SandHI is the clever name IIT Kharagpur has given to its mega-project of reestablishing the heritage and antiquity of India’s heartland Varanasi through scientific research.
One of the most exciting parts of the project is the geo-exploration of Varanasi city. The present project is geared towards looking at the way geology or nature controlled the origin, evolution and survival of the city through ages.
Primarily funded by MHRD under the SandHI megaproject, funding for the Varanasi geo-quest project is by British Geological Survey (UK Aid).
Varanasi’s Facelift and What Lies Beneath
Varanasi (Banaras or Kashi), is seen as holy in many ancient religions of Southeast Asia like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism.
Along with Alexandria, Luxor, Faiyum, Varanasi has the distinction of being one of the oldest cities of the world that has been continuously inhabited.
Varanasi today is being brought rapidly into the twenty-first century with investment in infrastructure.
Prof. Abhijit Mukherjee, Principal Investigator of the project, mentions that bringing ancient infrastructure into the structures needed for modern life is a challenge. The preservation of archaeological sites is a problem.
He also says that the city’s future will depend on the sustainable use of natural resources like groundwater, dealing with the possibility of flooding and a proper understanding of how the river works and how climate change will affect it.
We need to know the past and the present of the river and ground to predict the future.
Varanasi’s Civilisation through the Ages
The project is delineating the extent of growth phases of Varanasi civilisation through ages. It is exploring a number of routes:
- Exploring the evolution of the Ganga River, as this might have influenced the development and survival of Varanasi.
- A delineation on the quantity and quality of the river and groundwater and their interactions in and around the Varanasi area. This will help them understand the usable water resource and the renovation of the river Ganga.
- Understanding the weathering patterns and restoration of the ancient and historical monuments and Ghats of Varanasi
- Developing an urban geological framework of the future city of Varanasi.
- Excavating in several key locations including close to Kashi Viswanath Temple, to understand the historical foundation of Varanasi
- Urban mapping is being done to assist in the determination of archaeological sites and anthropological signatures. This may provide new insight into the North Indian civilisation evolution from Post-Harappa to modern periods.
So, What’s Been Happening?
The team has just completed drilling in about 100 locations up to a depth of 110 m below land surface, in and around the city of Varanasi.
They will then drill several deep boreholes to explore the deep earth control on the evolution of the Gangetic plain.
Detailed investigation of the river Ganga and groundwater resource and contamination studies are being carried out. Collaborating with Intel, the team is in the process of deploying several high-resolution chemical sensors to the River Ganges. This will allow for real-time water quality monitoring of the chemistry as well as the river pollution level.
New Century Tech Takes Us to the Past
Putting together all their research elements will help to build a 3D conceptual model and an underpinning database of the city and its environs. These can then be used to understand the location, evolution and future effect on the development of Varanasi and Ganga.
“Out of sight… out of mind, the role of the sub-surface in the urban footprint is often overlooked and rarely, if ever, makes an appearance in the long-term planning of the world’s cities,” says Dr. Martin Smith, Director-Global Science, British Geological Survey and collaborating scientist.
An important thing the team emphasises is that the ground beneath our cities not only holds its history; it is a potential resource with groundwater aquifers and space for storage and transport.
“However, it can also be a hazard regarding stability and dispersal of contaminants” points out Prof. Probal Sengupta of IIT Kharagpur, Joint Investigator of the project, talking about the very ground we stand on.
IIT Kharagpur goes deep into the past exploring the foundations of holy Varanasi, in order to map our future.