The Prachi is a distributary of the mighty Mahanadi (a river flowing through eastern India, traversing the states of Chhattisgarh and Odisha). It might have been reduced to a tiny channel but once upon a time, it was one of the great branches of the Mahanadi Delta, mentioned in Odiya legends and scriptures. Its banks are littered with ancient temples and monasteries of different orders – Jain, Buddhist, Shaiva, Vaishnava, Saura and Tantric. However, ancient remains have been discovered that take back the history of this river and region to a few thousand years before the Iron Age. The news, in connection with the village of Jalalpur (Cuttack District), appeared in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper’s article, ‘Pre-Christian Era Artefacts unearthed in Odisha’ (by Satyasundar Barik, dated February 4, 2018):

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has discovered pottery pieces, and tools made of stones and bones believed to be of the pre-Christian era from a mound in Jalalpur village of Cuttack District. “Discoveries of ancient artefacts indicated that a rural settlement might have thrived in that period. What is important in these latest discoveries is that we have found continuity in the progress of rural culture from a pre-historic era,” said D. B Garnayak, superintending archaeologist of ASI’s excavation branch in Bhubaneswar. Excavation carried out in 12 acres of land in the Jalalpur village has unearthed remnants of axe, adze, celts and thumbnail scrappers chiselled from stones, harpoons, point and stylus made of bones and potteries with marks of paintings.

Rich materials found from excavation sites indicate that the people had a subsistence economy and they largely relied on agriculture, fishing and hunting. ASI researchers assumed that the bones found on the site belonged to deer species and Bovidae. Discovery of tortoise shell, dolphin and shark teeth and fish bones indicated that the settlement could have been closer to the sea coast. Some rice grains have also been detected. Further excavation is expected to throw light on whether there was cultural link with other settlements, what happened to settlements established around the Prachi river, and how it declined, they said.

The remains most probably date back to the Chalcolithic Era, and provide evidence of a culture that flourished in the region around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. The region around the Prachi River has yielded many such sites. Another example is Bharatihuda, on its banks, near the town of Niali (also in the Cuttack District). Eastern India, made up of the states of Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bengal-Bangladesh, Chhattisgarh and northeastern Andhra Pradesh, was inhabited by speakers of the Munda languages (of the Austroasiatic language family). Probably, it was they who established these Chalcolithic cultures. The descendants of those people survive as the Munda-speaking tribes of Central and Eastern India (such as the Santal, Ho, Munda and Sora). This is how an article in ‘The Asian Age’, ‘Artefacts of 4,000-year-old Civilisation found in Odisha’ (by Akshaya Kumar Sahoo, dated May 26, 2017), described the development:

Archeologists have discovered artefacts of an ancient civilisation from the Chalcolithic or Copper Age, which was 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, on the banks of the Prachi river in Odisha. The ancient items were discovered in the area between Prachi river and Tanla river, around four km away from Niali in Cuttack district. According to Mr Garnaik, the team found weapons, earthen pots, animal and birds’ bones. “The materials and items discovered from the area were of the Copper Age. There was a human habitation 4,000-5,000 years ago in the area. The findings revealed that the Prachi river civilisation was very ancient,” the archeologist said. “This is the first discovery of ancient civilisation from Prachi river banks. In view of it, we will take initiative to excavate more in the river basin. As the excavation is underway, a few other items are expected to be out in the coming days,” Mr Garnaik added.

These discoveries, taking place within a few months of each other just go to show the great significance of the Prachi River Valley in Odiya history. This region needs to be explored further, and the sites associated with it need to be preserved and studied. Only then will we be able to understand the complex nature of South Asian history, which encompasses more than the history of just the Ganga Valley, and its Iron Age Indo-Aryan kingdoms. There were many others centers of civilization in Eastern, Central and South India. In fact, many archaeologists associate crucial developments in South Asian history, such as the cultivation of rice, and the smelting of iron, with non-Indo-Aryan cultures found in Eastern India.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India map of Eastern India (then organized as the Bengal Presidency, and Orissa Tributary States). The Prachi River can be seen splitting off from the Mahanadi near the city of Cuttack, and flowing into the Bay of Bengal, near the temple town of Konarak.