Abha Dawesar Blog

Family Values has been released! Babyji is now available in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, and Thai. The Hebrew and French translations of That Summer in Paris are also out. My site: www.abhadawesar.com
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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Antiquity and its discontents---2000 year old staues at Hodal

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About half-way between Delhi and Agra on National Highway 2 stands the city of Hodal. NH2 is a bit of a cliché with dusty industries, chimneys and swanky malls called fancy names like "Manhattan." There is even a government designated leafless "green belt" full of trucks and containers. As this highway past Palwal a small-town flavor sets in on the road. Hodal is located just a little ahead of here. Some 4 km off the highway from Hodal is the village of Saundhad where 2000 year old statues of Hindu deities were recently found according to an exclusive report in the Faridabad Times dated February 27, 2008. Ever since my family moved to Harayana a few years ago I've tried to get to know the area a little even though having been born and brought up in Delhi I still can only think of myself with reference to the megapole.

Om Bir of the village of Saundhad was kind enough to accompany us from the main road to the temple where .D. Verma of the Faridabad Times had reported the idols were kept. Saundhad, I was told, has a population of some 15,000 families. Despite its large size however it is very much a village. There is a palpable change in rhythm when one turns off the pukka road amid a herd of animals and follows the kaccha village road with its small houses and bales of fodder stored for animals.

The Badrinanrayan Temple is located beyond the village near a large tank called the Surya Kund which dates back to antiquity according to the villagers. The temple Mahant Parasuram is of the opinion that by reporting the find the local newspapers have caused a real problem for the village. He holds his hand around his neck to indicate that this is like a noose; the police will now hold him responsible for any possible theft of the icons from the temple premises.

Baba Nath and some other local villagers accompany us to the shrine of the goddess where the icons have been housed under lock and key with the exception of one large icon of a goddess dating back from antiquity that is kept outside the temple and has been freshly washed. It is impossible to eyeball the age of the statue. According to the Faridabad Times report the Archaeological Survey of India dated the statues as 200 years old, had them locked up inside the temple of the goddess and put it under police protection. The villagers are not happy about this. They want the temple to remain active, a place of worship where they can pay their respects every day. This is impossible with the temple barred and locked.

The police have gone on a "break" and we get to see the small pieces that have been housed inside the small temple in addition to the large statue of the goddess outside. Despite the report in the newspaper which was somewhat vague and suggested that these statues were recently discovered when the area was dug the villagers are vehement that the statues are not a recent discovery as the report claims. Baba Nath who is the priest under the mahant Parasuram goes as far as to say, "the newspaper report is propaganda." These statues have been lying outside the temple structure for years and years. They were not brought inside since they were broken (the paper had reported this) but in fact they have been on the temple grounds for fifteen, twenty or thirty years. No one can remember though Om Bir who is 31 says that for most of his life these pieces of antiquity have been lying around. In this short clip Madan Lal talks about the origin of the temple and there are shots from the inside of the temple once it was opened. Statues from antiquity are lying on the floor.

After some probing it comes to light that there are some more statues that haven't been "put inside" so to speak. These are lying under a tree near the Surya Kund itself. There is a recognizable lingam there and also a rather badly eroded statue of a goddess. Ants are crawling over a magnificent piece with figures and a dog comes over and hovers over the assemblage.

Mahant Parasuram and Madan Lal one of the villagers who has been talking to us get into an argument. (see clip below) Parasuram fears the worst for the statues and loathes the responsibility he must shoulder, he wants them taken away. He even implies that people like Madan Lal who talk about it are the ones who might one day make off with it (see the second clip). Apparently a while back there was an attempted theft of one of the statues but it was too heavy to lift. All sorts of rumors are thickly circulating in Saundhad, an otherwise sleepy idyllic village that is just starting to shoot into prominence following the report. After the Times article another reporter or two has been there but now they are sure more will be coming. The villagers divided as they are into at least two camps on the issue feel at moments that the goddess of the temple has decided to shower them with attention from the world.

There is an argument to be made for the heritage of this village to remain in it. The ASI could build a small museum on the temple grounds where the idols were found and also do some more work around the historic Surya Kund to date it and restore it. The Surya Kund has small monuments for its local devtas. If habitation in this region goes back to 11th and 12th century as Mr. Tanwar of the ASI is reported to have said in the Faridabad Times then these artifacts could illuminate the local history of the area. Once the idols are entirely removed from here and displayed out of context in another museum or worse put into storage some of their meaning will be lost. If there already exists a collection of this period then some of the idols could be re-united with it. No matter what villagers should not have to bear the responsibility of these gods from antiquity or be made to feel that when the outside world suddenly becomes aware of the objects that were always a part of their life they will be made scapegoats because of the high-handedness of the law givers.

Children play on the mud road and some of the women knead fresh cow dung to make it into cakes they will dry out. The cakes are saved in small hut like structures that are incredibly designed and decorated in great detail. Decorations that are reminiscent of one of the geometric designs one the base of one of the statues from antiquity.

On the drive out from the village I let the camera roll one last time.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are right in feeling that the heritage of the village should remain with it and that the ASI should make appropriate and secure arrangements to house the statues, statuettes, and other artifacts of historical and religious value, either in close proximity to the temple or within it in a museum if the temple grounds are large enough. I hope the life of the village does not go through any disturbing change as a result of this 'discovery' or any conflict emerging from it.

The video clips' sound isn't too clear.

Thanks for sharing this.

priti aisola

3:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting and bequtiful to read about this, but one can only save the Heritage in museums, because Villages though look fancy to us Urbanites, they lack infrastructure and education and all other aministies, hence we should stop being romantics and improve villages by not disturbing their Heritage or their roots.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Vikram Surya said...

Thank you for this reportage Abha.

It seems every place has objects of great beauty and reverence that fall to neglect over time. I'm reminded of the last chapter of Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude...

My experience has been that when uncovered, brought into museums, and decontextualized, these objects lose all contact with their original, essential purpose... I've always felt far more in a temple or church or old house that's been preserved or even in a local junk shop -- than I have in museums.

Your post makes me hope that India develops a national program whereby the resources aimed at historical and archaeological inquiry which museums can offer can be coupled with social programs to re-establish such antiquities in as nearly their original context as possible -- or, even better, in a renewed context of which the descendants of the objects' original local audience approve.

There is a long tradition of this in the US in the form of various historical preservation societies that kept or restored buildings and objects that might have otherwise been destroyed. However, these too can often become museum-like and lose authenticity too.

Do we know yet the scientific opinion (ie, carbon-dating) on the history of these particular objects?

11:16 PM  

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