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The Indus Vally or Harappan Civilization

Updated on May 20, 2014


Indus Valley Civilization originated in the North-western part of Indian subcontinent. It is also known as Harappan Civilization as Harappa was the first site which was discovered. Nearly 1400 settlements belongs to this culture are known from different parts of India. In terms of political boundaries of today nearly 925 settlements are in India and 475 are in Pakistan. It covers an area of about 12,50,000 sq. km and these settlements are mostly located on river banks. Each of these cities were surrounded by vast agriculture lands, rivers and forests that were inhabited by scattered farming and pastoral communities and bands of hunters and food gathers.

Major excavations undertaken at the sites of Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Lothal, Surkotada, Dholavira etc. have given us a fair idea about the various aspects like town planning, economy, technology, religion etc. of this civilization.

Town Planning

The Harappan culture was distinguished by its system of Town Planning. Mohenjodaro and Harappa had its own citadel. It was occupied by members of ruling class. Below the citadel in each city lay a lower town containing brick houses, which was inhabited by the common people. The remarkable feature about the arrangement of the houses in the cities is that they followed the grid system. According to this roads cut across one another almost at right angles and the city divided into so many blocks.

The most important public place of Mohenjodaro seems to be the Great Bath, comprising the tank which is situated in the citadel mount. It is the example of beautiful brick work.There are side rooms for changing clothes. The floor of the Bath was made of burnt bricks. Water was drawn from a large ell in an adjacent room and an outlet from the corner of the Bath led to a drain. It is suggested that the Great Bath served ritual bathing, which has been so vital to any religious ceremony in India.

The drainage system of Mohenjodaro was very impressive. In almost all cities had its own courtyard and bathroom.In Kalibangan many houses had their wells. Water flowed from the house to the streets which had drains. Some times these drains were covered with bricks and sometimes with stone slabs. The street drains were equipped with manholes. The remains of the streeets and drains have also been found in Banawali. Altogether the quality of domestic bathrooms and drains is remarkable and the drainage system of Harappa is almost unique.

Each city comprised a series of walled sectors or mounds, oriented in different direction. Mohenjodaro, Harappan and Kalibangan have a high rectangular mound on the west and extensive mound on to the north, south and the east. But the cities like Dholavira and Banavali there was only single walled mound internally divided into three or four walled sectors.

The excavations at the Harappan city sites like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Surkotada show that there were large gateways are seen even in the inner fortification areas also. At Dholavira a large inscription, possibly a fallen signboard was found close to the main gateway. The letters of the inscriptions are largest example of writing ever discovered from any Harappan city, is made from white gypsum paste inlay set into a wooden plank. Mounted above the gateway the signboard would have been visible from a long distance.

Materials used in Buildings

The houses built by the people usually show considerable variations in the raw materials used in the style of construction. The most common building materials in the alluvial plains, where most settlements are located, where mud bricks and kiln-fired-bricks, wood and reeds. However in rocky foothills and on the islands of Kutch in and in Saurashtra, where stone is commonly available, dressed stone replaced bricks.

The doors windows were made of wood and mats. The floors of houses were generally hard-packed earth that was often plastered. Bathing ares and drains were made with baked bricks or stone. Some rooms were paved with bricks or fired terracotta cakes. Very few actual roof fragments have been recovered. They were probably made of wooden beams covered with reeds and packed clay. In rare instances timber also seems to have formed a semi structural frame for brick work.

Crafts and Industries

Although Harappan civilization is referred to as a bronze age civilization, mostly unalloyed copper was used for manufacturing for artefacts, and only rarely tin was alloyed in copper to make bronze. Tools and weapons weapons were simple in form. They included flat-axes, chisels, razors etc. People also made copper and bronze vessels.

Mature Harappan pottery represents a blend of ceramic tradition of the pre-Harappan culture of both west of Indus region as well as of the Saraswati area. The pottery are was quite advanced. Most of the pots were wheel made. Big storage jars were also produced. Pots were beautifully painted in Black on the bright red surface with geometric designs, plants animals and few paintings seem to depict scenes from stories.

Shell working was another flourishing industry. Artisans, settlements close to the sea manufactured shell ornaments like pendants, rings, bracelets, beds etc., besides objects as bowls, ladles and gamesmen.

Trade and Commerce.

In the Harappan civilization, the elaborate social structure and the standard of living must have been achieved by a highly developed system of communication and strong economy. In the beginning trade must have been internal i.e. between one zone and another, and later external trade also developed. Agricultural products, industrial raw material, like copper ore, stone, semi precious shells etc. were traded. Besides the raw material, finished products of metals, precious and semi precious stones, ornaments of gold and silver were also traded to various areas.

The occurrence of matured Harappan seals and other art facts in contemporary Mesopotamian civilization and some of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian objects in Harappan civilization, and the evidence of Mesopotamian documents, establish that the Harappans had trading relation with that land.


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