SHIV CHNADER SHARMA
ON the right bank of river Chenab, 28 km from Jammu, there is a brick Fort in the border town of Akhnoor which is related to the Harappan period and the town was once dominated by the followers of Lord Buddha during Kushana period.
Harappan and and Late Harappan ( 17th and 15th centuries Before Christ respectively) terracota items and Buddhist site of Kushana period and other antiquities have been excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at Akhnoor Fort, town and adjoining places. These items include bone arrow-heads, grey-ware potteries, princely figures, terracota moulds, iron and copper objects, copper pins and other antiquities.
The Akhnoor Fort has been declared as a protected monument under the Protection of Monuments Act 1958 and stands taken over by ASI, said former Superintendent, ASI of Kashmir Circle, M. Mahadevaiah. He said while talking to this author that Akhnoor town is most important ancient site for its relation to Harappan period and founder of J&K state Maharaja Gulab Singh, who was coronated on the bank of river Chenab (Also called Chanderbhaga or Asknini in ancient literature) right below the Fort at Jia Pota.
The fort, of late has gained considerable attention as terracota items and other antiquities have been found from this place from time to time excavations. Before, the ASI took over the fort in its possession; various parts of it were encroached upon by the none other than the state government. Two reservoirs for supplying water to Akhnoor town and a Police Station besides a Revenue (Tehsil) office have been constructed due to which many important evidences and terracota items were destroyed.
Archaeologists have excavated pottery belonging to the Harappan period. It was the last Harrapn city towards North from where the Harappans used to collect timber flowing in river Chenab right below the Akhnoor Fort where river Chenab enters plains after completing its hilly journey.
The Jetty of Harappan era remains visible in the waters of river Chenab during winter months when one looks down from the fort as water level reached lowest in the winter season. Harappan people used to reach here on Yaughts. Some house-hold items, bangles and even Stone Age tools of the Indus Valley civilization have also been found in the fort and the town.
Busts of Buddha heads dating back to 3rd century AD are among the most prominent terracota statues found here, some of which have been kept in museums the world over. The life size terracota heads, currently placed in the Dogra Art Gallery at Jammu, indicate that at one time this place was inhabitated by the believers of Lord Buddha.
Just three or four kms from Akhnoor town, at Ambaran, the remnants of Buddhists Stupa have been found during excavations. A large scale excavation of ASI was undertaken from 1999 to 2001 which exposed for the first time, remains of Buddhist Stupa and Vihara identified to be the first known of its kind in Jammu region so far.
The Stupa is believed to be of Kushana period (1st to 3rd century AD when these were constructed but during Gupta period (6th-7th century AD) flash floods in adjoining river Chenab might have washed the Stupa and Vihara. Now a bridge on river Chenab is being constructed near this site.
However, this place was also dominated by people belonging to the Hindu religion, as is revealed by a 9th century AD Trimurti idol, found from Ambarran village near the fort. But Buddhism also spread and flourished here.
Meanwhile, the Fort is perched upon an ancient site depicting four periods of the history. The First period is represented by Harappan red and grey earthern-ware including jars, beakers and goblets. The other objects were copper pins, bone arrowheads, terracota cakes and shreds with Harappan gaffiti, which have been found from here.
The Second period is marked by the presence of early historic pottery and the third period is respresnted by Kushana time obejcts of 2nd to 4th centuries AD and an impressive rubber diaper, masonary flanked on both sides by a three metre wide street. The Fourth period is represented by the items found which belong to Gupta period of 6th-7th century AD. and the Fort at the same place was construted much later which can be termed as fifth period.
Tha latest construction of the Fort was started by Mian Tegh Singh on the pattern of Mughal forts and completed by his successor Raja Alum Singh in the early 19th century AD and later it was repaired by Maharaja Gulab Singh also in 19th century AD.
The fort has a high wall with bastions at regular intervals and is crowned with battlements. There are two-storeyed watch-towers at corners which are also crowned by battlements and merlons. The fort has been bifurcated by a wall with a gate leading to the palace located on the southern end.
The palace is two-storyeyed and the walls facing the courtyard have decorated arches, some of which contain mural paintings. Access to the fort can be obtained through the river side as well and northern side. A large part of the fort is in ruins now and has been encraoched upon by modern structures as already mentioned. However, an ancient Mahakali temple near the inner wall has been renovated recently restoring its antiquity.
The location and huge walls of the fort depict the vast vision of the king who made it almost inaccessible to the enemy.
The town was named Akhnoor by Mughal Emperor Jahangir who once visited the area and the fort on the advice of a saint when his eyes got infected while returning from Kashmir. Amazingly, Jahangir’s eyes were cured by the fresh air of the town blowing over the river Chenab. He called the town <PI>Ankho-ka-noor (The light of the eyes) and since the place came to be known as Akhnoor.
The Raj Tilak ceremony of founder of J&K State-Maharaja Gulab Singh-was held here on June 16, 1822. On a raised platform of Jiapota below the Fort, Maharja Ranjit Singh of Punjab performed the coronation ceremony and enthroned Gulab Singh-the Maharaja of Jammu.