Indus Valley Civilization

Indus Valley Civilization

The sensational discoveries made at Harappa in West Punjab and Mohenjodaro in Sind have revolutionised our idea of ancient Indian history. From the meagre evidence it may be concluded that the civilization represented by these two cities commonly known as the Indus Valley Civilization belonged to the first half of the third millennium B.C. Further evidence indicates that they continued well into the second millennium B.C. Sir John Marshall the eminent Indologist opines that the civilization revealed at these two places leads one to the inference that it is not an incipient one but had begun ages earlier with many millennia of human endeavour behind it. The same high authority goes farther and declares that the civilization of India is even superior to that of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The Indus-Valley people were well-acquainted with the use both of cotton and wool. The numerous specimens of pottery, seals, bracelets etc reveal that arts and crafts florished. The people lived a very comfortable life in well built houses and baths. The streets were all well planned and drains regularly drained out. It was essentially urban civilization. The merchant class contributed to the general prosperity and trade contacts seem to have been established with the Sumerian and Mesopotamian civilization of those times. 

There are many unsolved problems relating to the Indus Valley Civilization. For instance numerous seals have been discovered with inscriptions of the figures of animals and names in a script which is undecipherable. Sir John Marshall says that nothing that we know of in other countries bears any resemblance in point of style to the models of rams, dogs or the intaglio engravings on the seals-the best of which are distinguished by a breadth of treatment and a feeling for line and plastic form that have hardly been surpassed in glyptic art. It was not the Aryans who brought civilization to India which is rather untenable stand taken by Indo-Germanic scholars who seem to think that anything good in the world could have come from Aryan Race. 

The most striking deity of the Harappa culture is the horned God inscribed on the seals. Sir John Marshall called this God proto Shiva and this horned god has certainly much in common with the Siva of later Aryan Hinduism. How the Indus Valley Civilization came to an end is still a matter in the realm of speculation. Professpr Childe says that it is possible that the river Indus became inundated and destroyed the cities and villages. It is also possible that climatic changes over a long period reduced the populated part of the land into the barren desert.

Major Cities And Their Features:

Mohenjodaro - Mohenjodaro (Sind) is situated on the right bank of the Indus.

Harappa - Harappa (Punjab, Pakistan) is located on the left bank of the Ravi.

Chanhudaro - Chanhudaro lies on the left bank of the Indus about 130 km south of Mohenjodaro.

Kalibangan - Kalibangan (Rajasthan) was on the banks of the river Ghaggar which dried up centuries ago.

Lothal - Lothal is at the head of the Gulf of Cambay.

Banawali - Banawali (Haryana) was situated on the banks of the now extinct Sarasvati River.

Surkotada - Surkotada (Gujarat) is at the head of the Rann of Kutch.

Dholavira - Dholavira (Gujarat) excavated is in the Kutch district


Mohenjodaro is the largest of all the Indus cities and has a population estimated to between 41,000 and 35,000. The Great Bath of Mohenjodaro is the most important public place measuring 39 feet (length) x23 feet (breadth) x8 feet (depth). Located at the centre of the citadel it is remarkable for beautiful brick work. Its floor is made of burnt bricks set in gypsum and mortar.

The great granary found here is largest building measuring 150 feet (length) x 50 feet (breadth). It is located within the citadel and next to the Great Bath. Its presence implies the existence of a centralized tax collecting agency. There is also present an oblong multipillared assembly hall and a big rectangular building which must have served administrative purposes. In the lower town a particular building identified by Wheeler as the temple has a monumental entrance and twin stairways leading to a raised platform on which was found one of the rare stone sculptures of a seated figure. Within the lower town there are some barrack like groups of single -roomed tenements at Mohenjodaro.


It was the first Indus site to be discovered and excavated in 1921. The Indus civilization was originally called Harappan civilization after this site. The vast mounds at Harappa were first reported by Masson in 1826 and visited by Cunningham in 1853 and 1873. Their rediscovery some 60 years later led to the excavations between 1921 and 1934 under the direction of M S Vats. 

The granaries here are located outside the citadel but immediately next to it in the west. They are a series of brick platforms forming the basis of two rows of six granaries each measuring 50 x 20 feet . These are the nearest buildings to the river and thus could easily be supplied by river transport.

Working floors, consisting of rows of circular brick platforms lay to the south of the granaries and were meant for threshing grain. Barracks or rows of single -roomed tenements are situated just below the walls of the citadel.


It is one of two Indus cities which have both proto-Harappan and Harappan cultural phases. In its proto-Harappan phase the fields were ploughed. But in the Harappan phase they were not ploughed but dug up. 

Traces of the remains of massive brick walls around both the citadel and the lower town have been discovered here. Archaeologists discovered two platforms with fire altar suggesting the practice of cult of sacrifice.


It was only Indus site with an artificial brick dockyard. It must have served as the main seaport of the Indus people. It was nearly rectangular with the longer axis running from north to south. It was surrounded by a massive brick wall probably as flood protection. Lothal has evidence for the earliest cultivation of rice (1800 BC). The only other Indus site where rice husk has been found is Rangpur near Ahmedabad. Metalworkers, shell -ornament makers and bead maker's shops have been discovered here also.

Fire altars indicating the probable existence of a fire cult have been found. Evidence for the use of horse comes from a doubtful terracotta figurine of a horse. Impressions of cloth are noticeable on some of the sealing found here.


It has evidence of having both proto Harappan and Harappan cultural phases. It shares almost all the common features of Indus cities such as town planning, grid system, drainage system and the like.


It is the only Indus site where the remains of a horse have actually been found. It was surrounded by a stone rubble fortification with square bastions at the corners and in the longer sides. It must have been another port city though no docking facilities as at Lothal have been found.


Situated in Gujarat it is the latest Indus city discovered in India and also one of the largest sites of the civilization. The excavation work was carried by R.S Bisht and his team in 190-91. It shares almost all the common features of Indus cities such as town planning, grid pattern, drainage system and elaborates fortification. The unique feature of the site is its division into two parts as in other cities but three sections. Two of these parts were protected by strong rectangular fortifications.
There are two inner enclosures-the first one hemmed in the citadel and second one protected the middle town meant for the close relatives of the rulers and other officials. The existence of this middle town apart from the lower town is the real exclusive feature of this city.

Town Planning In Indus Valley Civilization

The most characteristic feature of the Harappan Civilization was its urbanization. The cities show evidence of an advanced sense of planning and organization. Each city was divided into the citadel area where the essential institutions of civic and religious life were located and the residential area where the urban population lived. In the citadel the most impressive buildings were the granaries which were store -houses. Near the granaries were the furnaces where the metal workers produced a variety of objects in metals such as copper, bronze, lead and tin. The potters also worked in this part. The workers lived together in small quarters near the factory. Another well-known building was the Great Bath. It might have served the purpose of ritual bathing vital to any religious ceremony in India. In Mohenjo daro there is also a large building which appears to have been the house of the governor. Another building nearby was either a meeting hall or a market place. Below the citadel in each city lay a town proper.

The town was extremely well planned. The street ran straight and at right angles to each other following the grid system. The rectangular town planning was unique to the Harappans and was not known in Mesopotamia or Egypt. The streets were very wide and the houses built of burnt bricks lined both sides of the street. In Egypt and Mesopotamia dried or baked bricks were used. The houses were of varying sizes which suggest class differences in Harappan society. A well laid drainage system kept the cities clean.

Harappan Trade

The Harappan people traded with the people of Sumer and with the towns lying along the Persian Gulf. Harappan seals and other small objects used by the merchants and traders for stamping their goods have been found in Mesopotamia. The merchandise was shipped from Lothal and incoming goods were received here. Weights and measures which were very accurately graded point to a very high degree of exchange


The Harappans cultivated wheat and barley the two main food crops. Peas and dates were also grown. In addition sesame and mustard were grown and used for oil. However the people cultivated rice as early as 1800 BC in Lothal. The Harappans were the earliest people to grow cotton. Irrigation depended on the irregular flooding of the rivers of Punjab and Sind.

Domestication of animals

Stock breeding was important in Indus culture. Besides sheep and goats, dogs, humped cattle buffalo and elephant was certainly domesticated. The camel was rare and horse was not known.


The various occupations in which people were engaged spanned a wide range. Spinning and weaving of cotton and wool, pottery making chiefly red clay with geometric designs painted in black, bead making from clay, stone, paste, shell and ivory, seal making, terracotta manufacture and brick laying. 

Goldsmiths made jewellery of silver, gold and precious stones and metal workers made tools and implements in copper and bronze.

Religion in the Indus Valley Civilization

Clay figures of the Mother Goddess as the symbol of fertility have been found- these were worshipped by the people. A seated figure of a male god carved on a small stone seal was also found. The seal immediately brings to our mind the traditional image of Pasupati Mahadeva. In addition to this we come across numerous symbols of the phallus and female sex organs made of stone which may have been objects of worship. Certain trees seem to have been treated as sacred such as papal. They also held the bull sacred. Some Indus people buried their dead in graves others practised urn-burial. They believed that there was life after death because the graves often contained household pottery, ornaments and mirrors which might have belonged to the dead persons and which it was thought he or she might need after death. Around 1750 BC Mohenjodaro and Harappa declined but the Harappan culture in the other cities faded out more gradually. Various causes have been suggested for this. Some ascribe it to decreasing fertility on account of the increasing salinity of the soil caused by the expansion of the neighbouring desert.
Others attribute it to some kind of depression in the land which caused floods. Others point out that the Harappan culture was destroyed by the Aryans but there is hardly any evidence of a mass scale confrontation between the two.

Harappan Pottery

The Harappan pottery is bright or dark red and uniformly sturdy and well baked. It consists chiefly of wheel made wares both plain and painted. The plain pottery is more common than the painted ware. The plain ware is usually of red clay with or without a fine red slip. The painted pottery is of red and black colours. Several methods were used by people for the decoration of pottery. Geometrical patterns, circles, squares and triangles and figures of animals, birds, snakes or fish are frequent motifs found in Harappan pottery. Another favourite motive was tree pattern. Plants, trees and pipal leaves are found on pottery. A hunting scene showing two antelopes with the hunter is noticed on a pot shreds from the cemetery H.A jar found at Lothal depicts a scene in which two birds are seen perched on a tree each holding a fish in its beak. Below it is an animal with a short thick tail which can be a fox according to S R Rao. He also refers to the presence of few fish on the ground. Harappan people used different types of pottery such as glazed, polychrome, incised, perforated and knobbed.

The glazed Harappan pottery is the earliest example of its kind in the ancient world. Polychrome pottery is rare and mainly comprised small vases decorated with geometric patterns mostly in red, black and green and less frequently in white and yellow. Incised ware is rare and the incised decoration was confined to the bases of the pans. Perforated pottery has a large hole at the bottom and small holes all over the wall and was probably used for straining liquor. Knobbed pottery was ornamented on the outside with knobs. The Harappan pottery includes goblets, dishes, basins, flasks, narrow necked vases, cylindrical bottles, tumblers, corn measures, spouted vases and a special type of dish on a stand which was a offering stand or incense burner.

Weights and Measures

Harappans used weights and measures for commercial as well as building purposes. Numerous articles used as weights have been discovered. The weights proceeded in a series, first doubling from 1, 2, 4, 8 to 64 and then in decimal multiples of 16. Several sticks inscribed with measure marks have been discovered. Harappans were inventors of linear system of measurement with a unit equal to one angula of the Arthasastra.

Script and Language

Harappan script is regarded as pictographic since its signs represent birds, fish, varieties of the human form etc. The number of signs of the Harappan script is known to be between 400 and 600 of which 40 or 60 are basic and the rest are their variants. The variants are formed by adding different accents, inflexions or other letters to the former. The language of the Harappans is still unknown and must remain so until the script is read. There are two main arguments as to the nature of the language that it belongs to the Indo-European or even Indo-Aryan family or that it belongs to the Dravidian family. 

The approach followed by Kinnier-Wilson is to find analogies between Harappan and Sumerian signs.S R Rao has produced a different attempt to read the script as containing a pre-Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-European family. An attempt has been made by Natwar Jha a palaeographist and Vedic scholar who says that script is syllabic that is no vowels are written. Semitic languages like Phoenician and Arabic use the syllabic system. Since no word in these languages begins with a vowel the writing does not create any problems in comprehension. Jha claims to have deciphered about 3500 inscriptions on seals.

According to Rajaram the script is both pictorial and alphabetic; alphabets are favoured to the pictures in the later stages. He also finds close connection between the Brahmi and the Indus script. Most of the writing is from left to right and not the other way. Many ancient scripts like Phoenician, various Aramaics and Hemiaretic are connected to or even derived from Harappan. This is contrary to the currently held view that all alphabetic writing descended from Phoenician in the late second millennium BC.


A specimens of images made of both stone and metal have been discovered. A number of stone sculptures have been discovered at Mohenjodaro, two at Harappa, one at Dabarkot and one at Mundigak (Afganistan). The best specimen among the stone sculptures of Mohanjodaro is the steatite image of a bearded man wearing an ornamented robe. Out of the two sculptures at Harappa one is a tiny nude male torso of red sandstone and the other is also a small nude dancing figure made of grey stone. Majority of these sculptures are made of soft stone like steatite, limestone or alabaster. 

A few bronze sculptures have also been found at Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Chanhudaro and Daimabad. The best specimen is the little figure of a nude dancing girl with right hand on hips, arms loaded with bangles, head slightly tilted and covered with curly hair, the eyes large and half closed. A second figure of comparable size also comes from Mohenjodaro. Other good examples of the skill in casting and bronze working are the little models of bullock carts and ikkas from Harappa and Chanhudaro. Four unique bronzes of elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo and chariot each weighing 60 kgs from the recently excavated site of Daimabad have thrown further light on the bronze work of the Harappans.

Decline of Harappan Culture

The decline of Harappan culture is difficult to explain. During its late phase between 2000 and 1700 BC 'The Indus Valley Civilization as a distinct entity gradually ceased to exist'. Historians have different opinions regarding the causes of the decay and disappearance of the Harappan culture. Various causes have been ascribed for its weakening and then decay: Increase in rainfall, earthquake, decrease in fertility of soil, floods, Aryan invasion, disease etc.

Mortimer Wheeler pointed out that the Harappan culture was destroyed by the Aryans. The Aryans were more skilled at warfare and were powerful than the Harappans. In the last phase of Mohenjodaro, men and women and children were massacred in the streets and houses. But there is very little evidence on this opinion.

Sir John Marshal, Lambrick and E.J.H Mackay suggest that the decline of the Harappan civilization was mainly due to the vagaries of the Indus River. But this theory is partly true. Some of the evidence of the devastation by floods has been found at Mohenjodaro and Lothal but there is no such evidence in respect of other sites like Kalibangan. 

Some historians suggest that the first urban civilization came to an end around 1700 BC because its numerous small settlements grew beyond their natural limits leading to the mismanagement of natural resources. Although the theory of ecological factors for the decline of the Harappan civilization is latest yet it does not give us complete answer. Historians are of the view that the decline of the Indus Civilization was not the result of a single event; it was a slow decline and a result of combination of factors.

Survival and Significance

The tracts of the Indus civilization did not become extinct with the decline of this civilization. There was no complete break-up after the Indus Civilization and many of its features were adopted in the later cultural developments. Some of the developments which survived and became important are as follows.
  • In the field of religions many important features of Harappan religion were adopted in later Hinduism. The Harappans worshipped Pashupati Shiva in his actual form as well as in the representative form as Linga, worship of mother goddess, worship of trees, animals; serpents were all adopted by Hinduism. 
  • The Harappan civilization contributed towards the advancement of Mathematics. The numerical and decimal system was evolved here which made remarkable contributions towards Vedic mathematics.
  • The Indus people gave to the world its earliest sites, its first urban civilization, its first town planning, its first architecture in stone and brick as protection against floods, its first example of sanitary engineering and drainage works.
Another remarkable contribution of the Harappan people was the cultivation of cotton. Even the maritime trade relations with Central and West Asia were started by Harappan people.

To them also belong the credits for producing some of the earliest specimens of pottery. The Harappan way of making baked pottery, bricks, beads, jewellery and textiles was adopted in the later civilization. They also invented the device of a cart to harness the labour force of the animals to the production of man's utility.

Things to Remember
  • Surkotada is the only Indus site where the remains of a horse have actually been found.
  • A small pot was discovered at Chanhudaro which was probably an inkpot. Harappan pottery is bright or dark red and is uniformly sturdy and well baked.
  • It was chiefly made and consists of both plain and painted ware and plain variety being more common.
  • Harappan people used different types of pottery such as galzed, polychrome, incised perforated and knobbed.
  • Main types of seals are the square type with a carved animal and inscription and rectangular type with inscription only.
  • Terracotta seals found at Mehargarh were the earliest precursors of the Harappan seals.
  • Evidence of sea and river transport by ships and boats in several seals and terracotta models have been found apart from the dockyard at Lothal. Representations of ships are found on seals found at Harappa and Mohenjodaro.
  • Apart from Lothal in Gujarat, the three Harappan sites on the Makran coast - Sutkagendor, Sotkako and Khairia kot have been generally considered to have been posts in the maritime links with the Gulf and Mesopotamia.
  • At Kalibangan the lanes and roads of the city were built in a definite proportion. Lanes were 1.8 mts wide and the roads were 3.6, 5.4 and 7.2 mts wide.
  • The Mohenjodaro, the length of the Great Bath was 12 mtrs, breadth was 7mtrs and depth was 2.5 mtrs.
  • In the south-west of Mohenjodaro there was a granary which covers 55 x 37 mtrs area. It is surrounded by verandas on four sides. There were 27 blocks of solid blocks of solid bricks in granary. It was divided into 3 parts.
  • In Harappa the Granary was outside the Fort. In the Lothal port, there was a dockyard which was 216 mtrs in length and 37 mtrs in breadth.
  • Leg bone of elephant was found at Kalibangan.
  • Copper rhino, copper chariot and copper elephant found at Daimabad.
  • Harappan city with three divisions namely-citadel, middle town and lower town was at Dholavira.
  • Ragi was not known to the Indus people.

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