She’s small, barely 10.5cm tall, made of bronze and estimated to be around 4,500 years old, the last 67 years of which have been spent in the National Museum in Delhi. But she has fascinated archaeologists and historians ever since she was found in Mohenjodaro in 1926 with her easy confidence and poise, one hand resting on her hip, the other hanging down to her knee.
But now the Dancing Girl is at the centre of a cross-border tug-of-war with the Pakistan government planning to write to India to ask for her return. But the Indians maintain that she is in India as a result of a well-thought out division of Indus Valley relics after Partition.
The demand was raised by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, at a festival organised at Mohenjodaro, the archaeological site of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation, which is located in his home province of Sindh. Reports from Pakistan quoted unnamed officials saying that the statue, along with another iconic Mohenjodaro figure of the Priest King, had been taken to Delhi by British archaeologist and then director general of Archaeological Survey of India, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, in 1946 on an exhibition. After Partition, Pakistani officials said, Pakistan had asked for the return of both, but India had given back only the ‘Priest King’ statue.
When contacted, V Venu, director general National Museum, said, “The Pakistanis, to the best of my knowledge, have sent no letter.”
But the case may not also be as simple as that. According to Nayanjot Lahiri, professor of history at Delhi University, there was a 50:50 division of ancient relics after Partition. “There were nearly 12,000 artifacts from Mohenjodaro in India at the time of Partition,” she says and their fate was decided by the Partition Council set up to iron out the administrative issues that arose after Partition.
Mohenjodaro was in Pakistan and, by the principle of territorial division that the Partition Council agreed on, the artifacts should have gone back to that country. But it was also decided that for artifacts that were given on loan they would only be given back if these had been removed from the museum they had been originally housed in after January 1, 1947. These didn’t apply to the relics from Mohenjodaro which had been taken from the site museum in Sindh to Lahore in 1944 by Wheeler who wanted to concentrate all Indus Valley artifacts in one place. And so India laid claim to the statues, seals, potshards and other relics of Mohenjodaro.
“Eventually, however, a sense of equity arising from the belief that this was as much India’s heritage as it was Pakistan’s prevailed and the Partition Council decided to divide all relics from
Mohenjodaro, Chanhudaro and Taxila in half,” says Lahiri.
And so everything was divided into two — even four priceless necklaces from the period made of gold, jade and other precious materials that were broken up and the beads divided exactly in half, says Lahiri. The Dancing Girl’s lot fell to India, while the Priest King went back to Pakistan.