The Dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro is perhaps the most famous icon of the Harappan civilization. The priest-king, also of Mohenjo-daro is a close second – with his officious expression and embossed robes. But have you heard of the Daimabad man, who has foxed historians, archaeologists, and Indologists for long? Enigmatic, authoritative, and unique, this symbol of a lesser known, but as old, settlement further south, in Maharashtra is fascinating. More so because many believe that this may have been one of the oldest depictions of Shiva!
Daimabad is a Chalcolithic or copper age site (2200-1000 BCE) on the left bank of Pravara, a tributary of the Godavari in the Ahmednagar district of present-day Maharashtra. The site was discovered by archaeologist BP Bopardikar in 1956 and the site was excavated three times in the span of two decades. The findings created a stir. Daimabad turned out to be the largest chalcolithic site in Maharashtra and evidence showed that the last inhabitant who lived there, deserted the site at the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE. The site had been untouched by human habitation since then!
One of the most significant discoveries at the site is what has come to be known as the Daimabad man, a bronze sculpture of a man riding a chariot drawn by bulls. Around 45 cm long and 16 cm wide, the sculpture is detailed. It depicts a man riding an elaborate chariot yoked with two bulls. The two wheels of the chariot are solid and there is dog standing on the central pole just in front of the man. The platform on which the man rises is truncated and oval in shape and on either side of the man is a pair of birds facing opposite directions. Stylistically these are related to the terracotta bird whistles found in Harappan sites.
Daimabad man could have been a representation of a proto phallic cult – perhaps even the early depiction of a deity that became Shiva!
Interestingly the Daimabad man and other sculptures discovered in the site, didn’t come to light during the excavations. They were found later when locals of the Bhil community were digging out roots of a tree for firewood. There has of course been a lot of discussion on the sculpture. Eminent Archaeologist, the late MK Dhavaliaker who worked on the bronze sculptures of Daimabad has described the 16 cm sculpture as that of a man who was probably a proto-Australiod, similar to the terracotta figurines found in Kalibangan, a contemporary Harappan site. The man has a broad, snub nose with wide nostrils and a thick and protruding his lower lip. His hair is gathered at the back in a sort of elongated roll, but he looks more like a bald man with thick masses of hair on the side and at the back of his head.
Interestingly, he is shown without any lower garment but there is a vertical projection of the lower abdomen, shaped like a hooded cobra. There are different views on whether it was part of a lower garment, or was it a phallic symbol. The latter has led some to suggest that this could have been a representation of a proto – phallic cult – perhaps even the early depiction of a deity that became Shiva!
Given that copper was an extremely scarce commodity in the Chalcolithic period, there is little doubt that the Daimabad man, made of copper, had a religious significance. Prof MK Dhavalikar himself opined that the Daimabad man riding a bull driven chariot is the precursor of Pashupati (the lord of the Beast), similar to the one depicted in a seal found form Mohenjo-daro. This famous seal shows a man sitting crossed leg and surrounded by animals. Another aspect that links the Daimabad man to Shiva is the fact that his chariot is driven by bulls – after all, Shiva is associated with Nandi, his bull.
There are various theories of how the Daimabad man reached so far away from Harappan sites, further north. One view that archaeologists are taking is that the wider spread chalcolithic sites co-existed with Harappan sites and by the late Harappan period there was a fair amount of interaction between them. The ‘Pashupati cult’ could have been introduced in these exchanges.
The Daimabad Man was part of a hoard of four bronzes found in Daimabad. The others depict a variety of animals, including an elephant, a rhinoceros and a water buffalo indicate the workmanship of the sculptors of the period, living in this forlorn site. All the bronzes are presently housed at the National Museum in Delhi. But the haunting sculpture of the Daimabad Man astride a chariot – reflects far more – it is a peep into the life, times and belief of a community – frozen in time.
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