Unearthing Histories: Prof. BB Lal and his Archaeological Career

Personal Life

Prof. Braj Basi Lal was the archaeologist of this century in India. Prof. Lal continued to write and conduct a study on archaeology until the age of 100. After completing his studies under the tutelage of the British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler in Takshashila in 1944, he went on to work with the Archaeological Survey of India. Prof. Lal was engaged in archaeological research and writing until the age of 100. From 1968 until 1972, he was its Director-General. In the year 2000, he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan and in 2021, with Padma Vibhushan.

In 1921, Prof. Lal was born in the city of Jhansi in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.After earning a master’s degree in Sanskrit at the University of Allahabad, he became interested in archaeology. He has worked extensively on Harappan archaeological sites. He is supposed to have been involved with the epic ‘Mahabharata’ in the 1950s. In addition, he has served on various UNESCO committees.

Archaeological Career and Findings

Over the course of his fifty-year career, Lal discovered a variety of historic sites, some of which include Hastinapur in Uttar Pradesh, Purana Qila in Delhi, Sisupalgarh in Odisha and Kalibangan in Rajasthan. Under the Ramayana Sites Archaeological Project, he studied sites like Ayodhya, Bharadwaja Ashram, Sringaverpur, Nandigram, and Chitrakoot from 1975 to 1976. Lal worked on the archaeological sites mentioned in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, notably Hastinapura, the Kurus’ capital city. Prof. Lal worked for Sir Mortimer Wheeler in Arikamedu in Tamil Nadu. Prof. B.B. Lal’s observations and discoveries in Saraswathi Civilisation recognised him as a proponent of Harappan-Vedic unity.

Indus-Saraswathi Findings of B.B. Lal

At the Harappan site of Kalibangan, where Prof. Lal carried out extensive archaeological study, he unearthed key discoveries that transformed aspects of Harappan civilization. These results are now known to have had an impact.For a long time, there have been passionate discussions over the direction of writing in Harappan seals. Dr. Lal’s excellent observation supplied a definite solution to this issue. Dr. Lal demonstrated in his research in Antiquity which published in 1996, that Harappan script reads not from left to right but rather from right to left.

He said that unearthed “fire altars” of the kind used by Vedic priests for fire-based rituals had been criticised in the West. A classic Hindu mystification, they argued, yet they are plainly only cooking hearths. As a result, Lal references the late Raymond Allchin, a famous Western archaeologist, as validating the ceremonial nature of these fire pits. He even goes to the bother of explaining why they cannot be kitchen hearths. Among non-technical explanations, he mentions the discovery of fire-altars beside an actual cooking hearth to show the difference.

The Harappan civilisation’s continuity is reflected in a variety of ways. Several discoveries support Shiva’s presence at Harappa: Linga-Yoni motifs are connected with a masculine figure sitting in meditation pose, the same person is the addressee of a bull sacrifice, and two Shiva traits are discovered together: a bull with a trident etched on his hip. Ascetics are often represented in Bhadrasana (Noble Posture), Vajrasana (Diamond Posture), or Siddhasana (Yogi Posture).

There is also a picture of The Thirsty Crow, a well-known Hindu tale. A deer couldn’t drink from a narrow pitcher, but a crow’s beak could. When the water level remained too low, it dropped stones into the pitcher, raising the water level and allowing him to drink. With folded hands, statuettes depict the Namaste salutation. Like their contemporary grandkids, married ladies are seen with red powder in their hair parting. Harappan women used spiralled bangles and other cosmetics that are still used today. Archaeological investigations in different Harappan towns have corroborated the growing picture of complete cultural continuity with both the early Neolithic and later Hindu societies. None of Lal’s colleagues has found the long-awaited evidence of an invasion. B.B. Lal’s life effort has secured him a position in history. Prof. Lal’s recent discoveries back up his belief in the Vedic Sindhu-Saraswathi civilisation.

Saraswathi Civilization and Rig Vedic People

The most recent conclusions from Professor B.B. Lal may be found in the book “The Rigvedic People: Invaders/Immigrants or Indigenous.” He is interested in finding the answers to problems about the origin of the Aryans, the origin of the Harappans, and whether or not the Harappans were Vedic Aryans. According to him, there is no evidence to suggest that the Indus-Saraswati civilisation or the Vedic Aryans originated elsewhere in India. In fact, recent excavations in Kunal and Bhirrana have starkly verified an already existent sense of civilisational continuity dating back to the sixth millennium BCE. Nothing that could be considered “proto-Harappan” in Mesopotamia or anyplace else outside of India has also not been discovered. This is anything that may have been the ancestor of the usual Harappan way of life. In addition, the region familiar to the Vedic Aryans and detailed in the most recent layer of the Rig-Veda stretches from the Ganga to the western tributaries of the Sindhu, which coincides with the land that was inhabited by the Harappans.

In earlier phases, the Vedic heartland is already located in Haryana on the great Saraswathi river, which is also the location of the most significant concentration of Harappan towns. Lastly, Lal’s spade has never seen any evidence of Aryans having made their way into India. He had determined that a certain kind of pottery, known as the Painted Grey Ware (1200-800), was representative of the Aryans’ expansion further into India. However, Lal has distanced himself from it in recent years. At the moment, all he had done was apply the prevalent invasionist paradigm. However, later, he realised that this was nothing more than a theoretical construction that was not backed by concrete facts. Lal regularly pontificates on the possible similarities that the PGW may have had with the demise of the Harappan civilisation and the following migrations. He mentions the Harappan sites located at Alamgirpur and Bhagwanpura. According to him, “The writers of the painted Gray Ware Culture obviously identified with the later Vedic Aryans (if not yet with the Rig Vedic Aryans as well) are the ones who sowed the seeds of philosophical thinking for which India is recognised all over the globe.” The fact that the PGW cultural was submerged in water lends credence to the assertion made in the Vayu Purana further that Hastinapura devastated in a flood and as a result, Kausambi was made as the new capital. In other words, the fact that the PGW cultural was submerged in water lends credence to the assertion. The storm had a significant negative influence on the PGW settlement as well. The subsequent excavations at Kausambi at the lower strata uncovered same sort of damaged PGW that was identified from Hastinapura, which demonstrated without a doubt that people travelled from Hastinapura to Kausambi.In addition to this, Lal was successful in establishing PGW cultural levels in all of the locations that are associated with the Mahabharata.

The fire ritual was first thought to be nonexistent in the Harappan civilisation; but, later on, Professor Lal revealed the fire-altars finding at Kalibangan, one of the most authentic pieces of evidence that Indus Sawaswathi and Vedic civilisations were synonymous with one another. This is what he described in his first report, which was written in 1979:

“… atop one of the platforms lay a series of seven ‘fire-altars’ in a row. Behind these fire-altars ran a wall in a north-south direction, which shows that people had to face the east while performing rituals at these altars. The altars were oblong on plan, sunk into the ground and lined with clay. They contained ash and charcoal, besides a cylindrical and faceted clay (burnt or unburnt) stele standing up near the centre. Though in the series under discussion, only fragments of what are called ‘terracotta cakes’ were obtained elsewhere, these were found in sufficient numbers showing that they formed some kind of an offering. To the West of these fire-altars lay the lower half of a jar. It contained ash and charcoal and was evidently connected with the use of fire-altars. Within a few metres of these altars were a well and a few bath-pavements suggesting ablutions before a ritual performance – a tradition still in vogue in India amongst the Hindus.”

Lal disagrees with an assertion made by Gregory Possel. The latter passed away before he could publish it. A horse discovery in Bactria is evidence of a Vedic horse sacrifice carried out by Aryans as they were on their journey to India. He argues that the Vedic regulations for a horse sacrifice do not seem to have been followed since the animal was decapitated. Given that the Rig-Veda was written in the third millennium, and not around 1200 BCE as Possel claimed, which is older than this Bactrian horse, it merely supports a migration from India to Bactria, and not the other way around.

Ramayana – Mahabharata Project and Excavations at Ayodhya

During 1975 and 1976, he was the director of the Ramayana Archaeology project, which investigated several locations within the Ramayana. There were nine people on the squad in all. They conducted excavations at Ayodhya, Nandigram, and Sringaverapur, as well as Bharadwaj Ashram and Chitrakoot Pantra, in search of Ramayana-related structures. Prof. Lal reported the following on the phases of the excavations:

“…the excavated trenches consistently revealed that the earliest settlement at Ayodhya did not go back before the early stage of the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). In these early levels, a few stray shreds of the Painted Grey Ware (PGW) were also encountered, but there was no independent horizon of the PGW. … The preceding evidence from the various sites associated with the Ramayana story suggests that the story may not have been a mere figment of the imagination but may have a kernel of truth at its base magnified, of course, through the centuries followed. According to the archaeological evidence, the episode’s date is unlikely to have been earlier than 700 B.C.”

Lal published an article in 1990 titled “The Pillar-Base Theory,” based on his excavations at Ayodhya in the 1970s. He said that he had discovered pillars reminiscent of temples and that these pillars were the basis of the Babri Masjid. The results of Lal were presented in the academic publication “Manthan.” Later on, an excavation team assigned by the Allahabad High Court in 2003 used his hypothesis as the explanatory framework for their work.

He oversaw the excavation work done at the Ramjanmabhoomi site in Ayodhya. The ASI showed the existence of an ancient temple at the location when he was in charge of the organisation. He provided proof that pillars were discovered during excavations in the region located south of the Babri Masjid. He made an initial report that was seven pages long on finding pillar bases close to the Babri structure. However, after the study’s publication, all of the technological facilities in the region were removed. The project has been scrapped entirely. Despite Professor Lal’s many demands to restart the project, it was not done.

His first study on the subject was published in 1981 in the illustrious academic magazine Antiquity, based in Cambridge, England, in the United Kingdom. At the international symposium held in New Delhi in 1988 and organised by the ICHR, he gave a presentation titled “Historicity of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana: What has archaeology to say in the matter?” In an interview given after the verdict was handed down in the Ram Janmabhoomi case by the Supreme Court in 2019, Lal stated the following: “Archaeological investigations have clearly confirmed that there was a temple at the site before the construction of the mosque. I was happy that the Supreme Court had rightly noted this fact while announcing its judgement.”

The government did not get the final report that he had prepared. However, his preliminary report was included in the book published by the Indian Council of Historical Research in 1989. The fact that B.B. Lal helped excavate the construction of the Babri Masjid amid the remnants of the old temple was the primary argument in favour of the Ram temple. Ultimately, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that sided with the temple.


It is an excellent career led by Prof. B.B. Lal, who did commendable work in his field, highlighting Bharat’s cultural importance and heritage. In an article published in the India International Centre Quarterly in 1975 titled “In Search of India’s Traditional Past,” Lal distilled the decades’ worth of work on excavations linked to the Mahabharata. He explained that there is evidence to support the Hindu storey, even though it has “expanded over time.” His conviction that he would find a connection between Hindu epics, archaeological findings, and Indian history only increased as time passed. It is impossible to put a price on Padma Vibhushan Professor BB Lal’s contribution to the field of archaeology. He was known as a pioneer in the industry and spent his whole 101 years studying the topic. Even though he is no longer with us, his legacy will continue via his work, which will continue to instruct and shape future generations.

— R Harinarayanan