Mohenjo Daro is one of the largest cities of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. A city well planned with all amenities, facilities, and well ahead of its time. In this destination guide, we uncover the mysterious Mohenjo Daro a 5000-year-old city from the sands of time to look at one of the earliest civilizations known to mankind.
There are several different spellings of the site name and in this guide, we have chosen to use the most common form, Mohenjo Daro.
Other spellings are equally valid. Here are some spellings of the site along with their meanings.
- Mohanjo-Daro (Mound of Mohan =Krishna)
- Moenjo-Daro (Mound of the Dead)
- Mohenjo-Daro, Mohenjodaro, or even Mohen-jo-Daro.
Mohenjo-Daro is located in Pakistan and since 1947, the site has been under the protection of the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Pakistan.
Discovery and Excavations:
Charles Mason traveled thru Punjab to gather intelligence work for East India Company. Mason’s major archeological discovery in Punjab was Harappa. A metropolis of the Indus civilization that laid buried in the valley of Indus’s tributary, the Ravi River.
Mason made copious notes and illustrations of Harappan rich historical artifacts. Many appearing half-buried in plain view. After the British annexation of Punjab in 1848-49, a large number of its brick was carded away as track balance for the rail line being laid by the company.
Some 100 miles of railway track between Multan and Lahore laid in the mid-1850s were supported by Harappan bricks.
Although the activity of archaeology in the subcontinent became more formally organized with the founding of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1861, Archaeological work in Harappa remained stagnant.
In 1904, the ancient monument preservation act was passed and John Marshal was appointed to lead the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Marshal subsequently directed ASI’s archaeologist, Daya Ram Sahani to excavate the sites between 1921 and 1922.
Meanwhile, along the main stem of the Indus, the largely undisturbed site of Mohenjo Daro has brought notice. Between 1911 to 1924 Marshall dispatched a succession of ASI officers to survey the site. Systematic excavations began in Mohenjo Daro with K N Dikshit between 1924 and 1925, continuing with those of H. Hargreaves between 1925 and 1926, and Ernest J Mckay between 1927 and 1931.
By 1931 much of Mohenjo Daro had been excavated. After the partition of India in 1947 many of the excavated sites of the Indus valley civilization including Harappa and Mohenjo Daro ended up on the Pakistan side.
UNESCO World Heritage Site:
Moenjodaro is an archaeological site located on the right bank of the Indus River in Larkana District of Sindh, Pakistan. Dating back to the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, the 5000-year-old city was one of the largest and earliest urbanized settlements in South Asia. The ruins were first discovered in 1922 and major excavations were carried out in the 1930s, however after 1965 further excavations were banned due to weathering and disintegration. Only one-third of the site has been revealed so far and site conservation works have been ongoing since then.
Pakistan applied for inclusion of its historic sites as UNESCO world heritage on 23rd July, 1976.
Mohenjo Daro was granted the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
Timeline of Indus Valley Civilization:
Indus Valley civilization is also known as the Harappan civilization is considered one of the oldest civilizations in the world. They separated it into three phases.
- The Early Harappan phase from 3300 to 2600 BCE.
- The Mature Harappan phase from 2600 to 1900 BCE.
- The Late Harappan phase from 1900 to 1300 BCE.
While the early phases were represented by pastoral and early village farming communities. The mature Harappan settlements were highly urbanized with several organized cities that developed material and craft culture, having trans-Asiatic trading to regions as distant as Arabia and Mesopotamia.
The late Harappan phase witnessed large-scale deurbanization, population decrease, abandonment of many established settlements, lack of basic amenities, interpersonal violence, and disappearance of the Harappan script.
Historical Introduction – Mohenjo daro:
Dating back to around 3300 to 2500 BCE, this mysterious culture flourished for a thousand years. It profited from the highly fertile land of the Indus River flood plains and trade with the civilizations of Mesopotamia.
While other civilizations were devoting a huge amount of time and resources to the rich, supernaturals, and the dead, in this valley the inhabitants were taking a practical approach to supporting the common secular living people. Sure they believed in an afterlife and employed a system of social divisions. But they also believed that resources are more valuable in circulation among the living than on display or buried underground.
Sadly, after a period of glory, this city got buried under the sands of time.
Let’s highlight some of the more intriguing aspects of this civilization.
1. An Undeciphered Script:
The most intriguing of all undeciphered scripts in the world, the Indus script is made of partially pictographic signs and various human and animal motives that include a puzzling unicorn. These have been found inscribed on miniature seals, terracotta tablets, and occasionally on metals.
Linguistics experts and scientists have been trying to decipher this challenging script for decades as it could hold the key to the secrets of this mysterious culture. Apparently, Mesopotamia’s cuneiform system has some competition in the race of the world’s first script.
2. Town Planning – Mohenjo daro:
Mohenjo Daro seems a brilliant example of modern town planning. The main streets are wide and all interconnected sub streets connect each other at 90 degrees. A perfect grid-based city layout. Experts conclude that this is an extraordinary example of urban and town planning.
A well-planned street grid and an elaborated drainage system hint that the occupants of the ancient Indus civilization cities were skilled urban planners who gave importance to the management of water.
The city of Mohenjo Daro was divided into two parts.
The Citadel and the Lower Town.
2.1 The Citadel:
The western end has the citadel and an area that was built on top of a mound of bricks almost 12m high. Several large buildings and structures at the citadel suggest that this area may have been used for social and religious gatherings and also important administrative activities. This area also has a stupa built on the top.
Nearly every house contains a clearly demarked bathing area and a covered drainage system.
2.2 Mohenjo Daro’s Great Bath:
The great bath of Mohenjo Daro, a watertight pool perched on top of a mound is enclosed within the walls of baked bricks. The bathing pool suggests that Harappans valued cleanliness.
The “great bath” is the earliest swimming pool in the ancient world. The pool measures approximately 12 meters north-south and 7 meters wide, with a maximum depth of 2.4 meters. Two wide staircases lead down into the tank from the north and south and small sockets at the edges of the stairs are thought to have held wooden planks or treads. At the foot of the stairs is a small ledge with a brick edging that extends the entire width of the pool. People coming down the stairs could move along this ledge without actually stepping into the pool itself.
The floor of the tank is watertight due to finely fitted bricks laid on edge with gypsum plaster and the side walls were constructed in a similar manner. To make the tank even more watertight, a thick layer of bitumen (natural tar) was laid along the sides of the pool and presumably also beneath the floor.
Brick colonnades were discovered on the eastern, northern, and southern edges. The preserved columns have stepped edges that may have held wooden screens or window frames. Two large doors lead into the complex from the south and other access was from the north and east.
A series of rooms are located along the eastern edge of the building and in one room is a well that may have supplied some of the water needed to fill the pool. Rainwater also may have been collected for this purpose, but no inlet drains have been found.
There are even small changing rooms surrounding the great bath with an attached bath area in each room.
2.2 Assembly Hall:
The southern portion of the Citadel has a large public gathering area called the Assembly Hall.
2.3 Great Granary:
Evidence of several granaries, massive buildings with solid brick foundations, and sockets for wooden superstructures have been found in excavations of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro.
Next to the great bath was a large building named the great granary. Certain wall divisions and its massive wooden superstructure appeared to be grain storage bases complete with air ducts to dry the grain.
All of the granaries were built close to the river banks so that with the help of boats grains could easily be transported. The great granary at Harappa also had a series of working platforms with circular bricks nearby that were probably used for threshing grains.
2.4 Education Center:
Several inscribed terracotta tablets have been found in the western citadel part and hence the archaeologists considered that an education center was administered to educate the citizens of Mohenjo Daro.
2.5 Lower Town:
The eastern part of the city is the lower town which comprises the larger area. Archaeologists believe that most people lived and worked in this part of the city. This area had the most number of houses which had several rooms built around a courtyard, with doorways open into the avenues.
These houses had different rooms for different activities and were single or double-story.
The streets were laid down in a grid-like pattern, intersecting each other perpendicularly.
2.6 Water and Drain Management:
A striking feature of the city was its well-planned drainage system. Many homes had specific rooms for bathing. The wastewater from the bathroom was directed to the drains that lined the inner streets that in turn let the water out to the outskirts of the city.
Over 700 public and private wells have been found at Mohenjo Daro for the people to have access to clean water.
This urban planning, water, and waste management indicate the sheer brilliance of the people.
3. Urban Life – Mohenjo daro:
The cities prosperity and stature are evident in the artifacts like beads, jewelry, and pottery recovered from almost every house, as well as the baked bricks city structures themselves. Not everyone was rich but even the poor probably got enough to eat.
The cities lack ostentatious buildings like palaces and temples and there is no obvious central seat of government or evidence of a ruler. Also, the lack of many weapons shows that the Indus people had few enemies and that they preferred to live in peace.
The most commonly found artifact in the Indus valley civilization is jewelry. Both men and women adorn themselves with a large variety of ornaments produced from every conceivable material, ranging from precious metal and gemstones to bone and baked clay.
Excavated dyeing facilities indicate that cotton was probably dyed in a variety of colors. The use of cinnabar and vermilion as cosmetics was also known to them.
4. Trade without Money – Mohenjo daro:
The sills and weights recovered from the ruins of several Harappan cities suggest a system of tightly controlled weights. Trade through barter was very important for the Indus civilization and their main trading partner was Mesopotamia.
There is evidence that people in Mesopotamian cities like UR owned distinctively Harappan luxury goods such as beads, pottery, weapons, and tiny carved bones.
5. A Game like Chess:
Evidence suggests that the people of the Indus valley civilization loved games and toys. Flat stones with engraved grid markings and playing pieces have been found which shows that the Indus people may have played an early form of chess.
Dice cubes with six sides and spots have also been found by archaeologists which suggests that they may have invented the dice too.
6. Intriguing Figurines:
Terra cotta, Steatite, and Metal figurines of girls and dancing poses show the presence of some dance form as well as skilled craftsmanship. The most interesting and famous figurines recovered from Indus valley excavations are the bronze dancing girl the steatite bearded priest-king and the terra cotta wheel cart.
7. The Seals:
Thousands of engraved and amulets have been discovered from Harappan usually made of steatite, agate, copper, and terra cotta. A famous seal displays a figure seated in a posture reminiscent of the lotus position and surrounded by animals.
It depicts a revered deity of the Indus culture Pashupati Mahadev who is considered to be the precursor to the Vedic god Shiva.
8. Worship of Mother Goddess – Mohenjo daro:
It is widely accepted that Harappan people worshipped a mother goddess in addition to other fertility and Vedic symbols. The recovery of a large number of mother goddess figurines from almost every excavated site that the mother goddess worship of fertility cult was widespread and popular in the civilization.
9. Strange Burials – Mohenjo daro:
The evidence of the disposal of the dead at the Harappa is quite unique and interesting. Excavations have yielded fifty-seven burials of different types in which bodies were disposed of in brick line rectangular or oval pits cut into the ground along with the grave goods such as jewelry, seals, and pottery in repair a man was found buried with a dog.
10. Mysterious Massacre of Mohenjo Daro:
Excavations down to the streets of Mohenjo Daro revealed 44 scattered skeletons sprawled on the streets as if doom had come so suddenly that they could not even get to their houses.
All the skeletons were flattened to the ground including a father, a mother, and a child, who was found still holding hands. Lying in streets in contorted positions within layers of rubble and ash and debris archaeologists have concluded these people all died by violence but what calls the violence still remains unexplained.
The Decline of Indus Valley civilization – Mohenjo daro:
Several contradictory theories abound regarding the origins of the Mohenjo Daro. Some theories suggest Mohenjo Daro and Harappan civilization had their roots in Sumer. While others say that Sumer had its root in this civilization.
Also, symbolic evidence indicates that the Indus Valley civilization is of the Dravidians who were later routed out by the Aryans. Contrary to this some theories suggest that the Aryans had inhabited the land and had set up the cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa.
Similar to the uncertain theories of origin, the reasons for the downfall of these cities are also based on assumptions. British researcher David Davenport studied the increased radiation in that region believed that this highly civilized city was wiped out because of the catastrophic event involving an atomic explosion.
Other theories suggest that the entire civilization was wiped out by the flooding of the Indus River. It could also be that the city deteriorated as the Indus river changed its course and people moved away.
For many hundreds of years after that, the houses fell apart and the city was eventually covered by dirt and sand.
The period of glory slowly got buried in the dust of time. The city of Mohenjo Daro was a large busy place where many thousands of people lived and worked. However, for reasons we are not sure of the city went into decline in about 1700 BCE.
The remains of the city tell us the story of the rise of the great civilization but its decline remains a mystery to date and perhaps will remain unsolved forever.
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