MohenjoDaro may not be the same after the Sindh Festival gets done with it!

Published: January 31, 2014
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While the sentiments of the Sindh Festival’s organisers are applauded for trying to bring the world’s attention to our history, it reflects poorly on their judgment and that of the authorities to allow such an event to proceed at this fragile heritage site. PHOTO: FILE

They say a picture speaks a thousand words. Sometimes, those words carry a sense of agony and irony.  Such was the case when I came across a picture depicting the historic mound of MohenjoDaro, surrounded by wooden scaffolding and construction crews.

My first reaction was to do a double take.

I thought I surely had been mistaken for why would anyone allow such an archaeological wonder to go under the proverbial knife and in such a daring fashion?

Upon reading the associated article, I was informed that preparations were afoot to hold the opening ceremony of the Sindh Festival at this heritage site. The festival is a Bilawal Bhutto led initiative which seeks to highlight the social and cultural heritage of the province. In this case, however, the event directly poses a serious threat to the stability of one of the world’s most valuable archaeological treasures.

MohenjoDaro, or Mound of the Dead, is considered ground zero when it comes to the study of Indus Valley Civilisation. Situated approximately 400km north of Karachi, the site was discovered by accident when archaeologist R D Banerji initiated a dig in 1922 to explore the visible Buddhist stupa and monastery in the area. What happened next stunned the world as the expedition revealed one of the world’s first modern cities. It contained dug wells for accessing clean drinking water, unheard of in civilisations dating back over 4000 years.

MohenjoDaro before and after the preparations. Photo: AFP

The wastewater systems, that a significant portion of South Asia lacks today, comprised effluent drains built with brick masonry that ran along unpaved streets.  Sir John Marshall, the then Director General of the Archaeological Department of India, remarked in a book that,

“Never for a moment was it imagined that five thousand years ago, even before the Aryans were heard of, the Panjab (sic) and Sind, if not other parts of India, were enjoying an advanced and singularly uniform civilisation of their own, closely akin but in some respects even superior to that of contemporary Mesopotamia and Egypt.”

MohenjoDaro before and after the preparations. Photo: AFP

Nearly a century later, we are still not even half way through exploring the wonders of MohenjoDaro. The archaeologists have taken care not to rush into further exploration since the structures are vulnerable to even the changes in moisture present in the air, among other factors.

Efforts to stabilise the brick structures have run into problems.

Dr Asma Ibrahim, a leading Pakistani archaeologist, ensures that the way things are going, this heritage site will completely disappear in 20 years due to decay.

It is in this context that I find hosting the event on the grounds of MohenjoDaro baffling. Any changes, however minor, to the façade of the site are magnified many times over in the context of its archaeological importance. There is no doubt that installation of light fixtures, scaffolding for a staging area and influx of large number of people will do irreparable damage to the site.

Pakistan has passed a number of legislations protecting such archaeological treasures, not the least of which is the Antiquities Act of 1975. The environmental legislation also calls for a detailed impact assessment whenever such activities are undertaken at protected heritage sites. There is no reason to believe that any such assessment was undertaken by the organisers. Indeed, the authorities, themselves, seem to be the enablers in this instance.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, MohenjoDaro is one of the six sites in Pakistan that fall under UNESCO’s World Heritage List and are considered to be of ‘outstanding universal value’.

While the sentiments of the Sindh Festival’s organisers are applauded for trying to bring the world’s attention to our history, it reflects poorly on their judgment and that of the authorities to allow such an event to proceed at this fragile heritage site.

There are a number of other ways that can be used to celebrate the value of our heritage.

Mr Bhutto could have initiated a plan to highlight such heritage through changes in the curriculum. He could have used some of the funds received for this event to develop a television documentary on our collective heritage.

In holding this event at MohenjoDaro, in disregard of relevant laws, Mr Bhutto would find that it would cease to be a cultural event and would be seen as a political stunt.

Pakistan is home to many historic and environmental treasures. We just choose to ignore them at our own peril.

Imran Khalid

Imran Khalid

A PhD Candidate in Environmental Policy at State University of New York. He previously worked as a Capacity Building Specialist with the Planning Commission of Pakistan. He tweets @imran2u (twitter.com/imran2u)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • LalaGee

    What happened next stunned the world as the expedition revealed one of
    the world’s first modern cities. It contained dug wells for accessing
    clean drinking water, unheard of in civilisations dating back over 4000
    years.

    And U should also point out..Religion of peace came into existense 2500 years after this city was built..That means..we all are converts..njyy….Recommend

  • Justice Miscarried

    Sindh’s cultural coup? How does MohanjoDaro singularly highlights Sindh’s culture?Recommend

  • UzairH

    Concur with you Imran. It is beyond insane to bring a large number of people to one of the oldest civizilation’s archeological site, which should be off-limits to local settlers as well as casual tourists. And the very idea of building a temporary structure ON TOP of the ruins should be a criminal act.

    Incredibly how badly thought out even the well-intentioned plans are. My message to young Bilawal is that I support you 100% against the mass-murdering terrorist scum, and cultural events are a great idea, but please think about the damage being done to Pakistan’s most important cultural heritage site and cancel this particular event.Recommend

  • Ammar

    what to expect from a Sindhi Landlord…

    My belief has strengthened many folds that Sindhi Parties are the biggest enemies of Sindhis…May Allah save our poor brothers..:/Recommend

  • C M Naim

    This is not only shameful, it is utterly totally insane. I hope some people will make it their cause, file a petition in the courts, go and meet with Bilawal and others, do something before this unique site is damaged beyond repair.Recommend

  • Concerned

    Hijacking superman logo to protect “our” culture and then building this mammoth structure on the ruins. BBZ, what’re you actually trying to do?Recommend

  • DaveR

    Pakistan would be in much better condition if it was still India. IMHORecommend

  • Haidar Hassan

    Langoor kay haath angoor..what is Pakistan’s national treasure but the Indus Valley artifacts? After losing Quaid’s house in Ziarat, we would want to just get rid of any semblance of civilization in our “Pak” sarzameen. A digression here, but Pakistan’s forest cover is now down to almost 2-3% from some 20-25% a few decades back..so are we just a nation of destructive imbeciles or do we also plan to construct something (besides nuclear bombs)..?Recommend

  • Dajjal

    I have only one question… and that is….. Who the F is paying for all this?? The Sindh Govt or PPP itself?? and Why the F is it necessary to destroy sindh’s heritage in order to save it?… i lied, i had 3 questionsRecommend

  • deep

    Oh God – this is awful – I thought it was some distance from the ruins – it is on the ruins – on those precious brick walls – staves driven into those ancient pathways – so a whole lot of untrained workers who otherwise put up wedding pandals working on a priceless piece of land – the one reason I want to visit Pakistan – what a misguided, horrible plan. Even the famous one-day festival held by the Shah of Iran was some distance away from persepolis – I cannot believe these pictures -imagine placing a stage on the ancient wall so Nalanda – and Mohenjo daro is much much more ancient than nalanda. Terribly distressed.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    Isn’t there a PIL that can be filed to get the venue shifted, citing the reasons you’ve mentioned?Recommend

  • Saif

    It is “Moen Jo Daro” (Mound of Dead) not Mohen Jo Daro (Mohen’s Mound.)Recommend

  • 1BDI

    So, they are going to risk destruction of Moenjodaro for a PR stunt to big up Baby Bhutto-Zardari…

    The PPP rule Sindh. If they were so concerned about cultural heritage, they could have secured and developed sites like Moenjodaro and Makli. But such thinking requires a plan, some foresight, and a vision more expansive than the fortunes of a misbegotten clan of parasites. They don’t have a plan, only the blathering of their juvenile Chair-boy.Recommend

  • Shail Arora

    I had posted this before but looks like it got lost in the transition from disqus to new discussion interface. Can’t you guys file a PIL to shift the venue to an alternate site, citing the reasons specified here?Recommend

  • Nishant

    well since it is non islamic heritage
    it is just debris
    if the mountain sized buddha statues could not stand a chance
    what do u expect from this Recommend

  • shah

    Sindh Govt. is one of the worst Govt of the area. Since 6 years they have no direction and idea what they want to do. Harming Mohanjo Daro is a small example of their ignoranceRecommend

  • Naeem Ahmed Siddiqui

    How could a person portray the sindh culture while he doesn’t know the herritage / culture meanings by any mans.

    this is not a cultural show it is just rubbish to conduct such event on this historical place where there is no authority (including Govt.) has that control over the un mannerred crowed gathered for the event.

    It has to be shifted if it is “mandatory”.Recommend

  • Sane

    @Nishant:

    There is nothing religion in this. Why people afraid of Islam brings Islam in every discussion. Sick minds…….Indeed.Recommend