Ghost walls in Lathiya, UP
Have you heard of the ghost walls in Lathiya, UP?
In Lathiya, Uttar Pradesh, the existence of a bustling temple complex has been traced by archaeologists just by unearthing these invisible walls.
It was a tall stone pillar perched atop a huge mound that first attracted the attention of British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham to the site in Lathiya, a small village in Ghazipur district, around 150 years ago.
Only in 2009-10 did a team of the Archaeological Survey of India land at the site, and painstakingly unearthed the evidence of an early Gupta period - about 320-550 AD - temple complex.
The buildings no longer exist. The bricks and stones that made up the walls were over the years taken away by nearby villagers for their own house construction and even by the British for use in a railway line.
So how did archaeologists trace the ghost walls?
The archaeologists' team, headed by B.R. Mani, the then joint director general of ASI, traced the different colours of the soil - over the foundations of the now non-existent buildings and that around it - to reveal the temple complex. The soil covering the foundations had a distinctly different colour compared to that around it.
"Many of the bricks of the ancient temples had also been taken away for laying the East India Railway line in 1862. The line passes about a km away," Mani, the additional director general of ASI, said.
"An aerial view of the different colours of the soil - on the foundation and that lying around it - gives a complete picture of the plan of the structure that once existed," S.K. Mittra, director archaeology, ASI, said.
Ghost walls is an archaeological term.
The team discovered that four temples existed. During excavations, many artefacts from the Gupta era were also discovered, including pottery, bone, shell, ivory objects and coins.
The stone pillar, 22 feet high, is of special interest. It is surmounted by the figure of two garudas, sitting back to back, and resting on lotus petals. According to Mani, the pillar with the garudas is similar to the Ashoka pillar of the Mauryan dynasty (321 to 185 BC) with its four lions sitting back to back. Sarnath, where the Ashoka pillar is located, is around 100 km from Lathiya, says Mani.
In Bhitari, another site in the same district, an inscribed Gupta pillar stands near a temple. Near the pillar is a stone block with an image of garuda. "The garuda once stood on top of the pillar but had toppled over," said the archaeologist.
"The garuda was the state symbol of the Guptas and was an embodiment of the power of the state. The garuda was the royal insignia of the Gupta dynasty," said Mani.
Even the four temples, discovered through ghost walls, at Lathiya are of typical Gupta period design, he said.
The temples comprise a square garbhagriha, or sanctum sanctorum, and a verandah in front. The temples had a flat roof. Such temples were also found in Sanchi.
The stone pillar at Lathiya was a dhwajasthambh or a religious pillar erected in front of one of the temples.
The temples could have been Vaishnavaite, dedicated to Vishnu, said Mani.
The temples faced the west and not the east. "This was so that the rays of the setting sun would light up the temple and also when devotees entered the temple they would be facing eastwards," said Mani.
After the temple walls were vandalised over the years, the local villagers began worshipping the pillar as a symbol dedicated to a Devi or goddess.
A house complex was also discovered near the temples - albeit only through the ghost walls. "People attached to the temples would have probably been staying there," he said.
Among the many antiquities discovered at the site is a terracotta human figure, typical of the Gupta period. Many broken pottery shards were also found, including many with spouts with the figure of the varaha, or boar. "These were ritualistic pottery," said Mani.
There was also evidence that the temple performed sacrifice, said Mani, adding that animalbones were found in a pit.
The archaeologists found evidence of an earlier Chalcolithic (1800 - 1000 BC) period beneath the Gupta remains, through pottery remains.
How is the site maintained?
The ASI has placed huge plastic sheets over the site and covered it with sand and also erected fencing around the area, said Mani.
Gupta-period temples found-Remains of four structures at protected site near varanasi
SOBHANA K ( From top)A panoramic view of the temple complex at Lathiya, the monolithic pillar dating to the Gupta period which was built on the lines of the Ashoka Pillar, although it has eight lions instead of four, the Garuda figure resting on a circle of lotus leaves, which once crowned the bell-shaped capital
New Delhi, Dec. 27: The Archaeological Survey of India has unearthed four Gupta-era temples near Varanasi in a find historians said was important as they could provide a clue to how temple architecture has evolved in India.
“These finds are important because they add to the handful of sites where remains of Gupta-period temples have been found,” historian Upinder Singh told The Telegraph.
Professor Singh, daughter of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, teaches history in Delhi University.
ASI additional director-general B.R. Mani, who supervised the excavation in Lathiya, 80km east of Varanasi in Zamania, Ghazipur district, said they decided to dig up the site where only a 8.25-metre-high circular stone pillar with no inscriptions stood.
“We decided to carry out the excavation here because there was a mound of earth close to the pillar and it seemed that the area may have structures of some historical importance connected to the pillar,” Mani added.
The hunch proved correct as just next to the pillar, the ASI team found four temple structures dating back to the 4th and 5th century AD.
The site was first discovered in 1872 and was later declared a protected site, but no work had been carried out there since.
The report of the excavation was published in the ASI journal Ancient India, which was recently revived after 45 years. The Prime Minister had unveiled the revived journal’s first copy during the ASI’s 150th anniversary.
After the excavation, the ASI team discovered that most of the temple walls were missing. According to the report, the Ghazipur district gazetteer mentions that many of the houses in Zamania were built by bricks taken from the site.
The bricks were also apparently used in the construction of the 102-year-old Mughalsarai-Howrah main line, which passes about 1.2km south-west of the site.
Mani said the circular pillar was “on the lines” of the Ashoka pillar, although instead of four lions it has eight lions. “And, unlike the Sarnath pillar, which had a dharmachakra above the four lions, it has a Garuda structure,” Mani added.
The top of the pillar shaft has a bell-shaped capital surmounted by eight broken lions facing eight directions. The capital was once crowned by a sculpted Garuda figure resting on a circle of lotus leaves, which got detached at some point and lay next to the pillar.
Historians said the find was important not just because of the possible connection with the Mauryan period (322 BC to 185 BC) but also because there were few temple structures that date back to the early Gupta era.
“The temple site at Lathiya has a close connection with a similar site at Bhitari (Uttar Pradesh) where an inscribed Gupta pillar of the time of Skandagupta stands in the vicinity of a temple,” Mani said.
Skandagupta, generally considered the last of the great Gupta rulers, ruled between 455 AD and 467 AD.
According to studies conducted by the ASI, all the four temple structures were standalone structures built at different times.
All the structures are simple, with just a garbha griha, where the deity is placed, and a small mandapa, the place for rituals. It was only much later that temple complexes with the main temple and subsidiary shrines came up.
In the later-period temples, the mandapa also has sculptures. If it was a Vaishnava temple, then a sculpture of Garuda, the mythological bird and mount of Vishnu, was installed. A Shiva temple had the sculpture of Nandi, Shiva’s mount.