B. B. Lal
Braj Basi Lal
2 May 1921
|Died||10 September 2022 (aged 101)|
|Occupation||Archaeologist, Director-General Archaeological Survey of India (1968–1972)|
|Known for||Work on Indus Valley civilization sites, Mahabharat sites, Kalibangan, Ramayana sites|
Braj Basi Lal (2 May 1921 – 10 September 2022) was an Indian writer and archaeologist. He was the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) from 1968 to 1972 and has served as Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla. Lal also served on various UNESCO committees.
His later publications have been noted and criticised for their historical revisionism, taking a controversial stance in the Ayodhya dispute, claiming to have found the remains of a columned Hindu temple beneath the subsequently destroyed Babri Masjid mosque.
He received the Padma Bhushan Award by the President of India in 2000, and was awarded India's second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2021.
Lal was born in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, India, on 2 May 1921. He lived in Delhi and had three sons. The eldest, Rajesh Lal, is a retired Air Vice Marshal, Indian Air Force, His second son Vrajesh Lal and the third, Rakesh Lal, are businessmen based in Los Angeles, California. Lal died at his home in Hauz Khas on 10 September 2022, at the age of 101.
Lal obtained his master's degree in Sanskrit from Allahabad University, India. After his studies, Lal developed interest in archaeology and in 1943, became a trainee in excavation under a veteran British archaeologist, Mortimer Wheeler, starting with Taxila, and later at sites such as Harappa. Lal went on to work as an archaeologist for more than fifty years. In 1968, he was appointed the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India where he would remain until 1972. Thereafter, Lal served as Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla. The B. B. Lal Chair at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT, Kanpur) has been established by his son Vrajesh Lal to encourage research in science and technology related to archaeological work.
Between 1950 and 1952, Lal worked on the archaeology of sites accounted for in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, including Hastinapura, the capital city of the Kurus. He made discoveries of many Painted Grey Ware (PGW) sites in the Indo‑Gangetic Divide and upper Yamuna‑Ganga doab.
In Nubia, the Archaeological Survey of India, Lal and his team discovered Middle and Late Stone Age tools in the terraces of the river Nile near Afyeh. The team excavated a few sites at Afyeh and cemetery of C-group people, where 109 graves would be located. Lal worked on Mesolithic site of Birbhanpur (West Bengal), Chalcolithic site of Gilund (Rajasthan) and Harappan site of Kalibangan (Rajasthan).
In 1975–76, Lal worked on the "Archaeology of Ramayana Sites" project funded by the ASI, which excavated five sites mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana – Ayodhya, Bharadwaj ashram, Nandigram, Chitrakoot and Shringaverapur.
Prof. B. B. Lal has published over 20 books and over 150 research papers and articles in national and international scientific journals. The British archaeologists Stuart Piggott and D.H. Gordon, writing in the 1950s, describe Copper Hoards of the Gangetic Basin (1950) and the Hastinapura Excavation Report (1954–1955), two of Lal's works published in the Journal of the Archaeological Survey of India, as "models of research and excavation reporting."
In his later publications, Lal has taken a pro-Hindutva stance and engaged in historical revisionism, taking a controversial stance in the Ayodhya dispute, and arguing in favor of the discredited[note 1] Indigenous Aryans point of view.[note 2] His later works have been characterized by D. N. Jha as "a systematic abuse of archaeology," while Julian Droogan writes that Lal "has used the term blut und boden [sic], a patriotic connection between one's blood and the soil of one's homeland, in connection with supposed religious continuity in the archaeological record of the subcontinent." R.S.Sharma characterized Lal's later work as driven by communalism and irrationalism, disembedded from "objective and scientific criteria."
Lal took a controversial stance in the Ayodhya dispute. Between 1975 and 1980 excavations took place at Ayodhya, with Lal writing in 1977, in the official ASI journal, that finds were "devoid of any special interest." In a seven-page preliminary report submitted to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1989, Lal "only mentioned" that his team found "pillar bases," immediately south of the Babri mosque structure in Ayodhya. In 1990, after his retirement, he wrote in a RSS magazine that he had found the remains of a columned temple under the mosque, and "embarked on a spree of lectures all over the country propagating th[is] evidence from Ayodhya." In Lal's 2008 book, Rāma, His Historicity, Mandir and Setu: Evidence of Literature, Archaeology and Other Sciences, he writes (that):
Attached to the piers of the Babri Masjid, there were twelve stone pillars, which carried not only typical Hindu motifs and mouldings but also figures of Hindu deities. It was self-evident that these pillars were not an integral part of the Masjid, but were foreign to it.
Lal's conclusions have been contested by multiple scholars, questioning both the stratigraphic information and the kind of structure envisioned by Lal. According to Hole,
Later independent analysis of photographs of the trench in which Lal claimed to have found the pillar bases found that they were actually the remains of various walls of different, non-centemporaneous structural phases, and could not have been load-bearing structures (Mandal 2003) [...] other than one photograph, Lal has never made the notebooks and sketches of his excavations available to other scholars so that his interpretation could be tested."
Hole concludes that "the structural elements he had previously thought insignificant suddenly became temple foundations only in order to manufacture support for the nationalists' cause."[note 3]
In his 2002 book, The Saraswati Flows On, Lal rejected the widely accepted[note 4] Indo-Aryan migration theory, arguing that the Rig Vedic description of the Sarasvati River[note 5] as "overflowing" contradicts the mainstream view that the Indo-Aryan migration started at ca. 1500 BCE, after the Sarasvati River had dried up.[note 6] In his book ‘The Rigvedic People: ‘Invaders’? ‘Immigrants’? or Indigenous?’, Lal argues that the Rigvedic People and the authors of the Harappan civilisation were the same, a view outside mainstream scholarship.[note 1]