Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilization was an ancient civilization located in what is Pakistan and northwest India today, on the fertile flood plain of the Indus River and its vicinity. Evidence of religious practices in this area date back approximately to 5500 BCE. Farming settlements began around 4000 BCE and around 3000 BCE there appeared the first signs of urbanization. By 2600 BCE, dozens of towns and cities had been established, and between 2500 and 2000 BCE the Indus Valley Civilization was at its peak.

Two cities, in particular, have been excavated at the sites of Mohenjo-Daro on the lower Indus, and at Harappa, further upstream. The evidence suggests they had a highly developed city life; many houses had wells and bathrooms as well as an elaborate underground drainage system. The social conditions of the citizens were comparable to those in Sumeria and superior to the contemporary Babylonians and Egyptians. These cities display a well-planned urbanization system.

There is evidence of some level of contact between the Indus Valley Civilization and the Near East. Commercial, religious, and artistic connections have been recorded in Sumerian documents, where the Indus valley people are referred to as Meluhhaites and the Indus valley is called Meluhha. The following account has been dated to about 2000 BCE: "The Meluhhaites, the men of the black land, bring to Naram-Sin of Agade all kind of exotic wares." (Haywood, p. 76, The Curse of Agade)

The Indus Civilization had a writing system which today still remains a mystery: all attempts to decipher it have failed. This is one of the reasons why the Indus Valley Civilization is one of the least known of the important early civilizations of antiquity. Examples of this writing system have been found in pottery, amulets, carved stamp seals, and even in weights and copper tablets.

Another point of debate is the nature of the relationship between these cities. Whether they were independent city-states or part of a larger kingdom is not entirely clear. Because the writing of the Indus people remains undeciphered and neither sculptures of rulers nor depictions of battles and military campaigns have been found, evidence pointing in either direction is not conclusive.

By 1800 BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization saw the beginning of their decline: Writing started to disappear, standardized weights and measures used for trade and taxation purposes fell out of use, the connection with the Near East was interrupted, and some cities were gradually abandoned. The reasons for this decline are not entirely clear, but it is believed that the drying up of the Saraswati River, a process which had begun around 1900 BCE, was the main cause. Other experts speak of a great flood in the area. Either event would have had catastrophic effects on agricultural activity, making the economy no longer sustainable and breaking the civic order of the cities.

Around 1500 BCE, a large group of nomadic cattle-herders, the Aryans, migrated into the region from central Asia. The Aryans crossed the Hindu Kush mountains and came in contact with the Indus Valley Civilization. This was a large migration and used to be seen as an invasion, which was thought to be the reason for the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization, but this hypothesis is not unanimously accepted today.

Thus, the Indus Valley Civilization came to an end. Over the course of several centuries, the Aryans gradually settled down and took up agriculture. The language brought by the Aryans gained supremacy over the local languages: the origin of the most widely spoken languages today in south Asia goes back to the Aryans, who introduced the Indo-European languages into the Indian subcontinent. Other features of modern Indian society, such as religious practices and caste division, can also be traced back to the times of the Aryan migrations. Many pre-Aryan customs still survive in India today. Evidence supporting this claim includes: the continuity of pre-Aryan traditions; practices by many sectors of Indian society; and also the possibility that some major gods of the Hindu pantheon actually originated during the time of the Indus Valley Civilization and were kept "alive" by the original inhabitants through the centuries.

Important Points for Examination:


Indus valley civilization [2500 BC-1500 BC]-
The sensational discoveries made at Harappa in West Punjab and Mohenjodaro in Sind has revolutionized idea of ancient Indian history. Indus valley 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 flourished. 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 [Bahrain] and Mesopotamian [Iraq] civilization of those times. Sir John Marshall the eminent Indologist came up with name of this civilization as Indus valley because it was settled around river Indus

Major Sites/cities-

  • Harappa-

This is 1st discovered site of Indus valley by eminent Indologist Sir John Marshall in 1921 at the bank on Ravi. The Indus civilization was originally called Harappan civilization after this site. A grain house and proof of water transportation founded at this site

  • Mohenjodaro [Maut ka Tila]-

Mohenjodaro (Sind) is situated on the right bank of the Indus. This city was discovered by Mr. Rakhal Das Bennerji in 1922. Mohenjodaro is the largest of all the Indus cities and has a population estimated to between 41,000 and 35,000. The Great Bath place of Mohenjodaro is the most important public place measuring 39 feet (length) x 23 feet (breadth) x 8 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. Archeologist Wheeler discovered a monumental like temple and administrative units.

  • Chanhudaro- [Mackay 1925]

Chanhudaro lies on the left bank of the Indus about 130 km south of Mohenjodaro. No citadel had been discovered here so this is the only exceptional site in this case. 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

  • Kalibanga-

Kalibanga (Rajasthan) was on the banks of the river Ghaggar which dried up centuries ago. 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. It is discovered by Amalanand Ghosh in 1951.
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. Leg bone of elephant was also found at Kalibanga

  • Lothal-

It was only Indus site with an artificial brick dockyard. It must have served as the main seaport of the Indus people. Agriculture in Harappan Civilization - 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 Ahmadabad. Lothal is at the head of the Gulf of Cambay. 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. This site was discovered by S.R. Rao in 1954.

  • Banawali-

Banawali (Haryana) was situated on the banks of the now extinct Saraswati River. 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. Site discovered by R.S. Bisht in 1973.

  • Surkotada-

Surkotada (Gujarat) is at the head of the Rann of Kutch. It is the only Indus site where the remains of a horse have actually been found. It must have been another port city though no docking facilities as at Lothal have been found here

  • Dholavira-

Dholavira (Gujarat) excavated is in the Kutch district. 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 1990-91. 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 this site is its division in three sections as compare to two parts in other sites. J.P. Joshi in 1967-68 had a pivotal contribution in discovery of this site

Town Planning in Indus civilization-

The most significant 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. 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 Harappan 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

Trade with neighboring civilizations like Mesopotamia and Sumerian was in vogue. Barter system of exchange prevailed but various kind of seals were also used for same purpose. Lothal was main port at that time. The Harappan 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 Harappan’s were the earliest people to grow cotton. Irrigation depended on the irregular flooding of the rivers of Punjab and Sind.
The various occupations in which people were engaged spanned a wide range. Spinning and weaving of cotton and wool. Goldsmiths made jewellery of silver, gold and precious stones and metal workers made tools and implements in copper and bronze

Copper was main metal used by people because iron was not known to them at that time.
Main types of seals are the square type with a carved animal and inscription and rectangular type with inscription only.
Cow and Lion were not known. Ragi was also not known to the Indus people.

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 Mahadev. Certain trees seem to have been treated as sacred such as pipal. They also held the bull sacred.

Script and Languages-
Harappan script is regarded as pictographic since its signs represent birds, fish, varieties of the human form etc. This script is not deciphered yet. The language of the Harappan’s is still unknown and must remain so until the script is read

Decline of civilization-
Historians have different opinions regarding the causes of the decay and disappearance of the Harappan culture. 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 like natural disaster and Aryan invasion etc.

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