Rediscovering Harappa, through the Five Elements
By Fatima Arif
The Indus civilization never fails to intrigue. Every time you revisit you get to see its culture, economy and history from a fresh perspective. A window to this culture is the Harappa archaeological site which contains ruins from the Cemetery H culture and the Indus Valley Civilization, centered in Punjab and Sindh region. Experts believe that the population of the city was approximately around 23,500 occupying an area of 150 hectares.
Part of UNNESCO and Lahore Museum’s collaborative project ‘Inheriting Harappa’, a special exhibition is currently under way at Lahore museum till April, 21. Besides this exhibition, the programme also includes a public lecture series, an internship programme and a school oriented education programme.
The Harappa civilization was at its peak some five thousand years ago and the remains are proof of it. Be it the clay toys, pottery, jewelry, the great baths, drainage systems. All these traits and many other values demonstrated by these remains are the ones that are associated with the definition of modern society, high lighting an egalitarian society promoting social responsibility, civic development and co-existence. Traits that are at times hard to find in the recent times.
Rediscovering Harappa’s exhibit, uses the framework of nature’s five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) to interpret the Harappan material culture. Connecting the artifacts from the era to these natural elements reflects on the harmony that the culture had with nature. It also shows that our ancestors were more connected with their surroundings and had a better understanding of the need for the natural balance, more than what they are credited for. Respecting and using the resources that they were provided in a much more sustainable manner.
Water is the source of life and is best represented by the River Indus that served as the life line of the Harappan culture. Some qualities that are associated with this element include, fluidity, generation, adaptation and receptivity. The fertility of the civilization depended on the seasonal flooding of the mighty Indus. Their understanding of water can be seen by the sophisticated canal and drainage system that they built in a time when technology was non-existent.
The element of earth also represents life; the foundation that provides solidity, strength and stability. It provides the base on which all material things are founded. In the Harappan culture, this is represented through the earth ware, the architectural remains, the grid system and town planning.
Fire is generally associated with aggression. However, in the Harappan civilization it was associated with creative expression. The element of fire is considered to purify and transform the element of earth, by converting it to its higher form. Though there is ample proof of craft tools, but the hardcore weaponry is lacking. Highlight their aspect of co-existence, a trait we are struggling to hold on to.
Air, the fourth element is defined by the term communication. It is considered to take the refined forms produced by fire and connecting them to the complex matrix of social, economic and political intellectual interactions. It represents inter-connectedness and inter-dependence and language is its most potent tool. This is followed by writing, which can be found on earth ware as well as in the form of book compilations. If the script is observed, it hints at high intellect and speed reading as there are no breaks and goes in a flow from right to left and continues from left to right.
Ether, is the element that encompasses all the other four elements, yet it eludes its own definition. It is credited of producing the interactions of the elements, resulting in ideology, religious beliefs, philosophical thinking, customs and practices etc. bringing in the features of abstract and divine.
These elements are presented in a manner that each specific element category is capable of standing along and at the same time gives you a sense of transition and connects with the other elements as well. The artists whose work has been displayed have used timeline murals, maps, descriptive panels, drawings, photographs and pottery replicas.
Among all the artists whose work has been displayed, for me personally the late Muhammad Nawaz, stole the show with his pottery replicas of what was discovered from the ruins. From the line of local potters in 1986, he became an archeology potter after joining the Harappa Archeology Research Project (HARP). Internationally renowned potter, Sheherezade Alam saw many connections with her own work when she saw his work in Karachi. The fact that moved her the most as mentioned at the exhibit was that this man was himself a vessel to revive ancient traditional forms which were still so contemporary. Muhammad Nawaz’s work was showcased in many countries around the globe, highlighting the Harappan culture through it. He suddenly fell ill in 2013 and passed away and now his legacy is shouldered by his nephew Muhammad Bashir.
The mainstream history that we are exposed to does not own our heritage in a holistic manner. Many parts are conveniently swept aside in the name of preserving the nation’s piety. Not sure of the success rate of this ‘mission piety’ but there is enough proof to guarantee that we have been cut off from our roots, whose seeds were composed of tolerance and celebration of diversity.
It is important, in fact it is the need of the hour that just events be supported and promoted, as they serve to fill up the gap that is present in our education system. Take your kids, feed their curiosity, let them question and teach them that this too is part of their identity which they should be proud off. Looking at all of these, one is only filled with a sense of pride and a jab at the conscious for the degenerative direction we have taken. All the while claiming to be at the pinnacle of modernization due to break through development and technology that was beyond imagination.
Lord Acton said; “History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.”