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The One Who Had His Career In Ruins…

Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay (April 12, 1885 – May 23, 1930), the eminent Indian Archaeologist and Museum expert, is quite known as the discoverer of Mohenjo-daro, the principal site of the Harappa Culture. Unfortunately, the Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture at the Banaras Hindu University (from 1928-30) was humiliated and insulted by his countrymen. Even, the then Prime Minister of India, despite knowing Bandyopadhyay’s efficiency as an archaeologist, refused to become his saviour! Bandyopadhyay has become a forgotten Indian mainly because of the colonial British rulers, who wanted to erase his name from History books.

After qualifying a Master’s Degree in History from the University of Calcutta in 1911, Bandyopadhyay joined the Indian Museum in Calcutta (now Kolkata) as an Assistant to the Archaeological Section. Later, he joined the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as an Assistant Superintendent, and was promoted to the rank of Superintending Archaeologist of the Western Circle in 1917. Although Director General of the ASI (from 1902-28) Sir John Hubert Marshall used to consider Bandyopadhyay as the most efficient staff in his agency, he made an attempt to share the latter’s achievements! Well, such incidents were very common in Colonial India.

Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay
Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay

Bandyopadhyay was promoted as the Super of ASI’s Western Circle in 1924 and was transferred to Pune. While serving as the Super, he unearthed pre-Buddhist artefacts at the ruins at Mohenjo-Daro, and found similarities between the sites at Mohenjo-Daro and Harrappa. As the supervisor of the excavation works at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, Sir John tried to overshadow Bandyopadhyay’s achievements, and was reluctant to share the credit with his subordinate.

In his publication ‘Rakhal Das Banerji: The Forgotten Archaeologist‘, P K Mishra explored the “blatant theft of the credit for discovery of the Indus Valley Civilisation“, stating that Sir John had no information about Mohenjo-Daro till 1924. He wrote: “Marshall took direct charge of the excavation from winter 1925-26. By that time, Banerjee had done all the work a discoverer should have done.” Mishra added: “It was a blatant theft of intellectual property right, hard earned by a young Indian archaeologist, by his boss.” Unfortunately, in his ‘Discovery of India‘, first Prime Minister of the South Asian Nation Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru showered praises on Sir John for discovering the Indus Valley Civilisation! He did not mention the name of Bandyopadhyay.

Sir John Hubert Marshall
Sir John Hubert Marshall

Again, Bandyopadhyay became a victim of office politics. In 1926-27, archaeological excavations were underway at the Chausathi Jogini Mandir in eastern Indian Province of Odisha’s Hirapur under the supervision of Bandyopadhyay. At that time, a valuable artefact was stolen from the site… and, Bandyopadhyay was allegedly accused of stealing it, by his boss, Sir John! Bandyopadhyay was sacked without a proper trial.

Once, Bandyopadhyay, who had authored many books on Indian History, had written to another intellectual giant of the time Suniti Kumar Chatterjee: “See, they (the British Government) will not allow me to publish anything on Mohenjo-Daro. But you can write something. I am handing over to you all the material I have and all photographs. You just write something on it and publish my interpretations. This may be a record for future generation.

Chausathi Jogini Mandir
Chausathi Jogini Mandir

After teaching at the University of Calcutta for a couple of years, he joined the Banaras Hindu University in 1928 and held the post till his premature death on May 23, 1930 at the age of 45. Majority of the people in India have forgotten Bandyopadhyay, one of the front-line historians and archaeologists.

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