I examine the movie ‘MOHENJO DARO’:
- What is true and false about its depictions of history.
- What are the social-political implications.
- How to watch it for entertainment as well as education.
Please watch my talk to develop a Vedic drishti for interpreting this movie-
This critical review was posted on the official web site of MOHENJO DARO movie by director, Ashutosh Gowariker. It has generated over 119,000 views on my Facebook page
Here is an edited transcript provided by HinduPost of the talk above:
First, lets try to understand what is the Indus-Saraswati civilization?
The Indus-Saraswati civilization goes along Indus river (in Pakistan), and the Saraswati river (now disappeared due to tectonic shifts, but satellite imagery proves its existence). Over 2000 towns and cities that were part of this civilization have been discovered – with similarities in architecture, tiles etc. The area covered by this civilization was around half the size of Europe, and it lasted for 4000 – 5000 years. But it is still not fully decoded. The first discovery was made in the beginning of the 20th century : Mohenjo daro in Pakistan, then Harappa, then Lothal, Dholavira in Gujarat etc.
What is known is that this civilization was very advanced. It had 2 storey houses made of bricks (in other ancient civilizations, people used stones), had running water, sewage system, well-planned cities, wide roads…all this at the time of the pyramids and even before. Its technological advancements are well established. For some reason the details of this civilization have still not made it into text books and popular culture.
What is the relation between this civilization and Vedas?
Western Indologists have believed, since the time this civilization was discovered, that the Vedas were developed by Aryans in a foreign country – somewhere North, maybe Europe, maybe the ‘stan’ countries (Uzebikstan, Kazakhstan etc) in Central Asia..they were the Sanskrit speakers who brought the Vedas to Bharat; some say they bought it with violence, others say peacefully. Hence they posit the foreign origins of this Vedic civilization. When the foreigners came to this advanced Indus-Saraswati civilization, Western Indologists say they destroyed it or that they assimilated it into their own culture. Essentially, these foreign Sanskrit speaking, Vedic people merged with these natives – that is the position of Western indologists. The natives worshipped images and had mother/river Godesses…which the Vedic people did not. Out of this mixture, came the caste system because the foreign Aryans wanted to maintain a separation from the locals..this caste-based mixture became known as Hinduism in modern times, but was called something else in ancient times.
The implications of this theory are the North-South divide – they say that the South Indians are Dravidians, while North Indians are predominantly Aryans. It also creates the Brahmin-Dalit divide, because Dalits are told that these foreign Aryans became privileged Brahmins to suppress the native Dalits. So it has political ramifications.
Also, it is said that since the civilization Hindus are proud of is of foreign-origin, and close to Europe/Middle East, what’s wrong if we also assimilate Mughal heritage, and Christian heritage. So what if these culture and their theology are of foreign origin, there is nothing Bharatiya anyway. Some foreign heritage is old, some new.
Some of the common arguments between Western and Bharatiya Indologists are:
1.) Vedas describe horses. Westerners say horses are not found in the Bharatiya sub-continent, hence the Vedas could not have originated here. Bharatiya Indologists say its not true, and there is evidence of horses being native to Bharat too.
2.) Another contested issue is the language spoken by this civilization. Some people say they spoke Sanskrit but it wasn’t written in Devanagri script, and the symbols found all over the Indus-Saraswati sites are another form of Sanksrit; Western indologists say those symbols are not a language at all, but just logos for tribe, trading, privilege etc.; some say it is a proto-Dravidian language out of which Tamil emerged; some say it is linked to West Asian/Mesopotamian languages etc.
Mohenjo Daro – the movie
The movie puts out a disclaimer to say it doesn’t claim to say anything about origins of the Vedic civilization, but that disclaimer passes by in a blur & is just for legal purposes. The movie is taking stands one way or the other, and putting out some messages.
The movie has high production quality. There is surface level Bollywood style entertainment, but also deep subliminal messages about history, language and social structures. Lets find out what these subliminal messages are:
- In the movie, very often when the people are speaking it says in parantheses at bottom the actual language being spoken: Sumerian – from Sumer in the Middle East, Meccan – from Mecca, the birth place of Mohammed, Bukharan – today’s Uzbekistan, Dilmun – Semitic language in Mesopotamia; ancient Sindhi is the only known Bharatiya language mentioned (and Sindhi is known to be derived from Sanskrit). But there is no mention of Sanskrit either implicitly or explicitly.
- The movie has no symbolic presence of Vedic culture like fire rituals, chanting of Om etc. They do have a priest weaing saffron, who does puja to Mother goddess (the river). As per Western Indologists, the foreign Vedic culture was very masculine and did not use images – they worshipped fire etc. The foreign Aryans integrated and digested the local religions to create Hinduism. The movie is showing a period before Vedas have come, before Sanksrit – the issue of how Sindhi is spoken if Sanskrit is not there is left unanswered. Hence the views of Indologists like Steve Farmer, Devdutt Patnaik, Wendy Doniger, Sheldon Pollock etc are being propagated here.
- There is a book called ‘5000 year old Pakistan’ which says that the Harappa-Mohenja daro civilization is part of the Middle East..it is an extension of the Mesopotamian, Sumerian, Egyptian civlizations…it is not part of any Bharatiya civilization. Hence, Pakistan which is based on Islam shouldn’t come as a surprise since we (Pakistanis) have been living off the Middle East for long. This movie’s ideas fit into that.
- The traders from the Middle East are portrayed as high-class people, who are given high respect by locals. There are Roman style gladiatoral fights where those punished have to fight huge cannibals. There are whirling dancers, like you see in Turkey today. It shows that the culture of this civilization was a mish-mash, with no single religion or language; so it feeds the idea that we have always been a cross-roads of different people…the movie shows a post-modern, cosmopolitan society which would make present day Bharatiyas proud that we had this ‘Manhattan’ (part of New York City) type city back then where people from all over the world came. None of the spiritual heritage of Bharat like Vedas, Sanskrit, Yoga that we are proud of today, is shown to have existed in the movie.
- All superior things are shown to have come from West to East, and when Mohenjo daro is destroyed, the people move further East where there is empty land until they find a huge river which is named by the hero as ‘Ganga’. So Ganga river was discovered by the refugees from Mohenjo Daro. According to our tradition, Ganga is Goddess, and the river is her manifestation; it was not randomly named by someone.
- Writing: A very important position is taken on the symbols, without it being said. Symbols represent either the King, or different trades (farmer etc), certain symbols in copper are a token of privilege (like a VIP pass). Mohenjo daro has an upper and lower town, and lower class people are banned from the upper class area unless you carry this copper symbol. And in certain cases, the symbols act as receipts or approvals for trading purposes. So this is in line with what Western Indologists have said for the last 20 years – that the symbols from the Indus-Saraswati civilization do not represent any script and that no written language existed then. Amazingly, it is claimed that these people had built very sophisticated cities, with consistent features across space and time, all without writing down their plans, mathematics etc.
- The horse is shown as an animal brought from a foreign country. The idea is planted that horses were not native, hence later on the Vedic Aryans came on horses (Vedas have reference to horses).
- The social structure is shown as very progressive – women are very emancipated, debating etc. There is a feudal system enforced by a bad tyrant, but there is also a senate – where different trading groups are represented. Hence society is shown as progressive, before it gets captured by Vedas and rigid Hinduism.
- Whatever Hindu symbols are shown like the saffron wearing priest, or bhkati puja for some deities, it is not intended as original to Hinduism, but meant to be the universal native elements which were assimilated/digested when the Vedic Aryans later invaded.
- How did Mohenjo daro get destroyed? Some say the earth moved and river disappeared, some say the foreign Aryans destroyed it, but this movie says the cause was a man-made flood. Maybe this will be made to fit it into the Biblical narrative of Noah Ark’s – that door is left open. These people then become refugees and move further East and discover a mighty river which they name Ganga. Hence, the Ganga civilization is shown as a derivative of the Indus-Saraswati civilization, which itself is shown as being an extension of the Middle East.
The research for the movie is good, but of a certain kind. Recent discoveries in Haryana of Indus-Saraswati Valley civilization sites like Rakhigarhi, bigger than Harappa and Mohenjo Daro combined, have been ignored. Birhana, another ancient city site in Haryana, is older than Mehrgarh or any city known in the world – a few thousand years later what emerged out of it is were Indus-Saraswati era symbols, tiles etc – so this is a pre-Indus civilization, which later became the Indus-Saraswati civilization. The movie also ignores the findings in Dwaraka.
So data from the South and East of the Indus-Saraswati civilization is absent. The implication that civilization moved from West to East is not true, since Rakhigarhi and Birhana in Haryana are East of Harappa & Mohenjo Daro. Today, a discovery has been announced of an 11000 year old human settlement in Ladakh. So we need to connect our own dots for the true picture to emerge. Anything to do with Vedic civilization like fire rituals, Yoga, Sanskrit or any written language doesn’t exist in the movie.
Now the director could say that am not trying to teach history, just telling a love story. But my counter to that would be – if you tried to show a love story in the backdrop of the building of the Taj Mahal, where you show Hindu workers being exploited, where the Taj was a Rajput palace that was later remodeled by a conquering Mughal King, it would be controversial. Or if you have a love story with similar family intrigue but in the setting of the Qutb Minar, showing that Hindu temples were broken to build the Qutb Minar and a scene where someone says, ‘break those murtis, put them on the floor so we can walk on them’, or you show Hindu slaves being captured…just a few subtle shots to convey historical, political statements – it would make a huge statement and people would notice it.
So its not so innocent that you are just telling a story – you are telling it in the background of a historical setting. You are conveying a message about language and script through absence of Vedic Sanksrit culture and the repeated presence of West Asian languages like Meccan, Sumerian, Bukharan etc.
This is not a harmful movie, it is an educational movie. It is good entertainment, but watch it with a discerning mind. When you go with friends and family, given them an overview of the Indus-Saraswati civilization and ask them to watch out for certain things so that those watching can notice these subliminal messages for themselves –
What will the movie say about language and writing?
What will it say about horses?
What will it say about Vedic civilization?
(This article represents the opinions of the Author, and the Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content. HinduPost will not be responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information, contained herein.)