Posts Tagged ‘Indus Civilization’

Below is just an excerpt from my book Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900 BCE), for a detailed history and chronology of the seals you may refer to my book Indus Seals Beyond Geometry.

“Much before the discovery of Moen jo Daro, a seal depicting a humpless bull was unearthed and the story of the Indus seals typically begins with this discovery. The seal was rectangular in shape and engraved with a row of six signs or symbols above the image of the bull and ‘under its neck were two stars’ one of these is already faded. It was discovered in the last quarter of the nineteenth century from Harappa and its sketch and description was published by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1875. Alexander Cunningham the director general of the Survey while reporting the seal had also rejected it ‘They (symbols) are certainly not Indian letters; and as the bull which accompanies them is without a hump, I conclude that the seal is foreign to India.’ In 1877, however, he changed his opinion and suggested that the seal signs were possibly precursors of the Brahmi script inscribed on the pillars of King Asoka Maurya (304-232 BCE). This is yet another enthralling part of the seal story as it pushes the history of writing two thousand years beyond Brahmi, the oldest known script of India. The history of seals can even go beyond as occasionally seals keep appearing from fresh excavations, and some of these are dated to an earlier pre-Harappan phase. In fact, as early as in 1960s when Walter Fairservis scooped heaps of potsherds from Balochistan sites, he found among them a few button seals engraved with geometric patterns. Button seals are the earliest known seals in Indus civilization. A decade later more seals and some of them even older than Fairservis’ discovery were unearthed by Jean-Francois Jarrige from the site of Mehrgarh in Balochistan.”


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Ever since the publication of my book ‘Indus Seals (2600-1900 BCE)Beyond Geometry: A New Approach to Break an Old Code’ I am often asked about the nature of the hurdles in the Indus seal research and about what has been my approach to decipherment of the enigmatic signs and symbols engraved on these seals. The answer is long and I have attempted to cover it in my book, however, for those who want a shorter version please read this blog.

Most cited difficulties in deciphering the seals are the brevity of the inscriptions and the absence of a bilingual dictionary such as the Rosetta Stone which helped in deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs. An average Indus seal has only 5 signs while the longest Indus text is composed of 26 signs. However, we cannot wait for the discovery of large volumes of textual material. Bearing in mind that the brevity of text might be a unique feature which cannot be judged by the yardstick used for ancient writing systems discovered elsewhere, we must continue to reconstruct the other aspects of Indus civilization which will eventually provide a larger socio-cultural and ideological context to examine and understand the seals.


According to Asko Parpola, methodological weaknesses have been a cause of failure in deciphering the script. “The most common approach has been this: Indus signs are equated with similar-looking signs of other, readable ancient scripts and the phonetic values of the latter are transferred to the Indus signs. However, this method works only when the two scripts being compared are closely related … In contrast, the Indus script has no obvious genetic affinity with any other known script.”

N.A. Baloch classifies the method of decipherment used by the researchers into two groups. “The first method has been of concentration entirely on the internal structure of the Indus script which has reduced the entire corpus of the signs, marks, and pictorial representations into writing and enumerating so much so that each and every sign has an identification number now. The second method has directed the research towards proving some sort of relationship between the Indus script and other scripts and languages of the contemporary civilizations.”

Apart from these reasons, I strongly feel that there have been a few detours in the long journey of decipherment which has derailed the Indus seal research. These detours have proved futile as they have misled the scholars to seek clues in distant cultures and languages. Perhaps, for a better understanding of the Indus seals and their languages, I would like to draw the attention to the route suggested by Baloch. According to him, “For the language of the (Indus) script, the scholars will have to abandon their wild-goose chase of looking for the proto-type in Turan and South India and look for the evidence within the land where the seals were made and discovered… this lock of the Indus script had apparently been prepared by the great smiths of yore that is not likely to yield to such foreign-made keys so easily.” Baloch further suggests that, “In order to resolve this problem on a rather firm rational ground, a third hypothesis can be presented based on the assumption that the key to the decipherment of the Indus script may be found right in the land where it had been lost— Indus Valley. The decipherment could, perhaps, be worked out looking into the words and phrases of the language of the Indus Valley, the language of the land itself, Sindhi of the peasants, as it has remained unaffected throughout the centuries.”

And yet Sindhi is not the only language to be considered for Indus seal research. I have used the Sindhi model in my book because of my familiarity with that language and because it has retained a larger percentage of the ancient words. However, there are other languages spoken in the Indus region which can be explored for ancient words, adages and legends that can be identified on the seals. It must be emphasized that seals are not only engraved with rows of signs and symbols but they are also imbued with images of animals, humans, deities, trees and unidentifiable objects. Hence beyond the calligraphic, geometrical and linguistic facets of ancient writing , the Indus seals also depict an assortment of social, cultural and ideological content which requires a holistic approach for its interpretation. This approach will certainly extend the seal research and help in a better understanding of the Civilization in general.

Indus Civilization is recognized as the fourth ancient civilization of the World, the other three were discovered in China, Egypt and Iraq; the fifth was discovered in Central America after the discovery of Indus. Indus is also the largest ancient civilization but it remains to be the least understood.  It must be emphasized that the failure to decipher Indus symbols and signs has contributed a lot to this lack of understanding.

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Through the decades that I had known Dr. N.A. Baloch, I know him best for his knowledge of culture, history and pre-history of the Indus region, particularly Sindh. His knowledge of Sindhi folklore, language and idioms provided me with new material to reconstruct the picture of the Indus Civilization.  Since my research is focused on the images engraved on the Indus seals, I found Dr. Baloch’s approach on this subject to be most logical and his source material most authentic.

Even though Dr. Baloch referred to himself as ‘a friend of the archaeologist,’ he had surveyed more miles of the Indus land than many other archaeologists and his understanding of its sites was vaster than a mere friend. Above all, unlike mainstream archaeologists who are following the trend to research Dravidian languages of South India to understand the ancient Indus script, language and civilization in general, Dr. Baloch draws our attention to seek clues in the indigenous languages specially Sindhi which has retained some of the most ancient words which can possibly be traced to the Indus Civilization. According to him “the key to the decipherment of the Indus script may be found right in the land where it had been lost— Indus Valley. The decipherment could, perhaps, be worked out looking into the words and phrases of the language of the Indus valley, the language of the land itself, Sindhi of the peasants, as it has remained unaffected throughout the centuries[i].”

It is common sense that in order to understand the ancient past of a region one has to first consider the history, culture, languages, scripts and symbols which originated and evolved in that very region. Unfortunately, on this long journey of seal decipherment there have been some detours which have misled the researchers to distant places. Dr. Baloch rightly advises that “For the language of the (Indus) script, the scholars will have to abandon their wild-goose chase of looking for the proto-type in Turan and South India and look for the evidence within the land where the seals were made and discovered…this lock of the Indus script had apparently been prepared by the great smiths of yore that is not likely to yield to such foreign-made keys so easily[ii].”   Dr. Baloch has been a strong advocate of the inclusion of Sindhi language in the Indus seal research and as I proceed with my new book on this subject I sincerely feel that his approach has the potential of making a positive contribution towards the understanding of the Indus seals.  The mainstream foreign archaeologists may find this whole concept difficult to grasp but it must be shared.  As advised by Dr. Baloch, I have already made a beginning by drawing their attention to this approach in my book on Moen jo Daro[iii].

Dr. Baloch had also guided me on other periods of Pakistan’s past. For this I will have to go back in time to my first meeting with this great man at the National Museum Karachi.  It was the last day of 1978, the participants and guests invited at the three day UNESCO Symposium on Moen jo Daro were having their tea-break.  I spotted Dr. Baloch, standing next to Dr. Hamida Khuhro, he was conversing with a few participants.  I left my husband in the company of the Allchins  and walked towards him. I didn’t feel like interrupting and waited for a pause in his conversation. He was a thorough gentleman, for as soon as he saw a lady waiting to speak with him he excused himself and greeted me very warmly. I had no idea that he had already read my article on Chand Morya (Dawn October 13, 1978) and was in fact very supportive of my research. Now that he saw me at an international symposium his opening words were that he is very proud to see for the first time a Pakistani Sindhi woman ready to read a research paper on Moen jo Daro and the Indus Civilization. Apart from a few women guests and two female curators the only other woman archaeologist was Bridget Allchin wife of Raymond Allchin, the well-known husband wife British team who had arrived from the Cambridge University to share their research.  My first impression of Dr. Baloch was that he was very attentive during our conversation.

The next evening when the Symposium was over and my husband and I were still talking to a few guests in the garden of the Museum, Dr. Baloch was coming out of the parking lot. We walked towards him and in that brief encounter he asked me if I would be interested in applying for the post of a research assistant at the National Commission on Historical and Cultural Research in Islamabad. Dr. Baloch at that time was the chairman of this prestigious Commission of the federal government of Pakistan.  I thanked him for his generous offer and at the same time informed him that I am desperately applying to American universities and a few prestigious foreign institutes and if he could help me with that. He advised me that I should also be looking for positions in UNESCO and UN and he offered to write letters of recommendations, a few months later I asked him for a letter.  I must mention here that in 2007 I discovered that Dr. Baloch was also a very good record keeper. Through his letters published by the Institute of Sindhology I was pleasantly surprised to see my letter and Dr. Sahib’s response in his book[iv]. For the sake of convenience I am attaching our correspondence published in this book to show the picture of a great scholar guiding a curious student. These letters also provide me with a guideline to write this article.

In the two brief meetings at the National Museum I had already judged Dr. Sahib’s honesty, that he was not speaking to me as a mere formality but he believed in giving chance to a young struggling graduate and now through his letter he certified that how much he valued my research on ‘Chand Morya.’

Since my student days,  I had been working on the hypothesis that Emperor Chandragupta Maurya (340-297 BCE), who had established the first empire of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent and who in his last days had abandoned the throne, converted to Jainism and migrated to an unknown destination, had perhaps reached lower Sindh where he spent his last days. My research indicates the possibility that the remote shrine in the Tharparkar district might be his gravesite.  My research was already known to Dr. Ishtiaq Khan, the Director General of the Department of Archaeology and Museums, but a few encouraging words of Dr. Baloch really boosted my morales.  Since he had personally surveyed the lower Sindh and was familiar with every inch of its land his acknowledgment meant a great deal.  In one of his books [v] he recalls his wanderings in Sindh: “As a student of Sindh’s history and folklore, I have roamed around in the Lower Indus Valley of Sindh for quite a few years, seen numerous sites and collected the current lore about settlements of the bygone times. As a friend of the archaeologist, I propose to share, in a layman’s language , information relevant to what I presume to be the potential Indus Culture sites contemporary with or successor to the great city of Moen jo Daro. ..A search for the location and identification of pre-historic sites can profitably be made, mainly along the old courses of the Indus. A guiding hypothesis may be formulated: if one follows the old beds of the Indus and its channels, it is very likely that the prehistoric sites are discovered.” The shrine of Chand Morya, located close to my village in the Tharparkar district, incidentally stands on the bank of the abandoned bed of Puran, an ancient tributary of Indus.

Dr. Baloch was also familiar with the most unknown landmarks of Pakistan and he drew my attention to the group of Chandragup mud volcanoes of Baolchistan. I was excited to learn that yet another version of the name Chandragupta exists in Pakistan and because of the sanctity attached to the highest volcano of this group and its proximity to the sacred cave temple of Mata Hinglaj, I found this geographical feature very interesting and relevant to my research. This is just one example how Dr. Baloch promptly came up with relevant information regarding topics on history and archaeology.

I had published two articles on the site of Chand Morya, one in the Daily Dawn and the other in the Pakistan Times, the idea was to make my research known to the public but these articles also showed me a path of how to share my ideas on archaeology, history and culture, hence I also got addicted to writing journalistic articles. My plans to work in a foreign institute had failed and freelancing was the only means left for me to keep bonded to the books. I finally felt that I should devote myself to something more academic and thus registered for a Ph.D. at the Karachi University.  It was during these years that one day, through the editor of Dawn, I received a letter from Dr. N.A Baloch. It was dated 25th January 1988, almost a decade after our first meeting.  Once again he appeared as a guiding light in my life as he suggested that instead of writing articles I should be writing a book on the Talpur History. I was little surprised because of the coincidence as a few weeks ago Justice Mir Khuda Buksh Marri had also made the same suggestion. Justice Marri, the Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court had not only served as the, governor and chief minister of his province, but he had also written the history of Balochs and was keen that the ‘golden period’ of Baloch history under the Talpur rule should be written in English by a Baloch.  It was obvious that because of the suggestions of two honorable Baloch intellectuals I will consider the idea very seriously, though I felt little incompetent for such an undertaking. So when I met Dr. Baloch again at an international seminar on Sindh held at the University of Sindh I told him writing a book is a long assignment whereas I am used to writing short articles. I had started the conversation on a negative note but he gave me hope by saying that I should not think I am writing a book, “think of writing just one chapter at a time, think you are writing a long article and call me anytime you need help.”  I promised Dr. Baloch that I will write the book. But I did not anticipate that my circumstances will suddenly change and push the freelancing, the Ph.D and the Talpur book on the back burner.

I moved to the United States in 1990 where the first seven years kept me busy with the research on Indus seals at the Cornell University, New York.  After the publication of my research reports in the Wisconsin Archeological Reports and a book from the Institute of Sindhology, I decided to call Dr. Baloch to say that I am now getting back to the Talpur History. I was little nervous to call as it had been so many years and I thought by now he would have lost faith in me. But that was not the case as he spontaneously responded by saying “You are a true Baloch, you have not forgotten your promise.” This is how in 1996 began another phase of correspondence between us. I mailed a letter along with a copy of my book on Indus seals[vi]. Luckily Dr. Baloch’s reply to my letter is also published in his book of correspondence and can be seen in the attachment. I also called him often for advice; he was always available and welcoming I still remember how on each call he said “very kind of you.”

In 1997 I made a short visit to Pakistan and made sure to meet Dr. Baloch and present to him the draft of my book.  He invited me over for a lunch at his bungalow in the old campus of Sindh University. The bungalow was located on a huge yard in the city of Hyderabad. It had an aura of peace and it was hard to believe the way it maintained such quietness in the heart of the city. This was the first time I visited Dr. Baloch’s house and met his wonderful wife Adi Khadija, a professor by profession and a very warm person. I found them to be a very hospitable couple. The lunch was very delicious and they even asked me to stay overnight as it will be tiring to return to Karachi on the same day. After the lunch three of us sat in the drawing room and the conversation revolved around a variety of subjects. I asked Dr. Baloch a few questions but to avoid shop-talk  never for once did I bring any reference to the Talpur book. He answered questions politely and in detail. I asked his opinion about a few people and he answered without any hesitation which showed his honesty. In this homely atmosphere I found Dr. Baloch to be a very interesting conversationalist.

A year or two later I had a few telephonic conversations with Dr. Baloch when he and Adi Khadija were visiting their son Fareed in USA. It was during this trip that I also emailed him my final draft.  The book was finally published by Ferozsons in 2002.  And then in 2003 I made the most sad call to Dr. Baloch, Adi Khadija had passed away, it was a condolence call. In the brief conversation I could feel the pain of his loss but he was going through the tragedy in a very graceful manner.

In December 2006, Dr. Baloch was the chief guest when I made a presentation on the Indus Seals at the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Sindh, Jamshoro. It was during this event that he suggested the idea of writing a book on Moen jo Daro for general readers.  The idea was very well-timed as I was to spend the year 2007 as a visiting professor at the Sindh University and this was to provide me the opportunity to revisit Moen jo Daro and enough time to receive guidance from Dr. Baloch.

I will never forget Dr. Baloch’s gesture of kindness when he visited me and my husband at the University’s guest house. He visited along with his daughter Adi Hamida and grandson Arshad Baloch, who I always saw on the side of Dr. Baloch on each university event he attended, surely Arshad is the upholder of the Baloch legacy.   Adi Hamida gave me a gift of beautiful Sindhi prints and told me about the school that her great father had established in their village, I always knew that he believed in educating the younger generation of Pakistanis.

This is a good place to mention Dr. Baloch’s great knowledge of etymology. During the conversation my husband told him how he appreciated his knowledge of Arabic and Persian languages which helped in the translations and interpretations of several important documents of history such as the Chachnama and Talpur period manuscripts. Dr. Baloch replied that one of his regrets is that he did not learn Sanskrit as that would have led him to the roots of many more Sindhi words. Nonetheless, he enlightened us on the roots of a few,  I still remember the two words that came under discussion- Runni Kote and Hurlo the word used for the Persian wheel. Dr. Baloch even emphasized that the concept of lifting underground water for irrigation has its origins in Sindh and the idea later went to Persia during the Achaemenid rule of Sindh. Next day, Dr. Baloch sent me his article “Irrigation Technology in the Indus Basin: A Peep in the Past” published in 1982 by the Irrigation Research Council. This article explains in detail the word Hurlo used for the Sindhian wheel. Today, I am struggling to solve the mystery of the 600 wells discovered in Moen jo Daro, can these wells shed some light on the origins of Sindh’s wheel technology or at least the origins of the idea of such a technology? I have the article of Dr. Baloch in my hand and I am looking at his hand-written note at the end of the article where he writes “the origin of Urlo/Hurlo is defined. You will find some of your answers in these interpretations.”

Once again in 2007  Dr. Baloch invited me over for lunch and I had the honor of meeting his children and grandchildren, what a wonderful family,  I am grateful to Farooq Baloch and Arshad Baloch for staying in touch with me.  As I said Dr.Baloch will always provide me with tons of information and references on each query that I made and his answers will always open a new door of knowledge for me. In this regard I must mention how I was led to seeking clues of the past from folklore. It was the day we discussed the ideology of Moen jo Daro I asked what he feels about the Great Bath and if there was any water cult associated with it. Without any hesitation he said, water worship must have been central to the Indus culture and it is the most logical ideology due to the sanctity of Indus. He also felt it is the most lasting ideology as reverence for water in Sindh continued even after the advent of Islam, to illustrate the point Dr. Baloch quoted a verse of Shah Abdul Latif with his English translation:

One who does not make offerings to water
And does not light diyas (clay lamps)
Should not hope for union with the beloved
Returning safe from the journey overseas

The verse appeared to me as a lost letter unearthed from an ancient port town which could be Bhanbhore, Lothal or even Moen jo Daro. I began to read the Risalo as a source of history and archaeology. Latif’s  Bhanbhore, a flourishing emporium, where Sassui and Punhoon played their destinies can very well be mistaken with any ancient Indus city. I felt the verse had bestowed life to the deadness of archaeology and I explained these thoughts in greater details in my book[vii] on Moen jo Daro.

Dr. Baloch also believed that Moen jo Daro is a much larger city but in view of the continued ban on excavations, he had already suggested horizontal excavations to the relevant authorities. Incidentally, a couple of years later, UNESCO also suggested similar excavations in order to establish the limits of the ancient city.

I came to know many more dimensions of Dr. Baloch’s life and personality through his book “World of Work” which I received in my office at the Pakistan Study Centre, Sindh University Jamshoro. It was a fine spring afternoon of April 2007, I had just finished preparing the next lecture and therefore, had time to browse through it. There was an envelope that came with the book, inside was a letter requesting me to write a review of the book. The letter was by Dr. Shoukat Shoro the publisher of the book and director of the Institute of Sindhology. I am so thankful to Dr. Shoro for giving me this opportunity as the book gave me a chance to know more about Dr. Baloch’s life.

Dr. N.A. Baloch needs no introduction. He is known to all for his vast knowledge on a variety of subjects and for his passion for quality education to the younger generation of Pakistanis. For me he will always remain a mentor who put me on the path of writing books and who always acknowledged my work. It was very kind of him to refer to me always as “Dr. Talpur.” One day I took the courage to remind him and said “Dr. Sahib, it’s so nice of you to call me “Dr. Talpur” but I have not earned a Ph.D.” He replied quickly: “But you have done more research than a Ph.D holder.” This was an overwhelming acknowledgement. I was unable to say a word and after this I never even thought of a Ph.D. degree.

(Article contributed on the 5th death anniversary of Dr. N.A.Baloch)


[i] N. A Baloch, “Decipherment of the  ‘Indus Script’ of the Sindhu Civilization” https://ia801709.us.archive.org/35/items/DECIPHERINGINDUSSCRIPTDRNABALOCH/DECIPHERING%20INDUS%20SCRIPT%20DR%20N%20A%20BALOCH.pdf Accessed on April 4 2013

[ii] N.A. Baloch.  Deciphering Indus Script. http://archive.org/stream/DECIPHERINGINDUSSCRIPTDRNABALOCH/DECIPHERING%20INDUS%20SCRIPT%20DR%20N%20A%20BALOCH_djvu.txt Accessed on September 2012.

[iii] Parveen Talpur, “Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900 BCE)” SIJ Books, USA, 2014

[iv] N.A. Baloch,  “World of Work: Predicament of a Scholar” Institute of Sindhology, University of Sindh, Jamshoro, 2007.

[v] N.A. Baloch, Sindh:Studies Cultural. Pakistan Study Centre, University of Sindh, Jamshoro. 2004

[vi] Parveen Talpur, “Evidence of Geometry in Indus Civilization 2500-1500 BCE” ” Institute of Sindhology, University of Sindh, Jamshoro, 1994.






















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Sir Alexander Cunningham, the first director general of the Archaeological Survey of India, has contributed a lot to the Indian archaeology. His work on epigraphy and Buddhist monuments are noteworthy. Although Moen jo Daro was not discovered during his lifetime, but his observations on Buddhist history and the history of the Indian writing are of great value for the understanding of the Harappan or the Indus Civilization.

Cunningham had identified many common features between Buddhism, Brahmanism and the ancient western traditions of the Druids and he believed in a more ancient Buddhism which prevailed not only in India but in several other parts of the world. His book “Bhilsa Topes or Buddhist Monuments of Central India” published in 1854 is not only an account of Buddhist monastic complexes but it is a history of Buddhism. Years after writing the book when he arrived in the land of the Yusafzai tribals near Peshawar, he identified Shahbazgarhi with Po-Lu-Sha, recorded by Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang), the Chinese pilgrim who in mid seventh century had visited India and listed hundreds of Buddhist places.

Northwest of India, which is now Pakistan, had been a land of Buddhism. Shahbazgarhi is still marked with a rock engraved with the edicts of the Buddhist King Asoka Maurya (273-232 BCE). In Cunningham’s words, “The great inscription of Asoka is engraved on a large shapeless mass of trap rock, lying about 80 feet up the slope of the hill, with its western face looking downwards towards the village of Shahbaz-garhi.” The edicts, preaching the principles of Asoka’s Dhamma policy, were engraved on rocks and pillars throughout his empire. Asoka declared that he has got them written on the rocks so that they endure longer and the future generations can see them. Also, they are written in the vernacular dialects of their location so that the ordinary people can understand them.

Asoka’s edicts give a good insight in the social and moral code that the good king gave to his people but they are also valuable specimens of the earliest known scripts of the Indian subcontinent. Hence, Cunningham’s book on the inscriptions of Asoka is very important for the understanding of the history of Indian writing. While referring to the Shahbazgarhi inscriptions he writes, “The inscriptions of Asoka are engraved in two distinct characters, one reading from right to left, which is confined to the Shahbazgarhi …and the other reading from left to right.” Later, the Shahbazgarhi script was labeled Kharoshti and the script used for Asoka’s edicts elsewhere came to be recognized as Brahmi. In 1896, Georg Buhler while identifying the four varieties of Kharoshti, considered the Shahbazgarhi and Mansehra rock edicts (also in Pakistan) inscribed with the oldest variety of Kharoshti. Structurally Kharoshti and Brahmi are similar but Brahmi, originally used for Buddhist scriptures, became more widespread as it came to be used for a variety of Prakrits or the vernacular dialects.

Cunningham had rejected any influence of the hieroglyphs and the cuneiform system of the west on the Indian writing and was inquisitive about the origins of this indigenous script. He was aware that the ancient sites were not thoroughly explored and the older specimens were yet to be recovered, the only evidence of an earlier version of Shahbazgarhi writing he could think of was engraved on a tiny steatite seal “…I have , however, come across one monument which I believe to be a specimen of the archaic alphabetical writing. Its age is, of course, quite uncertain, but I do not think its date can be later than 500-400 B.C. This monument is a seal of smooth black stone, which was found by major Clark in the ruins of Harapa in the Panjab.” This was the only Indus seal unearthed during Cunningham’s times and yet his observation, based on a single seal, has turned out to be most logical. His idea that the Harappa seal script was a predecessor of the earliest known script of India is not fully lost. Though Kharoshti is sidelined and most of the research after him is focused on the more known Brahmi and its links with the Indus script.

It is ironic that half a century later when many more seals were discovered, clues to decipher their symbols were being sought in distant lands and cultures, first in Sumer and then in South India. These have been unnecessary detours in the journey of Indus seal research. Dr.N.A Baloch while taking note of the attempts made to relate Indus script with remote languages states “In order to resolve this problem on a rather firm rational ground, a third hypothesis can be presented basing on the assumption that the key to the decipherment of the Indus script may be found right in the land where it had been lost— Indus Valley. The decipherment could, perhaps, be worked out looking into the words and phrases of the language of the Indus valley, the language of the land itself, Sindhi of the peasants, as it has remained unaffected throughout the centuries.”

The largest number of seals, about 1200, were unearthed from the ruins of Moen jo Daro. Most of these had the format of the Harappa seal- a row of signs engraved above the image of an animal facing an unidentified object. The signs are considered to be an ancient script and like Shahbazgarhi inscriptions these too run from right to left. Some of the seals are also engraved with the symbols of Buddha. Towards the end of the urban phase, narrative seals were made, they seem to represent events and can very well be the precursors of Jatakas, which are engraved with stories of Buddha’s birth. Marshall’s observation of a narrative seal from Moen jo Daro, depicting seven female devotees facing a deity standing in the ‘pipal tree’ is revealing. According to him “This is the tree of knowledge (Bodhi or bo-tree) under which Buddha gained enlightenment.” Another seal depicting a ‘proto-Shiva’ image with two deer images under his ‘throne’ reminded Marshall of the deer motif in Buddhist imagery symbolizing the Deer Park where Buddha gave his first sermon. He also saw semblance between the floor pattern of the Pillared Hall and the Buddhist monasteries where the monks seated themselves on low benches. The Priest King, draped in a shawl with his right shoulder exposed, may have even reminded him of the Buddhist monks attired in the same fashion. There is more of this scattered in John Marhall’s three volumes of “Mohenjo Daro and the Indus Civilization.” These pieces of evidence would have been enough for Cunningham to trace the roots of his ‘ancient Buddhism’ in the Indus Civilization, but this is not what the new generation of archaeologists thought.

Moen jo Daro’s ruins are still crowned with a fragment of the stupa wall but this symbolism has always been ignored. Twenty first century, however, has begun with some hope as Giovanni Verardi of Naples University, Italy has casted doubts on the dating of the ‘so called stupa.’ Cunningham, through Buddhist scriptures had already surmised that stupas were existing before the advent of Buddha and people revered them, in fact, Buddha considered the ancient sages as his immediate predecessors. Buddha came to be represented in human image during the Kushan period, prior to that he was represented by symbols and the stupa image was one of the symbols.

Kirthar mountain ranges between Sindh and Balochistan are engraved significantly with the images of stupas and several other auspicious Buddhist symbols. This is yet another evidence suggesting the existence of an early Buddhism in the Indus region, therefore, it is very likely that Moen jo Daro stupa is a relic of a much earlier period. Michael Jansen of the the University of Aachen, Germany feels that it may not be of Kushan origin but might be Harappan.

We have to bear in mind though, that we cannot expect Buddhism to appear in its conventional sense in the Indus civilization but We can safely assume a peaceful way of life prevalent in the Indus Civilization. To label this non-violent characteristic of ancient Indus a philosophy, an ideology or a religion will be inappropriate because the civilization at that moment of socio-cultural evolution was at a stage where philosophy, ideology and religion were all rolled together. It was only in later times that the nonviolent traits of the region came to be defined with different labels-Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Gandhism and Sufism.

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My book “Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900) BCE)” is now published as an eBook and is available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, eSentral, Scribd and ePubDirect. It is an illustrated book with original pictures by Pakistan’s acclaimed photographer Amean J and artwork by Laila Shahzada ,the internationally renowned Pakistani artist. Below is a brief description of the book, enjoy the images and reading on your favorite device.

“Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900) BCE)” is a personal view book on the largest and the most elaborate city of the Indus Civilization, located in present day Pakistan. Beginning with the myths and legends surrounding the civilization, Moen jo Daro ends with an appeal for its 3-dimensional digital preservation in the modern age. In between it covers the accidental discovery of the city under the foundations of a Buddhist stupa, the life of its mysterious inhabitants, the unknown ideology they followed as well the strange symbols and script they left behind. The book is not a mere description of the architectural remains and the artifacts discovered in their ruins, it examines the theories of its rise and fall in the larger context of the Indus civilization. I have told the story of Moen jo Daro through conventional sources as well through the legends, folklore, and ancient words retained in the indigenous languages of the Indus region. Some of the interpretation comes from my understanding of the ancient signs and symbols I researched at the Cornell University, New York. Finally, the artwork and original photographs captured exclusively for this book, has infused life in the dead city (Moen jo Daro means the Mound of the Dead).

“Moen jo Daro : Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900) BCE)” is meant for general readers and the scholars and students, and is a must read for an international audience. Pakistan is on the center stage of global politics and the world is keen to know it beyond its typical day-to-day reporting.

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You can buy it from Amazon – click here.

The title is Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900) BCE). The text is interspersed with the original images specially photographed for this book by Pakistan’s well-known photographer Amean J. It is also enhanced by the artwork of internationally known artist Laila Shahzada. The book is reviewed by Dr. Subhash Kak, Regents Professor Oklahoma State University and Dr. Shoukat Shoro, the former Director of the Institute of Sindhology, Jamshoro Pakistan.

The idea of writing a book on Moen jo Daro for general readers was given to me by Dr. N.A. Baloch. At the same time he suggested that it should not be a handbook of the site but a work presenting Moen jo Daro in a wider historical and geographical context of the Indus region; it should inspire the future generations to seek clues in the languages, legends and folktales of Sindh, Balcohistan, Rajasthan, Kutch, Gujrat, Punjab and beyond. Later on he wrote the foreword of the book.

Indus civilization was spread over a vast area and archaeology allows crossing political boundaries; hence, I approached Dr. Vasant Shinde to write a second foreword of the book. Dr. Shinde is working on the Harappan sites discovered in the Indian Punjab and he is also the vice chancellor of the prestigious Deccan College deemed University. His foreword is most befitting as Moen jo Daro symbolizes the common heritage and history of Pakistan and India.
Moen jo Daro: Metropolis of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900) BCE) is now available on Amazon.com for purchase – Click here.

It is a personal view book and is divided in nine chapters, below is a brief description of these chapters.

The first chapter is about myths and legends thriving in the Indus region. Due to lack of direct references to Moen jo Daro legends can become one of the valuable sources of information. The chapter demonstrates how some of these can hold important clues for the understanding of Moen jo Daro and Indus Civilization.

The second chapter is about the Mound of Dead which is the English translation of Moen jo Daro. The Mound was crowned with the remains of a Buddhist stupa which led to the discovery of this ancient city. The chapter gives the history of the discovery of the stupa which was actually the major attraction for British officials. It also provides the background information on the Buddhist period and Buddhism in Sindh.

The third chapter describes the layout of the two parts of the city. It also lists the artifacts discovered from its ruins. Most of these are showcased at the site museum of Moen jo Daro and the National Museum, Karachi. With the exception of a few, the photographs of the architectural remains and the artifacts are by Amean J.

Chapter four describes the geographical extent of the Indus Civilization as well as its origins, its nature and its decline. Beginning from the Neolithic agrarian communities of Balochistan, it traces their socio-cultural evolution to a mature urban phase that bloomed in the Indus Valley. Moen jo Daro in this chapter is examined in the larger context of the Civilization.

Chapter five is an attempt to reconstruct the picture of the inhabitants and their life in Moen jo Daro and Indus Valley. It also refers to the views of various archaeologists and how their reconstructed pictures differ from each other according to their orientation and generation.

Chapter six describes the ideology of the ancient Indus society as reconstructed through a variety of evidence gathered from Moen jo Daro and a few other significant Indus sites. The chapter sheds some light on the possible links between the ancient Indus ideology and the later Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religions. It also examines the status of women and the role of mother goddesses in those remote times.

Chapter seven deals with the most striking finds – the enigmatic signs and symbols engraved on tiny steatite seals. It gives a history of their decipherment and the hurdles in research. In this chapter I also share my research on the signs and symbols engraved on the seals.

Chapter eight explores the reasons of the ‘sudden collapse’ of the urban phase of Indus Civilization. Beginning with the Aryan invasion theory and its rejection, it highlights a few other sites to explain a gradual deterioration of the urban centers and an eastward migration to Gujarat.

Chapter nine gives the background of the international campaign of saving Moen jo Daro from the threats of water logging and salinity. It includes the preservation measures recommended by Pakistani officials and experts from UNESCO member countries. In this chapter I also appeal to the readers to join me in my campaign calling for the three-dimensional digital preservation of Moen jo Daro. You can also see a related blog here.

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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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