Sindh seeks return of Moenjodaro’s Dancing Girl from India

Published February 2, 2014
A photo of a replica of the Dancing Girl— File Photo courtesy of creative commons
A photo of a replica of the Dancing Girl— File Photo courtesy of creative commons

KARACHI: As Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s Sindh Festival has turned people’s attention towards the culture and civilisation of Sindh, the provincial government is sending a request to Islamabad for asking India to return the famous statue of the Dancing Girl, which is in possession of the Indian authorities since 1946.

“We are writing to the federal government to help us repatriate our exiled heroine back to us from India,” a member of the Sindh cabinet told Dawn.

The two most famous artefacts belonging to Moenjodaro, regarded as one of the world’s most ancient planned cities, are the King Priest and the Dancing Girl.

Officials said the two relics had been transported by British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler to Delhi in 1946 to be put in an exhibition and had remained there since then.

In 1947 after the partition of the subcontinent, the Pakistani authorities asked New Delhi to return the two relics along with several others including the Fasting Buddha.

A Pakistani official had visited Delhi and succeeded in getting hold of the King Priest and the Fasting Buddha. But the Indians refused to hand over the 10.8cm dark bronze statuette of the Dancing Girl. It has inspired many explorers to write over the decades dossiers on the history it was a witness to and reflections it offered about the role of women in the society millennia ago when it was not under patriarchal dominance.

There is a popular legend which said the Indian authorities had refused to hand over both the Moenjodaro relics and offered the Pakistani authorities to choose from the King Priest and the Dancing Girl.

“The Pakistanis chose the King Priest made up of soapstone. Perhaps they were hesitant to get hold of a naked teenager to avoid a possible backlash from religious quarters,” an official observed.

The King Priest — a bearded man wearing an Ajrak-like cloth with hair neatly combed back — is widely speculated to be the ruler of the city.

Experts said they had repeatedly requested previous governments to try to take possession of the Dancing Girl, but no one took any interest.

“It is good to see the government is seriously pursuing this matter,” said a provincial government official who previously worked in the archaeology division.

Archaeologists said under the UNESCO Convention of 1972, the original owner of any artefact is the country where the relic was found.

Qasim Ali Qasim, director of the provincial archaeology department, said since the federal government was a signatory to the UNESCO convention, the Sindh government would have to ask Islamabad, which could send a request to the world cultural organisation to get the things rolling.

He said Islamabad’s efforts in 2009 brought back 13 artefacts belonging to the Gandhara civilization from several countries and same could be done for the figurine wearing bangles all the way up in one of her arms, which is still a common sight in Thar Desert.

“The Dancing Girl belongs to us and everyone knows it.”

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