Mohenjo-Daro Was a Feat of Early Urban Planning

by Ali Khan, age 16

According to the Sanskrit Rigveda, a series of ancient Hindu texts, Aryan invaders led by the god Indra, marched into India around 1500 BCE. Indra was known as the “fort destroyer.” The 90 forts and 100 ancient castles worked by Indra’s army were stuff of myth until archaeological excavations in the 1920’s and 1930’s proved otherwise.

Decades later, during the British occupation of India in 1944, Sir Mortimer Wheeler became Director-General of Archeology for India. The British archeologist re-excavated huge mounds of land across territory located in modern-day Pakistan. Almost 100 villages, towns and cities were discovered across a rough triangle. The triangle extended 500 miles up the Indus River and reached 600 miles along the river’s mouth pouring into the Arabian Sea.

Wheeler uncovered two cities revealed to be the twin capitals of the Harrappan Empire: Harrappa in the north and Mohenjo-Daro, meaning “mound of the dead,” to the southwest. This empire was part of the Indus Valley civilization, the largest pre-classical society in the world.

Built around 2500-2100 BCE, the remarkably similar cities, with perimeters of over 3 miles built entirely of kiln-fired brick, made them the world’s largest urban settlements of that time.

Square in outline and laid out along the lines of a grid, Mohenjo-Daro was the first planned city. The city was made up of a dozen main streets between 30 to 45 feet wide. These streets divided the city into 12 blocks. Eleven of the blocks were composed of many close-packed brick houses that made up homes, stores and workshops. The twelfth block, set aside from the main city on a rectangular citadel mound, included chief buildings. These buildings were the Assembly Hall and the Great Bath. There was also the Civic Granary, platforms used for pounding grain and storing wheat and rice.

Most houses had a basic but spacious layout, a style representative of the period’s architecture. Each included a central courtyard and a well that was surrounded by several rooms, with stairs leading to an upper story. Not many houses had doors or windows opening to the main streets, presumably due to privacy, security, or even to keep out noise from outside.

Although most ancient societies were ruled by priests, kings, or living gods, the Indus civilization left no clear evidence of its rulers' idenities. Several figurines representing deities uncovered by archaeologists in Mohenjo-Daro bring up hints that their religion was a precursor to Hinduism. The Great Bath, a brick tank that was used for communal spiritual cleansing led by priests, may have been an influence leading to ritual bathing, a practice, maintained in Hinduism today.

Like many renowned cities, Mohenjo-Daro was built around a river valley. Although the river was a valuable natural resource, the delta plains of the Indus Valley flooded often because they lie below the water table. By 1900 BCE the cities were in decline. This was due either to constant flooding or an exhaustion of the timber supply used to make huge quantities of brick. After scavenging for limited resources, the people of Mohenjo-Daro were no match for the Aryan army.

Although Mohenjo-Daro was an architectural masterpiece and one of the most advanced urban developments at its time, its planners may not have anticipated the many floods of the Indus.

[Source: The Atlas of Mysterious Places]