The Indus Civilisation:
In the third millennium before Christ a civilisation flourished in north-west India which derived its name from the Indus, the main river of the region.
It is known as the Indus Civilisation or Harappa Culture as archaeologists call it from modern name of the site of one of its two great cities—Harappa.
In 1924 scholars on history were roused by the announcement of Sir John Marshall that his Indian aides, particularly R. D. Banerjee, discovered (1922-23) at Mohenjo-daro in the Larkana district of Sind now in Pakistan, the remains of a civilisation, one of the oldest of the world.
A few hundred miles towards the north of Mohenjo-daro four or five superimposed cities were excavated at Harappa in the Montgomery district of the Punjab, now in Pakistan. Recently, excavation carried out on the site of Kalibangan has revealed a third city as large as Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.
That the civilisation was not confined to the limits of the Indus valley can be understood from the finds of relics of the same civilisation at Sutkajen-dor on the sea board of south Beluchistan, in the west of Alamgirpur in the Uttar Pradesh in the east; and from Ropar in the Himalayan foot hills in the north to Bhagatrav on the river Kim in between the Narmada and Tapti in the south. This civilisation belonged to the Chalcolithic, i.e., Copper-bronze age of history; no trace of iron has been found.
Until the discovery of the remains of the Indus civilisation it was believed by scholars that the history of India practically began with the coming of the Aryans. But this theory is an exploded one and the pre-historic civilisation of India, that is, the Indus civilisation is contemporaneous with the civilisations of Mesopotamia, Egypt etc.
Towns and Town Planning:
The first thing that strikes us is the town planning. Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Lothal or Surkotada were built according to a set plan. Two cities, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, were built on similar plan. To the west of each was a citadel built on a high platform. It was defended by wall and on it were constructed the public buildings. Below this citadel was the town proper.
Everywhere the main streets ran from north to south and other streets ran at right angles to the main streets. Houses, residential or others stood on both sides of the streets. Both at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro houses were built of Kiln-burnt bricks. At Lothal and Kalibangan residential houses were made of sun-dried bricks, the drains, wells, bathing platforms were made of kiln-burnt bricks.
An average house had, besides kitchen and bath, four to six living rooms. Large houses with thirty rooms and staircases suggest that there were large two or three storeyed buildings. Most of the houses had wells within them and a drainage system carried the waste water to the main underground drain of the street. There were also public baths with wells- The covered drains of the streets had soak-pits arid manholes for clearing. There were also arrangements tor street lighting.
Of the places where the relics of the Indus civilisation have been discovered; the towns of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa are the most important. These two towns were connected also by land and their town planning was similar. Stuart Piggott is of the opinion that the towns of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa were the two capitals of the Indus civilisation. But in absence of more reliable evidence it will not be proper, as Sir Mortimer Wheeler observes, to regard them as two capitals of the time of the Indus civilisation.
The city of Mohenjo-daro had, besides numerous dwelling houses, a few very spacious buildings of elaborate structure and design. There were nine phases of rebuilding of this city on the same site. The lowest strata under sub-soil water have not been reached by archaeologists for obvious difficulties. But what is peculiar is that different strata do not show any sign of modification. Some of these buildings contained large pillared halls. One of the halls was as large as 24 meters square.
Although the exact nature and the purpose of such buildings with spacious halls are not known, they are supposed to have been either palaces, temples or municipal halls. The most noteworthy structure the remains of which have been found was a large swimming enclosure with rooms and galleries on all sides. The water was supplied by a well situated in one of the rooms. The water was discharged by a huge drain.
At Harappa a great granary has been discovered. It was built on a raised platform to protect it from floods. The granary was divided into storage blocks for storing of corn collected from the people as land tax. We may assume, writes Prof. Basham, that it had its counterpart at Mohenjo-daro.
The make of the buildings was so strong that it had withstood the ravages of five thousand years. Kiln-burnt bricks were used for buildings in places which were ravaged by floods and sun-baked bricks in other places. The ruins of Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and other towns and cities leave us in no doubt that the cities were largely populated and the inhabitants enjoyed municipal advantages of a very high order unknown to the people of the contemporary world. The ruins also give us an impression that the people lived in luxury and developed a culture of a very high order.
From the relics discovered at Mohenjo-daro in particular and in -other towns and cities we get a comprehensive idea of the economic life of the people. As in most of the other contemporary civilisations, agriculture was the backbone of the Indus economy. Although Mohenjo-daro is an arid zone today, at the time when the Indus civilisation had developed, there was adequate rainfall as can be imagined from the making of kiln-burnt bricks which needed abundant supply of wood.
There must have been vast forest areas, and forests attracted rains. Further, the Indus, Ravi, Ghaggar, Sutlej, and Bhogavo ensured adequate water supply to Harappa, Kalibangan, Ropar and Lothal. The main agricultural crops were wheat, barley, besides bananas, peas and melons. Cultivation of cotton was perhaps the most remarkable of all agricultural produces of the Indus people. People ate besides cereals, fish, vegetables, mutton, fowl, beef and pork.
Cat, dog, elephant, humped bulls also called Brahmani bulls, buffaloes, pigs, camels etc., and the bullock, the main beast of burden, were the domesticated animals. Whether horse was known to the Indus people is not known for certain. But Harappa people may have known the use of horse. This is deduced from the find of a few horses’ teeth at the lowest stratum of Baluchistan site of Rana Ghundai dating from several centuries earlier than the foundation of Harappa.
Dress: Ornaments: Household. Articles:
For dress cotton fabrics were mostly used. From the portrayal of a man in Harappa it is supposed that people used something like a dhoti. Shawl was used as an upper garment. For warm textiles wool was used. Finding of buttons and needles among the relics shows that some of the clothes were stitched. Ornaments were used both by men and women.
Some of the ornaments, such as neck-chain, fillets, finger rings, armlets and bangles were used by both men and women, but girdles, nose-studs, ear-rings, anklets were used only by women. The variety of ways in which the women dyed their hair and the ornaments that they wore from head to foot leave us in no doubt that the life of the women folk was not all work.
The elaborate hair style as seen in the female figurines, find of a vanity bag and toilet jars at Harappa with remains of face-paints and cosmetics indicate that the women folk of the time were fond of personal elegance as their modem counterparts.
Among the household articles earthenware’s of various shapes and sizes were made with the help of the potter’s wheel. These were both plain and painted. Vessels were also made of copper, silver, bronze and porcelain. The Indus civilisation belonged to a perfect Bronze Age. There was, however, not a trace of iron.
Among other articles of household use mention may be made of spindles, spindle whorl, sickles, razors, fish hooks etc. For the purpose of weighing blocks of stone were used. Discovery of dice-pieces shows that the game of dice was known to the Indus people. Toys of the children included small chairs, wheeled cart, etc. These show that chairs, wheeled carts were in actual use at that time.
The Harappa people manufactured lifelike miniatures of animals, specially interesting being the tiny monkeys climbing up and down a string and squirrels used as pinheads and beads. Little toycarts, cattle with movable heads, whistles in the shape of birds, indicate their use in daily life. In one respect the Harappa people were technically in advance of their contemporaries, they devised a saw with teeth which allowed saw dust to escape from the cut automatically. This shows that in carpentry the people acquired a great skill.
The Indus people had weapons of war like spears, axes, daggers, maces, slings but defensive armours like shield, helmet etc. were not found to be in use.
Terracotta seals, more than five hundred in numbers have been discovered in the ruins of the Indus civilisation. Some of them have representations of animal figures as also pictorial inscription on them. Animal features on the seal show a high degree of artistic excellence. A few stone images found at Harappa are of such high degree of artistic excellence that these may be compared with Greek statues. Needless to remark that the art of sculpture was highly developed.
The seals discovered in the Indus valley have not yet been deciphered. It has, therefore, not been possible to get any idea of the nature of the political life and organisation of the Indus people- Some of the seals were used for commercial purposes. The Indus people had trade relations with other parts of India as also with countries beyond India.
Finds of seals of Indus style in west Asian sites such as Ur, Lagash, Susa, Umma and Tell Asmar prove that there must have been trade contacts between the Indus people and those of West Asian countries. In recent years a seal of the Persian Gulf areas has been discovered at Lothal. The remains of a dockyard at Lothal have also been discovered.
From these it is reasonable to conclude that there were both overland and maritime trade relations with the west Asian countries and the Indus people. Finds of precious stones like lapis la2uli, jade, turquoise etc. which were not found indigenously, suggest trade with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Tibet and Central Asia. The chief merchandise was most probably cotton, which had always been one of India’s main exports.
Weights and Measures:
A large number of weights belonging to a uniform system have been found at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa as well as in Chanhudaro and other smaller towns. The unit was ratio 16, as we even today calculate 16 annas to a rupee or 16 chit-tacks to a seer. The find of a broken scale engraved on a shell at Mohenjo-daro shows a decimal scale or inches rising to a foot which was, however, 13.2 inches long.
That the agricultural class constituted the largest section of the Indus population cannot be gainsaid. Among the industrial classes, potters, carpenters, weavers, blacksmiths, masons, goldsmiths, ivory-workers, stone-cutters, sculptors, jewelers etc. need special mention. That there was a great technical advance can be understood from the use of the potter’s wheel, kiln burnt bricks, highly aesthetic designs in ornaments execution of metallic and stone statues and figurines.
The Indus people, particularly the city dwellers were of a cosmopolitan nature. The population included Proto-Australoid, Mediterranean, Alpine and Mongoloid types. A few skulls of the Aryans have also been found which may have been of the Aryan invaders.
As it happens with mixed population it is supposed that there was a variety of religious practices among the Indus people. Several seals have been found with a three-horned Yogin surrounded by wild and domesticated animals which naturally denote the early conception of Pasupati Siva. Phallic form of Siva cult is supposed to have been there in the Indus people because of the find of lingas.
Rituals with the use of fire places, suggested by find of such relics, presuppose the religious practices of the nature of Yajna. From the finds of articles of daily use in the graves it is supposed that the Indus people probably believed in life hereafter as did the Egyptians. The Indus people also worshipped a Mother Goddess which must have been the early form of Sakti.
Traces of worship of primitive religious cult which is called animism have been found in Mohenjo-daro. Worship of stones, trees, animals, Nagas and Yakshas in Mohenjo-daro is clear from the traces of these found there. Indication of the existence of Bhakti cult has been found at Mohenjo-daro. It may, therefore, be concluded that modern Hinduism was largely indebted to the Indus people.
The seals and the inscriptions on them bear testimony to the fact that the Indus people were literate. Inscriptions have also been found on pottery and other household articles. This indicates that the literacy was not confined to select classes. The organised system of weights and measures testifies to the knowledge of arithmetic among the Indus People.
From the above discussion it is clear that the Indus people had developed a civilisation of very high order which was one of the earliest on earth.
Date of the Indus Civilisation: It’s Relation with Other Civilisation:
The Indus Valley civilisation had its distinctive characteristics no doubt and developed in its own way. But this did not preclude its contacts with other sister civilisations of Elam, Sumer, Mesopotamia etc. There are several outstanding common features among Indus civilisation and these contemporary civilisations.
As no trace of iron has been found in any of the sites of the Indus civilisation it was in chalcolithic age of development which shows remarkable similarity with culture of Elam, Mesopotamia and Proto-historic Period of Sumer which was about 2750 B.C. This gives us the lowest limit of the Indus civilisation.
Due to the difficulty in exploring the lowest strata of the cities, below the sub-soul water the earliest time when the civilisation had begun cannot correctly be determined. The upper limit of the civilisation remains more or less conjectural.
Until recently the period of the Indus civilisation was determined by reference to the discovery of the Indus seals at Elam and Mesopotamia and a cuneiform inscription at Mohenjo-daro. These apart, seal of late Mohenjo-daro period was found at Eshnunna in layers belonging to 2600 to 2500 B.C. This naturally pushed the early period of Mohenjo-daro further backwards, about 2800 B.C.
This is also borne out by the finds of a cylinder seal of Indian origin at Tell Asmar discovered by Dr. Frankfort and a vase depicting a Brahmani bull at Tell Agrab which push back the Indus civilisation to 2800 BC. Dr. Gadd and Dr. Fabri indicate the upper limit of the Indus civilisation as 2800 B.C. A comparison of the plain and painted pottery of the Indus civilisation with similar specimens at Sumer, Elam and Egypt shows that the Indus civilisation must have flourished not later than 2500 B.C.
Ceramic evidence shows that the earliest stage of the Indus civilisation was 3000 B.C. Recently carbon test carried out on the materials from Mohenjo-daro, Lothal, Kalibangan and Sur- kotada determines the dates of the Indus civilisation from 2400 B.C. to 1700 B-C. But the scientists working on the subject are of the opinion that carbon activity was not constant in the past and observe that the likelihood of 4000 B.C. as the upper limit of the Indus civilisation cannot be ruled out.
It must be mentioned in conclusion that the Indus civilisation must have had a long history of anterior development before it reached the stage at which we find it. It is difficult to fix the dates of the civilisation particularly because the lowest layer of the cities of Mohen- jodaro, Harappa, Chanhu-daro, Junkar cannot be reached because of sub-soil water. The civilisation from what has been known till now, may well reach beyond 3500 B.C.
In any case, the culture period of the Indus Valley civilisation, as revealed by its finds seems to have lasted roughly from B.C. 2800 to 2200 B.C.
Architects of the Indus Civilisation:
In determining the authorship of the Indus civilisation the only definite and reliable materials available are the human skeletal remains and the skulls which have been discovered in the ruins of the cities of the Indus civilisation. From an examination of the skulls it has been found that the Indus people was a heterogeneous people and comprised Proto-Australoid, Mediterranean, Alpinoid and Mongoloid racial types.
In certain cities, however, one or the other racial type was more predominant than the others. For instance, the Mohenjo-daro people were mainly of Mediterranean type. Evidence supplied by the sculptured pieces also confirms the composite nature of the Indus people.
The anthropological and statuary evidences while confirm the composite character of the Indus people, they by no means help us to venture any definite conclusion as to, the authorship of the civilisation and there has been a good deal of speculation among the anthropologists, and scholars as to the naming of the people of any particular race as the author of the civilisation. The authorship has been variously ascribed to the Dravidians, Brahuis, Sumerians, Panis, Asuras, Dasas, Nagas, and Aryans etc.
Most of the anthropologists and scholars prefer to name the Dravidians as the author of the Indian, civilisation. But) when we consider the fact that the Dravidians buried their dead we cannot say that the Indus civilisation was their work, for the number of the graves discovered does not justify this conclusion. Further, excavation in south has not revealed any trace of the Indus civilisation.
Some are of the opinion that the Brahuis who spoke Dravidian language were racially different from the peoples speaking Dravidian language in Central and South India. The Brahuis were of Turko-Iranian origin.
As to the opinion that the Sumerians were the author of the Indus civilisation it may be said that although there were close contacts between the people of Sumer and those of the Indus Valley, there is no definite evidence, in support of their authorship of the Indus civilisation.
As to the Panis, Dasas, Asuras, Nagas etc. there are no materials to help us in placing them in any racial category.
Turning to the theory advanced by a number of scholars that the Indus civilisation was the work of the Aryans we have to deal with a good deal of counter arguments. Sir John Marshall after a careful comparison of the Vedic civilisation with the Indus civilisation has come to the conclusion that these two civilisations were clearly distinct.
Further, he is of the opinion that the Rig Vedic times were posterior to 15000 B.C. and had been about a thousand years subsequent to the disappearance of the Indus civilisation. Naturally, as he opines, there could not be any connection between the Aryan and the Indus civilisations. But here again, we have a different opinion.
Some scholars point out that the Rig Veda was certainly composed quite a long time after the advent of the Aryans in India. Again, there is no certainty as to the date of the Indus civilisation. From the skeletal remains it is also held by some scholars that the Aryans were also a part of the composite population of the Indus civilisation. One of their main arguments is that the Siva-Sakti cult of Mohenjo-daro was borrowed by the Aryans in later time.
Another argument is that the Indus people did not know the use of horse and they also worshipped images. Dr. Mackay refutes the argument that horse was not known to the Indus people by pointing out a model of animal looking like horse and says that horse was known to the Indus people. It is also pointed out that the Siva cult of Mohenjo-daro might as well have been borrowed from the Rig Veda period.
The opinion of Sir John Marshall is, however, generally accepted but it may be pointed out that some scholars still hold that the Vedic civilisation was anterior to the Indus civilisation. In the maze of arguments and counter arguments it is not possible in the present state of our knowledge to come to any conclusion suggestive of the fact that the authors of the Indus civilisation were the Aryans. In fact, the authorship of the Indus civilisation cannot be ascribed to any particular race.
Decline and Disappearance of the Indus Civilisation:
Our knowledge about the decay and decline of the Indus civilisation is still in a conjectural stage more or less. Nothing, therefore, can be said with certainty at this stage of our knowledge. Archaeologists have, however, tried to find out from the available evidences the factors that were very likely to have caused the decay and disappearance of the civilisation. The problem is a controversial one, there is no doubt.
Most of the archaeologists are of the opinion that the climatic change in the Indus region was by and large responsible for the decay and disappearance of the Indus civilisation. As Sir Mortimer Wheeler says, ‘The rainfall in the Indus zone was somewhat more ample and equable than it is today. Except the riverine strips and areas artificially irrigated, the whole terrain is now sandy. Yet it was in these mountainous and desert areas the earliest agricultural communities of India have been identified.’
It is impossible to believe that the people of Mohenjo-daro or Harappa or for that matter the people of the Indus region could develop a culture as they did in an arid, inhospitable desert. There are evidences that Indus region was marshy and jungle infested. The vivid representations by the artists of the time, of tiger, buffalo, rhinoceros, elephants with whom they were obviously familiar, bear out this fact.
The extreme scarcity of evidence of camel indicate that the area was not dried, arid desert. Adequate water supply from rainfall and rivers made the region fertile and suitable for agriculture which was the main stay of the economic life of the Indus people.
But the climate began to undergo a gradual but sharp change. Aurel Stein observes that evidence distinctly pointed to the local climate having undergone a great change since the Chalcolithic times in its effect on agriculture. While there was less of rainfall and consequently more of heat, the moisture contained in the soil was brought to the surface as a result of evaporation.
The crust of the soil became white, arid and brittle. This process of desiccation was far advanced by the time Alexander the Great, whose returning army was decimated in the cheerless wastes of Makran. And it may be said that an increasing aridity had already contributed to the downfall of the Indus cities.
Now, what were the causes of the desiccation of the Indus zone? It is variously suggested that the northward movement of the Atlantic cyclones which deflected southwards to North Africa and extended to Arabia, Persia and India. It has also been suggested that the southwestern monsoon touched the Indus Valley. But these are mere suggestions.
But as Wheeler points out, the basic climatic change is unlikely to have been the sole or even the main cause in the deterioration of the agricultural conditions in the Indus Valley and its environs. True that a basic change in the climatic conditions may be reasonably argued but human neglect or interference was no less an important contributory factor.
Millions of kiln-burnt bricks must have required fuel which the forests could yield. Excessive deforestation that resulted in consequence of drawing timber for the kiln from the forest led to decrease in rainfall. Human neglect was also evidenced in inadequate maintenance of such dams and irrigation canals as may have been found necessary, a falling off in agricultural standards etc. are factors which resulted in the reduction in the precipitation of moisture which led to progressive desiccation.
Besides these domestic potentials for the decay and disappearance of the Indus Civilisation, must be added the invasion of the nomadic outsiders in the second millennium B.C. which broke up the organised agriculture altogether. It is likely that the invaders were none other than the Aryans who entered India during the middle of the second millennium B.C. (B.C. 1500), When Harappa was first built the citadel was defended by a great turret wall.
In course of time it was refaced more strongly than before. Towards the later history of Harappa its defences were further strengthened and one of its gateways towards the west was wholly blocked. All this was certainly because the city was threatened by invaders. In Mohenjo-daro also there was a walled citadel the town was in the lower level.
The first to suffer were the Beluchistan villages. When gradually the barbarians, i.e., the outsiders had conquered the outlying villages, people flocked within the cities. The Indus cities must have suffered great strain. In order to accommodate more people large rooms at Mohenjo-daro were divided into smaller rooms. Potters’ kilns were built within the city. Jewelleries were buried to secure them against the invaders.
The city became over-crowded and full of new-comers upon whom the city fathers could not enforce the age old pattern of its culture. Naturally, the high civic standard fell and the towns and cities became derelict, decadent settlements hastening to their end. Later day Mohenjo-daro and by inference Harappa and the rest remarks Wheeler were poor shadows of former selves. The end of the Indus civilisation was a mere question of time.
Besides progressive desiccation, the growing danger of floods was certainly responsible for the evacuation of Mohenjo-daro, although flood was only one of the causes. The rising water level due to the immense quantity of silt brought down annually by the Indus water had caused devastating floods that swept over the city at least on three occasions.
A mud brick embankment or bund, 43 feet high, was constructed to protect the city from the devastation of flood and had to be reinforced externally. A large drain made of kiln-burnt bricks which lay along the foot of the embankment had to be rebuilt at a level 14 feet higher denoting that the water level was rising up as a result of silting. Houses were also rebuilt on higher level in order to make them secure against flood.
When the end came, it would seem that most of the citizens of Mohenjo-daro had fled. But from a group of huddled skeletons in one of the houses, one skeleton of a woman lying on the steps of a well suggests that a few stragglers were overtaken by the invaders.
Thus numerous causes, both natural and human, were responsible for the end of the Indus civilisation. About the invaders who gave the ultimate blow for the disappearance of the civilisation opinions vary. Sir John Marshall is of opinion that a period of nearly two centuries elapsed between the end of the Indus civilisation and coming of the Aryans. This indicates, according to him, that the fall of the Indus civilisation was due to invasion by people other than the Aryans.
But recent excavations at Harappa and elsewhere, indication of the Rig Veda itself, have tended to reduce the gap suggested by Sir John Marshall. Many competent scholars led by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, now believe that Harappa civilisation was overthrown by the Aryans. The skeletal remains excavated in the later cemetery at Harappa are those of the true Vedic Aryans and that the forts or citadels, the Vedic War-God Indra is said to have destroyed, included Harappa in their number.
Survivals of the Indus Civilisation:
The question which appears to be the most pertinent is how far did the Indus civilisation contribute to the sum-total of human achievement? While the civilisation of Mesopotamia may be easily related to the general development of civilisation of the West, the Indus civilisation cannot claim that much of continuity.
At the first sight the Indus civilisation does not seem to have any claim on the subsequent cultural development of the Indian sub-continent itself. Their cities decayed, and were obliterated in their decadence by an insurgent barbarism. Slaughtered Harappans lay unburied amid their streets and drains. Did all that they represented perish with them?
Their system of plumbing and drainage, and their special artistry they could not bequeath to later ages. About their thoughts and ideas, their philosophy and their beliefs, the archaeology is not of much help. But there are reasons to believe that later Hinduism did in fact retain a non-Aryan Harappan mentality. The recurrent figures of a Proto-Siva that is Pasupati Yogin in seated posture or dancing as Nataraja are beyond doubt, bequeathed to Hinduism by the Indus people. Likewise the Indus Mother Goddess bequeathed to later ages the Hindu concept of Parvati.
The evidence of phallic worship, reverence to animals, particularly the cult of the bull are the contributions of the Indus people to Hinduism.
Further, the punch-marked coins, with their symbols embossed on them are reminiscent of the Indus Valley scripts and with their standard of weight conforming to the weight system of Mohenjo-daro, constitute an important survival of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
Some of the designs, motifs, shapes and forms found in the pottery and terracotta articles at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa have their counterparts in objects discovered in the Punjab and the Northwest belonging to period shortly before the Christian era.
It is something paradoxical that while the Indus civilisation failed to transmit its physical aspects to the later times, it succeeded in transmitting its philosophy, its religion to its successors. Therefore, it is certain that there was no break or hiatus after the Indus civilisation. The successor civilisation, i.e., the Aryan, was enriched in some measures by the influences of the Indus culture and the continuity of the Hindu Civilisation from the third millennium B.C. cannot be questioned.