerous population, and Rome is famous for its numerous treasures, the Yuezhi is famous for its numerous horses’.30 The consistent manufacture of such coins in great numbers and flooding the market would eventually begin to make its presence felt within the communities using them. The other Graeco-Bactrian king whom the Yuezhi imitated extensively was Heliocles I. He was a son and successor to Eucratides I, and 29

R. Groussett, The Empire of the Steppes, trans. Naomi Walword (New Brunswick, 1970), 20–22; Denis Sinor, The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 118–149. 30 This passage is quoted from Xinru Liu, ‘Migration and Settlement of the Yuezhi-Kushan: Interaction and Interdependence of Nomadic and Sedentary Societies’, Journal of World History 12, no. 2 (2001): 273. The source of this quote is difficult to track down, as Liu states, ‘[t]he whereabouts of the original Sogdhian text is unknown. The saying was quoted by a Tang scholar when annotating Sima Qian, Shiji [Shi-chi] (The History), 123/3162’, (273 n. 23).

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after his father’s regicide and the Yuezhi destruction of Ai Khanum, he managed to rule the remaining southern and south-western portions of the Graeco-Bactrian kingdom for another decade and a half (circa 145–130 BCE), keeping the Yuezhi at bay. However, circa 130 BCE, the Yuezhi overran Heliocles I’s kingdom as well, and shortly after his defeat the Yuezhi began minting imitations of his coins too. The iconic repertoire of Heliocles I’s coins found north of the Hindu Kush is not nearly as diverse as that of Eucratides I.31 One type has on the obverse a diademed bust and on the reverse Zeus standing facing holding a sceptre and thunderbolt, and another type has a helmeted bust on the obverse and on the reverse Zeus enthroned left holding a winged Nike and a spear.32 The imitations of Heliocles I, like those of Eucratides I, are not finely crafted pieces like those issued by the Graeco-Bactrian kings themselves, but rude caricatures of the Greek kings’ coins. On the obverse is the diademed bust, and on the reverse is Zeus standing facing, holding a sceptre and thunderbolt. The legends read: , ‘[coin of] the Just King Heliocles’.33 These early imitations of both Eucratides I and Heliocles I, circa 145 BCE–70 BCE, suggest that coins were symbols of political power and did indicate sovereignty. The Yuezhi artfully chose symbols that embodied an image of themselves that they wished to project to those

31 There are bilingual coins of Heliocles I meant for distribution in the Indian territories, that is, those territories south of the Hindu Kush that he controlled, with other reverses such as an elephant or a bull facing right. But these would not be part of the series with which the Yuezhi came into close contact before 100 BCE. 32 The diademed bust obverse with Zeus standing facing, holding a sceptre and thunderbolt, of Heliocles I is much more common; see Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 2, 160–162, and compare types 284 and 285 (diademed), of which there are hundreds of examples, and type 286 (helmeted), of which there are only a few. 33 Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 4, 298, type 501. There are other types of Heliocles I imitations, but they were minted much later, after the death of Hermaeus. These will be discussed in the following pages. The earliest attestation to the expression IKAIOV or IKAIOY is on the coins of the Graeco-Bactrian king Agathocles (ruled circa 171–160 BCE); see Mitchiner, IGISC p. 77 type 141. It appears later on the coins of the Indo-Scythian kings, and it is translated into Prakrit, written in the Kharos. thı¯ script, as dhramiasa or dhramikasa.


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they had conquered. These images were not new, but rather were in the symbolic lexicon of those they controlled. That early symbolic lexicon, however, was limited to the Greek pantheon represented on the Graeco-Bactrian coins they were imitating.

Yuezhi Imitations circa 70 BCE–40 CE: HERMAEUS The Yuezhi remained in the conquered Graeco-Bactrian territories well into the 1st century BCE. Meanwhile, across the Hindu Kush to the south, there was political chaos. Between 100 BCE and 70 BCE, Indo-Greek coins were minted with no fewer than 14 kings’ names: Polyxenus, Demetrius III, Philoxenus, Diomedes, Amyntas, Epander, Theophilus, Nicias, Menander II, Artemidorus, Archebius, Hermaeus, Telephus, and Apollodotus II. Further confusion was created by the Indo-Scythian invasion under the conquering army of Maues, who took Gandha¯ra and its most important city Sirkap, Taxila in 90 BCE, pushing the Indo-Greek kings farther east. In 80 BCE, the Indo-Greek king Apollodotus II retook the territories lost to Maues, and he was succeeded in 65 BCE by Hippostratus. Amid all this chaos, the Yuezhi crossed the Hindu Kush and began their own invasion in circa 70 BCE. The key to understanding the rise of the Yuezhi in the territories south of the Hindu Kush is found in understanding the diverse coinage minted with the name of the Indo-Greek king Hermaeus, Greek ERMAIOY. Hermaeus, perhaps the strongest of the many Indo-Greeks, ruled the Paropamisadae from circa 95 to 70 BCE.34 The length and stability of his rule are quite impressive considering that to the north the Yuezhi, who had swept through the Bactrian plain with ease, were now encroaching on this territory; to the south and east the Indo-Scythian Maues, who ruled the largest city in the region, Sirkap, was firmly in control; and Hermaeus’ only real allies, the other Indo-Greek kings, were weak and in disarray. Hermaeus’ political legacy was such that posthumous coins with his image and name continued to be minted in this region well into the first half

34 The region of the Paropamisadae lies within the Hindu Kush mountains themselves. It is the region that acts as the border between Bactria, which is to its north, and the Indian subcontinent, which is to its south. Therefore, it always has been a very important region: the group that controls the Paropamisadae effectively controls trade between Central Asia and India.

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of the 1st century CE. The name ‘Hermaeus’ became synonymous with stability, strength and legitimacy. Hermaeus’ coinage, both the lifetime issues and the posthumous imitations, spanned a period over 150 years, and they have created much confusion in the numismatic community.35 But some clarity has begun to emerge in recent years. Osmund Bopearachchi, working 35 This is quite a complicated issue, but Bopearachchi has given a lucid explanation in a number of places; see Bopearachchi, Indo-Greek, IndoScythian and Indo-Parthian Coins, 44–56; and Osmund Bopearachchi and Aman ur Rahman, Pre-Kushana Coins in Pakistan (Karachi: IRM Associates Ltd., 1995), 144–158. Bopearachchi explains that numismatists have puzzled over what to make of this unknown king, that is unknown to the literary sources, and the longevity of his image and name. His is certainly not a recognisable name outside the world of numismatic studies. He did not make it into the Greek histories, as did Menander, who is held up as a great innovator and champion of Buddhism; his name is not linked with the beginning of a new era, as is the Indo-Scythian Azes I; he is not attested to in western literature, as is the Indo-Parthian Gondophares in his meeting with St. Thomas; and he did not leave statues of himself, as did the Kus. a¯n.a kings. Therefore, what accounts for the persistence of his image on coins? In 1836, Charles Masson proposed to solve the problem by suggesting that three separate Greek kings were minting under the name of Hermaeus. This would explain the unevenness in style, workmanship, and value of the coins, and it would account for the apparent longevity of the name; see Charles Masson, ‘Second Memoir on the Ancient Coins Found at Beghram in the Kohistan of Kabul’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal III (1836): 23–24. However, by the end of the 19th century, most numismatists had rejected the idea that there were three Hermaeus, but rather linked Hermaeus to the first Kus. a¯n.a king, Kujula Kadphises, and placed all the posthumous issues in the 1st century CE; see Alexander Cunningham, Coins of Alexander’s Successors in the East (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969 [1884]), 297–303. In these hypotheses, Hermaeus is either a pageant king under the control of the great Kujula Kadphises, or he is reduced to a minor colleague of Kujula Kadphises; see also Percy Gardner, The Coins of the Greek and Scythic Kings of Bactria and India in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1886), 62–66; Vincent Arthur Smith, Coins of Ancient India: Catalogue of the Coins in the Indian Museum, Calcutta (Delhi: Indological Book House, 1972 [1906]), 31–34; and R. B. Whitehead, Catalogue of Coins in the Panjab Museum, Lahore (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914), 82–86. For these reconstructions, Hermaeus is not important on his own, but rather his importance comes from his association with Kujula Kadphises and the early Kus. a¯n.a empire.


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from the insights of K. W. Dobbins,36 divides the Hermaeus coinage into 10 groups,37 and he convincingly demonstrates that only one group of the 10 minted in the name of Hermaeus belongs to lifetime issues of Hermaeus himself — the subsequent nine groups are all posthumous issues minted first by the Yuezhi (groups two through seven), and then later by Kujula Kadphises, the king who eventually unified the five yabgus under the name of Kus.a¯n.a (groups eight through 10). The lifetime issues of Hermaeus were issued on the Indian standard and are clearly the products of good workmanship.38 The obverses have four designs: the bust of Hermaeus himself (either diademed or with a crested helmet), a king mounted on a prancing horse, an ‘amazon-queen’ on horseback, and a few with a bearded Zeus-Mithra enthroned; sometimes the Zeus-Mithra figure is radiate. The legend reads,   Y, ‘[coin of] Hermaeus, King and Protector’.39 The reverses are almost all of

Modern numismatic studies have followed this hypothesis fairly closely, basically attributing the first nine groups to lifetime issues of Hermaeus and only the last, group 10, to Kujula Kadphises. See A. M. Simonetta, ‘A New Essay on the So-Called Indo-Greeks, the Sakas and the Pahlavas’, East and West 9 (1958): 170; W. W. Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951), 503–504; and A. K. Narain, The Indo-Greeks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 161. Bopearachchi, however, attributes the first group (Bopearachchi, MGBIG, Hermaeus, series 1–9) to lifetime issues minted by Hermaeus, groups 2–7 to posthumous issues minted by the Yuezhi (BNBact., Hermaeus, series 10–21), and groups 8–10 (Bopearachchi, MGBIG, Hermaeus, 22–24) to posthumous issues minted by Kujula Kadphises. I will follow Bopearachchi’s version. 36 K. W. Dobbins, ‘The Question of the Imitation Hermaios Coinage’, East and West 20 (1970): 307–326. 37 Bopearachchi, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian Coins, 45–56. He repeats these comments almost verbatim in Bopearachchi and Rahman, Pre-Kushana Coins in Pakistan, 37–44. 38 Bopearachchi, MGBIG, Hermaios, series 3–9. Series 1 and 2 are also lifetime issues, but they were minted in the names of Hermaeus and Calliope, which the Yuezhi did not imitate. 39 The title  (SOTEROS) in Greek and tratarasa, a Prakrit word in the Kharos. thı¯ script, are almost always translated as ‘Savior’. This translation works in the most literal sense — SOTEROS comes from the Greek verbal root SOZO, meaning ‘to save’[see Henry George Liddell and

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Zeus-Mithra enthroned holding a sceptre in his left hand, his right hand outstretched and making a gesture, with the Kharos.t. hı¯ equivalent of the obverse legend, Maharajasa tratarasa Heramayasa. We are most concerned with the later monolingual and bilingual Yuezhi imitations, groups two through seven, which are of poor quality, both stylistically crude and progressively debased in silver content, and were minted on both the Attic standard and the Indian standard in continuation with previous Greek coins in the Paropamisadae.40 These imitative issues under the Yuezhi can be

Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 1748]. But its semantic range can be extended to mean ‘to keep, to preserve, to bring one to safety’. It can also mean ‘protector’, as in Zeus the Protector. This last meaning is important because often early SOTER coins have Zeus on the reverse, as is the case here. The Prakrit equivalent tratarasa, which comes from the Sanskrit verbal root trai, means ‘to protect, preserve, cherish, defend, rescue from’; see Monier Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984), 462. As long as we understand the use of the term ‘Savior’ in this sense, not in the soteriological Christian sense, its use works just fine. But I think a better translation of SOTEROS and tratarasa is ‘Protector’ rather than ‘Saviour’. The use of a word without the heavy Christian overtones links kings and gods in a protective capacity, as is the intention. The intention on these coins is not to suggest a savior in the sense of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, but to suggest the king as the protector in the political sense. 40 Robert C. Senior, ‘Posthumous Hermaeus Coinage: Transition from Indo-Greeks to Indo-Scythians’, Numismatic Digest 19 (1995): 43–72, has offered a different source for the minting of posthumous Hermaeus coinage. Senior suggests that these coins were issued by Indo-Scythian rulers such as Maues and Vonones. He holds that Bopearachchi’s contention that the Charles Masson collection of 1833–1835 contains no coins of Maues or Azes I (and thus Bopearachchi claims that these kings never ruled in the Paropamisadae) is incorrect, as further studies of Masson’s collection in fact have identified Azes I coins; see R. B. Whitehead, ‘Notes on the IndoGreeks, Part III’, Numismatic Chronicle Sixth Series, no. X (1950): 207. Senior then draws out the connections between posthumous Hermaeus coinage and Indo-Scythian coinage by looking at the continuity of monograms (see Senior’s table 2 on page 55 for details). However, Bopearachchi does not base his theory solely on Masson’s work; he also includes a number of other coin hoards to support the idea that Azes I and Maues did not control (or at least did not mint or distribute) coins in the Paropamisadae; see Bopearachchi, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian Coins, 46. Senior’s thesis works off Dobbins, ‘The Question of the Imitation Hermaios


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further divided into two chronological sub-groups: early Hermaeus imitations minted circa 70–55 BCE41 and a later period of issues minted circa 55 BCE–40 CE.42 Almost all the iconography of the early Hermaeus imitations, circa 70–55 BCE, have a diademed bust of Hermaeus on the obverse, and on the reverse a radiate Zeus enthroned, holding a sceptre in his left hand, his right hand outstretched and making a gesture. They all contain both the Greek and Kharos.t. hı¯ legends reading, ‘[coin] of Hermaeus, King and Protector’. It is important to notice, as it will become quite significant later, the exaggeration of the rays emanating from the head of Zeus on the Yuezhi imitations (Figure 4.2). This solar iconography connects the Greek god Zeus with the wellknown Mithra. In addition to these early Hermaeus imitations, between circa 70 and 55 BCE the Yuezhi continued to issue further imitations of Eucratides I and Heliocles I’s coinage. Once again, on all the obverses

Figure 4.2 Zeus Radiate: Hermaeus Lifetime Issue C. 90–70 BCE and Yuezhi Hermaeus Imitation C. 70–55 BCE

Source: Image courtesy of CoinIndia, As accessed on 20 August 2014. Note: Obverse: Diademed bust. Reverse: Radiate Zeus-Mithra Enthroned.

Source: Image courtesy of CoinIndia, As accessed on 20 August 2014. Note: Obverse: Diademed bust. Reverse: Radiate Zeus-Mithra Enthroned.

Coinage’, 317–319. I have yet to see any recent publication supporting this thesis, and it has been questioned not just by Bopearachchi, but most notably by Michael Alram, ‘Indo-Parthian and Early Kushan Chronology: The Numismatic Evidence’, in Coins, Art, and Chronology: Essays on Pre-Islamic History of the Indo-Iranian Borderlands, ed. Michael Alram and Deborah E. Klimburg-Salter (Wien: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1999), 26. 41 Bopearachchi, MGBIG, Hermaeus, series 10–13. 42 Bopearachchi, MGBIG, Hermaeus, series 14–22 and Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 8, 684, type 1048.

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of their Eucratides I imitations, the Yuezhi chose to put the bust of the king with a helmet. On the reverses, they continued to imitate the iconography of the Dioscuri on horseback,43 but they also added two other imitations to their repertoire. One reverse depicts a naked Heracles standing facing, crowning himself with his right hand, carrying a club and animal skin in his left hand.44 The other reverse depicts the city goddess Kapisa enthroned, holding a palm in one hand and her other hand outstretched, making a gesture. In the field are also a mountain and the forepart of an elephant. The legend reads in Kharos.t. hı¯, kavisiye nagara devata.45 This last issue, that of the city goddess Kapisa, demonstrates how local religious traditions were represented on coins. All of the other reverses show deities from the Greek or Iranian pantheon, for example, Zeus, Mithra, and Heracles. But the goddess Kapisa is certainly a purely local deity meant to protect the city. In putting her on their coinage, the Yuezhi suggested their rule was sanctioned by the local goddess and should be accepted by the inhabitants of Kapisa. The Heliocles I imitations are almost identical to the previous ones from 50 years earlier; that is, on the obverse there is the diademed bust of a king, and on the reverse is a radiate Zeus (as opposed to a non-radiate Zeus as in the lifetime issues of Heliocles I) standing facing, holding a thunderbolt and sceptre.46 The Yuezhi also added a reverse depicting a standing horse with a raised foreleg.47 Although the repertoire of reverses used by the Yuezhi as they crossed the Hindu Kush expanded, it is doubtful that the full import of Zeus, Zeus-Mithra and Heracles’ Greek mythology or the goddess Kapisa’s Indian mythic meanings were meant to be invoked by the choice of these reverses. We can assume the new rulers of the land did not immediately convert to the religion of those conquered. But the selection of these particular images as opposed to others that were available demonstrates that the Yuezhi did make clear choices concerning how they wanted to present themselves to their 43

Bopearachchi, MGBIG, Eucratide I, series 19–21. Osmund Bopearachchi, Sylloge Nummorun Graecorum: Graeco-Bactrian and IndoGreek Coins, vol. 9 (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1998), 608–611. 44 See also Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 1, 87, types 166 and 167. 45 Bopearachchi, MGBIG, Eucratide I, series 24. 46 Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 4, 298–299, types 502–505. 47 Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 4, 300–301, types 506 and 507.


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subjects within the repertoire that was available. On their imitations, there is a heavy emphasis on kingship and royalty. Both Zeus and Kapisa are depicted enthroned, and the Heracles figure is crowning himself. Perhaps the most important aspect of these imitations is a subtle change that the Yuezhi made to the Heliocles I coins, as D. W. MacDowall so astutely points out, ‘whereas the head of Zeus had been bare on the coins of Heliocles it is unmistakably rayed on the barbarous copies of Heliocles. We seem to have a deliberate change from Zeus to Zeus-Helios [or Zeus-Mithra]’.48 MacDowall does not link the Heliocles radiate Zeus to the Hermaeus radiate Zeus that the Yuezhi were already copying, but his point still has some force. This was a subtle change that may not have been readily obvious to those handling the new coins, but the Yuezhi clearly took the Hermaeus Zeus-Mithra as the preferred form of the deity. These associations with solar deities continued in subsequent Yuezhi coinage and became an essential part of the Kus. a¯n.a Empire’s attempts at linking itself to the gods. This solar symbolism will be discussed in more detail later, but MacDowall also connects the use of a radiate Zeus enthroned to the second reverse type of the Heliocles I imitations, ‘but instead of the standing Zeus [the reverse shows] a riderless horse, which is itself used in Central Asia as symbolic of the sun’.49 The riderless horse may serve as a multivalent symbol: it connects the Yuezhi with solar symbolism and echoes their preference for depicting their powerful cavalry. During the second half of the 1st century BCE, the territories south of the Hindu Kush experienced a modicum of stability. Azes I once again expelled the Indo-Greeks from Gandha¯ra and Taxila in 57 BCE, reclaiming western Punjab for the Indo-Scythians. Meanwhile, the Indo-Greeks continued to rule in the eastern Punjab. While Indo-Scythian rule under Azes I was strong, the Indo-Greeks were still quite weak.50 But this stability was short-lived, as in the early 48 David W. MacDowall, ‘The Role of Mithra among the Deities of the Kus. a¯n.a Coinage’, in Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies, ed. John R. Hinnells (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1975), 146. 49 Ibid. 50 The quality of Indo-Greek coinage in eastern Punjab was consistently debased. It is clear that these small kingdoms did not have much in the coffers to support a well organised programme of minting coins. See Bopearachchi, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian Coins, 61–65.

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decades of the 1st century CE the Indo-Scythians in western Punjab were conquered by the Indo-Parthians led by Gondophares. The Yuezhi, too, lost much control of their holdings south of the Hindu Kush to Gondophares. During this confusion and political chaos, the Yuezhi continued to mint imitations of Hermaeus coins in and around the Paropamisadae, but their hold was severely weakened. In summary, throughout this period (145 BCE–40 BCE), the Yuezhi still had not put their own iconography or legends on the coins they produced, but imitated the coinage of the already established powerful rulers. But again, they did not just imitate blindly, but rather they cleverly culled from the vast repertoire available to them those images and legends that emphasised their strengths. However, by the opening of the Common Era a few yabgus of the Yuezhi began to mint coinage under their own name. These first coins were instrumental in establishing the legitimacy necessary to transition from a regional power to a full-fledged imperial state.

Pre-Imperial ‘Kus.¯a n.a’ Coinage Early Attempts at Minting Hegemony circa 20 BCE–20 CE The earliest evidence of the beginnings of the Yuezhi rise to imperial power comes from the far north-western area of Bactria, on the borderlands of the Parthian empire, where three Yuezhi princes minted coins in their own names, circa 20 BCE–20 CE.51 The first is 51 For images and descriptions of the coins, see Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 4, 303, type 509–511. A recent and complete discussion of these coins can be found in Edward V. Rtveladze, ‘Coins of the Yuezhi Rulers of Northern Bactria’, Silk Road Art and Archaeology 3 (April 1993): 81–96. The approximate dates given will be discussed here in reference to the Parthian king Phraates IV (circa 38 BCE–2 CE). I will limit my discussion to three kings, but it should be noted that there are other kings who may fit into this category. Michael Alram, Nomina Propria Iranica in Nummis: Materialgrundlagen zu den Iranischen Personennamen auf Antiken Münzen (Vienna: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1986), 290–297, groups together the ‘Clan Chiefs of Bactria and East Iran’, among whom he includes Sapalbizes, Arseiles, and the illegible king in the same group with a few others: Heraus, Phar-, Pabes, Phseigacharis, Tanlismaidates and Rangodeme, and Cheires. As I will show in the course of this chapter, Heraus coins should be attributed to the Kus.a¯n.a King Kujula Kadphises, and the only other so-called ‘clan chief’ who could be included easily is Pabes.


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Sapalbizes, previously read incorrectly as Sapadbizes52, who issued a series of Attic standard silver hemidrachms and silver obols. On the obverse, he put a Greek helmeted bust right and the Greek legend CAAHC.53 On the reverse are a lion standing right, a hill and crescent tamgha above,54 and the legend in Greek right and left NANAIA. The second Yuezhi prince is Arseiles, previously read incorrectly as Agesiles, who also issued both silver hemidrachms and silver obols. On the obverse, he put a Greek helmeted bust right and the Greek legend APCEIHC. On the reverse are a lion standing right, a tamgha of hill and crescent above, and a Greek legend right and left NANAIA (see Figure 4.3). The third name is uncertain as


As for the correct reading of CAABIZHC and APCEIHC, see Pankaj Tandon’s website CoinIndia. He argues that ‘[t]he first identified Yueh-Chi prince has always been called Sapadbizes. However, as a close examination of the coins shows, the name should be Sapalbizes, not Sapadbizes. The fifth letter is a , not a . A discussion on the southasia-coins eGroup confirmed that all coins of this ruler do indeed read “Sapalbizes”, except that reportedly there is one coin at the British Museum that carries a . Perhaps it was this coin that first led numismatists (presumably in this case Major General Cunningham was the first) to name this prince “Sapadbizes”. It is interesting to note that the name Sapalbizes is more in keeping with a line of Scythian names that are known from the coins: Spalirises, Spalagadames and Spalahores. The prefix ‘Spal’ or ‘Sapal’ connects the words to “the army”’. In further personal communications, Tandon finds more evidence for the mistaken  for . For example, he points to the Pa¯ratara¯jas ruler Yolamira whose name is written ‘Yodamira’.‘Yola’ is Iranian for ‘war’, and ‘Yuddha’ is Sanskrit for ‘war’. So, these two words split from one another. There are also coins from south-central India where the name is variously written as ‘Chutukulananda’ and ‘Chutukudananda’ or ‘Mulananda’ versus ‘Mudananda’. See Pankaj Tandon, ‘New Light on the Pa¯ratara¯jas’, Numismatic Chronicle 166 (2006): 173–209 and As accessed on 20 August 2014. 53 Here, the Greek letter sigma, , has the form of C. 54 For the nomads of the Inner Asian steppes, the tamgha or tamga was used as a clan mark. It began as a horse and cattle brand to denote possession. George Vernadsky argues that the term ‘tamga’ is from early Ossetic, a language belonging to the Iranian language group to which Scythian pertains. Interestingly, possession is tied to the genetic code of the clan; Vernadsky wrote, ‘[i]n Alanic (Ossetic) “clan emblem” is damyghoe; “clan” is mygkak, from myg, “sperm”, “semen”. Mygkak literally means “belonging

Minting Identity and Hegemony  125 Figure 4.3 Sapalbizes and Arseiles Issues C. 20 BCE–20 CE

a. Sapalbizes silver hemidrachm c. 20 BCE–20 CE

b. Arseiles silver hemidrachm c. 20 BCE–20 CE

Source: Image courtesy of Coin India (322–04), http://www.CoinIndia. com. As accessed on 20 August 2014. Note: Obverse: Helmeted bust right. Legend in Greek: CAABIZHC. Reverse: Lion standing right, tamgha of hill and crescent above. Legend in Greek right and left: NANAIA.

Source: Image courtesy of Coin India (168–23), http://www.Coin As accessed on 20 August 2014. Note: Obverse: Helmeted bust right. Legend in Greek: APCEIHC. Reverse: Lion standing right, tamgha of hill and crescent above. Legend in Greek right and left: NANAIA.

the obverse legend cannot be read clearly, but the coin obverses and reverses are similar to the previous two. These coins can be placed chronologically during and immediately after the reign of the Parthian emperor Phraates IV (38 BCE–2 CE), as there are many overstrikes of his silver coins.55 These Yuezhi princes from north-central Bactria ran into these far eastern Parthian outposts as they began to expand their kingdoms. The use on the obverse of an imitation of a Greek bust with the typical Macedonian helmet signals their desire to continue to influence the still sizable Greek population in Bactria. This form was clearly copied from Eucratides I

to the sperm”, i.e. “of the same sperm”’, see George Vernadsky, ‘Note on the Origin of the Word Tamga’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 76, no. 3 (1956): 188–189; and Yaroslav Lebedynsky, ‘Tamga: Une “Héraldique” Des Steppes’, L’Archéologue, Archéologie Nouvelle 76 (2005): 38–41. 55 For the coinage of Phraates IV, see Michael Mitchiner, Oriental Coins and Their Values: The Ancient and Classical World (London: Hawkins Publications, 1977), 115–116, types 584–599. For a detailed analysis of the Phraates IV overstrikes, see Rtveladze, ‘Coins of the Yuezhi Rulers of Northern Bactria’, 86–91.


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coins.56 But the coin legends and the choice of designs on the reverse signal a clear moment of transition for these particular clans of the Yuezhi. On the obverse, rather than minting in the name of a previous Greek king, they inscribed their own names. Gone are the names of Eucratides, Heliocles or Hermaeus — Greek names that signalled power and legitimacy — and in their place we find the names of Sapalbizes and Arseiles, signalling the legitimate authority through which trade and economic activity could continue. Furthermore, on the reverses, the legend of the goddess Nana¯, the image of a lion, and the use of their own tamgha are a clear departure from the Greek and Parthian forms of iconic legitimacy. All three of these motifs will be essential in later Kus. a¯n.a coinage as well, but for the moment, we should focus on the unmistakable assertion of Yuezhi independent authority and pay close attention to how these emerging leaders chose to represent themselves and from where they derived this authority. It was the Yuezhi and other Scythian migrants who brought the tamgha to Bactria. It was ‘an indispensable thing for nomadic nobility’,57 a patrimonial and dynastic sign used to mark the possession of their cattle as they travelled across the great expanses of Central Asia. In a remarkable innovation, the Yuezhi transferred the location of the tamgha from animals to coins. The meaning was extended beyond the object, i.e., from the animal or the coin, to the territory 56

Rtveladze, ‘Coins of the Yuezhi Rulers of Northern Bactria’, 83 takes issue with Zeimal’s 1984 hypothesis that this form was copied from the imitations of Eucratides I coins (see Zeimal’s argument in E. V. Zeimal, ‘Podrazhanija Obolam Evkratida’, in Kulty i Ritualy Kushanskoj Baktrii, ed. B. A. Litvinsk 3 and A. V. Sedov [Moscow, 1984], 189–190; there is a summary in English). Rtveladze contends that these early Yuezhi coins had to be imitations of the original Eucratides I coins as (a) there are very few imitation Eucratides obols, and (b) the Eucratides imitations were so degenerate in form that the Macedonian helmet does not resemble the original at all. His first point is well-taken, but this is not conclusive proof that Sapalbizes did not handle Eucratides I imitations himself. Rtveladze’s second point is less convincing. There are many examples of Eucratides I imitations that have a fairly accurate copying of the Eucratides I Macedonian helmeted bust. It must be remembered the Eucratides I originals would have been over a century old at this point, so it is probable that both originals and imitations were the prototype for this form. 57 Rtveladze, ‘Coins of the Yuezhi Rulers of Northern Bactria’, 84.

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that the coin represented. Therefore, those using the coins displaying Yuezhi tamghas were within the territory of said rulers.58 In addition to the tamghas, Sapalbizes and Arseiles chose particular religious iconography and legends to assert their claim to power. They both put the legend NANAIA with an image of a lion on the reverse of their coins. The goddess Nana¯ has a long history that began in Mesopotamia where she controlled both heaven and earth. The Mesopotamian Nana¯ was intimately involved in power, sovereignty, and the use of force to attain and sustain such worldly fruits. Referring to the goddess Nana¯, a clay tablet inscription from the Temple to Marduk in Babylon reads: ‘Lady of ladies, Goddess of Goddesses, directress of mankind, mistress of the heavenly spirits, possessor of sovereign power, light of heaven and earth, daughter of the Moon God, ruler of weapons, mistress of battles, goddess of love, the power over princes and over the scepters of kings’.59 Nana¯ moved into the ancient Akkadian-Assyrian pantheon as Ishtar, and she was known as the goddess Ana¯hita in circa 4th century BCE Persia.60 In all these forms, she was primarily known as a war goddess, and the lion motif was one of the symbols emphasizing her warlike character. In ancient Mesopotamian glyptic art and statuary she was sometimes shown in full panoply of a war-goddess armed with a bow, quivers, arrows and a sword (or scepter) and standing on a lion . . . [as] Ishthar [she] was supposed to have appeared in a dream in the period of Assurbanipal as armed with quivers, bow and sword . . . [and] was also known as ‘arbitress of battles’ and ‘ruler of weapons’.61 58 Rtveladze argues that the difference in the style of tamghas between Sapalbizes and the later Kushans is evidence that ‘permits us to say that western Bactria was ruled by representatives of a clan or dynasty other than the Kushans [sic]’ (84). This argument misses the important usage of the tamgha. Certainly, different leaders used different tamghas, but it is the continuity of the meaning of the tamghas that is important. Sapalbizes introduced the use of a dynastic symbol (a tamgha is not mint designation as used by the Graeco-Bactrians, Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, and IndoParthians) to identify a particular people, the Yuezhi. 59 Rosenfield, The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans, 86. 60 Bratindra Nath Mukherjee, Nana¯ on Lion: A Study in Kus. a¯ n. a Numismatic Art (Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1969), 11. 61 Mukherjee, Nana¯ on Lion: A Study in Kus. a¯n.a Numismatic Art, 11 and 22 n. 28a.


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In the Hellenistic and Parthian periods, the goddess Nana¯ continued to appear in temple inscriptions, votive plates and coins as a war goddess and protector.62 Thus, not only did Sapalbizes and Arseiles assert themselves by not imitating earlier Graeco-Bactrian coins, but they also inserted their own patron deity — a deity intimately related to conquest, power and sovereignty — into the culture. Their kingdom was both legitimised and protected by the patron goddess Nana¯. Now, the influence of these coins should not be overestimated. They were rare and their production was confined to the remote north-western corner of the Bactria. But while the coins’ significance for the contemporary populations of Bactria and northwest India might have been slight, for the historian, who has the advantage of diachronic and panoptic vision, the coins represent an identifiable moment when the Yuezhi began to assert their dominance in a different way, a way that did not rely on the nostalgia of previous Greek or Parthian kings. The use of religious symbols, here the patron deity Nana¯, was a key way of asserting this dominance, and subsequent Yuezhi-Kus. a¯n.a kings slowly established their hegemony in similar ways.

The Coinage of Kujula Kadphises, circa 40 CE–90 CE: Legitimisation of Authority through Image and Legend It is generally agreed that three decades after the turn of the Common Era, Kujula Kadphises, the yabgu of the Kuei-shuang clan of the Yuezhi in Bactria, united all five Yuezhi clans under his leadership and began to solidify control of the territories north of the Hindu Kush and the Paropamisadae. Soon after this unification, he moved farther east and re-conquered the lands that the Yuezhi had slowly 62 In the city of Dura-Europos during Roman times, Nana¯ was identified with the Hellenistic Artemis, and a temple dedicated to the two, an ArtemisNana¯ Temple, was built at the city’s centre. Inscriptions reveal that Nana¯ was considered the chief goddess of the city. The temple also held images of Aphrodite, winged Nike, and Tyche, thus linking Nana¯ with the functions of these Graeco-Roman deities. A later image at the Dura Temple (circa 3rd century CE) identifies her with both fecundity and war. See Franz Valery Marie Cumont, Fouilles de Doura-Europos (1922–1923) (Paris: P. Geuthner, 1926), 196–199, and an informative discussion of Nana¯ in G. Azarpay, ‘Nana¯, the Sumero-Akkadian Goddess of Transoxiana’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 96, no. 4 (1939): 536–542.

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lost to the Indo-Scythians and Indo-Parthians in the 1st century BCE.63 At Kujula Kadphises’ death some 50 years later in circa 90 CE, he left the beginnings of an empire for his son, Vima Takto.64 These developments are discerned exclusively through the study of the coinage minted under the authority of Kujula Kadphises because his name does not appear in any texts, but rather we know his name from only one Bactrian inscription, the now famous Rabatak inscription, and his coins. There have been many classifications of his coins, but the most recent, broad classification is that of Gul Rahim Khan, who has worked very closely with Joe Cribb.65 Khan classifies Kujula Kadphises’ coins into three groups and 12 types: Group A (types 1–3) consists of issues from Bactria, also called the ‘Heraus Series’;66 Group B (types 4–7) consists of issues from Kabul, also called the 63

There is a broad agreement that the Yuezhi lost most of their holdings south of the Hindu Kush, but there is still quite a controversy as to who controlled the Paropamisadae. While some scholars argue that the IndoScythian rulers Maues and Vonones pushed the Yuezhi completely north of the Hindu Kush, that is, out of the Paropamisadae altogether, others argue that ‘[t]his region [the Paropamisadae] remained the unchallenged centre of power of the Yuezhi, who minted the Hermaios imitations there [from circa 70 BCE to post 40 CE]’; see Alram, ‘Indo-Parthian and Early Kushan Chronology: The Numismatic Evidence’, 27. Alram agrees with the earlier arguments of Bopearachchi that have already been outlined above. I am convinced by Bopearachchi and Alram’s arguments that the Yuezhi remained in the Paropamisadae throughout this period. The abundance of Kujula Kadphises’ early issues makes this all the more likely. 64 Rosenfield, The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans, 11. 65 Gul Rahim Khan, Taxila under the Kushans: Research Based on Numismatic Evidence (Islamabad: Higher Education Commission, 2008). Khan’s research includes the analysis of previously unstudied coins from Taxila found both in the British Museum and in the archives at Taxila itself. He has effectively combined a comprehensive understanding of all the previous publications on such coins with the evidence from hundreds of unpublished coins to arrive at his classificatory scheme. He has also had the benefit of doing all this after the discovery of the Rabatak Inscription, which provides the most convincing list of dynastic succession and chronology for the Kus. a¯ 66 For this Group, Cribb’s ‘The “Heraus” Coins: Their Attribution to the Kushan King Kujula Kadphises, C. AD 30-80’, in Essays in Honour of Robert Carson and Kenneth Jenkins, ed. R. A. G. Carson et al. (London: Spink, 1993), 107–134, provides further detail.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

‘Su Hermaeus Series’; and Group C (types 8–12) consists of issues from Taxila and its environs,67 also called the ‘Kujula Series’. Kujula Kadphises’ coinage is prolific, and the very volume of his coinage marks a significant change in the ambitions of this Yuezhi yabgu: In Bactria the use of coinage after the Greek period was rare, and it is only in the reign of Kujula Kadphises that issues become commoner. There are a few local issues, such as the Sapadbizes [sic] coinage (Rtveladze 1993/4), but the use of coinage seems to re-emerge in the area in a significant way with the rise to power of the Kushan king Kujula Kadphises, uniting the Yuezhi tribes who ruled north of the Hindu Kush and in the Kabul valley.68

As can be expected from such an active and ambitious king, the coinage is also very diverse. This diversity reveals that Kujula Kadphises did not rule over an organised, unified empire having a consistent imperial currency, but rather, he was engaged in a creative process of finding the best means to solidify his authority both internally amongst the Yuezhi themselves, and externally over his newly conquered territories. Internally, he needed to put forth the Kuei-shuang name as the patronymic of the emerging empire and convince the other Yuezhi clans to accept this. This was an extended process, one that found its most forceful formulation in the dynastic patronymic ‘Kus. a¯n.a’. Externally, Kujula Kadphises had to walk the fine line of imposing his will upon his subjects, while at the same time compromising with them to ensure they would accept his authority. To achieve this latter task, he adapted his coinage to both the regional monetary standards and the regional iconography as a strategy for gaining and maintaining legitimacy. Once he gained legitimacy in a certain region, he continued to experiment with his legends and designs, searching for ways to present himself and his clan as the sole authority. In doing this, Kujula Kadphises was

67 Note here that most studies follow Mitchiner in locating the mint for these coins in Central Chach. While Khan does not dismiss this idea altogether, he makes a strong argument for mints at Taxila and its environs as well; see Khan, Taxila under the Kushans, 21–22. 68 Alram, ‘Indo-Parthian and Early Kushan Chronology: The Numismatic Evidence’, 122.

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involved in a process of ‘imaginative remaking’ of who he was and who the Kuei-shuang were.69

Group A, ‘Heraus Series’: Minting as Heraus-Kushanno70 Kujula Kadphises made a radical break with all previous Yuezhi coinage early in his rule when he struck his ‘Heraus-Kushanno’ coins in Bactria.71 The design and placement of the iconography and legends are structurally similar to the later Yuezhi imitations of the GraecoBactrian Eucratides I, but they mark a radical break with the content 69

Dobbins is partially correct in stating that ‘Kujula Kadphises almost always follows the pattern of the denominations that he found in each of his provinces’ (‘The Question of the Imitation Hermaios Coinage’, 39). This is true for Kujula Kadphises’ early issues, but as the balance of this chapter will demonstrate, once he began to experiment with his later coinage, this practice changed. 70 In an attempt to maintain some continuity with almost all the work written on these particular coins, I keep the name ‘Heraus’ for these coins. But, as will be shown in the balance of this chapter, I agree with Joe Cribb that Kujula Kadphises used the term HIAOY for ‘king’ or ‘yabgu’, and took his own name to be KOPPANOY, transliterated as ‘Kushanno’. I will refer to these coins as Kujula Kadphises’ Heraus-Kushanno issues. Also confusing are the various spellings of ‘Heraus’: it is written as ‘Heraeus’ or ‘Heraios’, or even ‘Miaiou’, but these all refer to this same set of coins. 71 See Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 4, 304–306, types 514–517, for an early listing of the ‘Heraios’ coinage, but the most complete catalogue of HerausKushanno coins can be found in Cribb, ‘The “Heraus” Coins’, 109–119. This article has been quite controversial for some of its bold interpretive claims, but there is no doubt that Cribb’s catalogue is the standard. The most controversial argument made by Cribb is that the ‘Heraus’ coins (Cribb puts marks around ‘Heraus’ as he thinks this is not a personal name, but a title meaning ‘king’, an interpretation now generally accepted) were actually issued by Kujula Kadphises. This claim has found acceptance with Michael Alram and Robert Senior, but others have suggested that these coins were minted by a predecessor to Kujula Kadphises named Sanab (see Harmatta, ‘Religions in the Kushan Empire’, 316–317). 72 Early efforts by Cunningham and Gardner to connect Heraus-Kushanno coins to Graeco-Bactrian coinage mistakenly assume that they followed the lifetime issues of Eucratides I (circa 170–145 BCE). This faulty assumption led many subsequent numismatists to date the Heraus-Kushanno coins to the 2nd century BCE. However, as demonstrated above, two series of Eucratides I imitations were issued by the nomadic Yuezhi, one series as they settled


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of previous iconography and legends.72 Since these coins represent such an important transition in the history of the Yuezhi/Kus. a¯, it is worth detailing the three main types extensively. The first two types are a silver tetradrachm and a silver obol minted on a reduced Attic standard (see Figure 4.4), a common metrology for Graeco-Bactrian coins minted in northern Afghanistan.73 SILVER TETRADRACHM74 Obverse: Bust of man to right, with long hair to below ear level, tied in diadem with short ties at back, and with tunic collar visible Figure 4.4 Kujula Kadphises Heraus-Kushanno Issues C. 40–90 CE

a. Kujula Kadphises Heraus-Kushanno Silver Tetradrachm c. 40–90 CE

b. Kujula Kadphises Heraus-Kushanno Silver Obol c. 40–90 CE

Source: British Museum 1890, 0404.2; © Trustees of the British Museum. Note: O b v e r s e : B u s t o f K u j u l a Kadphises facing right wearing diadem surrounded by dot and pellet border. Reverse: Kujula Kadphises on horseback riding to the right.

Source: British Museum 1890, 0404.8; © Trustees of the British Museum. Note: Obverse: Bust of Kujula Kadphises facing right wearing diadem surrounded by dot and pellet border. Reverse: Standing figure in Kushan dress facing right making a gesture.

in Bactria circa 145–70 BCE, and another series as they moved into India circa 70–55 BCE. It is this last series that is the model for the structural designs of the iconography and the placement of the legends. See Cribb, ‘The “Heraus” Coins’, 120. 73 The find-spots of these coins are also in northern Afghanistan, and thus they can be firmly located in Bactria. For a map of hoard locations, see Boris A. Staviksy and Paul Bernard, La Bactriane sous les Kushans: Problemes d’Histoire et de Culture (Paris: J. Maisonneuve, 1986), 135, cited in Cribb, ‘The “Heraus” Coins’, 119, n. 13. 74 Khan Group A type 1. In the following descriptions of all three types, I use the language of Cribb, ‘The “Heraus” Coins’, 109–119, in order to remain consistent, but I have shortened some of the descriptions, focusing on what is important for this study.

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around neck. The man’s features are distinctive, with a well-defined moustache, hooked nose, heavy jowls, jutting chin, and large eyes with raised eyebrows. Reverse: Male figure riding horse to right. The head of the man appears to be the same as that shown on the obverse, but with less detail. He wears a tunic with the same collar as on the obverse, and trousers. He carries a bow and quiver. The horse stands to the right with the front far leg raised; perhaps the tail is braided. Behind the rider’s head, a small winged Nike in Greek dress flies to the right about to crown the rider. Legend on reverse only: starting from top left of coin and curving around the top to the right: TYPANNOYNTO HPAOY;75 along the bottom in a straight line under the horse’s legs: KOPPANOY; and in smaller letters placed among the legs of the prancing horse: ANAB.76 SILVER OBOL77 Obverse: The design is the same as that on the silver tetradrachm. Reverse: A standing male figure facing right. The details of head and dress are the same as those of the mounted figure on the tetradrachm, but the short-skirted bottom of the tunic can now be discerned. Legend on reverse only: two vertical lines to be read from top to bottom. On the left, the same legend as the last section of the arched inscription on the tetradrachm: HPAOY. On the right, again the same legend as below the horse’s legs on the tetradrachm: KOPPANOY.78 75 Reading the legends on Heraus-Kushanno coins can be confusing. That confusion is caused by both the ill-formed letters of the actual legends themselves and the similarity of two Bactrian Greek letters. I use the transliterated letter ‘P’ to indicate two different letters: one, it is a Greek rho, but in the actual legend it is poorly formed and looks like an -I. The same -I is also used to form a Bactrian Greek letter with the phonetic value -S.. In TYPANNOYNTO HPAOY, the rho has the phonetic value of a rho, that is, ‘R’. In KOPPANOY, the rho has the phonetic value of -S.. 76 See Cribb, ‘The “Heraus” Coins’, 111–112, Table I for the variations in orthography of the reverse inscription on the silver tetradrachms. 77 Khan Group A type 2. 78 See Cribb, ‘The “Heraus” Coins’, 115, Table II for the variations in orthography of the reverse inscription on the silver obol.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

The third type of Heraus coin is known only by two actual coins.79 They are made of copper and pertain to a series of coins from western Punjab. COPPER TETRADRACHM80 Obverse: Although it is quite worn, the central design is a version of the design on the silver tetradrachm, exhibiting similar hair styles and moustaches. There is a Kharos.t. hı¯ monogram that reads Maharayasa rayatirayasa devaputra kuyula Kata Kapasa. Reverse: The design and framing inscription are the same as those on the reverse of the silver tetradrachm, that is the mounted king with flying Nike, except that the bottom inscription is curved, not straight (neither specimen has the full inscription due to the placing of the die, but Cribb demonstrates that they were meant to have the full inscription). The inscription through the horse’s legs (on the silver tetradrachm, ANAB) is missing as well, but the Kharos.t. hı¯ letter bu appears in the same position of the final B on the silver tetradrachm. The parallels between the structural design of the HerausKushanno coins and the Yuezhi later Eucratides I imitations are important for more than just the terminus post quem they provide; the clear imitation of the legend placement on the reverse reveals the way that Kujula Kadphises sought to identify himself. On the Eucratides I tetradrachm coin reverses, the arched legend at the top of the coin, Y, indicates the title and disposition of the sovereign, in this case ‘of the king, the great’. The straight line legend on the bottom of the coin, EYKPATIOY, indicates the name of the sovereign, ‘Eucratides’. And in the general field of the coin, various monograms identify the location of the mint. When this design logic is applied to the Heraus-Kushanno coins, it seems the name of the issuer is not Heraus, but Kushanno. The curved legend at the top of the Heraus-Kushanno coins reads: TYPANNOYNTO HIAOY, ‘of the tyrant, the king’.81 The straight line legend at the

79 See Ibid., 118–119, Figures 4 and 5 for sketches of the coins. The coins themselves are so well worn that it is not worth providing images for them. 80 Khan Group A type 3. 81 Cribb, ‘The “Heraus” Coins’, 130, suggests that HIAOY parallels Kujula Kadphises’ use of ZAOOY to mean ‘king’.

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bottom of the coins reads KOPPANOY, ‘Kushanno’. As for the letters among the legs of the prancing horse, ANAB, their placement and smaller size (suggesting that their function is not connected to the rest of the inscription) occupy the position of the mint that produced the coin.82 The intended meaning of these words is confirmed by the legend placement on the Heraus-Kushanno silver obols. On the Yuezhi later Eucratides I imitations, the left vertical legend is the name of the king, EYKPATIOY, and the right vertical legend is his title, . On the Kujula Kadphises Heraus-Kushanno obols, similarly, the left vertical legend reads KOPPANOY, which in this case means that the name of the sovereign is ‘Kushanno’, and the right vertical legend reads HIAOY, ‘King’. Kujula Kadphises’ ‘Heraus-Kushanno’ coins, then, are more properly ‘Kushanno’ coins. In the centre of the emerging empire, that is Bactria, he took the name ‘Kushanno’ not just as a descriptor of his clan, but for himself. ‘Kushanno’ is the rendering of the clan name ‘Kuei-shuang’, one of the five divisions of the Yuezhi mentioned in the Hou Hanshu.83 The appellation ‘Yuezhi’ was not a self-referential term of these Central Asian nomads, but a name given to them by the Chinese chroniclers. It is doubtful that these five clans ever thought of themselves collectively as ‘the Yuezhi’, but rather they most likely continued to call themselves by their individual clan names. It was not until the turn of the Common Era that they were 82 See Chattopadhyay, The Age of the Kus. a¯ A Numismatic Study, 13–14, where he cites F. W. Thomas, Indian Antiquary (1881): 215. Thomas suggested an interesting reading of ANAB over a century ago that fits well with Cribb’s understanding of the significance of the legend arrangements. Thomas argues that the first three letters, AN, are the Greek equivalent to sam . , the abbreviation for sam . vatsara. The fourth letter A is equivalent to the Greek numeral equal to 1, and the final B denotes a particular mint. Whether this is a completely satisfactory explanation or not, it does work well with Cribb’s notion that ANAB does not mean ‘S´aka’ as many numismatists have previously thought, but is a mint mark. Another suggestion is that ANAB is the name of the issuing king (see Harmatta, ‘Religions in the Kushan Empire’, 316–317). 83 There is scholarly consensus that ‘Kus. a¯n.a’ is a particular rendering of ‘Kuei-shuang’. For the fine philological details, see Bratindra Nath Mukherjee, The Rise and Fall of the Kushana Empire (Calcutta: Firma KLM Private Ltd., 1988), 1–2.


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able to present themselves to others on their own terms in visual media. As his control over his domain strengthened and his territories increased, Kujula Kadphises gained the confidence to name himself on coins and the power to represent himself in the public sphere, especially to represent himself as a powerful ruler in his own right with his own authority, without the need to connect himself to an established ruler to enhance his authority and legitimacy. It is not just the content of the legend that announced the arrival of this power, but Kujula Kadphises also used iconography to reinforce his dominance. His most innovative move was to put his own image on the coin obverses. This was the first time a Yuezhi leader used his own likeness on coins, and his portrait was clearly meant to depict a non-Greek ruler. Rather than the fine-boned features of the Greek sovereigns, the bust on Kujula Kadphises’ Heraus-Kushanno coins, in Cribb’s words, exhibit a ‘well defined moustache, hooked nose, heavy jowls, jutting chin, and large eyes with raised eyebrows’.84 The reverses are also different from the previous coinage. Rather than the typical modes of dress — kausia, helmet, chlamys — Kujula Kadphises is dressed in the clothes of the nomadic tribes — heavy collared tunic and heavy Central Asian boots. There is no mistaking that this is not a native Indian, but someone who is ruling at a cultural distance. Furthermore, the meaning of the winged Nike in Greek dress crowning a Kus. a¯n.a mounted rider, as shown on the reverse, now becomes very clear. The contrast of the small, effeminate winged Nike giving her authority to the mounted warrior announces the arrival of Kus. a¯n.a power, the dominance of the fierce Central Asians over the Greeks. Here, religious iconography continues to be used in the realm of worldly power.

Group B, the ‘Su Hermaeus Series’: Mints in the Paropamisadae and Western Punjab The next set of coins minted under the authority of Kujula Kadphises were copper issues from the mint town of Kapisa, located in the Kabul valley at the centre of the Paropamisadae, and represent the earliest stages of his rule.85 Here he continued the Yuezhi practice 84

Cribb, ‘The “Heraus” Coins’, 109. There has not been a detailed, definitive study of Kujula Kadphises’ coins; therefore, there is not one accepted classification. The six types that I refer to here were set forth first by Rosenfield, The Dynastic Arts of the 85

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of imitating the coins of Hermaeus. The obverses display the by now quite retrograde diademed bust of Hermaeus with a Greek legend identifying him as the King and Protector of the land. The Greek legend changed slightly as Kujula Kadphises added the Greek –V. On the reverses, there is either the very familiar Zeus enthroned or a winged Nike walking to the left (see Figure 4.5).86 Through these images, Kujula Kadphises projected royalty and victory, respectively, to his subjects. The legend on the reverse is not a slavish imitation of the earlier Hermaeus imitation coins: Kujula Kadphises included the title ‘King of Kings’, a title in this case meant to signify his authority over the five Yuezhi clans. These bilingual imitations with the Greek legend in the name of Hermaeus circulated for quite some time, perhaps 10 or 20 years. They were eventually replaced by a different bilingual copper issue minted first in Kapisa but later minted in Pushkalavati, the largest mint town in western Punjab.87 These coins, known as the Heracles issues, are the most common coins of Kujula Kadphises,88 and through these issues we can trace the stages of the military conquests of Kujula Kadphises as he moved beyond the Paropamisadae and into northwest India. His main rival was the Indo-Parthian Gondophares Kushans, 12–16, followed by Satya Shrava, The Kus.a¯n.a Numismatics (Delhi: Pranava Prakashan, 1985), and slightly modified by Robert C. Senior, IndoScythian Coins and History (Lancaster: Classical Numismatic Group, 2001). The major difference in the classificatory scheme of Alram, Nomina Propria Iranica in Nummis, 299–302, n. 1271–1285, is that he has eight types. His type 7 is an issue in the name of ‘Heraus-Kushanno’, which I also include as the coinage of Kujula Kadphises, but I will single these out for separate classification later. Alram’s Kujula Kadphises type 1, n. 1271 is in continuation with the Yuezhi imitations of Eucratides I (circa 70–55 BCE). This inclusion is quite interesting: the obverse is the helmeted bust of Eucratides I, and the reverse has the palms and pilei of the Dioscuri. If this indeed is an issue of Kujula Kadphises, and it is very difficult to prove this, it would have to be a very early issue. It would connect him to the obverses of Sapalbizes, Arseiles, and Pabes. It would also present an interesting continuation of the use of the Dioscuri on the reverse, here an oblique iconographic reference, from the Yuezhi to the Kus. a¯ 86 Notice again the combination of the Greek legend THPO with the reverse showing Zeus, the guardian of political order and peace. 87 Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 8, 681. 88 Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 8, 681.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India Figure 4.5 Kujula Kadphises Su Hermaeus Imitations C. 40–90 CE

a. Zeus Enthroned

b. Winged Nike

Source: British Museum 1922,0424.3602; Source: Peter A. Linenthal Collection. Reproduced with permission. © Trustees of the British Museum. Note: Obverse: Diademed bust of King Note: Obverse: Diademed bust of King right. right. Legend in Greek: BAI Legend in Greek: BAI THPO V EPMAIOY (of the [THPO V EPMAIOY] (of the King and Protector Hermaeus). King and Protector Hermaeus). Reverse: Winged Nike walking Reverse: Zeus seated on throne to to left. left right arm extended. Legend in Kharos.t.hı¯: Legend in Kharos.t.hı¯: maharaja maharaja sarajarasa mahatas [samahatasa] he[ramayasa] (of the aheramayasa (of the great great King Hermaeus). King of Kings Hermaeus).

(circa 20 CE–46 CE), and overstrikes indicate that they were in constant battle with each other.89 It seems that Kujula Kadphises and Gondophares, along with his satraps, never fully defeated the other, but by the time of Kujula Kadphises’ death, the Kus. a¯ had gotten the better of the Indo-Parthians, substantially weakening their control over the Indian territories. As Kujula Kadphises gained more territory, he began to assert his personal power by inserting his own name in the obverse Greek legend. There was a precedent for this among the Yuezhi in the Sapalbizes and Arseiles coinage, but while those were rare and confined to a remote north-western corner of Bactria, these issues were plentiful and circulated widely both north and south of the Hindu Kush. The Greek legends on the obverses show the way


There are Kujula Kadphises Heracles issues overstruck by Gondophares Nike issues, but there are also Gondophares Nike issues overstruck by Kujula Kadphises Heracles issues. These coins must have been in circulation side by side, competing with each other. See Alram, ‘Indo-Parthian and Early Kushan Chronology: The Numismatic Evidence’, 28–29.

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Kujula Kadphises experimented with his name on the coins as he conquered new territories to the east. The legends progress from their earlier formulation —  THPO V EPMAIOY, ‘of your King and Protector Hermaeus’ — to a legend where he inserts his name alongside that of Hermaeus — KAIZOY Y EPMAIOY, ‘of Kadphises and of Hermaeus’— to a legend where he drops the name ‘Hermaeus’ and puts his full name — KOZOYO KAIZOY KOPNAOY, ‘of Kujula Kadphises Kushana’.90 These obverses, then, were hybrids meant for the Greek speakers of the region. Kujula Kadphises combined previously articulated ways of projecting power and legitimacy — the Greek bust, Greek coin design, and the Greek name ‘Hermaeus’ — with his own name. That he introduced his own name slowly, attaching himself first to Hermaeus before going on it alone, suggests a clever political manoeuvring whereby he asserted himself slowly rather than risk complete rejection. On the reverses of these coins, the Prakrit legend in the Kharos.t. hı¯ script remains consistent. Here, Kujula Kadphises announces himself as the yabgu of the Kus. a¯, one who is steadfast in the Dharma, or the Law. The image of Heracles with a club and an animal skin draped over his arm suggests power and strength. Again, the use of a Greek deity does not indicate an allegiance to Greek forms of religious belief and ritual, but rather is a strategy to build legitimacy. Understanding this process is essential to understanding later Kus.a¯n.a issues that include gods and goddesses from a range of pantheons: Greek, Iranian and Indian. As Kujula Kadphises gained confidence in his ability to rule Punjab, he began to experiment with different types of coins. A rare coin type minted only in Gandha¯ra, the so-called ‘Macedonian Soldier’ type, identifies the sovereign on the obverse as Kujula Kadphises the Kushan, KOZOYO KA(OIHEI) KOPAN, and on the reverse uses the formulation, in Kharos.t. hı¯, yavuasa kuyula kasvasa, ‘of Kujula Kadphises, Kushana Yabgu’ (see Figure 4.6a). The design of the soldier on the reverse suggests a powerful army under his rule.

90 See Alram, Nomina Propria Iranica in Nummis, 300, n. 1272–1275 for details on this very important progression of Kujula Kadphises’ legends.

Figure 4.6 Kujula Kadphises, Various Issues C. 40–90 CE

Source: © Trustees of the British Museum. Notes: a. Soldier; British Museum 1888,1208.530. Obverse: Bust with long hair wearing helmet decorated with two spirals. Legend in Greek (idealised): KOZOYO KA(OIHEI) KOPAN. Reverse: Standing soldier armed with spear and shield, facing right. Legend in Kharos.t.hı¯ (idealised): (of Kujula Kadphises, Kushana Yabgu). b. Bull and Camel; British Museum 1894,0506.1817. Obverse: Humped bull walking to right. Reverse: Camel walking to right. Legend in Kharos.t.hı¯ (idealised): maharayasarayatirayasadevaputrasakuyulakasakapasa (of the Great King, King of Kings, KujulaKadphises, the Son of the Gods). c. King on Curule Chair; British Museum 1850,0305.184. Obverse: Bust of Kujula Kadphises, in guise of Roman Emperor, facing right. Legend in Greek (idealised): KOZOA KA XOPANOY ZAOOY (Kujula Kadphises Kushana Yabgu). Reverse: King, seated on Roman curule chair, wearing nomadic dress and sword, extending right hand. Legend in Kharos.t.hı¯ (idealised): (of the Kushan Yabgu Kujula Kadphises, steadfast in the true law). d. Seated King in Cross-legged Position/Zeus Standing; British Museum 1922,0213.62. Obverse: Zeus standing right, holding long sceptre in left hand. Legend in Greek (idealised): KOZO KAAEC XOÞANOY (of Kujula Kadphises Kushana). Reverse: King seated cross-legged facing; left hand on hip, raised right hand holding flower/standard. Legend in Kharos.t.hı¯ (idealised): (of Kujula Kadphises, the Kushan).

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Group C, the ‘Kujula Series’: Mints at Taxila and its Environs In the region of Chach, the modern Pakistani district of Attock, the Indo-Parthian satrap Zeionises/Jihonika also came under the sway of Kujula Kadphises. Kujula Kadphises copied the bull/camel coin design of Zeionises/Jihonika almost exactly: on the obverse is a humped bull, and the reverse has a camel. Once again, however, Kujula Kadphises used the legend to assert himself as the ruler of the territory and referred to himself as devaputrasa, the ‘Son of the Gods’ (see Figure 4.6b). Kujula Kadphises also minted another series of coins, what Gul Rahim Khan calls the ‘Augustus series’, in Taxila that explicitly identify him as the Yabgu in both Greek and Prakrit.91 The obverse is a portrait taken not from previous Greek models such as Hermaeus or Eucratides I busts, but rather from Roman coinage. The reverse is important for its iconography. The King sitting in a Roman-type curule chair is dressed in typical Indo-Scythian clothing: a pointed hat, large boots, trousers, and carrying a sword (see Figure 4.6c). There is no mistaking this for a Greek king, and there is no mistaking this king for a local ruler either, because for ‘Iranians and Indians, the ruler of the world sits on a throne’.92 The full-length portrait is also important. As Rosenfield observes, ‘[i]n the coin symbolism of the ancient world, the depiction of the full figure of a prince on coins is considered a sign of the heightened status of the ruler’.93 91

Khan, Taxila under the Kushans, 15 writes, ‘the position of Augustus coins of Kujula is of great significan[ce]. Their place of issue, design and weight standard shows that these coins were [a] late issue struck at Taxila. These coins are quite common in Taxila. They represent 12.36 per cent of Kujula’s assemblage reported from Marshall’s excavations. Contrary to this only [a] few coins of this type are reported from other regions as only one has been reported from both Butkara (Göbl 1976, no. 68) and Begram. . . the coins of the Augustus series struck at Taxila sequentially come after Heraus and Su Hermaeus series issued from Bactria and Kabul valley . . . the [Heraus type] coins are usually found intact north of the Hindu-Kush and they were brought to Taxila and other regions after the king occupied these territories’. 92 Robert Göbl, System und Chronologie der Münzprägung des Kuša¯nreiches (Wien: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1984), 13. See also Rosenfield, The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans, 187. 93 Rosenfield, The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans, 13.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

Finally, there is an interesting issue of Kujula Kadphises that has created much controversy. On the obverse of this copper coin is a figure in the cross-legged position holding an object, perhaps a flower.94 On the reverse, there is a standing Zeus holding a long sceptre (see Figure 4.6d). These coins resonate with those of Maues and Azes I that show similar images of cross-legged figures.95 The figure on the coins of Kujula Kadphises has been identified as the Buddha by many, including R. B. Whitehead, Vincent Smith, and more recently, Satya Shrava.96 The great interpreter of the iconography of Hinduism, J. N. Banerjea, suggests that the figure is S´iva.97 These identifications, however, have been refuted by many, including Marshall, Coomaraswamy and Rosenfield.98 Currently, most scholars identify the image as the king, Kujula Kadphises, himself. Thus, the image does not depict the Buddha or suggest that the blessings of the Buddha are conferred upon


Mitchiner, IGISC, 689 suggests that the object is a flower; others, including Shrava, The Kus. a¯n.a Numismatics, 71, are not so sure. 95 For images of the Maues coins, see Whitehead, PMC, pl. X no. 31; Gardner, BMC, pl. XVII no. 5; Smith, CCIM, 8 no. 4. For images of the Azes I coins, see Whitehead, PMC, pl. XI no. 195, and Gardner, BMC, pl. XIX no. 1. However, Robert Senior’s study of Indo-Scythian coinage has, by far, the best drawn images of these coins; see Senior, Indo-Scythian Coins and History, 149. 96 See Whitehead, PMC, 173 and 181, pl. XVII, 29; Vincent Arthur Smith, ‘Numismatic Notes and Novelties, No. II, Ancient and Medieval India’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 66, no. 4 (1897): 300; Shrava, The Kus. a¯n.a Numismatics, 71–72. The seated figures on the Maues and Azes I coins have also been identified as the Buddha; see Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India, 400 and M. Longworth Dames, ‘Review of Whitehead 1914’, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1914): 793. 97 Jitendra Nath Banerjea, The Development of Hindu Iconography, vol. 4 (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1985 [1956]), 112 n. 2. 98 John Hubert Marshall, Taxila: An Illustrated Account of Archaeological Excavations Carried Out at Taxila under the Orders of the Government of India between the Years 1913 and 1934 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951), 792, 818 and 840; Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Origin of the Buddha Image (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1972), 12 [originally published as ‘The Origin of the Buddha Image’, The Art Bulletin 9 (1927): 287–328]; Rosenfield, The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans, 14–15.

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the king, nor does it imply that Kujula Kadphises’ personal religion is Buddhism, as some have suggested.99 But rather, as David Gordon White argues, ‘in the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era, the lotus posture [that is, the cross-legged seated position] was a mark of royal sovereignty: royal gods or goddesses, their priests and kings, sat enthroned in this posture, upon a dais, lotus, or cushion’.100 White continues by citing Joe Cribb’s assessment of a 1st century CE sculpted image from the Swa¯t Valley, ‘[w]hile crossed legs and folded hands, postures associated with the practice of meditation, are characteristic of Buddha and Bodhisattva images . . . a notable precedent for these postures within the secular context exists in the image of the seated king on the Maues coin’.101 While it is now generally accepted by scholars, except for those such as Shrava, that the seated figure is not the Buddha or S´iva, Cribb’s insight has been overlooked by most. The arguments against the idea that the figure is the Buddha stem neither from a contextual understanding of the purpose of Kujula’s coinage nor from a nuanced understanding of religion in the early historic period. Rather, these arguments invariably posit that the image does not look like the other iconographic representations of the Buddha in sculpture, nor does it match descriptions of the Buddha in texts; thus, it cannot be the Buddha.102 While these comparisons do end up with the correct


For example, see A. K. Narain, ‘Indo-Europeans in Inner Asia’, in The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, ed. Denis Sinor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 162. 100 David Gordon White, Sinister Yogis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 56. See also his article ‘Never Have I Seen Such Yogı¯s, Brother: Yogı¯s, Warriors, and Sorcerers in Ancient India’, in Ancient to Modern Religion, Power, and Community in India, ed. Ishita Banerjee-Dube and Saurabh Dube (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 86–113. 101 Elizabeth Errington and Joe Cribb, The Crossroads of Asia: Transformation in Image and Symbol in the Art of Ancient Afghanistan and Pakistan, An Exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 6 October—13 December 1992 (Cambridge: Ancient India and Ancient Iran Trust, 1992), 169. 102 See Savita Sharma, Early Indian Symbols: Numismatic Evidence (Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, 1990), 162–163; Chattopadhyay, The Age of the Kus.a¯ A Numismatic Study, 185–188; Swati Chakraborty, Socio-Religious and Cultural Study of the Ancient Indian Coins (Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation, 1986), 184–188.


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conclusion, they are flawed in two interrelated ways. First, there is the assumption that early images of the Buddha would be uniform in their adherence to some kind of universal standard. Second, these comparisons assume that only the scriptural depiction of the Buddha would have been translated into iconography. The local quality of art and religion is flattened by the modern idea of Buddhism as a fully formed, coherent religion with a standard, universally recognised iconography in the centuries at the beginning of the Common Era.

The Coinage of Vima Takto (Circa 90–110 CE) While Kujula Kadphises made great strides in establishing the legitimacy of Kus. a¯n.a rule, the sustained and stubborn resistance of the Indo-Parthians, as well as some resistance from the Indo-Scythian satraps, prevented him from solidifying the nascent empire south of the Hindu Kush. At his death in circa 90 CE, he left his son, Vima Takto, with an unruly, disorganised kingdom, not a unified empire. Vima Takto took up the task of strengthening the Kus.a¯n.a hold on the core territories in Bactria, organising his father’s newly won northwest Indian territories by breaking the last vestiges of Indo-Parthian and Indo-Scythian power, and expanding the empire farther east with forays as far east as Mathura. Because of Vima Takto’s success in these empire-solidifying enterprises, he would leave his own son, Vima Kadphises, an empire ready to flourish.103

103 In 2008, Osmund Bopearachchi challenged Joe Cribb’s 1995–96 assertion that Vima Takto and Soter Megas were the same sovereign (see note 2 here for bibliographic details). Working off the insight of Gérard Fussman’s ‘L’inscription de Rabatak et l’origine de l’èreS´aka’, Journal Asiatique 286, no. 2 (1998): 612 and François Thierry’s ‘Yuezhi et Kouchans: pièges et dangers des sources Chinoises’, in Afghanistan, Ancien Carrefour entre l’Est et l’Ouest: Actes du Colloque International au Musée Archéologique Henri-Prades-Lattes du 5 au 7 Mai 2003, ed. Christian Landes, Osmund Bopearachchi, and Marie-Françoise Boussac (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005), 421–539, Bopearachchi argues that Vima Takto must have been quite advanced in years when he ascended to the throne after the death of his father, Kujula Kadphises, who had ruled for nearly 50 years. Thus, Vima Takto depended on a general, most likely younger and stronger than himself, to administer his Indian territories. This general usurped much of Vima Takto’s kingdom and began

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Vima Takto’s early issues reflected the fragmented nature of the Kus.a¯n.a kingdom he inherited. In each region, he minted coins meant only for local distribution in accordance with the previous local iconography and legends.104 Thus, we find three distinct regional issues particular to Bactria, Gandha¯ra and western Punjab, and Kashmir. In eastern Punjab, a territory Vima Takto conquered later in his reign, he introduced a coinage similar to his Bactrian models. But unlike Kujula Kadphises, who never really issued a standard inter-regional coin type, Vima Takto also minted a general issue that circulated in all four regions, bringing the Kus. a¯n.a kingdom together under one monetary system.

to issue his own coins under the title ‘Soter Megas’. Bopearachchi suggests that perhaps Vima Takto and Soter Megas ruled as contemporaries for a short time, but he makes it clear that Soter Megas quickly pushed Vima Takto, the legitimate heir to the Kus. a¯n.a throne, ‘to a remote area where he [Vima Takto] apparently struck an extremely limited series of bronze coins with his name in Kharos.t. hı¯’ (Bopearachchi, ‘Chronology of the Early Kushans: New Evidence’, 132). This hypothesis needs to be worked out in more detail as it runs up against evidence that Vima Takto and Soter Megas were the same sovereign, and while Bopearachchi supplies some preliminary solutions to such problems (and indicates that his next project will be a detailed study of the chronology of the early Kus. a¯, I think it best to work under the assumption that Vima Takto and Soter Megas were the same sovereign. However, as the balance of this section will show, whether or not these coins were issued by one sovereign or two does not affect my argument that much. That is, in either case, we can understand the development of the inscriptions and imagery as purposive action taken by particular Kus. a¯n.a rulers to establish a solid empire. 104 The most complete and up to date analysis of Vima Takto’s coins is found in Joe Cribb, ‘The Rabatak Inscription, Its Historical Implications and Numismatic Context: The New Kushan King, Vima I Tak[to]’, Journal of the Institute of Silk Road Studies 4 (1995–96): 97–142. The best earlier work on Vima Takto’s coins can be found in David W. MacDowall, ‘Soter Megas, King of Kings, The Kus. a¯n.a’, Journal of the Numismatic Society of India 30 (1968): 28–48; and David W. MacDowall, ‘Implications for Kushan Chronology of the Numismatic Context of the Nameless King’, in International Conference on History, Archeology and Culture of Central Asia in the Kushan Period (1968: Dushanbe), ed. B. G. Gafurov (Moscow: Nauka, 1974), 246–264.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

Regional Mints In Bactria, where the core of Kus. a¯n.a hegemony was already firmly established by Kujula Kadphises, Vima Takto first issued bilingual (Kharos. t. hı¯ and Greek) copper tetradrachms on a reduced Attic standard.105 The obverse helmeted bust of these large copper coins is linked to Kujula Kadphises’ early imitations (circa 40 CE–60 CE) of the late Yuezhi imitations (circa 55 BCE–30 CE) of the GraecoBactrian kings Eucratides I and Heliocles I. Vima Takto made a clear effort to legitimise his minting authority by linking himself to his powerful predecessors who had ruled in Bactria for at least a century before him. However, he added his own novel flourish to the image: the king holds an arrow in his left hand, which is raised in front of the bust, further suggesting the power of Vima Takto’s rule. The reverse has a mounted horseman with a raised right hand holding a goad with the Greek legend BAIEY BAIEYTHP MEA, ‘Of the King of Kings, the Great Protector’ (see Figure 4.7a). These early Bactrian copper issues would become the model for both Vima Takto’s issues in the newly conquered region of eastern Punjab and for his general issue. In Gandha¯ ra and western Punjab, the region where Kujula Kadphises and the Indo-Parthians had fought bitterly without a clear victor, Vima Takto succeeded in ending Indo-Parthian rule completely. After securing Kus. a¯n.a hegemony, he issued silver tetradrachms and drachms based directly on the coin designs of the Indo-Parthian satrap Sases, his conquered foe (see Figure 4.7b).106 Vima Takto used the same images as Sases did, a horseman on the obverse and Zeus on the reverse,107 and he copied the legends almost exactly as well. On the obverse, he inscribed the Greek legend BAIEY BAIEY THP MEA, a direct translation of Sases’ Kharos.t. hı¯ legend, maharajasa rajatirajasa mahatasa tratarasa, ‘of the Great King of Kings, the Great Protector’. Vima Takto then


Cribb, ‘Coins of Vima Tak[to]’, 113, type 3. Ibid., 112–113, type 1. 107 The Zeus figure on the reverse is also found on Kujula Kadphises’ coins in this region; see Mitchiner, IGISC vol. 8, 689, type 1054. Cribb connects the Zeus reverses of Sases, Kujula Kadphises, and Vima Takto coins, so it is clear that all three types employ the same Zeus design on these local Gandha¯ra/western Punjab coins. See Cribb, ‘Coins of Vima Tak[to]’, 120. 106

Figure 4.7 Vima Takto, Various Issues C. 90–110 CE

Source: a. Image courtesy of CoinIndia, As accessed on 20 August 2014; b–e. © Trustees of the British Museum. Notes: a. Vima Takto Heliocles I Imitation Copper Tetradrachm. Obverse: Helmeted bust left, holding spear, three-pronged tamgha behind, Kharos.t.hı¯ monogram vi before, bead and reel border around. Reverse: King mounted on horse right, holding dagger or spear, three-pronged tamgha. Legend in Greek: BACIEV BACIEVWN CWTHP MEAC. b. Sasan Horseman/Zeus Silver Tetradrachm (Indian Standard); British Museum IOLC.983. Obverse: Sasan on horse to right holding whip. Reverse: Zeus standing to right holding sceptre. Legend in Kharos.t.hı¯ (idealised): maharajasa mahatasa tratarasa devavratasa guduvharasa sasasa. c. Vima Takto Horseman/Zeus Copper;British Museum IOLC.1567. Obverse: King on horseback, three-pronged tamgha. Greek legend (idealised): BACIEVC BACIENCTHP MEAC. Reverse: Zeus standing. Legend in Kharos.t.hı¯ (idealised): maharajasa rajatirajasa mahatasa tratarasa vema, and monogram vi. d. Vima Takto Bull/Camel Copper Drachma; British Museum 1998,1202.18. Obverse: Bull walking to right, nandipada in field above. Greek legend: [. . . ]m (idealised – King of Kings Vima Takto) Reverse: Camel walking to right. Legend in Kharos.t.hı¯ (idealised): mahakshadarasa [. . . ] yapikho (The Great Satrap [. . . ] Vima Takto) e. Vima Takto Cloaked Bust/Zeus; British Museum 1922,0424.2993. Obverse: Diademed male bust with rays emanating from head, wearing a cloak on shoulders, holding an arrow, three-pronged tamgha behind head. Reverse: Horseman wearing Iranian cap with diadem ties, holding a goad, horse walking right. Legend in Greek in rounded letters (idealised): YYP .


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added his own name, Vema, to Sases’ Kharos. t. hı¯ legend on the reverse, so that the reverse of Vima Takto’s coins now reads, maharajasa rajatirajasa mahatasa tratarasa vema, ‘of Vima, the Great King of Kings, the Great Protector’ (see Figure 4.7c).108 Once Vima Takto had established himself in the region of Gandha¯ra/western Punjab, he began to take a more active control of the local monetary system, asserting his coinage as the standard for trade and consequently asserting himself as hegemon. He started by issuing a copper denomination to serve as small change to the silver tetradrachms and drachms.109 This would replace the Indo-Parthian coins in circulation.110 This issue is uninscribed but clearly has Vima Takto’s tamgha on the obverse. Cribb notes that the designs on this uninscribed type, which he identifies as S´iva and Ardochsho, ‘are novel and point towards the designs of the later Kushan kings’.111 Here, rather than labelling the naked male figure holding a sceptre in his right hand with an animal skin draped over his left arm as S´iva, perhaps it is best to follow Bopearachchi and focus instead on the composite nature of this figure. That is, Bopearachchi argues that this period was a transitional period before ‘Hindu iconography developed into a codified orthodoxy . . . [and thus] confusion occurs when interpreting an image of a deity holding attributes described in sacred texts as belonging to several gods of the Hindu pantheon’.112


It is not entirely clear how Vima Takto meant to have his name recorded, as there is no single coin with a perfectly clear legend. However, Alram reads the legend as either vemasa (of Vima) or vema ta (of Vima Ta[kto]). The legend is truncated by the small flan, so there must have been more at the end. It is clear that Vima did put his name, in some form, on the reverse of these coins, so ‘[i]f we stick to the facts then — besides the more or less clearly legible epithets — only the form vema can be regarded as secure’, (Alram, ‘Indo-Parthian and Early Kushan Chronology: The Numismatic Evidence’, 34). 109 Cribb, ‘Coins of Vima Tak[to]’, 112–133, type 2. 110 Much of Sases’ coinage was minted in billon and was quite common, so Vima Takto may have been trying to replace these small denominations with his own. For Sases’ coinage, see Alram, Nomina Propria Iranica in Nummis, 264–266, types 1203–1211. 111 Cribb, ‘Coins of Vima Tak[to]’, 120. 112 Bopearachchi, ‘Chronology of the Early Kushans: New Evidence’, 126.

Minting Identity and Hegemony  149

Following Bopearachchi then, perhaps we can see this image as an attempt to create a novel iconography that would set Vima Takto apart from his predecessors. In Kashmir, Vima Takto minted the bull and camel type in continuation with the previous Zeionises/Jihonika and Kujula Kadphises bull and camel issues.113 There are two types found, a larger and smaller version, and both are copper issues that have a blundered Greek legend on the obverse and a Kharos.t. hı¯ legend on the reverse. The Kharos.t. hı¯ legend has various titles for Vima Takto: maharayasa rayatirayasa devaputrasa Vema Takto (Takho), ‘of the Great King, King of Kings, son of the gods, Vima Takto’. Both types also have ‘the same magnetic-sensitive metallurgical characteristics of the previous reign’s coins’.114 Vima Takto changed very little on these issues, preferring to stay in continuity with the Indo-Scythian satrap Zeionises/Jihonika and Kujula Kadphises’ coinage (see Figure 4.7d). In the newly conquered territory of eastern Punjab, Vima Takto minted coins based on the designs of his Bactrian coinage (see Figure 4.7e).115 The bust on the obverse of these Attic standard copper drachms is, once again, taken from the imitation Heliocles I coins issued by Kujula Kadphises, but Vima Takto added a stereotypical Central Asian cloak to the image. The reverse is copied from Yuezhi Heliocles I imitations showing Zeus holding a thunderbolt in his left hand and a sceptre in his right accompanied by the Greek legend BAIEY BAIEY THP MEA, ‘of the Great King of Kings, the Great Protector’.116

Imperial Mints In addition to these four local types, Vima Takto also minted a general issue of Attic standard copper didrachms, about 8.5 grams, and an identical smaller denomination of Indian standard drachms, about 2 grams, which circulated in Bactria, western Gandha¯ra and Taxila, and Kashmir.117 It seems that the general issue did not circulate as 113

Cribb, ‘Coins of Vima Tak[to]’, 115–118, types 6 and 7. Ibid., 119. 115 Ibid., 114, type 4. 116 MacDowall, ‘Soter Megas, King of Kings, The Kus. a¯n.a’, 30. 117 Cribb, ‘Coins of Vima Tak[to]’, 114–115, type 5. Whether these were minted on the Attic standard or the Indian standard is not entirely clear. 114


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far as eastern Punjab, where the cloaked bust/Zeus with thunderbolt coins dominated, and only under his son, Vima Kadphises, would a truly empire-wide coin be minted. However, the general issue discussed here served to unite the Bactrian and north-western Indian territories under one monetary system, facilitating trade and commerce while simultaneously projecting a single sovereign.118 In the political realm, the combination of legend and iconography sent a clear message to the subjects of the empire. In this general issue, the most striking feature on the obverse is the radiate diademed bust. The bust is, once again, a clear imitation of the previous Heliocles I busts that have been shown to confer respect and authority for almost two centuries. The addition of the Central Asian cloak, however, removes the iconography from the Greek world and places the image squarely in the Bactrian realm. Most important, however, are the rays emanating from the bust. Cribb suggests that the rays perhaps ‘identify it as an image of the Kushan solar deity Mioro (Mithra)’.119 This identification of the link between solar rays and a solar deity is well founded. As we have seen, the Zeus-depicting reverses of the Yuezhi Eucratides I imitations have the deity radiate, bringing together Zeus and Mithra with solar symbolism. On Vima Takto’s coins, however, the rays emanate not from the head of a deity, but the head of the sovereign. This can be taken as an iconographic representation of the Kharos.t. hı¯ title devaputra, ‘son of the gods’. This use of solar symbolism, of rays and flames, to indicate the elevated status of the Kus. a¯n.a sovereigns, a status that touches the realm of the gods, became a key theme for future Kus. a¯n.a kings. Finally, Vima Takto dropped the Kharos.t. hı¯ legend and opted for the Attic weight standard on the general issue. This marked a clear break with Kujula Kadphises, whose coinage was consistently bilingual — that is, there were legends in both Greek and Kharos.t. hı¯ — and was consistently minted on the Indian standard.120 Coins

Vima Takto minted on both standards, and the majority of varieties a and b of type 5 weigh about 8.5 grams, which could be either an Attic standard drachm or a reduced Indian standard tetradrachm. 118 This is argued most forcefully in MacDowall, ‘Implications for Kushan Chronology of the Numismatic Context of the Nameless King’, 246–264. 119 Cribb, ‘Coins of Vima Tak[to]’, 121. 120 MacDowall, ‘Soter Megas, King of Kings, The Kus. a¯n.a’, 40–41.

Minting Identity and Hegemony 


minted on the Attic standard with only Greek legends are typical of the older Graeco-Bactrian coinage minted north of the Hindu Kush. Thus, Vima Takto began the standardisation of the Kus.a¯n.a monetary system squarely on models north of the Hindu Kush.

Conclusion In this section, I have tried to show that the rise to power of the Kus. a¯ was marked by the intentional use of numismatic legends and symbols to establish legitimacy and authority. The coins were used in three different ways: first, the invading Yuezhi culled a specific set of images from the multiplicity of designs available to them in northern Bactria. These images served to identify the Yuezhi both as fierce horsemen and as royalty. Second, once they had established pockets of control, one clan of the Yuezhi, the Kuei-shuang, used a combination of image and legend to unify the various clans under one leader and created a distinct, unified social group, the Kus. a¯ Third, these early imperial-minded Kus. a¯, Kujula Kadphises and Vima Takto, used a combination of imitation and innovation to extend their control into territories south of the Hindu Kush. In all three phases, the coins were not residues of the issuer’s behaviour, but rather must be seen as an active engagement with the social situation; a medium of communication that was manipulated in various ways to create new social and political realities. Religious imagery was used not as a profession of a personal faith, but rather as a means to bring together different groups under the domain of one sovereign. All the religious imagery, most commonly in the form of deities, was used to confer sovereignty and power to the issuer of the coins. This is most obvious with the images of the goddess Nike crowning a standing figure — conferring her power and authority in a very visible way. But more importantly, there is a significant innovation in the ideology propagated: emanating rays, which had been used to demonstrate the divinity, power, and radiance of ZeusMithra, were now conferred upon the Kus. a¯ themselves, most visibly in the coinage of Vima Takto. On these coins, the obverse of a radiate bust clearly signals the elevation of the status of the Kus. a¯n.a sovereign to a level beyond the merely human and denotes his connection to the divine.


Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else.1

Introduction: Taxila in Modern Scholarship Located 20 miles to the northwest of the modern Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, Taxila was at one time at the intersection of three great trade routes connecting India, Central Asia and Western Asia.2 It was inhabited in the late 6th century BCE, and it flourished from the 3rd century BCE to the 7th century CE. Its decline can be linked to changes in the trade routes and a subsequent population decrease.3 Taxila was a vast complex of monasteries, temples and three separate cities that covered almost 10 square kilometres. It was ‘discovered’ by Alexander Cunningham in the late 19th century as he travelled throughout India following the pilgrimage routes of the Chinese monks Fa Xian, who had travelled through the Indian subcontinent in the 5th century CE (404–414), and Xuan Zang, who had done the same in the 7th century CE (630–644).4 While 1

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: Modern Library, 1999 [1902]), 11. 2 John Hubert Marshall, Taxila: An Illustrated Account of Archaeological Excavations Carried Out at Taxila under the Orders of the Government of India between the Years 1913 and 1934 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951), 1–2. 3 For a concise chronology of the rulers and empires in Taxila, see Ahmad Hasan Dani, The Historic City of Taxila (Tokyo: UNESCO, 1986), 175–176. 4 Upinder Singh, The Discovery of Ancient India: Early Archaeologists and the Beginnings of Archaeology (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004), 36–39. For Alexander Cunningham’s whole programme and details of his years as the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India, see The Discovery of Ancient India, 23–134.

Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap


Cunningham did not engage in a full excavation of Taxila, he did carry out some preliminary explorations in and around the area.5 It was the 20th century British archaeologist Sir John Marshall who did the most extensive work there from 1913 to 1934. His finds were steadily published in his yearly Annual Reports, and in 1951 Marshall re-published his data in a three-volume final report now known simply as Taxila. He notes in his introduction that ‘in such an excavation there comes a time when the entire body of data has to be re-examined and coordinated, and a comprehensive account of the whole put at the service of archaeologists and historians’.6 Although there have been various small archaeological digs in the area since the 1951 publication of Taxila, Marshall’s work is by far the most comprehensive archaeological record of the site to date.7 The ancient archaeological complex of Taxila, of which Sirkap is the largest and most excavated part, is best known in 20th century scholarship for its Gandha¯ran stucco and stone sculptures of the Buddha that are submitted as prime examples of Greek influence on the northwest of the Indian subcontinent in the centuries surrounding the start of the Common Era.8 Recently, the colonialist assumptions that sustained these studies have been deconstructed to demonstrate their Eurocentric bias. In this process, the standards of Gandha¯ran craftsmanship have also been re-evaluated in an attempt to rid the discourse of the underlying assumption of the superiority of foreign,

5 The most extensive archaeological data from Taxila published by Alexander Cunningham can be found scattered throughout his annual reports to the Archaeological Survey of India. See Alexander Cunningham, Four Reports Made During the Years 1862–63–64–65 (Simla: Government Central Press, 1871); Report for the Year 1872–73, vol. 5, Archaeological Survey of India (Varanasi: Indological Bookhouse, 1875); and Report of a Tour in the Punjab in 1878–79, vol. XIV, Archaeological Survey of India (Varanasi: Indological Bookhouse, 1882). 6 Marshall, Taxila, xvii. 7 Unfortunately, some 400 pages of Marshall’s original notes were lost during the Second World War, as he relates in his introduction, ‘[s]ome of these I was able to replace with the help of duplicates kept for safety’s sake at Taxila; others I could not replace, and have had to fall back occasionally on my memory’ (Marshall, Taxila, xviii). 8 For a discussion of the geographic boundaries of Gandha¯ra, see Kurt A. Behrendt, The Buddhist Architecture of Gandha¯ra (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 1–2.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

particularly Greek, artistic forms over indigenous Indian artistic forms. The notion that the image of the Buddha was first introduced to India by the Greeks has also been challenged, and the location for the genesis of these images has been pegged to a more traditionally ‘Indian’ location, Mathura¯. The dominance of this debate over foreign influence, however, has silenced the multivocality of Taxila’s voice, for Taxila speaks of much more than Gandha¯ran Buddha images and colonialist assumptions. Taxila unfolds a local narrative that speaks to a local religious development in Punjab. In this chapter, I first make explicit the theoretical and methodological strategies I use to re-interpret Marshall’s excavation report. Next, I interrogate the genre of the excavation report itself. The bulk of the chapter, however, is dedicated to a re-interpretation of the function of dice found at Sirkap.

Theory: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage Flannery and Marcus’ theorising in the early 1970s and the subsequent emergence of postprocessual approaches to archaeological interpretation have opened up new avenues for inferring religious thought and practice from the material record. This programme has been taken up most vigorously by prehistorian archaeologists as, by definition, the archaeological remains that these prehistorians study have no textual correlate, and thus they must find other ways to infer religious thought and practices of ancient people. Historical archaeologists, on the other hand, can always consult texts to fill in any gaps in knowledge — particularly concerning religion — so they have not been as keen to theorise religion based on material culture alone. Yet, avoiding all ‘text-free’ modes of archaeological reasoning is an unnecessary handicap, for I think that archaeologists interested in religion and working in periods when texts are available have much to learn from the theorising of prehistorian archaeologists. My argument inverts that of Christopher Hawkes in his influential 1954 paper, ‘Archaeological Theory and Method: Some Suggestions from the Old World’.9 Hawkes made a clear distinction between what he 9

Christopher Hawkes, ‘Archaeological Theory and Method: Some Suggestions from the Old World’, American Anthropologist 56 (1954): 155–168.

Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap


termed the ‘text-free’ archaeology of proto- and pre-historic cultures and the ‘text-aided’ archaeology of historical cultures. He recognised that American archaeology was concerned almost solely with the ‘text-free’ cultures of the New World indigenous inhabitants. He then argued that the ‘text-aided’ mode of archaeological reasoning could be quite helpful for those studying ‘text-free’ societies. In short, Hawkes called for New World archaeologists to recognise an important insight gleaned from historical archaeology, ‘that several cultures could exist within the same broad region simultaneously . . . [and] the notion of periods of time that are automatically also units of culture history has proved to be a serious nuisance in European prehistory’.10 While Hawkes’ argument here is certainly sound, I will argue in the balance of this chapter that for the study of religious ritual, the opposite is also true: it is the archaeological reasoning of those working in ‘text-free’ zones that can spur the field of historical archaeology to new, innovative insights, and historical archaeologists would be well served to pay attention to their prehistorian brethren. The prehistorian Stephen Mithen outlines how religious ideas are developed and transmitted, and he points to the evolution of human cognitive abilities to understand how religious ideas are embedded in material culture. Mithen argues that religious ideas found, and continue to find, ‘external storage’ in material form not because of the quantity of information, but rather because of the kind of information contained within these ideas.11 With the development of the ‘cognitively fluid mind’ — a mind that can smoothly mix different domains of thinking, a term that Mithen himself coined — material objects are seen to carry symbolic meanings. Religious ideas, according to both Mithen and Pascal Boyer, are ideas ‘which contradict our intuitive understanding of the world’.12 They are about supernatural beings that characteristically involve violations of natural phenomena, and


Hawkes, ‘Some Suggestions from the Old World’, 164. Steven Mithen, ‘The Supernatural Beings of Prehistory and the External Symbolic Storage of Religious Ideas’, in Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage, ed. Colin Renfrew and Christopher Scarre (Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 1988), 104. 12 Ibid., 101. 11


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

such violations to our intuitive understanding of the world are essential to the cultural transmission of religious ideas so as to make them attention-grabbing: they are something different, something special, something needed to be treated with reverence.13

Religious ideas that conflict with our intuitive understanding of the world are difficult to transmit, and a special ‘anchoring’ in the human mind is needed to keep this religious information intact. The anchor is provided by taking these violations and lending some familiarity to them; thus, religious ideas have the dual character of both violation and conformity to intuitive knowledge of the world. If an idea has too many violations, it is too difficult to grasp and is lost; if it has too many conformities, it lacks the requisite attentiongrabbing qualities to keep its unique status. A second, and perhaps more important for archaeology, anchor for religious ideas is their representation in symbolic, material form. It is this material form, that is, external symbolic storage, that archaeologists can study to find religious ideas.14 Colin Renfrew builds upon Mithen’s ideas by asserting that within the development of human cognitive abilities, external symbolic storage, in the form of material culture, was a necessary phase.15 Renfrew argues that Merlin Donald, author of the influential 1991 book Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition, insufficiently emphasises the role of material culture in the development of human cognitive abilities.16 Donald


Ibid. Ibid., 97–106. 15 Colin Renfrew, ‘Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage’, in Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage, ed. Christopher Scarre and Colin Renfrew (Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 1998), 1–6. 16 In doing this, Renfrew finds particularly helpful Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). I would add to this Nicole Boivin’s helpful review of literature and theoretical musings in ‘Grasping the Elusive and Unknowable: Material Culture in Ritual Practice’, Material Religion 5, no. 3 (2009): 266–287. The most relevant portion of the latter article is Boivin’s discussion of Maurice Bloch’s insights into how material functions as metaphor (see 281–283). 14

Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap


identifies four cognitive phases separated by three major transitions in human cognitive and cultural development: Phase 1: Episodic culture: characteristic of primate cognition first transition Phase 2: Mimetic culture: characteristic of Homo erectus second transition Phase 3: Linguistic or mythic culture: characteristic of early Homo sapiens third transition Phase 4: Theoretic culture: using External Symbolic Storage17 In this last phase of his schemata, theoretic culture using external symbolic storage is concurrent with the development of writing systems. Theoretic culture, according to Donald, is associated with urbanism, state society and literacy. Renfrew, however, argues that Donald is missing a key fourth phase that he inserts between the development of ‘linguistic or mythic culture’ and ‘theoretic culture using external symbolic storage’. Renfrew’s schemata looks like this: Phase 1: Episodic culture, characteristic of primate cognition first transition Phase 2: Mimetic culture, characteristic of Homo erectus second transition Phase 3: Linguistic or mythic culture, characteristic of early Homo sapiens third transition Phase 4: External Symbolic Storage: employing symbolic material culture, characteristic of early agrarian societies with permanent settlements, monuments and valuables fourth transition Phase 5: Theoretic culture using External Symbolic Storage: using sophisticated information retrieval systems including both writing and material culture18 17 Merlin Donald, Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991), 275. 18 Renfrew, ‘Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage’, 4.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

Renfrew argues that without this fourth phase in cognitive development, that is external symbolic storage employing symbolic material culture, many forms of thought simply could not have developed.19 Key here is the notion that the fifth phase (Donald’s fourth phase) includes both literate and non-literate societies. Thus, for Donald, contemporary non-literate societies would be stuck in the third stage of linguistic or mythic culture, unable to ‘progress’ to theoretic culture. Indeed, non-literate individuals living in literate societies would also be stuck in the third phase as well. In Renfrew’s system, non-literate people also have a theoretic culture, and that culture uses physical material for its external symbolic storage. For Renfrew, literate cultures use both forms of external symbolic storage simultaneously, particularly for religious ideas that are stored both in text and in material culture. This clearly opens up the study of material culture for understanding religion in societies with texts (i.e. historical archaeology), and it underlines the importance of recognising that even in ‘literate’ cultures, not all people are literate, but all people still can maintain theoretic culture through material expression.20

Method: A Framework for Inferring Religious Ritual Activity in the Material Record Colin Renfrew has produced the most detailed attempt to outline a method for studying religion through the material record. In the opening essay in his study of the Minoan sanctuary at Phylakopi,

19 Renfrew gives a number of examples: the concepts of a house and roof must come after these ‘artifacts’ existed; the concept of hot must have something to be hot; weight is meaningless without something to weigh (see Renfrew, ‘Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage’, 3). 20 This idea might be obscured because of the high percentage of literacy in the contemporary Western world. The fact that in the contemporary West ostensibly all members of this culture are literate has affected, for example, the kinds of symbolic storage that buildings contain. Amos Rapoport claims that ‘contemporary built environments tend not to communicate high-level meanings, because of significant levels of literacy today and the great variety of alternative symbolic systems’. See his ‘Archaeology and Environment– Behavior Studies’, Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 16, no. 1 (2006): 61.

Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap


Renfrew explicitly argues for a framework of inference, of the kind that Lewis Binford terms ‘middle range theory’, which would allow one to make warranted statements about past cult practice and religious belief on the basis of archaeological evidence.21 This framework of inference is necessary because it is impossible to observe religious beliefs in the past directly. Renfrew explains there are four classes of data that can be used to infer these beliefs: (a) Verbal Testimony, whether oral or written, relating to the religious activities of the community, elucidating the meaning ascribed by it to its religious practices. (b) Direct observation of cult practices, involving the use of expressive action, of vocal utterances, and of symbolic objects and materials. (c) Study of non-verbal records, mainly depictions, which document either (i) the beliefs themselves, e.g. portraying deities or mythical events; or (ii) the cult practices carried out in the community. (d) Study of the material remains of cult practices, including structures and symbolic objects and materials.22 The anthropologist has recourse to all four classes of evidence. The prehistorian archaeologist has recourse only to the last two classes of evidence. But the historical archaeologist has recourse to three classes: the first, third and fourth. However, for the historical archaeologist the only verbal testimony available is written, and even here it must be emphasised that the verbal testimony in texts reflects only the beliefs of a certain socio-economic status, that of the elite, and not the whole society. Thus, abstract ideas, such as religious ideas,

21 Colin Renfrew, ‘Towards a Framework for the Archaeology of Cult Practice’, in The Archaeology of Cult: The Sanctuary at Phylakopi, ed. Colin Renfrew, Penelope A. Mountjoy and Callum Macfarlane (Athens: British School of Archaeology, 1985), 11–26. This essay is best read in concert with Lars Fogelin, ‘Inference to the Best Explanation: A Common and Effective Form of Archaeological Reasoning’, American Antiquity 72, no. 4 (2007): 603–625, as Renfrew is implicitly relying on the epistemological assumptions that Fogelin lays out. 22 Renfrew, ‘The Archaeology of Cult Practice’, 12.


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are materialised in two equally important ways: in the creation of texts and in the creation of objects.23 But how does the archaeologist distinguish between non-ritual and ritual objects? How does the archaeologist tell the difference between the archaeological traces of technical actions — i.e., those altering the world for practical purposes such as digging a hole in the ground for a fire pit — and expressive actions — i.e., those altering the world in order to say something about it such as digging a hole to represent the netherworlds? First, Renfrew argues, any recognition of cult must be on the basis of context, and single examples are not sufficient in themselves to distinguish between technical and expressive actions. Second, formal and redundant behaviours are good indications of religious activity, but they are also not sufficient by themselves: secular ceremony and games are also formal and redundant. Thus, formality and redundancy are not enough. With these first two necessary but not sufficient conditions met, the archaeologist must look for other indications of religious ritual activities. Renfrew presents a number of such indications: if the contextual association of the objects (i) presents a sense of awe, (ii) indicates worship, offerings, or gestures, (iii) occurs in a special location, (iv) uses specific equipment, and (v) is associated with birth or death.24 In addition to the five indications of religious ritual activity above, Renfrew offers a number of ‘archaeological correlates’ that can further help in identifying religious ritual behaviour. These include: (i) attention focusing that includes spatial and temporal strategies as well as attempts to heighten the human senses of smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing; (ii) special architectural features that indicate a ‘liminal zone’, signalling an interactive zone between this world and an ‘other-world’ as well as indicators of attention to notions of purity and pollution; (iii) the presence of the transcendent and its symbolic forms; and (iv) participation and offering in which the celebrant offers gifts, presents votives and/or demands are made on the celebrant.25 Renfrew expands upon these basic categories by offering 23

See also Edmund Ronald Leach, Culture & Communication: The Logic by Which Symbols Are Connected (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 37. 24 Renfrew, ‘The Archaeology of Cult Practice’, 13–17. 25 Ibid., 18.

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multiple helpful lists, including a list of 18 material consequences of ritual behaviour and 10 strategies for distinguishing a cult image from a votive image.26 Renfrew concludes his essay by emphasising the importance of studying each object in its context and in correlation to other analogous sites. To do so, he outlines a three-step process: Step 1 Identification of a cult assemblage. Step 2 Recognition within the cult assemblage of certain specific symbols as carrying a religious meaning [although the content of that meaning need not, and in general cannot, be identified explicitly (this is less true for historical archaeology)]. Step 3 The use of these symbols to identify as ritual or sacred other contexts whose cult status might not otherwise be evident.27 In other words, the thicker the description, to use Geertz’s famous phrase, the more plausible the interpretation. In this remarkably brief but powerful work, Renfrew has outlined a ‘middle range theory’ to be used for inferring religious ritual activity in the archaeological record.

Religion, Archaeology and the Power of Classification The study of religion and ritual exemplifies the power that classification has in demarcating the boundaries of a subject. Classification is often key to the process of explanation, and in past decades scholars of religion have worked hard to challenge early classificatory structures that came to dominate and restrict thinking in the field. For example, Jonathan Z. Smith has taken the very act of defining and classifying what is, and what is not, religion as a subject of inquiry, and he demonstrates that classification and taxonomies have shaped the way we think about religion.28 The power of classification is 26

I do not include all the details, but see Ibid., 19–26. Renfrew, ‘The Archaeology of Cult Practice’, 24. 28 Jonathan Z. Smith, Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). See in particular chapters 7–10, 27


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also clearly evident in archaeology. Unlike other disciplines where scholars communicate their ideas through narrative, in archaeology the preferred mode of conveying information is through the highly structured, non-narrative archaeological excavation report. The structural principle of the excavation report is that of classification, and as Richard Bradley argues: [t]he main divisions are according to raw material and, within them, by technology. Thus, pottery is separated from stone and stone from metalwork. Artefacts, in turn, are kept apart from biological remains. This protects the traditional boundaries between different specialists’ areas of expertise, but it does so at a cost, for this system is maintained with no particular purpose in mind. The scheme . . . was perfectly consistent with the project of precise description that characterized scientific enquiry, but it is a way of organizing knowledge which has nothing to do with the results of any particular project.29

Further, even when writing summary narratives about their excavations intended to interpret the evidence in a more narrative, explanatory form, archaeologists have become so familiar with such classificatory reporting conventions that they unconsciously reproduce them there as well.30 These conventions are so ubiquitous that Bradley argues they form a literary genre of their own. The conventional structure of South Asian excavation reports is based on the agenda set by British archaeologists in the late 19th and 20th centuries, and this illustrates Bradley’s argument.31 The where he explicitly takes up the impact of taxonomy and classification in the study of religion. Smith’s project is not to move the study of religion away from efforts to classify and define religion, but rather to elucidate the power that such efforts contain. Smith is one of many scholars who have explored the impact of classification on the study of religion. For example, Tomoko Masuzawa offers a good introduction to the creation and use of the classificatory system contained within the discourse of ‘World Religions’ in her The Invention of World Religions, Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 29 Richard Bradley, ‘The Excavation Report as a Literary Genre: Traditional Practice in Britain’, World Archaeology 38, no. 4 (2006): 666. 30 Ibid., 664. 31 In fact, Bradley points to Stuart Piggot and Sir R. E. M. Wheeler as two of the key figures in British archaeology who set the agenda for how

Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap


primary goal for South Asian archaeologists has been to create a ‘culture–history’ of the subcontinent. Culture–history archaeology, as we have seen in Part I of this book, sought to identify distinct cultural groups — often linked with ideas of ethnicity — with a bounded set of distinguishable material culture. A key element of culture–history archaeology is the creation of ceramic and artifact sequences that can then be used to establish relative chronologies. This agenda was most fully implemented in the 1940s by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, whose military-style excavations focused on detailed stratigraphic data into which ceramic and artifact sequences could be placed.32 In excavation reports published before Wheeler’s imprimatur was felt, particularly those reports of excavations of early historic sites conducted in the early 1900s such as Marshall’s at Taxila, rather than a detailed stratigraphy, a detailed analysis of the structural remains was employed to provide the general chronology.33 Thus, South Asian excavation reports are traditionally divided into three sections: one section provides an analysis of the structural remains (or later a detailed stratigraphy of the site), a second section presents the found artifacts arranged typologically, and a third section contains the images.34

excavation reports should be written. And, as is commonly known, Piggot and Wheeler’s impact on South Asian archaeology is huge. 32 For more on Wheeler’s contribution to the shape of South Asian archaeology, see Chapter 2: ‘The Persona and the Methodology’ in Himanshu Prabha Ray, Colonial Archaeology in South Asia: The Legacy of Sir Mortimer Wheeler (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008), 59–86; and Ashish Chadha, ‘Visions of Discipline: Sir Mortimer Wheeler and the Archaeological Method in India (1944–1948)’, Journal of Social Archaeology 2, no. 3 (2002): pp. 378–401. 33 Chronologies based on the masonry morphology are not as finely detailed as stratigraphic analysis. Strict stratigraphic control and analysis were not introduced to South Asian archaeology until Wheeler took control of the Archaeological Survey in the 1940s and 1950s. As Robin Coningham states, ‘Marshall’s control of the vertical record was not particularly strong, however, it would be true to say that his horizontal recording was amongst the best of his day’ [Robin Coningham and Briece R. Edwards, ‘Space and Society at Sirkap, Taxila: A Re-Examination of Urban Form and Meaning’, Ancient Pakistan 12 (1997–98): 54]. 34 It should be noted that in the study of proto- and pre-historic sites in South Asia, this tripartite structure has broken down as focus has shifted


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

Marshall’s 1951 excavation report Taxila adheres to this tripartite structure. Marshall published three volumes: Volume I Structural Remains, Volume II Minor Antiquities and Volume III Plates. However, in the first volume, after a brief topographical analysis of the region, Marshall gives a detailed, 76-page textual history of Taxila. He begins by analysing the most prominent Indian textual traditions: the Ra¯ma¯yan.a, the Maha¯bha¯rata, the Arthas´a¯stra, the Ja¯takas, and Jain sources. He then moves to the foreign accounts of Greek and Chinese travellers to India, numismatic studies and epigraphy. There is nothing inappropriate about marshalling all the textual, numismatic and epigraphic evidence at hand; in fact, these sources should be used to construct a macro-history of the site. Marshall was a careful historian, and much of the information in this section (while it has certainly been refined over the past six decades) is still quite good. But there are consequences that follow from this textual introduction that deserve particular attention. First, in structuring his study in this way, Taxila and its material remains are framed by text. In fact, at the end of this section, Marshall offers a chronology, based solely on this textual introduction, into which his finds are placed. Following from this, the balance of the report seeks to augment this textual macro-history. The rest of the report, like the historical introduction, is dominated by the desire to identify kings, consumed by a concern to fit both the structural remains and artifacts into stylistic categories that are based on ideas of ‘ethnic origin’ or ‘religious affiliation’, and fundamentally uninterested in exploring the day-to-day life of the inhabitants who lived there. While a macro-history is a valuable and important history to write, I believe the massive archive of material culture at Sirkap presents us with the opportunity to write micro-histories. That is, because of the size of the excavation and its rich material record, we have the opportunity to write histories that are not just about dynasties of kings and the general character of ‘ethnic peoples’ or ‘world religions’, but we can also write about more specific concerns of inhabitants across the socio-economic scale and can consider the possibility that objects need not be categorised by raw material or ‘ethnic style’ or even ‘religious affiliation’.

away from the culture–history paradigm towards other issues. In historical archaeology, this structure is still dominant, however.

Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap


After these two sections on the topography and the (textual) history of Taxila, the rest of Volume I is dedicated to detailing the structural remains uncovered at Bhir. Mound, Sirkap, Sirsukh, the Dharmara¯jika¯ Stu¯pa Complex, and the various nearby monasteries and religious complexes.35 After a summary description of Bhir. Mound (Chapter 3 of Taxila), Marshall begins his lengthy description of Sirkap. He divides his summary of Sirkap into four sections: Chapter 4 is devoted to what Marshall calls the pre-Greek (stratum VII), Greek (stratum VI and V) and early S´aka (stratum IV) strata; Chapter 5 is devoted to the Late S´aka-Parthian Strata (strata III and II) on the east side of Main Street; Chapter 6 is devoted to the Late S´aka-Parthian Strata (strata III and II) on the west side of Main Street; and Chapter 7 is devoted to the so-called Mahal, or ‘royal residence’, in the southernmost portion of the walled area. Chapters 8–21 take up Sirsukh and the various monasteries in the surrounding area. For the chapters on Sirkap, Marshall leads the reader block by block through the city, describing the structural remains, and at the end of each block’s description he includes a list of the ‘important’ minor antiquities found. Often, the antiquities are listed according to the structural principles of Volume II detailed below; that is, they are categorised by raw material, group, class, and then type. Even when Marshall deviates from this method of presentation, he still tends to merely list the items without much interpretive analysis. In the rare case where he does provide some kind of analysis, more often than not, he does so to establish the ethnic identity and/or religious affiliation (using the categories of World Religions) of the feature or object at hand.36 Further details as to the specific location of the minor antiquities mentioned in Volume I, as well as a much more comprehensive

35 Also included in Volume I is a short osteological study titled ‘Report on the Human Remains from the Dharmara¯jika¯’, written by B. S. Guha, S. Sarkar and H. K. Bose, 296–315. 36 The move to deconstruct essentialist readings of the archaeological record came to the fore in the 1990s. This essentialism ranges from the colonial and the nationalist, to the religious. For a succinct review of this discourse, see Lynn Meskell, ‘The Intersections of Identity and Politics in Archaeology’, Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (2002): 279–301.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

cataloguing of the antiquities found, are given in Volume II. It is here that the principle of classification most fully exerts its power. There is no introductory material to this volume, and it immediately begins with the catalogue of the excavated artifacts. The finds are classified by raw material, and then further typologised (see Appendix 5.1).37 Marshall begins by classifying the objects by raw material: terracotta, stone, metal, glass, etc. Within these primary divisions, various groups, classes and typologies are then enumerated. The principles for creating groups, classes and typologies vary across the raw materials, but there are a few recurring principles: (i) Marshall often distinguishes objects according to their ‘ethnic origin’. Objects are given ethnic labels based on stylistic features, leading to Marshall calling them Achaemenid, Greek, S´aka, Parthian, and very rarely, indigenous; (ii) Marshall also distinguishes objects as either religious or non-religious, and within the religious categories he identifies to which religion each artifact belonged. The possible religions are Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanical ‘religions’. The excavation report does not contextualise the data gathered in a way that would ordinarily make sense to the study of religion. That is, ritual objects would cross many of these boundaries, and thus their mention would be sprinkled throughout Taxila’s three volumes. For the study of ritual and religion, the artifacts must be seen together, as they were found, for their contextual connections to become part of the interpretive process. Further, Marshall’s organisation of the data in this way discourages integrative thinking, since the structure of the excavation report does not lend itself to a holistic analysis of the data and instead encourages particularistic thinking. In the absence of integration of the data, there is the danger of projecting contemporary thinking onto past cultures. As the objects are divided by raw material-group-class-type, not location or context, rather than determining the function of objects by analysing their relationships


Appendix 5.1 provides a thumbnail sketch of the organisational principles used by Marshall. I have not replicated the whole of his classificatory scheme, but I have included sufficient detail to give the reader a feel for the ‘qualities’ that he found significant in distinguishing objects, and I have included the categories in which many of the objects that I will discuss here are placed.

Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap


to other objects and architectural features, their functions can be taken to be similar to the excavators’ contemporary notions. In the balance of this chapter, I will show how Marshall’s classification of the dice found at Sirkap as ‘games’ and ‘playthings’ is an example of this very process of projection. The ideology that Sir John Marshall brought to interpreting the data was determined in part by his location as a British Imperial Officer and an adherent to Protestantism in the first half of the 20th century and was projected onto the archaeological record. The fact that his classification of dice as games and playthings has not been challenged in the 60 years since the publication of his report speaks to the power of classification. Material objects can have multiple purposes, and I argue that some of these dice were used for oracular gambling. This assertion does not mean that all dice were used in this way, or even that these particular dice could not have been used in multiple ways for both non-ritual gaming and ritual gambling. Rather, I intend to show that the dice found at Sirkap most likely did serve a ritual function.

The Dice at Sirkap: Discerning Religious Ritual Objects in the Material Record The first issue in exploring the dice found at Sirkap is that they were manufactured out of three different raw materials: terracotta, stone and bone/ivory. Thus, in Marshall’s archaeological excavation report, their descriptions are located in three different chapters, as each chapter is dedicated to a specific class of raw material. In the chapter on terracotta objects, dice are given their own class, ‘Playing-dice’; in the chapter on stone objects, they are classified under ‘Miscellaneous’; and in the chapter on bone and ivory objects, they are first placed in a group called ‘Gamesmen and Playthings’ and then further placed in a class of their own, simply ‘Dice’. A necessary first step of analysis is to collate all the instances of found dice before providing a general overview of these objects. Table 5.1 below presents all instances of dice recorded at Sirkap: The fundamental premise of ‘contextual archaeology’ is that to understand the function of an object, it is essential that it be interpreted within its wider context. Table 5.1 does not reveal anything about the activities in which these dice may have been used. Thus, in order to discern whether the dice at Sirkap were used for either


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India Table 5.1 Dice recorded at Sirkap

Chapter 24 Terracotta and Clay Objects Class XX – Playing Dice 1 at Block H; square 121·49’; 2.5 in.; st. II (acc# ‘26-1999) 1 at Block G; square 100·58’; 2.5 in.; st. II (acc# ‘17-514) 1 at Block 1’; square 13·92’; 2.5 in.; st. VI (acc# ‘29-3266) Chapter 25 Stone Objects Class XXVII – Miscellaneous 1 at Block B’; square 31·86’; 2.75 in.; st. II (acc# ‘20-416) Chapter 32 Bone and Ivory Objects Group D. Gamesmen and Playthings Class XV — Dice 3 at Block C’; square 47-48·95’; 3.75 in.; st. V (acc# ‘26-9) 1 at Block C’; square 46·88’; 3.62 in.; st. IV (acc# ‘29-1658) 1 at Block C’; square 52·75’; 3.5 in.; st. IV (acc# ‘14-680) 1 at Block A’; square 18·81’; 3.5in.; st. III (acc# ‘20-631) 1 at Block C’; square 42·74’; 3.5 in.; st. III (acc# ‘14-100) 1 at Block 1’; square 14·94’; 3.5 in.; st. II (acc# ‘24-86) 1 at Block G; square 107·56’; 3.87 in.; st. II (acc# ‘14-392) 1 at Block I; square 140·62’; 3.12 in; st. II (acc# ‘26-436’) 2 at Block G; square 110·52’; 3.25 in. and 3.5 in.; st. II (acc# ‘26-2215/14)38 Source: Marshall, Taxila, vol. 2.

secular gaming or religious ritual,39 their relationship or ‘association’ with other objects and architectural features must be examined.40 With the above list of dice and their find-spots, we can re-place them 38

These two ivory dice are not listed in Chapter 32, Group D, Class XV in Volume II of Marshall’s 1951 excavation report Taxila. They are mentioned in Volume I (168), and they are also found in the Archaeological Survey of India’s Annual Report for 1926–27, 116. 39 Throughout this chapter, I will use the somewhat awkward term ‘religious ritual’ to indicate a clear distinction from other forms of ritual, such as the secular ritual instantiating kingship. However, it is disconcertingly awkward to attach ‘religious’ to all grammatical uses of the word ‘ritual’. So, to avoid awkward locutions such as ‘religious ritually charged’, I will at times use some form of the word ‘ritual’ by itself, such as ‘ritually charged’, with the understanding that I mean only religious ritual. 40 While this may appear obvious, it is rarely done. In fact, the only published study of the spatial distribution of the artifacts at Sirkap is the 1997–98 article by Coningham and Edwards, ‘Space and Society at Sirkap’, 47–75. This very important study identifies spaces that supported three

Dicing and Oracular Gambling at Sirkap


into the site map of Sirkap to get a spatial distribution (Figure 5.1).41 At first glance, this spatial distribution does not seem to offer any further insight into the function of these objects because they appear scattered throughout the city in no discernible pattern. However, patterns do emerge if we overlay a map of the public and private religious loci that Marshall identified. These religious loci are identified as such because they contain a stu¯pa shrine or stu¯pa court. Overlaying the find-spots of our dice onto the Marshall religious loci map, we find that one die made of bone (acc# ‘14-680) was found in association with a small stu¯pa shrine at Block C’ (square 52.75’; see Figure 5.2). Following Renfrew, finding objects in known Figure 5.1 Map of Sirkap with Find-spots of Dice Indicated

Source: All images in this chapter are from Marshall, Taxila, unless otherwise specified. Reproduced with permission from Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi. Notes: 1–2: Dice located in Block 1’; 3: Dice located in Block A’; 4: Dice located in Block B’; 5–10: Dice located in Block C’; 11–14: Dice located in Block G; 15: Dice located in Block H; 16: Dice located in Block I.

types of activities — commercial, administrative and religious. Their study does not take up the analysis of individual artifact classes, as I do here. I will return to Coningham and Edwards’ excellent study later in this chapter. 41 Two dice were found in Block 1’, one in Block A’, one in Block B’, six in Block C’, four in Block G, one in Block H, and one in Block I. Thirteen of the 16 dice were found in strata IV, III and II. As noted in footnote 33 in this chapter, Marshall did not have an especially strong control of the vertical record. Kurt Behrendt argues that it is not wise to place too much faith in Marshall’s dating of the strata, and we should consider strata IV, III and II as part of the same period. See Appendix 5.2 for more details regarding the dating of specific strata at Sirkap.


Archaeology and Religion in Early Northwest India

ritually charged locations, such as the stu¯pa shrine, might indicate that they had religious ritual usage rather than just a secular function: in Marshall’s terms, a ‘plaything’. This mapping allows us to invoke one of Renfrew’s archaeological correlates for discerning objects used for religious ritual in the material record: deposition in a known ritually charged location indicates, perhaps, ritual usage. But one instance of a die located at a find-spot known to be ritually charged at Sirkap does not make for a convincing argument that this particular die, let alone dice as a category, had a religious ritual function. There can be all kinds of explanations for why certain objects end up in particular places during the archaeological formation process.42 To eliminate the element of chance deposits, a significant pattern must emerge in order to argue that dice at Sirkap were not merely used for games but for religious ritual purposes. The depositional

Figure 5.2 Sirkap Block C’: Location of Die Found in Stu ¯pa

square 52.57'; location of die found in stupa ~ ~











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