I stood in the middle of a ruined city which had existed over 4,500 years ago. The brick walls surrounded me like a maze. The sunshine from above seemed unforgiving, spreading in all directions. I wondered how it would have felt to live here. What would Mohenjo Daro have been like in its heyday?
The Indus Valley, dating back to about 2500 BC, is one of the oldest civilizations known to man. Only two civilizations existed prior and simultaneous to this: the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian. At the same time, in about 2000 BC, the Chinese civilization also came into being, and went on to become one of the longest surviving civilizations. But it was the Indus Valley which came to be known for its high level of urban planning and infrastructure, with cities spread around the Indian subcontinent.
Mohenjo Daro – literally translating to “Mound of the Dead” – was the largest and most famous settlement of the Indus Valley. It was rediscovered in the 1920s, and later excavated and declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. As the city was uncovered and its artifacts examined, one thing became clear: the people of this city had reached the height of sophistication for their time.
Located in the Larkana District of Sindh, Mohenjo Daro is a historic site that attracts tourists from all over the world. Archaeological discoveries have revealed that its inhabitants were highly skilled and organized planners, noted for their efficient drainage/water supply systems. Moreover, they were experts in pottery and crafting; the most commonly found artifacts included jewellery, made from precious jewels, gemstones, metals, and baked clay.
There is now a museum not far from the site, where many of the ancient artifacts are preserved and displayed. One of the most intriguing displays contains pictures of thirty human skeletons that were discovered in close proximity. The reasons behind this are currently unknown, but historians say these could perhaps have been prisoners, left behind after the community moved on, or those trapped during a natural disaster. As you enter the museum, there are various detailed paintings that depict the lifestyle of the people during that time, along with labelled maps that show the entire Indus Civilization. Interestingly, this is the only museum that uses natural sunlight instead of artificial bulbs for its showcases. Everything from small chess pieces to huge water storing pots is displayed, although some historical artifacts are now spread out amongst other museums, local as well as international.
The planning of this ancient city was done in sectors, with separate areas reserved for different purposes. We first went to the Citadel Mound, where many famous structures are found, including the Buddhist Stupa, Monks’ Quarters, Divinity Street, the Great Bath, and the Granary. Through the structures and artifacts uncovered here, it was inferred that the Citadel Mound was a sacred area, and if anyone ever lived here, it must have been the elite. We’ve all read in school about the great infrastructure that these people employed, but only after visiting the site can you truly appreciate this fact. We walked around the Great Bath, which is said to have been used for ritual purposes. The floor and walls of the bath show fine gradient and joint masonry work, which is a rare feat in architecture even today. Our tour guide showed us the covered drainage system, and pointed out where the clean water would come in and the dirty water would go out. It is astonishing that people thousands of years ago were able to work out such advanced techniques without the ease of technology that we have now. Many cities today still have systems far below this standard. Once you get to the end of this part of the excavation site and look back, the perspective is such that you can see everything behind you, with the Stupa in the background – this is the same image printed on the back of the Pakistani Rs. 20 note.
After walking for fifteen minutes to the other side of the museum, we reached another excavation site. The layout here was very different from what we saw earlier. The brick walls had layers, showing the original city and where it had been rebuilt. The city also had two parts: the lower city and the upper city. Our tour guide identified where the treasury, the markets and the residential area were located. Pathways and windows were built to match the direction of the wind, so that even in the scorching summer months, you could find shade and cool wind in certain spots. The attention to detail was extraordinary. There was a hall in the centre, which was probably used for gatherings or meetings. We climbed to the top using the stairs, and stood on the brick wall. Perhaps the person in charge used to stand here and speak. The entire city was visible from this point; back then you could probably have seen the Indus River from here too. There are several wells located throughout the city as well, bearing witness to the city's history of destruction and reconstruction.
Mohenjo Daro today is more than just a historical site; it is a source of pride for our country. According to our guide, the number of tourists has steadily been increasing, especially after the release of Ashutosh Gowariker’s 2016 Bollywood film of the same name.
There are many theories about the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. Some historians hypothesize that the Aryans invaded and conquered the Valley. The skeletons found in groups could be the consequence of a war that took place. However, people of the Indus Valley were said to be peaceful, and there are no artifacts or evidence supporting the possibility that they were involved in wars. The more popular theory is that the civilization declined due to climate change. Natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes could have forced the community to move, and the new settlements were probably not as sustainable; hence, they decreased in strength and numbers. This theory is supported by the large-scale reconstruction seen in Mohenjo Daro, suggesting that people came to resettle here after some time. Finally, another possibility is that the Indus River changed course, in which case the inhabitants might have found it difficult to survive, forcing them to move away.
Again, all of these are just theories; we cannot be sure of what brought an end to this once-mighty civilization. The only thing we do know is that there are still a host of mysteries yet to be solved about this fascinating ancient city.
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