Overview of Harappan/Indus Civilization (2500 BC – 1750 BC)
The Harappan civilization, also known as the Indus civilization, is one of the oldest and most advanced ancient civilizations in history. It is believed to have existed from around 2500 BC to 1750 BC, and was first identified by the archaeologist John Marshall, who coined the term “Indus civilization.”
The civilization was named after the first discovered site, Harappa, but according to a geographical point of view, the most suitable name is the Indus-Saraswati civilization, as the largest concentration of settlements were found along the Indus-Saraswati river valley, with 80% of settlements located along the Saraswati.
The Indus civilization belongs to the Proto-Historic Period, also known as the Chalcolithic Age or Bronze Age. It was spread over a vast area, covering present-day Sindh, Baluchistan, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Western Uttar Pradesh, and Northern Maharashtra. Scholars generally believe that the Harappa-Ghaggar-Mohenjodaro axis represents the heartland of the Indus civilization.
The northernmost site of the Indus civilization was located in Ropar (Sutlej) in Punjab, though it has since shifted to Manda (Chenab) in Jammu-Kashmir. The southernmost site was located in Bhagatrav (Kim) in Gujarat, but is now believed to be in Daimabad (Pravara) in Maharashtra. The easternmost site was in Alamgirpur (Hindon) in Uttar Pradesh, and the westernmost site was in Sutkagendor (Dashk) on the Makran coast, on the border of Pakistan and Iran.
The Indus civilization is known for its advanced urban planning, sophisticated drainage systems, and impressive architectural structures. Its people were skilled in various crafts, including metallurgy, pottery, and seal-making. They also developed a system of writing, though it remains undeciphered to this day.
The collapse of the Indus civilization around 1750 BC remains a mystery, with theories ranging from environmental changes to invasion. However, the legacy of this ancient civilization lives on through the artifacts and structures that have been discovered, providing a glimpse into the sophisticated and advanced society that existed over 4000 years ago.
Composition: Capital and Port Cities of Harrapan Civilization
The Harappan civilization was known for its advanced urban planning and sophisticated infrastructure, including a network of capital and port cities. The capital cities of the civilization were Harappa and Mohenjodaro, which are considered to be the most important and largest urban centers of the civilization.
1. Capital Cities
Harappa is located in present-day Pakistan and was one of the first cities of the civilization to be discovered. It is believed to have been a major religious and administrative center, with impressive architectural structures such as the Great Bath and the Granary.
Mohenjodaro, also located in present-day Pakistan, is another important capital city of the civilization. It is considered the largest site of Indus Civilization. Moehnjodaro is known for its advanced drainage system, the Great Bath, and the impressive Citadel, which served as a religious and administrative center.
2. Port Cities
In addition to these capital cities, the Harappan civilization also had a network of port cities, which played a crucial role in their trade and commerce. Some of the most notable port cities include:
- Lothal: located in present-day Gujarat, India, Lothal was a major port city of the civilization and known for its advanced dockyard and irrigation system.
- Sutkagendor: located in present-day Pakistan, Sutkagendor was a westernmost port city of the civilization and known for its metallurgy workshops.
- Allahdino: located in present-day Pakistan, Allahdino was a port city of the civilization known for its rich collection of artifacts, including seals and pottery.
- Balakot: located in present-day Pakistan, Balakot was a port city of the civilization known for its advanced drainage system and well-planned streets.
- Kuntasi: located in present-day Gujarat, India, Kuntasi was a port city of the civilization known for its rich collection of artifacts including seals, pottery, and terracotta figures.
These port cities played a crucial role in the civilization’s trade and commerce, and the artifacts and structures that have been discovered in these cities provide a glimpse into the advanced and sophisticated society of the Harappan civilization.
Mohenjodaro — the largest site of Indus Civilization, Rakhigarhi—The largest Indian site of Indus Civilization.
Common Features of Major Cities in the Harappan Civilization
Major cities of the Harappan civilization, such as Harappa, Mohenjodaro, and Lothal, among others, were known for their advanced urban planning and sophisticated infrastructure. Some of the common features of these cities include:
- Systematic town planning on the lines of a ‘grid system’: The cities of the Harappan civilization were known for their well-planned streets, which were laid out in a grid pattern. This kind of town planning allowed for easy navigation and organization of the city.
- Use of burnt bricks in construction: Burnt bricks were commonly used in the construction of buildings and structures in the major cities of the Harappan civilization. This type of brick, made by heating clay to high temperatures, was more durable and resistant to erosion than the mud bricks used in other ancient civilizations.
- Underground drainage system: One of the most impressive features of the major cities of the Harappan civilization was their advanced drainage system, which included underground sewers and giant water reservoirs, such as the one found in Dholavira, which helped to prevent flooding and maintain cleanliness in the cities.
- Fortified citadel: Many of the major cities of the Harappan civilization had a fortified citadel, which served as a religious and administrative center. Exception is Chanhudaro, which is one of the sites that does not have a fortified citadel. This fortified area was typically located at the highest point of the city and was protected by walls and towers.
Economic Structure of the Harappan Civilization
1. Agriculture Practices
One of the key aspects of harappan society was their agricultural practices and the crops they cultivated.
The main crops of the Indus civilization were wheat and barley. These grains were a staple food for the people and were widely cultivated throughout the civilization’s settlements. There is also evidence of the cultivation of rice in the cities of Lothal and Rangpur in Gujarat, which suggest that the Indus people were familiar with this crop.
In addition to the main crops, the Indus people also cultivated a variety of other crops such as dates, mustard, sesamum, and cotton. The Indus people were the first in the world to produce cotton, which was likely used for textile production. The cotton grown by the Indus people was of high quality and was widely used in the production of fabrics.
2. Animal Husbandry
Animals played an important role in the daily life of the Indus people, and a variety of different species have been identified through the artifacts and remains found at Indus civilization sites. Some of the most commonly found animals include sheep, goats, humped and humpless bulls, buffalo, boars, dogs, cats, pig fowl, deer, tortoises, elephants, camels, and rhinoceroses.
Despite their proximity to the Indus civilization, lions were not known to the Indus people. In the site of Amri, a single instance of the Indian rhinoceros has been reported.
One of the most notable discoveries at Indus sites is the remains of horses, which were found at the Surkotada site in the Kutchh district of Gujarat. This is the only Indus site where the remains of a horse have been found, and it suggests that horses were not domesticated by the Indus people, and if they were present, they would have been wild animals.
The Indus people likely used these animals for a variety of purposes, including transportation, plowing fields, and as a source of food and clothing. The artifacts and remains found at Indus sites provide insight into the relationship between the Indus people and the animals that lived alongside them, and the importance of these animals in their daily lives.
The civilization was known for its advanced metallurgy techniques, which included copper, bronze, lead, and silver. They used these metals to make tools, weapons, and other objects.
4. Textile production
The Harappans were skilled weavers and produced a variety of textiles, including cotton and woolen fabrics.
The Harappans were the earliest known civilization to produce cotton, which was referred to as “Sindon” by the Greeks. As there is no evidence of coins, it is believed that barter was the normal method of exchange of goods.
The civilization was known for its advanced pottery-making techniques, which included the production of various types of pottery, such as terracotta, red, and black pottery.
6. Trade and commerce
The Harappan civilization is known for its extensive trade and commerce, both within the civilization and with foreign regions. One of the most notable examples of foreign trade is the trade relations between the Harappans and the Mesopotamians or Sumerians in modern-day Iraq, as well as with Bahrain.
The Harappans exported a variety of goods, including agricultural products, cotton goods, terracotta figurines, pottery, certain beads from Chanhudaro, conch shells from Lothal, ivory products, and copper. However, it is interesting to note that iron was not known to the people of the Harappan civilization.
The Sumerian texts make reference to trade relations with a place called “Meluha”, which is believed to be the Indus region. Additionally, Indus sites such as Shatughai and Mundigag have been found in Afghanistan. The Sumerian texts also mention two intermediate trade stations, Dilmun (Bahrain) and Makan (Makran coast). Susa and Ur, both Mesopotamian cities, have also been found to have Harappan seals.
Lothal was an ancient port of the Indus civilization. It was an important center for trade and commerce, and it is believed that it was connected to other parts of the civilization via a network of waterways. This highlights the importance of maritime trade for the Harappan civilization.
The Indus civilization was primarily urban, with a large number of settlements and cities that were connected through trade and commerce. The advanced economy and sophisticated trade and commerce system of the Harappans played a significant role in the civilization’s prosperity and development. The various artifacts and structures that have been discovered provide a glimpse into the economic activities and relations of this ancient society.
7. Seals and seals-making
The Harappans were known for their seals and seals-making, which were used to mark ownership of goods and were also used as a form of currency in trade.
Seals were an important part of the Harappan civilization’s economy, and were mainly made from steatite. Many of the seals depict a humpless bull, which was likely considered a sacred animal and may have played a significant role in religious rituals and practices.
Polity Of Harappan Civilization
The political activity of the Harappan civilization is not well understood, as there is limited evidence available about the nature of their polity. However, based on the available evidence, it seems that the ruling authority of the civilization was a class of merchants.
There are several indications that support this theory, such as the presence of a well-developed trade and commerce system, the use of seals and seals-making as a form of currency in trade, and the discovery of artifacts such as weights and measures, which suggest a sophisticated system of trade and commerce.
Additionally, the advanced infrastructure and urban planning of the civilization also suggest a centralized authority that was able to control and organize large-scale construction projects.
However, the exact nature of this ruling authority is not clear. There is no direct evidence of kings or rulers, and the evidence of social hierarchy is also limited. Some scholars suggest that the civilization may have been ruled by a complex system of merchants and traders, rather than a single centralized authority.
Despite the lack of clear-cut evidence, it is clear that the Harappan civilization had a complex and sophisticated political system that was able to support its advanced economy and urban development. The exact nature of this system remains a mystery, and further research is needed to gain a better understanding of the political activity of the Harappan civilization.
Evidence of Religious Practices in Harappan Civilization
The religious activity of the Harappan civilization is an area of ongoing debate among scholars, as there is limited evidence available on the subject. One significant characteristic of Harappan religious activity is that there is no evidence of temples or large religious structures being unearthed, leading to the belief that the Harappan people did not worship their gods in traditional temple settings.
Instead, an idea of the Harappan religion is formed from the statues and figurines that have been discovered. The most commonly found figurine is that of the Mother-Goddess, also known as Matridevi or Shakti, which suggests the prevalence of goddess worship in the civilization. There is also evidence of the prevalence of Yoni worship, a form of worship centered around the female sex organ.
The chief male deity of the civilization was the Pasupati Mahadeva, also known as the Lord of Animals or Proto-Shiva, who was represented in seals as sitting in a yogic posture. He is often surrounded by four animals, including an elephant, tiger, rhino, and buffalo, and two deer appear at his feet. This suggests the prevalence of animal worship in the civilization. Additionally, the seals and figurines also reveal that the civilization had a strong belief in tree worship, specifically the Peepal tree.
The remains and relics also suggest that the civilization practiced a form of worship that combined elements of Shiva-Shakti worship, the oldest form of worship in India, and Phallic (Lingam) worship. The prevalence of Humped Bull in the seals and figurines also suggests that the civilization had a strong belief in zoolatry, or animal worship. The humped bull, also known as the “Pasupati”, was likely considered a sacred animal and may have played a significant role in religious rituals and practices.
Overall, it appears that the religious activity of the Harappan civilization was complex and multifaceted. The civilization likely had a strong belief in goddess worship, animal worship, tree worship and nature worship, and the worship of the mother-goddess and the Pasupati Mahadeva, who was represented as Lord of Animals, was prominent. Additionally, evidence of Yoni worship, Phallic worship and zoolatry suggest that the Harappan people had a holistic, nature-centric view of their religious beliefs, which focused on reverence and respect for the natural world and its cycles.
Harappan Civilization Script and Writing Styles
The Harappan civilization is known for its use of a script that has not yet been deciphered. The script, which is mainly found on seals, is believed to be pictographic in nature. There is evidence that the script was written in a boustrophedon manner, meaning that it alternated between right to left and left to right on alternate lines. The script has been referred to as Proto-Dravidian, suggesting that it may be related to the Dravidian languages spoken in the region today.
Burial Customs in Harappan Civilization
Inhumation, or complete burial, was the most common method of disposing of the dead in the Harappan civilization. This is in contrast to other contemporary civilizations such as Mesopotamia and Egypt, which practiced cremation.
The origin of the swastika symbol can also be traced back to the Harappan civilization. The symbol, which is widely used in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, was likely a symbol of good luck and prosperity.
Decline Of Harappan Civilization
Some historians and archaeologists have suggested that the decline of the Harappan civilization was caused by invasions from neighboring civilizations, with M. Wheeler famously accusing the ancient Indian god, Indra, of causing the decline of the civilization. Others believe that climate change and environmental factors, such as flooding and drought, may have played a role in the civilization’s decline. There is also evidence that the civilization may have been in decline before any invasions or environmental changes occurred.