India Interior

Kuldhara’s mysterious past

Sudhirendar Sharma | Updated on January 12, 2018

Vacant stare In ruins after it was abandoned in1815, Kuldhara is today a tourist attraction photo: special arrangement

Researchers explain why this village near Jaisalmer was abandoned in a day

Why would a village that enjoyed seven centuries of peaceful existence be deserted by its inhabitants suddenly one day? This has remained a mystery ever since Kuldhara, established in 1291 and located 20-odd km from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, was abandoned in 1815. Most of its 410 houses are now in ruins, but it has become a popular tourist destination and is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India as a heritage site.

Historical records indicate that a Paliwal Brahmin named Kadhan from Pali district was the first to settle in the area in 1291. Lakshmi Chand’s Tawarikh-i-Jaisalmer, published in 1899, provides anthropological and demographical details of the region; based on this work, researchers have deduced that there were as many as 1,588 inhabitants in the village during the 17-18th century.

Tales tall and short

But there is nothing to support the popular belief that social compulsion led to the abandonment of the village. One such narrative refers to a ‘mass overnight evacuation’ after the lecherous minister Salim Singh’s eye fell on a beautiful girl in the village and he wanted the villagers to hand her over to him. Fearing that his guards would return the following morning for the girl, the villagers abandoned their homes during the night.

Another story refers to the drying up of the village’s wells. The reduced agricultural productivity, coupled with steep tax demands from Jaisalmer state could have forced the Paliwals to abandon Kuldhara. Rather than overnight, the abandonment of the village was said to have been gradually over time.

However, a recent research by geologists at the Udaipur-based Mohan Lal Sukhadia University has added a fresh dimension to the mystery. In a report in the latest issue of Current Science journal, researchers point out that the rows of roofless houses indicate that the destruction was sudden, akin to what was recorded in the remains of the Harappan cities of Mohenjo-Daro, Dholavira and Lothal.

Living on a fault line

Digging further, the team led by Prof AB Roy found strong support for the overnight abandonment theory — there were signs of recent tectonic activities and ground movement along several major faults in the region. Superimposing the village on the seismotectonic map of the area, the team found that the now dilapidated structures were located on geological faults.

From the collapsed walls and scattered dressed stones, as also other evidence of fallen joists, lintels and pillars in all the houses, it appears that the damage to life and property may have been substantial. The handful of survivors, too, may have been badly injured. Nobody lived in this village in later years, presumably because of the stories of mysterious deaths and rumours that the village was haunted.

The research further shows that apart from the clustering of epicentres in Paliwal village, the present-day geomorphic pattern also points to recent earth movements. All of this suggests that the massive evacuation resulted from damage due to earthquakes. Poor quality of construction had worsened the situation.

Interestingly, to this day the Paliwal community does not celebrate rakshabandhan, as the calamity in the village is believed to have occurred on that day.

The writer researches and writes on development issues

Published on February 10, 2017

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor