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.

Swami Vivekananda in Egypt

The Egyptians entered into Egypt from a southern country called Punt, across the seas. Some say that that Punt is the modern Malabar, and that the Egyptians and Dravidians belong to the same race. 

“The ship is steadily sailing north. The borders of this Red Sea were a great centre of ancient civilisation. There, on the other side, are the deserts of Arabia, and on this — Egypt. This is that ancient Egypt. Thousands of years ago, these Egyptians starting from Punt (probably Malabar) crossed the Red Sea, and steadily extended their kingdom till they reached Egypt. Wonderful was the expansion of their power, their territory, and their civilisation. The Greeks were the disciples of these. The wonderful mausoleums of their kings, the Pyramids, with figures of the Sphinx, and even their dead bodies are preserved to this day. Here lived the ancient Egyptian peoples, with curling hair and ear-rings, and wearing snow-white dhotis without one end being tucked up behind. This is Egypt — the memorable stage where the Hyksos, the Pharaohs, the Persian Emperors, Alexander the Great, and the Ptolemies, and the Roman and Arab conquerors played their part. So many centuries ago, they left their history inscribed in great detail in hieroglyphic characters on papyrus paper, on stone slabs, and on the sides of earthen vessels.

This is the land where Isis was worshipped and Horus flourished.”

–Vivekananda’s Memoirs of European Travel


This extraordinary man was a Hindu monk of the order of the Vedantas. He was called the Swami Vivi Kananda, and was widely known in America for his religious teachings. He was lecturing in Chicago one year when I was there; and as I was at that time greatly depressed in mind and body, I decided to go to him, having seen how greatly he had helped some of my friends.

An appointment was arranged for me, and when I arrived at his house I was immediately ushered into his study.   Before going, I had been told not to speak until he addressed me. When I entered the room, therefore, I stood before him in silence for a moment. He was seated in a noble attitude of meditation, his robe of saffron yellow falling in straight lines to the floor, his head, swathed in a turban, bent forward, his eyes on the ground. After a brief pause, he spoke without looking up.

“My child,” he said, “what a troubled atmosphere you have about you!   Be calm!   It is essential!”

(…)

With the Swami and some of his friends and fol­lowers, I went upon a most remarkable trip, through Turkey, Egypt and Greece. Our party included the Swami, Father Hyacinthe Loyson, his wife, a Bostonian, Miss McL. of Chicago, ardent Swamist and charming, enthusiastic woman, and myself, the song bird of the troupe.

What a pilgrimage it was! Science, philosophy and history had no secrets from the Swami.  I listened with all my ears to the wise and learned dis­course that went on around me. I did not attempt to join in their arguments, but I sang on all occa­sions, as is my custom. 

(…)

One day we lost our way in Cairo. I suppose we had been talking too intently.   At any rate, we found ourselves in a squalid, ill-smelling street, where half-clad women lolled from windows and sprawled on doorsteps.

The Swami noticed nothing until a particularly noisy group of women on a bench in the shadow of a dilapidated building began laughing and calling to him. One of the ladies of our party tried to hurry us along, but the Swami detached himself gently from our group and approached the women on the bench.

“Poor children!” he said. “Poor creatures! They have put their divinity in their beauty. Look at them now!”

He began to weep, as Jesus might have done be­fore the woman taken in adultery.

The women were silenced and abashed. One of them leaned forward and kissed the hem of his robe, murmuring brokenly in Spanish, “Hombre de dios, hombre de diosr (Man of God!) The other, with a sudden gesture of modesty and fear, threw her arm in front of her face, as though she would screen her shrinking soul from those pure eyes.

This marvellous journey proved to be almost the last occasion on which I was to see the Swami. Shortly afterward he announced that he was to return to his own country. He felt that his end was approaching, and he wished to go back to the community of which he was director and where he had spent his youth.

A year later we heard that he had died, after writing the book of his life, not one page of which was destroyed. He passed away in the state called Samadhi, which means, in Sanscrit, to die voluntarily, from a “will to die,” without accident or sickness, saying to his disciples, “I will die on such a day.”

(From ‘My Life’ by Emma Calve. Translated by Rosamond Gilder)