February 14: The image on the right is one of the most recognisable symbols of the Harappan civilisation. It is the bearded man of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. But why is this sober gentleman smiling in our image?

There’s a reason for it. The January 26 earthquake has devastated a large part of the Kutch region. Village after village, town after town depict the same sad story of death and destruction. It’s almost as if entire towns and villages have fallen off the map. But there is one deserted town in the Great Rann of Kutch that has withstood the devastating tremors of the January 26 earthquake in Gujarat.

5000 Years Old Quake-proof Town
5000 Years Old Quake-proof Town [Illustration by Shinod A P]
What’s more, this deserted town is 5000 years-old. It is called Dholavira, once a flourishing town in the 5000-year-old Harappan, earlier known as the Indus Valley civilisation. And this ancient settlement is now providing shelter to many homeless people affected by the quake in nearby areas.

And the supreme irony of all: the only structures in Dholavira that have crumbled in the aftermath of the earthquake are those built by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) a few years ago, to provide shelter to its staff, says a recent report in ‘The Indian Express’. The ASI is the authority in charge of preserving India’s historical monuments and sites.

Discovered in the late ’70s, extensive excavations by the ASI started only in the ’90s. Dholavira was one of the most important centres of the Harappan civilisation that flourished in India over 5,000 years ago.

The Harappan civilisation spread across areas that span India and Pakistan today. It included the states of Punjab, Sind, northern Rajasthan and Kathiawar.

After the partition of India in 1947, both Harappa, and Mohenjodaro, its other important city, passed into Pakistan. Excavations in recent years have thrown up fascinating facts about the spread of the Harappan culture – right up to Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

The site in Dholavira is spread over 100 hectares. The discovery of a seal belonging to Harappa in 1971 by Shambudhan Gadhvi, a resident of Dholavira, led to the unearthing of the site. Among the structures that were discovered include the main citadel, where the king or the ruler probably resided, the middle town, the lower town and the ceremonial ground.

These structures have survived the rise and fall of many civilisations and natural disasters over the millennia. The recent earthquake is only the latest.

The sophistication and advancement of the urban Harappan civilisation is evident in characteristics like the town planning of Harappan cities, especially their sanitation.

The town planners of yore who built cities like Dholavira, could certainly teach a thing or two to their modern counterparts in India, about construction techniques that enables buildings to survive natural disasters like an earthquake. And a lot else besides.