Posts Tagged ‘Moen jo Daro’

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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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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Many were thrown as the city buzzed with entertainment, games and gambling before turning into a mound of dead.  Dice were discovered almost on every level of Moen jo Daro. This was noted by Sir John Marshall, the Director General of the Archeological Survey of India, under whose supervision the site was excavated. Moen jo Daro (translated: Mound of Dead) was the capital of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900 BCE).  Known for its non-violence, its citizens tested their strengths only on board games.  The stakes can be surmised from mythology and folklore wherein kingdoms were lost on a throw of dice. What was the nature of that game played in Moen jo Daro?

Much before the discovery of Indus Civilization it was speculated that chess had its origins in India.  Sir William Jones was more specific and suggested West India as the place and chaturanga as the predecessor of chess. Chaturanga, meaning four limbs, denoting the four divisions of the Indian army do not befit well with the ancient Indus way of life.  Nonetheless, a few game pieces showcased in the Moen jo Daro Museum are labeled “Chessmen” and placed on a modern chess board suggesting the possibility of the existence of chess in Moen jo Daro. Things change, concepts evolve, and sometimes they are even capable of representing just the opposite of the original concept. The four limbs of chaturanga may have denoted non-martial ideas in its earlier versions. The existence of dice in Moen jo Daro brings to mind other board games and chaturanga may have evolved from these.

This week I saw ‘’A Throw of Dice,” a vintage Bombay film belonging to the silent era and was made in 1929. However, it has been digitally restored and is available on Netflix.  You can watch a trailer here. The film, inspired by the Mahabharata, included a scene where King Ranjit gambled away his wife and his kingdom.  The superb restored picture quality allows a clear view of the four armed board game, the game pieces, and the dice which is not cube shaped but a set of three rectangular sticks etched with simple designs. Moen jo Daro site museum has few specimens of the stick dice. Archaeologists may be interested in knowing that these are still used by the Sindhi snake charmers, for fortune telling. As for the four-armed board in the movie, perhaps it was pachisi and who knows Arjun too may have lost his wife over such a board.

Pachisi, meaning twenty five, has survived in India and it has an older version known as chaupan. It is played by four players and until recent times, was a favorite ladies’ game in rural Sindh. Chaupan set consists of 16 game pieces, seven cowrie shells and a board, which is actually not a board but just a four-armed cloth piece marked with squares, the same as the one shown in the movie. Logically, chaupan should be the closest to the version played in Moen jo Daro. The use of cowrie shells instead of a cube dice is interesting. Perhaps this throws some light on the urban and rural divide of the Indus Civilization. Whereas the urban centers used dice since the days of Moen jo Daro, the use of cowrie shells, which is much ancient, continues in the remote villages of Sindh. So dice too has taken various forms.

What Marshall discovered in abundance are the cube shaped dice which have survived to present times and are widespread, found in almost all the countries and cultures of today’s world. In Moen jo Daro these were made of terra-cotta, one of these was inscribed with numbers on opposite sides adding up to seven another had made its way to Ur in Mesopotamia confirming the trade links between the two civilizations. The connection between dice and chess is however not yet established.

In a game of chance coincidences abound. The co-producer of ‘A Throw of Dice’, Himanshu Roy, played the role of the villain and won King Ranjit’s wife. In real life however, he had lost his wife, not on a throw of dice, but to the charms of one of the actors he had hired. This is a story better told by Sadaat Hasan Manto, captured here is an English translation.

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