I love ruins. When traveling, my greatest pleasure is to see those mysterious remains of ancient cultures, standing often in remote areas, excavated thousands of years after they ceased to be inhabited. You can imagine, then, how much I enjoyed Dr. Rakhshanda Bashir’s lecture on the civilization of ancient India and Pakistan, held at John Street Branch on February 15.
Dr. Bashir began by explaining that evidence suggests that India has been populated for more than 50,000 years. Her topic that day was the civilization found in the valley of the Indus River, which flows from the Himalayas, south through eastern Pakistan, before emptying into the Arabian Sea. There were hundreds of small, ancient villages and towns in the valley, but Dr. Bashir focused her talk on the bronzeage city of Mohenjo Daro, first excavated in 1922. Her pictures of this amazing place helped greatly to imagine how it must have looked 5,000 years ago.
I was surprised to hear that in the Indus Valley excavations, no evidence has been found of temples, palaces or military structures, leading to the belief that this was a peaceful, egalitarian society. Mohenjo Daro was a planned city of mud-brick buildings which were often more than one storey high. Houses, which opened to inner courtyards, were built along straight, wide roads. A great bath made of bricks and lined with bitumen was probably used for public bathing rituals. Bricks were made to standard sizes, according to mathematical ratios. Wedge-shaped bricks were used to make circular structures. This was obviously a highly organized society, using advanced mathematics, but it seems to have had no centre of power. Their script has never been deciphered.
The most incredible feature of Mohenjo Daro was its drainage system. A network of huge, circular brick wells provided water to each neighbourhood and most houses had indoor bathrooms with bathing platforms and toilets. Water and waste spilled down chutes into the city’s drainage system which emptied into covered sewers – the world’s first urban sanitation plan.
Dr. Bashir showed pictures of excavated artifacts exhibiting a high level of technical and artistic skill: pottery, jewelry, seals, games, toys and figures with huge, elaborate hair-styles. There is even evidence of dentistry being practised, but no tombs or burial grounds. Isn’t archaeology fascinating?
Dr. Bashir returned on February 12 to add some fun to our study of the Indus Valley Culture by showing a Bollywood movie about Mohenjo Daro. How about that for spanning millenia?