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The Harappan Culture – Ancient India (HISTORY OF INDIA)

The Harappan Culture – Ancient India (HISTORY OF INDIA)


The Indus Valley civilisation or Harappan culture is older but far more developed than the chalcolithic cultures. It is called Harappan because this civilisation was discovered first in 1921 at the modern site of Harappa in west Punjab (now in Pakistan). No other cultural zone in the third and second millenium B.C. in the world was as large as the Harappan (2500 B.C.-1800 B.C.). Its mature phase lay between 2200 B.C. and 2000 B.C. By the eighteenth century B.C., the two important cities (the Harappan civilisation was an urban civilisation), Harappa and Mohenjo-daro disappeared but the Harappan culture at other sites faded gradually and continued in its degenerate phase in the outlying fringes in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.


Dayaram Sahni was associated with the excavations at Harappa, while R.D. Banerjee found the remains of Mohenjo-daro. The Indian sites near Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab were discovered after partition and indicated that the extent of the civilisation was much wider than what was originally thought. So, in a way, the ‘Indus Valley civilisation’ is somewhat of a misnomer.

The other contemporary civilisations in the world were: the areas around the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, the Hwang-Ho valley in China, the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq (Mesopotamia) and the Nile valley in Egypt.


From Sutkagendor in Southern Baluchistan to Alamgirpur in the Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh-the known western and eastern limits of the Indus civilisation, it is a distance of over 1,550 km. From north to south, it extends over 1,100 km between Jammu and Bhagtray in the Kim estuary in Gujarat. Although it flourished over a vast area, the Indus civilisation presents little variation

Major sites in Pakistan are Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Kot Diji. Ali Murad, Sutkagendor, etc. In India major sites are at Rupar (Punjab), Banwali (Haryana), Lothal, Rangpur and Surkotada (Gujarat), Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Alamgirpur (western U.P.).

It is worth mentioning that Dholavira in the Bhachan taluka of Kutch district in Gujarat is the latest and one of the largest Harappan settlements to be discovered in India. Dr. J.P. Joshi and Dr. R.S. Bisht of the Archaeological Survey of India were involved in the excavation. Dholavira, unlike other sites, has three principal divisions.


The town-planning of the Indus civilisation followed the grid system, i.e., the roads oriented north-south and east-west cut across one another almost at right angles, and the city was divided into a number of rectangular or square blocks. The main roads (streets), some as much as 30 feet wide, were quite straight. Lamp posts at intervals indicate the existence of street lighting. Flanking the streets. lanes and bylanes were well-planned houses.

In none of the major cities has any stone building been found; standardised burnt brick of good quality was the usual building material for dwelling houses and public buildings alike. Elsewhere in the contemporary world, mud-bricks and wattle-and-daub were the usual building materials, and burnt-bricks were altogether unknown. The houses, often of two or more storeys, varied in size, but were all based on much the same plan-a square courtyard, around which were a number of rooms. The entrances were usually in wide alleys, and no windows faced the streets. The houses had tiled bathrooms, the design of which shows that the people preferred to take their bath by pouring pitchers of water over the head and shoulders.

The bathrooms were provided with drains, which flowed into sewers under the main streets, leading to soak-pits. The sewers were covered throughout their length by large brick slabs. No other civilisation until that of the Romans had so efficient a system of drains. In Kalibangan many houses show the presence of wells.

The towns were generally divided into the citadel (acropolis) and the lower town. The citadel was an oblong artificial platform some 30-50 feet high and about 400 x 200 yards in area. It was enclosed by a thick (13 meters at Harappa) crenelated mud-brick wall, externally riveted with burnt bricks, corner towers and occasional bastions built along the length. Although no separate fortified mound has been found at Lothal, the conception of an acropolis seems to have existed. On the citadel were erected the public buildings, while the lower town was the town proper. in any case at least a square-mile in area.

At Mohenjo-daro (mound of the dead), there lay in the citadel a ‘college’, a multi-pillared ‘assembly ball’. a public bath (the Great Bath) and a large granary consisting of a podium of square blocks of burni-bricks with a wooden superstructure. Such blocks in mud-brick have also been found on the citadel-mound at Kalibangan and on the acropolis at Lothal. But in the citadel of Harappa we come across a series of brick platforms which formed the basis for two rows of six granaries. At Harappa, to the south of the granary lay working floors, probably for pounding grain, and two rows of workmen’s quarters.

The Great Bath, measuring 12 metres by 7 metres and 2.4 metres deep, had a floor of burnt bricks. Steps led from either end to the surface, while there were rooms alongside for changing cloths. A large well in an adjacent room was the source of water, and an outlet in a corner of the Bath drained it. The Bath was probably used for ritual bathing.


The Indus Valley civilisation clearly had a well developed economy.


The Indus people sowed seeds in the floodplains in November, when the food water receded, and reaped their harvests of wheat and barley in April, before the advent of the next flood. No hoe or ploughshare has been discovered, but the furrows discovered in the pre-Harappan phase at Kalibangan show that the fields were ploughed in Rajasthan. The chief crops were wheat, barley, rai, peas, sesamum, mustard, etc. Probably the people of Lothal used rice. The Indus people were the earliest people to produce cotton. To the diet were added melons, bananas, fish, fowl, mutton, beef and pork. Besides the cattle, both humped and humpless, cats, dogs and probably elephants were domesticated. The evidence regarding horse and camel is inconclusive.


Flourishing trade is attested to not only by the granaries but also by the presence of numerous seals, uniform script and regulated weights and measures in a wide area. The Harappans carried on considerable trade in stone, metal, shell, etc. within the Harappan cultural zone. They might have carried on all exchanges through barter.

The Harappans had commercial links with Rajasthan, Afghanistan and Iran. They had set up a trading colony in northern Afghanistan which evidently facilitated trade with Central Asia. The Mesopotamian records from about 2350 B.C. onwards refer to trade relations with Meluha, the ancient name of the Indus region. The Mesopotamian texts speak of two intermediate trading stations called Dilmun (Bahrain?) and Makan between Mesopotamia and Meluha. Imports could have been matched by exports as revealed by bales of cloth from Umma in Mesopotamia bearing the imprint of an Indus seal. The finding of seals of Indus style at Ur. Lagash, Susa, Tel Asmar and other places suggests that perhaps some Indian traders were living in Mesopotamia. That this trade was at least partly sea-borne is proved by the discovery of an ancient dockyard at Lothal. connected through the Bhogavar river with the Gulf of Cambay. One can visualise Indian ships, depicted on a seal and a poisherd from Mohenjo-daro, cruising up and down the Arabian Sea.


The Harappan culture belongs to the Bronze Age. The people of Harappa used many tools and implements of stone, but they were well-acquainted with the manufacture and use of bronze. However, bronze tools are not prolific in Harappa. For making bronze, copper was obtained from the Khetri copper mines at Rajasthan and from Baluchistan, and tin from Afghanistan. The bronze-smiths produced not only images and utensils but also various tools and weapons such as axes, saws. knives and spears.

A piece of woven cotton has been recovered from Mohenjo-daro, and textile impressions have been found on several objects. Spindle whorls and needles have also been discovered. Weavers wove cloth of wool and cotton. Boat-making was practised. Seal-making and terracotta manufacture were also important crafts. The goldsmiths made jewellery of silver, gold, copper, bronze and precious stones. Silver and gold may have been obtained from Afghanistan and precious stones from south India, The Harappans were expert bead-makers. The potter’s wheel was in full use.

The Harappans were not on the whole very artistically inclined. The inner walls of their houses were coated with mud plaster without paintings. The outer walls facing the streets were apparently of plain brick. Architecture was austerely utilitarian. Their most notable artistic achievement was perhaps in their seal engravings, especially those of animals, e.g., the great urus bull with its many dewlaps, the rhinoceros with knobbly armoured hide, the tiger roaring fiercely, etc.

The red sandstone torso of a man is particularly impressive for its realism. The bust of another male figure, in steatite, seems to show an attempt at portraiture. However, most striking of the figurines is perhaps the bronze ‘dancing girl, found in Mohenjo Daro. Naked but for a necklace and a series of bangles almost covering one arm, her hair dressed in a complicated coiffure, she stands in a provocative posture, with one arm on her hip and one lanky leg half-bent.

The Harappans made brilliantly naturalistic models of animals, specially charming being the tiny monkeys and squirrels used as pinheads and beads. For their children they made cattle-toys with movable heads, model monkeys which would slide down a string, little toy-carts, and whistles shaped like birds, all of terracotta. They also made rough terracotta statuettes of women. usually naked or nearly naked, but with elaborate headdresses; these are probably icons of the Mother Goddess.


In many respects the Harappans were technologically backward in comparison with Mesopotamia. The Sumerians very early invented knives and spear-heads with ribs in the middle for extra strength, and axe heads with holes for the shafts; but the blades of Harappa were flat and easily bent while the axehead had to be lashed to their handles. In one respect, however, they were technologically advanced compared to their contemporaries–they had devised a saw with undulating teeth, which allowed the dust to escape freely from the cut and much simplified the carpenter’s task.


Every merchant or mercantile family probably had a seal bearing an emblem, often of a religious character, and a name or brief inscription. The standard Harappa seal was a square or oblong plaque made of steatite stone. The Mesopotamians employed cylinder seals; one or two such seals have been found in Mohenjo-daro. The primary purpose of the sea! was probably to mark the ownership of property, but they may have also served as amulets.


The Indus script had some 270 characters, which were pictographic in origin, but which had an ideographic or syllabic character. The script has not been deciphered so far, but overlaps of letters on some of the potsherds from Kalibangan show that writing was “boustrophedon’ or from right to left and from left to right in alternate lines. We are not certain about the writing media, but a small pot found at Chanhu-daro is regarded as an inkwell.


The general view is that Indus Valley civilisation was not the creation of a homogeneous people; it was a composite product of different races who lived and worked together in a particular environment. Mohenjodaro had easy land and water communications. It was the meeting ground of people from different parts of Asia. However, in recent times, historians are veering round to the view that the Harappan culture is native to the soil, that the populations at these sites belonged each to a single biological group and probably descended from earlier populations in those regions.

From the skeletal remains so far examined it appears that some of the Harappans were people of the longheaded, narrow-nosed, slender Mediterranean type. A second element was the Proto-Australoid, with flat nose and thick lips. A single skull of Mongolian type has been found, and one of the short-headed Alpine type. Father H. Heras has claimed that the Harappan language was a very primitive form of Tamil.


The men wore robes which left one shoulder bare, and the garments of the upper classes were often richly patterned. Beards were worn, and men and women alike had long hair. The coiffures of the women were often elaborate, and pigtails were also popular. Women loved jewellery and wore heavy bangles in profusion, large necklaces, ear-rings, bracelets, finger-rings, girdles, nose-studs and anklets.


The Mother Goddess was the popular divinity, but the upper classes preferred a god, nude with two horns, much similar to Pashupati Shiva. Represented on a 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. The bull was held sacred. Certain trees like peepal were ascribed divinity. Phallic worship was an important element of religion. Many cone-shaped objects have been found, which seem to be formalised representations of the phallus. Certain large ring-shaped stones have also been found which represent yonis. However, no temple has been found, though idolatry was practised.

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 in vogue. The people probably believed in ghosts and evil spirits, as amulets were worn.


There is no clear idea about the political organisation of the Indus Valley people. Unlike the Mesopotamians and Egyptians they have not left behind any inscription describing their system of administration. Perhaps the Indus valley people were more concerned with commerce and they were ruled by a class of merchants. But it can be safely stated that there was an organisation like a municipal corporation to look after the civic amenities of the people.


The Harappan culture flourished until 1800 B.C. Afterwards, its urban phase marked by systematic town planning, extensive brickwork, art of writing, standard weights and measures, distinction between the citadel and the lower town, use of bronze tools, and red ware pottery painted with black designs practically disappeared. Its stylistic homogeneity disappeared, and the post-urban Harappan stage was marked by sharp stylistic diversity. Some traits of the post-urban Harappan culture are found in Pakistan, and in central and western India, in Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and western U.P. They broadly cover the period from 1800 B.C. to 1200 B.C. The post-urban phase of the Harappan culture is also known as the sub-Indus culture and is more popularly known as the late Harappan culture.

The late Harappan cultures are primarily chalcolithic in which tools of stone and copper are used. The chalcolithic people in the later Harappan phase lived in villages subsisting on agriculture, stock-raising, hunting and fishing. Some places such as Prabhas Patan (Somnath) and Rangpur, both in Gujarat, are the direct descendants of the Harappan culture.

Some exotic tools and pottery indicate the slow percolation of new peoples in the Indus Valley during the later phases of the Harappan culture. A few signs of insecurity and violence appear in the last phase of Mohenjo-daro. Hoards of jewellery were buried at places, and skulls huddled together at one place. New types of axes, daggers, knives with mid-ribs and flat tangs appear in the upper levels of Mohenjo-daro. They seem to betray some foreign intrusion. At several sites in Punjab and Haryana, Painted Grey Ware (generally associated with the Vedic people) have been found in conjunction with some late Harappan pottery dated around 1200 B.C. But we have no archaeological evidence of any mass-scale confrontation between the mature Harappans and the Aryans. Probably the Aryans encountered the people of the late Harappan phase (1800 B.C.-1200 B.C.)

There is not enough evidence to say with certainty that the destroyers of the Indus cities were members of the group of related tribes whose priests composed the Rigveda, but probably the fall of this great civilisation was partly due to the widespread migratory movement of charioteering peoples which altered the face of the whole civilised world in the second millenium B.C.

Scholars have assigned several possible reasons for the decline of the civilisation. The floods in the Indus rivers might have caused its destruction. It is also supposed that the Indus might have changed its course, thus rendering the valley infertile. The river valley might have lost its charm and the inhabits.its might have left it for good. Or perhaps, due to deficient rainfall and deforestation there might have appeared desert conditions in the valley. It is even suggested that an earthquake might have caused its destruction, as in Quetta.



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