The Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Civilization - History

The Indus Valley Civilization was an ancient civilization thriving along the Indus River and the Ghaggar-Hakra River in what is now Pakistan and north-western India. Among other names for this civilization is the Harappan Civilization, in reference to its first excavated city of Harappa.

Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Civilization

  • An alternative term for the culture is Saraswati-Sindhu Civilization, based on the fact that most of the Indus Valley sites have been found at the Hakra-Ghaggar River.
  • R.B. Dayaram Sahni first discovered Harappa (on Ravi) in 1921.
  • R.D. Banerjee discovered Mohenjodaro or Mound of the Dead' (on Indus) in 1922.
  • Sir John Marshal played a crucial role in both these.
  • Harappan Civilization forms part of the proto history of India and belongs to the bronze age.
  • Mediterranean, Proto-Australoid, Mongoloids and Alpines formed the bulk of the population, though the first two were more numerous.
  • More than 100 sites belonging to this civilization have been excavated.
  • According to radio-carbon dating, it spread from the year 2500 1750 BC.
  • Copper, bronze, silver, gold were known but not iron.
Sites of Harappan Civilization or Indus Valley Civilization

GEOGRAPHICAL EXTENT

Covered parts of Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, Gujarat, Rajasthan and some parts of Western UP. It extended from Manda in Jammu in the north to Daimabad in the south and from Alamgirpur in W. UP to Sutkagendor in Baluchistan in the west.

Major sites

  • In Pakistan are Harappa (on Ravi in W. Punjab), Mohenjodaro (on Indus), Chanhu-Daro (Sindh), etc. 
  • In India, major sites are Lothal, Rangpur and Surkotda (Gujarat), Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Banwali (Hissar), and Alamgirpur (Westerm UP).
Largest and the latest site in India is Dholavira in Gujarat. Dr. J.RJoshi and Dr. R.S. Bisht were involved in it.

TOWN PLANNING

Elaborate town-planning. It followed the Grid System. Roads were well cut, dividing the town into large rectangular or square blocks. Lamp posts at intervals indicate the existence of street lightning. Fanking the streets, lanes and by-lanes were well-planned houses.
  • Used burmt bricks of good quality as the building material. Elsewhere in the contemporary world, mud-bricks were used.
  • Houses, often of two or more storey, varied in size, but were quite monotonous -a square courtyard, around which were a number of rooms. No window faced the streets. The houses had tiled bathrooms.
  • Good drainage system. Drains were made of mortar, lime and gypsum and covered with large brick slabs for easy cleaning. Shows developed sense of health and sanitation.

The towns were divided into 2 parts:

  1. Upper part or Citadel
  2. Lower Part
The Citadel was an oblong artificial platform some 30-50 feet high and about 400-200 yards in area. It was enclosed by a thick (13 m at Harappa) crenelated mud-brick wall. In Citadel public buildings, granaries, important workshops and religious buildings were there. In lower part people used to live.

In Mohanjodaro, a big public bath (Great Bath) measuring 12 m by 7 m and 2.4 m deep, has been found. Steps led from either end to the surface, with changing rooms alongside. It was probably used for ritual bathing.
Great Bath - Mohenjo Daro Great Bath

Excavations & Excavators

Excavation Site/Place River Year Excavator
Chanhudaro on Indus 1931 M.G. Majumdar
Suktagendor on Dasak 1927 Sir Aurel Stein
Kotdiji on Indus 1955 Fazal Ahmad Khan
Ropar on Satluj 1953 Y.D. Sharma
Bandwali on Saraswati 1973 R.S. Bisht
Lothal on Bhogwa 1954 S.R. Rao
Rangpur on Mahar 1931-53 M.S. Vats, B.B. Lal, S.R. Rao
Amri on Indus 1929 N. G. Majumdar
KAlibangan on Ghaggar 1961 B.B. Lal
Surkotda - 1964 J. Joshi
Alamgirpur on Hindon 1958 Y.D. Sharma

ECONOMIC LIFE

AGRICULTURE

  • The Indus people sowed seeds in the flood plains in November, when the flood water receded, and reaped their harvests of wheat and barley in April, before the advent of the next flood.
  • Grew wheat, barley, rai, peas, sesamum, mustard, rice (in Lothal); cotton, dates, melon, etc. The Indus people were the first to produce cotton.
  • In Kalibangan, fields were ploughed with wooden ploughs.
  • Domesticated animals on large scale. Besides the cattle, cats and dogs were domesticated. Horse wasn't in regular use but elephant was. Remains of horse at Surkotda and dogs with men in grave at Ropar have been discovered.
  • Produced sufficient to feed themselves.
  • Food grains were stored in granaries.

TRADE AND COMMERCE

Well-knit external and internal trade. There was no metallic money in circulation and trade was carried through Barter System.
  • Weights and measures of accuracy existed in Harappan culture (found at Lothal). The weights were made of limestone, steatite, etc and were generally cubical in shape.
  • 16 was the unit of measurement (16, 64, 160, 320).
  • Flint tool-work, shell-work, bangle making, pottery making, etc were practiced. Raw material for these came from different sources: Gold from N. Karnataka, silver and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and Iran, copper from Khetri and Baluchistan, etc.
  • Bead making factory existed in Chanhudaro and Lothal. They were items of export.
  • A dockyard has been discovered at Lothal. Rangpur, Somnath and Balakot functioned as seaports. Sutkagendor and Sutkakoh functioned as outlets.
  • The inland transport was done with bullock carts.
Every merchant or mercantile family probably had a seal bearing an emblem, often of a religious character, and a name or brief description, on one side. The standard Harappa seal was a square or oblong plaque made of steatite stone. The primary purpose of the seal was probably to mark the ownership of property, but they may have also served as amulets.

The Mesopotamian records from about 2350 BC onwards refer to trade relations with Meluha, the ancient name of the Indus region. Harappan seals and other material has been found at Mesopotamia. Also traded with Sumer.
Granary in Mohenjo Daro

ART AND CRAFT

  • The Harappan culture belongs to the Bronze Age.
Bronze was made by mixing tin and copper. Tools were mostly made of copper and Bronze. For making bronze, copper was obtained from Khetri in Rajasthan and from Baluchistan, and tin from Afghanistan.
  • Cotton fabrics quite common. Woolen in winter 
Very fond of ornaments (of gold, silver, ivory, copper, bronze, precious stones) and dressing up. Ornaments were worn by both men and women. Women wore heavy bangles in profusion, large necklaces, ear-rings, bracelets, fingure-rings, girdles, nose studs and anklets. The Harappans were also an expert bead makers.
  • Potter's wheel was in use. Their pottery was red or black pottery. 
  • Played dice games. Their favorite pastime was Gambling.
The Harappans' most notable artistic achievement was their seal gravings, esp. those of animals. The red sandstone torso of a man is particularly impressive for its realism. However, the most impressive of the figurines is perhaps the bronze image of the famous dancing girl (identified as Devadasi), found at Mohenjodaro.
Dancing Girl Devadasi
For their children, they made cattle-toys with movable heads, model monkeys which could slide down a string, little toy-carts, and whistles shaped like birds, all of terracotta.

RELIGIOUS LIFE

Main object of worship was the Mother Goddess. But the upper classes preferred a god, nude with two horns, much similar to Pasupati Siva. Represented on the seal is a figure with three horned heads in a yogic posture. He is surrounded by an elephant, a tiger and a rhinoceros, and below his throne is a buffalo. Near his feet are two deer. Pashupatinath represented male deity.
  • Phallus (lingam) and yoni worship was also prevalent.
Many trees (pipal), animals (bull), birds (dove, pigeon) and stones were worshipped. Unicorn as also worshipped. However, no temple has been found, though idolatry was practiced.
  • At Kalibangan and Lothal fire altars have been found.
Although no definite proof is available with regard to the disposal of the dead, a broad view is that probably there were three methods of disposing the dead - complete burial, burial after exposure of the body to birds and beasts, and cremation followed by burial of the ashes. The discovery of cinerary urns and jars, goblets or vessels with ashes, bones and charcoal may, however, suggest that during the flourishing period of the Indus Valley culture the third method was generally practiced. In Harappa, there is one place where evidence of coffin burial is there. The people probably believed in ghosts and evil spirits, as amulets were worn.
  • Dead bodies were placed in the north-south orientation.
Harappan Seals

SCRIPT

  • The script is not alphabetical but pictographic (about 600 undeciphered pictographs).
The script has not been deciphered so far, but overlaps of letters show that it was written from right to left in the first line and left to right in the second line. This style is called 'Boustrophedon'.

POLITICAL ORGANIZATION

There is no clear idea of the political organization of the Indus Valley people. Perhaps they were more concerned with commerce and they were possibly ruled by a class of merchants.

Also, there was an organization like a municipal corporation to look after the civic amenities of the people.

Sites of Harappan Civilization or Indus Valley Civilization

  1. Harrapa
  2. Mohen-Jo-Daro
  3. Kalibangan
  4. Lothal
  5. Chanhu-daro
  6. Alamgirpur
  7. Kot-Diji
  8. Amri
  9. Ropar
  10. Banwali
  11. Surkota
  12. Suktagendor
  13. Rakhigarh
  14. Dholavira
  15. Balakot
  16. Nageshwar

IMPORTANT HARAPPAN SITES

1. Harappa

Excavations at the site have led to following specific findings:
  1. Two rows of six granaries with brick platforms; 
  2. 12 granaries together had the same area as the Great Granary at Mohenjodaro;
  3. Evidences of coffin burial and cemetry 'H' culture (two antelopes and the hunter on a postherd from a cemetry have been discovered;
  4. Single-room barrack;
  5. Evidence of direct trade interaction with Mesopotamia;
  6. A red sandstone male torso;
  7. Stone symbols of female genitals.

2. Mohenjo-daro

Some of the specific findings during the excavations of Mohenjodaro include:
  1. a college, a multi-pillared assembly hall;
  2. the Great bath-(the most important public place of the city);
  3. a large granary (the largest building of Mohenjo-daro);
  4. a piece of woven cotton along with spindle whorls and needles;
  5. superficial evidence of horse;
  6. a pot-stone fragment of Mesopotamian origin;
  7. evidence of direct trade contact with Mesopotamia,
  8. a bronze dancing girl;
  9. evidence of violent death of some of the inhabitants (discovery of human skeletons put together);
  10. a seal representing Mother Goddess with a plant growing from her womb, and a
  11. a bearded man; and woman to be sacrificed by a man with a knife in his hand;
  12. a seal with a picture suggesting Pashupati Mahadev.

3. Kalibangan

Kalibangan was an important Harappan city. The word 'Kalibangan' means 'black bangles'. A ploughed field was the most important discovery of the early excavations. Later excavations at Kalibangan made the following specific discoveries.
  1. a wooden furrow
  2. seven fire-altars' in a row on a platform, suggesting the practice of the cult of sacrifice;
  3. remains of massive brick wall around both the citadel and the lower town (the second Harappan site after Lothal to have the lower town also walled);
  4. bones of camel;
  5. a tiled floor which bears intersecting design of circles;
  6. a human head with long oval eyes, thick lower lips, receding forehead and straight pointed nose;
  7. evidences of two types of burials: (a) burials in a circular grave and (b) burials in a rectangular grave

4. Lothal

Lothal was an important trade centre of the Harappan culture. the town planning in Lothal was different from that of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. The city was divided into six sections. Each section was built on a wide platform of unripe bricks. Each platform was separated by a road with width ranging from 12 feet to 20 feet. Excavations at Lothal led to some specific discoveries which include:
  1. remains of rice husk (the only other Harappan city where the rice husk has been found is Rangpur, near Ahmedabad);
  2. an artificial dockyard;
  3. evidence of horse from a doubtful terracotta figurine;
  4. impressions of cloth on some of the seals;
  5. evidences of direct trade contact with Mesopotamia;
  6. houses with entrances on the main street (the houses of all other Harappan cities had side entries)
  7. a ship designed on a seal;
  8. a terracotta ship;
  9. a painting on a jar resembiing the story of the cunning fox narrated in the Panchatantra,
  10. evidence of double burial (burying a male and a female in a single grave);
  11. evidence of a game similar to modern day chesS; and
  12. an instrument for measuring 180, 90" and 45° angles (the instrument points to modern day compass).

5. Chanhu-daro

Excavations at Chanhu-daro have revealed three different cultural layers from lowest to the top being Indus culture, the Jhukar culture and the Jhangar culture. The site is specially important for providing evidences about different Harappan factories. These factories produced seals, toys and bone implements. It was the only Harappan city without a citadel.

Some remarkable findings at Chanhu-daro include bronze figures of bullock cart and ekkas; a small pot suggesting an kinkwell, footprints of an elephant and a dog chasing a cat.

6. Alamgirpur

Alamgipur is considered the eastern boundary of the Indus culture. Although the wares found here resemble those at other Harappan sites, other findings suggest that Alamgirpur developed during late-Harappan culture. The site is remarkable tor providing the impression of cloth on a trough.

7. Kot-Diji

Kot Diji is known more as a pre-Harappan site. It gives the impression of a pre-Harappan fortified settlement. Houses were made of stone. The remains of Kot-Diji suggest that the city existed in the first half of the third millennium BC. Excavations at the site suggest that the city was destructed by force.

8. Amri

Amri also gives evidences of a pre-Harappan settlement. However, it lacks the fortification plan of the pre-Harappan phase. A spectacular feature of Amri is that it gives the impression of existence of transitional culture between pre and post-harappan culture.

Important findings at Amri include the actual remains of rhinceros; traces of Jhangar culture in late or declining Harappan phase and fire altars.

9. Ropar

Ropar is a Harappan site from where remains of pre-Harappan and Harappan cultures have been found. Buildings at Ropar were made mainly of stone and soil.

Important findings at the site include pottery, ornaments, copper axes, chert blades, terracotta blades, one inscribed steatite seal with typical Indus pictographs, several burials interred in oval pits, and a rectangular mud-brick chamber.

There is also an evidence of burying a dog below the human burial (Though the practice was prevalent in Burzhom in Kashmir, it was rare in the Harappan context).

10. Banwali

Situated in Hissar district of Haryana, Banwali has provided two phases of culture during its excavations; the pre-Harappan (Phase D and the Harappan (Phase I). Though phase II belonged to the Harappan period, chess-board or grid pattern of town planning was not always followed as in other Harappan sites. The roads were neither always straight, nor did they cut at right angles.

It also lacked another remarkable feature of the Harappan civilization- a systematic drainage system. A high quality barley has been found in excavations. Other important material remains include ceramics, steatite seal and a few terracotta sealings with typical Indus script.

11. Surkotada

Situated in Kutch (Bhuj) district of Gujarat and excavated by J.P Joshi in 1972, Surkotada was an important fortified Harappan settlement. The site is important particularly because it has provided the first actual remains of horse bones. A cemetery with four pot burials with some human bones has also been found. A grave has been found in association with a big rock, a rare finding of the Harappan culture.

12. Suktagendor

Suktagendor, situated in Sindh (Pakistan), was an important coastal town of the Indus civilization. Excavations of Suktagendor have revealed a two-fold division of the township: the Citadel and the Lower City. It is said that Suktagendor was originally a port which later cut off from the sea due to coastal uplift.

END/DECAY

The Harappan culture lasted for around 1,000 years. Invasion of the Aryans, recurrent floods, social breakup of Harappans, Earthquakes, etc are listed as possible causes.