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India’s Most Fascinating Archaeological Discoveries

“For me archaeology is not a source of illustrations for written texts, but an independent source of historical information, with no less value and importance, sometimes more importance, that the written sources.” ― Michael Ivanovitch Rostovtzeff

Suffice to say that one of the very few things that kept us historically intrigued during lectures of the past were epic archaeological tales of the civilizations that existed in India before us. The sheer mention of the lost cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were enough to evoke more straightened backs and fewer drooled-on tables and just for a short while, a terribly boring lecture was actually informative about something of interest. There’s something more honest about history with clear evidence, as in archaeological findings, beyond the written text being passed down between generational points of views. It did of course hurt a little when we realized that we’d never be able to visit a large chunk of these sites as over 90% of them lie in ruins in Sindh, Pakistan but we at Homegrown never lost the spark of archaeological interest.

That’s why we decided to dig deep (pun totally intended) and learn more about the fascinating discoveries in the field of archaeology they never taught us about in school. And we weren’t shocked to find they were every bit as interesting. From lost universities to temples and cities, we still have a lot at our disposal. See for yourself.

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I. Hampi, Karnataka

Situated at the banks of Tungabhadra River, Hampi was the capital of one of the most powerful empires in Indian history, the Vijaynagar Empire. It was an international trading market too, and excavations have unearthed various Chinese and Persian artefacts which only strengthen the claim. Perhaps the most eye catching and fascinating aspect is the bunch of beautiful temples that Hampi harbours. Some of them are destroyed, some partially restored, and some stand tall even today. Although a lot of it has been restored, excavations are still in progress to find out as much as one can possibly know about the beautiful city of Hampi.

Did you know: The temples in Hampi are home to the famous musical pillars. The British, being nosy pricks, were curious and wanted to know the reason behind the phenomenon. So they decided to cut two pillars to find the source behind the music, and were shocked when they had found nothing but hollow pillars. These pillars ruined by the British can be seen in Hampi even today.

II. Konark Temples, Orissa

Orignially built on the river Chandrabhaga, the Konark temple is one of the most beautiful temples in India. It was the pride of many great kings in the history of India – constituting an enormous chariot of the Sun God, Surya, with 12 pairs of exquisitely carved wheels, drawn by galloping horses. However, ‘Black Pagoda’, as it is called, suddenly collapsed in the 18th century, the reasons for which are unknown. An already weakened structure was further damaged by a strong gale in 1848 and the temple suffered almost irreparable damages. However, attempts to restore the temple were started in 1903, and a major portion of it has been restored since, and various sculptures have been moved to a safer location. The temple was granted World Heritage Status in 1984 by UNESCO.

Did you know: The Konark temples are known for their many erotic sculptures of “Maithunas”, which is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates to sexual union.

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III. Nalanda, Bihar

Nalanda translates to ‘the place that confers the lotus’ or spiritual knowledge. The monastic university was a centre for learning for Buddhists all around the world, between the 5th and the 11th century. The university was so renowned that it attracted students from as far as Greece, Persia and China. However, the university was destroyed by the Turkish invasion of 1193 in which was ransacked it completely out of spite. The university was so vast that it took the Turks three whole months to burn the whole place down completely. In recent years, although excavations have taken place, 90% of the university remains unearthed. In 2006, it was revealed that India, Japan, China and other nations came together and raised $1 Billion to restore and restart Nalanda university. The mission took off, and the university is actually set to open later this year.

Did you know: Nalanda is said to have contained over nine million books, and had a faculty of 2,000 teachers to impart knowledge to 10,000 students who came from all over the Buddhist World.

IV. Sanchi Stupa, M.P

Commissioned by King Asoka in 3BC, Sanchi Stupa is the oldest stone structure in India.  It was the hub of Buddhish in India for centuries. However, with the decline of Buddhism in India, the monuments were deserted for long periods and turned into ruins. It was rediscovered in 1818 by a British officer, and 1881, the process of restoration started and the Stupas were restored to their original state. Today, around fifty monuments remain on the hill of Sanchi, which include three Stupas and several temples. The monuments have been listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1989.

Did you know: The construction work of the stupa was overseen by Ashoka’s wife Devi. Sanchi was her birthplace as well as the venue for her wedding with Ashoka. It is also the largest site of Buddhist remains in India.

IV. Kalibanga, Rajasthan

Kalibanga holds the distinction of being one of the few prehistoric cities in the world. The ruins found in the 70s are considered to have existed much before the Mauryan Empire as well. Among the ruins were ploughing fields, divisions for houses, and various utensils, ornaments and pots. After an earthquake that wiped out most of the valley, it later became a Harrappan settlement, till it was abandoned after the river dried up. It took almost 34 years to excavate the whole place, and a report on it was finally filed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2003.

Did you know: Kalibangan is distinguished by its unique fire altars and for having the world’s earliest attested ploughed field.

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V. Dholavira, Gujarat

One of the five largest Harappan sites, Dholavira is spread over 250 acres. The archaeological site, known locally as Kotada, is remarkable for more reasons than one. After its discovery in 1968, excavations began in 1989, which brought to light some of the most brilliant urban planning, architecture, and farming implementations both for its own time and ours. Some of the architecture well surpasses what we’ve seen in today’s times in mathematical brilliance. The highlights, however, are the cemetery and the reservoir, both of which are considered to be way ahead of their times. Various works of art, paintings, ornaments and sculptures were also discovered, which have since been restored or moved.

Did you know: The city is composed to a pre-existing geometrical plan, of three divisions – the citadel, the middle town and the lower town. The most striking feature, however, is that all of its buildings were not made of bricks, but painstakingly carved out of stone.

VI. Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh

Kaushambi was the capital of ‘Vatsa Janpad’ ruled by King Udyana, during the time of Buddha. The ruins, now a popular tourist destination, were a Buddhist centre, containing a six kilometre long fortress and ruins of an Ashoka Pillar within it. Kaushambi also has a monastery that is considered to be at least 2000 years old. The place has been mentioned numerous times in scriptures found at other excavation sites and continues to be one of the greatest Indian archaeological finds.

Did you know: Lord Buddha is believed to have visited Kaushambi twice in his lifetime to deliver sermons.

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VII. Lothal, Gujarat

Another one of the rare Harappan sites remaining in India, Lothal in Gujarat was discovered in 1954. Excavation immediately began in 1955, and went on till 1960. Like all the other Harappan cities, Lothal too was an example of brilliant urban planning that was way ahead of its time. Houses were equipped with personal toilets and bathrooms, and a drainage system was set up to get rid of the waste. Various public wells provided water, and public baths were constructed too. The city existed for many centuries till it was hit by a flood that wiped out the town entirely.

Did you know: Lothal’s dock – the world’s earliest known, connected the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati River on the trade route between various cities of the world.

VIII. Puphagiri, Orissa

Another Buddhist learning centre, Puphagiri was only discovered as recently  as 1995 when a wandering professor stumbled upon it. Since then, the ASI has launched a major conservation and excavation project, which resulted in the restoration of portions of the ruins, while also recovering various historical artefacts. The ruins stretch over half a km of land and as a lot of Ashoka’s statues have been recovered from the site, it could be possible that Ashoka commissioned the project.

Did you know: As just a small section of the ruins have been restored/discovered yet, it is possible that the Puphagiri could overtake Nalanda as the largest Buddhist university in India. After its restoration, the ASI plans to convert it into one of the biggest tourist attractions in India.

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IX. Ravioli, Gujarat

Something special for the fossil lovers, Raivoli is one of the three largest dinosaur sites in the world. During excavations over the years, numerous eggs have been found in a hatchery, which is said to be close to 20 metres long. The abundance of the petrified remains of the 65-million year old eggs have led many experts to believe that this may have been one of the biggest dinosaur breeding grounds in the world.

Did you know: Raivoli is a part of the Shiva crater, which is a geologic structure said to have been cause by a 500 kilometre long meteor that hit the earth. The impact caused major earthquakes, eruptions and climatic changes, all of which eventually led to the extinction of dinosaurs.

X. Suketi Fossil Park, Himachal Pradesh

A small village in Himachal Pradesh, Suketi is known for its fossil park, which displays various life-size FPR (Fiber Reinforced Plastic) models of various pre-historic creatures found in the location. Now while you may wonder about its relation to archaeology, get a dose of this – Suketi Fossil Park is the only one of its kind park in Asia to be developed at the actual site where the fossils and remains of dinosaurs were found. The park currently has six sets of fossils, and the search for more fossils is on even today.

Did you know:  Apart from being one of its kind, Suketi Fossil Park is also Asia’s oldest known fossil park.

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