In conversation with Dr. Nayanjot Lahiri, Professor of History at Ashoka University, about communication and trade networks during the Prehistoric Period in Kashmir. She talks about the cultural background in the north and north-western landscape of the Indian subcontinent during the third millennium BCE, and about the raw materials and other archaeological evidences that speak of the nature of trade relations between Kashmir and other contemporary cultures during Neolithic times.
Sahapedia: Could you please start by giving us the background during the third millennium BCE in the geographical landscape of northern and north-western regions of the Indian subcontinent and larger South Asia.
Prof. Nayanjot Lahiri – Actually, the time period that we are looking at would culturally speaking, be best described as the proto-historic period. It is in the context of proto-historic cultures that you see for the first-time Kashmir in relation to regions towards south of it.
In this regard, I think it is very well known to most students of history that in the third millennium BCE the Indus plains, large parts of the Bahawalpur area, adjacent Rajasthan, Haryana, parts of Punjab and Gujarat saw the urban phenomena known as the Indus Civilisation.
Now the Indus Civilisation was made up of a kind of cultural milieu that used a large number of raw materials that were from different regions and my own sense is that it is in this regard that the links with Kashmir became very closely articulated.
I want to, however, mention that it is entirely possible that even before the efflorescence of the Indus civilisation, Kashmir enjoyed close links with the Indus plains. I say this on the basis of the fact that a pot with the design that you associate with the Kot Diji culture of the Indus plains has been found in a Neolithic Chalcolithic context in Kashmir. It has this horned deity motif and in another pot a very large necklace made up of beads of the kind that you find in the Indus plains that has been found.
So, although the third millennium BCE, Indus civilisation had these very clear links with Kashmir, it is possible that the evidence that we are looking at in terms of this pot and the carnelian beads goes back to a time period which is prior to the birth of the urban phenomena.
S: Is there any site of Indus civilisation which would suggest contact with Kashmir valley or vice-versa, in terms of material remains?
NL: As I said, we do find evidence of a Kot Diji pot in Kashmir. Now the thing, of course, is that the Kot Diji culture was first discovered at Kot Diji. So, whether it was Kot Diji that had these links with Kashmir or it was some other sites we don’t know. But certainly I would say that in terms of the raw materials that were there in Kashmir, it is possible that places like Harappa which were located in zones which were singularly lacking in the raw materials they use may well have been procuring some of these raw materials from the Kashmir region.
S: What kind of archaeological evidences suggest such contact?
NL: The evidence can be either of objects as in the case of ceramics or beads or it can be in the form of what we imagine to be raw materials that would have come from the Kashmir region.
S: How was the trade conducted between the two regions? If you could tell us about the trade routes between the northwest region and the north of Indian subcontinent.
NL: I think the links between this part of the northwest and I would say the north-western part of the Indian sub-continent and Kashmir are very important throughout ancient India. They are first very clearly articulated in the third millennium BCE. And these are routes which one imagines would have been links through the Taxila region. Taxila becomes, of course, a site much later, a big city site but even the third millennium BCE, there are places in the Potwar plateau, which have a third millennium BCE antiquity. So, that is from where the routes would have gone and they would have crossed into other parts of the northwest, then well into the Baramulla region and so on and so forth, and into the Kashmir valley.
So, these are the links⸻the links across the Jammu region, my sense is, became important later than this particular alignment.
S: Can we rely on just Kot Dijian example, pot and carnelian beads which you have just talked about to suggest trade or simply contacts? What sort of other material evidences such contacts show? What all evidences are there with regard to raw materials?
NL: Yes, so these are the sorts of manufactured goods. There are parts of Kashmir which are rich in copper for example, and the Harappan civilisation was a Chalcolithic civilisation. So it is possible that some of its copper was coming from there. Similarly, we do know that the Kashmir region had very clear links with parts which are beyond Central Asia, which were rich in raw materials like jade and Jadeite. Those two are raw materials that are used by Indus civilisation sites.
So I would say that certain types of semi-precious stones even if they were not from Kashmir may well have come through the Kashmir region and certainly certain metallic deposits in Kashmir may well have provided some of the copper that the Indus civilisation would have required.
S: In the third millennium BCE, Harappan civilisation was in its urban phase. And it had maintained contacts with the Neolithic Kashmir. Could you please tell us the interactions or interconnections between the two regions?
NL: To me, actually, what seems very interesting is that the fact that, you know, earlier when we thought about the Indus civilisation, we thought about the Indus civilisation being responsible for the birth of many types of settled societies in different parts of India. Increasingly, what we now find is that there were already settled societies there and the Indus civilisation through its traders and commercial links is actually interacting with all these various cultures.
So, what makes a third millennium BCE so exciting is that you have an urban phenomenon and this urban phenomenon is a culture which requires raw materials from regions that are much beyond its own distribution area and where actually different types of cultures flourish. So, there is Neolithic Kashmir on the one hand and you think of Rajasthan, which also had Chalcolithic cultures and there too there are very clear links.
Similarly, you have rice being consumed in different parts of the Indus distribution area. And if you look at the antiquity of rice cultivation, that is really impressive in the case of Uttar Pradesh. So, again I imagine that there were links between the Indus civilisation and the settled societies of Uttar Pradesh. So, it is not a question of this very complex civilisation leading to the creation of settled societies elsewhere. There were settled societies elsewhere which were brought into this larger web of networks. When we think about the later historical Kashmir, we think about very strong links with the northwest. Taxila, for example, and even the Northwest Frontier province if you think about much later, early medieval Kashmir and you think about the Rajatarangini and about the region from where Queen Didda of Kashmir came, it is those links which become very impressive. But what is so striking about the early archaeological evidence is that it actually shows you that these historical links have a much more ancient antiquity and that they were first formed in the time of India’s Bronze Age civilisation.