Ancient Indian History Notes [Part 3] Indus Valley Civilization

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Indus Valley Civilisation for UPSC

Early phase – 3500 to 2600 BC, Mature phases – 2600-1900BC, Late phase – 1900-1500 BC

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Mohen-jodaro, Harappa, Ganweriwala, Rakhigarhi and Dholavira are the biggest cities according to the order. But recent archaeological discoveries have found out that Rakhigarhi (Bhirrana) site is even bigger than Mohen-jodaro and can date back to 7500 BC, earlier than early Harappan age (3500 BC to 2600 BC). This has arisen doubts that IVC was not established in SIndh region but in Haryana on the banks of Ghaggar river (Saraswati). There are at least five Harappan sites such as Kunal, Bhirrana, Farmana, Girawad and Mitathal, which are producing early dates and where the early Harappan phase could go back to 5000 BCE.

Pre-harappan sites
pre harappan sites upsc

It is believed that they began with the settlement of farming communities in Baluchistan in 7th millennium BCE. It was MR Mughal who first studied the relationship between Indus Valley and Baluchistan settlements based on artefacts, pottery, architecture, etc and concluded that this was the previous Harappan or early Harappan age. Amalnanda Ghosh studied the Sothi pottery culture and found similarities between Sothi and early pottery of Kalibangan, Kot Diji, etc. The early harappan stage can be called as the stepping stone to urbanisation.

Important Pre-Harappan sites
  • Amri – lies on western bank of Indus. Period IA, B,C, D are phases of early harappan. They date back to around 3500BC. The phases show gradual refinement of pottery and increase in the variety. The period IC has a relevance to mature Harappan phase as it has thrown up wheel made wares with monochrome or polychrome paintings,
  • Kot Diji – lies on the eastern side of Indus. The earliest phase dates to 3300 BCE. It contains a massive fortification wall made up of limestone rubble and mud bricks. The artefacts found include objects made of stone, bone and shell. The pottery consists of designs like pipal trees, fish scales and a horned deity.
  • Kalibangan – lies on dry bed of Ghaggar Hakra. Period 1 dates to around 2900 BCE. A massive fortification wall made of mud bricks has been found.

Standardisation of bricks 3:2:1 is found. We also find pottery similar to Kot Dijian pottery. Graffiti on the pottery is similar to script in mature harappan phase.

  • Rakhigarhi – It was a planned setllement with earliest phase 1 dating similar to Kalibangan. The pottery found is similar to Kalibangan I phase. Seals, graffiti, terracotta wheels have been found.
  • Bhirrana – Period IB is the early harappan phase. The mud bricks are of the ratio of 3:2:1.
Why is Harappa an urban civilization?

Gordon Childe’s 10 criteria for deciding urbanization that include size and density, trade, non-agricultural activities, etc. Urbanization in historical terms means cultural complexity, increased food resource base, social stratification, political organization, increase in usage of technology, etc. Harappan sites show all these characteristics.

Diffusionist theory
Diffusionist theory for UPSC

It says that Harappa civilization didn’t urbanize from its early phases but due to Mesopotamian influence on Harappa. It was first out forth by EJH Mackay who said that migration of people from Sumeria may have led to formation of Harappan civilization. Mortimer Wheeler believes that migration of ideas and not people led to urbanization of IVC.

However, the only drawback is that conclusive relations between M and H cannot be established. The differences include-

  • Round columns of Sumeria absent in Harappa
  • Foundation deposits of Babylonia and Egypt absent
  • Grid pattern of town planning absent in Sumeria
  • Harappa has extensive usage of burnt bricks that Mesopotamia doesn’t
  • No similarities in script
  • Irrigation and canal systems developed in Mesopotamia absent in IVC
  • Tombs and magnificent temples of Mesopotamia absent in IVC
  • Mesopotamian pottery was delicate and thin while IVC was thick and utilitarian.

Moreover, diffusionist theory assumes that same inventions can’t take place at multiple places which is wrong. Agriculture can be said to be have started from at least 3 different places. The theories also consider superficial resemblences and not differences as mentioned above.

Early Phase to Mature Phase

The emergence of mature Harappa from early Harappa can be studied in two aspects –

  • One is development of individual sites
  • Second is ‘cultural convergence’ as named by historian Allchin which is gradual transformation of regional traditions to a phase of cultural uniformity. Individual sites written above. In cultural convergence,
    • Seals found uniformly at Naushahro, Kunal, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, etc
    • Harappan script found at early phases like Padri, Kalibangan, Dholavira and Harappa
    • Horned deity found at jar in Kot Diji, jars at Rehman ki Dheri, Kalibangan on a terracotta cake, etc.

However, the development of mature from early phase has exceptions –

  • Sites like Lothal, Alamgirpur, Ropar, etc don’t have early harappan phases
  • Sites of early phases such as Potwar plateau dont show any mature phases
  • There are breaks in phases in Kot Diji and Kalibangan. Kot Diji due to fire and Kalibangan due to earthquake.
What’s Sindhu Sarasvati Civilization?

According to some archaeologists, more than 500 Harappan sites have been discovered along the dried up river beds of the Ghaggar-Hakra River and its tributaries, in contrast to only about 100 along the Indus and its tributaries; consequently, in their opinion, the appellation Indus Ghaggar-Hakra civilisation or Indus-Saraswati civilisation is justified.

  • Ambitame Naditame Devitame Saraswati – Rigveda (2.41.16)
  • Debate on whether Saraswati existed. Claims of river Helmand in Afghanistan as Sarasvati ridiculous.
  • Report by geologist K.S Valdiya – massive paleochannel of a river has been found in desert and is a reminiscent of current Ghaggar-Hakra. It has been identified as River Sarasvati.
  • From literary evidence, geography of disappeared river is same as Saraswati as mentioned in Rigveda (10.75) Nadi Sukta
  • The convention is that the civilization is named after the first site. Hence Harappa civilization.
  • Prof. Ahmad Hasan Dani writes `To him (John Marshall) goes the credit of coining the term The Indus Civilization. But his geographic horizon no longer holds good and the term deriving therefrom is open to question”
  • Thus, the finding of new sites calls for new terminologies.
  • The IVC is also called the Indus Saraswati civilization due to large amount of sites found in the basin of Ghaggar Hakra or the extinct Sarasvati river. Sites on Indus basin include Mohenjodaro Harappa, Kot Diji, Chanhudaro, Amri, etc. Sites in Saraswati basin including Satluj and Yamuna include Ropar, Rakhigarhi, Kalibangan, Mitahal, Banwali, Ganweriwala.
  • If Sarasvati emptied in the Rann, Dholavira is one more site.
  • Thus, its fair to name Sindhu-Saraswati as it reflects the ground reality that sites have been excavated at both Sindhu and Saraswati valleys.
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Indus Script
indus script upsc
  • Perhaps the biggest mystery of the IVC is its script. Script has yet not been deciphered
  • Basics of the script- The script is logo-syllabic with nearly 400-450 basic signs. It has been argued that the script is to be read from right to left. Few instances of Boustrophedon style have been found where consecutive lines start in opposite directions. Script has been found inverted on seals.
  • Nearly 3700 inscribed objects have been found in IVC with nearly 87% only from Harappa and Mohenjodaro.
  • Most writing is found on seals which may have been used as business cards, for buying and selling or for religious purposes. Writing has also been found on miniature tablets of copper, fiance, steatite, etc. Writing on pottery and inscribing graffiti is also found. Probably, Harappan potters numbered their pottery. Sometimes, gold jewellery and bangles are also found inscribed. Dholavira has revealed a signboard with Indus script
  • Historiography- Linguists say it is related to Proto-Dravidian script or IndoSumerian or Indo-Aryan. Study of S Kalyanaramana has shown that script was proto-Brahmi while Michael Witzel ascribes it a Munda or AustroAsiatic origin.
  • Extent of literacy- The limited use as well as concentration in 2 cities puts a limit on literacy level of Harappans. The rapid disappearance of script after 1700BCE also shows less downward percolatiom of the script.
Town Planning
town planning of ivc
  • Size of towns varied. Mohenjodaro 200 hectares, Harappa more than 150 hectares while Kot diji, Ropar, Balakot range between 1-5 hectares. Lothal is half the size of Kalibangan but has more planning that the latter.
  • Citadel structures found at many places which housed the ruling class while the houses outside the citadel housed the ordinary citizens. However, no uniformity is found. Kalibangan, Harappa, Mohenjodaro are places where raised citadels separated from lower cities exist. In Lothal and Surkotada, citadels are within city complex.
  • All houses are in grid structure which shows meticulous town planning. Almost all roads cut each other at 90 degrees irrespective of the size of cities. Most of the houses were constructed on platforms may be to prevent flood waters from entering.
  • Houses were multi storied. But the rooms were compact and had little scope of ventilation. Large buildings had big doors made of wood. The doors and windows faced the sideways and rarely opened in the main streets. The ceilings were probably 3m high with floors made of hard packed earth. At Bhirrana, a house with 10 rooms with a verandah built around a courtyardhas been found.
  • Great Bath at Mohenjodaro made of burnt bricks. Its dimensions –

14.5x7x2.5 m. The floor and walls are made of tightly fitted bricks placed edge to edge with help of gypsum mortar. A thick layer of bitumen was laid over that. This is the earliest example of waterproofing. An indication of the importance of bathing for religious ceremonies prevalent even today. Changing rooms for citizens also found.

  • Granaries have been found at Harappa and Mohen-jodaro. The size of these granaries is also big. This shows the importance of granaries in the civilization. Perhaps because of increasing desertification, they felt the need to store their food in bigger granaries which would last for many months. Rooms also have been found for threshing the grains.
  • The ratio of dimensions were fixed uniformly. 7x14x28cm for houses and 10x20x40 cm for walls. Usage of burnt bricks is remarkable given the fact that IVC lies in the Chalcolithic period where usage of burnt bricks was not widespread. Even ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia didn’t have such widespread usage.
  • Well built drainage system below the roads. It was covered by stone slabs or bricks. Drainages have manholes. The sewage pipes and chutes were different from those drain lines collecting rain water. At Harappa and Mohenjodaro, household sewage was brought to street drains through terracotta pipes. The drainage was led away from the city.
  • Each house had a well and a bathroom connected to the drainage. This proves meticulous planning for better sanitation and health. The bathroom flooring was made of tight-fitting bricks. Every house had its own soak-pit which collected all the sediments and allowed only the water to flow into the street drain. In Harappa, almost every house had a toilet. The commodes were large pots sunk in the ground. They had a small hole to seep in water.
  • Large walls of burnt bricks have been found near the rivers showing that the Indus flooded frequently. Mohenjo Daro was rebuilt at least 7 times due to destruction by floods. However, the floods made the land fertile and sustained agriculture.
  • The advanced architecture of the Harappans is shown by their impressive dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms, and protective walls.
  • At the site of Dholavira, we find extensive constructions of water reservoirs. Number of wells have been found at Mohenjodaro.
  • Dockyard at Lothal. It is trapezoidal in shape with an arrangement to keep a constant level of water with help of sluice valve and spill channels. A mud brick platform for loading goods also found. In those days, seas were inside and Lothal might have had access to seas.
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  • A bustling urban civilization cannot survive without great agricultural production.
  • It was the main profession. The sowing was done after the monsoons and harvested in April
  • Trade between villlages and urban centers in agri commodities through barter.
  • Traces of different crops lie wheat, barley, rice, etc have been found from pre-harappan sites like Kalibangan to later sites in Sindh and Punjab.
  • Important fact is that no hoe or ploughshare has been found. But furrows have been found at Kalibangan showing ploughing was done. May be stone or wooden ploughshare was used.
  • Cotton cultivation has been found in Harappa.
  • Many animals were domesticated. Oxen, camel, asses, mules, elephants were known. Humped back bull was seen on seals. Very few traces of horses have been found like a superficial excavation in Mohen jodaro, a terracotta artifact at Lothal and excavation at Surkotada in Gujarat dating 2000 BC.
  • Hoards of animal bones have been found at Harappan site of Shikarpur in Kutch. Nearly 15000 bone pieces of animals like rhino, gazelle, pigs, nilgai, blackbuck, cattle have been found which shows domestication and meat purpose.
  • Source of raw materials – Copper (Khetri mines), gold (Iran), lapis lazuli (Shortughai), shells (Nageshwar), steatite (Malwa), limestone – Rohri hills and Tin from Tosam area of Haryana.
  • Craft activity was often localised. Eg- Chanudaro for beads
  • 16 copper furnaces have been found at Harappa and copper workshops at Lothal. At Harappa, a hoard of copper tools have been found like axes, daggers, scrapers, etc.
  • Bronze artifacts have been found in many places. Dancing girl at Mohenjodaro. Tin was rare and copper mined was crude. Bronze was used in making utensils as well as weapons like spears, axes, knives, Mohenjodaro, the usage of bronze has been found increasing with time.
  • Silver, Gold and ornaments of precious stones have been found at a small site of Allahdino. Harappans used to make necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pendants out of these.
  • Beads – Chanhudaro is been found which was dedicated to all kinds of crafts like bead making, seal making, shell making, etc. materials like jasper, lapis lazuli, carnelian, steatite and metals like copper, gold, silver have been found. The raw materials were fired and then the nodules were cut at different stages, were flaked, polished and drilled to form beads. Such drills have been found at Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Dholvira, etc. Similar shell making has been found at Nageshwar on the coast. A lapidary workshop with almost 3000 unfinished beads of carnelian, jasper, etc found at Rakhigarhi. The Harappan beads were so prized that they are found in the burials of Mesopotamia.
  • Cloths of woven cotton and wool show extensive usage of spinning whorls. At a burial in Harappa, cotton threads have been found wrapped at base of a copper mirror. Traces of cotton cloth have been found at Mohenjodaro.

The mesopotamian texts mention cotton as one of import from Meluha highlighting its importance.

  • A harp-like instrument depicted on an Indus seal and two shell objects found at Lothal indicate the use of stringed musical instruments
  • Seals made of steatite used by the merchant class are found mainly with graffiti inscribed on them. But few other seals made of faience, calcite are also found. Two silver seals with unicorn motif have been found at Mohenjodaro. Copper and soapstone seals have been found at Lothal.

Most seals have motifs of animals like elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, etc. Usage of seals as business cards, for stamping, amulets for religious purposes, etc

  • Pottery – The Harappan pottery reflects efficient mass production. The pottery had different variety like black-on-red, grey buffs, BRW, etc. Kilns have been found in Harappa, Naushahro, Mohenjodaro which are funnel shaped up-draft type. Most pots were wheel turned with materials imparting different colour. Iron oxide or Geru provided a red colour which black was made by mixing black manganese powder in iron oxide. Monochrome painting is found while polychrome is rare. The pottery has geometrical designs or pictorial motifs like pipal leaves, fish scales as found at Kalibangan. The uses were different – Flattish dishes were used as plates, large pots used to store grains or water, elaborately painted pots for ceremonial purpose, small vessels to drink water or beverages. The use of perforated jars not known.
  • Trade- Main objects of trade included- beads, textiles, pottery, cotton, ivory, shells, lapis lazuli. Main route was through Shortughai in Afghanistan and possibly through Bolan pass. Maritime routes through Sutkagendor, Balakot, Dholavira, Lothal, Kuntasi, etc. Kenoyer has suggested a state control over crafts for such high level of homogeneity. Also, art of writing proved beneficial.

Harappan trade extended till Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia. The records in 3rd millennium BC in Mesopotamia record trade with Meluha. Harappan seals have been found in Mesopotamia. Carnelian beads in Ur,Nippur. Extensive artifacts, seals and ornaments relating to Harappa have been found in Iranian plateau like Hissar, Susa, etc which proves the trade.

Evidence in Turkmenistan in Altyn Depe where a rectangular seal bearing Harappan script has been found. Harappan writing found at Failaka in Persian Gulf. At an island in Bahrain, harappan seals with ivory pieces, linga shaped object is found. Dock at Lothal and many places in Baluchistan prove maritime trade with Mesopotamia. Mesopotamians were crazy for the Lapis Lazuli found in India. However, there is stark absence of Mesopotamian seals in India.

Internal trade routes through land and rivers existed because of wide range of raw materials being tapped from various places. Give places of raw materials. Food grains and textiles from Gujarat region went up to Punjab

  • Weights and measures in the multiples of 16 have been found. 16 is used as a multiple even in modern India. Ivory scale found at Lothal. Shell scale at Mohenjodaro.
  • Terracotta figures of men, women, toys have been found. But they are of poor quality as compared to the seals which were used by the moneyed class. Terracotta bangles also have been found in Kalibangan. Rings, pendants wrestling also made. Some figurines had graffiti inscribed. The characteristic color was imparted by faience which is a paste of crushed quartz coloured with various minerals.
  • No big artifact of stones has been found. Small knives, sickles only are found. Usage of stone in masonry and fine polished pillars have been found in Dholavira. Stone quarries have been identified at Rohri hills. Stone bust of male priest found at Mohenjodaro.
  • Overall, Harappan crafts show a high level of standardisation. Kenoyer has suggested a state control over crafts for such high level of homogeneity. However, other reasons can be existence of guilds, standardisation due to crafts becoming hereditary. In all cases, it shows a well developed internal and external trade.
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  • Traces of fire cult found in Lothal but no extensive temples. Fire altars have been found at Kalibangan also has an adjoining pit filled with animal bones which shows prevalence of animal sacrifice. Fire altars found also at Banwali, Rakhigarhi, Nageshwar, etc.
  • Terracotta figure of earth goddess has been found. This shows harappans worshipped earth as a goddess of fertility. It finds reflection of Vedic verses on Prithvi. Similarly, a seal with a nude woman, legs apart with a plant issuing out of her vagina is considered to be a prototype of goddess Shakambari, earth mother. In many places, we find discarded female figurines which also suggest ritual significance.
  • A seal has been found with a man with horns sitting in Yogic position. His hands are adorned with bangles and surrounded by animals like elephant, tiger, rhino and water buffalo. The man appears to be three headed. This is regarded as the image of Pashupati. Traces of phallus worship in Kalibangan where a terracotta piece resembling a Linga with a Yoni base has been found. This has been continued in the Hindu society.
  • Zoolatry or worship of animals seems to be prevalent- mythical animals like unicorn and actual animals like bull, elephants, tiger, buffalo, etc seen on artefacts.
  • Ritual significance of water- Great Bath at Mohenjodaro.
  • A seal at Mohenjodaro with seven men with beards standing below a pipal tree. They have been interpreted as Saptarshis.
  • Amulets have been found show belief in black magic. This is similar to Atharva Veda.
  • Statue of dancing girl found at Mohenjodaro also tells about development of art, dance and drama in Harappa civilization.
  • Burials found at Harappa, Lothal, Rakhigarhi and Surkotada. Harppans normally buried their dead in pits. We find many things placed in the pits. The pits were lined with bricks. The body was placed with its head in north and with copper artifacts, sometimes with semi precious ornaments like that of jasper. Ornaments were placed in the pits of both men and women. The harappans seem to be believers in afterlife. Fractional burials where bones were collected and buried found in Mohenjodaro. A cemetry has been found at Sanauli in Baghpat with multiple burials with some being double burials. The objects placed included gold, semi-precious stones and copper artefacts. It dates to mature Harappan phase 2200-1800 BCE.
Political Structure
Political structure of Indus Valley civilization
  • The excavations at Harappan sites have not revealed much info about the polity, the ruling classes or administration.
  • The existence of a separate citadel in many sites like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Dholavira, etc show some kind of ruling class. Plus, it indicates a kind of social stratification. A stone bust of some bearded man has been found at Mohenjodaro which is also believed to be a priest king. Thus, some kind of political structure did exist in Harappa civilization.
  • Centralized State- Standardization of artifacts, communication, similarity in buildings, script and measures, common cultural symbols spread over a large area show uniformity which is not possible without a centralized State. Moreover, since as a civilization it survived for more than 1500 years, it can’t happen unless there is political stability.
  • However, it has been argued that Harappan sites have not yield much weapons and arms which is a sign of warfare. There are no signs of bureaucracy or standing army.
  • Stuart Piggot argued that a centralized polity existed with Harappa and Mohenjodaro as the twin capitals due to charactertistic specialities of these two cities. However, it is questionable since recent excavations at Rakhigarhi show it is bigger and older
  • A sort of Segmentary state model has been suggested by Kenoyer who believes the Harappan polity consisted of different competiting classes of elites like merchants, religious people, landowners, etc who exercised control at different spheres and levels. However, such a model cannot explain why such uniformity existed in such a large geographical area for centuries
  • City States- It has been suggested that big cities were city states like that of Greeks with individual rulers. However, multiple village sites have been found that would have traded food grains with cities.
  • Thus, the model of centralized state is the most convicting one. Mere survival for centuries with cultural uniformity is not possible in any other model.
Continuity of Harappa

Polytheism of Harappans, shiva and yogic postures, mother goddess, pottery continuity, shifting of settlements in east, commonality in bead making, house building, vedic religion worship of earth, fire altars similar, standard weight of silver coin Karshapana continued, priestly class seen in IVC continued as Brahmans, small daily articles like Kajal, nose rings, bangles, dice, garments, etc continued, ritual significance of water and animals.