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Million-year-old Mumbai

A fossilised clam found in Worli and a tombstone from Bandra are part of an exhibition that dates Mumbai's history to before its colonial fortresses

Our rickshaw stops outside Bandra’s Gaitey Galaxy at 5.20 pm. The lane, usually abuzz with movie-goers, black ticket sellers and fans, is silent.

 This stone-craved statue is 800 years old. pic/pradeep dhivar
This stone-craved statue is 800 years old. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Before we get caught in the crowd that will soon step out, we sprint to a building across the road. Here, on the first floor is Vikram Rao’s office. The photographer is already pointing his lens at all things old and beautiful.

A Tombstone: As a 14-year-old, Rao found this stone in his neighbour’s compound in Bandra. “For 30 years, I kept it because the carving fascinated me. Later, I did a course in archeology and geology with Kurush Dalal, and he told me that this was actually a herostone. Usually, a tombstone is divided into three sections. The first one depicts the sun and the moon, the second shows whether the person was married or single, and the last depiction, in this case a war, of how the person died,” he says. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

As 53-year-old Rao — whose company, Safe Piles, lays foundations for buildings and bridges and conducts excavations — offers us a seat and a cup of hot chai, we ogle at his work desk. On it sits a black stone sculpture, one from his vast collection.

Geode with Citrine Mineral: A geode with a citrine mineral. When lava cools, it forms fingers where it stops. The heaty gas creates a void inside the stone and mineral deposits are formed on the inside. This stone, is a cross section
Geode with Citrine Mineral: A geode with a citrine mineral. When lava cools, it forms fingers where it stops. The heaty gas creates a void inside the stone and mineral deposits are formed on the inside. This stone, is a cross section

“This one is an Indra, seated on a Garud, flanked by Sridevi and Bhudevi,” he says. The other sculpture, one foot in height, is Mahishasur Mardini, the slayer goddess. “All these sculptures,” he says, gesturing to a panel that runs across all the walls of his 1,000-feet-office, “are 300 to 800 years old.”

Dinosaur Egg: This is not a stone, but a fossilised dinosaur egg from Tucson, US
Dinosaur Egg: This is not a stone, but a fossilised dinosaur egg from Tucson, US

The collection will, this week, be on display at Mumbai University as part of an archeology and geology exhibition organised by The Centre for Extra-Mural Studies and the Centre of Archaeology.

Though Rao’s contribution will be over 150 pieces, he modestly calls himself a “small-time collector”. His contribution is also varied. “I collect everything — old coins, stones, minerals, fossils,” he adds, showing us dyes that were used to punch mark coins. The oldest Indian coin in his collection is 2,400 years old, a punchmark coin from the Mauryan dynasty.


A giant clam shell: A fossilised giant clam that Rao's father found in Worli. This one is at least 65 million years old

But it’s not just pieces of history. Rao will also recreate burial sites for the exhibition to depict long-forgotten traditions. “These include the Cairn burial — in which stones are stacked in circles where the body has been buried — and menhirs or sitting burial sites where the body is put to rest in an upright position,” he says.

The show’s curator, Kurush Dalal, who is also a caterer, archaeologist and food historian, says the exhibition should appeal to a varied audience. “It is divided into four parts – archeology, geology (stones), fossils and numismatics (coins).

What’s interesting is that it has many pieces that have been collected across Mumbai over the years. When pieces spill out of the city, it shows that there is an older history, before the British Raj and Portuguese era, which dates back to 12th century AD.”

Where: Sports Complex, Vidyanagari, Kalina, Santacruz East
When: 10 am – 5 pm, Dec 16-19
Call: 26530266

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