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Archive for August, 2014

It has been quite a journey working on “Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization,” my forthcoming book on the ancient, mysterious city and its civilization. Moen jo Daro did not allow me the time to write a blog and demanded a lot of reading and rereading, researching, fact checking, writing and rewriting.

Often times my writing activity led me to several other sites of the Indus civilization, some of these being beyond political boundaries – in India, in Afghanistan, and one of them even almost touching the border of Iran. Sutkagen Dor, located in the Dasht River Valley, is also the westernmost site of Indus civilization. So while writing the story of the city I often found myself writing the story of the civilization.

On the way I came across archaeologists, artists and photographers whose expeditions were worth following. Sometimes they led me to detours and sometimes unexpectedly to destinations so relevant to Moen jo Daro. And then there are interpretations and arguments of various archaeologists that had to go in the book.

Sir John Marshall viewed life in Moen jo Daro as being peaceful and mercantile, similar to a working town like Lancashire. K.N Dikshit, reflecting on the cosmopolitan bazaars of Moen jo Daro and Harappa, where merchants from Persia, Mesopotamia, Gujarat and South India exchanged goods, found it closer to the cosmopolitan cities like Karachi and Bombay. Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s views were dramatic, as he saw the Indus civilization as an empire ruled by a theocracy seated on the citadel mound of Moen jo Daro. And since the rise of each empire is followed by a fall, he felt that the cities of Indus were finally destroyed by the Aryan hordes, led by their thunder God, Indra. George Dales, after rummaging through the streets of Moen jo Daro and finding no evidence of a massacre absolved Indra. But this has not resolved the issue of the decline of the city and its civilization.

There is yet another issue, the socio-cultural nature of the city, which remains mysterious. And this is because of the hurdles in the journey of Indus’ research; there are no references to Indus cities in later Indian texts and the inscriptions engraved on the seals discovered from these cities have not been deciphered. Hence, in the absence of any direct source of information, even a simple task of establishing Moen jo Daro’s chronology was accomplished by cross dating some of its objects discovered in distant Sumer. And this has led many experts to examine the civilization with the yardstick set for other ancient civilizations.

The fact is that Indus did not mature to a highly state-organized society like its contemporaneous Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. Far from being an empire it is not even confirmed whether Indus civilization had a ruling authority or not and if it had, was it secular or theocratic; male or female. What is certain is that it lasted from 2600 to 1900 BCE and remained arrested in an urban phase. Its cities therefore lack imperial architecture such as the palaces, temples, pyramids, ziggurats and the royal tombs.

Perhaps, it is time to judge Indus on its own merit especially as the criterion to judge a civilization is beginning to change. In his book “Civilization: The West and the Rest,” Nial Ferguson, a historian of the twenty first century writes, “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.”

Taking into consideration just a few important dimensions, my book places Moen jo Daro at a stage on the ladder of socio-cultural evolution where rigid classes had not yet been formed but where professional specialization had made distinctions between the brick makers and woodworkers, between weavers and dyers, between potters and scribes. The civilization was also at the stage where ideology had not yet given way to a religion. It took many centuries for Moen jo Daro water cults to evolve rigid rituals of purifying the soul, the likes of which are best witnessed at River Ganges.

The most intriguing finds of Moen jo Daro are the tiny steatite seals engraved with cryptic symbols, signs and human and animal images. More than 2000 of these had been discovered from various Indus cities, the largest number (over 1200) were discovered from Moen jo Daro. The seals have become a hallmark of Indus civilization and the symbols and signs engraved on these are believed to be an ancient form of writing representing an unknown language. Hence, many archaeologists believe that the story of Moen jo Daro is encrypted on the seals an for the last one century more than one hundred failed attempts have been made to decipher the script.

This leads me to believe that perhaps, Indus civilization existed in a period in pre-history where writing, in the conventional sense, had not yet taken birth but symbols that may have later evolved to alphabets were in the making. It was a period when images of animals and inscriptions, swastikas and circles, triangles and gammadions were all rolled into one. Distinctions between alphabets and numbers, between art and writing and between geometry and religion were yet to set. The value of Indus civilization, therefore, lies in the fact that it has preserved the first chapter of the origins of writing; overall, it is a rare snapshot of an urban boom which erupts before empires are formed. Moen jo Daro provides the most panoramic view of that boom.

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