August 21, 2017
In the courtyard of a police training campus in Thane city’s Police Lines area is a small temple, one among hundreds of local Hindu temples scattered in the nooks and crannies of the Mumbai metropolitan region. Behind the temple, at the base of a large tree, lies an assortment of broken stone sculptures: two plump figurines carved on thick stone slabs, a Shiva Linga, an eight-inch disfigured head of a deity, a small Nandi bull and an intricately-carved slab of white stone depicting a meditating Mahavir.
Most devotees who visit the temple and sit in the shade of the tree barely give these discarded stone fragments a second glance.
Since 2016, however, three archaeology students from the city have taken particular interest in these forgotten stone artefacts. Over numerous visits, the students have cleaned, measured and photographed the pieces, and with the help of their professors, determined the approximate age of each object. While the Nandi bull and the Shiva Linga are perhaps more recent additions, the other stone slabs and figurines are from at least 700 or 800 years ago, dating back to the time when Mumbai and its environs were ruled by the Shilahara dynasty.
“We found this particular site by fluke, but ended up discovering such a rich store of local historical objects,” said Anuja Patwardhan, one of the three students who spent all of last year combing the streets of Thane city in search of the region’s undocumented archaeological heritage.
Patwardhan is among 40 archaeology students in Greater Mumbai who have participated in the Salsette Exploration Project, an ambitious academic research study that aims to discover and document whatever still remains of the pre-colonial archaeology of the Salsette region. Salsette refers to the larger island immediately north of the original seven islands of Bombay, extending from present-day Bandra, Kurla and Chembur to Thane in the north.
‘Surprised to see how much is still available’
The Salsette Project was started in early 2016 by three institutions: Mumbai University’s Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, the Archaeology department of Sathaye College and the India Study Centre Trust, an independent organisation dedicated to research on Indian history and culture.
Since then, two batches of archaeology students from these institutes have conducted ground surveys of the Salsette region, under the guidance of five faculty members heading the project. The researchers have sub-divided Salsette into five sectors, each under the charge of one faculty member and their team of students. The first batch of students completed their share of field work this April, and the project is now being carried forward through its second batch of students. Continue reading