Indus-Sarasvati Civilization





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Indus-Sarasvati Civilization

Indus valley civilization was a bronze age civilization in the North-western parts of the Indian subcontinent. It was the most extensive of contemporary urban civilizations. It laid down the foundations of Indian cultural and religious ideals, which were characterized by several continuities.

Indus-Sarasvati Civilization

Date of rise c. 3300 BCE
Date of decline c. 1300 BCE

The urban culture of the Bronze Age found in Harappa in Undivided Bharat was a path-breaking discovery. In 1853, A. Cunningham, the British engineer who became a great excavator and explorer, noticed a Harappan seal. Though the seal showed a bull and six written letters, he did not realize its significance. Much later, in 1921, the potentiality of the site of Harappa was appreciated when an Indian archaeologist, Daya Ram Sahni, started excavating it. At about the same time, R.D. Banerjee, a historian, excavated the site of Mohenjo-Daro in Sindh. Both discovered pottery and other antiquities indicative of a developed civilization. In 1924, John Marshall, then Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India, announced to the world the discovery of the Indus Civilisation. This was a momentous announcement as it extended back the Indic civilization's antiquity by many hundreds of years, and the existence of a civilization contemporaneous with the great Mesopotamian civilization was in itself remarkable.

Excavations and archaeological activity

Large-scale excavations were carried out at Mohenjo-Daro under the general supervision of Marshall in 1931. Ernst Mackay excavated the same site in 1938. Madho Sarup Vats excavated at Harappa in 1940. In 1946 Mortimer Wheeler excavated Harappa, and the excavation of the pre-Independence and pre-Partition period brought to light important antiquities of the Harappan culture at various sites where bronze was used. In the post-Independence period, archaeologists from both India and Pakistan excavated Harappa and connected sites. Suraj Bhan, M.K. Dhavalikar, J.P. Joshi, B.B. Lal, S.R. Rao, B.K. Thapar, R.S. Bisht, and others worked in Gujarat, Haryana, and Rajasthan. In Pakistan, Kot Diji in the dried Sarasvati Valley also known as Hakra in present times was excavated by F.A. Khan, and great attention was paid to the Hakra and pre-Hakra cultures by M.R. Mughal. A.H. Dani excavated the Gandhara graves in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. American, British, French, and Italian archaeologists also worked at several sites including Harappa. [ref]


The mastery of agriculture and the management of domestication of animals were significant developments in the history of humankind. It involved combined arts of food production and domestication, that induced dramatic changes in human social organization. The biological changes and developments in the Paleolithic Age that had earlier made Homo Sapiens the pre-eminent species on planet Earth, and endowed it with certain unique abilities. The evolutionary and gradual changes ultimately set the scene for urbanization in South Asia in the particular and the old world in general. A dramatic increase in population was coterminous with significant developments in the realm of agriculture. The potency and vigor inherent in food production and domestication were critical for sustaining the expanding urban population.

There is a link, deep casualty between the development of agriculture, village life, and the rise of urban centers, with a single unbroken narrative involving the development of early villages and pastoral camps and to the transition to urbanization in the Indus-Sarasvati region. However, the issues of origins are always contentious and complex, due to which a number of hypotheses and theories have been given by several scholars over a period of time.

Indus Urbanism: Civic facilities, Industry and Trade[ref]

The most conspicuous trait of the Indus civilization and the one that so struck its early explorers was the sophistication of its urbanism. Most towns, big or small, were divided into distinct zones. The acropolis ('upper city in Greek often also called 'citadel', usually had larger buildings and wider spaces. In the lower town, houses were more tightly packed together. Mohenjo-daro's acropolis, measuring about 200 x 400 m, is majestic by any standard. It boasts the famous complex of the great bath' with its central pool used for ritual ablutions, a huge 'college', a 'granary', an 'assembly hall' (or 'pillared hall"), and wide streets carefully aligned along with the cardinal directions. We may allow ourselves to conjure up the ruler or rulers meeting in some of those spacious halls along with officials, traders and, perhaps, on special occasions, representatives of the main craft traditions: builders, potters, seal makers, metal workers or weaver. Except, perhaps, for the actual rulers or high officials, the rest lived not in the acropolis but in the lower town, where a much denser network of streets and lanes led to hundreds of houses, with the larger ones often found side by side with the smaller ones . Harappa presents a more complex picture with four mounds, some of which were surrounded by walls as thick as 14 m at the base, with impressive gateways controlling access to the city. Unfortunately, the site was too badly plundered to give us a fair idea of the overall plan of the fortifications, which interestingly has the same dimensions as Mohenjo-Daro's about 400 200 m There are fewer large structures in Harappa than at Mohenjodaro d the main one being an imposing granary, 50 x 40 m. consisting of two rows of six large rooms (6 x 15 m each). As far as excavations have shown, the four mounds were occupied simultaneously and formed a single city, One thing to note is that designations like "citadel, "college, 'assembly hall' or 'granary' used in the paragraphs are, quite simply, arbitrary. Most of them were proposed by the British archaeologist R.E. Mortimer Wheeler. Given the charge of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1944, when he was a brigadier in the British army fighting in North Africa, he revived the ASI and institutionalized a more rigorous stratigraphic method designed to record a site's evolution period after period. Irascible but magnanimous, theatrical but hard-working, Wheeler energetically put his stamp on Indian archaeology. Bur having received his archaeological training in the context of the Roman Empire, he transferred its terminology wholesale to the Harappan cities, which thus became peppered with 'citadels', 'granaries', 'colleges', 'defense walls', etc., when no one, in reality, had a clue to the precise purpose of the massive structures that had emerged from the thick layers of accumulated mud. In recent years, for instance, some archaeologists have disputed the existence of huge granaries such as those identified by Wheeler at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, pointing out that there is no hard evidence for such an identification, and that in the region, grain was traditionally stored in bins. Also, it is less than clear whether the massive 'citadels' and fortifications had a military purpose, as we will discuss shortly. None of the larger structures (Mohenjo-Daro's 'college' measures 70 x 24 m!) were clearly palaces, either. Unlike in ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, where the residence of the pharaoh or king is conspicuous enough, Indus cities do not seem to have assigned magnified quarters to their rulers. Rather, a concern for the ordinary citizen is what impressed the early archaeologists.


Indeed, most houses, even modest ones, had their cows bathroom an unprecedented luxury in that age: the bathroom generally c sisted of a sloping platform of close-fitting fired bricks, with a drain through the outer wall raking wastewaters to a collective viewer, this, in turn, was connected to a network of drains made of carefully aligned baked bricks, with cesspits or sal Tars provided at regular intervals to collect sullage. In a few houses of Mohenjo-daro's lower town, vertical terracotta pipes embed ded in the walls point to bathrooms located on the first floor! Such a sanitary system, unrivaled in the ancient world till the Roman Empire which developed some 2000 years later-could function only on the basis of certain conditions. First, the slope of every drain had to be rigorously calculated, which implies that the houses were, initially at least, built on specific levels. As a matter of fact, blocks of neighboring houses were often erected on massive common platforms of bricks. A second condition was the presence of municipal workers' to inspect the soak pits regularly and remove the sullage or other obstruction. The drainage system is thus proof of considerable planning, careful execution, and efficient civic order. A third essential condition was the availability of a plentiful water supply. The solutions for ensuring this varied from city to city: Mohenjo-Daro had an estimated 600 to 700 wells, a huge number by today's standards, and Michael Jansen calculated that an inhabitant of that city could get water at an average distance of 35 m, again something that his or her counterpart in the less privileged parts of our cities can only dream of. The cylindrical wells, 15 to 20 m deep, were carefully constructed with special trapezoid (that is, wedge-shaped) bricks; owing to their shape, the bricks would lock together if water or loose soil pressed on the well's outer sides-a remarkably ingenious solution to the problem of inward collapse that plagues stone wells. Two thousand years later,' Jansen remarks, even the Romans usually used rectangular linings (mostly made of wood) which often collapsed due to the enormous pressure of the soil." Harappa had fewer wells and probably used a large reservoir, while Dholavira diverted water from two neighboring streams through a series of dams, and preserved it in a complex system of reservoirs. Clearly, Harappans valued both water and cleanliness. In addition, there is evidence of privies in many houses, and garbage bins in the streets where citizens would come and dump their household refuse. Again, neither could have remained in working order without efficient civic authorities.

Houses were generally built with bricks, sun-dried or kiln-fired (mostly the latter at Mohenjo-Daro). I have already mentioned the usual ratios of their dimensions, 1:2:4, found in many brick sizes: 7x 14 x 28 cm most commonly for houses, and 10x20x40 cm or a little more for city walls. Such bricks are very close in size and proportion to our modern bricks, in contrast to the bricks of the historical era, which were generally larger and more squarish Amusingly, this misled some of the early explorers (and brick robbers) of Indus cities into believing that the ruins lying below their feet must have been fairly recent a small error of judgment of some four millennia!The walls of houses were usually 70 cm thick, which points to one, sometimes possibly two, upper stories. Larger houses-with as many as seven rooms on the ground floor-probably belonged to rich traders or officials, but are often found next to much more modest dwellings. Writing in 1926, as he was beginning his own large-scale excavation at Mohenjo-Daro, Marshall's imagination was fired by the realization that the city testified to 'a social condition of the people far in advance of what was then prevailing in Mesopotamia and Egypt'. Five years later, he summed up his impression of the care lavished on the average Indus citizen:

There is nothing that we know of in pre-historic Egypt or Mesopotamia or anywhere else in Western Asia to compare with the well-built baths and commodious houses of the citizens of Mohenjo-Daro. In those countries, much money and thought were lavished on the building of magnificent temples for the gods and on the palaces and tombs of kings, but the rest of the people seemingly had to content them. selves with insignificant dwellings of mud. In the Indus Valley, the picture is reversed and the finest structures are those erected for the convenience of the citizens."

Industry and Crafts

The trademark Harappan has long and slender beads of carnelian. so prized in Mesopotamia, actually involved a technological feat: the length-wise drilling of a small hole for the string, which was done over several days of hard work with drill bits of a specially hardened synthetic stone. Other beads were made of agate, amethyst, turquoise or lapis lazuli; combined with disks and fillets in gold or silver, they permitted the creation of a great variety of ornaments. Bangles constituted another category of highly prized ornaments, whether made of gold, bronze, conch shell, glazed faience, or humble terracotta. Many statuettes of women wearing bangles have been unearthed, giving us a fair idea of the various ways in which they were worn. Some of the small sites were wholly dedicated to the bangle industry, perhaps even created for it-for instance, in the coastal areas of Gujarat where the shell was easily available..Harappans produced pottery in large quantities, something archaeologists are grateful for, since almost all objects of a perishable nature (wood, cloth, reed, etc.) have disappeared without a trace in the climate of the Northwest-and, along with them, a whole chunk of Harappan life. Wheel-made and kiln-fired pottery is generally distinguished by designs painted in black on a red background, although numerous variations exist; among the most typical designs are geometric ones such as intersecting circles, fish scales, wavy lines, etc., and realistic ones like pipal leaves, fishes, pea cocks, deer or bulls.

This brief survey by no means exhausts the list of crafts: weavers used wheel-spun thread and, besides cotton, evidence of silk came to light recently at two sites;16 other craftsmen excelled at stone and ivory. carving, carpet-making, inlaid woodwork, and decorative architecture. Bronze has been mentioned a few times as one of the pillars of urban development, and Harappans procured its main ingredient-copper -from mines in Baluchistan and Rajasthan, perhaps through nomads or non-Harappan communities specializing in its extraction. Ingots of smelted copper ore were transported to the smithies located in the towns and cities, where they were purified. Many objects were made directly from pure copper, but a variety of alloys were created through the natural or deliberate addition of tin (for bronze), lead, nickel, or zinc; arsenic was another additive, used mostly to make tools with sharper edges. Although a precise understanding of the processes involved remains to be worked out, Harappan coppersmiths must have experimented for centuries before they found the right techniques and proportions to forge bronze chisels that were hard enough to dress stones (on a massive scale at Dholavira), or saws that  could neatly cut hard conch shells. They made many other bronze objects, from axes to vessels, razors to mirrors, spears to arrowheads. Some less utilitarian applications included bronze statuettes cast with the 'lost wax technique, such as the famous 'dancing girl' 

Agriculture was another pillar of the urban order and was perfected not over centuries, but over millennia, as we saw at Mehrgarh. At some point, though probably not everywhere at the same time, plowing and intensive techniques such as intercropping came into play. At Kalibangan, for instance (Fig. 5.9), excavators found a field of the pre-urban period (around 2800 BCE) with an ingenious double network of perpendicular furrows: the  long ones were spaced our in a north-south direction and sown with taller crops (such as mustard); that way their longer shadows, cast mid-day during the winter season, did not fall on the shorter plants (such as gram) that were grown in the east-west furrow furrows, The major crops were barley and wheat (grown in winter), along with various millets (grown during the summer monsoon), vegetables and grapevine-whether for the grapes themselves or for some sort of wine is unclear. Rice has been found at a few sites in Gujarat, and also at Harappa and in Cholistan, but was probably not a frequent or regular crop. Hunting and fishing supplemented agriculture; in fact, Harappans were so fond of fish that they had dried saltwater fish transported all the way from settlements by the Arabian Sea to Harappa. Domestication of cattle, sheep, goats and fowls began millennia before the Mature phase, at least in the Mehrgarh region. All in all, Harappans seemed to have had a diverse diet. Cotton was an important crop throughout the region, and fed the textile cottage industry.

Naturally enough, Harappan life had room for dancing, painting, sculpture, and music; there is, for instance, some evidence of drums and stringed instruments, and several statuettes are frozen in dance postures-not the 'dancing girl', ironically, whose jaunty stance is actually static. Drama is suggested by a number of expres sive masks, and puppet shows were probably a treat for the young and not-so-young. The Harappans indulged in a possible ancestor of the game of chess, as evidenced by one terracotta set of chessmen found at Lothal. Other kinds of gaming boards and pieces have come up at several sites, as well as cubical dice almost identical to those used today. Children were not neglected, judging from the exquisite care with which craftsmen fashioned toy oxcarts and figurines, spinning tops, marbles, rattles and whistles. And they could also amuse themselves with pet dogs and monkeys, possibly pet squirrels and birds too, many of which have been depicted in figurines.

Harappan women appear to have enjoyed a status of some importance, as the terracotta figurines depicting them are far more numerous than those depicting men. Some figurines portray women in daily occupations, kneading dough or suckling a baby, sometimes also in comical postures that archaeologists are not quite sure how to interpret. But another category evokes a religious context, and we will turn to it when we probe Harappan religion.

One of the persisting riddles of this civilization is writing system, which appears fully developed at the start of the Mature period, although on earlier pottery some signs were written singly or in groups of two or three. Indus signs, as they are called, have been found carefully engraved not only on some 3500 steatite seals of the same type as those Marshall and his colleagues had marvelled at, but also on hundreds of terracotta tablets, a few of copper and silver, pottery and ornaments, among other media. Unfortunately, none of the numerous proposed decipherments has received wide acceptance: an entire aspect of Harappan life remains closed to us.

Even the purpose of the seals is debated: a few impressions on soft clay have shown that they were sometimes used to seal and identify bales of goods being shipped; but with little or no sign of wear and tear, most seem to have been kinds of 'identity cards. Their occasional use as amulets is also not ruled out. Did they represent a clan (symbolized by the animal depicted on many seals), a city or region, a community, a ruler, a trader, a type of goods, a deity, or a combination of these? We have only question marks here. At least we know that the seals were fired for several days in special kilns that reached a temperature of 1000°C, making them hard enough to give repeated impressions on soft clay; such an expense of time and labour shows the importance attached to those mysterious objects. In all the daily activities of the craftsman, the brick-maker or the humble drain cleaner, what stands out is care and a sense of organization. This is not a 'spectacular' civilization; as a matter of fact, early archaeologists, especially European ones, complained at times of its 'monotony': no great pyramid, no glorious tomb, no awe-inspiring palace or temple, no breathtaking fresco or monumental sculpture. But there is certainly an all-pervading sense of order: weights, seals or bricks were standardized, wells and drains were maintained for centuries, streets and public spaces were kept free from encroachments.

Trade and commerce

Dating its Mature phase, the Indus civilization had, from all avail able evidence, a flourishing and varied industry. Towns, both big  and small, had manufacturing units wors for the production of copper and he tools, weapons and exher m fo the fong of bricks and pots workshops for the coming of stone ols and she manufacture of beade and other ornaments and slees snit for poners, carpenters, weavers or seal maken. Many of those antics depended on materials that were not available locally and, therefore, on a  sorernal trader copper and son, gold and silver, semi-precious stones, timber and cotton must have been among the most valued commodities, such exchanges necessarily involved diverse communities, some specialized in the extraction of metal ore of semi-precious stones, others in agriculture or in transport along the wors waterways; in fact, for centuries or more. today's fishing community of the Mohanas for Muhannas) has been engaged in this last activity along the Indus. It is even likely that nomadic groups took part in the movements of and helped establish trade routes berween etits of resource distant regions.

Indeed, a striking trait of the Harappan character is-ness to reach out we have already noted a few : outposts along the Makran coast as well as in Afghanistan, bot merchant colonies were most likely established in Oman (called Magan in ancient times), Bahrain (ancient Dilmun, and Failakah (an island of Kuwait, also part of Dilmun). In all those places, evidence of Mature Harappan pottery, scals, heads, weights and other objects (such as combs of ivory) have surfaced in recent decades, some of them going back to 2500 ac or, possibly, a few centuries earlier? Further up, Ur, Kish and other Mesopotamian sites, as well as Elam's Susa, have together yielded some forty Indus seals. Besides other Harappan articles, characteristic long carnelian beads, as well as shorter beads with designs of white lines bleached onto the surface (or 'etched beads"), were found in Ur's royal cemetery. It appears that Mesopotamian rulers were particularly fond of Harappan jewelry. But not just that: Mesopotamian tablets mention wood, copper, tin, carnelian, shell, ivory, as well as pea cocks and monkeys, as coming from a region called "Meluliha, The listed items fit perfectly with goods from the Indus civilization, which is why most scholars have identified 'Meluhha' with it. The illustrious founder of the Akkadian dynasty, Sargon, who ruled in the twenty-third century BCE, proudly recorded in tablets how ships from Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha, richly loaded with exotic goods, would lay anchor at the harbor of his capital Akkad, which was, at least, 300 km upstream from Ur on the Euphrates. Ur being the usual port for disembarkation, this additional journey points to the special importance or prestige attached to the merchandise brought from these distant regions. The evidence, however, is strangely one-sided: hardly any object of Mesopotamian origin has emerged from the Indus cities. Various hypotheses have been advanced about the raw materials or finished goods, perishable or not, that Harappan traders might have brought back home, with guesses ranging from silver and copper to wool, incense and dates; but without firm evidence, they remain guesses. Let us hope that some Harappan shipwreck will, one day, emerge from the Persian Gulf.

Archaeologists also disagree on how far this external trade might have contributed to the overall prosperity of Harappan society, but it does seem likely that workshops or small industrial settlements were set up particularly for the export of goods, especially along the coast. This seems to have been the chief function of Balakot, a small site west of the Indus delta which specialized in shell bangles, or of the town of Lothal (near Ahmedabad), and it might be the reason why Dholavira, a major production center of beads and other crafts, was located in the Rann of Kachchh. Some scholars have also argued that small colonies for the manufacture of trade goods must have been located right in Dilmun, or even in Mesopotamia. Although no directly Mesopotamian artifact has been found in the Indus civilization, a few objects (such as cylinder seals from Mohenjo-daro or Kalibangan) and art motifs (notably a deity controlling two standing tigers) reflect some Mesopotamian influence and confirm long-standing contacts. In the opinion of the archaeologist Dilip Chakrabarti, 'this contact lasted from c. 2600 BC-1300 BC; the first date, which emerged from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, neatly coincides with the beginning of the Mature Harappan phase. Recent finds of remains of seafaring boats in Kuwait, dated to the six millennium BCE,10 suggest that contacts with the region may have started much earlier, but precise evidence is lacking. Traders are thought to have followed a sea route that hugged the Makran coast and, with likely halts in Oman and Bahrain, continued all the way to the top of the Persian Gulf-a a 2500-km voyage that implies no mean ship-making and sailing skills. While  flat-bottomed river boats have been depicted on a few seals tablets, nothing is known of the Harappan seafaring boats or s Sea voyages always tickle the imagination, but we can also vis alize picturesque multi-ethnic caravans plodding rugged overland routes through today's Afghanistan and Iran. Starting from Mohenjo-daro and climbing the Bolan Pass, merchants, perhaps guided by nomads, would have crossed into the basin of the Helmand river and reached, among other cities, Mundigak, not far from today's Kandahar. Excavated in the 1950s by the French archaeologist Jean-Marie Casal, Mundigak revealed evidence of Harappan contacts, such as humped bulls and pipal leaves painted on pottery. It would have been one of the several starting points towards the Iranian plateau, and Harappan artifacts have indeed come up at many Iranian sites, 12 such as Tepe Yahya, Shahdad, Hissar, Shah Tepe-or at the fascinating site recently discovered near the southeastern city of Jiroft, where impressions of Indus seals and carnelian beads have been recovered in substantial numbers. 

Strangely, however, as with Mesopotamia, almost no artifacts of clearly Iranian origin made their way to the Indus region. Nearly all the evidence of Harappan relations with the West has been brought to light in foreign territories (the Persian Gulf, Mesopotamia, Iran) and not in the Indus territories,"¹ as another French archaeologist, Henri-Paul Francfort, put it. There is no consensus among experts to explain this one-sidedness. The Harappans adventured not just westward, but also north ward. Their presence is visible in the ancient region of Bactria, on the northwestern flank of the Hindu Kush mountain range. We mentioned Shortughai earlier, on the Amu Darya, explored under Francfort's direction; apart from the likely exploitation of lapis lazuli mines, its location far removed from the Harappan heartland suggests that it may also have been a stage in a westward outreach. Indeed, there are signs of Harappan presence as far as Altyn Tepe, Gonur or Namazga Tepe in Margiana (in today's Turkmenistan, to the east of the Caspian Sea), and as early as the end of the fourth millennium BCE-in other words, four or five centuries before the start of the urban phase. 15 This is an important confirmation of long-standing contacts between fars way regions. Those cities bordering Turkmenistan's Karakorum Desert belong to a different civilization altogether, called the Oxus civilization' or the 'Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), which the Harappans were clearly interacting with, as they were with Dilmun, Magan, Mesopotamia and the Iranian plateau. All those civilizations were, in turn,  with each other globalization is not exactly a new concept But here again, while Bactria's presence is visible along the borderlands of the Indus civilization (especially towards the end of the Mature phase), artifacts from Margiana are non-existent. This broad unidirectionality-from the Indus outward-may be interpreted in different ways, but it does suggest that the Harap pans were the ones who took the initiative to reach out.


Art and Aesthetics

Indus-type artifacts have been found in reliably dated Mesopotamian strata ranging from approximately 2300 B.C. to about 1800 B.C.4 However, based on radiocarbon dates and other archaeological evidence, the culture's main period of fluorescence, its mature or urban phase, is now believed to have taken place between about 2100 B.C. and 1750 B.C.


The sophistication and technological advancement evidenced in the organization and structure of the cities of the Harappa civilization are also seen in sculptural works. Aside from seals and terra-cotta sculptures, so few stone and metal sculptures have come to light in excavations (less than two dozen are known) that the surviv ing examples must represent only a tiny fraction of the objects once produced. A sculptural tradition using more ephemeral materials, such as wood, must have existed alongside of, and certainly prior to, the use of stone and metal. All of the sculptures found thus far are small (the largest is only about forty centimeters high), and even those that are broken would not have been sizable when complete. Interestingly, there is considerable variety in the types of s of stone used even among the few surviving examples, sug gesting that the materials were selected because of their intrinsic beauty, not because they were widely available in the region. The purposes of these small sculptures unclear as their stylistic origins. It is not known whether they were made for secular or as need, nor can their stylistic origins and prece religious dents be determined at present. In general, they do not appear to be the tentative formulations tradition. one would expect in a beginning art Rather, they reflect a mature stage of artistic development in which problems of proportion, scale, the relation of forms, and surface enhancement are all carefully worked out.[ref]

The Priest-King

One sculpture revealing some affinities to Mesopotamian imagery is a carved limestone fragment showing the head and shoulders of a bearded man. It was found in one of the later Harappa-period levels at Mohenjo-Daro. Some scholars have suggested that the individual depicted might be a foreigner, perhaps a Mesopotamian, since the high, straight nose which blends almost imperceptibly into the forehead, the full lips, and the narrow, slitlike eyes (one of which was still inlaid with shell when it was found) do not seem to reflect facial types characteristic of the South Asian subcontinent or that occur in later Indic art. The individual portrayed in this sculpture has often been called a priest, an assertion based on various factors. The presence of headgear, in this case a headband, suggests that he may be a person of rank, for, in later Indic art, the wearing of turbans, crowns, and even simpler headgear is generally associated with high ranking individuals. Further, the half-closed appearance of the slitlike eyes has led to the suggestion that the individual is practicing meditation, perhaps of a type known in later Indic religious traditions. But such identification must remain speculative until a fuller picture emerges.[ref]

The Seated Figure

This male figure wears a garment that completely masks the lower portion of his body. His seated posture, obscured by the garment, seems to be a cross-legged pose with the left knee slightly raised or held high by the left hand. The body is quite thin, and the arms and hands in particular lack substance and solidity. While the head is missing, a strand falling behind the right shoulder suggests long hair or a wig. This can often be confused with a meditative position of later art.[ref]

The Male Torso

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this small statue is its naturalism. The body is subtly modeled and softly contoured. Gentle transi tions between one part of the body and another are created through sculptural means, rather than with the use of line. For example, the abdominal and pectoral regions swell in a threes dimensional manner and are not defined by any outline or linear demarcation. In contrast to the preceding examples of Harappa sculpture, there is a total absence of linear design, abstract patterns, and other surface enhancement. In much of later Indic sculpture, while some linear patterns might be present, such as in drapery depictions, a major emphasis is on the forms of the body, achieved, as here, through sculptural means.

The unadorned nudity of this figure has generated a great deal of discussion. The mere fact of the nudity and the depiction of the male genitals does not necessarily indicate sexuality or fertility. The same would be true of female figures whose hips and breasts might be apparent. To not depict the sexual features of the human body would signify a deliberate artistic choice and a negation. To represent them is simply to describe the human form, unless, of course, undue attention is placed on their depiction. any case, the reason for the nudity remains In a mystery, for in both Harappa art and later Indic art, total nudity is by far the rather than the normal manner of presenting exception the human form, although the clinging garments characteristic of many styles of South Asian art almost suggests nudity. It is perhaps because of the nudity, as well as the accident of having lost the limbs and head in both cases, that this figure is so often discussed in relation to the Lohänipur torso of the Maurya period, around the third centuryBCE. This comparison has been emphasized by those who favor the view that the piece from Harapps is not a product of the Harappa civilization. The points of comparison are superficial, however, for in technique (the Maurya piece has a characteristic highly-polished surface), the method of depicting body transitions, and the presence of the sockets in the Harappa piece, the sculptures differ. The nudity of the Maurya sculpture might be related to a specific religious cult. Whether this is true for the Harappa piece can only remain speculative at this time, for we do not know who the sculpture represents or what purpose it served. In later Indic contexts, when: the figure is shown without clothing, as in the case of Digambara or "Sky-clad" Jain figures, it is generally not for the purpose of glorifying the human body, but rather a symbol of world renunciation and victory over the usual needs of the physical body. 

The Bronze Dancing Girl

A well-preserved statue of a female figure provides a rare example of metal sculpture from the Harappans civilization. Quite different in style from the red stone torso, it also shows. links to later Indic art . Found at Mohenjo-Daro in one of the later strata, this i small image is probably of a date late in the history of the site. The piece is stylistically quite unlike either the western Asiatic-type forms or the more typically Indic forms thus far described in Harappà art. It may represent still another strand in this early art tradition. Like the red stone figure, the body is nude, but here the bodily forms are abstracted into long. thin, pipe-like elements and have none of the softly modeled fleshiness of the red statue. The elongated, limbs seem show a disregard for naturalistic proportions, yet the overall effect is one of liveliness and animation. This effect is largely achieved through the jaunty. posture, with both legs bent and the left leg placed slightly forward while the bent right armrests on the right hip. This vitality has led to the common assumption that this figure represents a dancer, a suggestion colored by attempts to interpret early Indic works in light of later Indic civilization. It would be of great interest if this figure is a dancer, for this would demonstrate a precedent for the later emphasis on dance in South Asia. However, such an assertion is strictly speculative, for it is impossible to determine whether the implied movement of the figure is that of a dance.

Although the girl is nude, she is not unadorned. She wears a necklace and has numerous on her bangles on arms. While it is most unusual to find an unclothed female in the whole range of Indic art, jewelry is almost universally worn by figures both female and male throughout the many centuries of traceable Indic art. In general, it is the absence, not presence, of jewelry that is the more notable condition. A lack of jewelry is often a deliberately chosen means of making a statement about an individual, such as, for example, the fact that he or she is a religious mendicant. (The absence of jewelry may thus provide a clue to the meaning of the ed torso from Harappa.) Jewelry eventually

came to serve both decorative and symbolic functions in Indic art, but whether anything more than simple adornment is intended here is unknown. As in the preceding sculpture, the nudity does not necessarily imply sexuality or fertility, since there is no emphasis on sexual characteristics.  Other features of interest include the hair, which is tied into a bun at the nape of the neck in a style similar to that worn by many South Asian women even today, and the facial characteristics, including the heavy lips and high forehead.

Terracotta and miscellaneous

Numerous terra-cotta figures have been recovered from Harappa sites, but these differ considerably in style and decoration from the stone and metal pieces. The terra cottas are usually more crudely executed and, since they are far more common, may represent a popular art form. If, as has been suggested, stone for the sculpture was often imported, the use of that is a more precious material, and of metal (which would require a relatively sophisticated technology), may have been associated with the elite of the society, while the ubiquitous terra cotta could have served the artistic needs of the people as a whole.

A common subject in terra-cotta figures is the female. These sculptures bear little resemblance to the metal girl just described, but it is important to remember that any apparent differences have not yet been correlated to possible artistic developments over time and from place to place within the Harappă civilization. The most common type of female has wide hips, pellet-like breasts, tubular limbs, and abundant jewelry adornments including necklace, girdle, earrings, and frequently an elaborate headdress. Terra-cotta figures are generally small and schematically rendered. Like their pre-Harappa counterparts, these are often called "mother goddesses," though the aptness of this designation is questionable. When, as occasionally occurs, a small child appears on the hip or at the breast, or a bulging abdomen suggests a pregnancy, at least the concept of motherhood may be verified. One might even go so far as to say that implicit in every female figure is the concept of motherhood, whether it is actual or potential. However, the assessment of the divine nature-the goddess aspect is insupportable at this date. Perhaps it is best to assume that the popularity of the female as a subject in terra-cotta art from pre-Harappa and Harappa times is associated with the ideas of motherhood and hence fertility, procreation, and the continuity of life, although the presence of any divine status is unknown. It is true that this early emphasis on the feminine aspect might be a strong basis for the later importance placed on women in the major Indic religions, and consequently their prominence in Indic art. Nonetheless, the meanings associated with female imagery at this early date remain uncertain. A potential emphasis on the sexuality of the females depicted in the terra cottas is reinforced by other objects recovered from Harappan sites. sites.

A definite reference to procreation seems to be intended in a number of carvings that represent the phallus (linga). While some of these are abstract and may only be inferred to represent the phallus, others are quite naturalistic. Ring stones believed to represent the female generative organ (yoni) also have been found. Since few have been unearthed in specific association with a linga, some scholars have discredited the interpretation of these objects as lingas and yonis. However, a convincing alternative hypothesis has not been offered, and because lingams and yonis are common in later Indic art, these objects may be accepted as early examples. A religious emphasis on procreation is a phenomenon associated with early agricultural societies dependent upon the bounty of nature for their well-being and survival. Judging from later Indic iconography, it is also possible that "eternal" or "universal" symbolism is intended by such objects. The yoni might represent the door through which one is "born again," thereby relating to the concept of countless rounds of rebirths (samsara), which figures in later Indic thought. The linga would represent the procreative aspect of the universe (later, of the Hindu god Siva) and the means by which the endless cycles of birth, death, and rebirth occur. The realization of nonduality, symbolized by the combination of male and female principles, represents one of the essential goals of later Buddhist and Hindu thought.

Another aspect of fertility symbolism in the Harappă culture seems to exist in the many representations of bulls. On Indus seals, bulls outnumber all other motifs. Bulls are commonly found as isolated sculptures as well  Often, the representations are highly naturalistic. Several different varieties of bovine animals are easily distinguishable. These may represent some of the domesticated animals that were highly valued in society and that came to have great economic importance to their owners. The bull, as a potential sire of generations of offspring, might have come to have a symbolism associated with both wealth and fertility. The importance of this animal may best be explained by examining some of the seals that have been recovered from various Harappa sites.


Over two thousand seals and seal impressions have been found at Harappa sites. The majority of seals are made of steatite that has been coated. with an alkali and then fired to produce a white lustrous surface,  Usually, the seals are square in shape and have a perforated boss at the back for handling and suspension. They are generally small, averaging only a few centimeters across. Despite their small size, seals sometimes have elaborate intaglio designs showing animals, plants, geometric forms, and even scenes with humans or humanoids, as well as writing. The decipherment of the writing on the Indus seals. is perhaps the most vexing problem for the interpreter of this ancient civilization, for its decipherment could summarily prove or disprove the numerous theories that have been put forth about the culture. Approximately four hundred different signs have been cataloged for this apparently pictographic script.[ref]


The same complexity and multiplicity of interpretation seen in the sculpture and seals of the Indus civilization are encountered in the study of the painted pottery. Like the other Harappa art forms, painted pottery displays affinities to both Mesopotamia and to later Indic culture while maintaining a great deal of individuality. Most Harappå painted pottery is black-on-red ware, although some polychrome wares are also known. Harappă painted pots generally display a varied assortment of motifs, including animal, vegetal, and geometric forms. designs range from simple to complex and from abstract to representational. The motifs are often crowded into an overall pattern on the surface of a vessel. intersecting circle design had great popularity. Further, the motif apparently persists, for it resurfaces in monumental architecture of the Maurya period in the third century B.C.. the basic continuity suggesting of Indic civilization. Leaf motifs, especially the pipal, suggest ties to both pre-Harappa and later Indic forms and may have been used symbolically.[ref]

Ideology: Political, Social and Religious Elements

Urbanization and socio-cultural complexity are interrelated and defining features of the Harrapan Civilization. The cities of Mohenjodaro and Harrapa, now including Ganeriwal, Dholavira and Rakhigarhi, symbolize and define the Harrapan civilization. The Indus Civilization was well developed, extending over vast geography and integrating people belonging to different walks of life. However, the socio-cultural complexity of Indus Civilization is distinctive in two important ways: the absence of temples or monumental buildings (that include religious institutions) and the absence of palatial residences for kings/elites. The religious and political institutions of Harrapans, it can be surmised, were significantly different from other Bronze age civilizations like Egypt (known for gigantic Pyramids) and Mesopotamia (known for immaculate Zigguruts).[ref]


The debate on the nature of the political organizations of Harrapans has been largely focused on whether a state (political organization) existed and if so what type of state it was. Many scholars have observed that elements of warfare, conflicts, and force were weak in comparison to the contemporary civilization of Egypt and Mesopotamia. However, force and conflict can't be ruled out in such a vast area. Apart from that, the ability to sustain a complex cultural and economic system for over 700 years sheds light on the proficiency of the organization that remained pre-eminent in those times.

Arguments for a centralized state system

There has been intense scholarly debate on the existence (or lack thereof) of a centralized political structure in this civilisation. One of the earliest hypotheses was put forward by Stuart Piggot and was supported to some extent by Mortimer Wheeler. According to him, the Harrapan state was a highly centralized empire ruled by autocratic priests from the twin capitals of Harrapa and Mohenjodaro. This view was based on high level of standardization visible across vast areas and the mobilization of specialized labour that would have been required for construction of monumental structures like the 'granaries' at Harrapa and "great bath" of Mohenjodaro.

Arguments for a decentralised state system

This view was critiqued by Walter. A. Fairservis, according to whom the control was exercised by an elaborate village assembly. He pointed to the absence of slaves, standing army and elements of centralised state. S.C Malik described it as the chiefdom stage, transitional between a kinship society and a civil state society. However Shereen Ratnagar in her works concluded unequivocally that it was an empire.

The strongest critique to the theory advocating centralisation came from Jim Sheffer who questioned the level of homogenity and suggested that it could be result of well developed trade network. He underlined the absence of grand tombs and royal palaces and equality of wealth among rural-urban population thus pointing to the prevalence of a decentralised state. The fact that some form of state structure was in existence can't be denied.

Underlining the presence of a state

The absence of marked socio-economic differences in comparison to the Egyptian or Mesopotamian kind does not mean that a state was non-existent, instead a different type of state may have been in order. The complex economy and homogeneity clearly indicate existence of state. Bricks from across disparately located sites are found to be of the same proportion (1:2:4), and similar-looking fire-altars and seals too attest to this overarching unity of the civilization.

Interventions of Possehl

According to Gregory L. Possehl, the Harrapan Civilization was more corporate than exclusionary. The people of Harrapa Civilization formed more of heterarchy (emphasis on shared power and collective management) than hierarchy. It was based on a system that was less centralised, and mechanisms such as joint rule and councils were used to control and govern social order. Thus, unlike civilizations in the western world, this type of society- in Possehl's view- eschews hierarchy.

He further adds 'Indus people were ruled by a series of councils or gatherings of leaders, rather than a king'. There may have been civic councils for individual settlements, regional councils for domains or political units and above civic and possibly an "Indus Council" for the civilization in entirety. Dilip. K. Chakrabati has postulated a theory that advocates regional centers in which he argues for the prevalence of 'multiple kingdoms centred around major settlements of region'.

Kenoyer suggests that the Harrapan state must have comprised many competent classes like merchants and priests that may have managed different spheres of polity. Possehl has also highlighted the highly disciplined corporate element of Harrapan polity. In the past, scholars presumed a highly centralised political structure, whereas now there is greater acceptance of a decentralised state with some sort of unity. On the basis of available archaeological evidence, it has been reasonably concluded the five largest settlements of this civilization namely- Mohenjodaro, Harrapa, Ganeriwala, Rakhigarhi and Dholavira may have been capitals/regional centres of Western, Northern, Central, Eastern, and Southern domains respectively.

However, owing to the paucity of literary evidence, none of these conclusions can lay claim to being set in stone, and ongoing as well as future research shall help us get a more complete picture of the state system that prevailed in the Indus-Saraswati civilization.


The best and early study of religion was done by John Marshall. Although some aspects of Marshall's interpretations were highly criticized- especially his interpretations of elements of later Hinduism, he succeeded to read important features of the Harrapan religion. Mainly three important cults were categorized- that of Mother Goddess, proto-shiva-male god, and nature worship.

The Mother Goddess: Proto-Shakti cult?

The worship of the great mother goddess was manifested in female figurines and representations. They were associated with maternity, fertility, and female sexuality. Some figurines may have been toys but figurines with short skirts, fan-shaped headdresses, and heavy ornamentation may symbolize a cultic-religious belief. In Marshall's view, this primitive mother worship might have led to the development of the shakti cult in later periods. Fundamental to the Marshall synthesis of Harappan religion is that it marks the beginning of a later Indian sect called Shaktism: "The underlying principle of Shaktism is a sexual dualism, which has been aptly described as 'duality in unity."According to Wal shkti, or 'energy,' is the term applied to the role of a god, and signifies the power of a deity manifested in and through his consort. The deity and his wife represent the dual aspect of the divine unity, and together symbolize the power of the godhead." In Marshall's view, this primitive mother worship led to

Pashupati-Proto-Shiva: The Male God

Marshall also suggested the worship of a male god represented on seal 420 or Pashupati seal. This shows a male figure with a buffalo horn head-dress seated on a dais with his leg bent double under him( Some scholars like BB Lal even interpreted it as the Yogic pose of Padmasana), heels together, toes pointed down. Four wild animals surround the figure: an elephant, rhino, water buffalo, and two ibex/antelope/deers. Marshall thought the figure was three-headed and ithyphallic(with erect penis symbolising fertility) On basis of resemblances  Shiva of later period who is identified as Mahayogi and Pashupati Marshall identified the deity as "Proto-Shiva" or forerunner of a consummate Hindu deity. Some motif with a thin figure with Buffalo headdress in certain potsherds were also identified with some sort of proto-shiva cult as seen from Kot-Diji. Another aspect of Phallus worship is also identified as a fertility cult. Stone icons of Lingas and Yoni are identified by John Marshall. Also a terracotta Linga with a yoni-pitha have been identified from Kalibangan as a proto-shiv linga worship by BB Lal.

Nature and Animal Worship

The Indus Age is filled with imagery relating to bulls and buffalos. Seal 420 is one that is clearly a buffalo. But there are others that seem to be zebus, and these are not restricted to the stamp seals. Many examples of the latter come from the Early Harappan occupations at sites in the Gomal Valley. There is also a very fine example of a Kot Dijian vessel found at Burzahom in Kashmir, with the motif, which may date to the Late Kot Dijian, contemporary with the Mature Harappan. There are some "human" terra-cottas with horns." The example in Mackay's plate LXXII has no sign of breasts, which are usually placed on female figurines, and so it might tentatively be identified as a male, as the central fig ure on seal 420 must be.The Early Harappan period at Kalibangan is rich in imagery, and here we have the evidence for the broadening of this theme into motifs that are definitely plantlike and may represent a synthesis or merging of a plant/animal theme during the Indus Age. There is a formal similarity in these various motifs. It is evident that the sweep of the lines, whether of a water buffalo's horns or those of a bull, is paralleled by the portrayal of stems and leaves of plants. The kind of plant motifs from Kalibangan I type are also found at Kulli and Mundigak , contemporary with the Mature Harappan." This duality of motifs, with broad sweeping lines either as horns or plants or even indeterminate in these terms, is incorporated into the iconography of the Indus Civiliza tion. There are numbers of sites in Saurashtra with a plant motif that document this ideographic element there during Sorath Harappan times. A fine example of the combination of motifs is found on a Period II pot from Lewan." It has both the horns of a bullock, probably the zeby, and those of what appears to be a water buffalo. In the space between the horns of each of these beasts are stylized pipal leaves, seemingly growing out of the head of the animal. The motif from Kulli, and others like it from Kaliban gan, appears to be a representation-stylization is probably a better description of a water plant resembling the lotus, with its central bulblike flower and streamers. The shape of the bulb can also be seen as a play on female genitalia, giving us some reason to think of the plant motif as "female" and the animal, male, as in the Mahayogi seal, extending Marshall's male-female dichotomy.

Sapta Rishi(Seer)/Sisters Cult

One of the most famous of the Indus seals is seal 430, with what seems to be a narrative scene, possibly a mnemonic of some sort. It shows a goat and a kneeling human in front of a tree with a human inside it. Below that is a row of seven attending figures. This is not the only representation with seven attending humans Seven is an important number in Indian culture, and in the Rgveda in one of the "Sarasvati Hymns," the river is venerated as one of seven sisters: She hath spread us beyond all foes, beyond her Sisters, Holy One-As Surya spendeth out the days. Yea, she most dear amid dear streams, Seven-sistered, graciously inclined. Sarasvati hath earned our praise. Guard us against hate Sarasvati, she who hath filled the realms of earth. And that wide tract, the firmament! Seven-sistered, sprung from threefold source, Five Tribes prosper, she must be invoked in every deed of might." The geography of the Rgveda is centered on the Pun jab, and we know that the reference to seven sisters is to the Sapta-Sidhaya, the "seven rivers" of the region which include the Indus on the west and moves to the Ghaggar Hakra to the cast Given the continuities in belief marking ancient India, that this notion of the "seven river sisters" came to the Vedic pundits from a Harappan source is at least as possible as the idea that they made it up for themselves. Allchin and Allchin note that the seven figures have been "identified with the seven Rishis (seers) and with the seven Mothers of recent times." Parpola has proposed that they represent the children of Brahma and Sarasvati, the seven sages of the constellation Ursa Major. Or, he notes, it could represent the Pleiades."[ref]\

Decline and Transformation

It is unlikely that civilizational efflorescence and decline were simultaneous processes in all parts of the Harappan distribution area.By 2600 BC this civilization was in existence, as it had clear contacts, at that point of time, with Mesopotamia. It appears increasingly probable that it matured first in the Cholistan area of Bahawalpur in Sind and presumably in the Kutch region of Gujarat which was linked by a river to the Cholistan area. Places like Harappa, Kalibangan, and Banawali possibly came up a little later. The end was also staggered in time. The urban decline at Mohenjodaro had set in by 2200 BC and by c. 2100 BC its death knell had been sounded. However, the civilization continued after c. 2000 BC in other areas and at some sites, survived until c. 1800 BC.  This staggered chronology would by itself suggest that there must have been multiple reasons for the disappearance of urban life here. Therefore a specific question such as: 'What caused the end of the Indus civilization?' requires different answers. The process of decline and collapse, as it appears in the archaeological record at key sites, unfolds in various ways. At Mohenjodaro there was a steady deterioration: the city was already slowly dying before its ultimate end'. Dholavira also experienced a persistent impoverishment, hastened by two spells when it was deserted (. On the other hand, Kalibangan 'met its death as an adult and did not witness an incapacitated old age and the same is true of Banawali. So, to put it another way, it is not one event but different kinds of events that are in need of elucidation.[ref]

Aryan Invasion/Migration or Imagination?[ref]

The earliest formulation was made by Ram Prasad Chanda(1920s) was one of John Marshall's Indian officers in the Archaeological Survey of India. The notion of a struggle between newcomers and earlier inhabitants is central to Chanda's view of the destruction of Indus cities at the hands of invading Aryans. Historical verification for such conquest came, for Chanda, from Rgvedic allusions to puras (cities or/and forts)-obviously, those at Mohenjodaro and Harappa-and their destruction by Aryans, while the panis (merchants) of the Rgveda who did not follow Vedic practices were, he argued, Indus city-dwellers. A similar image of destruction and conquest was offered by Gordon Childe in the same year that Chanda's writing appeared. In his study of the Aryans, Gordon Childe tried to conceptually integrate the Aryan invasion of India with the newly-discovered Indus cities. He was astute enough to realize that now, for the first time, India could boast of a pre-Buddhist culture that provided archaeological evidence of lively interaction with West Asia, i.e. with the land that was part of the geographical zone from where the Aryans were supposed to have invaded. Since he considered it likely that the Indus people were racially linked with Sumerians-an-ethnic element common to India and Mesopotamia seems clear and to it might be ascribed the interrelated cultures (-the possibility of the Indus civilization being Aryan was discounted by him. The probability that the Aryans were the wreckers of the Indus culture was tentatively supported on the grounds of cultural discontinuity since he understood the material culture of the civilization as being qualitatively different from that of Aryan India. These writings by Chanda and Gordon Childe provide the baseline from which we can reconstruct the genealogy of the notion that the Aryans destroyed the Harappan civilization.

Let us put aside this idea and move on to another early theoretical formulation. What seems to be practically unknown is that Chanda, the originator of the idea of the Aryan annihilation of Harappans, substantially abandoned his original hypothesis within a few years. By 1929 Chanda did not consider the Aryan immigrants as having swept away the Chalcolithic civilization of the Indus Valley. His subsequent writing (1.3) demonstrates that they had now become a powerful minority among the native populations, the priests of the chalcolithic civilization. The Aryans remained a historical people from northwest Asia in Chanda's writings. It is just that, by 1929, he came to believe that his own idea of them as armed marauders was no more than a myth. He no longer believed that one type of culture was destroyed and replaced by another. Instead, he visualized a symbiotic relationship between immigrants and 'aboriginal townsfolk' which, he said, resulted in the birth of a 'mixed Hindu Civilization.  If the first forays on the demise of the Harappan civilization were preoccupied with the 'Aryan question', there has been no shortage of writings on this cherished saga-motif since then. The scope of the debate has of course been much extended beyond the initial formulations. This question has been central to the long dialogue around Mortimer Wheeler's excavations at Harappa. The details of his work were published in Ancient India in 1947 and this, more than any other work, became the focus around which the role of the Aryans came to be fiercely debated. Wheeler was the first systematic exposition of the archaeological proof of Aryan invasions. Wheeler himself believed that with this new evidence the Harappa civilization, at last, becomes an integral episode in the story of the Indian peoples. Among other things, external pressure from Aryan inroads on these cities was surmised on the basis of a deliberate blocking of entrances at Harappat on the one hand and scattered skeletons-apparently signs of a massacre at Mohenjodaro-on the other. Wheeler also accepted Gordon Childe's suggestion that Cemetery H (the culture that postdated the Mature Harappan phase at Harappa) provided the archaeological interface with literary Aryans.

Environmental and Climatic Factors

A central feature of the distribution area of the Harappan civilization is the alluvial character of the lands in which the majority of its set tlements flourished and the rivers which created them. Mohenjodaro, Chanhu-daro, and Kot Diji grew in the vicinity of the Indus; Harappa on the Ravi; Ropar on the banks of the Sutlej; and the Ghaggar/Hakra that flowed through the Cholistan tract of Bahawalpur and north Rajasthan is the defining feature around which Sandhanawala Ther, Kudwala Ther and Kalibangan flourished. Harappan centers like Rakhigarhi, Banawali and Mitathal are also supposed to be within the drainage system of the Saraswati-Drishadvati rivers. In Gujarat too, the Bhadar and Sabarmati rivers provided the setting for Rangpur and Lothal respectively. 

The dynamic, mutating hydrographic histories of many of these rivers is the other element that has been so striking. This theme has attracted a great deal of attention and research, some of it in fact antedating the discovery of the Harappan civilization. In 1892 H.G.Rav erty had spoken of five historically confirmed great transitions or changes in the Sapta-Sindhu (seven rivers) that united to form the 'Great Mihran'.18 More recently, aerial photo-composites combined with ground surveys have confirmed that men rivers (the Indus and the Nara), not one, used to flow through the lower Indus region and their combined flows entered the sea in the vicinity of the Rann of Kutch. 19 Innumerable meander scars, sand encroachments and depressions, all apparently fragments of old drainage systems, have been identified not only in the Indus flood plain but in many other areas as well.

Inevitably, the debate over the end of the Indus civilization has been strongly influenced by this geographical frame of reference. That the rivers which nurtured the Harappans also wreaked fatal devastation and were greater culprits than the Western invaders' were systematically articulated when explaining the abandonment of Chanhu-daro. This was done in 1943 by E.J.H. Mackay, the excavator of that craft centre (II.1) Apart from its historiographic significance, the description of silt debris intervening between phases of occupation there helps us in visualizing the character of Indus floods and the possible damage that Mackay believed they had wrought. Even before Mackay's work, Marshall had assumed that the inhabitants of Mohen jodaro, who depended in great measure on the Indus, must also have lived in ever-present dread of its inundations. 20 Again, many decades later, the destructive role of floods was invoked by S.R. Rao, now to explain the devastation of Lothal . The Lothal excavation report graphically illustrates the scars and debris left by various phases of floods at the site, while the final deluge which destroyed the town was believed by Rao to have been a phenomenon that extended from the Indus valley to Kathiawar.

If the focus of Mackay and Rao has been on the detrimental inundations of unpredictable rivers, M.R. Sahni considered in 1956, perhaps for the first time, that the waters that devastated Harappan sites, at least in Sind, were not part of the normal regimen of over flooding and siltation. Instead, the flood destroyed the civiliza. tion was unprecedented and a product of earthquakes. A collision of earth plates resulted in the uplifting of land. Consequently, the Indus was dammed, leading to the submergence of large areas. The tectonic episode of 1819, when violent earth movements resulted in the creation of a dam (Allah Bund) across the eastern channel of the Indus in Kutch provided an ethnographic analogy to what was being posited. Sahni's evidence for suggesting such a phenomenon in the second millennium Bc came from the hillocks of Budh Takkar and those opposite Jhirak in south Sind. Here he found unconsolidated thick alluvium containing fresh-water shells. This suggested to him an exceptional rise in water level and a period of long submergence. He also discovered two settlements in Sind which he believed were of Harappan vintage. These were covered with thick alluvium, deposited by floods, which must have destroyed the settlements.

The importance of plate tectonics in the physical geography and cultural history of northwest India is today well recognized. In the case of the Harappan civilization, it was Sahni who first postulated that the instability of the Indus river system, which led to the submergence of Harappan sites on the Indus plains, may have been a consequence of such earth movement. Subsequently, other scholars have highlighted the catastrophic river diversions that have been produced by such land uplift.

Sahni was a paleontologist and after him, a hydrologist, R.L. Raikes, took up and extended this line of investigation. 22 The various ramifications of Raikes's investigation-the several phases of rebuilding at Mohenjodaro and Chanhu-daro, the peculiar character of the silt there (deposited in still-water conditions), the possibility of Seh wan, south of Mohenjodaro, providing suitable geological formations where a permeable dam could come up and the lake that would have been created because of it-have been extensively discussed and are taken up in H.T. Lambrick's contribution. A reading of Lam brick will no doubt also reveal the culpability of excess river water. whether caused by regular floods or tectonic upheaval, has not been universally accepted and here the debate has centered on the set of assumptions that Raikes and Sahni were working with Almost every bit of evidence-unconsolidated silt, fresh-water shells, the dam as also the lake behind it, the slope of the flood plain was discounted by Lambrick, and his critique is revealing in more ways than one. While it is generally felt that literary information of which the Aryan question is a good example can be variously interpreted, a fall-out of this contentious debate has been the realization that archaeological and geophysical data are just as capable of being explained and understood in different ways. Protohistoric silt could be 'evidence of regular floods or sediment deposited in still-water conditions or even wind-whipped sand consolidated by rain.

At the same time, the debate on environmental variation and its impact upon the end of the Indus civilization has involved much more than the floodwaters of capricious rivers. That urban collapse may have been a consequence not of excessive but insufficient river water in areas to the east of Sind has been an issue that has attracted considerable discussion. Another prominent theme relates to the problem of climate and the extent to which alternating moist and dry climatic phases can be synchronized with the various stages of protohistoric urbanism.

To take up the question of the reduction in water first, the river in question is the Ghaggar-Hakra, which, if early Sanskrit writings have any accuracy, is the Sarasvati.  Although the Ghaggar today becomes non-perennial at a short distance from the Siwalik hills, its dry course in Bikaner and Bahawalpur is striking. For over a hundred miles the flatbed is two miles wide, while in places this expands to over four miles,  Most importantly, in that stretch of the river which flows through Pakistani Cholistan-roughly between Rahim Yar Khan on the west and Yazman in the east-the largest known pocket of Mature 

Harappan sites-174 in number flourished. The presence of so many protohistoric settlements suggests an important perennial flow. That a permanent river of some magnitude flowed through Bika ner and Bahawalpur and then towards the Rann of Kutch (with the eastern Nara in Sind probably being its continuation), was of course suggested as early as 1893 by C.F. Oldham on the basis of scattered mounds throughout this tract and the testimony of the Rgveda.

However, the solid evidence which, most importantly, is dateable, has come from Rafique Mughal's work. Among other things, Mughal has also documented the reduction in the number of sites-the number is only fifty-that post-date the Mature Harappan phase which he proposes occurred due to a major hydrographic change around 2100 BC . So, the fact that the Ghaggar-Hakra was drying up is something that most scholars would agree with, as also the premise that this happened due to river diversion.


The transformation of the Indus Civilization took place at the heart of the ideology. It is clearest at the urban sites and had less of an impact on the lives of the farmers and herders in the countryside, especially the Eastern and Sorath Domains, those domains most removed from the ideological centers. Hus J. P. Joshi's explorations of the Indian Punjab and his excavations at Bhagwanpura and Dadheri have demonstrated that the peoples of the Posturban Stage in this area persist to just before 1000 a.c., and he can document the development of the Painted Gray Ware out of the Bronze Age ceramic technology. He calls this period of d change an "overlap." So, in the Indian Punjab we have a complete cultural-historical sequence that documents the is times during which the Indus Civilization flourished on $ to the Early Iron Age, represented by the Painted Gray) Ware, into historical India. There are both Cemetery H and Painted Gray Ware sites in the Cholistan. Well-conceived and conducted fieldwork might provide us. with the same story there. The Sorath Domain presents us with a gap between the end of the Indus cultural tradition and the Early Iron Age beginnings of history. The end of the Late Sorath Harap pan sequence is associated with Lustrous Red Ware, which disappears at about 1500 BC. There are no sites that are known between this point and the appearance of Northern Black Polished Ware in the second or third century B.C. Having worked in this area, I believe there are sites that fill this gap and have one or two good candidates. sites in mind for excavation. But, once again, the proof is in the excavation, and this problem presents younger archaeologists with an opportunity to undertake sound, productive fieldwork.

The descendants of the Indus Civilization in northern India flow gracefully into the peoples of the Early Historic there. And there are important continuities in the life of the peoples of historical India that can be traced back to the Indus Civilization, even earlier. Much of the subsistence system, including the "second revolution" in farming made possible by the large-scale use of millets and double cropping, has very deep roots. Elements of architecture, settlement planning, and location are also based on concepts that began during the Indus Age. There are other potentially important observations as well. For example, the form of ritual discipline we now know as yoga may be represented in an early form in the Indus Civilization." The most famous of these is the so-called Proto-Siva seal. Allchin has also pointed to a seal from Chanhu-daro that  seems to represent the theme of male-heaven and female earth (Mother India) as related to the creation myth found in Vedic literature." This brings us face to face with one of the great challenges of South Asian archaeology: understanding the Vedic literature and the rise of the second urbanization in the Subcontinent. Unlike the Indus Civilization, ancient India saw the creation of an enduring configuration of human organization. This is represented in many ways: social organization, a complex interweaving of philosophy and practical knowledge, concepts of his tory, kingship, politics, and power. It is this distinct configuration of social organization, philosophy, and values that gives ancient India its place in human history and makes them worthy of our standing.[ref]

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