Feeds:
Posts
Comments

One wonders, how did a baked brick, a hallmark of Indus Civilization reach Sumer? But, let’s return to Indus and ask another important question. Who could have molded and baked those mountains of bricks and subsequently lay them together to build a perfect city like Mohen jo Daro?

Archaeology demands an interdisciplinary approach to reconstruct the story of a ruined site. Folklore and legends containing hints to the ancient past can help build its story, even the ancient words preserved in the present day languages of the region can fill in the blanks. Archaeology alone fails to tell the human component that existed in the city-the woes of separation that the sailors and merchants had experienced; the anxiety of their loved ones who waited for their return; the toil of the townsmen and women who tilled the soil; the creative energy of the craftsmen and women used in their creations. As for the labor of the very folks who built that city, Shah Abdul Latif, the most beloved Sufi poet and saint of Sindh, often speaks of Oads, simple and honest nomads who had been wandering Sindh since ancient times, ready to pitch their tents wherever a village or a town was being built and required their services. 

What has been constructed by the Oads

cannot fall short even of a handful of clay

Without referring to a specific building or a city, Latif points to what has been constructed perfectly by the Oads. Excavations of Mohen jo Daro have revealed a perfect city, it seems each ingredient was measured and the right proportions of clay and water were mixed to make standard-sized bricks. Much later clay became the basic building material of the Sumerian cities. The epic of Gilgamesh describes the city of Urak (modern Warka) in Iraq: ‘One part is city, one part orchards, and one part clay pits. Three parts including the clay pits make up Uruk.’

I have always felt that in the absence of direct textual records, folk literature becomes even more important and must be preserved along with the cultural preservation of physical remains. Latif died in the mid-eighteenth century but Oads continue to live even though their status as professional builders is reduced to the level of ordinary laborers. Their old rules of construction and units of measurement are outdated now and their tools like their language are almost extinct. Is it possible that Oads were professional builders during the urban boom of Indus civilization when Mohen jo Daro was being perfected? Further research is required to answer this question

At the same time, references to Indus Civilization in foreign texts are equally important to understand Indus Civilization. It was through a later Sumerian text referring to a region that exported timber for the construction of a temple in Sumer that we came to know of a region named Melluha which is now identified with the Makran Coast in the Indus region. All this evidence put together confirmed that Indus Civilization was indeed a contemporary of Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations. According to Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the trade between Mesopotamian and Indus civilizations lasted from the period of Sargon of Akkad 2350 BCE to the decline of the Hammurabi dynasty in 1700 BCE. 

While the contrasts and comparisons between the Indus and Mesopotamian civilization has led to the dating of Indus Civilization and placing it in a proper chronological context, it has also led to judging it with the yardstick of its contemporary civilizations. Egypt and Mesopotamia had colossal buildings – pyramids and ziggurats, temples and towers, palaces and royal tombs- whereas Indus’ sites just offer a great bath and the roofless structures, a monotony of bricked walls that best suggest a grid planned city with a highly developed drainage system. Its architectural remains have no comparison to the ones that inspired Agatha Christie to write Murder in Mesopotamia. Even now in the year 2021, the long awaited Pope’s visit to Iraq includes a pilgrimage to the Ur of Chaldees. 

However, in this day and age as the criteria to judge a civilization is beginning to change,  Mohen jo Daro too is rising above its old image. According to Nial Ferguson, a historian of the twenty-first century, ‘The success of a civilization is measured not just in its aesthetic achievements but also, and surely more importantly, in the duration and quality of life of its citizens. And that quality of life has many dimensions, not all easily quantified.’

Ancient Indus society certainly lacked artists in the conventional sense; it also lacked kings to patronize them; there is some faint evidence that hints at the existence of an obscure ruling authority, but the nature of that authority whether secular or theocratic is not known The larger cities of the civilization were fortified and had communal buildings, these stood separate from the low-lying residential areas and were built on high platforms. Perhaps they served administrative and religious functions, Sir Mortimer labeled the area of Mohen jo Daro’s communal buildings as the Citadel Mound. One of the interesting structures in the Citadel Mound is the Great Bath which might have been a part of a temple to worship a water deity or even a venue for the performance of a water cult. Water continued to remain sacred in the region even after the advent of Islam as we are told by Latif, the beloved Sufi saint poet of Sindh:  

She who visits no shore nor alights a lamp

How could she expect to see her mate again? 

(Translation Mushtaq Ali Shah)

I imagine this to be a long lost sailor’s complaint found in a bottle washed ashore! After all, since ancient times there was a network of land and river trade routes spread on the Indus land  stretching as far as Mesopotamia. Arabian Sea coast dotted with busy dockyards and port towns crowded with ships, boarding sailors and loading and unloading bales of merchandise even suggest an active maritime trade. The Westernmost port so far discovered is Sutkagen-Dor, standing on the mouth of Dasht River on the Makran coast, quite close to the border of Iran. On the eastern periphery of the Civilization is the port town of Lothal, located in Gujarat, India. 

What amazed the archaeologists was the uniformity of culture prevailing in hundreds of settlements scattered in the Valley and beyond. The larger cities, Mohen jo Daro, Harappa and Kali Bangan, in India, were built on grid plans, their residential and communal areas were divided as the public buildings stood detached and on a higher elevation. One of the things revealed by their structures is the common brick size which was actually used in many other settlements throughout the Civilization. Indus society may not have matured to an empire with kings, but it had reached an urban boom that bloomed before empires could take their roots. Indus’ ruins present a snapshot of a pre-state organized society which is very important to understand the history of urbanization. It is about time that we stop seeing Indus civilization in the shadows of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations and start judging it on its own merits.  

After receiving my master’s degree, ranked first with distinction, I, therefore, prepared a research paper that attempted to identify the specific socio-cultural stage that Indus Civilization had achieved on the evolutionary ladder. Briefly, it was the stage where classes had not yet been formed but where professional specialization had made distinctions between the brickmakers and woodworkers, between weavers and dyers, between potters and scribes. The evidence of specialized crafts suggest a surplus production of crops in the Indus Valley which was able to sustain non-agrarian communities in its cities. With that kind of a mixed economy-agrarian and mercantile- it seems the civilization was still at a stage where ideology had not yet given way to an institutionalized religion and it will still take a long time for Mohen jo Daro water cults to evolve rigid rituals of purifying the soul, the likes of which are best witnessed in the present day reverence for the River Ganges. Above all, the Indus era was a period in prehistory where writing was not yet born but symbols that may have later evolved to alphabets were in the making.  It was a period when images of animals and script, swastikas and circles, triangles and gammadions were rolled together.  Distinctions between alphabets and numbers, between art and writing and between geometry and religion were yet to be set. These are the highlights of my paper which luckily, I got the opportunity to read at the UNESCO symposium held at the National Museum on the first day of 1979. 

One hundred years ago was discovered a city that lived 5000 years ago, below are a few excerpts from the account of my journey to decipher its story encrypted in symbols. 

My first visit to Mohen jo Daro was during my early college days in the mid-sixties. I had enjoyed the long train journey from Karachi and the weekend stay-over at the guest house of the site. We reached when the sun was about to set, the rooms were comfortable, I shared with three girls. 

Prior to the visit, having heard of Sir John Marshall as the discoverer of the site, I browsed through his book Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization. Drawing inspiration from whatever little I understood, I enjoyed walking through the ancient streets. 

The archaeological value of the site of Mohen jo Daro was realized only in the early twentieth century when it came to the notice of the officials of the Archaeological Survey of India  (ASI). It was the tailend of the British colonial rule, only about three decades before they quit India and created Pakistan. Sindh, was in the northwest of their Indian empire and was a part of the Bombay Presidency, hence, its archaeological sites fell under the jurisdiction of the Western Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India. Rakhal Das Banerji was the superintendent of the Circle, who realized the pre-historic value of the site as early as in 1919. Soon after Mohen jo Daro was formally surveyed and recorded in his words, ‘The ruins consist of vast mounds of burnt bricks surrounded by smaller ones. In the centre of this area is a very high mound about 80 or 90 feet above the level of the surrounding country. This is called Muhen-ju-daro.’ Mohen jo Daro or more accurately Muan jo Daro  means the ‘mound of the dead’ in Sindhi language, however, it is now spelled  Mohenjo Daro which has completely changed the meaning and the original name of the site. This version of the name has led to a few hypotheses such as the one that the city is named after Mohannas, the most common word used for the fishermen in Sindh; someone even went as far as suggesting that the city was named after a certain Mohan, a common name. 

Banerji  had spotted the fringes of the walls of an abandoned Buddhist stupa that crowned the highest mound and he had hoped to recover the precious relic casket containing Buddha’s ashes which was rumored to be buried in the ‘drum of the stupa.’  He had absolutely no idea of a sprawling city buried under its foundations. 

One of the reasons why archaeologists were unaware of the existence of Mohen jo Daro was that unlike its contemporaneous Mesopotamian and Egyptian cities it was not recorded in the later texts. The four Vedas, the earliest known sacred books of the Indian subcontinent, compiled in 1500 BCE on the very banks of the Indus, do not shed any light on the Civilization.  Rig Veda, the oldest of the four, refers to Sapta Sindhu, the Land of Seven Rivers, but mentions no such civilization.  The Mahabharata epic, while describing the war between Kurus and Pandavas, which was most likely fought in the plains of Punjab, does not even hint at the existence of an extinct Civilization.  The Persian records refer to Sapta-Sindhu as Hapta-Hindu but are silent on the existence of a civilization and so are the Greek chronicles. This lack of reference has been one of the problems in reconstructing the proper picture of Indus Civilization.  Even a simple task of establishing its age was achieved by cross dating some of its objects discovered in distant Sumer. 

Mohen jo Daro was discovered at a time when the British Museum in collaboration with the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania had undertaken the excavations of Ur of the Chaldees, one of the largest cities of the Mesopotamian Civilization.  It was easy to locate ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian cities as these had clues in the Bible.  After all there is some truth about the image of the archaeologists surveying these regions with spade in one hand and Bible in another. In the case of Ur even the Islamic tradition could have served as a source, perhaps, this was the city where Nimrod’s fire to burn Abraham alive had turned into flowers. Before the excavations, Ur too, like Mohen jo Daro, was conspicuous due to the high mound which covered its ziggurat, Arabs called it ‘Tell al Muqayyar’ The Mound of Pitch.’ The archaeologists identified the land around it with the plains of Biblical Shinar where people coming from the east had settled. 

When I first saw a picture of the Hollywood famed T.E Lawrence standing in the ruins of Ur, I thought he had excavated the site.  Only later did I discover that it was Sir Leonard Woolley, standing next to him, who had the honor to excavate the grand city, the birthplace of Abraham.  Sir Leonard may not have discovered Islamic relics but he did unearth the Great Ziggurat and the famous Royal Tombs loaded with treasures and skeletons – apart from royalty a majority of these were the remains of high officials who were buried alive to serve kings and the ‘court ladies’ in their afterlife. He even discovered the statuette of a ram and identified it with the Biblical ‘Ram caught in a thicket.’  And amidst all his spectacular discoveries were ‘certain elements’ which were common to the ones found in the Indus civilization. 

What is more interesting is that Woolley found about eight feet below the Sumerian culture of Ur a mixed culture which was destroyed by a deluge. Woolley in his book Ur of the Chaldees: A Record of Seven Years of Excavations (1929) states that this flood of Sumerian history and legend was the flood on which is based the story of Noah. Furthermore, in that older level of culture he found a baked brick which looked older to the other bricks. This led him to surmise that the pre-flood period habitations were not limited to mud and reed huts but had solid brick houses also. This suggests a possible connection between Mohen jo Daro and Ur.

One hundred years ago was discovered a city that lived 5000 years ago, below are a few excerpts from the account of my journey to decipher its story encrypted in symbols. 

There are five ancient river civilizations in the world, the largest of these emerged on the banks of River Indus in Pakistan. In the absence of any evidence of weapons and wars, it is also considered to be the most peaceful of all. Whereas its contemporaneous Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations with their conspicuous monumental architecture tell the stories of their mighty kingdoms;  Indus civilization’s most enigmatic finds are the tiny steatite seals engraved with images of humans, deities, animals, trees, and unidentifiable objects. Above these images are rows of strange signs and symbols and encrypted in them is the story of the civilization. 

Incidentally, the first seal was discovered much before the discovery of Mohenjo Daro. It had surfaced in 1873 during brief excavations at the site of Harappa, four hundred miles away from Mohenjo Daro. In fact, it was rejected as a foreign object by Sir Alexander Cunningham, the director general of the newly formed Archaeological Survey of India. 

In 1922 with the discovery of Mohenjo Daro when a few similar seals were discovered by Rakhal Das Banerji their value was recongnised and it was established that Mohenjo Daro and Harappa belonged to a common civilization. Two years later, on September 1924 Sir John Marshall announced the discovery of the ‘Ancient Indus Civilization’ in the prestigous Illustrated London News. By now a significant number of ancient settlements have been identified as the Indus sites, Some of the sites in India-Rakhigarhi, Dholavira, Lothal-are large enough and more excavations may reveal them to be larger than Mohenjo Daro. Until now, after a hundred years, Mohenjo Daro remains to be the largest and the most elaborate city of the Indus Civilization. 

 Since 1873 there have been many attempts to decipher the seal signs and the symbols. Many experts consider these to be a script representing an unknown ancient language. My research, however, began with a non-linguistic approach as I examined the geometric composition of the signs and the designs. Later on, while most of the researchers were searching for answers in distant languages and cultures. I decided to seek clues in the indigenous languages and culture of the land where the civilization was born and lost, it has been a long journey!

Antiquity had always fascinated me and it was in abundance around my village located in the  Tharparkar district of lower Sindh, southern Pakistan. The long abandoned riverbed of Puran with its old bridge near the village, a few ancient ruins on its banks, the so-called abode of the fairies lost in the bushes, the impoverished shrine of Chand Maurya just a mile away,  a samadhi behind my village, the mazar of Ghulam Shah in our garden- are some of the landmarks that I had been exposed to since my childhood days. Amid such landmarks, often seeing older folks,  relaxing under the shades of equally aging trees, led me to a fantasy that they knew some secret. At the school when I learned that only an archaeologist would know the secrets of the past, I decided to be one. The credit for achieving that goal mainly goes to my father who had decided to take his daughters out of the purdah. By the time I was four years old, he had already bought a bungalow in Karachi and we kids left the village only to visit it during summer and winter vacations. I being the eldest daughter, thus became the first girl of the Talpur Mirs of Mirpur Khas to receive education, English education.

I never lost hope even when I was enrolling for my master’s degree and discovered at the last moment that there was no department of archaeology at Karachi University. I remember walking into the office of the vice-chancellor with the request to establish one. The vice-chancellor, Ehsan Rashid responded with an Urdu verse that I do not remember but the gist was that I had the nerve to jump all the relevant authorities below and come to the highest with a tall order. Nonetheless, he took my request seriously and assigned one of his staff members to help me. My first responsibility was to convince a few more students to sign up for archaeology classes and I found five of them. Still, opening a department overnight was not possible so I approached Ishtiaq Khan, the director general of the Department of Archaeology and Museums, with the request if he can permit one of his officers to teach archaeology at the General History Department of Karachi University. Khan too had been very helpful and recommended Syed Mohammad Ashfaque, the superintendent of the epigraphy section for the task. This arrangement between the Karachi University and the federal Department of Archaeology and Museums seemed feasible and was approved by the vice-chancellor. It enabled six of us, and many more students after us, to study archaeology at one of the largest universities in Pakistan. 

Syed Mohammad Ashfaque was a highly qualified archaeologist. He had organized two excellent courses which gave us a good understanding of the subject and that is when I learned the details of Mohen jo Daro. Located in upper Sindh, about 300 hundred miles from Karachi, it is the largest site of the Indus Civilization and the largest repository of the enigmatic seals, the hallmark of the Civilization. Moen jo Daro is acknowledged in UNESCO’s World Heritage List as an endangered site threatened by waterlogging and salinity. 

The Civilization is named after Indus, the river which is known to have fascinated the Western World since the days of Alexander the Great. Legend has it that the great conqueror had searched for the famed Fountain of Youth in its waters. In the early twentieth century Sven Hedin, the famous Swedish explorer, had looked for its source. At the sight of the Lion River, as it is called in Tibet, he made a resolve, ‘Though it costs me my life I will find some day thy source over yonder in the forbidden land.’ In 1907, in his Himalayan journey, Hedin finally discovered that source in Kailash, the highest peak of a Mountain range in Tibet. Indus continues to lure the West in the twenty-first century as confirmed by Alice Albinia who undertook the daring journey ‘upstream and back in time.’  

From Kailash, the Indus begins its 2000-mile long course.  Cutting its way through the Himalayas, it enters India and traverses through the North-South length of Pakistan. The land around its banks is dotted with ancient sites, some of these are scattered in the network of its tributaries such as the Puran. So far, more than 2000 Indus sites have been identified in an area stretching from Pakistan’s borders touching Afghanistan and Iran in the west to Gujarat in India in the East, and from the foothills of the Himalayas in the North to the Arabian Sea coast in the South.  

Indus itself is many things, a revered river in ancient Rig Veda and Sindhi Sufi poetry; a water resource for the ancient civilization and modern Pakistan; a riverine trade route since ancient times; a boundary line of the easternmost satrapy of Persia’s Achaemenid Empire and a retreat point of Alexander the Great. The distribution of Indus’ water had been a source of trouble between India and Pakistan; its redistribution is a sensitive issue between the federal and provincial politics of Pakistan. In 1932,the largest barrage in Asia – the Sukkur Barrage – was constructed over Indus to harness its water for irrigation, ‘It had transformed Sindh from a desert to a garden,’ bragged British officials. Certainly, the Barrage came as a blessing and was acknowledged as a marvel, ‘if you have not seen Sukkur Barrage you have not seen anything,’ I often overheard this phrase. 

In the long run, however, the surplus water in the area has raised the water table and has caused damage to the site of Mohen jo Daro. According to one estimate, two thirds of the ancient city is submerged  and excavations are not possible, hence the government has imposed a ban on further excavations. In addition to the damage caused by water logging, salt encrustation has been corroding the exposed structures. Pakistan Department of Archaeology and Museums, therefore, prepared a Master Plan suggesting means of lowering the water table to salvage the submerged structures and conserve the bricked structures. In 1973 the Master Plan was presented to UNESCO and hence a worldwide campaign called ‘Save Moen jo Daro,’ was launched.  

On LHI Circle. Subscribe to see more.

Here is my journey to Mohenjo Daro in a documentary by LHI (Live History India).

I am pleased to present the latest documentary on MohenjoDaro produced by Live History India. The documentary includes my interview on MohenjoDaro’s fascinating history.

Dilip Kumar, the tragedy king, who put so much soul in so many stories which have been watched on the silver screen by generations of Indians and Pakistanis, has gone. Left behind is his own story. In the bygone days this would have been a story told and retold in the Bazaar of Storytellers where he was born. 

The ancient Bazaar in the heart of Peshawar where traders and travellers, after their long tiring journeys, exchanged stories for thousands of years came to be a place where stories were told, perhaps, more than the ware that was sold, hence the name Qissa Khwani (literally story telling). Present day Peshawar is another country; old stories are lost, new are told through other means-books, radio, film, television and social media. Dilip belonged to this new era but he was equally good in narrating stories of the Bazaar in the old way. 

In 1988 he had made a sentimental journey to his birthplace and that is when the Press recorded what he remembered of his town- the mud houses, the heat, the narrow streets, food stalls with sizzling chapli kebabs, his own house where he enjoyed eating Baqar Khani, dry fruit and malai. Hopefully, soon that house will be converted into a museum.

Dilip’s first movie that we watched was Aan and it was the family’s favorite. It was a colored movie with spectacular scenes. All his other movies that we watched were black and white but those had another attraction as in most of those Talat Mahmood was the playback singer. A great singer from Lucknow Talat came to be recognized as Dilip’s voice though he did the songs for several other stars as well. I had the chance to meet Talat when he came to Karachi for the wedding of his nephew Shehzad Mahmood. During the conversation he highly praised Dilip not only as an actor but as a very good human being.

My elder brother Khalid was a great fan of Dilip and after 1965 when the Indian Movies were banned in Pakistan he went as far as Jashn-e-Kabul to watch his movies; me and my sister Shaheen went as far as a place called Tin Hati just to see a special ladies show arranged in a rickety cinema house which was a challenge for our driver to find but he had to because Nasira, my dear friend and a faithful fan of Dlip had to watch the movie at all costs! 

Dilip was equally great at comedy which he proved in Ganga Jamuna, Ram aur Shyam and Gopi. In between tragedy and comedy he had played versatile roles. However, there was one role which was unique.
During that first visit to Pakistan, I wanted to meet him and write an article in Dawn. I was very keen to ask him about the fate of that movie. It was early eighties or may be late seventies when one day I read the news that B.R. Chopra was making ‘Chandragupta and Chanakya’ and that Dilip was to play the role of Chanakya. Since Chandragupta was the subject of my research thesis during Masters I was very keen to be a part of the movie. I wrote a letter to Mr. B.R. Chopra and attached my paper to it. Chopra’s response was prompt and we exchanged a few ideas but unfortunately the movie was not made. So when I met Dilip Kumar at the Indian Consulate in Karachi, I wanted to know from him the fate of the movie and it was from him I learnt why it was shelved. I recently did a search and found this article in which Dharmendra explains it better than me. https://bit.ly/3i61oPM

Dilip Kumar

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56Hmsw8l5a8

I am happy to share the book trailer of one of my most popular books: “Moenjodaro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900 BCE).”

The trailer is in hi-res 4k. I recommend headphones and viewing in 1080p. Also consider watching it on your big screen TV. Please leave me your comments on the video. Thank you.

‘I met a traveller from an antique land…’ wrote the rebel poet Percy B. Shelley in 1818. Even today, how we dream to meet such a traveller who could tell us tales that are lost in the mists of time. In the early days of my love for archaeology, I hoped to write the story of Mohen jo Daro, but it lacked the basic required material–there is no record of its existence in later texts; it has a script which remains undeciphered. To make matters worse excavations of the site are banned since 1965 leaving no hope for the recovery of a Rosetta Stone. In such a hopeless situation with limited artifacts and ruins even a small piece of information bearing some relevance to the site becomes precious. And sometimes such information can come from unexpected sources.

Shelley’s sonnet is so relevant to archaeology and yet so far removed. It reminds me of how ancient travellers and traders in distant lands left behind some evidence which helped the archeologists to learn a few facts about Mohen jo Daro. The sonnet also invites to read the folk poetry of the Indus region which might be holding clues useful for reconstructing the story of the region’s past.

Mohen jo Daro was discovered in the first quarter of the twentieth century, its discovery coincided with the excavations of Ur of the Chaldeans ,the birthplace of Abraham and the famed Biblical city of Mesopotamia. Whereas Mohen jo daro had no reference in any later texts such as the Vedas or the Mahabharatha and was discovered accidentally under the foundations of a Buddhist stupa, the ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian cities were located easily through the Biblical references. In the case of Ur even an Islamic tradition can be cited, perhaps, it was the city where Nimrod’s fire to burn Abraham alive had turned into flowers.

Initially, it may sound disappointing that the simultaneous excavations of Mohen jo Daro and Ur dwarfed the image of the Indus city as Ur stole the show. Its overwhelming architectural remains and the lavish artifacts unearthed from them even attracted celebrities. Ur caught my attention when I saw a picture of T.E. Lawrence standing in its ruins. In fact, I thought that he had excavated the site, later on, of course, I learned that it was Sir Leonard Woolley standing next to him had unearthed Ur. Both were great archaeologists of their times and together they had worked on the ancient Hittite sites on the borders of Syria. However, the archaeological career of T.E Lawrence is not much known today as he is more remembered through the portrayal of his political life by Peter O’Toole in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia.” Another interesting celebrity that I came to know through Ur was Agatha Christie who met her future husband in Ur. The site also inspired her to write a novel “Murder in Mesopotamia” which was later made into a movie with the same title.

However, we must remember that Mohen jo Daro, though marginalized in the media of those days, did benefit through excavations at Ur. Among the most known discoveries of Sir Leonard were the Great Ziggurat of Ur and the Royal Tombs laden with treasures and an overfill of skeletons – the remains of slaves who were buried alive to serve royalty in its afterlife. He even discovered the statuette of a ram and identified it with the Biblical ‘Ram caught in a thicket.’ And in between these spectacular discoveries came bits and pieces of evidence which suggested links between Mohen jo Daro and Mesopotamia- a few Indus beads scattered in Ur’s royal jewelry; the cylindrical seals engraved with Indus type inscriptions; trefoil pattern on Sumerian “Bulls of Heaven” that resembled the print on the robe of Mohen jo Daro’s “Priest King” even a small group of houses that bore semblance to Mohen jo Daro’s structures.

Later on, the discovery and decipherment of Sumerian texts indicated trade with the Indus regions. They referred to a few goods- timber, carnelian beads, ivory- which came from a place named Melluha located in the east of Sumer. Melluha was identified with the Makran Coast, but at the same time the Indus region was considered to be a colony of Sumer and hence the civilization was labelled Indo-Sumerian Civilization. It took some time for Sir John Marshall to change the label wisely to Indus Civilization.

The evidence of trade between the two civilizations also helped in the dating of the Indus civilization as it confirmed that indeed it was contemporaneous to the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian civilizations. According to Sir Mortimer Wheeler the trade between Sumer and Indus lasted from the period of Sargon of Akkad 2350 BCE until the decline of the Hammurabi dynasty in 1700 BCE.

Now we know that much before their contact with Mesopotamia ancient Indus cities had already a long history and experience of transporting wood. According to Alice Albinia, who in recent times journeyed through Indus, “The transport of wood down the Indus and its tributaries, between the Himalayas and the plains, is the oldest trade that we know of in the region.” At some point in prehistory that network of Indus’ trade reaching for the Arabian seacoast extended overseas to reach Mesopotamia.

This overseas trade, predating the trade on the Silk Road, was extensive and certainly a great means of income which must have boosted the agrarian economy of the region. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were busy port towns with dockyards. The Westernmost port was Sutkagen-Dor, close to the border of Iran it was located near the mouth of Dasht River, on the Makran coast. At the other end was the port town of Lothal which was active until 1900 BCE. It was located in Gujarat (in India) on the eastern periphery of Indus Civilization.

With the exception of a few inscribed seals discovered from Lothal, there is no written record describing the mercantile activities of such massive scale between the two civilizations. There must have been ships in and out of the harbor, sailors and merchants boarding them, laborers loading and unloading the cargo. Perhaps, we can trace these details in the folklore of the region. But sometimes poets can be the avatars of ancient scribes whose accounts are lost. As hazy as it may sound but apart from the ruins, folk poetry can be another repository that we can rummage to find the ancient past. For example, Shah Latif the beloved sufi saint poet of Sindh, has described in detail the sea trade in his ‘Raga Samoondi’ (Song of the Ocean) Latif laments in his poetry of abandoned cities he even accompanied jogis on their pilgrimages to ancient shrines. They shared with him knowledge, wisdom and many oral traditions transmitted to them through older generations. Latif polished and preserved those traditions and tales in his poetry. Apart from Sindhi Indus’ folklore is scattered in a variety of languages – Punjabi, Seraiki, Multani, Gujrati- these need to be explored. It will be hard to find even the mutilated remains of events that happened in the prehistoric past when Mohen jo Daro lived. But an attempt must be made before discarding region’s folklore as poets’ imagination

The Shrine by Laila Shahzada

When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earthbut find it in the hearts of men.

-Jalal-u-Din Rumi

It is said that Sindh is a blessed land, mixed with its dust are ashes of countless saints. 125,000 are buried in the Makli necropolis, many others rest in their shrines scattered all over the land and yet many more remain unknown and lost in the mists of time. What if  we find one?

In 1909, in an abandoned stupa near Mirpur Khas in lower Sindh, when Henry Cousens (1854-1933) found funerary ashes along with a bone it was questioned whether these remains were of Buddha or of a Buddhist saint. The stupa stood in the ruins of a Buddhist monastery sprawling over an area of 30 acres, in those early days it was dated back to 6th century CE. Before the excavations, the site was described as a ‘great heap of ruins’ located about half a mile to the north of Mirpur Khas, the nearby villagers called it Kahu jo Daro, the Mound of Kahu. The Gazetteer of the Province of Sindh (1907)  mentions a minor irrigation canal Kahu Wah which flowed at a distance of 65 miles from Mirpur Khas.  It is also said that there was a Kahu Bazaar around which in 1806 Mir Ali Murad Talpur founded the city of Mirpur Khas. But still in present day Sindh Kahu is a rare name, hence my search led me to a far corner of the globe, to Hawaii where Kahu literally is the keeper of the bones but in a deeper meaning he is the guardian of spiritual treasure.

Existence of a bazaar suggests that Kahu jo Daro was not just a remote monastery but also a sizable town. Xuan Zang (Hiuen Tsang) the well-known Chinese monk, who visited Sindh about a century before the Arab Muslim conquest in 711 CE, writes about hundreds of Buddhist monasteries that thrived in Sindh. At the same time history tells us that  to run such a network of holy places most of the finances came from the merchant and the artisan class which was mostly Buddhist. Located close to the ancient trade route Aprantapatha which stretched  from the Bolan Pass in Balochistan to Kanya  Kumari at the tip of South India, Kahu Bazaar must have been a busy place where monks and the merchants mingled with the townspeople. There is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that it remained a peaceful town even after the  Muslim conquest as monks continued to collect their pilgrimage tax while the merchants as zimmis (non-Muslims) paid the tax.

Although like the site of Harappa Kahu was also robbed of bricks by the railway contractors, but during the course when a few ornamental bricks and two remarkable figures of Buddha were exposed, it drew the attention of the British officials. According to Sir James Campbell these represented ‘Sikhi, the Second Buddha.’ Guru Nanak’s struggle against Brahmanism, his reverence for Buddha’s teachings and his visit to Tibet may have led many to consider him the second Buddha. It is important to note that before the Partition (1947) a sizable Sikh population lived in Mirpur Khas.

Cousens arrived in Mirpur Khas four decades before the Partition. His was a long  journey which began as a photographer in the Indian service and ended as the superintendent of the Western Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India. With one clerk and an assistant photographer he had already traveled many parts of India before his posting in Sindh where he explored, surveyed, photographed and recorded the antiquities . Although Kahu jo Daro was first surveyed by J. Gibbs in 1859 but it was in 1909, just a year before his retirement, that Cousens dug it to the deepest level and retrieved a relic casket, the most sought after artifact of the archaeologists during that period. The relic contained just an ‘egg-spoonful’ of ash and a bone but to the devotees it was more precious than the votive tablets, Buddha’s images, vases and many other artifacts which were unearthed and transferred to the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay.

My last visit to Kahu Jo Daro was in mid 1960s until then images of Buddha stood firm in the niches of its exterior wall, sadly, by now everything has vanished. After an extensive research on the Buddhist monuments of Sindh, J.E. Van Lohuizen-de Leeuw, rightly remarked that ‘the  worst fate befell the site of Kahu.’ Also, instead of blaming the Arab Muslims for the destruction of pre-Islamic monuments she identified salinity as the enemy of buildings in Sindh. This is so true, in my lifetime I have seen many beautiful structures, both old and new corroding due to salt encrustation and rapidly crumbling. In such a fragile world where abodes of saints do not survive their seekers often beguile their hearts with the thought that under every tree lives a saint.

Throughout history saints have been living not only in Sindh but all over the globe, they may have belonged to different religions but they lived beyond these labels to serve humanity. Regardless of caste or creed they willingly showed the right path to those who were lost in the labyrinth of life. We may never know the saint whose ashes were buried in Kahu jo Daro but we hope to remain blessed.