In 1925 archaeologists announced a spectacular discovery of immense urban ruins of two cities Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa divided apart by a distance of 640 km but identical in their layout, architecture and building technique.
In 1922 Dr. Rakhal Das Banerjee, the then Archaeological Superintendent of Western Circle noticed a Buddhist stupa at Mahenjo-daro in the Larkana district of sind (now Pakistan).
A prodigious civilization lived in the region about 5000 years ago and tied round the river Indus and its tributaries and thus identified as the Indus valley civilization.
Simultaneously Sir Dayaram Sahani discovered some remnants of pre-historic age at Harappa in Montgomery district of the Punjab (now Pakistan). Excavation in both places unearthed valuable materials of a civilisation of higher order. Excavation at various other sites at Chandra Daro, Amri, Lohunjo-daro, Noa and Rupar proved that a prodigious civilization lived in the region about 5000 years ago and tied round the river Indus and its tributaries and thus identified as the Indus valley civilization.
During the past two decades substantial additions have been made to our knowledge of the Indus civilization. Numerous excavations have been made to by various archaeological agencies both foreign and Indian at different sites of the civilization. The discovery of Naushera in Pakistan has yielded important evidence relating to the actual process of transformation from the early to mature Harappan phase.
It is difficult to assert when such a civilization of high order flourished in the North-Western region of India. We do not get any direct source in shape of inscriptions or any written material to say the exact date and time of the civilization. During the process of excavation many seals with scripts have been discovered.
Unfortunately it is still not possible to decipher the scripts. As a result information embodied in the script are unknown till today. According to John Marshall the then Director General of Archaeology, this civilization flourished in this vast region roughly between 3250 BC to 2750 BC.
His assertion was on the basis of several similarities noticed between the discoveries of Mahenjo-daro and other ancient civilizations of the world like Mesopotamia, Egypt and Babylonia. Two other smaller sites excavated in recent years in Rojdi in Saurastra and Desalpur in Kutch districts reveals that this civilization had an extensive area of about 1600 km from West to East and 1100 km. from North to South much greater than that, occupied jointly by the contemporary civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia.
The site of Harappa is larger than Mahenjo-daro and gives more source materials to know about the lost culture. After excavation and careful study of the available sources it is estimated that the town of Mahenjo-daro or the “Mound of the Dead” was perhaps built and rebuilt nine times in the lapse of time.
The excavation undertaken in various places gives clear indication that the people of Indus valley were primarily urban people. The Indus cities whether Harappa or Mahenjo-daro in Pakistan or Kalibangan, Lothal or Sarkotada in India shows Town planning of a truly amazing nature. In both the places the cities were built on a uniform plan.
To the west of each was a ‘citadel’ mound built on a high podium of mud-brick and to the east was the town proper the main hub of the residential area. The citadel and the town was further surrounded by a massive brick wall. In fact careful planning of the town, fine drainage system, well arranged water supply system prove that all possible steps were carefully adopted to make the town ideal and comfortable for the citizenry.
The street lights system, watch and ward arrangement at night to outwit the law breakers, specific places to throw rubbish and waste materials, public wells in every street, well in every house etc. revealed the high sense of engineering and town planning of the people. The main streets some as wide as 30 to 34 feet were laid out with great skill dividing the cities into blocks within which were networks of narrow lanes.
The streets were quite broad varying from 9 feet to 34 feet in breadth. The corners of the street rounded off perhaps to enable the heavy carts to take turn easily. The streets intersected in right angles and so arranged that the prevailing winds could work as a sort of suction pump and thereby clean the atmosphere automatically. No building was allowed to be constructed arbitrarily and encroaching upon a public highway. The owners of the pottery kilns were not allowed to build the furnaces within the town obviously to save the town from air pollution.
A tourist from England was highly enchanted seeing the idea of advanced and skillful town planning and remarked that the town was very much equivalent to the working of present day Lancashire. In short the idea and arrangements were so extraordinary that one get a thunder-struck. Drainage system managed by the Indus Valley civilization is indeed unique. The idea and the system were highly scientific and by all means best of the time. The drainage system of Mahenjo-daro is so elaborate and scientific that similar advanced System was not found in any town of same antiquity.
House drains connected in the main drains running under the main streets and below many lanes. Drains were made of gypsum, lime and cement, covered with portable stabs. In regular intervals, there were inspection traps and main-holes for inspection. Main drains were feet 2½ to 5 ft. broad. The small drains were connected with main drains which helped to pull water speedily out of the town. Every house had an independent soak- pit which collected all sediments and allowed water to flow to the main drains passing underneath the main streets of the town.
Proper care was taken to ensure that the house-wives did not throw refuse and dirt in the drains. The extensive drainage system adopted by the people of the Indus Valley unhesitatingly proves that the people of the time had developed a high sense of health and sanitation. The people of Indus Valley had generally constructed three types of buildings. Such as dwelling houses, public halls and public baths. Burnt bricks were used and fixed skillfully with the help of mud and mortar for the construction of houses and other different structures of the towns. Buildings were of different sizes but generally were single or double storied.
From the existence of a stare case it is evident that double storied dwelling houses were widely prevalent. The houses were furnished with paved floors and were provided with doors and windows. The roofs were made of mud, reed and wood. Every house possessed a well both room courtyard kitchen and first class drainage network.
The houses were more or less typified the same plan, a square courtyard round of which a number of rooms. Almost every house had a bathroom at the ground floor and some even on the first floor. The bathrooms were connected by a drainage channel to sewers in the main streets leading to soak-pits. The domestic drainage system and the bathing structures and the outlets are found to be very remarkable.
The average size of the ground floor of a house was about 11 square metres but there existed many bigger houses. There were some barrack-like groups of single roomed tenements at Mahenjo-daro and Harappa similar to the coolie lines of Indian tea and other estates. Many public buildings have come to notice during excavation. A high pillared hall having an area of 80 sq. feet came to light which is accepted to have been used as an assembly hall for transacting matters of common interest. Another notable building discovered is considered to be the state granary.
It is 200 feet long and 150 feet wide and further sub-divided into smaller storage blocks for storing different types of grains generally used during the period of food crisis. A great public bath excavated in Mahenjo-daro is really significant. It is really thought provoking how such a massive bath as back as 5000 years could be constructed. It is 180 feet by 180 feet square.
The bricks used were of different sizes. Some were 20 inches by 8 inches and the smaller were 9 inches by 4 inches. The great bath is surrounded by a large number of rooms. It has a flight of steps at either end and is fed by a well situated adjoining room. There were separate drainage systems to flush out waste and dirty water. The actual bathing pool is about 139 feet in length and 23 feet in breadth and the depth is 8 feet.
It is thus presumed that this great bath was used by the members of the public on auspicious festive days. The strength and the durability of the structure prove amply that it could last 5000 years with standing all kinds of ravages of nature. To the West of the Great Bath existed a remarkable group of 27 blocks of brick-work crisscrossed by narrow ventilation channels. This structure is the podium of the great granary.
Art, Craft, Painting and Sculpture:
The people of the Indus Valley civilization had shown equal progress in sculpture, art of pottery, painting and carving. These are sufficiently corroborated from many statues, figures etc. discovered during excavation. The statue of a healthy bull a strong watch-dog and a shawl-wearing yogi prove that the people were highly proficient in the art of sculpture.
The statue of a dancing girl with her hands on hip and a dancer standing on her right leg raising the left leg to the front typified the standard of the artistic value of the people of the Indus Valley civilization. The people had made remarkable progress in the art of pottery. Many beautiful glazed and coloured potteries have been unearthed during the excavation.
These potteries are generally regarded as the earliest example of its kind in the ancient world. The clay pots were also polished and glazed to give shine like those of the present days. The people of the Indus Valley were very fond of paintings. Their patronage for paintings transpires in the figures of human beings, animals and other objects of nature. These quality paintings of the painters really surpass all records.
Art of Carving:
The excavation of Mahenjo-daro and Harappa throws a flood of light that the people of Indus valley did not lag behind in the field of engraving of animals on many seals that came to our hand. The engravings were simple but elegant and the variety is also a matter of surprise. The engraving of bulls, rhinoceros elephants, deer’s etc. on the seals speaks about their skill in this field.
The carving of a humped bull is a unique specimen and it symbolizes the realism and simplicity in the process of the engraving. The figures are generally engraved on ivory, soap stone, leather, metal and wood. All these exhibits unmistakably prove that the art of engraving achieved a success during the Indus valley civilization.
The Indus valley people were also well versed in the art of writing. The script followed was pictographic. Though in the seals scripts are plentifully available but in-spite of pain staking endeavor the scholars are not successful in deciphering the scripts for which many important information’s still remain under darkness.
The ruins and various evidence of Harappa and Mahenjo-daro reveal a great deal about social and economic life of the people of Indus valley. On examination of the skulls and bones discovered during excavation it is said that the people were either Dravidians or a branch of Indo-Aryans. Some other scholars are of opinion that they were from the same stock of the Sumerians or the Cretans.
It appears that the people were divided into four classes—the learned class, warriors, traders and artisans, and manual labourers or working class. The learned class included priests, physicians, astrologers. The existence of palaces with ancient foundations, of swords of watchmen’s quarters and of ancient fort walls points to the second class whose duty was to protect the people.
Probably this class was similar to khatriyas. A commercial class and various artisans such as the mason, engraver, shell worker, gold smith, weaver, carpenter etc. formed the third class. Domestic servants and manual labourers like leather workers, fishermen, basket makers, peasants, daily wage earners formed the last class. All this corresponds roughly to the four Varna’s of the Vedic age.
The people were taking beef, mutton, pork, poultry, turtles and tortoises as their main food. Wheat was their main article of food. Barley and palm-date were also familiar. Fish was commonly used and vegetables and fruits seem to have been known though there is no positive evidence.
Cotton fabrics were in common use but wool was also used. Their dress was simple. Men used shawls which were drawn over the left shoulder and under the right arm so as to leave the right arm free. It formed the upper garment. The lower garment was like a modern dhoti. Their hair was combed backwards and was either cut short or coiled in a knot on the top of the head. Men kept short beards and sometimes the upper lip was shaved.
The people were fond of ornaments. Both men and women of all classes used necklaces fillets, arm lets, finger rings, and bangles. Girdles nose studs, earrings, and anklets were used by the women alone. There was a great variety in the shape and design of these ornaments of the Indus valley people. The rich made the ornaments of gold, silver, ivory, faience and other semi precious stones like lapis-lazuli, carnelian, agate and jasper. The poor used ornaments made of copper bone shell and terra cotta. People knew the art of toilet and cosmetic.
Toilet jars made of ivory, metal, pottery and stone. Ladies were well acquainted with the toilet culture. As stones were not available there it was imported from other places and so was sparingly used. As no scarp of iron is found in Mahenjo-daro, this metal was not known to the people. Indus valley people knew the use of gold, silver, copper, tin, lead and bronze.
Among amusements dancing with the accompaniment of the drum, and dice playing was very common. Hunting was practiced as a common game. People were also interested in fishing.
The earthen ware vessels of rich variety prepared by the potters with the help of their wheel either plain or painted highly burnished with the appearance of Chinese lacquer discovered from the Mahenjo-daro speaks of the high standard skill of the people of Mahenjo-daro.
Very often the pots were ornamented with a pattern of concentric circles in black and occasionally with figures of trees, birds and animals. Some of the pottery was ornamented with clay knobs. Vessels of copper, bronze, Silver and porcelain were known to the people though rarely used.
A large number of bowls, dishes, cups, saucers, vases, basins, pans, jars, jar stands, goblets and stone jars of different size were in use by the people as have been found there. Needles and combs made of bone or ivory, axes, chisels, saws, knives, fish hooks, and razors copper and bronze were also used by the people.
Clay models of birds, animals, whistles, rattles, men and women etc. were also discovered from the region. There were wheeled carts and chairs. People used a large number of weights of different size. They ranged from large ones to be lifted with a rope to very small ones used by jewelers.
Cubical weights were most common. The unit weight had the value of 8750 grams the largest weight being 10.970 grams. A bronze bar with suspended copper pans was used as a scale. All these weights prove that the decimal system was known to the people of the Indus Valley.
Domestication of Animals:
They had domesticated animals. Humped bull, buffalo, sheep, pig, dog, elephant and camels were domesticated. Horse was not domesticated. They used carts in which bullocks were used. The people had learnt the benefit of domesticating animals and therefore widely practiced the same. It is evident that the people were familiar to wild animals mainly tiger, bear, rhinoceros, hair squirrel and monkey.
Weapons of War:
It is generally accepted that the Indus Valley people were peace loving. In fact no deadly weapons or defensive weapons like shield or armor have discovered during excavation. On the contrary weapons like axe, spear, bows and arrows etc. discovered give indication that the people were disinterested in warfare. However the weapons so discovered prove that the people of the age knew the use of copper, bronze. Incidentally they used to use a type of sharp pointed and thick sword to protect themselves from external attack.
Disposal of Dead:
During the excavation the remnants discovered suggest that the dead-bodies used to be disposed of by burning. Some dead-bodies were buried under the ground and some were left exposed so that animals or birds could consume its flesh and then the bones were buried under the earth. Sir John Marshall said that the process of burning was very common to the people.
Position of Women:
Women in the society were highly respected. The worship of mother goddess indicates that women enjoyed enormous position in the society. They were equally treated like their male counter-part in the society.
The basic economy of the people was necessarily agricultural. Cultivation was on an extensive scale facilitated by the presence of rivers. The principal food grains were wheat, barley, peas, and sesamum. Cotton was also grown. The general diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, animal food including beef, mutton, pork and poultry.
There is clear evidence of the existence of a highly developed system of craft production and distribution. There were specialized groups of potters, copper and bronze workers. The merchants of the Indus Valley carried their trade far beyond their frontiers of the empire and established contacts with other peoples of other civilizations.
Gold was imported from Mysore. Silver was imported from Afghanistan or Iran, Copper from Rajputana, South India, Baluchistan and Arabia. Lead-ore was imported from Ajmer and Afghanistan. Jade was collected from Central Asia. Evidence is found of trade contacts between the Indus people and Sumerians, Egyptians and other people. Trade between Indus region and Iraq was carried on through the island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.
The cuneiform clay tablets speak of the trade through Bahrain have been amply confirmed by modern excavation. There was an intermediate trade centre at Magan or Makan identified with Oman or Some other part of South Arabia. Besides copper peacocks were exported in exchange of silver and other commodities from Mesopotamia.
The construction of different categories of buildings and the architectural planning of the town, the use of different kinds of ornaments made of gold and silver speaks high of the economic standard of the Indus valley people.
From the various articles discovered, one can safely conclude that the people believed in image worshipping. The image of a female deity resembles the image of mother goddess which has been identified as the symbol of “Sakti”. A number of statues have been discovered. One is a seminude female figure wearing girdle or band-round her loins. Those figures represent the Mahadevi of the valley.
Thus the cult of mother goddess seems to have been widely prevalent in the Indus valley. A long seal discovered at Harappa showing the figure of Mother Goddess with a man holding a dagger. Women present with hands lifted represent the prevalence of human sacrifice. Thus it is confirmed that people believed in female energy as the source of all creation.
Simultaneously the idea of worshipping male god “Shiva-Pasupati” was popular at that time. On one particular seal we find a figure with two horns on two sides of a tall head dress surrounded by wild animals and sitting in an erect meditative posture or a yoga posture. This speaks of to a certain extent the later conception of Siva.
Lord Siva is regarded as the Maha-Yogi and is styled as Pasupati or the Lord of the beasts. The three faces in the figure suggest the concept of trimukha which directly symbolized the Lord Shiva. The discovery of stone pieces which looked exactly like Shivalinga, has further confirmed the idea of worshipping god shiva by the people of Indus valley.
Apart from the worship of god and goddess the people of Indus valley used to worship certain trees, birds, and animals. Some of the animals were regarded as the ‘Vahana’ of the Shiva. The bull usually depicted with a single horn was associated with god Shiva. It is strange that the cow so universally worshipped in later Hinduism is no where depicted in the Indus seals.
The great bath of Mahenjo-daro indicates that the people used to bodily purify themselves by taking bath on the eve of the religious ceremony before worshipping either goddess or gods.
Mahadevi or God Pasupati:
From the figure of a pipal tree in a seal indicate that the people used to accept pipal tree as sacred. The dove was looked upon as sacred. Some form of Naga Worship was also practiced. The representation of Swastik and the wheel on some seals make us believe that though actual worship of sun was not there but it was represented symbolically.
From the above mentioned similarities it is no use denying that the Hinduism of the present days is highly indebted to the culture and civilization of the Indus Valley. Hence it is justified to think that there is an organic relationship between the ancient culture of the Indus Valley and the Hinduism of today.
Decline of Indus Valley Civilization:
The decline and the fall of the Indus Civilization was progressive and the city of Mohenjo-Daro was already slowly dying before its ultimate end. Houses mounted on artificial platforms or upon the ruins in their endeavor to check the floods were shoddy in construction, older buildings were subdivided even domestic courtyards were partitioned.
The growing danger of flood forced the people living in the areas to migrate to safer places. There are convincing evidence to prove that around 2000 AD devastating flood repeatedly appeared in the lower Indus Valley and destroyed this flourishing civilization. Undisputedly, the Indus Valley was badly affected by flood more than once.
The flood deposits at Chandudaro confirm the contention. The cities were standing on artificial platforms and on the baked brick revetments of the fortifications at Harappa and the mud brick fittings in the foundation of the houses at Mahenjo-daro amply support the theory.
The high hill of silt at Budh Takkar as referred by Sri Sahani only corroborates that such deposits was possible because of unprecedented flood of high magnitude that prolonged unusually. The gradual alluvial building at the river mouths right from the beginning of the civilization was ultimately responsible for sheet-flooding and consequent sub-emergence of Harappa settlements in low lying areas.
According to one school of scholars rainfall gradually declined in the area and eventually turned the Sindh into a desert. In such an adverse condition the inhabitants were compelled to migrate to suitable places. Thus natural calamity like flood, cyclone, earthquake etc. was responsible for the destruction of such a rich civilization. Many Harappa’s left the Indus and proceeded towards higher regions.
The fierce tribes living in the hills and jungles gradually mustered strength and invaded the rich and unguarded cities of the Indus Valley. They let loose rapine massacre and destruction which compelled the habitants to quit the dwellings and take to heels to safer places. As the inhabitants of Indus Valley were neither war like nor possessed suitable weaponry for their defence, they were unable to repulse theunslaught of the invading tribes including the Aryans.
The complete ruin of the Indus cities could also have been due to the wiping out of their system of agriculture. The rivers might have changed their courses which would make irrigation impossible and ruin the city. To conclude we can say that the Indus Valley civilization resembles a great deal with those of Egypt, Mesopotamia and China.
The developed urban life, the use of the potters wheel, kiln-burnt bricks, copper and bronze vessels and pictorial writings are some of the common distinct characteristics of all these civilizations. Indus Valley civilization thus has contributed many valuable imprints to the human civilization.