A riverine civilization emerged on the banks of the river Indus around 3300 BCE and spread across large parts of North-western and Western India. It was one of the three early civilizations of Asia and lasted for around 2000 years. The other two were ancient Egypt along the River Nile and Mesopotamia along River Tigris and Euphrates in Western Asia.
The Indus valley civilization stretches from northeast Afghanistan, most of Pakistan, and into western and northwestern India. It flourished on the fertile basin of river Indus which emerges in the Himalayan Ranges and flows through the length of Pakistan. It is also known as the Harappan Civilisation, after the first of its sites excavated early in the 20th century in the then Punjab province of British India and now in Pakistan.
A section of scholars uses the “Sarasvati Civilisation” or the “Sindhu-Saraswati Civilisation” because they consider the Ghaggar-Hakra river (which flows only in the monsoon season) to be the same as the river Sarasvati.
The agricultural villages were developed by the end Neolithic or the New Stone Age period. The evolution of humans had reached its last stage and man had started becoming more civilized. The man started developing tools made up of bronze with higher utility. Art and culture too developed significantly. The late Neolithic period (approx between 7000-3300BCE) is known as the “Pre-Harrapan period” where agriculture was the main activity. This period was also dominated by the early phases of pottery and other artifacts. Mehrgarh, a Neolithic site to the west of River Indus, Pakistan, is one of the earliest sites with evidence of pre-Harrapan civilization.
Early Harappan Period.
The Indus valley civilization between 3300-2600BCE is classified as the “Early Harappan Civilization”. It is also known as the Ravi phase, named after RIver Ravi. By this phase, the villages were well developed and agriculture and animal domestication were prominent. Numerous sculptures, seals, potteries, jewelry and an Indus script were developed. The trade networks got established between the villages leading to migrations of peoples. This further helped in the integration of various regional cultures to form a relatively uniform civilization. The urban civic planning system was developed by the end of the Early Harappan period which marked the beginning of the Mature Harappan stage.
Mature Harappan Period
The smaller village communities turned into large urban centers during the Mature Harappan phase (2600-1900BCE). A planned network of roads, houses, and drainage systems indicates the urban planning and engineering skills that developed during those times.
Towns were planned in a rectangular grid fashion with roads running in all the four directions. Each house was connected to the main road via smaller lanes. The residents placed a high emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness as evidenced by a well-planned drainage system connecting individual houses. The towns also had public baths which indicate the importance of cleansing in their culture. The most famous example of a public bath is the ‘Great Bath’ excavated at the site of Mohenjo-Daro. Besides a room was set aside for bath in every house.
The advanced architecture of the Harappans is shown by their impressive dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms, and protective walls. The massive walls of Indus cities most likely protected the Harappans from floods and may have dissuaded military conflicts.
One of the striking features of Indus Valley civilization is that it does not have large monumental structures such as temples or palaces for rulers, unlike Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization. This also indicates that the society was largely egalitarian with lesser or no concentration of wealth.
Important sites of the Indus Valley Civilization
Harappa– In Punjab region of present Pakistan, on the bank of River Ravi, the first site to be excavated in the 1920s. The excavators unearthed 2 rows of six granaries with the big platform, a stone symbol of lingam and yoni, mother goddess figure, wheat and barley in a wooden mortar, dice, copper scale and mirror. Moreover, sculpture of dog chasing a deer in bronze metal, and a red sand stone male torso have also been excavated.
Mohenjo-Daro– In the Sindh province of present Pakistan on the River Indus. It is one of the largest Indus valley civilizations and one of the earliest cities in the world. The citadel, the great bath, the great granary, post-cremation burial, sculpture of bearded priest, the famous bronze statue of the Dancing Girl and Pashupati seal are some of the major items excavated at this site.
Dholavira– Is in the Kutch district of Gujarat. Dholavira is one of the major urban cities of the Indus valley civilization. Giant water reservoir, unique water harnessing system, stadium, dams and embankments, inscription comprising 10 large-sized signs like an advertisement board was excavated here.
Lothal– In the Bhal region of Gujarat is known as Manchester of Indus Valley civilization. It was an important site for naval trade with a Dockyard. The practice of burial of cremated remains, rice husk, fire altars, painted jar, modern-day chess, terracotta figure of horse and ship, instruments for measuring 45, 90 and 180 degree angles were discovered at this site.
Rakhigarhi- In the Hissar district of Haryana is considered to be the largest site of Indus Valley civilization. Granary, cemetery, drains, terracotta bricks have been found.
Ropar– Is Located on the banks of Sutlej in Punjab, India – Dog buried with human oval pit burials, copper axe was found here.
Balathal and Kalibangan in Rajasthan – Bangle factory, toy carts, bones of camel, decorated bricks, citadel and lower town, Fire altar were unearthed.
Surkotada– In Gujarat, first actual remains of the horse bones were founs here.
Banawali– In Haryana on the dried-up Saraswati river. Toy plow, barley grains, lapis lazuli, fire altars oval-shaped settlement, the only city with radial streets.
Alamgirpur– In Meerut, Uttar Pradesh on the banks of Yamuna. Easternmost sites of Indus Valley Civilization. Major findings are a broken blade made of copper, ceramic items and impression of cloth on a trough.
Mehrgarh– In Pakistan. It is considered a precursor to Indus Valley Civilisation. Pottery, copper tools have been found.
Art and Culture
Numerous seals of different shapes (square, triangular, rectangular and circular) and sizes were found all across the excavation sites. Steatite, agate, chert, copper, faience and terracotta were the common materials used for making seals. Most seals have inscriptions in a pictographic script that is yet to be deciphered. Impressions of animals like unicorn, humped bull, rhinoceros, tiger, elephant, buffalo, bison, goat, markour, ibex, crocodile, etc. were very common. They were primarily used for trading purposes.
The bronze statues were made using “lost wax technique” or “Cire Perdue”. The Dancing Girl, found at the site of Mohenjo-Daro, is the world’s oldest bronze sculpture.
Found mostly at the sites of Kalibangan and Gujrat, terracotta figures were made using fire baked clay. It was usually used to makes toys amd miniature figures.
Two types of pottery were found in the Indus valley civilization sites. The first was the plain pottery used for household purposes. The second was the painted pottery also known as Red and Black pottery. It was used for decorative purposes. Some of the potteries were perforated which might have been used for straining liquor.
The Indus valley civilization inhabitants, both men, and women had a distinct sense of fashion and jewelry. Various materials from precious metals to gemstones to bones and backed clay were used to make ornaments. Beads factories were excavated from the sites of Chanhu-Daro and Lothal. Special attention was given to hairstyles and beard, the bearded priest is one of the finest examples. Cotton and wool were popular fabrics at the time.
The Mature Harappan culture started a gradual decline at around 1900BCE, and by 1700 BCE most of the cities were abandoned. The end of the Indus civilisation saw an increase in inter-personal violence and in infectious diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis. The largest Late Harappan sites are Kudwala in Cholistan, Bet Dwarka in Gujarat, and Daimabad in Maharashtra which were smaller and few in number compared with the Mature Harappan cities. Bet Dwarka was fortified and continued to have contacts with the Persian Gulf region, but there was a general decrease of long-distance trade. The emerging Vedic period or Vedic age (1500 – 500 BCE), in the northern Indian subcontinent marked the end of the urban Indus Valley Civilisation.