What Is Wrong With The Local Name Of Mohenjodaro?

What Is Wrong With The Local Name Of Mohenjodaro?
Who does not know about Mohenjodaro? It is one of the most famous ancient cities in the world. The archaeological site of Mohenjodaro, which shows the remains of an urban centre of the ancient Indus Civilisation, lies on the right bank of the River Indus in the Larkana district of the Sindh province of Pakistan. It is one of my favourite places. Whenever I go to Larkana I visit Mohenjodaro along with a dear friend of mine Aftab Ali Hulio who lives in a village nearby the archaeological site. I became interested in Mohenjodaro during my undergraduate studies, and later did my undergraduate and Master’s research projects on its archaeology and portrayal in Pakistan. In the course of my research, I came to know that the local name of the site has been rewritten and reinterpreted over and over again since its discovery in the early 20th century. I always think, what is wrong with the local name of the site and why it has been rewritten frequently.

Bilingual Sindhi-English signboard in which Mohenjodaro is written in Sindhi as “موهين جو دڙو” meaning “the fascinating/attractive mound”

Cover of a book on Mohenjodaro written in the Sindhi language, showing the name of the site written as Mohan Jo Daro

The name Mohenjodaro is wrongly defined and/or translated as “the mound of dead”. I was discussing this issue with Aftab, my companion to Mohenjodaro, on our last visit to the site in March 2019. We were walking towards the Stupa Mound and to its entrance we came across a bilingual Sindhi-English signboard containing information about the Indus Civilization. I noticed a new spelling of Mohenjodaro on the signboard. In the Sindhi text, Mohenjodaro was written with a new spelling that I did not find in the previous publications. So, I requested my friend that before continuing our journey to the ancient city, we should first ask the curator/custodian of the site about this new Sindhi spelling of Mohenjodaro.

Ihsan Ali, the curator and custodian of the Mohenjodaro site, informed us:

“The department has made a decision to write the name of the site as موهين جو دڙو (Mohenjodaro)."

About its meaning, he said that Mohenjodaro means “the fascinating/attractive mound.” I requested him for the official document on this, as issued by the department, but, as he said, it was not available at the site office.

And we started walking towards the city’s remains. My friend asked, “Is the site attractive?”

Title page of BM Advani’s book Mahan-Jo-Daro

“It is, because, as you see, it is always swarming with tourists,” I replied. He then pointed to this new name of the site and its meaning, saying that it is not part of local people’s memory. “They just call it Mohenjodaro, no one knows about its meaning,” he was wondering. I surprised him by informing him that this is not the first time that the name of the site is rewritten and given a specific meaning, it has been called by different names since its discovery.

For example, in the earlier works, it was written as Mohen-ji-Mari (مُهين جي ماڙي) and Mohenjodaro (مُهين جو دڙو). The word “Jodaro” or “jo daro” means “the mound of” but the meaning of “Mohen”, according to Anwar Pirzado who was a native of the Mohenjodaro area and a very famous figure among the Sindhi literati, is not known. In his book titled مُهين جو دڙو“”, Pirzado stresses on a point that the site should be called Mohenjodaro (مُهين جو دڙو) because it is the site’s local name and natives of Mohenjodaro area still call it with this name. Meanwhile, Bherumal Mahirchand Advani wrote it as Mahan-Jo-Daro (مهن جو دڙو) in his book of the same title, that was published in 1933, and Dwarka Prasad Rochiram Sharma has also used this spelling in his Sindhi book Parachin Sindhi Sabhita Jo Nazaro. In his book, Advani writes:

[…]the word maho ماهو (Formative singular mahay ماهي, plural mahan ماهن or مهن) means “killing”, “slaying”, or “slaughter”, being derived from the Sanskrit root mush (Prakrit muh) “to kill”, or “destroy.

Signboard of the canteen mentioning the official name of the site as Moen-jo-daro (موئن جو دڙو)

In Sindhi, Daro signifies ‘a mound’, and with jo, the genitive suffix, the word Mahan-jo-Daro means, the “Mound of the Killed.” He also sees it in the light of the folk story of a lecherous Raja Dalurai, a Hindu king who ruled over Sindh in the past. Furthermore, the most popular names of the site are Mohanjodaro or Mohen-jo-daro (موهن جو دڙو) and Moen-jo-daro (مئن جو دڙو or موئن جو دڙو). The latter has the meaning of “the mound of the dead” and, according to Ihsan H. Nadeem, it was officially adopted in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. On the other hand, the name Mohanjodaro or Mohen-jo-daro (موهن جو دڙو) first appeared in the book entitled Mohenjodaro by CL Mariwalla. He related it to the legend of the city associated with a king named Raja Mohan, and he writes that the site was named Mohanjodaro, which means “Mound of Mohan” – after Raja Mohan. The different version of this folk story is given in Anwar Pirzado’s book on Mohenjodaro.

Cover of Ali Baba’s Sindhi novel Mohan Jo Daro

Keeping in view the nomenclature of Mohenjodaro, it can be said that all names given to the site are new and, except for the Mohenjodaro and Mohanjodaro (موهن جو دڙو), all of them reflect the same meaning: the mound of the dead. This site of the ancient city of the Indus Civilisation is known to the local people as Mohenjodaro (مُهين جو دڙو). Interestingly, this local name Mohenjodaro has no meaning; where it came from, what it means, no one knows. Nothing can be said about whether it is ancient or not.

No one knows about the ancient name of the city because the script of the Indus Civilisation is not known. It is only with the decipherment of the Indus script the names of the Indus cities, including Mohenjodaro, will be revealed. Since nobody on Earth knows about the ancient name of the city, what is wrong with calling Mohenjodaro – i.e. by the name it is known to the local people?