Testament to the Past

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Issue 295
March/April 2016
Walking Back to Happiness

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Testament to the Past

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Cover: Sarah Boden, hill farmer, Isle of Eigg www.sopiegerrard.com

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Felix Padel discovers the megaliths of India under threat in the name of progress. Antiquarian Remains of Jharkhand by Bulu Imam. Indian National Trust for Art and Heritage (INTACH) and Aryan Books International, 2014. ISBN 9788173055294.

This is a wonderful book that can be read at many levels. It is lavishly illustrated with breathtaking black and white photographs that vividly conjure up past ages. What is immediately striking is how an area of India that is usually seen as remote and marginal turns out to be a crucial cradle of civilisation for Buddhist, Jain and Hindu culture, as well as an area of vital transformations in prehistoric times.

The author documents dozens of fabulous megalithic sites barely known within or outside India, some of them standing as mute testimony to a little-understood past, but many of them still active as graveyards linked to present ancestor cults. While Stonehenge and other megalithic sites in Britain have been dated to the Bronze Age, the proximity of Jharkhand’s megaliths to mining slag heaps links these sites with India’s Copper and Early Iron Ages.

Alongside the megaliths, the pages of this book record amazing rock art shelters, in whose discovery and protection the author has played a prominent role.

A third prehistoric strand goes back to Stone Age evidence in the form of tools, marking human settlement in this area going back 50,000 years and more.

Jharkhand emerges as extraordinarily rich in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain sites, with important schools of art and architecture that developed there, key sites of the Buddha’s life, and major pilgrim routes of medieval India. Intriguing archaeological remains from the Muslim and British periods are also well documented. 

A significant aspect of the book is Bulu Imam’s critique of the coal mining, dams and processes of imposed industrialisation that have destroyed many Indigenous communities and forests as well as sites of immense historical and prehistoric significance, and threaten many more right now. He raises profound questions about the value of mineral wealth and electricity to fuel further industrialisation compared with the heritage of sites vital for appreciating the multicultural reality that gave birth to modern India and with the lives of Indigenous communities whose wellbeing is being sacrificed on the altar of national progress.

Felix Padel is a British anthropologist and is a co-author of Ecology, Economy: Quest for a Socially Informed Connection (Orient Longman, 2013).

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