Moenjodaro

Located on the west bank of the River Indus, 350 miles from Karachi lies Moenjodaro (Mound of the Dead), an archaeological site which has been rated amongst the most spectacular of the world’s ancient cities. Considered one of the earliest and most developed of urban civilizations, Moenjodaro flourished from 3rd till the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, when it vanished, leaving only traces of its culture. Moenjodaro, along with Harappa – some 800 miles away – formed part of the Indus valley civilizations and it is now generally believed that these were the cities, referred to in the Rigveda, that were destroyed by Aryan invaders. Mehrgarh, the oldest Civilization (7,000 B.C), remains of which were found in the district Kachhi of Balochistan recently, was the pioneer of the Indus Valley Civilization. This was followed by the Kot Diji as a gap filler till the true Indus valley civilization came to surface with its full might.

Indus valley civilization flourished from about 2500 B.C. to about 1500 B.C. before it vanished from the world in the valley of the Indus River and its tributaries, in the present-day Pakistan. At its height, its geographical reach exceeded that of Egypt or Mesopotamia. Since 1921 this civilization has been revealed by spectacular finds at Moenjodaro, an archaeological site in NW Sind, and at Harappa, in central Punjab near the Ravi River. These sites, each of which measures more than 3 mi (5 km) in circumference, were once great urban centres, the chief cities of the Indus civilization. They had large and complex hill citadels, housing palaces, granaries, and baths that were probably used for sacred ablutions; the great bath at Moenjodaro was c.40 ft (12 m) long and 23 ft (7 m) wide. Beyond the citadels were well-planned towns, laid out in rectangular patterns. Houses, often two-storied and spacious, lined the town streets; they had drainage systems that led into brick-lined sewers. The economy of the Indus civilization was based on a highly organized agriculture, supplemented by an active commerce, probably connected to that of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. The arts flourished there, and many objects of copper, bronze, and pottery, including a large collection of terra-cotta toys, have been uncovered. Most notable, however, are the steatite seals, exquisitely engraved with animal figures and often bearing a line of pictographic script. On some seals are depicted a tree or, as some authorities hold, a Babylonian tree of life, and others have as their central figure the Hindu god Shiva. The writing, long a riddle to archaeologists, has yet to be satisfactorily deciphered; the language appears to be structurally related to the Dravidian languages. The origin, rise, and decline of the Indus valley civilization remain a mystery, but it seems most probable that the civilization fell (c.1500 B.C.) to invading Aryans.

The ruins of the huge city of Moenjodaro – built entirely of unbaked brick in the 3rd millennium BC are set on high embankments, the ramparts, and the lower town, which is laid out according to strict rules, provide evidence of an early system of town planning. The urban planning at Moenjodaro was pragmatic and at a high level. Its main thoroughfares were some 300 feet wide and were crossed by straight streets that formed blocks 400 yards in length and 200/300 yards in width. The walls of the city’s mud-brick and baked-brick houses were designed to ensure the safety of its occupants so that in times of earthquakes the structures collapsed outwards. It had an elaborate covered drainage system, soak pits for disposal bins, a state granary, a large and imposing building that could have been a palace, and a citadel mound with solid burnt-brick towers on its margin. Judging from the remains, the Great Hall was probably the most striking of its structures, comprising an open quadrangle with verandahs of four sides, galleries and rooms at the back, a number of halls and a large bathing pool perhaps used for religious or ceremonial bathing.

The prime considerations in planning the houses seemed to be safety and comfort. Avoiding the risk of heavy traffic on the main streets, the doors of the houses usually opened on to the side-lanes. Interior courtyards provided light and air, and windows were screened with grilles of terra-cotta or alabaster. The thickness of the walls of the houses in Moenjodaro proves the existence of at least two-storey-high structures. Most houses had stairways that led either to the second storey or to the roof, often used in Pakistan and elsewhere in the East as a cool sleeping place in summer. Besides other basic amenities, many houses also had wells for water supply which were lined with brickwork and had protective revetments at their head to prevent accidents to children and domestic animals.

The grid layout and residential architecture are not the only indications of the perception and care that went into the planning of Moenjodaro. Never before, and not until Greek and Roman times, was so much attention paid to sanitation and civic facilities. The water-discharge sluices from the houses first collected the refuse in small cesspits lined with bricks at the base of the walls, from which the dirty water was led through conduits to the main drains which ran along the streets below pavement level and were covered with sturdy bricks. This drainage system was connected to the larger sewerage outlets, also covered at the top, which finally led the dirty water outside the populated area.

Excavations have revealed some most conspicuous monuments located on an artificial hill some seven to fourteen metres high. The Great Bath, a highly complex brick structure, symbolizes a triumph of engineering at that time. The pool, 11.9 metres long, 7 metres wide and 1.9 metres deep, was made watertight by an inner facing of bricks set on edge in gypsum mortar which was laid over a layer of asphalt 2.5 cm thick trowelled on to double brick walls. The floor sloped to an outlet that led in turn to a corbelled arched drain. This corbelled arch was one of the earliest achievements of architectural engineering spanning an opening without using wooden beams. (The possibilities of spanning wider openings were extended later on by the discovery of the keystone, and in our times developed still further with the use of reinforced concrete.)

A second architectural feature is the podium of the great Granary situated on the western flank of the mound. The podium, made of solid brick square-shaped platforms separated by a gridiron of straight and narrow passages, is thought to have been covered by a floor of wooden boards, and probably the superstructure was also made of wood. It has been suggested that it served as a State Treasury to which bullock carts brought sacks of grain from farmers, since in those days coins had not yet been minted. A quantity of charred grains of wheat collected from the excavations puts the nature of the building beyond any doubt. A third important building in this area is the Pillared Hall. It has twenty pillars and encloses a small courtyard, and probably served as the centre of administration.

When the first seal was found in Harappa in 1875 it was thought to be of a foreign origin. A hump-less bull with an illegible inscription comprising six characters, were engraved on dark brown jasper. Seals have also been found on this site. It is believed they were used to wrap and mark items to be traded with distant Mesopotamia.

Interestingly, the bullock carts, boats, drinking jars, toys used even today in the adjoining areas, bare strong resemblance to those used by the ancient citizens of Moenjodaro. Through the discovery of coins and potteries, archaeologists believe that trade and cultural links existed between Moenjodaro and the contemporary civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Various objects d’art found at Moenjodaro include burnt clay male and female figurines, and models of bird, a steatite bust a noble man or a priest-king, wearing a loose robe on which the trefoil pattern is engraved and a small dancing girl of bronze with slim figures and flat negroid features. Steatite seals bearing lifelike representation of animals and mythological creatures such as the unicorn best illustrate the figural. They bear short inscription in a remarkable pictographic script, which has yet to be deciphered.

Conservation of the ruins of this great city seems to be outpacing the speed with which the under water level is rising and endangering the ruins. UNESCO has listed Moenjodaro on its World Heritage list and doing its utmost to conserve the remains. The salinity of the soil and periodic flooding by the Indus River are the two major causes of deterioration. An international safeguarding campaign for the site was launched in 1974 and a second appeal made in 1983. Since then, large-scale measures have been taken to protect the site from rising groundwater levels and sudden flooding of the Indus River. A UNDP project for national capacity-building in cultural heritage was implemented with success. The immediate objectives of the UNESCO/Japan Trust Fund project were to strengthen the Moenjodaro conservation laboratory in terms of equipment and skills and to develop suitable conservation methods for the ancient brick structures. The project resulted in the development of scientific conservation methods on the basis of data collected on salts and humidity, such as the protection of the ancient brickwork using mud mortar to form a sacrificial layer in which deterioration can take place. The Government of Pakistan started restoration of the bricks with support from UNESCO in 1972. Underground water is pumped out and diverted away from the site to lower the water table. Despite this, the water level still remains high and the site is still under threat. For the site at Moenjodaro: the battle against water continues from the time of the ancient Indus civilization.”

Pakistan Post has issued “SAVE MOENJODARO” stamps on a number of occasions. Besides Pakistan, many a other countries published commemorative stamps to intensify the awareness the world over to save this ancient and historical city from fading away from the surface.

How did this great civilization end? There are many theories. Some relate it to the changing course of the Indus, some attribute it to the migration to other places. Its destruction by the hands of invading Aryan hordes, as some historians believe, or triggered by an earthquake, or flood remains yet to be established. But recently there is one theory based on the radioactivity found in the area and discovery of large bodies of skeletons lying close to each other with no apparent cause of death. Did someone from outer space invade this area equipped with technology that resembles the nuclear technology of today?

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