A Rare Combination of Scholarship and Versatility


 Padmashri Dr. M.K. Dhavalikar is a name that will be remembered by many generations to come. His books and articles will keep providing valuable insights into our past. He was an archaeologist and cultural historian par excellence. His scholarly vision had a far reaching grip, not confined only to archaeology. He was a living encyclopaedia and a voracious reader. Every bit of knowledge from various fields has its own contextual frame in archaeological reconstructions and Dr. Dhavalikar deeply believed in it. That made his scholarship very deep and versatile.

          He unfailingly left his students and lay audience alike, with a deep impression of awe. Yet complacency never touched him. He kept examining and re-examining his views on the cultural history of India and Maharashtra. Just a week before his passing away he was talking about a new book on the Buddhist caves of Kanheri near Borivali and he was sure of completing it in few months. That was the spirit with which he lived his life. Students and enthusiasts of Indology/Archaeology have suffered a grave loss in his death.

          His passion for archaeology was contagious; he could easily pass it on to his students. His mantra in life was, “Ripeness is all!” He lived being true to last letter of this mantra. He inspired his students to achieve that ripeness in their academic pursuits. He never expected them to follow blindly in his footsteps. As a teacher he imbibed intellectual alertness and a sense of wonderment in his students. He was one of the best teachers.

          He was born in Patas (Dist. Pune), on 16th May 1930. He completed his school and college education in Pune.       Archaeology happened in his life as an opportune coincidence. He started working as a library assistant in the Gokhale Institute of Economics in Pune. From there his journey till he became the Director of the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, Pune and an eminent archaeologist, is a story of very successful career carved out with passion and complete devotion. He could achieve this with a consistent discipline in everything that he did.

As a rule, Dr. Dhavalikar  devoted at least three hours every morning to writing. He would expect his students also to follow the same rule. He credited his guru, Dr. H.D. Sankalia for instilling this good habit in him and perhaps he was the only student to keep it up without fail. The same discipline was evident in his administrative routine. He was one of those rare breed of administrators who never had pending files on his table.

          In 1953 he started working with the Archaeological Survey of India office at Pune.  From there he was transferred to Aurangabad Circle.  There he could participate in the excavations at the chalcolithic Sites at Bahal in Dhule District of Maharashtra and a few other chalcolithic sites.

He used to say that archaeology is like a deep cave, an abode of tigers, where you may see the traces of inward human feet, but never the outward ones. There is no way of return, once you enter it.         Although he used to say it in a lighter vein, it proves to be true. Archaeology opens a sense of constant wonderment. It’s a journey of no return and constant enrichment of mind and intellect. It continuously fuels human curiosity. It keeps hurling multifold questions, the moment one feels that he has found answers to a few.

          Dr. Dhavalikar’s academic journey was driven by a predilection for posing as many questions as possible about human cultures and striving to provide scientific answers. In other words, his approach could be termed as problem solving archaeology. As a teacher, he taught his students not to shy away from asking questions. To him, to be able to ask right and as many as possible questions, was a proof of the ripeness of a researcher. Finding answers was a matter of persistent efforts.

          While working in the Archaeological Survey, he appeared for M.A. examination in 1958, as an external student at University of Pune, now Savitribai Phule Pune University, and stood first with distinction. Dr. Dhavalikar enrolled for Ph.D. under Dr. Sankalia’s supervision. His doctoral thesis entitled, Ajanta: A Cultural Study[1], based on Ajanta murals. His work published under the same title in 1973, won him acclaim among the circle of eminent art historians. This work is, but one example of his interdisciplinary approach.

          His work at Inamgaon has become a landmark in the context of chalcolithic cultures in Central and Western India[2]. Excavations at Inamgon initially began to solve the questions regarding the origin and the end of Jorwe, a chacolithic culture in Maharashtra. There were other questions too, pertaining to the progressive building up of an archaeological site.

Chalcolithic sites in the Indian subcontinent were noticed elsewhere too. Putting the ever increasing volume of archaeological data from various sites in a contextual framework and create an archaeological narrative, is a difficult task. Dr. Dhavalikar was among those few archaeologists who consistently tried to establish a link between the seemingly disparate archaeological cultures of India. He made archaeology intelligible even to lay readers.

Dr. Dhavalikar held ‘climate change’ as a causative factor of major social and cultural shifts in ancient India. The essence of his work in this line is laid out in his book, Environment and Culture: A Historical Perspective[3].  Climatic changes as a mode of explanation in history writing started in the 19th century. Conventional methods of history writing mainly rely on textual evidence, consequently limiting history to narrow chronological and spatial confines of nations and states.

Now historians are more aware of the need to adopt the methodologies of natural sciences for getting a holistic explanation of social change as a historical phenomenon. Historians are now expanding their canvas to a global scale, focusing more on human responses to global forces of social change throughout history.  Experts warn though, of the risk of oversimplification in this process.

It is interesting to see that in the 19th century scholars had thought of the significance of climate as a factor having an impact on people’s temperament, termed as ‘climate regime’. ‘Climate change’ as a phenomenon supposed to be different from climate change. The first influences social behaviour, while the latter becomes the impetus of social stress and hence social change.

It took much longer for climate change to be accounted as a significant factor of social change.  In the 20th century Arnold Toynbee is said to be the first historian to have acknowledged the role of climate in impacting people’s temperament and also climate as an impetus to social change. He maintained that the civilizations arose as a human response to certain challanges such as climate changes, especially increasing aridity.  For example, the rise of Egyptian civilization, he felt, was built by people migrating in large numbers to the Nile valley because of desiccation in the Sahara region. He also cited other ancient civilisations and their response to climatic changes. It is said that his course of thinking in this direction was influenced by the work of V. Gordon Childe, an archaeologist. Childe ascribed the beginning of agriculture and domestication of animals, to the end of the last ice age, which happened some 14000-13000 years ago and subsequent increase in temperatures resulting in warmer climate. He called this phenomenon, “Neolithic Revolution”[4].

Archaeologists were quick to follow Childe’s theory and resort to the methods and findings of natural sciences, in order to understand the role of natural phenomena in the shaping up of ancient cultures.  Dr. Sankalia was the first one in India to foresee the need of establishing scientific laboratories for archaeological research.

Dr. Dhavalikar inherited from Dr. Sanklia the strong inclination of seeking inputs various from natural sciences. The report of Inamgaon excavations published by him is a testimony to this, which includes details reports from experts in various scientific fields are included independently.

Dr. Dhavalikar had ample opportunity to participate in and also direct a number of excavations at Harappan and post-Hadappan chalcolithic sites.   Archaeological field work entails careful explorations and excavations, recovering antiquities and cataloguing them, mapping the site with every detail including the space utilisation pattern within and without every structure, maintaining log books of the field work, and finally publishing the excavation reports. Earlier the excavation reports rarely included any interpretive attempts. The archaeological finds were recorded and categorized according only to their physical attributes. This is known as the normative approach. Dr. Dhavalikar was among the few Indian scholars, who felt the urge to reach beyond the normative approach and get better out of the archaeological data.

His desire to read more into the antiquities and the structures of the past was rooted in the number of questions resulted from his extensive experience of field work. The more vexing among them, were questions about the decline of the Hadappan civilization and the nature of the late Harappan, the relationship between the Aryans and the late Harappans, migrations of the late Harappans, subsequent rise and disappearance of the non-urban chalocolithic cultures. Lately, he was convinced that the Later Vedic Aryans are represented by the Late Harappan people and in all probability their ancestors, the Vedic Aryans, were the Mature Harappans.

Dr. Dhavalikar saw the increasing aridity as the major causative factor behind flourishing and decline of most of the sites. He also had a strong conviction that the religious ethos of Maharashtra was embedded in its history of recurring, long-drawn famines. He identified the headless mother goddess figurine of Inamgaon as the goddess Shakambhari, who protects her devotees from famine. He interpreted the round huts of the late Jorwe period at Inamgon as the indicators of strong dry winds, in turn, the indicators of increasing aridity.

According to him aridity was the major cause for the displacement of people and the resultant social upheavals throughout the course of Indian history. There is no denying of local factors like raids of outsiders, causing temporary displacement of people, but permanent displacement of people is caused by factors like severe famines that forced people to move elsewhere in order to survive, leaving no option to return.

Increasing aridity in the post Harappan period has been confirmed by palynologists.  Local phenomena like floods, earthquakes, subsequent change in the drainage pattern of the rivers and the drying up of Saraswati or probably over exploitation of the natural resources, overuse of land have to be accounted. Collapsing economy caused by decline in trade and ensuing anarchy; invasions, etc.; none of these can be ignored. Yet, the climatic changes like desiccation or frequently recurring floods, salination of soil, that lead to gradual but permanent displacement of people are the major factors. Needless to say that droughts and famines that sometimes continued for more than a decade, have been regular phenomena in India since ancient times, causing major out flux of people in search of food.

The major contribution of Dr. Dhavalikar to Indian archaeology, especially to protohistory is his application of the principles of New Archaeology to put together the scattered and unintelligible archaeological data and filling in the gaps by integrating scientific data and available textual evidence. Archaeology is not only about digging out the ancient sites and collecting artefacts. Trained archaeologists know very well that excavating a site implies destruction of that site permanently, unless they record every small bit of information with utmost care, so that every detail of the site is preserved for the future researchers to reconstruct a cultural history of the people who once lived there. While doing this, archaeologists strive to weave together as many aspects of that culture as possible and bring it alive.

Considering the nature of the remains of ancient sites, one can imagine how difficult the task is. Archaeological remains are generally the tidbits, leftovers of a culture, which somehow survived the ravages of time. It is obvious that archaeologists cannot do it without borrowing from the technology and the research methods of other disciplines. However, to do it archaeology needed its own theory base. Archaeologists, who were aware of this, began to work for it. Theory based attempts to reconstruct various processes involved in the building of ancient cultures and civilizations were named as ‘New Archaeology’. Later, it came to be known as ‘Processual Archaeology’ as well. Archaeologists of this new school were now more concerned, about why would ancients settle in or move away from certain regions, how would the availability or unavailability of resources, favourable or unfavourable climate, certain geographic features, etc. shape the collective responsive and reactive patterns of human groups. These patterns are the very base of cultural developments.

Dr. Dhavalikar was among the few of his generation of archaeologists, who ventured to adopt ‘New Archaeology’, as a methodical approach. This approach enabled him to create a considerably unbroken narrative of the chalocolithic cultures, the ‘first farmers’,[5] as he fondly called them, in Maharashtra.  This narrative is based on the evidence from Inamgaon, Walki excavations and other chalcolithic sites in Maharashtra and Central India. It throws light on people of the late Harappan people descending into Central Indian region, known as Malwa from Gujarat and Rajasthan and thence into Maharashtra. They settled in Maharashtra for about six centuries from 1600 B.C.E. to 1000 B.C.E., known as people of ‘Malwa Culture’ evolving into ‘Early Jorwe Culture’.  At about 1000 B.C.E. aridity began to increase marking the beginning of the ‘Late Jorwe’ phase and finally the chalcolithic people had to leave Inamgaon in 700 B.C.E.  By then the dry climate had become unfavourable for agriculture. They had to revert to pastoral life.

The Early Jorwe people grew multiple crops like wheat, barley, various pulses, etc. in plenty, as evidenced by storage facilities inside individual houses and storage places outside the house that has been identified as the house of the chief of Inamgaon. They used a characteristic pottery sturdy, red in colour, painted in black with a very fine fabric. It was finely baked at high temperatures, giving a ringing metallic sound. It had some typical shapes like globular jar, carinated bowl and lota with tubular spouts. The tradition of painting in black on red of Jorwe ware shows the continuation of Malawa tradition of pottery, while shapes like carinated bowls, spouted lotas and flared mouths show the influence of southern Neolithic. This pottery was produced in large quantities, Inamgaon playing a role of a major production centre supplying pottery to smaller settlements around them. Both Malwa and Early Jorwe phase had large circular potter’s kilns that could produce high temperatures. The kiln of Early Jorwe period is a much modified version though, of the kiln of Malwa period.

Production based on agriculture and skilled crafts like pottery requires efficient resource and distribution management, efficient irrigation and transport on a collective basis. This requirement calls for a central leadership. The house of an eminent person identified as the ‘Chief’, public storage in the vicinity of his house, a specially dug canal and a channel to divert and store flood waters fulfilling all these requirements were present at Inamgaon in the Early Jorwe phase. Apart from this the Walki[6] excavation brought forth the evidence of Jorwe people having established a farmstead, not very far away from the main settlement.

People of Malawa and Jorwe phases were the first settlers of Maharashtra. Their settlements represent an early agrarian society. Their houses and social organization were built to cater to the needs of individual and collective needs of farmers. The primary needs of any farmer community includes availability of fertile land, water and a system of irrigation, a central agency to regulate the systems of distribution and trade, last but not the least,  a common belief and faith systems to maintain social bonds. The belief and faith systems go a long way in forming the societal norms. Hence, their role becomes vital in the functioning of ancient societies, as they directly and indirectly support the formal regulatory systems, by building the readiness of community members to abide voluntarily. The Inamgaon excavations reflect existence of a society and its social organization meeting all these needs.

          Recovering and interpreting the archaeological data for the societal aspects such as the belief and faith systems of a community seems to be an irrational proposition. It’s true about the religious organization of the Malwa and Jorwe people too. Evidence in this regard came forth in the form of an earthen box buried in a pit in one corner of a house. The box contained a female figurine without head. It was not a case of broken or purposely mutilated figure, but the figure was made as such by design. On the cover of the box were placed another female figurine and a bull figurine. The female figurine had a hole near its navel and a hole on the back of the bull figurine, so the female figurine could be seated on the back of the bull figurine by inserting a stick into the holes. All these clay objects were unbaked. The impression this collection evokes is that of their association with some kind of ritual. However, it is very difficult to discern anything with certainty.

Archaeologists would generally associate this collection of clay objects with some mother goddess cult and fertility rituals. Dr. Dhavalikar suggested that the headless figurine might be that of Vishira, a goddess who was propitiated to avoid her wrath in order to safeguard infants and young children. Alternatively, he also suggested that it might be the goddess whose grace was sought during the times of drought and famine. He cites a later parallel of Shakambhari, a goddess mentioned as Chhinamasta in Devi Bhagavatam, who was invoked in such times. He also pointed out to the continuity of the tradition of nude and headless goddess in the form of Lajjagauri.

The method of disposal of the dead at an archaeological site affords some insights into belief system of a people regarding the life after death.  At Inamgaon the adults were buried in a pit and children in two urns joined mouth to mouth. Beside these two types, there was one more type of burials in the Early Jorwe levels. The burial shows that the dead person was seated inside a four legged jar.  There was an earlier burial of the same type. However, it does not contain any skeletal remains. This is interpreted as a symbolic burial. In all probability this burial was that of the ‘Chief’. Finding similar burials in close proximity, but with little gap in terms of timescale is the indication that the chief’s position was inherited by people in the same family.

Inamgaon could be looked upon as a dream site for archaeologists, but Dr. Dhavalikar’s aim was not to excavate only dream sites. He believed that sites, smaller in size, are not necessarily of lesser significance. For example the Harappan site of Kuntasi in Rajkot district, Gujarat[7]. The site had spread on 2 hectares. Dr. Dhavalikar describes it as a site which cannot be categorized in any of the following: a metropolis, a city, a town, or not even a village. It was an industrial settlement of the Harappans, established solely for the purpose of exploiting raw materials and producing finished goods. Dr. Dhavalikar compared its functioning with that of the British factory at Surat. With the excavations at Kuntasi, it was clear that the Harappans established settlements in the inhospitable regions of Saurashtra and Kutch plainly for trade and industrial purpose.       

Dr. Dhavalikar was well versed in textual, epigraphic and numismatic traditions. It is not surprising that he was also interested in historical archaeology.  It is already mentioned that his doctoral work on Ajanta murals, an unmatched achievement of Indian people of the historic period. He directed the excavations at Kandhar in the Nanded district, a historical site of Rashtrakuta period, jointly with Dr. Arvind Jamkhedkar, then the Director of the State Department of Archaeology, Maharashtra. The excavations[8] yielded a unique shrine of Kshetrapala and Yogeshwari. The huge images, Kshetrapala’s image about 72 feet in length and Yogeshwari’s image little smaller, were laid out side by side in horizontal positions, on a specially built platform. The shrine was open to sky.

Another notable work of Dr. Dhavalikar is his research on Ganesh[9] as one of the principal gods of Hindu pantheon. With the help of textual, epigraphic and numismatic evidence he traced the origin of Ganesha and the development of Ganesha cult in India and outside India. We come to know through his work, how Ganesha rose in his status from the state of a demigod to a tutelary deity to the presiding deity of a popular cult.  


 Dr. Dhavalikar’s style of writing either in English or Marathi, is very lucid. His books like Kone Eke kāḷi Sindhu Samskruti[10], Bhāratāchi Kulkathā[11], Mahāraṣtrāchi Kulkathā[12], Ᾱryānchyā Shodhāt[13] in Marathi have been proved to be very popular.

He was felicitated with ‘Padmashri’ for his outstanding work in 2011. The previous year he was awarded the prestigious Ravindranath Tagore Fellowship by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and the fellowship of the Bombay (Mumbai) Branch of the royal Asiatic Society. During his tenure as Ravindranath Tagore fellow, he worked on the Cultural Heritage of Mumbai.[14] It tells us about the antiquity of Mumbai and the ancient places in and around Mumbai. It was published in 2016 by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay, Mumbai.   He was still at work with his usual enthusiasm, till he breathed his last on 27th March 2018. He had planned a book on the Buddhist Caves of Kanheri in Mumbai and had already started writing it. He wanted to write a novel using a backdrop of archaeological scenario, but it was not to be so. Our loss...!

-  Shubhangana Atre, Pune.












[1] Dhavalikar M. K. (1974) Ajanta: a cultural study, Pune: University of Poona.(Savitribai Phule Pune University)


[2] Dhavalikar, M.K., H.D. Sankalia & Z.D. Ansari (ed.). (1988) Excavations at Inamgaon . Pune: Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute


[3] Dhavalikar M. K. (2002) Environment and Culture (A Historical Perspective), Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.


[4] Childe, V. G. . (1942), What Happened in History, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books

[5] Dhavalikar M.K. (1988) First Farmers of the Deccan. Pune: Ravish Publishers

[6]  Dhavalikar M. K., V.S. Shinde, Shubhangana Atre (1990) Small  Site Archaeology : “Excavations at Walki”, Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute, Pune. Vol. 50, GOLDEN JUBILEE (1990), pp. 197-228.


[7] Dhavalikar M.K., M.R. Raval, Y.M. Chitalwala (1996) Kuntasi, a Harappan emporium on west coast. Pune : Deccan College Post-Graduate Research Institute

[8] Dhavalikar M.K., A.P. Jamkhedkar (1989-90) “The Kshetrapala Shrine at Kandhar”, Puratattva, No.20.  pp 99-106.

[9] Dhavalikar M.K. (2016) Ganeśa: The God of Asia, New Delhi: Aryan Book International

[10] Dhavalikar M.K. (2006) Kone Eke Kali : Sindhu Sanskruti (Marathi), Pune: Rajahamsa Prakashan

[11] Dhavalikar M.K.(2017) Bharatachi Kulakatha (Marathi), Pune: Rajahamsa Prakashan

[12] Dhavalikar M.K.(2008) Maharashtrachi Kulakatha (Marathi), Pune: Rajahamsa Prakashan

[13] Dhavalikar M.K.(2008) Aryanchya Shodhat (Marathi), Pune: Rajahamsa Prakashan

[14] Dhavalikar M.K.(2016) Cultural Heritage of Mumbai. Mumbai: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya