Reflections on the Dancing girl of Mohenjo-Daro

The Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro: An Impression (2020)

The Dancing Girl is a bronze figurine discovered in the ruins of the ancient Harappan city of Mohenjo-Daro by archaeologists in 1926. Dated c. 2300-1750 BCE, the Dancing Girl—who is pictured nude in a self-assured pose, her arms and bracelets encircled with metal bangles, her hair wrapped in a bun to the side of her well-shaped head—is presently housed in the National Museum in New Delhi, India. The statuette is cast using the lost-wax method, where the mold is first created with clay and wax before tin and copper (bronze is an alloy) are poured in. Smelting was discovered in the Indus Valley around 4500B.C, based on equipment exhumed from the site.

It is well known that the Harappan integration gave birth to what is presently known to be the first urban complex in Southern Asia, though its origins continue to fascinate researchers. Evidence has been unearthed connecting Harappan civilization to Sumeria, Nubia, and other parts of Western Asia and Africa. Harappan bronze works, like the Dancing Girl, blend copper with tin. Some copper alloys use arsenic, and varying amounts of zinc, lead, sulfur, iron, and nickel. Some archaeologists have suggested that copper was not native to Harappa but rather imported into its cities. Studying her Negroid features, one scholar pondered: was the dancing girl of Mohenjo-Daro a Nubian?

That the dancing girl resembles a Nubian women is a reasonable claim given that civilizational and commercial communication between prehistoric African and Asian settlements through Sumeria and Oman is highly possible. In fact, this connection may also explain copper metallurgy in Harappa: copper was mined in Nubia during the time in addition to other parts of Western Asia and Africa. A settlement discovered at Buhen near the 2nd cataract, where Egyptian and Nubian pottery artifacts were found, may have been a “base for trade or copper working during the Egyptian Old Kingdom (2686–2125 BC),” which falls within the same time frame as Harappan civilization.

Or perhaps, was she Dravidian? Scholars have connected the Indus script to Sumerian, ancient Dravidian, and other language, studying cultural and commercial connections, though more comparative linguistic work remains to be done. Those who maintain the Dravidian thesis have made a strong case suggesting that there was a Dravido-Harappan colonization of Central Asia, and positing Iran as the “epicenter” of Dravidian dispersal. They point to linguistic links between Proto-Dravidian and Elamite, for instance. W.E.B Du Bois argues that “Before the year 4000 BC there is evidence that Negroid Dravidians and mongoloid Sumerians ruled in southern Asia in Asia minor and in the valley of the Tigris Euphrates.”

Still yet, there may be connections of Harappa to the Nubian and Egyptian civilizations of Africa and perhaps Sub-Saharan Africa and West Africa. There is a great deal of evidence linking the civilization of Nubia to the Dravidian civilization of India. Swami Vivekananda, a nineteenth-century Hindu monk who traveled to Europe, America, and Africa noted that the civilization of Egypt was connected to the southern Dravidian civilizations of India. As he argued, “The Madras Presidency is the habitat of that Tamil race whose civilization was the most ancient, and a branch of whom, called the Sumerians, spread a vast civilization on the banks of the Euphrates in very ancient times; whose astrology, religious lore, morals, rites, etc., furnished the foundation for the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations; and whose mythology was the source of the Christian Bible. Another branch of these Tamils spread from the Malabar Coast and gave rise to the wonderful Egyptian civilization, and the Aryans also are indebted to this race in many respects.”

Prehistoric Egyptian civilization, it is worth remembering, was established, in part, by Nubians. Nubia is as old as Egypt if not older. Kings of Nubia conquered Egypt, presiding over it for at least century. There are monuments in Egypt and Sudan built by Nubian rulers including cities, temples, and royal pyramids. These structures are very similar to the architecture of ancient Tamil civilization. Nubia is known for rich gold deposits, in addition to serving as entrepôt for incense, ivory, and ebony, which arrived by way of sub-Saharan Africa and was traded to Egypt and the Mediterranean .

Whether or not Dravidians originate in Nubia, the existence of maritime commerce between Africa and Harappa is highly likely given the existence of preserved full-sized vessels such as the Khufu ship, which was entombed into the Great Pyramid of Giza c. 2500 BC, coinciding with the late Harappan period of the Dancing Girl. Lest our short memory fail us, these civilizations conquered and reconquered each other. As Du Bois writes “When Asia overwhelmed Egypt, Egypt sought refuge in Ethiopia as a child returns to its mother in Ethiopia then for centuries dominated Egypt and successfully invaded Asia.” The link between Africa and Asia, though suppressed in the Western record, has this always been close, and particularly in the prehistoric times.

Nubians, Egyptians, and ancient Dravidians could have easily have crossed over the Arabian Sea, given the advanced boat technology of these linked civilizations. Boats are a central feature of Nilotic civilization as they are of Dravidian cultures of southern India. A comparison of Egyptian boats and boats in Malabar, for instance, reveal a number of similarities in construction and design. The snake boat-races are an important part of the harvest festivals of the southern Indian state of Kerala, to this day. Because boats were used for fishing and for river travel, they were a mainstay of survival in ancient Egypt. Thus, they have a prominent place in Egyptian religion and mythology. Egyptian art routinely depicts boat steering, highlighting their crucial role in Nilotic civilizations. Likewise, the megalithic culture of Africa and Mesopotamia is shared by Dravidians: burial chambers along sarcophagi have been unearthed in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and several other regions in India. These seem to extend through various parts of India. The Aryan civilization introduced the Vedic funerary practice of cremating the dead, attaching lesser importance to the body. They maintained that the soul transcends the body: it neither slays nor is slain, as the Krishna avers in the Bhagvad Gita.

Connecting Negroid Africans and the Negroid Dravidians of India in 1948, W.E.B Du Bois argues in The World and Africa that the black Dravidians established the bases of civilization in India before the Aryan-speaking peoples of the Vedic age, though the Aryans were themselves a range of colors (not “white” as they came to be pictured in Western historiography). Vivekananda also confirms this point, noting that “the Aryans also are indebted to this race in many respects.” Like Dravidians, Aryans were also connected civilizationally to Mesopotamia. For instance, King Darius, the third Persian King of the Achaemenid Empire, referred to himself as “Aryan,” which was a ethno-linguistic identification. Finally, even Dravidian languages today are Sanskritized and groups across India have intermarried and intermixed, suggesting that Aryan and Dravidian civilizations now contain elements of each other—there is no “pure” Aryan or Dravidian. Following the independence and union of India in 1947 against colonial occupation, these two civilizations and the tribes of India are still yet brought closer together, as India continues to forge her destiny in the world. In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi recommended that all Indians learn each other’s languages (as well as English, Persian, and other world languages) while maintaining a national lingua franca and allowing for linguistic innovation and literary creativity. The Aryan theory of race concocted by European imperialism during the nineteenth century is not to be confused with the actual historical record, which remains in dire need of unprejudiced clarification and indeed many thinkers today are undertaking this important working of correcting errors in world historiographic and scientific method.

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