Join Environmental Graffiti on a grand journey to visit the seven lost cities of India: you’ll learn about bustling sea ports, prosperous centres of trade, beautiful houses of worship and powerhouse capital cities of great empires. Although these cities eventually fell to war or natural disaster, their legacies live on in majestic temples preserved as World Heritage Sites or transformed into museums and galleries, sophisticated art pieces and modern day reliance on the knowledge and age-old techniques developed by the citizens of ancient cities in agriculture, bead-making and metallurgy. So what are you waiting for? Hop on and enjoy the ride back in time.
1. Vijayanagara Empire
Virupaksha Temple at Hampi
Sangama dynasty princes Harihara I and Bukka Raya I founded Vijayanagara in 1336. This mighty city was the capital of an empire of the same name, one of the largest superpowers in Hindu history. The golden years of this Indian realm lasted about 20 years, from 1509-29, under Krishnadevaraya. During this time, the city itself covered 33 sq km and the empire stretched across almost the entire peninsula south of the rivers Krishna and Tungabhadra.
Agricultural riches brought material wealth to the empire, which was also busy with international trade. But as with many powerful domains, the empire eventually fell; collapsing under the attack of Deccan sultans in 1565, the empire never recovered, and was finally conquered in 1646 by the Sultanates of Bijapur and Golkonda. The city’s ruins are now designated as a World Heritage Site, and surround modern Hampi in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
Tree in courtyard of Vittala Temple
A tree grows in the courtyard of the must-see 16th century Vittala Temple, a building that Krishnadevaraya started but never finished. A visit to the beautifully sculptured monument calls for a stop at the outer ‘musical’ pillars, which echo when tapped.
A seven-tiered building now stands as the Sillappathikara Art Gallery.
Puhar is a town in the Nagapattinam district in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu in India. Ancient Puhar was called Kaveripattinam (or Poompuhar or Kaveripumpattinam), the flourishing port city capital of of the early Chola kings in Tamilakkam. Located near the mouth of the Kaveri river, the city served as a great trading centre, where large ships docked to bring lovely merchandise to citizens from lands far afield.
Puhar Beach – modern day
The legendary city was praised in song, poetry and heroic literary epics about the Chola kings, and is described most fully in the epics Silapathikaram and Manimekalai. Scientists believe that a tsunami possibly caused by Krakatoa 416 AD washed most of the great town away.
Roman map of India showing Muziris on the east coast.
Muziris is the Greek-Roman name for an ancient port-city located on the Malabar Coast of South India. Although there has been confusion as to the location of the port, it is generally known to be located somewhere in the southern and southwestern region of India, possibly around the ancient town of Kodungallur, which is beside the mouth of the Periyar river in Kerala. In early 2004, archeological findings in Pattanam revealing remnants of Roman commerce led researchers to believe that the ancient Muziris was located in this modern-day city. The findings suggest that South India actively traded international goods with West Asia, the Near East and Europe through the port at Muziris. The ancient name of Pattanam is believed to be Maliankara, where Thomas the Apostle is said to have landed.
It is unknown as to when the port was created, though scientists agree that it likely existed before 1500 BC and that it was a major trade centre by 500 BC; it is believed the city was likely wiped out by an earthquake in the mid-13th century CE.
Conceptual image of Lothal
The ancient city of Lothal can be found in the state of Gujarat. Dating from 2400 BC, this lost city is one of India’s most important archaeological sites from the Indus Valley era. It was discovered in 1954 and excavated between 1955 and 1960 by the Archeological Society of India (ASI); renewed excavations in 1961 revealed trenches in the northern, eastern and western flanks of the mound, proving that inlet channels and ‘nullahs’ (ravines or gullys) connected the dock with the river.
The dock at Lothal
Lothal draws fame and recognition for being the site of the world’s earliest dock. It was an essential segment of the trade route between West Asia and Africa. Lothal is also known for the earliest depictions of realism in art and sculpture, and for being 2,000 years ahead of the Greeks in its citizens’ navigation savvy. Techniques and tools used for bead-making and metallurgy are still used today, 4,000 years later.
The western mound, known as the ‘Citadel’ can be seen here in the ruins of Kalibangan.
Kalibangan is located on the southern banks of the Ghaggar (Ghaggar-Hakra River) in the Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan state. Known for being the site of the earliest ploughed agricultural field (ca. 2800 BC), the regular, grid pattern of furrows used in this ancient field is a practice that is still used today.
Italian Luigi Tessitori was the one who made the important link that Kalibangan was the site of an ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Unfortunately, Tessitori did not see the site fully excavated before he died in 1919; in fact, the ASI did not complete excavations until 1969 (a nine-year project). What archeologists found were two mounds representing two phases of settlement: the first between 3500 BC and 2500 BC and the second between 2500 BC and 1750 BC. Evidence points to an earthquake around 2600 BC that brought an end to the first settlement while the second settlement was believed to have been abandoned because of a dried up river.
Present-day Kutch desert
The site of Surkotada is located 160 km north-east of Bhuj in the district of Kutch, Gujarat. The ancient mound is surrounded by sandstone hills covered with red laterite soil, giving the whole area a reddish brown colour, where only cacti, small babul and pilu trees and thorny shrubs exist.
The mound of this lost city was discovered by Shri Jagat Pati Joshi of the ASI in 1964. Surkodata was occupied for an uninterrupted period of 400 years beside a large river 750 m wide (now a tiny stream) that flowed past the northeastern side of the site. The first period lasted from 2100 BC – 1950 BC; the second phase, from 1950 BC – 1800 BC, brought a new wave of people, marked by new types of pottery and instruments. This phase ended with a large fire, bringing in the final phase, from 1800 BC – 1700 BC. While most of the Indus Valley Civilization has decayed or died out by 1700 BC, Surkotada was still functioning as a mature, civilized city.
Temples located at Pattadakal
Pattadakal is a town located on the banks of the Malaprabha River in northern Karnataka. The group of ten 8th-century CE monuments includes majestic temples, a monolithic stone pillar and a Jain sanctuary.