Until 1922, the history of Indian culture started with the Vedic culture. But the excavations of the ruins at Mohenjo-daro (The City of Dead) in Larkana district of Sindh (Pakistan) in 1922-23 under the guidance of Mr. Rakhaldas Banerjee of the Indian archaeological department and a little later the excavations of the ruins found at Harappa in Montgomery district of West Punjab (Pakistan) by Dayaram Sahni and, later on, on a broader scale excavations done under the guidance of Sir John Marshall has pushed back the history of Indian culture to nearly 3000 B.C.
As preliminary discoveries were made in the Indus valley, it was called the Indus valley civilization. But later discoveries proved that this civilization covered larger area than the Indus valley. Then it was felt that it would be better to call it the Harappa civilization.
The excavations have proved the existence of a proud civilization in this region:
1. Its Extent:
However the civilization was not limited to Indus valley only. Further excavations at different parts of India have proved that this civilization, called the Indus valley civilization, really embraced Baluchistan, the whole of Sind and Punjab, the bulk of Kathiawar, a part of the coastal region, valley of the Narmada river and a part of Rajasthan, the Gangetic basin, and further excavations, probably, may prove its existence almost all over north India. Besides, the people of this civilization had relations, mostly that of trade, with the people and contemporary civilizations of entire north India, Western Europe, Asia and Africa.
2. Its Time:
At none of the sites excavated so far has iron been found. Therefore, this civilization has been accepted as that of the Chalcolithic Age or copper age. Dr R.K. Mukerjee has fixed the period of this civilization as between 3250-2750 B.C.; Dr Frankfort has fixed it as 2800 B.C.; Dr. Maclay has fixed it as 2600- 2200 B.C.; Dr. Gadd has indicated 2800 B.C. as the upper limit of the Haryana culture and Dr. Fabri places the main culture period of Mohenjo-daro between 2800-2500 B.C.
Judging from the point of view expressed by different scholars, it is believed that the period of this civilization may well reach beyond 3500 B.C. It took about 1,000 years in its evolution, and it reached its developed stage by nearly 2800 B.C. and continued in that stage for about 600 years. Thus, this civilization is one of the most ancient civilizations of the world.
The people at Harappa used both copper and bronze for making their tools and weapons. But along with copper they used stone as well for making their weapons. Therefore, scholars have placed this civilization among the civilization of Chalcolithic age (the age when people used both copper and stone for making their tools and weapons). But Dr. D.D. Kosambi has maintained that the people at Harappa used more bronze than copper for making their weapons and instruments and therefore, it was a civilization completely of bronze age.
3. Its Builders or Authors:
The population of Mohenjo-daro was heterogeneous and comprised at least four different racial types viz., Proto-Australoid, Mediterranean, Alpinoid and Mongoloid. But the majority consisted of the Mediterranean type which as a linguistic group has been called Dravidian.
Sir John Marshall has advanced various arguments to prove that the Indus valley civilization was quite distinct and earlier than the Vedic civilization and therefore, has contended that the authors of this civilization were Dravidians. The majority prefers to hold this view.
However, there are a few scholars who maintain that there is no break between the Indus valley and the Vedic civilization. The Aryans had entered India while the Indus valley civilization was flourishing and they also participated in building up this civilization. Dr. A.D. Pusalkar writes of it. “It represents the synthesis of the Aryan and non-Aryan cultures. The utmost that we can say is that the Rigvedic Aryans probably formed an important part of the populace in those days, and contributed their share to the evolution of the Indus valley civilization.”
However, this view has not been accepted by the majority of scholars. Besides, if we accept this view even partially, then we have to accept that the Aryans came to India when this civilization was in a state of decadence. In such a state, the Aryans could not and did not contribute much towards building up of this civilization.
4. The Civilization:
The excavations have revealed the remnants of cities, pottery, clay-seals, toys, ornaments, statues etc., which give us a rough idea of this civilization. Attempts have been made to decipher the script of this civilization, signs of which have been found mostly on clay-seals but no conclusive result has been drawn so far.
The available sources point out its following features:
The latest researches have proved that there existed a strong centralized government. Otherwise, the construction of planned cities and roads and uniformity of the means of weights and measurements could not be possible. The influence of religion on polity is also quite visible. It seems in fact, writes Dr A.L. Basham, “that the civilization of Harappa, like those of Egypt and Mesopotamia, was theocratic in character.”
It also seems that there was continuity of governments throughout the span of the civilization. Besides, certain scholars have expressed the view that, probably, the administration there was in the hands of merchant community. Thus, there is no unanimity among scholars concerning the administration there. Yet, it is believed that, certainly, there was no monarchical state there.
(ii) Town Planning:
We know the town-planning of the people of the Harappa-civilization from the town-planning of the sites at Kalibanga, Lothal, Surkotda, etc. and primarily from the planning of the cities at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. The cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa exhibit similar plans.
To the west of each was a raised platform about 9 to 15 metres high and about 360 x 180 sq. metres in area. Public buildings were raised on this platform and it was protected by a wall for the purpose of defence against intruders.
Below it was the proper town, in each case at least a square mile in area. The main streets, 2.70 to 10.20 metres wide and sometimes running straight as far as half a mile, intersected at right angles dividing the city into rectangular or square blocks within which were networks of narrow lanes. Each lane had a public well while lamp-posts at intervals indicate the existence of street lights. No encroachment was allowed on a public highway by any building.
An elaborate drainage system was maintained which constituted a unique feature of this civilization. Individual house-drains opened into the street-drains, which, in turn, opened into the river outside the city. All street-drains were covered by bricks and arrangements were made for their cleaning. Dust-bins were also provided on the streets.
Thus, the Indus valley people had made impressive arrangements for the cleaning of their cities. Dr A.L. Basham writes, “No other ancient civilization until that of the Romans had so efficient a system of drains.” Dr. A.D. Pusalkar has also commented: “A visitor to the ruins at Mohenjo-daro is struck by the remarkable skill in town-planning and sanitation displayed by the ancients.”
The architecture of the people of the Indus valley was, in general, plain and utilitarian rather than beautiful. The dwelling houses varied in size from a palatial building to one with two small rooms, showing the quarters of the rich and the poor. No fortifications have been discovered at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. However, fortified places made of stone have been found on the outskirts of Ali Murad and Kohtras.
The same way only baked bricks were used to build up buildings at these two cities and stone was used only at the hill sites near the Kirthar range. Ordinarily bricks were of rectangular shape and well made. Bricks in the size of 20 1/4″ x 10 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ have been found. The houses, often of two or more storeys, were all based on much the same plan. The walls were sometimes even seven feet thick.
The rooms were arranged round an open courtyard, the entrances were usually in side alleys, most of the houses had a well and a bathroom, latrines were ordinarily not provided or they were situated at the top and stairways were made in nearly every house. The roofs, doors and windows of the houses were made of wood and no window faced the streets. The doors were 3-7 feet wide.
The average size of the ground floor of a house was about 30 sq. feet, but there were bigger houses as well. Every house had four to six rooms besides the kitchen. But certain houses had even thirty rooms in them.
However, small houses having an area of 6 x 3.6 sq. metres too have been discovered at sites of both the cities which, probably, were houses of the labourers. The area of the largest building found at Mohenjo-daro is 69 x 24 sq metres. Probably, it was a palace.
Excavations have been done there of another big building. The process has not been completed but, probably, it was a granary and its area was nearly 750 sq. metres. The most remarkable and the largest building at Harappa is the Great Granary, measuring 51 x 41 sq. metres.
In Indus valley near Kirthar-hills, remnants of houses built of stone and small fortification too have been discovered.
However, the most striking of a few large buildings is the Great Bath in Mohenjo-daro measuring 54 x 32 sq. metres. The actual bathing pool, measuring 11 x 7 sq. metre, with a depth of 2.40 metres, is situated in the middle of a quadrangle, surrounded by verandahs with rooms and galleries behind them. A raised platform at each end with a flight of steps gave access to the pool.
Arrangement was made to fill and empty the tank. There were six entrances to the building containing the bath. There were closed bathrooms as well where arrangements were made for hot bath. According to Dr. Mackay, bathrooms were meant for the priests while the Great Bath was for the general public. However, it is not certain whether it was used for secular purposes or for religious ceremonies.
The remnants found at Kalibanga in Rajasthan also prove the same pattern of town-planning as we find at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. There too, towards the west and on a higher level was a place like a small fort which was protected by a seven metre wide wall of mud-bricks while the city was on a lower level towards the east. The protected area was divided into two parts.
On the one side, towards the south, were a well, bathing-places and probably, places of worship and, on the other side, towards the north, were residential houses, probably, of the members of the ruling class. The city there was also protected by a wall of unbaked bricks which had two gates, one towards the river-side in the north and another providing entry to the fort.
Lothal was another important place of this civilization. It was a port-city at the Bay of Cambay from where foreign trade was carried on. There, towards the east, a dockyard was built up which from north to south was 216 metres long and 37 metres wide.
The dockyard was protected by a 1.2 metre high wall of baked bricks and was connected with the then existing river, Bhogovo which provided facility of carrying goods from the ship to the dockyard by boats. Towards the south-west of the dockyard were built rooms of mud-bricks and above them was constructed a big hall of wood which, probably, was used as a store-house.
In Gujarat, 270 kms. away from Ahmadnagar and towards the north-west, excavation at Surkotda also proves the existence of a city there. The planning of the fort and city there was similar to Kalibanga. Both were protected by walls which had gates also. But while walls at Kalibanga were only of mud-bricks, at Surkotda stone was also used for raising the walls.
Besides, it had one difference when compared to the town-planning of Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and Kalibanga. While at other place, the fort and city were separated from each other, at Surkotda these were united though the entry-gates of each of them were separated. The wall which protected the fort there has been found 4.5 metre high even now.
Thus, later excavations at several other places have proved that besides Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, there existed several other cities as well during the period of Harappa-civilization. Besides, all arrangements mentioned above prove that cities of the Indus valley civilization had efficient municipal governments.
(iii) Economic Life:
The Indus valley people had developed a prosperous civilization on the basis of their thriving agricultural economy. Domestication of animals was another useful profession while they had trade relations not only with other parts of India but also with the western countries like Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete and Sumer both by sea and land.
Only a country capable of producing food on a large scale and having trade relations with other countries could build up such a prosperous city-civilization as Indus people had created. Even their workmen could afford the luxury of two-roomed brick built houses.
The main profession of these people was agriculture. They produced wheat, barley, varieties of fruits, date-palm and millet. Dr. A.L. Basham has opined that rice was not known to them. But now rice has been found at Rangpur, Lothal and several other places which has proved that they produced rice as well. But, according to Dr. B .B. Lal, the one novelty of the Harappa-people was cultivation of cotton-plant which was produced even by the Egyptians several centuries later.
Nothing is known about their actual method of cultivation and irrigation but that they irrigated their lands by water of rivers is certain. However, Dr. D.D. Kosambi has opined that they did not built up canals but, certainly, built up dams for checking free flow of water.
They domesticated animals and birds for the purpose of milk, meat and pleasure. Cow, she-buffalo, sheep, pig, dog. humped-bull, donkey, parrot, cat, peacock and fowl were domesticated. According to A.L. Basham, one of the best presents to world-civilization by pre-historic India is domesticated cock. It has been upheld by scholars that practically all domesticated birds are the offshoot of the progeny of Indian wild cock.
The people of Harappa-civilization were the first to domesticate the wild cock. It has been proved by certain evidences. From India it travelled to Burma, from Burma to China and then from China to Egypt. Elephants, camels and horses were also known to them but, probably, horse was imported by foreigners (Aryans) here and became known to them much afterwards. The wild animals known to them were buffalo, monkey, bear, tiger, lion, tortoise, rhinoceros, hare, crocodile and gharial and they hunted them. Fish was also known to them.
The carpenter, the potter, the weaver, the goldsmith, the jeweller, the physician, the fisherman, the house-builder etc., represented their other professions. They could build round wood-wheels for their bullock-carts and potter’s wheel was also known to them. According to Dr. A.L. Basham, the people of Harappa-civilization had become expert carpenters. They had manufactured saw which made the cutting of the wood easy.
The people there maintained trade relations with other parts of India as well as with foreign countries. Links have been detected with Central Asia, Mesopotamia, north-eastern Afghanistan, north-eastern Persia, south India, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Baluchistan.
The trade was carried on both by land and sea. They, probably, imported copper from south India and Afghanistan, lead from Rajasthan, south India, Afghanistan and Persia, turquoise from Khorassan in north-eastern Persia and marble from Rajasthan.
Certain Sumerian documents have referred to a land called Dilmun or Telmun. Dilmun has commonly been identified with the island of Bahrain which served as a middleman station for the trade between Sumeria and Indus valley people. It proves that the people there had brisk trade with Sumeria by sea. The same was true of Mesopotamia.
Different seals found have indicated that these were issued either by individual merchants or merchant-guilds. They had distinctive marks on them and probably were used as hundis for the purpose of trade. Weights also have been found in large numbers and range from large specimens to very small ones.
What was used for measurement is not very clear but a slip of shell, 6.62 inches long and divided into nine equal parts has been found which suggests that they had means of measurement. It is also held that the decimal system was known to them.
Whether they used balance is not clear though remnants of a baked-mud balance have been discovered.
Thus, the Harappa-people had developed all those means which provided them economic prosperity by which they could afford to enjoy a luxurious city-life.
(iv) Social Life:
There is no proof of any division of society into castes like the four Varnas of the Vedic period but the remains unearthed at Mohenjo-daro demonstrate the existence of different sections of the people who may be grouped into four main classes.
The first, probably, consisted of priests, physicians, astrologers, etc., the second of warriors, the third of traders, artisans, and artists, and the fourth of manual labourers like peasants, fishermen, weavers, domestic servants etc. The basis of the division of these groups, thus, was mainly economic professions.
No actual clothing’s have been discovered at any place. However, indications have been there on human figurines. Both males and females used nearly the same dress. A shawl, worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm, was the upper garment and the lower garment resembled modern dhoti. Women, however, used one fan-shaped small piece of cloth also as head-dress.
Both cotton and woolen garments were used and, probably, the people knew sewing as is indicated by the needles found here. Both men and women kept long hairs and used hair-pins of gold, silver or copper. Men kept short beards but shaved their moustaches. Females used various toilets and cosmetics to beautify themselves. They used different face powders, lipsticks, eye-ointments, face-paints etc. Combs and mirrors were also used by them.
Both, men and women, rich and poor, wore various ornaments of different metals like gold, silver and copper and also that of precious or semi-precious stones. Necklaces, armlets and finger-rings were used mostly by males while females used headbands, bracelets, bangles, earrings, girdles and anklets in addition to them. Probably, no ornament was used for the nose.
Wheat, barley, milk, vegetables, fruits, dates and rice were important items of their food. Besides, meat of various animals and fish was also included in the diet of the people.
Various household articles were used by these people which were made of pottery, stone, wood, ivory and metals like copper and bronze. Dishes, basins, goblets, jars, pans, needles, axes, saws, knives, fish-hooks, chairs, stools, tables, cots (charpais), candlesticks, rather all necessary household articles, were used by them. Articles made of mud were baked, polished and painted by drawing lines on them.
Balls and dice-playing were their main source of entertainment. Both cubical and tabular specimens of dice have been found and three different ways were used for marking them. Fishing, hunting, animals and bird-fighting were other sources of their entertainment.
Toys like carts, whistles, rattles and clay models of men, women, birds and animals were favourites of the children. They made toys even with movable limbs. The bull with a nodding head, a monkey with movable arms and toys like figures moving up and down a string have been found. Among the toys found here is also a cart with two wheels. It proves that the people there were experts in toy-making.
Bullock-carts with or without a roof were the chief means of conveyance. A copper specimen has been found at Harappa which looks like an Ekka of the present day with a canopy for protection from the sun and the rain. Probably, it was used by the rich people as a comfortable means of conveyance.
Mostly the dead were buried. Sometimes the entire body of the dead person was buried while, at times, the dead body was left in open to be eaten up by birds and animals. Afterwards, the left-over of the body was buried. Certain household articles were also buried with them.
The people here used different herbs, leaves and bones of animals for medicinal purposes. They prepared Silajit also.
The main weapons of war and hunting were axe. spear, dagger, bow and arrow, mace, sling, shield and scale of armour. Most of them were of copper and bronze but mace was always made of stone. As there is lack of sharp weapons of attack and fortifications, certain scholars have held the view that the inhabitants of the Indus valley were peace-loving people. But the majority does not uphold this view.
These people knew about fortifications, created measures for self-defence and were used to fighting. K.M. Panikkar says, “The people who created this civilization were, no doubt, urban and commercial, but they were not pacific or unaccustomed to welfare. The towns and forts which the Vedic-gods were asked to help in destroying were the outposts and fortifications of the Indus valley people.”
The people knew and used gold, silver, copper, bronze, tin and lead but they knew nothing about iron.
The attitude of the Indus valley people was utilitarian. Therefore, they did not accept and materialize the principle that ‘Art is for art’s sake.” Their art of building proves it. There is no trace of ornamentation in houses and public buildings.
Their tools, weapons, vessels etc. are plain and practical. They did not achieve much success in painting and could not develop well the art of sculpture. Dr A.L. Basham writes, “They were not on the whole an artistic people.” Dr A.D. Pusalkar says, “There is very little sign of art for art’s sake in the Indus valley.”
Yet, the Indus valley people were not totally devoid of artistic talents. Their art specimens are found in pottery, figurines of males and females, seals and other small objects. The best animal and human figures are found mostly on their seals.
The majority of human figures are female and they are nude except for a narrow girdle round the loins. The bull, the rhinoceros, the roaring tiger, figures of three monkeys sitting round a circle and clasping one another’s waists with their arms, a sitting squirrel and figures of a Yogi and Pasupati Shiva are some of their best examples.
The bronze statue of a dancing girl with her hand on the hip is also a noteworthy object. She has bracelets in her left hand right up to the shoulder and though her hands and legs are disproportionately long, this one piece statue is considered a good piece of art. Two other statues of stone found at Harappa have also been regarded as wonderful pieces of art. One of them is that of a dancer standing on the left leg with the right leg raised in front. The pose is full of movement.
The other one, the stone-head of a priest discovered at Mohenjo-daro too has been regarded a good piece of art. Besides, at Mohenjo-daro, a bronze- statue of a she-buffalo and, at Harappa, a statue of a dog attacking a deer have been found. Largest number of toys have been found from the excavations at Chanhudaro which probably was a centre of toy-making.
A pot has been found on which a she-got with her child and a chicken feeding herself have been painted. On another pot, a fisherman has been painted, and yet on another, a bird with a fish in her mouth on a tree has been depicted. These findings have changed opinions in favour of the art of these people and some European critics have even gone so far as to say that “for pure simplicity and feeling nothing to compare with this masterpiece was produced until the age of Hellas.” Thus, the Indus valley art, though if failed to achieve greatness, occupies a remarkable place in contemporary art.
Nearly 2000 seals of burnt clay or stone have been found at these places which may be reckoned among their most valuable finds. The purpose of their use is not very clear. Yet, it is certain that these were not used as coins. However, as these have been found both in the houses of the rich and the poor, their utility for them is clear. Some of them are engraved with figures, some with designs and some with pictographic script.
The script was mainly phonetic. Nearly 400 distinct signs on the seals have been listed for the script so far. It is certain that these people knew the art of writing though at a rudimently level. The writing was mostly from right to left, but in a few cases in the opposite direction. Though a few scholars have claimed to decipher the script, their claim is not accepted. The script still remains undeciphered.
Efforts of modern scholars like Mr. Wadel, Prof. Hunter, Dr. Diringer. Dr. Longdam, Sri S.R. Ray and even that of Egbert Richerter Ushan who attempted to decipher this script on the basis of Vedic hymns and Sri Ram Singh Sebra have also failed to decipher this script or to relate it with any other known script.
In 1994 A.D., a signboard which has been accepted as one of the ancient one signboards of the world, has been found at Dolvira in Gujarat. It has ten signs of the script of Harappa which are 37 cm high and 25-27 cm. wide. We have not found so large a sign of Harappa-script at any other place or on any other article.
The existence of a script, knowledge of decimal system, presence of several weights and. probably, an instrument of measurement also indicate that the people of Harappa-civilization were educated. However, nothing is known about their system of education or of their literature if produced by them.
None of the buildings excavated so far can be positively described as a place of worship. There are no shrines, altars, or any definite cult objects. All that we have to depend on for finding out the religion of the people there are the seals, figurines, stone-images etc. Mother goddess. Nature goddess, Pasupati Siva, Mahalingin Siva, trees particularly Pipal, Swastika and the wheel representing sun, humped bull, fire and water were the important gods and goddesses of these people.
Unicorn and doves were also regarded as sacred and small rings suggest that the worship of the Yoni, the symbol of procreation, was also prevalent. The figure of a deity with a hooded cobra over the head shows the prevalence of the Naga cult. A seal from Harappa shows a nude female figure, turned upside down, and a plant coming out of the womb. The reverse side of the seal has a man with a sickle-shaped knife in hand and a woman seated on the ground with raised hands.
This depicts the worship of Earth Goddess. It also indicates human sacrifice. There are other seals which indicate that animal sacrifice was prevalent among these people. Among the male gods, the most remarkable figure is that of a three-faced deity wearing a horned head-dress, seated cross-legged in the posture of a Yogi and surrounded by an elephant, a tiger, a buffalo and a rhinoceros, with a deer under the seat.
This figure has been regarded as a representation of God Siva. It appears that Siva was one of the principal deities of these people along with the Mother Goddess. However, it is not clear whether humped bull had some relation with him or not.
Probably, different birds and animals were accepted as Vahans or vehicles of the God and so were sacred. The same seems to be the case with humped bull. There is no indication to justify that cow was accepted as a sacred animal by the Indus valley people. Thus, primarily, these people were nature worshippers in its various forms.
Some scholars have suggested that the Great Bath was the temple of the river god and crocodile probably represented river Indus but no direct evidence has been found to justify that river-worship was prevalent there.
5. Destruction of the Civilization:
The excavators at Mohenjo-daro have unanimously agreed that the city was already slowly dying before its ultimate end. There are proofs to suggest that the civic standards were declining there.
The causes of it can only be guessed. Impoverishment of the surrounding farmlands by over-cultivation, by destruction or neglect of irrigation channels or by over-grazing, has been postulated. Besides, natural calamities, certainly, participated in bringing ruin to the cities of this civilization several times.
Excavations have brought to light seven different layers of buildings at different places. It suggests that the civilization suffered destruction many times and was raised several times at same places. Floods, lack of rain-fall, changes in the course of river Indus and other natural causes have been attributed to the destruction of the civilization many times but the cause of its final extinction could be only foreign invasion.
And, the Aryans were the invaders from the northwest who were primarily responsible for it. Vedic texts refer to constant fighting between the Aryans and non-Aryans. Most of the prayers of Rig-veda have been offered by the Aryans to Vedic gods to give them strength to conquer non-Aryans. The Indus valley people could not resist the Aryan invaders who used horses and chariots against them in war.
Therefore, the Aryans, being conquerors, established the supremacy of their own culture over theirs, however absorbing many of its features amongst their own. But the self-entity of the Indus valley culture was destroyed forever.
6. Relation with Other Contemporary Civilizations and Importance of the Civilization:
No evidence is available that the Indus valley people had any direct contact with the contemporary civilization of Egypt. But many objects bearing similarities with those of the Indus valley have been found in Sumer. It has created a controversy as to whether the civilization first grew up in the West or in the East.
Western scholars have maintained that civilization first grew up in the West and then it spread towards the East while Eastern scholars have contended that civilization first grew up in the East and then spread towards the West. Both the contentions are biased and are maintained simply either to support the claim of superiority of the West over the East or vice versa.
Now, the accepted view of the majority is that civilization both in Sumer and the Indus valley grew independently and that similarities between the two cultures have been overemphasized and differences overlooked. Besides, the reason of similarities between the two is that there was brisk trade between them and therefore, both had opportunities to learn many things from each other.
The discovery of the Indus valley civilization has pushed back the history of India to the period 3000-2500 B.C. if not earlier than that. Therefore, it has placed Indian culture and civilization amongst the most ancient cultures and civilizations of the world.
Further, it has also been proved that there was no break between the Indus valley civilization and Vedic civilization. Therefore, the Indian civilization which flourished about 3000 B.C. continued its uninterrupted course and is existing till today while many other ancient civilizations have died.