The Ancient Site of Dholavira (India) was identified as a major Harappan City in 1967 by Jagat Pati Joshi, the former Director General of Archaeological Survey of India. After that, five field seasons (1990-94) by the Archaeological Service of India revealed more than what was originally visualized. Dr R.S. Bhisht, Director Excavation in ASI carefully examined the excavated material with his colleagues and he can be considered as an authority on the subject.
Every dig in the five excavation seasons conducted by the Archaeological Service of India in Dholavira ('Kutch' Gujrat, India 1990-94), has stamped the seal on the cultured features of Harappans by further enhancing their sophistication in a different tinge. As soon as the cityscape of Dholavira reared its head from the bosom of the earth having incorporated in itself the vital signs of urbanism, it endowed upon the Harappan civilization strange bounties such as the world's first ever sign board, a strange hydraulic system and above all two linked stadiums which put it in competition with other contemporary civilizations. Of these two stadiums, one was small and compact and the other one vast, extending 283m EW and 45-47.50m NS. It also had the arrangement to accommodate spectators the way a modern stadium does.
Save for a few exceptions, the stadium had stands in all the directions. They had the privilege of stepping construction for the ease of spectators, the broadest of which was 12 meters wide and included three or four terraces in ascending order. The utilitarian dimension of Harappan civilization is predominant with intensity in so far as its multi-purpose buildings are concerned. The aforementioned stands built for the spectators were also a sort of abatement for the defensive walls of the castle and bailey. On the other hand, east of the stadium, atop the huge defensive walls there were seating steps for the spectators too.
Such an arrangement can be witnessed to the west of the stadium also, but along the ceremonial pathway towards the smaller stadium and in those areas that were adjacent to the middle town, no traces of the stepping construction could be found.
The small stadium that stood in the shadow of this spectacular fort was probably for the accommodation of the king and the nobility. In order to fulfill this need there could have been some sort of temporary arrangement for its broadening. That is why it was inter-communicated with the bigger stadium through a gate and its connection with the other gate was possible through the eastern outfield. The remarkable thing is that these stadiums could adjoin through different gates with its surrounding areas including the castle, bailey, reversion and settlements.
Access to the outside world from the stadium was possible through four gates, which were not short of masterpieces especially if the yard sticks of prehistory i.e. architectural science and aesthetics are used. Towards the southern part of the eastern gate of this spectacularly built building was a guardroom and in the northern wall there was a sentinel post whilst the passageway had the length and width of 12.20m and 3.80m respectively.
To make the access easy between the stadium and the bailey, a north bailey gateway was built which approached the passage through a flight of steps (7.30m long and 2.30m wide) flanked by chambers. The north gate of the fort, which has been termed the most majestic and elaborately designed architectural construction, is the product of beautifully carved and polished limestone slabs, functional pillars and columns. It is 9 meters wide and is connected through the ceremonial pathway and the terrace to the stadium.
All the entities of Dholavira's settlement are so well coordinated in their ratio and proportion that they reflect a mathematical precision in their paradigm of planning and principles of architecture. They also encompass an astronomically established orientation and the view of auspicious figures in ratio (4:5=100:25) also seems to be hidden in the paradigm. There is also a certain design so far as the proportion/ratio between the stadium and other entities of the settlement are concerned. The following table testifies the above-mentioned assumption:
S. No. Place Width (m) Length(m) Ratio 1. Middle Town & Stadium Internal 290.45 340.5 6:7 2. Middle Town excl. & Stadium Internal 242 340.5 5:7 3. Stadium Internal 47.5 28. 1:6(After Bhist, Dholavira and Banawali, two different paradigms of the Harappan urbis-forma p.p 24-25 Puratattva Vol. 29 1989-99)
The seven stages that have so far appeared in Dholavira establish the fact that these stadia belong to the third cultural stage of the Harappan civilization and it also testifies to the fact that the stadium was erected after having demolished the vast residential areas of stage I & II. After the demolition they were nicely paved to prepare the ground for the building of the stage III. This stage is also a proof that the inhabitants had a different and probably superior civic sense as compared to the earlier stages. What compelled them to go for this project after having demolished the residential areas is a question that wants explanation.
Culturally, socially and politically the character of 'Kutch' has always been inactive and the availability of any kind of walled or un-walled area for civic activities is peerless even in the eminent centers of Harappa and Moenjodaro. So, in this respect, the existence of this figure is unique in the arid and hostile environ of Dholavira so far as the Harappan scenario is concerned. It was a riddle to find out the availability of a big city, let alone the existence of a stadium in it. But in the matrix of Archaeo-geo-eco-zoological analysis one can get access to the Harappan thought that despite being arid and hostile the Harappans colonized this region for commercial interests. The element of utilitarianism in the Harappan civilization further substantiates this assumption and the overall pattern of Harappan settlements any where manifests that they preferred to settle down in those areas which were strategically profitable. And here too, they were concerned with subtleties that facilitated them inhabiting this area so that the paramount consideration in 'Kutch' could be commercial interest. This is further strengthened from the fact that the magnificent structure erected in Dholavira and the bulk of population could sustain on the basis of a robust economy, which is the inalienable characteristic of a modern civilization.
In Dholavira the basis of economy was this commercial and trade cooperation, the possibilities for which were ripe while for agro-based economy the environment of 'Kutch' was not conducive. The experts believe that 'Kutch' could have been barren and arid in the past as it is today. The frantic efforts being made to pool water in Dholavira is further proof in this regard. Some of the salient features of the settlements point to this commercial element alluded to above and that is why the whole of 'Kutch' has a series of fortified settlements. It seems as if these settlements were made for commercial pursuits. The coastal-based geography of the 'Kutch' is a strong point to reckon with. Moreover, around the major site there are certain settlements from which irregular cultural testimonies point to the assumption that these could have been used as markets or temporary residences for the traders. According to the experts' opinion, the surrounding area could have been navigable by that time and these navigational aspects come to the fore when we examine certain facts regarding the cultural pattern. The study of the seven cultural stages of Dholavira reveals that the stadium stage III was the result of the removal of the structures of stages I & II. Strangely enough, it was this stage III in which for the first time appeared three steatite seals and cubicle weights used for commercial purposes, which were never traced in the earlier stages I & II. This also to a certain extent points towards the commercial usage of the ground.
The settlement pattern in Dholavira exhibits that the Harappans inhabited this area with a clear incentive in their minds: as soon as this purpose was fulfilled or when the conditions became congenial in 'Kutch', they simply disappeared. Such elegant structures could have been built only for commercial purposes and commercialism was the rallying cry that afforded these structures. All these facts and figures present this stadium as a hub of domestic and international trade and commerce and essentially a center of cultural activities too. The various activities of the Harappans might have assigned periodic roles to this stadium.
As an arena for the heart beat of enthusiasts and the holy diocese of the priest king, it could have been the habitat of the serene souls where stadium's eyes would have witnessed the justice of the court being enchanted by the royal glimpses prevalent at that time. The stadium being decorated in myriad colors for coronation ceremony could also have been the spot of gloomy scene when the executioner would give vent to his wrath.
As a civic center, this place not only would have witnessed the hustle and bustle of peaceful activities of the citizens but would also have been the recipient of the roaring boots of Mar's sons (military men). It could have been used as a display center for local and international culture and trade commodities. Speculations about the possible status of this stadium would never come to an end but its commercial character seems to override other consideration, which still remains to be a moot point.
In spite of these entire hypotheses, the Harappan architectural techniques and aesthetics, socio-economic structure, a vigilant political force, a vibrant and dynamic society, civil code and many other features of organized urbanism are perceptibly reflected in the relics of these stadia. And these glimpses can be used as a searchlight turned on the civilization explaining its reconstruction every bit.For Further Reading