Engaging in meaningful conversation with a centenary celebration is indeed a rare benefit and honor. That too if he were one of the best, decorated, learned men on earth. I had such a rare privilege on February 21, 2021 when Dr. BP Lal called them at his home in New Delhi.
Dr. Lal was recognized by the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award, on January 26, the Republic Day of India. He was also one of the long-time directors of the Advanced Research Institute of India in Shimla. As its current director, it is my good fortune to present him with the traditional Himachali hat (hat) and shawl as a mark of our respect.
Born on 2 May 1921, Dr. Lal will soon complete 100 years, a century of planetary existence. An outstanding student and scholarship holder, he holds a Bachelor’s degree from Allahabad University. Lack of money, however, forced him to undergo rigorous training in addition to his studies and sports activities. Thus his health deteriorated.
This misconception was to pursue him in Sanskrit, a subject with higher marks than MA, English and Mathematics, which created his undergraduate “Tripos”. Sanskrit not only gave him a very generous scholarship, but also became the basis of his life as an archaeologist.
As he often says, failures become unexpected success stones. Lal helps us to understand the ancient history of this subcontinent at least five thousand years before the present era. He also highlights our recent colonial past, which shaped much of India’s understanding and its later history during this period.
But Lal, who guides us effectively beyond colonial ideas and role models, leaves us with an interesting set of world-recognized works and innovative methods that give us an accurate idea of who we are. Thus, Lal is one of the last life connections, in more than one sense, between the past, present and future tenses. Because he is undoubtedly the greatest living archaeologist in India.
Archaeologists have played a very special role, as has India, an ancient civilization that is sure to excavate scenes of the ancient past with no major excavations. Only they, with a certain amount of scientific expertise and objectivity, can remove the dust from the hidden pages of past and blurred history.
In the case of Dr. Lal, his contributions in this field were no less than that of creating the era. He, through his meticulous research and documentation, has changed our perception of the two most important aspects of the past. First, the historical reality of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
Second, perhaps most controversially, he rejected the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). He made significant contributions to excavations in Nubia, Egypt.
Lal was the youngest officer in the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). He worked directly under the famous Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the British Director General (DG) of the ASI, and at times, did not dare to agree with the latter. Unbeknownst to the two, the fact that Lal himself will become DG-ASI is a completely different matter in a short span of twenty years.
But in those early days, during the Mohenjo-daro excavation, the most spectacular discovery of the time in the field of world archeology, Lal differs from his British in both the date and meaning known worldwide as the Indus Valley Civilization. .
After discovering a castle more than 4000 years later, Wheeler believed that the invasion of the “Aryans” had destroyed it and the civilization it represented.
But over the next several decades, through further excavations and textual evidence, Lal proved time and again that there were no destroyed forts, no destroyed cities, no wars between invaders and settlers, or the remains of soldiers killed in battle.
Instead, the ancient civilization should be branded as the Indus-Saraswati civilization, which was destroyed when the later river dried up.
Lal showed the migration west to modern-day Anatolia, Turkey, with evidence for both archeology and linguistics.
Lal, who dug trenches in the areas mentioned in the great ancient epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, established historical significance from the 9th century to the 3rd century BC.
He did this by showing a unique society and culture, which used a unique and recognizable pottery. Painted Grever, a characteristic of the Mahabharata world and the most elegantly made northern black polished pottery, is adorned with different colors such as blue, gold and silver associated with the civilization of the Ramayana.
Some of Lal’s inventions are controversial and continue to compete. However, he was not deterred. He told me he believed in having an “open mind” that was completely free from any prejudices and predictions. “Only then, you can discover the truth,” he said.
Lal is very humble about his own immense achievements. He quotes his autobiography Being Together: Memoirs of the Archaeologist (2011) from Epilogue: “By the Grace of Satguru [spiritual master], I realized that I was only a typewriter, someone else to dictate. ”
We wish Dr. Lal a happy 100th birthday in advance and wish him many more productive years to continue his significant contributions to global knowledge.