Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Mohenjo Daro is all set to hit the silver screen and as with most historical movies in India, questions are already being asked about how the 3000-year-old civilisation will be depicted in the film. While we can fully expect that there will be no end to critical analysis of this film, there are a few things one might want to know about one of the first civilisations known to have thrived upon the Indian subcontinent.
Before we delve into the story of Mohenjo Daro, we need to keep in mind that when it comes to the historicity of a period like the Indus Valley civilisation, almost nothing can be said with full surety. Apart from the fact that a lot perhaps remains to be excavated about this era, the real challenge with research on this period is the fact that even though written records are available, they have not been deciphered. Hence, whatever we know about Mohenjo Daro is based upon archaeological excavations which primarily includes artifacts like pots, seals, beads, terracotta, stone and metal figurines or fossils of animals and humans.
Based upon such evidence, historians have made assumptions about the past. Therefore, we need to remember that whatever we do know about Mohenjo Daro is perhaps as much an imagination of the historian as that of a filmmaker who depicts it in visual terms.
The discovery of Mohenjo Daro
Located in the Sindh province in modern day Pakistan, Mohenjo Daro is one of the two major sites of the Indus Valley civilisation, the other being Harappa in Punjab. Both the sites had first been visited by British officers in the 19th century, but was not excavated by them. It was only in 1921 when R D Banerji started excavating Mohenjo Daro that more light was thrown on the importance of this site.
WATCH VIDEO: Some Facts About The History Of Mohenjo Daro
The importance of the discovery was that it could push back the urban history of India 2500 years, bringing it in sync with Mesopotamia and Egypt. It was also the first time a city is known to have been established in the Indian subcontinent. There are certain characteristics that historians have established over the years to be associated with the beginning of city life. As of now, historical research has shown that no other settlement before Mohenjo Daro and Harappa consisted of the characters that can be associated with what came to be considered a ‘city’.
Much controversy has existed over the dating of the civilisation. However, 2500 BC is the date generally agreed upon for the beginning of Mohenjo Daro, while there are other Indus Valley cities which have been dated much earlier.
Layout of the city
Mohenjo Daro is deemed to be the largest city in the Indus Valley covering an area over 200 hectares. Historians have long established the sophisticated planning of the city in the grid format, much the same way Gowarikar depicts it in the movie as per the glimpse offered by the trailer. However, in recent years historians have commented upon the fact that a perfect grid system might not have been the absolute rule in these cities, but the settlements were definitely planned.
The foremost feature of Mohenjo Daro is the sophistication of the buildings, with well arranged rooms, toilets, drainage systems and house walls.
One of the most important signifier of city life is the fact that society surpasses the hunting-gathering stage of economic life and enters upon the stage of settled agriculture along with other occupations like trade and craftsmanship. Evidence of internal and long distance trade has been established in Mohenjo Daro and remains to be the first instance when trade took place in the Indian subcontinent.
The character of Hrithik Roshan in the film is shown to be a trader in indigo from Amri in Sindh which is clearly an instance of internal trade. Evidence of long distance trade, especially with Mesopotamia, has been found in abundance, though there exists a debate among historians upon the significance of this trade.
Making assumptions about what people in any period of history were like is always a challenge, more so for a period for which no written records are understandable. Most of what has been deciphered about how people looked like, lived, clothed and interacted with each other is based upon terracotta, stone and bronze figurines excavated. Two of the most popular figurines excavated is that of the ‘dancing girl’ and the ‘priest king’.
Evidence shows that females wore a large number of ornaments and perhaps head dresses with flowers. A dhoti like lower garment for men with a shawl to cover the torso is what is known to have been worn by men.
Nothing can be said about the language spoken by them since as mentioned before, the writing has not been deciphered. However, there is a uniformity in the written script that has been uncovered which perhaps points towards a monolingual society.
There has long existed a debate among historians about whether society in Mohenjo Daro consisted of rulers or not. Gowariker has clearly taken the position of those who believe in there being a ruling elite in the Mohenjo Daro society, as is evident from the character of Maham played by Kabir Bedi. Gowariker is reportedly to have been inspired by the writings of historian Jonathan Mark Kenoyer who takes the stand that there might not have been rulers in the the society of Mohenjo Daro in the traditional sense of the term, but there definitely were political elites who might have controlled resources such as land, livestock and raw materials.
Destruction of Mohenjo Daro
How the settlement at Mohenjo Daro came to a termination is again something that has been aggressively debated over decades. One of the first theories of destruction of the site was deemed to be that of invasion by Aryans. It got refuted sometime in the 1950s and the theory of a massive flood destroying the site was offered. However, over the years even this theory has been challenged and most historians now believe that a combination of factors involving environmental and human incidents must have led to life at Mohenjo Daro coming to an end. We can expect Gowariker to be going ahead with the flood theory as can be seen in the end of his trailer.
As is perhaps evident by now, very less consensus exists about most aspects of life in Mohenjo Daro. Most of what we know has evolved over years and perhaps a lot more remains to be uncovered.