LOTHAL : Mound of the dead
Written by Darshana Bhardwaj

Lothal, once a port town, is nested along the Bhogava River, a tributary of the Sabarmati River.  In Gujarati, the word ‘Lothal’ means ‘the mound of the dead’. The name is derived from the words ‘Loth’ and ‘thal’. This ancient maritime marvel is located in the Gulf of Kambhat. The sand waves of the Gulf of Khambhat whisper the story of the enchanting past dating back to 2450 BCE, providing evidence of the world’s ancient dockyard. According to UNESCO, ‘the satellite image show that the river channel, now dried, would have brought in a considerable volume of water during high tide which would have filled the basin and facilitated the sailing of boats upstream.  The remains of stone anchors, marine shells, sealings that trace its source in the Persian Gulf together with the structure identified as a warehouse further aid the comprehension of the functioning of the Lothal port’.

Post-independence, in the 1950s, the Archeological Survey of India undertook a program of exploration and excavation since the major sites, such as  Harappa and Mohenjadaro became part of Pakistan following the partition in 1947.  The desire to locate sites within the Indian subcontinent eventually led to the realization that Harappan Civilisation sites are beyond the enigmatic Indus River but they were also situated around dry beds of Ghaggar-Hakra River systems.

Rangpur, located in Gujarat, was selected as a potential archeological site. Archeological Survey of India initially assigned the task to Subbarao with the responsibility but he declined the task. Later, the assignment was handed over to S.R. Rao. Despite several days of digging the site did not yield any seals or substantial pieces of evidence.

The discovery of the world’s oldest dockyard is no less than a coincidence. S. R Rao after digging from one place to another in the hope of finding a  prospective archeological site, on his way to Dhandhuka, a city in the Ahmedabad district of Gujarat, spotted a wedding procession and a nearby mound. Rao showed the pottery pieces to a villager named Mahipat Singh, who revealed that the mound was full of such artefacts and that he had played with them during his childhood. This account is based on an interview with S.R. Rao conducted by DeshGujarat.

After the monsoon of 1954 slowly an old busy port was uncovered during the excavation. Sikodari maa temple was important in the discovery as beneath the temple they found a warehouse with seal markings indicating that Harappan trade reached faraway lands.  It is argued that the word ‘Sikodari’ has been derived from Socotra Island located in the Red Sea linking the maritime trade of the region back to thousands of years.

A notable discovery during the excavation pertained to the cemetery as a joint burial was found here, in which two individuals are buried simultaneously. Another noteworthy aspect was the town’s meticulous planning. It was planned in a way to safeguard the town from the annual flooding. Houses were constructed on a terraced platform encircled by a peripheral wall.

In conclusion, the barren soil of Lothal transformed into a site of archaeological significance. This transformation of the region into a maritime heritage was the result of the unwavering determination and trust displayed by S. R. Rao and his team, providing a window into India’s splendid history.  The dockyard of Lothal speaks of a past that was woven by the waves and anchors.