Saturday, June 19, 2010

Marching In and Out of Great Civilizations

Pakistan is a melting pot of cultures and civilizations which is reflective in its heritage, culture and way of living of its people. Nestled between the Arabian Sea and the snow clad mountains in the extreme north, the area that now constitute Pakistan has always been a place of interest and marching ground of great civilizations of their time. An onlooker would therefore find varying architecture, languages, dress and food as one moves from south to north, or from east to west.

While many believe the famous Indus Valley Civilization with its centre around Moenjodaro to be the oldest civilization of the Indo-Pak sub continent, the recent studies have brought the time scale quite far back to some 7000-9000 BC and have proved that the Mehrgar Civilization was the first civilization that thrived in the areas of present day Balochistan of Pakistan. 

Mehrgarh civilization in the foot hills of Bolan Pass and Kachi plains of Balochistan province of Pakistan is the the earliest known farming settlement in South Asia, which once thrived around 7000 BC until the end of Indus Valley Civilization. Neolithic Mehrgarh consists of four mounds. The remains show that around 5100 BC, the Mehrgarh inhabitants constructed mud-brick structures. The remains of a large town spread over some 170 acres makes it the largest in the ancient world, being five times the size of the contemporary Catal Huyuk site in Turkey which has been called the largest Neolithic site in the Near East. It may be added that the entire population of Egypt was around 30,000 persons around 6000 BC, almost same as of Mehrgarh alone.   Stone sickles found at Mehrgarh point towards wheat cultivation. Conch shells from the Arabian Sea (500 km distant) and lapis lazuli from Badakshan dating back to period after 5000 BC indicate trade networks. By 3500 BC Mehrgarh had grown into an important regional craft center. Pieces of painted pottery and ornaments (right) and figurines representing both humans and animals have also been discovered recently from the site. In what could be one of the earliest examples of dentistry, scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia in the United States have found tiny, perfectly rounded holes in teeth found in Mehrgarh, which they suspect were drilled to repair tooth decay.

Once again while people thought that Indus Valley would follow the Mehrgarh, there were still other surprises. The excavations at Kot Diji, Sind Pakistan has revealed that before Indus Valley, there existed a civilization that is pre-Harappa and Harappa period occupations (3200-2000 BC). A forty-feet high archaeological site reflects the grandeur of the past and craftsmanship of those people. Historians and archaeologists are of the opinion that Indus Valley Civilization borrowed or developed some of the basic elements of life and culture from the civilization that was thriving at Kot Diji.

The Indus valley Civilization then follows – which flourished from about 2500 B.C. to about 1500 B.C. before it vanished from the world in the valley of the Indus River and its tributaries, in the present-day Pakistan. Since the discovery of the remains of this civilization in 1921 this civilization has been revealed by spectacular finds at Moenjodaro, an archaeological site in NW Sind, and at Harappa, in central Punjab near the Ravi River.  Located on the west bank of the River Indus, 350 miles from Karachi lies Moenjodaro (Mound of the Dead), an archaeological site which has been rated amongst the most spectacular of the world's ancient cities. Considered one of the earliest and most developed of urban civilizations, Moenjodaro flourished from 3rd till the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, when it vanished, leaving only traces of its culture. Moenjodaro, along with Harappa - some 800 miles away - formed part of the Indus valley civilizations and it is now generally believed that these were the cities, referred to in the Rigveda, that were destroyed by Aryan invaders.

The later period of Indus Valley civilization from 2400-1800 BC, there is marked improvement in system of weights and measures, identical sized fire-backed bricks and standard writing system. So far about 700 sites have been discovered relating to the Indus Valley. Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, and Ganweiwala are the larger sites of all spread over some 120 hectares and constructed like a citadel with separate public and residential areas, interspersed with road network. Extensive sewage and water drainage systems also are unique to Indus settlements.

Moving northwards from Harappa and Moenjodaro, come remains of another city that thrived between 518 BC to 600 AD. Around the present day Taxila and a little over 20 miles north of Islamabad, lie the remains of the an ancient city whose actual name varies from scripture to scripture and from one language to another. "Tashasila" as it was called in Sanskrit gives some idea of the meaning of this name. Sila in Sanskrit means rock or stone . The legend says that the Buddha gave his head in charity to a man at this place . The Chinese called it "Chu-cha-shi-lo". The difficulty of Chinese phonetics with the sila and sira has led to this day to have names around Taxila such as Sirkap, Sirsukh and Margalla. Whatever its actual name. it was the most flourishing of all the cities between the Indus and Jhelum Rivers.

Gandhara and Buddhism are two civilizations that thrived in the northern parts of Pakistan from around the Vedic times and Greco-Buddhism is considered to be the cultural syncretism between the culture of Classical Greece and Buddhism, which developed over a period of close to 800 years in the area corresponding to modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, between the 4th century BCE and the 5th century CE. Greco-Buddhism influenced the artistic (and, possibly, conceptual) development of Buddhism, before it was adopted by Central and Northeastern Asia from the 1st century CE, ultimately spreading to China, Korea and Japan.
The Persian emperor Cyrus the Great conquered part of the Punjab somewhere around 530 BC, while Alexander the Great conquered area up to Multan before his own troops forced him to turn back in 332 BC. Some believe that the "Kafir Kalash" tribe in northern areas of Pakistan (Chitral) are the decendants of those Greek soldiers who married the locals and left their imprints behind. The "Kalash Country" is spread over three Valleys; Bomboret, Birir and Rumbur.

A travel from down south in Sind to the final frontiers in the north of Pakistan unfolds these civilizations. There are remains, a reflection of people and their aspirations who once lived and left their imprints for us to follow them back and learn things which may still be unknown to us. As archiologists still find themselves at a loss and confess that the Indus civilization is still poorly understood. Its writing system, read right-to-left, and only occurs in short texts of a few signs (usually less than 10, and never above 17) remains un-deciphered (2500 texts have been discovered, but only 400 signs deciphered so far), and the causes of its sudden disappearance, beginning around 1900 BC have never been dug into. Hence no one knows what these people called themselves. All of these facts stand in stark contrast to what is known about its contemporaries, Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt.

May be someday some sudden light flashes out of the remains of these dormant remains and provide us the insight of these once great people.