Indus Valley Civilization, also known as Harappan civilization existed on Indian subcontinent around 4500 years ago. [2500 BC – 1750 BC]. It was a highly advanced civilization as many of the excavations show. However after lasting for around 750 years, abruptly we do not find any further traces of civilization. And still there are many speculations and theories about the decline of Harappan Civilization.
Another interesting this is, although many seals are found from this era, with inscriptions on them, the script has not yet been deciphered. Thus a lot remains a mystery for us. And for this reason, it is classified as proto-history.
1.1 Prominent Features of Harappan Civilization
The most important feature of Indus Valley civilization is that it was 1st urban civilization of subcontinent. It belonged to the great tradition where majority of Harappan people were literate as evident from wide reach of Harappan scripts, ports and seals. It was a highly evolved socio-cultural life was important feature as evident from dancing girl image found at Mohenjo-Daro and also from entertainment sources like toys, chess board etc. They were peaceful in nature as no offences or defense weapons has been found. It was a multi-class civilization as revealed from different sizes of houses and difference in grave goods. It was also a multi-ethnic civilization.
Another important feature is that the Harappan people were materialistic and utilitarian. They focused on trade and commerce much more than religion. There was a high level of scientific and technological advancement. It was also a cosmopolitan culture as evidences of lipstick from Channudaro and coffin from Harappa are found. It was a bronze-age civilization and belongs to proto history. It was highly extensive, 20 times bigger than the Egyptian civilization, covering around 13 Lac sq.km area. Large size of urban settlements was there where 30,000-40,000 people lived in Harappan cities.
2. Harappan Art
The artists of this time had fine artistic sensibilities and vivid imagination. The human and animal figures of this period are highly realistic.
2.1 Stone Statues
Bearded man: There is a shawl draped over the left shoulder. He is wearing an armlet in right arm, short beard, half closed elongated eyes (meditative posture). He is recognized as the priest. The statue is made of steatite and it was found in Mohenjo-Daro.
Male torso: The statue is made of red sandstone. It is nude, and more focus is on sensuality and body curves are depicted quiet vividly. It was found in Harappa.
2.2 Bronze Statues
These were made by lost wax technique.
Bronze dancing girl: Found in Mohenjo-Daro, it is 4 inches high. The girl has long hairs tied in bun, left arm is wearing bangles, while right hand is on hip. There is a cowrie shell necklace around neck. And the whole statue is in dancing posture.
2.3 Terracotta Images
These are less refined and were probably used by lower rungs of society. The most important of them is mother goddess. We also find male figures of terracotta and toys of terracotta like wheel, cart, whistles, discs etc.
Plain and painted pottery is found. Red clays was used for pottery making. In coloured pottery, redware would be painted with black geometric and animal designs. Perforated pottery is also found which may have been used to distill alcohol.
2.5 Beads and Ornaments
Ornaments were made from precious metals, gemstones, bone and baked clay etc. Bead factories are found at Lothal and Channudaro. Beads were made from lapis lazuli, quartz, jasper etc. Metals like Gold, Bronze, Copper were also known.
3. Harappan Seals and trade
These were mostly made up of steatite but also that of chert, agate, jasper, copper, terracotta etc. They are found in 2″x2″ dimensions. Every seal has a picture of an animal like tiger, bull, elephant, rhino, goat etc. and some writings in a pictographic script.
3.1 Importance of Seals
They were not used as currency but were used to ensure quality of goods. Some are also in the form of amulets (to wear on arm) perhaps to be used as i-cards. There is no evidence of coins being used and probably wealth was stored in kind (grains, animals etc.) than in cash. Barter system must have been prevalent.
Indus valley also had trade contacts and commerce relations with Mesopotamian civilization as evident from Persian Gulf seal found from Lothal. And Harappan seals also found from Mesopotamian region. Harappans also used Lapis Lazuli (a blue coloured stone) for long distance trade.
3.2 Seals and History
The script on seals reflected the high literacy level of Harappan civilization.
Religious beliefs are also depicted as evident from Pashupati seal and nature worship depicted by animal seals.
Seals were also used by different associations of merchants for stamping purposes and they were also worn around the neck or the arm.
Seals also indicate dresses, ornaments and hairstyle of people. Skill of artists and sculptors.
3.3 Important Seals
Harappan script was written in a boustrophedon fashion i.e. 1st line from right to left and then next line from left to right….
Pashupati Seal: Depicting a yogi, probably Lord Shiva. He is surrounded by Tiger, Elephant, Rhino, Bull. (TERB Acronym) Under his throne are two dears. The seal shows that probably Shiva was worshipped.
Unicorn Seal: Unicorn is a mythological animal. This seal shows that, at a very early stage of civilization, humans had produced many creations of imagination in the shape of bird and animal motifs.
Bull Seal: Depicts a humped bull of great vigor, the figure shows the high artistic skills and a good knowledge of animal anatomy.
4. Theories of Origin of Indus Civilization
4.1 Theory of Foreign Origin
Tracing roots to Mesopotamian civilization saying that learning from advancement in Mesopotamian civilization was implemented well in Harappan civilization and later on they maintained closer contacts.
4.2 Similarities between Harappan and Mesopotamian Civilization
Use of burnt bricks in both civilization.
Seals and sealings
Predominance of secondary activities and urban base.
Use of Bronze in both civilization
Pillars were existing in houses.
Use of burnt bricks was much dominant in Harappan civilization
Signs of scripts were different. Mesopotamian script has been deciphered but not Harappan.
They had cylindrical seals while Harappan were square or rectangular
Primarily Harappan seals were made up of steatite while Mesopotamian were of clay.
Town Planning was much more organized in Harappan civilization
Bronze of Harappan civilization was inferior quality to that of Mesopotamian civilization.
Harappans used square pillars while Mesopotamians used round pillars.
4.4 Theory of Indigenous Origin
The recent excavations reveal that Harappan civilization marked the evolution from Neolithic age. A N Ghosh discovered SOTHI culture in Bikaner RJ, from which Harappan towns and cities emerged during later periods. The rural communities were transformed into big villages like Mehrgarh (Golan river valley in Baluchistan).
The process of gradual evolution had resulted in a state of agricultural surplus by about 2800 BC. Availability of surplus triggered a number of revolutionary changes and large section of population became involved in art and crafts and trade and commerce. The rapid expansion of Art and Crafts and trade and commerce created new centers which evolved into modern cities like Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro by about 2300 BC the civilization had attained high level of maturity and technological advancement to be called as first urban civilization of the Indian subcontinent.
5. Life in Indus Valley Civilization
It was More egalitarian in nature as no concrete evidence of caste system or caste division found. But class stratification is evident from citadel area, grave goods and burials and different size of houses. Division of labour existed.
Position of women was high evident from mother goddesses statues, women terracotta images, fertility cult worship, many scholars consider that it could have been matriarchal society also.
Highly literate society as evident from scripts on seals and pots were in wide circulation.
Cosmopolitan. Lipstick from Channudaro, Coffin burial from Harappa.
High importance to hygiene and sanitation as evident from wells in Kalibangan and well developed drainage system, rain-water harvesting was also practiced.
Peaceful society as no concrete evidence of weapons or arms.
Double burials @ Lothal may point to system similar to sati system.
It was secular in nature as various religions appear to exist as evident from proto Shiva, nature, female deity worship etc. Fire altars found at Kalibangan and Lothal may be used for religious purposes. Fire worship may be existing. No institutionalized religion as no evidence of temple or similar structure. Religion is more as a private affair. Temples are found in Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization.
Great bath is considered as a place for ritual bathing. Nature worship depicted in seals having animal pictures, fish on seals.
Believed in life after death as evident from variety of grave goods with burials. Religious sign like swastika also can be traced from Harappan civilization.
Superstitious elements also evident as reflected from large number of amulets and armlets found from various figures. e.g. Armlet tried around the right hand of bearded priest.
Image of bearded priest indicate that priestly class may have been present. Pashupati seal found reflects the probable worship of Shiva.
Serpent worship may also have been practiced as evident from serpent images found.
5.3 Political Life
Harappan civilization would have been ruled by certain imperial authority as evident from A) High level of standardization. B) Weights and Measures C) Long period of existence with high uniformity. D) Seals being uniform in nature. E) The structures like Great bath, Citadel, Great granaries etc.
However the character of political authority cannot be definitely ascertained because of A) No evidence of standing army. B) No weapons and arms found. C) No palaces. D) No evidence of imperialism.
Some historians has suggested that the priest king to be the ruling authority because of A) Bearded man figure suggesting priest type existence. B) The great bath found at Mohenjo-Daro suggesting ritual bathing. C) Emphasis on amulets and armlets.
But since the evidence of institutionalized religion in the form of temple or similar structure is absent, there is controversy whether priest king was a ruling authority.
The merchants have been considered to be composing the ruling class because of high emphasis on trade as well as weights and measures which were in interest of the merchant class but this belief is also contested because of features like town planning and great bath which would have hardly been of interest for merchants.
Surplus of food grains as evident from great granaries. Variety of crops like wheat, barley, rice (Lothal, Rangpur). They had good knowledge of soil and seasons. And accordingly they carried out cultivation. Irrigation was also practiced as evident from artificial reservoir at Dholavira and large number of dams and embankments found. Agriculture advancement is evident from ploughed field in Kalibangan and terracotta ploughs from Banavali. Domestication of animals and use of animals in fields as evident from terracotta figures of bull driven cart.
5.5 Trade and Commerce
The flourishing trade and commerce formed the lifeline of Harappan civilization. The values of materialism, utilitarianism emphasizes on profit and in turn decided and dominated all other aspects of their life.
External trade was practiced as evident from Persian Gulf seal found from Lothal and artificial dockyard at Lothal.
Mesopotamian cylindrical seals found from Mohenjo-Daro. Harappan seals are also found at Mesopotamian sites.
Literary sources of Mesopotamia referring to meluhha, identified as Harappa.
The external trade was in favour of Harappan civilization. Gold, Silver, Tin were import items while cotton, food grains, toys, beads, textile were export items.
Routes – Maritime routes existed as evident from dockyards and Persian gulf seal. The painting of boat on Harappan pottery indicated that river navigation was used by people. Inland trade through trans-Afghanistan region.
Internal trade – barter system was practiced. Used to import Gold from Karnataka, Lead from Central India, Sliver from Maharashtra and Copper from Khetri of RJ.
The most important reason behind prosperity of Harappan civilization was agricultural surplus. It allowed them to engage in trade and commerce and pursue art and craft.
5.6 Planned Layout of Harappan Cities
Harappan cities were planned in accordance with chess board and grid pattern.
The main road went from North to South. It was about 10m wide.
The city was divided into rectangular blocks by crossroads which cut main road at right angles.
The Harappan city was divided into 3 parts. 1) Citadel area on the west. 2) Open ground. 3) Lower town.
The important buildings were in Citadel area, lower town was for common people.
5.7 Drainage Pattern
The Harappan people paid a lot of importance on health and hygiene as evident from the drainage system which was quiet remarkable achievement of the civilization.
There was high emphasis on rainwater harvesting as evident from large number of houses owning their own wells and in Kalibangan, every house seem to have underground well, which was connected with the pipes that used to collect rainwater from rooftop.
House drains emptied themselves into the main drains which ran under the main streets and below many lanes. The drains were covered with bricks or stones and were provided with holes at regular intervals for inspection.
Every house had its own soak pit which collected all the sediments and allowed only the water to flow into the street drain.
5.8 Burial Practices of Harappan Civilization
The Harappan practiced 3 main forms of Burials to dispose off their dead bodies. Including 1) Complete burial 2) Fractional burial. 3) Post cremation burial.
Apart from that, regional variations are existing in burial practices. A) From Kalibangan, evidence of pit burial. B) From Surkotada, evidence of pot burial. C) From Harappa, evidence of coffin burial. D) From Kalibangan and Lothal, evidence of double burial.
The items of common use found from graves indicate that Harappans believed in concept of life after death.
6. Decline of Harappan Civilization
6.1 Theory of Sudden Decline due to Aryan Invasion
The supporters of this theory put forward the view that the warring tribe like Aryans came and invaded Harappan cities and people who were peaceful in nature. They cite the evidence of 37 skeletons found from city of Mohenjo-daro saying that there would have been massacre, leading to large number of deaths and devastations.
These historians have also given reference to Rig-Vedic references mentioning Indra as Purandhar (destroyer of forts) and Vritraharana (destroyer of dams). So Aryans have been called as the destroyer of Harappan civilization.
The critical examination of this theory reveals that this theory lacks archeological evidences because there was a gap of at least 250 years between end of Harappan civilization and arrival of Aryans. Arrival of Aryans was not before 1500 BC while Harappan civilization ended by 1750 BC.
The Vedic Aryans led by Indra would have destroyed Harappan forts and dams left behind by people after the decline.
6.2 Theory of Sudden Decline due to Natural Calamity
Many historians have cited the reason of abrupt decline of Harappan due to disaster like flood (as evident from city of Mohenjo-Daro flooded at least 7 times), earthquake, physiological explosion, aridity etc.
These factors could have played role in the decline of the civilization but an extensive civilization spreading across more than 1 million sq. km area cannot be destroyed by one single event/factor.
6.3 Gradual Decline Theory
The recent excavations have brought to light that this great civilization did not come to an end abruptly but its decline was a gradual process spanning across centuries.
The decline of civilization was caused by disturbance of fine balance of agricultural surplus, trade & commerce and art & craft. The civilization continued to flourish till the time balance was intact. And when balance was disturbed, the process of decline commenced.
Overexploitation of resources was the main reason of destruction of balance. A) The intensive agriculture practiced by Harappans would have adversely affected fertility of soil and availability of surplus would have got affected. B) Increase in population would have led to abandoning of urban planning and people during last phases had started building houses in middle of streets. C) Clearing of forests on large scale to get land for housing and agriculture purpose would have disturbed the climatic balance, leading to erratic rainfall resulting in unusual flood in some area and increased aridity in some other. D) Overexploitation of mineral resources would have also resulted in adverse impact on art and craft.
6.4 Decline of External Trade
After 1900 BC Harappan trade with Mesopotamia was no more significant because Mesopotamian records stopped mentioning meluhha identified with Harappan civilization around 1500 BC.
Archeological evidences reveal that some warlike groups had settled in trans Afghan region around 2000 BC which made the trade routes unsafe, leading to the decline of external trade.
This external trade was the main source of prosperity of towns and cities of Harappa. Once external trade stopped, people started moving from cities to neighbouring rural areas, leading to the decline of civilization.
Role of conservative outlook of Harappan people. Their conservatism did not lead them to evolve with the passage of time as the level of scientific advancement, Harappan scripts and tools used by them remained the same over the period of more than 500 yrs. They had failed to meet the greater challenges of urbanization effectively. Hence they declined.
6.5 Nature of Decline
The examination of archeological evidences reveal that the decline of Harappan civilization was the decline of only its urban phase. The associated rural culture had continued to flourish as before.
The emergence of urban centers had resulted in the rise of the civilization and once these centers were no more, the civilization came to an end.
It was a gradual, long drawn phenomenon. starting from 1900 BC and continuing upto 1300.
The trade and commerce centers like Harappa were the first to decline, whereas the manufacturing centers like Channudaro had continued for much longer period.
6.6 Legacy of Harappan Civilization
- Harappan pottery – black and red ware and made from potters wheel. Perforated pottery also found.
- Bronze jewellery. Lost wax technique of casting Bronze statutes.
- Town planning based on grid pattern and is evident even in modern cities like Delhi.
- Rainwater harvesting – it forms base of today’s rainwater techniques like stepwell in GJ, Zing of Ladakh etc.
- Weights and measures and decimal system of measurement and also measurement in steps of 16.
- Swastika symbol forms important part of Hindu worship even today.
- Fire altars found at Kalibangan form the significant part of Vedic culture also and is even continuing today.
- Burial practices. /EW direction. Cemetery H culture is evident even today.
- Great bath of Mohenjo-Daro which focuses on ritual bathing, which forms imp part of Hindu culture even today.
- Tradition of wearing bangles and jewellery in Hindu tradition can even be traced to Harappan culture.
- Nature worship and worship of mother goddess continues in many sects even today in many sects of India.
- Serpent worship.
- Post cremation burial method.
7. Important Facts from Exam Perspective
Early Discoveries of Harappan Civilization
1853 – by A Cunninghum
1921- Daya Ram Sahani – Harappa, R D Banerjee – Mohenjodaro.
It was 1st Indus site to be discovered, situated on banks of river Ravi.
Two rows of six granaries. Largest number of wheat grains found from Harappa.
Dancing sandstone girl statue. Male torso.
Banks of river Indus. Great granary is the largest building of Mohenjo-Daro.
Bronze image of dancing girl with right hand on hip.
Steatite image of bearded man/priest.
3 cylindrical seals from Mesopotamia
Multipillared assembly hall and big rectangular building.
Skeletons from stairs of a well indicating warfare.
Only in the site with artificial dockyard.
Evidence of double burial. (husband and wife).
Cultivation of rice in Lothal and Rangpur.
Copper Dog and Bird found here.
Lothal is known as Manchester of Harappan civilization for its cotton trade.
Sacrificial fire altar both in Lothal and Kalibangan
Only in the site without citadel.
Lipstick found here. (mostly imported).
Banks of river Ghaggar in RJ.
Fire altars more prominent.
Wells are found in every house
Buffalo Bronze statue found.
Bones of horse /otherwise horses were not there in Harappa.
Pot burial evidences.
Largest Harappan site in GJ
Middle town seen only in Dholavira.
Fort within Fort is also unique feature of Dholavira.
Evidences of irrigation and dams found.
Largest number of barley grain found.
Only Harappan city with radial streets.
Largest number of Bronze items including chariot, rhino, elephant, bull etc. on Pravara river bank.
Rakhigarhi is probably the largest site of civilization. (recently found in Haryana).
Haryana has the largest number of sites
Harappa was excavated under John Marshall
In Harappan sites, cultivation of rice in found Lothal and Rangpur only.
Fish symbol is the most represented symbol in pictographs.