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Search for mutiny city

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  • Published 17.06.10

Lucknow, June 16: Archaeologists have begun digging a site in Uttar Pradesh in search of a “lost city”, said to have been wiped out by the British in revenge after a massacre during India’s first war of Independence.

A team from Lucknow University is scanning for ruins of Mahua Dabar, once a “major” textile centre in what is now Basti district.

“The first phase of the excavation will continue till June 30. After that a report will be prepared. If necessary, the excavation will resume,” professor Anil Kumar, who is leading the team of archaeologists, told reporters in Basti, about 180km east of Lucknow.

Two years ago, The Telegraph had reported that descendants of several former inhabitants were trying to rediscover the city of their forefathers.

The search for the ruins began on June 11 to coincide with the 153rd anniversary of the battle that led to the city’s destruction during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny as the British wreaked terrible vengeance following the massacre of six officers.

Sources in Lucknow University said the decision to start the excavation was taken on the basis of a 2006 report on Mahua Dabar by a team of university historians. The report submitted by the historians to the Union human resource ministry said the city’s relics might be buried under the soil and an excavation could bring out the truth.

The sources said the archaeologists were now searching for “single-storeyed and two-storeyed houses” several descendants had spoken about when the historians had met them. The descendants also said they had heard from their ancestors that these houses had “weaving units”, while mosques with tall minarets completed the city’s landscape.

“It was a major centre of textile industry. The entire population of nearly 5,000… used to be engaged in weaving, dyeing and printing of cloth. A habitat like this was looked upon as a township in 1857 when India had a total population of 17 crore,” the report by the historians said.

The massacre of the six officers had been carried out by the city’s Muslim weavers, descendants of families who had fled Bengal unable to bear the torture by British rulers. As the flames of the revolt spread, the weavers decided to join the battle, the report said. Among the officers killed were five lieutenants and one sergeant.

It was the first time discontent had surfaced in the suburbs and the British decided to retaliate by wiping Mahua Dabar out of the state map. The brutal counter-attack was also meant to send a message to the rest of India, the report said.

“The city was burnt to ashes. Many perished but some of the residents fled, burying in the ground whatever money, ornaments and tools they had. They thought they would come back and settle down once things had cooled down but then the British rulers directed that no one would inhabit that place again,” the report said.

Burnt down and its business destroyed, Mahua Dabar ceased to exist.