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General Studies 1 >> Ancient Indian History



1. Context 

The Dancing Girl figurine discovered in Mohenjodaro in 1926 recently found itself at the centre of controversy.
On the occasion of International Museum Day Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the International Museum Expo in Delhi's Pragati Maidan.

2. Key points

  • During the ceremony, PM Modi also unveiled the Expo's mascot a "contemporised version of the famous Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro.
  • The over 5-feet tall adaptation drew flak from many quarters for distorting the original figure's form.
  • The 4, 500 years old bronze figurine, just 10.5 cm in height, is dark and completely nude except for multiple bangles and a necklace.
  • However, the adaptation mascot has fairer skin and is dressed in a pink blouse and an off-while waistcoat
  • The Ministry said the mascot "was a stylised and contemporise life-size figure inspired from the Daning Girl also to be interpreted as a modern-day Dwarpal or Door Guardian to usher audiences into the experience of Expo".
Image source: Wikipeida

3. Discovering the Dancing Girl

  • The Indus Civilisation (3300-1300 BC with its mature stage dated to 2600-1900 BC), also known as the Harappa-Mohenjodaro Civilisation, had been long forgotten till its discovery was announced in 1924.
  • While sites and artefacts from the civilisation were in discussion since the early nineteenth century, it was not until the 1920s that they were correctly dated and recognised as part of a full-fledged ancient civilisation, much like the ones in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
  • After the initial recognition as an ancient civilisation, a spate of excavations was conducted in the two major sites that were known till then Harappa and Mohenjodaro.
  • The Dancing Girl was discovered in one such excavation in 1926, by British archaeologist Ernest McKay in a ruined house in the "ninth lane" of the HR area of Mohenjodaro's citadel.
  • The bronze figurine sits in the National Museum of India as enthralling visitors in the museum's famous Indus Civilisation gallery.

4. Some Descriptions

  • Over the years, the Dancing Girl has been an object of fascination for archaeologists and historians.
  • Of particular interest has been the pose the woman strikes and what that means.
  • The figurine has "the pleasing stance of a young and spirited woman", historian Romila Thapar wrote in The Penguin History of Early India: From Origins to AD 1300 (2002).
  • Mortimer Wheeler, director of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) between 1944 and 1948, described the figurine as his favourite.
  • John Marshall, Director-General of the ASI from 1902 to 1928 who oversaw the initial excavations in Harappa and Mohenjodaro, described the figurine as a "young girl, her hand on her hip in a half-impudent posture, and legs slightly forward as she beats time to the music with her legs and feet".

5. Inferences that can and cannot be made

  • As Marshall's description suggests, it is the pose that the figurine strikes that have led historians to believe that the woman depicted was a dancer. However, there is no other evidence to support this claim.
  • Recent work on the issue has suggested that the "dancer" label came from readings of Indian history from later dates when court and temple dancers were commonplace.
  • American archaeologist Jonathan Kenoyer wrote in Art of the First Cities:
  • The Third Millennium B C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus (2003) that the dancer label was "based on a colonial British perception of Indian dancers, but it more likely represents a woman carrying an offering".
  • In 2016, a paper by Thakur Prasad Verma in Itihaas, the Hindi Journal of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Claimed that the figurine was, in fact, a depiction of the Hindu Goddess Parvati.
  • The Paper attempted to tie the Indus Civilisation to Vedic Hinduism.
  • This claim has been dismissed by most historians who say there is no evidence to say who the Dancing Girl depicts or whether there was any worship of Hindu Gods in the Harappa Mohenjodaro Civilisation.
  • The inferred from the bronze statuette, though, is the degree of sophistication of Harappan artistry and metallurgy.
  • The Dancing Girl is evidence of the civilisation's knowledge of metal blending and lost-wax casting a complicated process by which a duplicate sculpture is cast from an original sculpture to create highly detailed metallic artefacts.
  • The very existence of a figurine such as the Dancing Girl, indicates the presence of high art in Harappan society.
  • While art has probably been around since the very beginning of human existence, the degree of its sophistication indicates a society's advancement.
  • The Dancing Girl by all appearances is not an object built for some utilitarian purpose artists took a great time to create an artefact of purely symbolic, aesthetic value.
For Prelims: International Museum Day, Dancing Girl, Harappa-Mohenjodaro Civilisation, Mesopotamia, Egypt, National Museum of India, Archaeological Survey of India, 
For Mains: 
1. What is Mohenjodaro's Dancing Girl? Discuss its figurine tells us about Prehistoric civilisation. (250 Words)
Previous Year Questions
1. The famous 'dancing-girl' statue of the Harappan Civilization was made using _____ material.  (SSC JE CE 2020) (Delhi Police Constable  2020)
A. Gold                B. Bronze                 C. Stone                     D.   Terracotta
Answer: B
2. In the Mesopotamian records, which one of the following terms was used for the Indus Valley (Harappans)? (NDA 2017) 
A. Dilmun            B. Meluha           C. Magan                   D. Failaka
Answer: B
3. Which is considered as the oldest civilization of the world? (ACC 121 CGAT 2019)  A.Mesopotamian      B. Egyptian        C.  Harappan           D. Chinese
Answer: A
4. Recently, a series of uprisings of people referred to as 'Arab Spring' originally started from  (UPSC 2014)
A. Egypt              B. Lebanon             C. Syria                     D. Tunisia
Answer: D
5. Where is 'National Museum of India' located?  (Soldier GD 2020)
A. Chennai       B. Bangalore          C. Patna              D. Delhi
Answer: D
6. India’s largest museum is located at (MP Police Constable 2017)
A. Kolkata        B. Chennai        C. Bengaluru         D. Delhi
Answer: A
7. With reference to the art and archaeological history of India, which one among the following was made earliest? (UPSC 2015) 
A. Lingaraja Temple at Bhubaneshwar
B. Rock-cut Elephant at Dhauli
C. Rock-cut Monuments at Mahabalipuram
D. Varaha Image at Udayagiri
Answer: B
8. Who among the following established the Archeological Department? (CGPSC 2018)
A. Lord Curzon        B. Lord Minto        C. Lord Hardinge          D. Lord Chelmsford
Answer: A
Source: The Indian Express

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