One of the most fascinating yet mysterious cultures of the ancient world is the Harappan
civilization. This culture existed along the Indus River in present day Pakistan. It was
named after the city of Harappa which it was centered around. Harappa and the city of
Mohenjo-Daro were the greatest achievements of the Indus valley civilization. These
cities are well known for their impressive, organized and regular layout. Over one
hundred other towns and villages also existed in this region. The Harappan people were
literate and used the Dravidian language. Only part of this language has been
deciphered today, leaving numerous questions about this civilization unanswered.
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Artifacts and clues discovered at Mohenjo-Daro have allowed archaeologists to
reconstruct this civilization. The similarities in plan and construction between MohenjoDaro and Harappa indicate that they were part of a unified government with extreme
organization. Both cities were constructed of the same type and shape of bricks. The
two cities may have existed simultaneously and their sizes suggest that they served as
capitals of their provinces. In contrast to other civilizations, burials found from these
cities are not magnificent; they are more simplistic and contain few material goods. This
evidence suggests that this civilization did not have social classes. Remains of palaces
or temples in the cities have not been found. No hard evidence exists indicating military
activity; it is likely that the Harappans were a peaceful civilization. The cities did contain
fortifications and the people used copper and bronze knives, spears, and arrowheads.
The Harappan civilization was mainly urban and mercantile. Inhabitants of the Indus
valley traded with Mesopotamia, southern India, Afghanistan, and Persia for gold, silver,
copper, and turquoise. The Mesopotamian model of irrigated agriculture was used to
take advantage of the fertile grounds along the Indus River. Earthlinks were built to
control the river's annual flooding. Crops grown included wheat, barley, peas, melons,
and sesame. This civilization was the first to cultivate cotton for the production of cloth.
Several animals were domesticated including the elephant which was used for its ivory.
Most of the artwork from this civilization was small and used as personal possessions.
The first objects unearthed from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were small stone seals.
These seals were inscribed with elegant portrayals of real and imagined animals and
were marked with the Indus script writing. The seals suggest a symbolic or religious
intent. Stone sculptures carved in steatite, limestone, or alabaster depict a male figure
who may have represented a god. Pottery figures were shaped into humans and
animals. Very few bronze figures have been recovered.
The Harappan civilization experienced its height around 2500 BC and began to decline
about 2000 BC. The causes of its downfall are not certain. One theory suggests that the
Aryan people migrated into this area. Aryan religious texts and human remains in
Mohenjo-Daro suggest that the Aryans may have violently entered the area, killing its
inhabitants and burning the cities.
However, another theory supported by more recent evidence suggests that this
civilization may have begun to decline before the Aryans arrived. The inhabitants of the
Indus valley dispersed before the Aryans slowly entered the area as a nomadic people.
The Aryans were then able to take over this area since most of the inhabitants had
previously left. One cause of the dispersal of the Harappans could have been a result of
agricultural problems. Topsoil erosion, depletion of nutrients from the soil, or a change
in the course of the Indus River may have forced these people to leave their towns and
move northeastward in search of more fertile land.
The earliest traces of civilization in the Indian subcontinent are to be found in places along, or
close, to the Indus river. Excavations first conducted in 1921-22, in the ancient cities of Harappa
and Mohenjodaro, both now in Pakistan, pointed to a highly complex civilization that first
developed some 4,500-5,000 years ago, and subsequent archaeological and historical research
has now furnished us with a more detailed picture of the Indus Valley Civilization and its
inhabitants. The Indus Valley people were most likely Dravidians, who may have been pushed
down into south India when the Aryans, with their more advanced military technology,
commenced their migrations to India around 2,000 BCE. Though the Indus Valley script remains
undeciphered down to the present day, the numerous seals discovered during the excavations, as
well as statuary and pottery, not to mention the ruins of numerous Indus Valley cities, have
enabled scholars to construct a reasonably plausible account of the Indus Valley Civilization.
Some kind of centralized state, and certainly fairly extensive town planning, is suggested by the
layout of the great cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. The same kind of burnt brick appears to
have been used in the construction of buildings in cities that were as much as several hundred
miles apart. The weights and measures show a very considerable regularity. The Indus Valley
people domesticated animals, and harvested various crops, such as cotton, sesame, peas, barley,
and cotton. They may also have been a sea-faring people, and it is rather interesting that Indus
Valley seals have been dug up in such places as Sumer. In most respects, the Indus Valley
Civilization appears to have been urban, defying both the predominant idea of India as an
eternally and essentially agricultural civilization, as well as the notion that the change from
‘rural’ to ‘urban’ represents something of a logical progression. The Indus Valley people had a
merchant class that, evidence suggests, engaged in extensive trading.
Neither Harappa nor Mohenjodaro show any evidence of fire altars, and consequently one can
reasonably conjecture that the various rituals around the fire which are so critical in Hinduism
were introduced later by the Aryans. The Indus Valley people do not appear to have been in
possession of the horse: there is no osteological evidence of horse remains in the Indian subcontinent before 2,000 BCE, when the Aryans first came to India, and on Harappan seals and
terracotta figures, horses do not appear. Other than the archaeological ruins of Harappa and
Mohenjodaro, these seals provide the most detailed clues about the character of the Indus Valley
people. Bulls and elephants do appear on these seals, but the horned bull, most scholars are
agreed, should not be taken to be congruent with Nandi, or Shiva’s bull. The horned bull appears
in numerous Central Asian figures as well; it is also important to note that Shiva is not one of the
gods invoked in the Rig Veda. The revered cow of the Hindus also does not appear on the seals.
The women portrayed on the seals are shown with elaborate coiffures, sporting heavy jewelry,
suggesting that the Indus Valley people were an urbane people with cultivated tastes and a
refined aesthetic sensibility. A few thousand seals have been discovered in Indus Valley cities,
showing some 400 pictographs: too few in number for the language to have been ideographic,
and too many for the language to have been phonetic.