Semthan - The
Prehistoric Period of Kashmir
by Arjan Dev Majboor
is a vast subject of cultural research. Very little has been done so far
to delve deep into the prehistoric period of Kashmir. The subject is very
important and interesting too. Let us examine Semthan, the internationally
known place in this context.
old Vejeshwara, is situated some 60 kilometres away from Srinagar on the
National Highway. The town is historically well known. Away from this town,
only two kilometres is situated the famous place of Semthan. It seems that
the word is originally Simhasthaana, i.e. the place of tigers. Near this
town, there is a small hillock, though silent but telling a tale of hundreds
of years. The name of this hillock is Chakdar (old Chakradhara), i.e. Vishnu.
This name is mentioned in Nilmat Purana and Vitasta Mahatmeya also. The
famous historian, Jonaraja, has said that a Vishnu temple existed at this
barrier and the structure of the temple could not remain intact for a long
time. On the Chakdar hillock, there is a place called Haathi- Dwara, i.e.
the gate of an elephant. The Chakradhara temple had been burnt many a time
in the past but history is silent about the renovation of this temple,
by the public or some king, from time to time.
According to 'Encyclopaedia Kashmirina' Volume I, the Chakradhara temple was burnt when
the Nagas stormed the city of Narpur, the capital of the kingdom of Raja Nar. This capital was situated on the banks of
Vltasta, near the Bijbehara
town. The eatables and other commodities were brought to this city by big
barges and were sent to various places from here.
times of Kashmiri king Susal (1112 to 1120 C.A.), when the royal army was
defeated by his opponents, the people of Vijaykhetra came to the rescue
of the Chakradhara temple. The enemy tried to break the surrounding wall
of the temple, but could not do it. At last, one Janak Raj burnt the whole
wooden wall. Numerous persons died and were injured in this assault. The
dead were cremated on the hillock of Chakradhara.
Jonaraja (1389-1459), Sultan Sikandar broke the image of Vishnu kept in
this temple. Lalitaditya, the famous king of Kashmir, planted some persian
wheels here to pick up water from the Vitasta for the paddy fields of this
There is a
tomb on this hillock, called the tomb of Totak Shah. A chinar also stands
lonely near this tomb. Terracota pieces and lots of broken earthen- pots
are seen nearby. This confirms the richness of the ceramic industries in
that age of Kashmir. While looking at the valley, the peaks carrying treasures
of snow can be seen glittering near the famous spring of Konsar Nag on
the old mountain of Peer Panchal.
of the Land
After one of
my articles was published in Srinagar Times, an Urdu daily, the Central
Archaeological Department took up the excavation work at this forgotten
place and the dug-out articles by the department shot up its importance.
This excavation took place during 1977-78. Besides some Greek coins, the
coins of Parthian and Kashmiri kings were found there. The catch included
some old pieces of earthen-pots. All this material throws light on some
important points of the history of the land.
the journal, Indian Archaeology, the excavation work was first supervised
by Shri H.K. Narayan. He was assisted by Shri Sardari Lal Shali, an eminent
Kashmiri Pandit archaeologist. During the digging, a 50-centimetre layer
of earth was excavated. Under this layer, a mud-plaster layer was observed
which was mixed with white-coloured earth. The ochre-coloured pots found
here belonged to the early historic period of Kashmir. Flower vases, earthen
plates and some bowls were also found. A drain of bricks was observed which
might have been constructed to get water from some nearby spring. From
the first layer, some important articles were excavated, which included
the images of men and animals. In the animal images were seen monkeys,
oxen and horses. Some nails made of red copper were also found.
The work of
excavation was resumed in 1978-79. Shri S.S. Jaiswal, Shri G.S. Gode, Shri J.S.
Thapar, Shri Balbir Singh and Shri R.K. Koul, besides Shri Narayan
and Shri Shali, supervised the work of further excavations. After even
digging 10.5 centimetres deep, the original base of earth was not reached.
But the finds which were got this year revealed a chain of a particular
In the first
period, some snake-umbrella plates, flower vases and earthen-pots for cooking
rice, etc., were found which were without the upper necks. In these finds,
beads of various metals, iron implements and some copper coins were also
dug out. A seal in Brahmi script was also seen. Among the pots of this
age, two big pieces of black-coloured vessels of northern region, clean
black, simple red and brown- coloured pots were obtained from the spot.
period represents the ochre-coloured earthen-pot industry. Among the pots
of this age, some shining pieces of earthenware are worth seeing. In the red-coloured big pots, the mouth is moulded inwards. These include bowls,
button lids, inkpot- like lids and small flower vases.
In the third
period, the regional art of pot-making had flourished. The utensils are
almost the same but the finish had improved artistically. It seems that
this period extends to the artistic age of stone art.
experts started research work on the finds in 1980-81. This work continued
under the supervision of Shri R.S. Bisht. According to this research, the
earthenware of the first period were divided into five stages. After this
division, it was found that pots of the second period were made of soft
earth on the potter's wheel. The colours of this period are brown and deep
red. These include cooking and eating pots, open-mouth long pots and flower
vases also. In the first stage, two kinds of pots were recorded, i.e. brown
thick-layer and ordinary brown-coloured pots. The later stage pots were
made of common soil mixed with particles of sand. There are no patterns
on these pots. It was also found that wheat and paddy crops existed in
this period in Kashmir. Green devdar trees, which are not found here at
present, existed then.
finds, it was clearly seen that A.B.P. earthenware existed along with ochre-coloured
pots (in archaeological terminology, A.B.P. ware means the black finish
pottery of northern India). These finds shed light on the cultural relations
of Kashmir with the rest of India at that age. A wall of pebbles was also
seen. A coin-making mould confirmed the making of copper coins then.
fact about the third period is that the pots are very thin, clean and beautiful.
Patterns are carved on these pots and the colour is red and orange. The
seal found here speaks about the Indo- Greek relations.
of the fourth period is seen in beads made from costly stones and implements
oi copper and iron, besides earthenware. The fifth stage glorifies the
richer temple architecture of Kashmir.
'Man and Environment' year 1982 No. 6, two cultures meet at Semthan. One
is related to the written historical period and the other is connected
with the early historical period of Kashmir, viz A.B.P. With this research,
the gap between the Neolithic culture of Burzahome and Indo-Greek culture
is filled to some extent. The Burzahome culture has been dated at 1500
B.C., whereas the Indo-Greek culture starts from the second centuary B.C.
has put forth the view of some scholars, who do not agree with the fact
that Ashoka had ruled over Kashmir, but with the excavation of two particular
types of pots at Semthan, it seems that Kashmir was an integral part of
India when Ashoka's rule was in vogue. Thus the Semthan finds add a new
chapter to the old history of Kashmir.
the reference in this connection given by Kalhana in Rajtarangini stands
excavations bring the following facts to light:
The Greek rule over Kashmir and Semthan was a place of importance in that
period. The Greek coins and a Greek stone image confirm that fact.
to the chain of two cultures, Kashmir was connected with Northern India
in the fields of art and evolution of civilisation.
3. The staple
diet in tbat period was wheat and rice in Kashmir.
4. The ceramic
industry was flourishing during this period.
5. The copper
coins and iron implements were in use.
6. Devdar trees
were found at the places where we cannot imagine those at present.
7. The planting
of chinars stalted after the Devdar trees.
Thus the place
known as Chakradhara became known as Semthan in the sphere of archaeology.
Rajtarangini by Kalhana.
reports of the period mentioned in the article.
4. Nilmat Purana
by Ved Kumari Ghai.