MOHENJODARO: An inaugural festival, aimed at commemorating the cultural heritage of Sindh, has started at the ancient city of Moenjodaro on Saturday.
Earlier on, hundreds of people arrived at the heritage site to participate in the festival.
“This evening, the entire world will be sent a message that we are capable of taking care of our own heritage,” said Saqib Ahmed Soomro, secretary of the Sindh government’s Culture Department.
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the patron-in-chief of the ruling party in Sindh, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is organising Saturday night's event at Moenjodaro, where one of the largest settlements of the Indus Valley civilisation existed almost five thousand years ago.
Bilawal, clad in a black jacket over an off-white traditional Pakistani shalwar qameez dress, arrived Saturday in a caravan of four vehicles along with his sister Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari.
A number of foreign visitors, some wearing traditional Sindhi Ajrak outfits, were also among the guests.
Performers queued up to pass through security gates, with an equally large number of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) top leaders also waiting for entry.
The ceremony was being attended by former prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf, several lawmakers and diplomats, as well as members of foreign media organisations, among others.
Organisers said there were seating arrangements for 500 people at the invite-only strictly-guarded event near Larkana, some 400 kilometers north of Karachi.
“Strict security arrangements have been put in place with over six thousand security personnel performing security duties,” said Iqbal Mehmood, the additional inspector-general of Sindh Police.
The festival drew controversy when archaeologists said they fear the stage and other event infrastructure could damage the delicate mud ruins at the Unesco World Heritage site known as the world’s oldest planned urban landscape built around 2600 BCE.
The provincial government claims that the work on the event infrastructure has been undertaken by archaeological experts and has ensured that no harm comes to the archaeological site.
“We have done all the work very much to international conservation standards,” said Saqib Soomro.
The Sindh High Court on Thursday ordered the provincial culture department to ensure no harm comes to Moenjodaro’s archaeological treasures.
“It is nothing but insanity,” said archaeologist Asma Ibrahim, who is a member of the Management Board for Antiquities and Physical Heritage of the Sindh government. She says the stage and sound and light show could damage walls.
Farzand Masih, another senior archaeologist who heads the University of Punjab's archaeology department, said he was not attending the festival in protest.
One of the guests, Anwar Baluch, 20, said he saw the ruins first time. “It is a memorable visit as I had not seen Mohenjodaro earlier,” he said.
Moenjodaro, meaning Mound of the Dead, is on UNESCO's list of world heritage sites.
Excavations since 1922 have uncovered only one-third of the site, the organization's website says. A UNESCO campaign ending in 1997 raised money to protect the site from flooding and to control the ground-water table.
Following the opening ceremony at Moenjodaro, the 15-day event will continue from Sunday, February 2 at the Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim Park, Karachi, and will end on February 8.
—With reporting by Asif Mehmood from Moenjodaro