TODAY -

Digging up Manipur's archaeological past
An interaction with Dr. O.K. Singh
- Part 2 -

Wahengbam Pathou *

 Dr. Okram Kumar Singh, former Superintendent, State Archaeology (until 1989)
Dr. Okram Kumar Singh, former Superintendent, State Archaeology (until 1989) :: Pix - TSE



A questionnaire format interview of Dr. Okram Kumar Singh, former Superintendent, State Archaeology (until 1989), was conducted in June-July, 2019 at his residence. Dr. O.K. Singh, the man needs no introduction. It is courtesy his painstaking efforts and strenuous hard work as well as dedication, Manipur appears on the archaeological map of the world.

It goes without saying that Dr. O.K. Singh made invaluable contributions he made in the discipline of archaeology in Manipur from 1969-89, a span of twenty years during his stint as Superintendent, State Archaeology, Government of Manipur.

Given the sheer volume of seminal contributions and tremendous services rendered by Dr. O.K. Singh, in the field of Manipur archaeology, excavating so many cave sites as well as open air sites; encouragement among the common people, collection and interpretation of stray finds or archaeological artifacts, tis no exaggeration to lay claim that a lifetime is enough for a reviewer of Manipur archaeological history to sing paeans to O.K. Singh.

In order to arrive at a better understanding for a layman who are not well familiarized with respect to disciplines of anthropology and archaeology, it was felt necessary that an interview of Dr. O.K. Singh was conducted posing certain specific questions from a layman's perspective.


The following is the full excerpts of questionnaire format interview of Dr. O.K. Singh:

11. The geomorphology of the Manipur valley profile shows gradual sloping in elevation from west to east direction on one hand and north to south direction on the other. And there is credible evidence to arrive at an understanding that abandoned river course/channel runs from Singda to Sugnoo.

The abandoned river channel found running extending from Singda to Sugnoo, though there is intermittent breaks, indicates that there was a river course (probably of the Imphal river) at the western foothills of the valley before shifting its course to the present nearer to the eastern side of the valley due to the tectonic effect uplifting the southwestern and western hills. The present cross-sectional and longitudinal profile of the valley shows slopping west to east as well as north to south with an exception at the south-western corner being more elevated resulting to the centrifugal drainage pattern of the Khuga river system also suggests the above tectonic effect.

12. Napachik corded ware is dated 1450 B.C. which is about the time of late Harappa phase. By implication, the state of human advancement in Manipur was still in Neolithic age while Bronze age was had reached zenith and decline in the Indus valley. Corded ware is defined as potsherd having the impression of cords which, in turn, mean thread or rope made from fibre derived from vine creepers or bark of plant, on the surface. Corded ware is handmade pottery which was, in use, before the invention of potter's wheel.

Evolution or development of culture of one region may not be simultaneous with another region, so the Napachik site of Neolithic culture was of Stone Age and while Indus Valley civilization was of Metal Age, though these are of almost the same time depth. And Napachik site pottery was handmade corded ware, in the Indus valley wheel made pots were found.

13. Because Manipur is located in active seismic zone, it is quite possible that the course of Manipur river shifted from west to east direction in due course of time and Neolithic people of Napachik might not have resided at a river bank when its Neolithic culture flourished. Because of the eastward shift of the Manipur river, the Neolithic dwellers of the place might have abandoned the site to move northwards to Laimanai area then to Phunan.

When Neolithic people of Napachik inhabited at the site, it appears as though the present Manipur river might not have existed at the present site in question. In all likelihood, it seems probable that the abandonment of the Neolithic site of Napachik by the people might have been due to the sudden shifting the Manipur river towards the site.

The stratigraphic soil profile of the Napachik Neolithic site particularly of the top three layers which are of riverine environment suggests the probability of shifting the present Imphal river after the settlement by the Neolithic people at the site and thereafter the people abandoned the site probably towards north.

14. Porcelain finds were reported at Luwangching, Sekta, Mongjam and Kangla. A winged horse encrypted in the porcelain was discovered in Kangla 2007 and Sekta 1994. Is there a need for further study whether it is comparable to Samudon Ayangba of Meitei lore?

(Added for reader's knowledge, not originally part of the question - one needs to bear in mind porcelains were invented by the Chinese and porcelain technology remained known to them for a long period of time and parts of Southeast Asia like today's Manipur and South India like mainland India did not have an inkling of porcelain technology for a pretty long time because there was no transmission or to crudely speaking, there was no smuggling of technology.)

The porcelain decorated with the picture of flying or running horse from Kangla and Sekta archeological sites reveal interesting problem to study further to correlate with the Samudon Ayangba of Meitei lore.

15. How does O.K. Singh's projection differ from that of A.K. Sharma with respect to Sekta archaeological finds? Admittedly, Sekta was said to be not within the fold of the Meiteis. As you yourselg emphasized during the corse of the interview earlier, burial or disposal of the death can never be beyond the religious faith embraced by a community the people who resided in the site.

The main differences of opinion between A.K.Sharma and my self (O.K.Singh) are on two points: the first is regarding the wheel made pottery and the second one is on the orientation of the skull in the burial. According to Sharma wheel made pottery was used by the Sekta people earlier and this technique disappeared later. But he failed to illustration support of his view; the mark as he claimed to be of wheel made is quite similar to the marks produced by the modern potters in Manipur in making handmade pottery.

Rather, wheel made pottery appeared later in the historic period of Manipur as evident from the archaeological finds from Kangla and Kanchipur sites. Regarding the orientation of the skull, Sharma said that the skull faces always south-west in the burial at Sekta, but it is not so as evident from my excavation of the site in 1994 (A Report on the 1994 excavation of Sekta, Manipur, published in 1997 by the State Archaeology, Govt, of Manipur).

16. Dutch linguist George van Driem writing in the Journal of Indo Pacific Prehistory suggests of an entry of Western Tibeto-Burman people from Sichuan of China towards Northeast India introducing the Neolithic technology. Given that the Kashmir Neolithic culture is comparable with that of Chinese Neolithic in and around 2000 B.C., please elaborate on this account.

It is generally accepted that majority of the indigenous population in northeast India speak a language of the Tibeto-Burman. George van Driem, a renowned linguist, suggested that Sichuan of China was the homeland of the Tibeto-Burman languages and Western Tibeto-Burman was the first branch splitted from there and introduced early Neolithic technologies into northeastern India.

Supporting to this hypothesis the Neolithic culture in northeast India, particularly of Manipur has close affinity to the late Chinese neolithic culture. Tripod ware in particular found at Napachik and Laimanai Neolithic sites of Manipur must be the Chinese origin. Besides the tripod ware, the ground and polished stone tools having rectilinear section also had similarity with the Chinese tool type. Tripod ware was never an artifact component of Indian Neolithic culture, this is an exception in Manipur.

17. Tripod ware culture is of Chinese origin during the Neolithic age present in Yangshao culture, Lungshanoid culture among others. One does not come across evidence of tripod ware culture during the Neolithic age in India except Manipur. In some parts of India tripod ware was found during the late cultural phase probably during metal age. Does this suggest introduction of tripod ware culture into Manipur from China?

It is the same as above.

18. Destruction of Kangla pottery in 2007 by sending heavy machinery such as earth movers and diggers will be recorded as one of deplorable and lamentable loss of archaeological heritage. How much of the Kangla still remain undisturbed at present which can be excavated?

Kangla is a very important archaeological site, considering its importance the Government of Manipur declared the site as protected under the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1976. Unfortunate part is that while development works had taken up in this protected site by the State Government no body in the authority seems to have considered the do's and don'ts provisions enshrined in the Act under which the site is protected. Under such circumstances the Kangla is now miserably damaged.

The archaeological relics unearthed by using the heavy machine had destroyed the archaeological evidences beyond repairable leading to a great lost to our past cultural heritage. This site is one of the best archaeological sites for the reconstruction of Manipur's Proto-history. Now in my opinion there is no place remained undisturbed inside Kangla.


Concluded


* Wahengbam Pathou wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 18 2019.



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