India is an ancient land. Ancient too is her civilisation. She is one of the ancient most centres of human existence.

Men of Old and New Stone Ages lived on her soil. Through long times man moved on the path of progress.

And, at last, one of the earliest civilisations raised its head over a vast area of this sub-continent. It was the Indus Civilisation.


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The Indus Civilisation was as old as the civilisation of the valleys of Nile and Tigris. For thousands of years, that civilisation was lying buried under earth. Modern men had no idea of it. People believed that civilisation in India began with the Aryans. Before them, there lived only the primitives.

In 1922, however, a great discovery took place. It carried the date of Indian civilisation far back. It was proved that India had a civilisation long before the Aryans came. The credit of this discovery goes to two famous scholars, Rakhal Das Banerjee and Dayaram Sahni. By archaeological excavation in the Punjab and Sind, they dug out the remains of two ancient cities. One was Harappa, situated in the Montgomery district of Punjab on the bank of the river Ravi. The other was Mahenjo- daro situated in the Larkana district of Sind on the bank of the river Indus.

The word Mahenjo-daro means ‘Mound of the dead’. It is also called “City of the dead”. Harappa and Mahenjo-daro were lying under the earth for thousands of years.Their discovery brought to light a new chapter of pre-historic India. The world came to know that human Civilisation also dawned on the soil of India, as in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The Name of the Civilisation:


It became a problem to give a name to that ancient civilisation. At first, some scholars felt that the civilisation of Harappa and Mahenjo-daro has a close connection with the ancient civilisation of Sumerian. Therefore they wanted to describe it as the Indo-Sumerian civilisation. But gradually it became clear that the influence of any outside civilisation on Mahenjo-daro-Harappa was negligible. So, the first name lost its value.

In the mean time, other scholars felt that because Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were situated on the valley of the river Indus, it should be called Indus Valley Civilisation or Indus Civilisation. In their opinion, the Indus Civilisation was purely a civilisation of Indian origin. It was never a branch of any other civilisation.

In course of time, further discoveries took place. At many places outside the Indus Valley, remains of that culture were seen in plenty. That led the scholars to feel that it was a civilisation which covered a much wider area. It is wrong, therefore, to call it as Indus Valley Civilisation because, such a name suggests only a limited area.

To come out of such difficulties, some scholars felt that because the civilisation was first discovered at Harappa, it may better be called as Harappan Culture. While scholars felt like this, history accepted the name of the earliest civilisation of India as Indus Civilisation. Whatever be the name, that civilisation extended over a wide area of India.



The Extent of the Harappan Culture:

The traces of the Harappan Culture have been discovered from many places. It is evident that its extent was far and wide. From the Himalayas in the north to the Narmada Valley in the south, the Harappan Culture extended its influence. The evidences of that ancient culture have been found at several places. Famous among such places are Rupar, Kali Bangan, Chenhu- Daro, Sutkagen-Dor, and Lothal. Traces of it are also seen in Baluchistan and Bikaner.

Rupar is situated in the north near Simla. Sutkagen-Dor is situated near the Arabian Sea, and Lothal is in Gujarat. Within the vast area from Ropar to Lothal, the Harappan traces have been found from as many as 80 places. It is believed that the Harappan Culture covered an area of 1,500 kilometres from east to west, and 1,000 kilometres from north to south.

At present, the area of that ancient civilisation is marked from southern Baluchistan in the west to Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh in the east; and from Rupar in the north to the Kim estuary in Gujarat in the south. As such, the area of the Indus Civilisation or the Harappan Culture is much wider than the area covered by the ancient Nile Civilisation, or the Civilisation of ancient Mesopotamia, or even the Yellow River Valley Civilisation of China.

Time of the Indus Civilisation:

The origin of the civilization is difficult to define. Opinions differ regarding the time of the Indus Civilisation. Sir John Marshall, the Director-General of Archaeology from 1902 to 1928, was a great authority on the subject. He found some similarity between the Indus and the Mesopotamian Civilisations. On that basis he calculated that the Indus Civilisation existed about 3,000 years before Christ. He put the time between 3250 B.C. and 2750 B.C.

Some other scholars compared various things found from Mahenjo- daro with those found from Babylon. Some of those appeared identical. On that basis they believed that the Indus Civilisation perhaps prospered after 2550 B.C. Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler, the Director-General of Archaeology from 1944 to 1948, fixed the time of Indus Civilisation between 2500 B.C. and 1500 B.C.

According to some others the Indus Civilisation was at its height of glory when Mahenjo-daro and Harappa were built. It is natural, therefore, that the rise and growth of Indus Civilisation had taken place long before the cities were built. In view of this it is suggested that the Indus Civilisation began about 5000 years before the birth of Christ. About 3000 B.C., it was at its zenith.

The Builders of Indus Civilisation:

Who were the builders of Indus Civilisation? On this point, historians hold different opinions. According to some, long before the Aryans came to India, the Dravidians lived on the soil of this land. They were highly civilised. They built the Indus Civilisation. It was thus a pre-Aryan and pre-Vedic Civilisation. To others, Aryans were the makers of Indus Civilisation. They came much earlier than it is supposed. Their early settlements were in the north-western regions of India and the Indus Valley. Mahenjo-daro and Harappa were their work.

The third opinion is, the builders of Indus Civilisation were the Sumerians of Mesopotamia or some other people of that group of men. It is for this reason that there is a good deal of similarity between the civilisations of Sumer and Indus Valley.

The last of the three opinions does not seem to be correct. There were trade relations between Mesopotamia and India from very ancient times. Different goods of Mesopotamia came to this country, and many Indian goods were sold in Sumer or Babylon. It is for this reason that similar goods have been found from the ruins of Sumer and Indus cities. It is also natural that many ancient peoples used similar things for their live hood. But comparing such things one cannot say that people of both the places belonged to the same race or group. Thus the Indus Valley people and the people of Sumer or Babylon were not the same.

The question, however, remains if they were Dravidians or Aryans. Enough thought has been paid to this subject. It is seen at last that there were some basic differences between the Indus Civilisation and the Aryan Civilisation. In view of these differences it is difficult to suggest that the Aryans were the authors of Indus Civilisation.

John Marshall has described those differences in the following manner. “The Vedic Aryans worshipped the Cow. But the Indus people at Harappa and Mahenjo-daro worshipped the Bull. The Aryans were the worshippers of Nature; they performed Yajna and offered prayers to their gods. But the Indus people were devoted to a Mother Goddess, and they worshipped trees, animals and snakes. The Aryans did not like to live in cities; they loved to live in simple rural atmosphere amid the beauties of Nature. But the people of Indus culture built beautiful cities and loved to live prosperous urban life.

The Aryans were not in great favour of trade and commerce; they did not like sea voyages. But the Indus people were fond of trade and commerce for which they travelled far and wide across the seas. The ancient scripts and writings of the Aryans have not yet been discovered. But the Indus Valley people had developed scripts which are available in plenty from the ruins. The Aryans were a race of warriors, they used various weapons to attack others. But the Indus people seem to have been a peace-loving race. The Aryans used horse very much. But the Indus people knew very little of that animal.

With such differences between the Aryans and the Indus people, it will be perhaps wrong to say that the Aryans built the Indus Civilisation. It is imagined, therefore, that the Indus Valley Civilisation was the work of the Dravidians. It may be said, however, that history needs still more evidences to accept this theory.

Indus Valley People and Their Culture:

We may not know who built the Indus Civilisation. But we know how great it was. Below is given a brief account of the Indus Culture.

Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro: Town Planning:

City Construction and City Life: The Indus Valley people developed an excellent urban civilisation. They knew how to build beautiful cities and live a healthy civic life. The ruins of Mahenjo-daro and Harappa give proofs of it.

The ability which the Indus people showed in building their cities is rare. Among ancient civilisations we have no such examples. The ancient people of the Nile Valley were indeed great builders. They are famous for Pyramids. The people of Mesopotamia were also famous for their building activities.

But the Indus people were superior to them in one sense. While the people of Egypt and Mesopotamia built great monuments for their kings and gods, the people of Indus valley built their monuments for the happiness of common men. The Great Bath of Mahenjo-daro and some other public buildings provide proof of it. Moreover, the Indus cities were well-planned like modern cities.

It is this town-planning which makes Harappa and Mahenjo-daro unique. Both the cities show more or less the same style of construction. There were strong high walls around the cities for protection. There were towers on those walls. The streets and roads were long, straight, and broad. Even the lanes and by-lanes looked straight. They all ran in straight lines from east to west, and from north to south. They cut each other straight. Some roads were as wide as 34 feet or 10 metres.


Street of Mohenjo-Daro Town Planning:

The most attractive feature of the town-planning was its sanitary system. On both sides of the roads there were nice drains. The buildings and houses of Harappa are in total ruins. But some of them in Mahenjo-daro are in slightly better condition. They are divided into two groups, namely, dwelling houses and public buildings. Besides them, the Great Bath of Mahenjo-daro has deserved special attention.

Houses and Drainage System:

Houses were built mostly in burnt bricks. They were of simple style. There were no unnecessary decorations. Perhaps the people of those days wanted to live in good, simple and clean houses. They did not like beauty at the cost of utility.

The living houses were spacious. For plenty of light and air, the doors were made wide. Almost in every house, there was a bath room, and near the bath there was a well. Most houses were two storied. The steps of stair-cases are still to be seen leading to the upper floor. There was a courtyard inside every house. In every house there was a narrow drain to carry water outside. That drain was joined to the bigger drain by the side of the road.

Finally, there were main drains to which other drains were connected. Such drainage system proves that the people of Indus Civilisation were highly conscious of healthy living conditions. The most surprising thing was that the drains were not open drains, but covered. In the opinion of historians, the sanitary systems of Mahenjo-daro are not to be seen in any other pre-historic city of the world. The covered drainage system is not to be seen even in many cities of our own time. In fact the elaborate drainage system was one of the unique features of the Indus Valley Civilization, probably due to an effective municipal authority.

Public Buildings:

Regarding public institutions, Mohenjo-daro presents highly interesting spectacle. There were some big buildings in the city, but the purpose for which they were used cannot be known. Scholars believe that whatever be the purpose of use, those big houses were meant not for individuals but for many. At Harappa, too, ruins of public buildings are seen. Some such houses are said to have been big granaries. Those granaries were 50 feet or 15 metres in length and 20 feet or 6 metres in width.

They were arranged in two parallel lines of 6 houses on each side. A big granary-like building is also seen at Mahenjo-daro. If those houses were really granaries for storage of grain, they are proofs of the economic prosperity of the Indus Valley people. Some historians believe that there was a regular system of bringing and hoarding grain in the cities for public consumption. The officers of the state perhaps managed that system. The economic condition of the people was indeed prosperous.

The Great Bath:

The most interesting construction of Mahenjo-daro was its Great Bath. It is considered a remarkable feature of Indus Civilisation. The house which contains the Great Bath is 180 feet or 55 metres in length and 108 feet or 33 metres in width. The Bath itself is 39 feet or 12 metres in length and 23 feet or 7 metres in width. It is 8 feet or 2.5 metres in depth. There were steps from both sides to enter into the Bath. The walls and the floor of the Bath were very strongly constructed for preservation of water. There was outlet to drain out water in order to clear the bath.

Fresh water was brought in from a huge well nearby. A number of small and big rooms were there around the bath. On one side alone, there were 8 small rooms. Those rooms were perhaps used to change dress after bath. Verandahs were there around the Bath. Behind the verandahs were the galleries for people to sit and see. In the opinion of Sir John Marshall, the Great Bath was the most attractive of all buildings discovered at Mahenjo- daro.

Chief Features:

The long and broad streets, clean and simple dwelling houses, covered drains, huge granaries, the Great Bath, public buildings, and walls around the cities with towers were the chief features of the cities of Mahenjo-daro and Harappa. They create surprise that three thousand years before the Christian era, the inhabitants of the Indus Valley lived such an excellent city life. In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, all energy of the people was spent to build huge pyramids and great temples.

The common men gained nothing from that. They lived in small mud huts in insanitary conditions. They derived no comfort from their city life. In contrast, the Indus Valley people built houses and monuments for their own living and comfort. The energy of a people was thus devoted to build for the happiness of the people themselves. That made them unique among ancient peoples.

Indus Civilisation: Social, Economic and Religious Life:

Many things have been discovered from Mahenjo-daro and Harappa. They include small images and seals. From the designs on the seals and the images, scholars form ideas regarding the social, economic and religious conditions of the Indus Civilisation. There are other evidences also to give a clear picture of the Indus life. Below is given a brief account of the social, economic and religious life of the Indus Valley people.


Social Life:

The social life of the Indus people was highly developed.

The following facts prove the point:

Indus Script:

The Indus people were as advanced as the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians in spheres of education. This is proved by the countless seals which contain very fine scripts. Unfortunately, the scholars have not yet been able to read the Indus scripts. Attempts are being made to read them. When they will be read many things will be known about the culture of that time.

Dress and Ornaments:

The Indus people lived a luxurious life. It is known from their ornaments and dress. People were fond of beautiful ornaments. The rich and the poor alike used them. The rich people used ornaments of gold, silver, costly stones and ivory. The poor people used ornaments of copper, bones, and even of burnt clay. Necklaces, rings, earrings, and armlets were commonly used by women. Even men used different types of ornaments. The ornaments were artistic and attractive. Both men and women used combs and they liked attractive hair style.



The Indus people also used good dress. They were experts in the art of weaving.

Food and Domestic Animals:

In their food habits, the Indus people were quite advanced. They ate wheat, rice, barley, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables and drank milk. They used cows, lambs, pigs, buffaloes, and camels as domestic animals. Elephants were also used for various purposes. It is, however, not yet clear if they knew the use of horse and dog. Latest discoveries suggest, perhaps they did know.

Household Articles:

The Indus people knew the use of several metals. They prepared many things of day-to-day use from those metals. Gold, silver, copper, tin, bronze and lead were of common use. It is to be noted however that no iron has been discovered from the ruins of Mahenjo-daro and Harappa. People made their utensils in copper or bronze. Earthen pots were used in plenty. They were painted in colour.

Toys of many kinds have been recovered from the ruins. Small figures of animals, birds, men and women were prepared in clay. Perhaps children used those as toys. The grown-up men and women played different games. They lived a happy life. They enjoyed dancing. Attractive dress was used. The bathrooms in every house prove that people believed in cleanliness.


The Indus people were patrons of art. Excellent ornaments, painted earthen pots, earthen toys of many kinds, images made of bronze or stone, and the attractive designs on the seals give testimony to the love of the people for art. The figures of animals on the seals prove that the Indus artists and craftsmen were very competent in their work.


The Indus Valley people used copper and bronze weapons. Battle axe, dagger, spear, bow and arrow were their main weapons. It is not yet clear if they used swords and shields. The Indus people used to burn or bury their dead. All these points give some idea about the social aspects of the Indus Valley Civilisation.


Economic Life:

It can be easily said that the people who built great cities like Mahenjo-daro and Harappa were economically prosperous. It is on solid economic foundations that an urban civilisation grows up. Mahenjo-daro and Harappa possessed that foundation.


It is believed that in those remote days there used to be heavy rains in the Indus region. Side by side, the river Indus supplied much water for rich cultivation. The soil was fertile and the Indus people were hardworking.

They produced plenty of wheat and barley. According to some scholars, the living standard of the common men of Indus valley was higher than the standard of the common people in Nile Valley and Mesopotamia. The areas around Mahenjo-daro are still known as Naklilistan or the ‘Garden of Sindh’.

Cottage Industry:

The Indus people were also efficient in art and crafts. They were excellent weavers. They prepared beautiful dresses both in cotton and wool. Ornaments, weapons, utensils, toys and other goods of luxury were prepared by able artisans. Those groups of people were economically well off.

Trade and Commerce:

The people of the Indus Valley were great in trade and commerce. Inside India, they carried their business from the Kashmir Valley to the Deccan. For external trade, they moved far and wide. That was one of their chief achievements for fame. They had trade relations with outside countries both through land and sea routes.

It is known that the Indus people had close commercial relations with Sumeria, Egypt and Crete. The seals of Mahenjo-daro have been discovered from Mesopotamia. Similarly, the Cuneiform writing of Mesopotamia has been discovered at Mahenjo-daro. This proves the contract which the people of those two distant places maintained in ancient times.

Agriculture, industry and trade were the three chief occupations of the Indus Valley people. Their economic condition, therefore was prosperous.

Religious Life:

From the relics of Indus Valley, we get some idea about the religious life of that time. From small female figures, discovered from the ruins, some scholars believe that the people perhaps worshipped a Mother Goddess. Of course, it has not yet been possible to form a clear idea about that Goddess.

A female figure on a seal has created much interest. Some say it is the figure of the Earth Goddess. To others, it is the Goddess of Nature. The worship of Mother Goddess was prevalent in many ancient societies. The Indus people also might have believed in that. Some people think that Mother Goddess of the Indus religion appeared as Goddess Durga or Kali in the Indian Religion on the future ages.

Besides the Mother Goddess, the people also worshipped a God. A beautiful figure appears on a seal which looks like a powerful God. He has three faces. There are horns on his head. He is sitting in the posture of a Yogi. On his four sides there are figures of four animals, such as, elephant, tiger, rhinoceros and buffalo. Near his feet is the figure of a deer. Scholars feel that this god was Siva Pashupati. From a study of this figure, Sir John Marshall imagined that perhaps Saivism was the earliest religion of India.


No temple has been discovered from the ruins of Harappa and Mahenjo-daro. It is not clear, therefore, how the people worshipped their gods and goddesses. May be that the temples of Mahenjo-daro are still lying buried under the Indus sands, not yet discovered. Similarly, the temple bricks of Harappa might have been carried away from their original sites. The images or figures were all found from the dwelling houses of common man. It may be that the people of the Indus Valley offered worships in their own houses.


Besides the Mother Goddess and Siva, the Indus people also worshipped several other things and symbols. They paid religious respects to the Bull, Tiger, Elephant and some other animals were also considered sacred. Perhaps, these animals were regarded as the vahanas of the Deities. Some say that the Indus Valley people worshipped even snakes. Similarly, they also worshipped several trees. Representation of animals, plants and others gods on seals or in terracotta and stone figurines suggests that regular worship was a part of their religious life.

It seems as if the religion of the ancient Indus Valley and the future Hinduism of India have similarity in many respects. Worship of gods and goddesses, animals and trees, as was prevalent in Indus Valley, is also seen in Hindu mode of worship. It may be that the earliest religion did not disappear with the fall of Indus Civilisation. The Aryans were influenced by the prevailing faiths of the Indus region. They accepted many features of the pre-Aryan worship. From the faiths of the early Aryans, later Hinduism developed.

Sir Mortimar Wheeler believed that the worship of Siva came to later Hinduism from the ancient Harappan religion. The Harappans regarded the Bull as sacred. So too, did the Hindus of later times.

The similarities between the Indus religion and the later Hinduism prove that the civilisation of India has maintained its unbroken continuity from a remote pre-historic past to recent times. The religion of India is a product of ages. It is vast and broad enough to cover the faiths of all peoples of all times who lived on the soil of this great country.

Funerary customs and practices:

Three forms of burials have been found at the excavated sites of Indus Valley Civilisation. The disposal of dead was done by complete burials, fractional burials and cremation. Harappan burials were clearly those of ordinary people, and no royal cremation was found.

Decline of the Indus Civilisation:

We do not know the causes of the decline of the Indus Civilisation. Great civilisations of the ancient ages have disappeared for mysterious reasons. When definite causes cannot be known, scholars have to imagine several possible reasons leading to such declines. About Indus Civilisation, the following arguments have been advanced as possible causes of its decline;

According to Sir Mortimar Wheeler, Harappa and Mahenjo-daro were destroyed by the Aryan invaders. In the Vedas, the early Aryans described their God Indra as the destroyer of the cities of the Asuras. He was called Purandara. It may be that when the Aryans entered into India, they saw some great cities on the Indus Valley belonging to other people. They fought with them. In those battles the Aryan invaders seem to have been victorious. Possibly, they destroyed the cities of the defeated people and drove them from their original homes.

According to Wheeler, the fall of Mahenjo-daro and Harappa perhaps occurred about 1500 years before the birth of Christ.

To other scholars, the above cause appears unsound. They believe that climatic changes led to the decline of the cities. It may be that the rivers Indus and Ravi changed their courses for which the cities were badly affected. It also appears possible that the frequent floods of those rivers made it difficult for people to live. Being deserted, the cities perhaps got buried under earth in course of many years.

The Legacies of the Indus Civilisation:

The influence of the Indus Civilisation on the future cannot be denied. That civilisation had two faces, spiritual and material. The material prosperity, the trade and commerce and the urban happiness of those days did not survive for distant future. With the fall of the cities and when the people scattered away, those material aspects of the culture also vanished. But the religious faiths of the Indus people survived forever. In the Hindu modes of belief, many features of the Indus culture are still traceable.

It may be said, however, that the material aspects of the Indus Culture was not confined to a small area. It covered a wide region. Relics of Harappa have been discovered from nearly 60 places in the Indus Valley alone. Traces of that culture have also been found from the ruins of Rupar, Rangpur, Lothal and Hastinapur. It is proved that the Harappan culture prevailed over a vast area of India.

Time will come, when scholars will be able to read the Indus script. Many things of that glorious civilisation will be known only when the scripts will be read. At present our knowledge of the subject is limited. Yet whatever little is known is more than enough to prove that the Indus Civilisation was one of the oldest civilisations on the earth.

According to famous western scholar V. Gordon Childe, “The Indus Civilisation represents very perfect adjustment of human life to a specific environment, and it has endured, it is already specifically Indian and forms the basis of modern Indian culture”.

It is interesting to note here that excavation works are still going on the Indus valley. A scholar named Jonathan Mark Kenoyer has recently said that the oldest writing symbols in the world date back to the Harappan site of Indus valley. Still more curiously the researcher has found “Swastika symbols” from Harappa.