Bharat ki Chhap - Episode 2: The Stone Age
Director: Chandita Mukherjee; Cinematographer: Ranjan Palit
Duration: 00:50:44; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 31.036; Saturation: 0.094; Lightness: 0.323; Volume: 0.291; Cuts per Minute: 7.764; Words per Minute: 70.704
Summary: This episode captures the life in the Stone Age. We look at stone tool-making, investigate food gathering in pre-historic times through the habits of Halbi tribals in Bastar and travel to Buzahom in Kashmir to understand beginnings of farming and clay utensils for storage. And finally, we participate in a Navratri celebration in Bombay, linking its rituals to the discovery of agriculture 7000 years ago.
Bharat ki Chhap: Episode 2
Who were the first Indians?
Who were they? Who?
Who were they? Yes, who?
Who were the first Indians?
What you mean by 'Indian'?
Those who came and settled here
That's all very well
Yes, that's all very well
But who were those first Indians?
-Where did they live?- In forests, or mountains?
-What did they eat?-Vegetables, or meat?
They lived wherever they could survive
And ate what the seasons brought
That's all very well, but...
what techniques did they know?
Did they, too, sing?
...did they hum?
Did they have a language?
Surely they named their things
Taught their children what they knew
That's all very well
Yes, all very well, but...
what language did they speak?
Who were the first Indians?
1. This song “Kaun the woh pehle Bharat wasi?” could be described as nationalistic. But that was not our intention. What we meant to say was that popular culture and pulp fiction represents people from the Stone Age people as crass and monosyllabic, and then equates them to tribal people. This was a prejudice we encountered in the beginning, which is why we called them Bharatwasis. Bharatwasis are people who live on the subcontinent, who were the first people who lived here and we give tribute to them.
Thirparappu Falls, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu
Borivali National Park, Mumbai; Mumbai
Pangoraria, District Sehore, Madhya Pradesh
To know about the first Indians we need to know about the first people on earth. Discoveries by scientists everywhere help us
African fossils, stone tools from China, cave paintings in Europe - all these tell us about the first Indians and about the Stone Age.
2. Archaeologists know where to find stone age settlements – where there is a source of drinking water, there has to high rise to keep a lookout, a forest though the Stone Age people never went to the thick forests of the Indo Gangetic plains. So there is some idea of how to find them (or their remains) to find out how they lived, what was their technology, what an ideal environment was for them.
Stone tools helped to develop our brains and the opposing thumb. It is partly related to our evolution.
Sites where Stone Age people lived are found all over India. They chose areas with certain features - such as vantage points from where wild animals could be observed. Light forest or grassland was preferred to jungle, where the risk of attack by wild animals was greater.
Dachigam National Park, Kashmir
To have drinking water close by was essential. Besides the flesh of wild animals, Stone Age people gathered and ate wild fruits, roots and berries from the forests.
There were no political frontiers then - only natural barriers like rivers, mountains, forests. But as their understanding of nature grew,
and they developed new techniques, they began to cross the old barriers and to make their homes in new places.
Sithannavasal Caves, Puddukottai District, Tamil Nadu
That's all very well but I still want to ask
Did they know what science was?
Yes, of course, what is this if not science?
What is it if not knowledge? What is it if not science?
Stone tools to cut and scrape
-Axes to chop wood -Hooks to catch fish!
What are such fine tools if not science?
What are they but knowledge? What are they but science?
They watched the ways of wild animals
Observed what they ate
And where the herds moved
What is this understanding if not science?
What are they but knowledge? What are they but science?
In such places, they made their homes -
A little water ...
Heaps of stone!
A little water, heaps of stone
That was the ideal home
Living and eating – what are they but science?
What, if not knowledge? What, if not science?
Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, Amchha Kalan, Madhya Pradesh
Head waters of Krishna river, Wai, Satara District, Maharashtra
Prehistoric people lived by hunting and food gathering for tens of thousands of years. Very little evidence from that period survives -
only some fossils, cave paintings, stone tools. Yet there is another way - by observing the lives of tribal people today, we can learn something about the Stone Age.
Maitreyi: That is what ethno-archaeology does. There are, for instance, tribal communities in the hills and forests of India who still live by hunting and food gathering. Shehnaaz will tell us more
Shehnaaz: Recently, Ramanathan and I went to Komara in Madhya Pradesh's Bastar district. It's a village were Halbi tribals live. Let me emphasise that today's tribal people should not be taken as Stone Age people. They are contemporary people – like this woman going to the market with a plastic shopping bag. We bought that from a local potter. Cycles, watches, radios etc are common there.
Some Stone Age practices are still followed and to that extent, tribal lifestyles tell us about the scientific knowledge of our first ancestors.
The people of Komara live by growing paddy. Yet they gather some necessities from the forest. Our guide in Bastar was Iqbal, a journalist who has married Kala, a Halbi tribal, and settled there.
3. We shot with a group of women in Bastar going on a typical day, and talked about the crucial role of women in food gathering. This is fiction and reality criss-crossing. We have fictional reporters but people we meet are real.
The man who takes us into the Bastar region is a Hindi journalist. He was a government official to begin but quit his job when he started exposing the corrupt officials of his department. The journalist and his wife were our guides.
Kusuma village, Bastar district, Chattisgarh
We spent all morning in the village. Then it was time to do with the women to the forest.
Shehnaaz: Don't these remind you of the rock paintings in the Bhimbaitka caves?
Iqbal: Yet they've never seen Bhimbaitka!
Maitreyi: Even today in most tribal areas worldwide it is the women who gather food - just as they did in the Stone Age while the men hunted. For women could not take their infants along on long distance hunts.
Shehnaaz: Yes – the idea that men were stronger
is now discarded. Men do have one advantage – they can run faster. Though what is important here is the knowledge of seasons and plants that women slowly acquired. This was, in a sense, the earliest botany.
Just discovering which plants were edible, which were not, was a great step forward. The women of Komara knew of many medicinal plants. Stone Age women must also have made such discoveries, and learnt which plants grew where, in which season. To arrive at this knowledge and expand its frontiers took several thousand years of experience.
She's saying this plant has dried up - underneath must be its roots, which they'll dig up.
-That's the root
-It looks like a radish
There are many roots that are boiled and eaten.
Wherever food-gathering is still practised, the main tool women use is the wooden stick. In Bastar they had iron crowbars but metals were unknown in the Stone Age. Women would harden the ends of their sticks in fire.
Shehnaaz: While women in their search for edible plants were turning soil over – making it more fertile - at some time, certain wild plant varieties gave rise to newer varieties with more grains. Thus, gradually, in different lands, women discovered agriculture.
Nissim: Till then, they must have continued to find new sources of food – a greater variety of roots, wild berries and fruit. And much else, as Shehnaaz and Ramanathan discovered!
Q: So you were trying to make a link between current practices and historical evidence of those practices? Did you know you would find this in Bastar?
4. We knew, through various historians and reading research accounts, that we would find in Bastar a link between current practices and historical evidence of the same practices. I already knew Bastar well by then. I had done a film there in 1977 about the lost wax casting of Bastar for Films Division. This whole activity of the taking us around the village was because I knew people there from my previous visit. I think regular shooting teams would not have this kind of cooperation, but this is much before the public polarization of Naxal movement.
Kusuma village, Bastar district, Chattisgarh; Forest near Kusuma
Iqbal: Do you know what these are?
Iqbal: Red ants, chapda,
these are eaten
Shehnaaz: Don't they bite?
Iqbal: Well, they must be picked carefully
Shehnaaz: Didn't it bite?
Iqbal: Here – you try one. They taste a little sour
Shehnaaz: It is
sour – and it bite me on the tongue!
Iqbal: They're made into chutney, with salt and chillies
This is the scene where they show Suhaila eating the red ant. I hear that people replay it on youtube a lot.
While returning home the women plucked saal
leaves for making plates and bowls. Women in the Stone Age must also have used roots, fibres, grasses to make baskets and this learnt weaving - a skill that became the basis of cloth weaving. That happened only after humans took to agriculture and a settled life.
Nissim: For lakhs of years, we were hunters and food gatherers. During this period human evolution continued. As humans understood – and used – nature better, their brains developed too. Of all objects produced by people then, what we find most commonly are stone tools - which is why that age is called the Stone Age.
Mairtreyi: All over the world, these tools are similar, for the sequence of human and scientific evolution was the same everywhere. Tool-making techniques reflect this as well. Long before our species, homo sapiens,
evolved, the earliest tools were made by striking one stone against another to break it so it would acquite an edge for chopping or digging. Certainly, there was the idea of a sharp edge hidden inside the stone.
Nissim: Even a stone or broken branch just lying around can serve as a tool. Chimpanzees are intelligent enough to use such tools.
But humans alone have been able to make tools like this screw and screwdriver. Humans, alone, understood the properties of stone and shaped it according to their needs.
Who was the first scientist? Today, all of us would suggest different names - but few would think of the Stone Age. Yet the human being who first broke and shaped a stone in a definite way to make a tool - wasn't her or she a scientist?
5. Our intention was to attack and dismantle certain perceptions. Typical naive questions we are asked us in school, like who was the first scientist? Who was the first man on the moon? Like being first matters – so these are the kind of things that we consistently attacked.
The idea we had was that the first scientist is not some famous whose biography you know but it is the person in the Stone Age who was hitting and shaping stones. This is what we reiterate through the series that the ordinary people made science. We also used the series to make them familiar with places of interest, like if you are Pune you should visit the Deccan College museum.
Pune's Deccan College has a good collection of stone tools. This model takes us through the various stages of the Stone Age to the time when agriculture began.
6. We had these huge files of our research, but they are all lost. We didn’t have the means to archive it. The books that were bought are still with us. We also got a lot of books from scholars.
We got in touch with the scholars ourselves, not using either the connections through ISRO or DST. Many of them were inaccessible because of their own elitism. But when you are convinced about something you can enthuse others. Fortunately almost everyone cooperated and the support was tremendous.
The earliest period had big, heavy tools like this one. It may appear, at first, to be an ordinary stone but it has been skillfully given a sharp edge, and the other side rounded to make it easier to hold. This pointed end would have been used to dig for roots and other edible things. This is called a hand-axe; and this is cleaver – used to skin animals and scrape the bark off trees .
These were early forms of the tools we know today. Tools in the next period are sometimes of finer-grained stone, which makes for a sharper edge and better finish. Some were used to make or sharpen other tools such as spears and arrows of wood or bone.
In the next period we notice certain refinements. This is a blade. Sharp enough to use as a knife, it could be fixed to a handle. And these, in fact, prefigure the small, precise tools known as microliths.
Microliths are the most advanced Stone Age tools. A single microlith is rarely a tool by itself - many microliths combine to make a tool.
As we come closer to the present, the Stone Age periods get shorter. For lakhs of years, there were only crude tools which changed very little. But when improvements did begin, the next period was shorter – only 20,000 years !
Riding this accelerating wave of progress we have, in just five or six thousand years, come all the way from the microlith to the microchip! Today our problems are different. We have many devices to satisfy various needs. But surely the person who invented the hand-axe was as scientifically advanced for that age as we now imagine ourselves to be.
Head waters of Krishna river, Wai, Satara District, Maharashtra
Not far from Pune, near the source of the Krishna, is Wakeshwar. Even if the river dries up there is water all year round. Because of this fish, birds, small animals can always be found. The river bed and banks are strewn with basalt, ideal for making stone tools. This was, in a sense, an ideal Stone Age habitat. These have broken and been swept ashore.
7. So now we go to Wai, where a professor from Deccan College will make a microlith.
Here's a piece suitable for making a hand-axe.
Dr Vasant Shinde of Deccan College had brought me here to show me how stone tools are made. What do you look for when selecting a stone? Well, it should be of the right thickness, like this one. And it should be fine-grained, so that it breaks cleanly.
-Will you make a hand-axe?
9. In this scene the professor does a practical demonstration of the technology, and this happens throughout the series. The character then discusses how it felt to do something that is steeped in history, and this often happens throughout the BKC series.
I watched how he used a small stone to shape the larger stone. He knew where to strike, from which angle, how hard or gently. I realised, then – Stone Age people also knew how the stone would break; how far the impact of each blow would travel. Clearly, they followed a mental plan
Ranjan: I suppose these early tools were used for basic tasks digging, scraping, cutting?
Dr. Shinde: That's right! And remember, not all tools were held directly - they were often set in wooden or bone handles to make axes or spears.
Ranjan: The handle saved energy and the tool developed too. And when humans learnt to throw spears the tool did the running for them.
Will you make a microlith now?
Yes. These require very fine-grained stone - jasper, chert, chalcedony. This is the flat surface from which blades have been removed. If you strike the flat edge the blade could break midway - so it's always the pointed edge that's struck
- Like this
Ranjan: A hundred thousand years separate the hand-axe from blades like this. A long journey of progress.
Dr. Shinde: Many microliths were used to make a tool by sticking them to a handle. They must have used plant resins for this
Ranjan: May I -? A straight sickle!
These light tools with their tiny, sharp teeth bring us to the threshold of agriculture. As we were leaving, the moon was rising above the hills. Its reflection shimmered in the Krishna. Did the people who lived here 50,000 years ago look at the moon in the same way?
In this scene of the full moon night with the dialogue “(They[Stone age humans] would have seen this same full moon”) – that happened spontaneously on the spot while shooting.
Nissim: Dr. Shinde demonstrated the techniques of tool-making. The understanding
of the stone's properties and the tool's design – is related to science. Earlier Maitreyi spoke of how stone was hit against stone to obtain a tool with a cutting edge. Our homo habilis
ancestors followed this method. Later homo erectus
began to make tools according to a specific plan. Now both hands were used in coordination for different tasks. Our species, homo sapiens,
used better techniques to make tools for a wider range of needs.
Maitreyi: To follow a plan thus is to use the same ability that an architect requires or a designer of bridges. There are many Stone Age cave sites all over India. A profusion of stone tools is found at many such sites. Several caves have rock paintings too. Ranjan and Amrita visited the Bhimbaitka caves near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. Their guide was Salim Siddiqui, a student with a keen interest in these caves.
10. Bhimbettka caves: In this scene, the character was Salim Siddiqui, a cave lover and our tour guide for the area, but the actor backed out at the last minute, and so this scene is actually acted by our Hindi dialogue writer with our unit.
Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, Amchha Kalan, Madhya Pradesh
Amrita: How much further, Salim?
Ranjan: Tired? We've seen just two places. There are some 500 shelters here.
Salim: We don't have to see all of them! Only some have paintings. Many are in a bad state.
Ranjan: All the same, isn't it marvellous that we can see paintings 30,000 years old?
Amrita: Salim, I was reading that they made colours from animal fat, vegetable extracts and various minerals.
Ranjan: How many experiments they must have done to perfect each pigment!
Salim: Water flows down this way in the rains - it's a good place to hunt for microliths. This is waste from stone tool-making. And here's a microlith. See how sharp these tools were.
Amrita: Salim, what you said about imagination in paintings also applies to tools. To pick a stone and shape it for a definite purpose requires imagination, surely?
Ranjan: Where did the team from Deccan College dig? It's quite close. Let's go. Amrita! Let's go
Amrita: Coming – I just want to take some pictures
To make a tool with a specific shape in mind is linked not just to science, but also art. To depict three-dimensional forms – animals and people as lines on flat rock surfaces was, in a way, quite a breakthrough. Such a huge animal and this man, running away in fright. One theory is that these paintings were made so as to acquire control over the animals and to overcome fear. Perhaps this frightened man returned with other men and together, skilfully, they killed the animal.
When humans learned to use fire for cooking, they were able to eat more of the kill. Fire made many things edible. And because it created light amid darkness, there was more time to spend with others, to teach the children, to sing, dance and tell stories
We're not certain when humans learned to make
fire. But hundreds of thousands of years ago, they knew how to keep fires alive. It was fire that enabled our homo erectus
ancestors to survive the ice ages. It is one thing to keep a fire going but to make
fire, it is necessary to understand certain prerequisites. One – the spark, used to light the fire. Two – a material that catches fire quickly. And to keep it going, fuel - which may not catch fire quickly but once alight, burns for a long time.
Nissim: Fire was our first step towards chemistry. As time passed, people understood better its ability to transform materials.
Maitreyi: Fire made baked pottery possible and, later, the production of metals.
Nissim: But humans then probably did not think of fire in the terms we are using to discuss it. They must have seen it as an animal that had to be kept alive by constant feeding. If fed too much, it could turn dangerous, like the sun, wind, rain, fire, too must have been a force to be propitiated, so that it would protect the worshipper from harm.
Maitreyi: Such ideas may have served to inspire art. Thus science, religion and art are aspects of human imagination that had common roots. In time, humans began to observe their differences. As each branch developed it grew apart from the others, even contradictory -
like religion and science.
We'll have the opportunity to discuss this again. So we've seen our ancestors' growing understanding of nature, and have reach that age, 10,000 years ago, when we learned to grow crops and rear animals. Life changed so radically in the New Stone Age that we call this time the Neolithic Revolution. Evidences of this kind of life in India were found in Burzahom, near Srinagar, Kashmir.
11. Burzahom: This is in 1987, before the rise of militancy in Kashmir and before the military excesses of the Indian Army on the people of Kashmir. The scene in Burzahom is really about the Neolithic Revolution. Here again we are using the form of showing things in the present, which evoke the past. The women are still winnowing and drying food. Potters are still making pots similar to the ones in the archaeological records; even similar crops are grown in the region.
Shehnaaz: Burzahom Burz
– the birch tree, and hom
– the place. The New Stone Age settlers here used birch bark to roof their dwellings - hence, perhaps, this name. The houses were pits dug into the ground and the birch roofs were waterproof. Many house remains were excavated.
Ranjan: This is a cross-section of one such house. They were circular – like this. This is the floor. Ash-marks show that the fireplace was here. Archaeologists working here have found grain samples and tools of bone and stone.
Ranjan: Houses, pots, grain. These are the things that enabled those people to move away from hunting and food gathering and settle down in one place.
Shehnaaz: There is not much to see here today - but today's Burzahom, like any other village, can tell us about the Neolithic Revolution.
12. Wedding scene: Weddings are places where a society displays its best things in plentiful. We were really getting desperate to find a wedding and we only had a few days left to shoot in Kashmir. One day we saw this Tonga wala with huge utensils. He told us there was a wedding. We requested the family to let us shoot and they did. Here we also get a sense of the range of foods and diet, because it is a wedding.
We see another continuity from Stone Age times to our present which is the Navratri festival, a celebration of plants and fertility.
Marriage preparations are in full swing here. What there is to eat, the wedding feast will tell! But let's see what the ingredients are. Actually, all these are familiar ingredients. What is worth noting is that our Stone Age ancestors would not have found any of these things in the wild. Generations of farming have produced every item. And without human assistance not one of these species can survive. Sowing seeds, planting saplings, looking after them – humans must do all this. Humans have produced not just vegetables,
fruit and grain, but also those animals whose flesh we eat.
These animals have changed so much that Stone Age man, who hunted their ancestors, would be amazed by them now. This species cannot survive in the wild. It depends on its master the shepherd, for food and protection against the cold, and on watchdogs to ward off attacks by wild animals.
Shepherd: We're going to the highlands - there the sheep will drink plenty of water and eat good grass.
Ranjan: When humans began to rear animals instead of hunting, they continued to be nomads till they took to farming.
Shehnaaz: To stop wandering in search of food and to grow it instead meant living in one place. This was not an easy choice for the hunter-gatherers as the new life was full of risks and uncertainty. First, the soil had to be prepared and each crop sown in its own season. Besides watering and tending, it needed protection from animals. And then flood or drought or crop disease could lay waste months of labour.
Ranjan: Farming can support large numbers in a single place. Small bands this slowly become larger groups and people grew so attached to the land, they began to think of it as their own.
Shehnaaz: People had to work together all year round as every task had to be done at the right time. Their needs also grew - pots and jars for storing grain, shelters where they could keep their possessions away from sun and rain – in short, homes.
Freedom from the constant search for food meant more time for handicrafts. Pottery, baskets, cloth-weaving - all these developed in this period.
What are the dishes' names?
Rishtaba, gushtaba, tabak maas
This is Jahangiri
and this, rogan josh
For the first time, they had food in surplus which they could fall back on in lean times, or use for exchange with other communities
Thus, with agriculture, began a new era of social and economic development.
The earliest evidence of agriculture comes from the Fertile Crescent in West Asia and is some ten thousand years old. By 7000 BC an urban civilisation had come up, of which the oldest city was Jericho.
In recent years the site of Mehrgarh has yielded the earliest evidence of farming in the subcontinent. It is on the banks of the Bolan in the Baluchistan region of Pakistan. Excavations reveal that from around 7000 to 2500 BC the site was continuously inhabited. Grains of wheat, hunting, then rearing of animals. Houses of unbaked bricks and granaries. Sophisticated stone tools, beads, jewellery, trade.
And graves for the dead.
Mehrgarh, Balochistan, Pakistan
Nissim: It is thought that thus, gradually, in and around Mehrgarh, a civilisation was born that spread to the Indus valley. Along its rivers, amid a flourishing agriculture science too found new directions. This was the Harappan civilisation, which we shall discuss next time.
Maitreyi: Lakhs of years separated the first hunter-gatherers from the farmers of Jericho and Mehrgarh. But between those farmers and us – just 10,000 years, as though it were only yesterday! No wonder so many of our festivals still recall the discovery of agriculture.
Navratri – well-known festival of Gujarat. In this block of flats in Bombay, too, women are pouring grain into earthen pots and placing lit oil lamps inside. This is a women's festival. Most of the rituals are performed by women.
Amrita:Why are wheat and jowar
planted and why are moong
beans put into a garbhi?
What do these rituals signify?
Gujarati lady: Well, just as the grain sprouts in the pot we pray to Amba Mata that we too may prosper.
Amrita: Does anyone know why the ritual pot is called a garbhi?
These earthen pots are called garbhi
- a word resembling garbh
or womb. When women first grew grain from the soil - and harvests began to increase - it was possible to support larger populations. Crop productivity and human fertility were thus linked, giving rise to many customs. And perhaps this dual power of women came to be personified as mother goddesses. The festivities last for nine days. The seeds planted on the first day have now sprouted. They remind us of that first success. Perhaps festivals like Onam, Dussehra, Holi all celebrate that triumph.