Saturday December 03, 2022

Revisiting Mohenjodaro

February 24, 2017

The Indus Valley Civilisation – which flourished on both banks of the Indus River from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea – was revisited earlier this month through a three-day international conference in Mohenjodaro near Larkana.

It was attended by renowned scholars from a variety of backgrounds – archaeology, anthropology, history and literature – who are considered to be experts on the civilisation. They presented numerous research papers to connect the rise and fall of the Indus Valley Civilisation with the Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Chinese civilisations.

In recent years, Mohenjodaro has been in the news for all the wrong purposes. Ancient structures on the site are crumbling due to criminal negligence on the part of relevant authorities. Its museum and original seals were robbed several years ago. Archaeological land in Mohenjodaro has been encroached by locals and is being used for agricultural purposes. Mohenjodaro’s caretakers are believed to be its looters. This case is even being heard by the Sindh High Court. Besides Mohenjodaro, dozens of sites in the Indus Valley Civilisation – including Harappa – are in a state of decay and, in some cases, have completely vanished.

Against the backdrop of these challenges, scholarly endeavours on Mohenjodaro and the Indus Valley Civilisation – made by the National Fund for Mohenjodaro in collaboration with the Sindh government’s culture, tourism and antiquities department – need to be appreciated and carefully evaluated. We must assess how efforts can be made to translate the findings of research papers, presentations and pledges into action and offer new interpretations of a past that stands the risk of being lost forever.

The conference reminds us of another event of the same nature that was held in 1975 under the patronage of the then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The event, which was also held at Mohenjodaro, was titled ‘Sindh through centuries’ and portrayed the decaying image of the archaeological site to an international audience. Various steps were taken to preserve the site in the years following the event. Unesco declared it a world heritage site in 1980 and funds were generated across the world for its conservation.

When the Bhutto government was overthrown, several promises made in this regard remained unattended. The decaying remnants of a once-prosperous civilisation required new age saviours who could safeguard and protect the remaining treasures and attractions that would still appeal to the world for generations to come.

A comprehensive master plan was later devised to prescribe a series of integrated efforts aiming to safeguard Mohenjodaro. Most of these activities produced mixed results due to successive changes in government, bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption. Now that archaeological matters have been devolved to the provinces, Sindh’s cultural department is trying to renew and reconnect a legacy that was disconnected with the fall of Bhutto’s government in the late 1970s and was left at the mercy of changing seasons, officers and governments.

It is encouraging to see Unesco once again take the lead to preserve the site. As a custodian of the world heritage sites in Pakistan, the country director for Unesco, Vibeke Jensen – in her keynote conference address during this month’s conference – promised to renew the master plan, under the guidance of experts. The new plan is being fine-tuned and will be made public once procedural requirements are completed at respective levels.

Latest advancements on decoding or deciphering the Indus script are a key outcome of the conference. Local experts – under the guidance of techno-linguist Abdul Majid Bhurgri with a team comprising Amar Fayaz Buriro and Shabbir Kumbhar – have been successful in offering interpretations on decoding the Indus script through Unicode pictorials. They need more encouragement and patronage and ought to be integrated with an earlier study of the Indus script that was conducted by Finnish linguist Dr Asko Parpola almost four decades ago.

Recently, Sindhi scholar Dr Atta Mohammad Bhanbhro also developed interpretations on deciphering the Indus script through his scholarly work. Either decoding or completely deciphering the Indus script can open new gates of the understanding on the rise and fall of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

The next conference should encourage national and international experts on decoding or deciphering the Indus script. This will be a major breakthrough to understand our past – especially in the age of technology.

At the end of conference, the musical traditions of the Indus Valley Civilisation – which spread from the glaciers of Gilgit to the deserts of Tharparkar – was put on display at an event titled ‘Rhythms of Indus’. Folk songs from each culture were performed in an enthralling and captivating manner. The event was held in a hotel in Larkana called Sambara and was a rare treat – which most national and international delegates had never seen before.

The conference will broadly help regain the lost glories of the Indus civilisation from Mohenjodaro to Harappa. Funding and research for a comprehensive plan of action to protect these heritage sites can be a reassuring solution. The conference attracted a diverse array of tourists from across the world and depicted the importance of the civilisation.

At this stage, we must remember that using an outdated model of heritage protection within the archaeology department has proved to be ineffective. It needs to be replaced with a more suitable approach that can be devised under the technical guidance of Unesco and through stronger initiatives from both elected officials and the citizens.


The writer is an Islamabad-based
anthropologist and analyst.