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Dani, Ahmad Hasan


Dani, Ahmad Hasan (1920-2009) archaeologist, historian, linguist, writer. Born in Kashmir on 20 June 1920, Ahmad Hasan Dani was educated at the Benares Hindu University, where he studied Sanskrit in the Undergraduate level and obtained his masters in Ancient Indian History and Culture and had the opportunity of being a student of the famous Indologist AS Altekar. He is said to have been the first Muslim student to be admitted to the Benares Hindu University, and that again in the Sanskrit Department. In 1945 he joined the Archaeological Survey of India and took part in excavation work under Sir Mortimer Wheeler in Taxila and Mohenjodaro. At partition, Ahmad Hasan Dani opted for Pakistan and joined the varendra research museum, Rajshahi, as its curator. He joined the History Department of the University of Dhaka in 1949 and served as a Reader until 1962. Dani was a great academic organizer. He took up the Dhaka Museum, where nalini kanta bhattasali, the founding curator of the museum, had ended. He served the museum as its part time curator from 1950. Dhaka Museum later turned into the bangladesh national museum (1982).

Dani took the initiative in establishing a learned organisation in Dhaka and established in cooperation with other intellectuals the Asiatic Society of Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1952 in the model of the Calcutta asiatic society (1784) as dreamt by Sir william jones.  He served the Asiatic Society of Pakistan as its General Secretary most productively from its inception to 1962, when he left Dhaka for Peshawar.  The Society made Ahmad Hasan Dani its Fellow in 1969 and honoured him with a Gold Medal in 1986.  
Ahmad Hasan Dani
   

Dani was a great academic organizer. He took up the Dhaka Museum, where Nalini Kanta Bhattasali, the founding curator of the museum, had ended. He served the museum as its part time curator from 1950. Dhaka Museum later turned into the bangladesh national museum (1982). Dani took the initiative in establishing a learned organisation in Dhaka and established in cooperation with other intellectuals the Asiatic Society of Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1952 in the model of the Calcutta asiatic society (1784) as dreamt by Sir william jones. 'He served the Asiatic Society of Pakistan as its General Secretary most productively from its inception to 1962, when he left Dhaka for Peshawar. The Society made Ahmad Hasan Dani its Fellow in 1969 and honoured him with a Gold Medal in 1986.

Ahmad Hasan Dani obtained his PhD in Archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1956. His thesis, 'Prehistory and Proto-history of Eastern India', was published from Calcutta in 1960. In 1958-59 he worked in London (School of Oriental and African Studies) on Indian Palaeography, which was published from London by the Clarendon Press in 1963. A revised version of the book was later published from India.

While at Dhaka, Dani was active in the study of local history, its art and architecture and inscriptions, and published three monographs, Bibliography of the Muslim Inscriptions of Bengal (1957), Muslim Architecture in Bengal (1961) and Dacca: A Record of Its Changing Fortunes (1956).

Dani's love for archaeology took him to the University of Peshawar in 1962, where a Department for Archaeological Studies was opened and he became its Head. He spent rest of his life in Pakistan; up to 1971 in Peshawar, and the rest in Islamabad, where he joined the Quaid-e-Azam University in which he held various positions till his retirement in 1980, when he was made Professor Emeritus.

While in Peshawar, he carried on archaeological field work in the northern part of Pakistan and discovered many important sites, notable among which were the pre-Indus site at Rehman Dehri and Indo-Greek sites in the Dir region, Gadhara art sites near Peshawar and Swat valley. In the 1980s Dani discovered the Neolithic paintings in the high mountainous regions of northern most part of Pakistan. In the 1990s Dani led the UNESCO expedition of the silk routes in the Soviet Union and the desert areas of China. When Pakistan's relations with the central Asian countries improved in the mid 1990s Dani focused his attention of research and explorations towards Central Asia and brought out a number of publications on Central Asian Civilisation and Culture.

Dani's researches and publications received worldwide acclaim. He was honoured with Visiting Professorships or Fellows by the University of London (1958-59), Australian National University, Canberra (1969), Pensylvania University (1974) and Wisconsin University, Madison (1977). The Pakistan Government declared him in 2004 as 'Distinguished National Professor' besides honouring him with other national awards. Among the many international awards received by Dani mention may be made of France's Legion of Honour (1998), UNESCO's Aristotle Silver Medal (1997), Germany's Order of the Merit (1996) and Italy's Knight Commander.

Dani's list of publications is too long to mention all of them. In 1966 Dani had the honour of editing the third volume of UNESCO's History of Humanity jointly with JP Mohen and in 1999 co-authored with BA Litvinksy The Kushano-Sassanian Kingdom in History of Civilizations of Central Asia series. Dani's contributions covered the fields of History, Archaeology, Anthropology, Art and Architecture, Palaeography and Local History of various regions. His notable publications in these fields include Historic City of Taxila (2001), History of Northern Areas of Pakistan up to 2000 AD (2001), Romance of the Khyber Pass (1997), New Light on Central Asia, (1996), Central Asia Today (1996), Human Records on Karakorum Highway (1995), Peshawar: Historic City of the Frontier (1995), Thatta: Islamic Architecture (1982) and Indus Civilization: New Perspectives (1981). His knowledge of many sub-continental languages, such as Sanskrit, Bangla, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Kashmiri, Marathi, Pashtu, Panjabi, Seraiki, Sindhi, and Tamil gave him the access to sources in many languages. He mastered Turki along with other Central Asian languages as also French, Spanish, German and, of course, English.

Dani breathed his last on 26 January 2009. He was active and productive till only a few months of old-age illness before his death in Islamabad. In his death the Subcontinent lost one of its most well-known scholars of a generation of which he was possibly one of the last few. [AM Chowdhury]