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Mohenjo Daro – A racial assault

Rajan Kumar says that Mohenjo Daro, to be released on 12 August, is a shrewd attack on India’s tribal tradition and culture and should be banned. Why the Censor Board, which makes cuts and alterations in films at the drop of a hat, did not stop the release of this anti-history film is anybody’s guess

hrithik-mohenjo-daro-still (1)
Hrithik Roshan in a still from Mohenjo Daro

On 9 August, the world will celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People and the Tribals of India, having celebrated the day, will start preparing for the Independence Day. In between, on 12 August, a film that brands Tribals as villains – a decidedly intolerable and unacceptable proposition – will be released.

Ashutosh Gowariker’s film Mohenjo Daro, based on the world’s oldest and greatest civilization – the Indus Valley Civilization – has already drawn bitter protests. Tribal organizations have registered complaints with the police against the film in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Right from the village to tehsils to districts to social media, Tribals have reacted angrily to the film. The film shows Aryans as the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization. In the film, the Aryan hero Sharman (Hrithik Roshan) destroys the kingdom of villain Maham (Kabir Bedi, who has been given the look of Mahishasur). In the trailer of the film, Sharman appears to be the lover of Maham’s daughter Chani (Puja Hegde).

Demand to ban Mohenjo Daro

Adivasi Evam Vishesh Pichhdi Janjati Vikas Sansthan based in village Dahi, Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh – a registered organization – has issued a press statement opposing the film. President Chandraprakash Thakur, Vice-President Praveen Kumar Nagarchi, Secretary Ramlal Marai, Treasurer Tokeshwar Singh Netam and Joint Secretary Somnath Mandavi said in the statement that the film has portrayed Bhainsasur (Mahishasur), who is revered by the indigenous inhabitants, as an object of hate, and that it insults and demeans the ancient civilization and should be banned.

The case against the film

mahsoba temple
A Masoba temple in Kalyan, Maharashtra. Mahishasur is known as Mahsoba in the state. Photo: Sudhir Maurya

The Gondwana Youth Force and Gond Mulnivasi Adivasi Samaj, Nagpur, have submitted a memorandum to the district collector and police commissioner demanding a ban on the screening of the film. The memorandum said that the film, by portraying Mahishasur, the deity of Tribals, as a villain had insulted the Tribals and was hurtful to their religious sentiments, which is a crime in a democracy. The Mulnivasi Samaj has warned that if the film is not banned, the Tribals will take to the streets. The delegation which met the two officials included Santosh Dhurve, Kishore Varkhede, Anil Kumre, Pintu Markam, Bhupesh Sirsam, Kapil Kotnake, Prahlad Uike, Anil Uike, Vadmeji and Ravi Kangale of the two organizations and Dr Naresh Korti and Dr Bhupendra Uike of Adivasi Vidhyarthi Sangathan and Vidarbha Tribal Doctors’ Association, respectively.

Voices of opposition on social media

A.K. Pankaj, poet, author, journalist and expert on Tribals from Jharkhand, wrote on his Facebook page, “Mahishasur is the villain in Mohenjo Daro! After history and literature, now this film will be used to peddle the falsehood that Aryans populated Mohenjo-daro. Kabir Bedi is the villain of the film and he is in the get-up of Mahishasur.” Senior writer Vinod Kumar, while questioning the intent of the makers of the film, wrote: “ Mohenjo Daro or Mohenjo-daro will once again make a mockery of history. This ancient city of the Indus Valley Civilization is believed to have been built by the Tribal and Dravidian people. The fair-skinned and blue-eyed Hrithik does not seem to be a resident of that city from any angle.”Dr Hiralal Alawa, national patron of Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti, warns, “The film Mohenjo Daro distorts the history of Tribals. It shows Tribals as villains. The film hides historical facts and gives precedence to mythological tales. The tribal community will not tolerate this. The Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti and the entire Tribal community condemn the film. If it is released, we will oppose it with our full might.” Ravindra Perwa, Tribal thinker from Rajasthan, writes, “The film has become controversial over the portrayal of the history of Tribals. Had the filmmaker read the article by Henry Heras (1888-1955), the founder of Heras Institute at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, titled Mohenjo Daro: The Peoples and the Land published in the Indian Culture Journal, 1937, he would have made a much better film. The article says that Mohenjo-daro was populated by Meena, Bhils, Kols, etc.”

Mohenjo daro still
Hrithik Roshan and Pooja Hegde play the lead roles in Mohenjo Daro

Dr Narayan Singh Netam writes, “This act of the filmmaker should be considered as playing with a thing of international importance and should be tried for treason”. Questioning the historical correctness of the film, Pankaj Dhruv writes, “The film shows the people of that era as fair-skinned, whereas there is historical evidence to suggest that they were dark.” The costumes of the characters are also being questioned. The heroine wears stitched designer dresses while historians say that at that time, women and men used to wear the same kind of clothes but they were unstitched. The upper half of the body was not covered. Women wore only ornaments on the upper half of their bodies.”

The tribal connection of Indus Valley Civilization

Bhuglu Soren, a researcher on the language and culture of Tribals, says that archaeological excavations have indicated that Tribals are closely linked to the Harappan and Mohenjo-daro culture. According to him, two archaeologists discovered the Indus Valley Civilization in 1921, pushing back the history of the Indian subcontinent by around six thousand years. Subsequently, many smaller cities of the civilization were discovered and the inscriptions and copper plates found in the remains of these ancient cities introduced us to the philosophy of their inhabitants. This philosophy is uncannily similar to the philosophy, mythology and imagery of Tribals. Soren says that Nirmal Kumar studied this connection in detail in the 1990s. According to Soren, Nirmal Kumar claimed that he had managed to decipher about 2,500 groups of symbols found in the excavation sites and had reached the conclusion that the Tribals were the true inheritors of the Harappan Civilization.

Asur Republics

Dr Motiravan Kangali deciphered Harappan script using Gondi

P.N. Baiflawat, a Tribal thinker from Rajasthan, says that the Indus Valley Civilization predated the arrival of Aryans in the Indian subcontinent and extended over a vast area covering the undivided Punjab, Sind, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and up to Lothal port in Gujarat. It was spread alongside the banks of Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, Jhelum, Harhawari and Sindh rivers and comprised hundreds of fortresses and towns ruled by “Vatrasurs”. To the east of this fertile land were the Hindukush mountain ranges and Afghanistan. Dr Nawal Niyogi writes in his book Native Culture of India: The Wonder that Was that the Nag and Matsya cultures of the Harappan people had guilds – a sort of federal system of governance, which was manned by artisans and warriors who protected the country. These guilds were sovereign. This “god-king” tradition was in existence not only in India but also in Mesopotamian, Assyrian and Sumerian civilizations. The proto-Dravidian indigenous people were divided into different “ganns”, each with their own totems and sub-divided into Janpads. Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were the centres of this civilization. These ganns disintegrated after the Aryan invasion but they can be identified even today as Gond, Bhil, Munda, Oraon, Santhal, Asur and other tribes. The Gonds moved to the south along with Dravidians while Meenas and Bhils took shelter in the Aravalli mountain ranges. Others made the caves in the Vindhyachal and Satpura mountain ranges their sanctuary. The Asurs moved to the present Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. He says that the Indus Valley Civilization was made up of many republics. Vrittasur ruled over the Saptasindhu Republic. There were 11 other such republics. Mahasur, with whom the Aryans forged familial ties, ruled the second gann, which extended from Kashmir to Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Uttaranchal and Burma. He was rechristened Mahadev and was glorified. Through him, the Aryans established their supremacy over the 12 republics. The third gann comprised the Bhind-Morena and Vindhyachal mountain ranges and its ruler was Shambasur. The fourth gann extended from east Rajasthan to Himachal Pradesh. Banasur was its ruler. The fifth gann, headed by Vrittasur, extended from western Madhya Bharat to Gujarat. The sixth gann was spread over the present Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram and was ruled by Mahishasur. Gayasur, Bangasur, Udishvasur, Madrasur, Keriyasur and Jambkasur ruled the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth gann respectively.

Who were Asurs?

Dr Narven Kasav Tekam, who is a researcher on Asur culture, contends that Asur was a title. All non-Aryans were not called Asurs. It was a title that was conferred on non-Aryans who had some special abilities. It was roughly an equivalent of a leader. In the Pratham Sambu era, those who were equipped with the knowledge and the techniques of bringing about physical, mental, intellectual, social and ecological development and who had an understanding of society and nature were given the title of Asur. It was the Asurs who were appointed Gand Pramukhs, Gandrajs, Gandsevaks, etc. Since the Aryan invaders met mainly these Gand Pramukhs in battle, Aryan literature ended up talking about the battle between Asurs and Aryans (Devs).

The word Asur is made of two words “asu”+ “r”. “Asu” means spirit, capability, ability, etc, while “r” means to flow, to be based in, to be part of, etc. Thus, those who had special capabilities and abilities were addressed as Asurs. His name was appended with the word “Asur”. For instance, Sambhushek was called Mahasur while the hero of the Indus Valley area, who wore the Nag totem, was called Vrittasur, and the one who wore the Mahish totem was called Mahishasur. Balisur, the son (or descendant) of Bali, was called Banasur, Vartasur, etc. Even today, many supernatural powers (“pen shakti”) that the Tribals believe in are named after asurs like Kolhasur, Bhainsasur, Gongosur, etc.

Explanation on the film’s historical authenticity

Talking to IANS about Mohenjo Daro, Hrithik Roshan said, “There is no historical evidence of the existence of this city. The remains unearthed in excavations have told us about it. The excavations have thrown up many different kinds of things on the basis of which various theories were propounded. “How did Gowariker choose one of the many theories?” Hrithik was asked. He said, “Ashutosh picked up one of the theories and made a film based on it. If, after seeing the film, someone says that what is shown in the film about Mohenjo-daro is wrong, he can they say so. There is no evidence to prove that anything is wrong just as there is none to prove that anything is right.”


Taking advantage of the questionability of facts or by choosing one of the many theories the filmmaker has tried to portray Tribals as villains. A mythical history was created through the Puranas and other scriptures, social evils were thrust upon the people and their ancestors were declared villains. Similarly now the TV serials and films are giving a racial colour to history. Why the Censor Board, which makes cuts and alterations in films at the drop of a hat, did not stop the release of this anti-history film is anybody’s guess.

(Mahishasur: Ek Jan Nayak (Hindi) chronicles and explains the Mahishasur movement. Visit http://www.amazon.in/dp/819325841X and get yourself a copy. The English edition will be available soon)

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