An indefatigable relic hunter has uncovered a hidden chapter of history

#1 Feb 19th, 2018, 23:20
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Photo credit: Subrata Ganguly

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The museum is not on Google Maps, and it is not much to look at. An unpainted brick structure, it remains swaddled in darkness once the last Trekker bus to Ramnagar station passes by at 6 pm. But the Rajinikanta Gyan Mandir Museum and Research Centre, in Dharas, a village in East Midnapore, has an uncommon distinction – it houses two rare ceramic jars, or amphorae, that were once used to ship agricultural produce, wines, oil and pickles.

One of these has been identified as an amphora made between 4th and 7th century CE in Aqaba, a port in Jordon which, incidentally, featured in all three Indiana Jones movies. The other, still under study, seems to have originated in Saudi Arabia. The visitor’s book of the Rajanikantha Museum has a note from Dr Roberta Tomber, an amphorae specialist from the British Museum, in which she expresses her joy at finding “the first Roman Amphora from West Bengal”.

What makes it extra special is that such jars were earlier never reported from the eastern part of India, though fragments of amphorae have turned up in western and southern India. So could it be that this far-flung and hard-to-commute spot was once where ships from Rome and Arabia stopped to unload merchandise?

Photo credit: Subrata Ganguly

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History’s foot soldier

Getting to the museum requires a 190-kilometre bus ride from Kolkata and then a long bumpy ride on the roof of a packed Trekker. Once there, founder and curator Aurobindo Maity – who lives next door – comes across the fields, his beaming face, framed in the quintessential Bengali “monkey cap”. The little man doesn’t have impressive titles before or after his name. A retired high school teacher with a passion for history is all he claims to be.

Maity belongs to that indispensable straggle of individuals – foot soldiers of history who surmount odds to rescue and preserve relics of the past. Nowhere are such individuals more necessary than the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta where gushing tributaries and fluctuating sea levels redesign the landscape, endangering archaeological sites and artefacts. Had it not been for these amateur relic hunters, there would have been few resources left for archaeologists and researchers.
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#2 Feb 20th, 2018, 12:26
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There are small museums with precious collections scattered across India. They are inspired, fragile, and sometimes difficult even to find out about..
#3 Feb 20th, 2018, 12:45
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Originally Posted by edwardseco View Post They are inspired, fragile, and sometimes difficult even to find out about..
Can we compile a list here in IM? I'm sure some of the people here would've visited a few.
#4 Feb 20th, 2018, 14:18
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Brilliant article. Thanks for sharing. A special salute to Aurobinda babu - it is the silent yet indefatigable individuals like him to whom we owe a huge debt for keeping our history alive. This place is now definitely on my radar.
#5 Feb 20th, 2018, 19:44
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Originally Posted by kapilankar View Post Can we compile a list here in IM?
Very good idea, such places would make for wonderful trips.
If you find my posts confrontationist, please bear, I am an old frustrated guy who has nothing better to do than sit on rocking chair and curse the world whole day
#6 Feb 21st, 2018, 14:27
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Can we compile a list here in IM?
In Ahmednagar city there is a wonderful small museum with manuscripts. In many records offices the officers love to have convivial company who lives there at length and will make available amazing stuff from the emergency back to the 1800s. Some colleges have archives of amazing unknown books. If a research institute does government research they may have copies of confidential reports that are quite revealing. Of course, my aged book agent can find things the Library of Congress would drool over. Usually these are not a walk in resource and won't even be mentioned on a casual acquaintance..

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