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Meris Cherian
Meris Cherian


The real Mohenjo-daro: 10 fascinating facts you should know

  • Mohenjo-daro Citadel Gateway | Image courtesy,
  • Aerial View of Mohenjo-daro | Image courtesy,
  • Bathing Platform, Mohenjo-daro | Image courtesy,
  • Stupa and Indus period structures (looking north) | Image courtesy,

The trailer of Ashutosh Gowariker's Mohenjo Daro starring Hrithik Roshan has been receiving a lot of flak from web users for its inaccurate portrayal of Indus Valley civilization and its people.

Twitteratis had a field day dissecting the trailer for its various misrepresentations. They tripped on Hrithik’s overdone bronze look, Pooja Hegde’s headdress with feathers and her fair skin, her ‘Angelina Jolie Leg’ slit skirt and Kabir Bedi’s viking head gear. And not to forget the crocodile jump shot.

According to the trailer, an Indigo farmer from Amri, Sarman, is chosen to travel back in time to a period before the Budhha and Christ, around 2016 BC, the era of the Indus Valley Civilisation, to save Mohenjo-daro, from the furious villain Maham. He has to, or else no one will know the ‘sachai’ and ‘achai’ of Mohenjo-daro. Only trouble, he falls in love with Chaani, Maham’s daughter. Uh-Oh.

So while we await Ashutosh Gowarikar’s epic adventure-romance, here are some interesting facts about the real Mohenjo-daro. Who remembers their history lessons?

1. Mohenjo-daro was originally, ‘Kukkutarma’

There is little to be happy about since no one really knows what this ancient city was actually called as no one has been able to decipher the Harappan script. Speculations show that the name may have been ‘Kukkutarma’, a Dravidian name meaning ‘the city of cockerels’, based on a seal discovered from the site. Domesticated chickens were also bred for religious purposes, for sacrifices and cock-fighting, than as a source of food.

2. This ancient city was not discovered until 1922

When a few Indus Valley sites and cities like Harappa and Lothal were excavated in 1922, the city of Mohenjo-daro was also among them, and that is when the name came to be. Mohenjo-daro literally means ‘the mound of the dead men’ in Sindhi. Archeologist Rakhaldas Bandhyopadyay a.k.a R. D. Banerji was working at the Sindh province, when he noticed certain high mounds, with pottery, flint scrapers, beads, seals, stone blades scattered all around them. This was then followed by a large-scale excavation which led to the discovery of a large city built of fired and mortared bricks.

3. Mohenjo-daro was way advanced for its times

Mohenjo-daro the city consisted of two parts, a higher mound called the citadel or the acropolis, and a lower mound which was a residential area with houses and streets. The city was planned meticulously with well-connected broad roads, streets laid in perfect pattern, and remarkably designed buildings. Rectilinear houses had inner courtyards and small lanes, with individual bathrooms, drains that were covered and ran across the streets all channeled into a complex underground sewer system. The city's remnants also features evidences of central marketplace, underground furnace, towers, defense fortifications, etc. It is interesting to note the absence of palaces, temples, or tombs, no trace of a government, a king or a queen.

4. The Great Bath of Mohenjo-daro was the father of all bath-houses

Talk about a great 8 feet deep, 23 feet wide public bathing pool, made of bricks that were polished to be made waterproof with natural tar. Add a steam bath and hot-air heating system. And you have the 'Great Bath' of Mohenjo-daro. Staircases on each side lead down to the pool, and there were small changing rooms and bath rooms surrounding this great structure, probably to cleanse oneself before use of the pool. The Great Bath may have been used for religious purification purposes.

5. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about Mohenjo-daro in 'The Discovery of India'

"I stood on a mound of Mohenjo-daro in the Indus valley in the northwest of India, and all around me lay the houses and streets of this ancient city that is said to have existed over five thousand years ago,” wrote Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India (1944) during his imprisonment in the Ahmednagar Fort.

6. The ‘Dancing Girl’ statuette is one of the rarest artifacts to have been excavated

One of the excavators at Mohenjo-daro, John Marshall describes this iconic artifact, a 10.8 cm long bronze statuette of the dancing girl, at least 4500 years old, as “a vivid impression of a young girl, her hand on her hip in a half-impudent posture, and legs slightly forward as she beats time to the music with her legs and feet”. She was also known to be a favourite of the British archeologist Mortimer Wheeler. He is recorded in a television program from 1973, to have said, “There is her... pouting lips and insolent look in the eyes. She's about fifteen years old I should think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There's nothing like her, I think, in the world.”

7. Mohenjo-daro was designated a UNESCO World heritage Site in 1980

Mohenjo-daro was one of the most prosperous, and planned cities of the The Indus Valley Civilization, a contemporary of (and even superior to) the Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. In its heyday, Mohenjo-daro had a population of over 35,000. After the city was rediscovered in 1922, more significant excavations were conducted, and in 1980, Mohenjo-daro became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which led to further excavations, but came to a halt due to scarce government funds.

8. The city of Mohenjo-daro may have had over 700 wells

Another little known fact, Mohenjo-daro has been called the 'city of wells and drains' by archeologist Michael Jansen. He calculated that there were 700 or more wells at Mohenjo-daro, present in one in three houses. These brick-lined wells were dug throughout the city with a lot of planning, and were maintained for hundreds of years. Some of the wells then began to be abandoned because someone jumped into them, according to an excavator Ernest Mackay.

9. Satyajit Ray's short story talks about Mohenjo-daro and a possible unicorn siting.

Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray begins his short story, The Unicorn Expedition thus, "I saw a herd of unicorns today. I write this in full possession of my senses." He writes, “I have a book open before me on my desk which is about the ancient civilization of Mohenjo-daro. Apart from the pottery, toys, figurines and ornaments, diggings at Mohenjo-daro have revealed a large number of rectangular clay and ivory seals bearing carvings of, amongst other things, animals such as elephants, tigers, bulls and rhinoceroses.

In addition to these familiar animals, there are representations of a beast unknown to us. It is shown as a bull-like creature with a single curved horn growing out of its forehead. Archaeologists have taken it to be a creature of fantasy, although I see no point in depicting an imaginary creature when all the others are real. (The Unicorn Expedition, p.156). See, unicorns are real after all!

9. The fall of Mohenjo-daro is one of the most cryptic whodunits ever

How did the Mohenjo-daro go down? The answer is: we may never know. So many theories are rife on what led to the destruction of this city and its civilization. There is published evidence by British archeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler that talks about the Mohenjo-daro massacres by armed invaders, directing us to the Indo Aryan invasion. Mohenjo-daro apparently came under a huge deluge caused by a changing river course, which led to its collapse, in another theory that is left unproven. And then there are researchers like David Davenport who asserts that Mohenjo-daro was destroyed by an atomic bomb, and that aliens did it. In his words, “The aliens had agreed to destroy Mohenjo-daro on behalf of the Aryans.”

10. Mohenjo-daro, 'the mount of the dead', is approaching its own death

Today, this 5000-year-old ruins of a once-sparkling city is crumbling, and according to expert archeologists, Mohenjo-daro will survive only another 20 years, and will disappear without any rescue plan. Even way back in 1973, the remains of Mohenjo-daro had been in a state of complete decay, and is fast corroding away. Once a highly advanced, major urban center of the Indus Valley Civilization, that flourished on the banks of the rivers Indus and Saraswati, this bronze age metropolis is on its way to being wiped off the face of the earth.

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