Ancient Urn

Prof. Hasmukh Dhirajlal Sankalia
(10.12.1908 – 20.1.1989)

Prof. Hasmukh Dhirajlal Sankalia (10.12.1908 – 20.1.1989) Born in Mumbai he had an immense liking for the two great Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In his narrations he often spoke of Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s book, ‘The Arctic Home in the Vedas’, as it boosted his interest in Indian culture as well as the Aryans in particular. He opted for Sanskrit and History for his graduation. His love for the Indian culture and history is reflected in his M.A dissertation (completed First Class in 1932) on the ancient Buddhist University of Nalanda in Bihar. He immersed himself in ancient Indian art, architecture and iconography when he visited Nalanda and other heritage sites in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. His mentor, Father Heras, advised him to join the University of London in 1934 for his doctoral research under the guidance of K. de B. Codrington working on the ‘Archaeology of Gujarat’ he not used data from inscriptions and several written sources while conducting intensive field surveys. He completed his thesis in 1936. 

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Prof. Sankalia returned to India in 1937 and spent the next couple of years in studying coins, miniature paintings and images in various Museum. He supported himself on private tuitions and married Sarladevi in 1938 who was extremely caring and supportive as they lived together surrounded by his students and associates for the next five decades. 

Deccan College was revived in 1939 after being closed for five years. Prof. Sankalia chanced upon the newspaper advertisement for a faculty position in archaeology at the Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute at Lahore as he stood at a railway station. He applied and joined the Institute on its very first day, that is 17th August 1939 where he remained till his retirement in 1973. He served as the Joint Director of the Institute for many years and was the Director from 1956 to 1959 and from 1970 to 1973. 

Prof. Sankalia began his field work firstly around Pune city itself and discovered a megalithic site at Bhosari. Thereafter, for three and a half decades he conducted investigations virtually in every branch of archaeology and in every part of the country alongwith his colleagues and students. Prof. Sankalia has played a pivotal role in the development of pre- and proto-historic studies in the country. His first major research project concerned investigating the prehistoric archaeology of Gujarat as there were several glitches pertaining to the cultural continuity in the regions the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic phases. Prof. Sankalia’s excavations at Langhnaj brought to light the Mesolithic phase which intervened between the two. This landmark discovery was followed up by the Palaeolithic survey of the Godavari valley which disproved the established notion of the Deccan not being inhabited by prehistoric man. The third significant and outstanding contribution made by Prof Sankalia’s was the one which made an immense impact on Indian archaeology.

 

His digs at Nasik and Jorwe brought to light the Chalcolithic phase in the northern Deccan region. This exercise led him eventually to Nevasa which is counted among the rare sites inhabited by man from the Palaeolithic period to the modern times giving evidence of Middle Palaeolithic industry. Such distinctive contributions became Prof. Sankalia’s signature as he carried out archaeological excavations at about 20 places including Langhnaj and Nevasa, Dwaraka, Somnath, Kolhapur, Nasik, Inamgaon, Ahar, Maheshwar-Navdatoli, Tripuri, Tekkalakota and Sanganakallu. He was most concerned about the development of various branches in the subject like prehistory, protohistory, numismatics, palaeography and epigraphy besides art and architecture, iconography and environmental archaeology. Understanding the importance of studying contemporary tribal groups for piecing together archaeological evidence, he pioneered the branching of ethnoarchaeology in India. Always receptive to new ideas he was an active participant in the international debate on ‘New Archaeology’. 

Prof. Sankalia excavated three historical sites, namely, Kolhapur (Brahmapuri), Dwarka and Tripuri. He encouraged regional studies in cultural ethnography and historical geography focussing an using archaeological data for ascertaining the historicity of events. Prof. Sankalia was a most disciplined excavator who disliked ‘short-cuts’ giving due credence to principles of stratigraphy, three-dimensional recording, minute-to-minute supervision of the trench with an underlying deep respect for manual labour. Among the greatest qualities of Prof. Sankalia was his promptness in publishing the results of his research. He has over a dozen books devoted to regional studies, specific topics, four major works of synthesis in Indian archaeology and more than 200 research papers published in national and international journals. He constantly involved and informed the public on excavations and field projects besides writing introductory books on archaeology for children. He organized exhibitions at excavation sites and wrote popular newspaper articles in Gujarati and Marathi for the common man. His efforts were rewarded when villagers informed him of relics and artefacts that led to several Chalcolithic site. He trained three generations of students and 50 Ph.D. dissertations were completed under his supervision. Prof. Sankalia’s vision and hard work made the Department of Archaology of Deccan College one of the foremost archaeological institutions of the world. 

An Honorary Fellow and member of several research bodies he was bestowed numerous prizes, fellowships and public honours for his remarkable contribution to Indian archaeology. He received the Chakrabarty Silver Medal from the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1972 and the Robert Bruce Foote Plaque from Calcutta University for his work in prehistory. He was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fellowship (1968-70) for conducting an integrated study of prehistoric and protohistoric cultures. The highest Indian civil honour, the Padma Bhushan, was a warded to him in 1974 by the Government of India. 

Contributed By 
Prof. Subash Wilambe