You arrive in Lothal and see no intricate carvings or vibrant fresco walls. No grand fortifications or temples. Instead you see flat and desolate ruins. But you have come not for what is visible now; rather, to imagine what once was. And in the emptiness, you recreate for yourself a unique drama of the place that some believe was the cradle of the subcontinent’s oldest civilization.
Lothal, literally “Mound of the Dead”, is the most extensively excavated site of Harappan culture in India, and therefore allows the most insight into the story of the Indus Valley Civilization, its exuberant flight, and its tragic decay.
Once a sleepy pottery village, Lothal rumbled awake to become a flourishing centre of trade and industry, famous for its expertly constructed system of underground sanitary drainage, and an astonishing precision of standarized weights and measures. Unlike many other doorways into Harappan culture, Lothal passed through all the phases of the society, from earliest development to most mature. In the height of its prosperity, it not only survived but was strengthened by three floods, using the disaster as an opportunity to improve on the infrastructure. The fourth flood finally brought the settlement to the desperate and impoverished conditions that indicated the end of a powerful civilization.
Roam the ruins with your heart open to the ancient, and with the help of the local museum here, allow yourself to be transported to an era 4,500 years ago, and see in your mind’s eye the palace on high, and the artisans and crafts below, and the bustling dockyard that once reached out to the rest of the world.
Lothal began as a small village on the Sabarmati river, inhabited by people using "red ware" micaceous pottery (similar to today’s terracotta), during the Chalcolithic era. Sea-faring merchants, and later the potters, masons, smiths, and seal-cutters of the Indus Valley Civilization, established a colony at Lothal circa 2450 BC, bringing with them their tools, technology, crafts, and expanded sea-borne trade. Lothal soon became an industrial center, one of the southernmost outposts of the Indus Valley Civilization, and the most important port of the empire.
Around 2350 BC, after all the houses were destroyed by severe floods, the people of Lothal rallied together, or perhaps were led by someone, to not only rebuild the town, but also to improve on it. They strengthened the walls of the fort, raised the level of the town, built an artificial dock, possibly the first in the world, and an extensive warehouse. A hundred & fifty years later, after the next floods, they again came together to reconstruct the town into a larger city. After the third severe flood circa 2000 BC, many inhabitants left the city to move to higher and safer regions. When the city was again completely submerged around 1900 BC, what is known as the Mature Harappan period gave way to the Late Harappan Period. Poor farmers, artisans, and fishermen gradually returned in hope of rebuilding their lives, but the urban center never regenerated. The populace lived in poorly constructed reed huts, with no drainage, and perhaps even a return to illiteracy. Yet, somehow, the civilization continued here till the 16th century BC, long after it had disappeared from the northern provinces.
Gradually the town was abandoned and silted up over the next few centuries. Dr. Sr. R. Rao’s excavation of the site from 1955-62 provided the most exhaustive study of Harappan culture in India from artifacts and structural remains such as:
- earthenware: strong large ceramic jars, human and animal figurines, as well as toys and games-figures.
- copper and stone tools: in beautiful designs of human and animal figurines, often of bulls.
- seals: Lothal holds the third largest collection of seals and sealings, engraved on steatite, with animal and human figurines and letters from Indus script, but these remain undeciphered, so they do not provide as much insight into the material culture as the other findings. They do however show aspects of the spiritual culture; there are signs of worship of fire, and of the sea goddess, but not of the mother goddess.
- beads: Lothal had a highly developed bead-making industry that has not been surpassed even by the modern Cambay craftspeople working 4000 years later. Lothal was famous for its micro-beads that were made by rolling ground steatite paste on string, baking it solid, and then cutting it with a tiny saw into the desired lengths. The expertise is evident in the micro-beads of gold under 0.25 mm in diameter which cannot be found anywhere else. The gold, like today, was most likely only for the upper classes, while the poorest citizens had to make do with shell and terracotta ornaments.
- weights and measures: despite the vast area over which the Harappan culture spread, it developed an extraordinarily precise system of weights and measures, standardized across the empire, represented in the local materials at Lothal.
- a network of underground drainage: there were also 12 private paved baths on the upper town, probably for the ruling classes. These all show a remarkably forward thinking concern for hygiene and sanitation.
- dock and warehouse: The dockyard allowed ships to sluice from the sea, and expertly constructed lock gates allowed them to float while loading or unloading their cargo. Apparently the dockyard could, at that time, hold 30 ships of 60 tonnes, or 60 ships of 30 tonnes, a capacity comparable to that of the modern docks of Vishakapatnam. The dock allowed sea trade with West Asia, in particular, to expand greatly.
Lothal was believed to be Dravidian, but recent findings of association with Vedas and other Sanskrit scriptures lead some to believe this was the cradle of Aryan civilization in the sub-continent. There does seem to be enough evidence to suggest non-Aryan origin, and strong Aryan influence, as well as a meeting of the cultures, both violent and peaceful.
Opening Hours : 10.00 am to 5.00 pm.
Closed on – Friday
Entrance Fee :
Rs. 2/- per head
(Children up to 15 years free)ASI.
For further details: +91 2749 262136/2636
Archaeological survey of India : http://asi.nic.in/asi_museums_lothal.asp
How to get there
By road: Lothal is 78 km from Ahmedabad. Buses from Ahmedabad take 3 hours.
By rail: Ahmedabad is the nearest railway station.
By air: Ahmedabad is the nearest airport. The site is open from dawn to dusk, and entry is free.