The history of work in Historical and Medieval Archaeology at Aligarh can be traced back to the founder of the University at Aligarh, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Long before the establishment of the Archaeological Society of India (ASI), he was associated with an Archaeological Society at Delhi. He not only carried out extensive surveys and explorations, but looked up the primary sources to understand these structures. He also took into account the various epigraphs which were fixed on the walls of these monuments. He then, on the basis of his studies and explorations went on to write his famous Āsār us-Sanādīd. One can say, that Medieval Archaeology starts with him. If General Cunningham was exploring sites based on information contained in Chinese travellers accounts, Sir Syed was consulting primary sources and inscriptions to study his monuments. Much before Sir John Marshal, he wrote an essay on the types of bricks over centuries. [For this article of Sir Syed, see BOSHS, vol. 1, no. 3, p. 21]
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was also an antiquarian who not only collected sculptures, epigraphs and other artefacts but also founded a Museum which he conceived along with his Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College. This was the Nizām Museum built between the Strachey Hall and the Jāmi Masjid. Probably AMU was the only university in the sub-continent which could boast of a Museum since its inception.
It is said, Medieval Archaeology developed at two places in India: one at University of Baroda, Vadodra; and at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh
The field of Archaeology (along with Historical & Medieval Archaeology) got a further boost during the period when Professor S Nurul Hasan was at the helm of affairs at the Department of History (1958-71).
It was during his tenure that the Department was not only upgraded as a Centre (1968) but it also got a fully equipped Archaeology Section which also comprised of a well stocked and functional Chemical Lab. It was in 1964 that Professor Nurul Hasan founded the section as a part of the Department. He also inducted two Persons specialising in Ancient Indian History and Archaeology, one of them being Professor RC Gaur, who went on to excavate a number of sites, including the two very important sites, viz. Atranjikhera and Fatehpur Sikri.
Atranjikhera excavations put AMU on the world map of Archaeological studies. Unfortunately Gaur could publish only the first part of the report. The second part which would have taken into account the medieval antiquities and layers is still awaiting publication. However his second major excavation was from the field of Medieval Archaeology.
Professor S Nurul Hasan, as Education Minister initiated a National Project on the archaeological study of Fatehpur Sikri. The excavations at Fatehpur Sikri conducted under the aegis of this National Project was led by two teams, one of ASI and another of Department of History, AMU. The Aligarh team comprising of the staff of the Archaeology Section worked under the directorship of Professor RC Gaur. A short and brief report on these excavations were published only in 2000.
Apart from Atranjikhera and Fatehpur Sikri, Gaur was also involved in excavations at Lal Qila in district Hathras and certain other minor sites.
His junior colleague Dr. MDN Sahi, the other expert on ancient Indian history and archaeology brought by Professor Nurul Hasan went on to excavate another important site, Jhakera. Unfortunately as no firm dating of this site was done by Dr Sahi, the site could not attract the same attention as the site of Atranjikhera. A proper scientific report is still awaited.
In the field of Medieval Archaeology, Aligarh went on to contribute much. Our work in this field does not stop at the excavations of Fatehpur Sikri by RC Gaur.
Historical archaeology by definition means a study of the past with the help of material remains and the written word. Medieval Archaeology is a part of Historical Archaeology. It too entails a detailed knowledge of the written sources of the period, an understanding of society and culture based on the written texts, which then is tested and collated with the material survivals. Thus a proper work on Medieval Archaeology, in my personal view, can only be done by a person who visits his site only after a proper understanding of the written sources of the period under study. Thus to study a structure dug out from say, a phase identified with the Mughals, the excavator should be well versed in Mughal history, it’s cultural ethos, it’s social divisions, tensions and relations. Only then would he be properly able to “read” his diggings. And this was one of the major problems and drawback of RC Gaur as far as his Fatehpur Sikri excavations were concerned.
Aligarh went on to produce a number of scholars of Mughal India who entered the field of Medieval Archaeology. Some of them were those who had been associated with the National Project on Fatehpur Sikri and then went on to work on their own. The first such person was Jamal Muhammad Siddiqui. He got his training as an archaeological assistant during this project. Professor Nurul Hasan further gave him the job of collecting the place names and their historical geography in the Aligarh district. His work was one of the first kind which ultimately got printed as a book on the history of Aligarh. We reprinted it from the Centre in 2017. Another such person who contributed to Medieval Archaeology is Mr Hussam Haider. He retired from our Archaeology Section as a Surveyor and wrote on Sugar Press mills, kolhus, perfumeries and perfume processing vats etc. Mrs. Naheed Khan, another member of the Archaeology Section wrote on certain structures at Sikri, including on the so-called ‘houses’ of Abu’l Fazl and Faizi.
Researches on Medieval Archaeology were taken to altogether another level by the explorations and researches of Professor Iqtidar Alam Khan, who otherwise had been teaching and writing on political history of the Mughals.
In fact it is generally believed that Medieval Archaeology in India owes much to two or three individuals, Professor SN Misra and RN Mehta of Baroda who excavated and wrote on Champaner, and Professor Iqtidar Alam Khan of Aligarh. Khan was one of the first to take the help of satellite imagery to identify a historical settlement, Deogir. He undertook extensive work which was destined to help in the development of archaeology of technology: he along with a team comprising his research scholars undertook surveys of indigo vats at Bayana. These surveys broaden our knowledge of manufacturing techniques of indigo during the Mughal and the Colonial period. Later he undertook a major project: a study of the monuments along the Mughal road extending from Amritsar to Allahabad.
Sarais, water tanks and reservoirs, tombs, mosques, minarets etc were all surveyed and plotted by him and his team. During the same project he also made a study of all the minor inscriptions and graffiti surviving on the walls of these structures. The results of some of these explorations are being published by the Department and would be out in the market soon.
Some of his students have also contributed to the field. I would like to mention two of them. Ravindar Shrivastava did his research on Sarai structures during the medieval period. He is now a professor at IGNOU, an institution which he also served as an officiating Vice Chancellor. Dr Vinod Kumar Singh, another research scholar of Professor Khan wrote a series of research papers based on his extensive surveys of water bodies, like tanks, dams, bridges and barrages.
During the 1980’s the Archaeology Section and the Department under the stewardship of Professor Irfan Habib initiated an interdisciplinary project to understand our archaeological material: scholars from various scientific backgrounds were involved but unfortunately the project could not be completed.
Though his field is not Archaeological but he has guided many archaeological endeavours through his sheer knowledge of sources. He and Professor Moosvi have written on the prices and wages involved in the construction of the medieval monuments and structures. In fact Habib was the first to write on the costs involved in making Fathpur Sikri. We have included specimen work of both these scholars.
Some work on water tanks and irrigation technologies was also pursued by Professor BL Bhadani and his student Dr Jibraeil. The results are largely awaited. Professor Jabir Raza has been involved actively in the study of Persian epigraphs. We are including one specimen of his work in this volume.
Further work on Medieval Archaeology by the Department of History after the retirement of Professor Iqtidar Alam Khan was undertaken by the undersigned.
The first work undertaken by me concerned the masons marks on the various Mughal monuments across Agra and Delhi. After cataloguing all the marks and signatures on the stones, a study of marks and signatures put on medieval legal documents were made to reach some conclusions.
The second work undertaken by the undersigned was a study of urban housing and residential structures during the Mughal period. Information gleaned from documents and other written records was collated with actual remains, either surviving or excavated.
At the third level the undersigned tried to use the visual records, both in manuscripts and on the walls of structures to interpret not only individual buildings but also the Mughal society.
The undersigned undertook archaeological explorations at two medieval site: Kuldhara in District Jaisalmer and Fathpur Sikri in Agra. The site of Kuldhara is reportedly the only rural settlement of medieval period taken up for a detailed study. The epigraphs from the site help us date the site between 13th and 18th Centuries.
The second site undertaken by me, Fathpur Sikri was studied with the help of written primary sources and records, epigraphs, miniatures and other visual records, as well as the material remains got from excavations and explorations. Various aspects of the town planning: from palaces to bureaucratic establishments to markets, sarais, gardens and residential structures are studied and interpreted.
A study of lesser known structures at Agra is being carried out by Professor Manvendra Kumar Pundhir, who is the present in-charge of the Archaeology Section. The Department has since the last two years launched two projects, both headed by Professor Pundhir: one on the explorations of indigo vats in Aligarh District and another on the survey of Medieval remains in District Meerut.
A part of his survey of Meerut monuments, you will find include in this volume. Presently the Archaeology Section is also involved in documenting the surface decorations and paintings on the walls of various medieval structures in Agra Region. Two research scholars were chosen for the job and are actively involved: Ms Lubna Irfan and Mr Abdullah Raza. Ms Lubna has also so far surveyed a number of public utilitarian structures like sarais, markets, shops, madrasas and hospitals. Mr Abdullah Raza is exploring various structures and sites at Agra and collating that with the information contained on them in the Persian sources and European accounts.
There are many more working on various aspects of Medieval Archaeology. Hope they will forgive me for not naming them here. However let me thank all those who in one way or the other were involved in the making of this Archaeology Section of the Department of History.
We have seen good days, we have passed through bad patches. The most dark period for the Section was the period between 2014 and early 2017, though a decline had started since the retirement of Professor RC Gaur and then Professor Iqtidar Alam Khan. In 2014 the building in which the Archaeology Section was housed was forced to be vacated.
All our holdings were randomly shifted to three destinations: all that which was thought to be presentable was shifted to the University Museum; all equipments used in surveys, explorations and excavations was dumped in a half demolished structure from where everything mysteriously “disappeared” with no trace, some things like tents for camping and furniture, like collapsible beds etc., were gifted away. All archaeological material was dumped in a house which was on the verge of collapse and marked for demolition.
This situation continued till April 2017 from when we have been endeavouring to retrieve the situation.
Our endeavours further bore fruits when the District Magistrate of Hathras acceded to our demand to hand over a number of antiquities lying about in his District. We have so far received three important sculptures and this is a sort of recognition of the viability of the Archaeology Section of the Department. We expect around 20 or 30 other architectural and sculptural relics in the coming days.
For this spectacular turnover and revival of our Archaeological Section I am thankful to the incumbent Vice Chancellor Professor Tariq Mansoor for being ever ready with a strong helping hand. We requested him for a house to save our archaeological material which is a National heritage. He assigned handsome grants and saw to it that the building where our archaeological material was kept, was completely renovated, secured and electrified. I am also thankful to him for readily agreeing to transfer the inscription of Balban to Musa Dakri Museum and sanction the construction of a proper wooden frame on which to display it. I also take this opportunity to thank the Dean Faculty of Arts and the Keeper of the Faculty of Arts for giving us some old wooden tables and chairs which we needed at the Archaeology Section.
A small reading room with some books donated to the Department by the heirs of Dr Waqar Siddiqui, formerly of Archaeological Survey of India has also been established in March 2020. These books deal with various aspects of Medieval Indian Urban history as well as reports and works on various sites and architectural remains. A large number of photographs are also a part of this collection.
Nothing could have been done without the active support of a host of colleagues and students. Professor MK Pundhir was the pivot of all the work which has been done. He not only devoted his time but also invested his own money ( and sometimes quite sizeable amounts) to get things running. Thank you Pundhir!
Mr Saleem Ahmad was the pointsman who would be assigned a job which was required to be done in hours and he would meet the deadline. Mr Moin Ahmad got everything printed on dot. Thanks are also due to Mr Zeeshan who typed the catalogue of the Museum and edited the photographs; Mr Nadeem typed all other papers including the catalogue of Exhibition.
Thanks are due to all my staff, Mr Sharma, my PA, Mr Hafeezur Rahman, SO ( Admin), Mr. Sherwani, SO (Accounts); Mr Shoeb, our photographer; Dr Vinod Kumar Singh and Mr Haseeb ( both at Musa Dakri Museum), Mr Zameer Ahmad, and other members of the Archaeology Section.
At the present count we have 14659 antiquities in our possession of which more than a thousand are on display in the Archaeological Galleries of the Musa Dakri Museum. We are also proud to announce the publication of the first volume of our illustrated Catalogue of our holdings.