The Harappan Culture: the Bronze Age civilization in Indus Valley

The Harappan civilization arose in the Northwestern part of the Indian Subcontinent. This civilization was discovered first in 1921 at the Harappa situated in the province of west Punjab in Pakistan.

The name Harappan civilization was given to this culture due to its first excavation site Harappa. This civilization was an Urban civilization.

Geographical area/Area Covered in Harappan Culture
  • The Harappan Culture covered the parts of Punjab, Haryana, Sindh, Baluchistan, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and the fringes of Western Uttar Pradesh.
  • This civilization was extended from Jammu in the North, to the Narmada estuary in the South, and from the Makran coast of Baluchistan in the West to Meerut in the Northeast.
  • The total area of the Indus civilization was in a triangle form and accounted for about 1,299,600 square kilometers.
  • It was the largest civilization zone in the world during the third and second millennium B.C.

Nearly 1500 Harappan sites are known so far in the Subcontinent. Most of the sites are late Harappan sites, which are post-urban sites generally lie on the bank of the Hakra-Ghaggar channel.

Phases of Indus valley/Harappan civilization:

There are three phases of the Indus valley civilization:

  • The early Harappan phase-3300 to 2600 BCE
  • The mature Harappan phase-2600 to 1900 BCE
  • The late Harappan phase from 1900 to 1300 BCE (1200 BCE at some places NCERT)

Early Harappan phase: The site of Amri and Kot Diji remains the evidence of the early Harappan stage. In the early stage, people lived in large villages on the plains. There was a gradual growth of the town in the Indus valley. Great cities emerged in the mature Harappan stage.

Important Cities of Mature Phase of Harappan Culture:

The number of sites belonging to the mature phase of Harappan culture was less, two of them – Harappa in Punjab and Mohanjodaro in Sidh were the most important cities.

Harappa and Mohanjodaro (literally the mound of the dead) form parts of Pakistan. They are situated at a distance of 483 km and linked together by Indus.

  • Chahundaro was about 130 km south of Mohenjodaro in Sindh.
  • Lothal in Gujarat at the head of the Gulf of Cambay.
  • Kalibangan (means black bangles) in Northern Rajasthan.
  • Banawali is situated in the Hissar district in Haryana.
    • Hissar and Kalibangan saw two cultural phases i.e pre Harappan and Harappan.
  • Coastal cities Sutkagendor and Surkotda, both of these are marked by citadels.
Important cities of Late Harappa civilization:

The late Harappan phase is found in:

  • Rangpur and Rojdi in the Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat
  • Dholavira lying in the Kutch area of Gujarat shows Harappan fortification and all three phases of Harappan civilization/culture.
  • These phases also appear in Rakhigarhi. the city of Rakhigarhi is situated on the Ghaggar in Haryana. It is much bigger than Dholavira.

Salient Features of Harappan Culture

Town Planning and Structure in Harappan culture:

The Indus valley civilization/Harappan Culture was distinguished by its system of town planning.

Important facts about town planning and structure in Harappan culture:

  • The cities Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro both consisting their own citadel or acropolis.
  • The Citadels were possibly occupied by members of the ruling class.
  • The common people inhabited brick houses in a lower tower which was below the citadel in each city.
  • The houses were arranged in a grid system. The arrangement of houses in the city was the most remarkable thing that followed the grid system.
  • Harappa also shows two roomed bar racks which are possibly accommodated labours.

Grid system arrangement of houses in civilization: According to the grid system of arrangement, the roads cut across one another almost at right angles, and the city was divided into so many blocks

Great Bath: It seems to be the most important place of Mohenjodaro comprising the tank situated on the citadel mound.

  • The great bath measures 11.88*7.01 m and 2.43m deep.
  • Flights of steps at either end lead to the surface.
  • There are side rooms for changing clothes.
  • The floor of the Bath was made of burnt bricks.
  • The water from the bath was drawn from a large well in an adjacent room.
  • It is suggested that the Great Bath served rituals of bathing, which has been so vital to any religious ceremony in India.

The largest building of Mohenjodaro: The largest building of Mohenjodaro was a granary. It is 45.71 meters long and 15.23 meters wide.

  • In the citadel of Harappa, six granaries are found.
  • Granaries constituted an important part of the Harappan cities.
Drainage system:

The drainage system of Harappa was almost unique.

  • The drainage system of Mohenjodaro was very impressive. In all cities, every house has its own courtyard and bathroom.
  • water flowed from the house to streets that had drained, some drains are open and some are covered with bricks or stone slabs. The street drains were equipped with manholes.
  • The remains of streets and drains are also found in Banawali.
Agriculture in Harappan Culture:

It was very fertile, the Indus region possessed more natural vegetation which attracted more rainfall. The reason for the high fertility of this area was the annual inundation of the Indus river.

The Indus people sowed seeds in flood plains in November and reaped their harvests of Wheat and barley in April.

  • No hoe or ploughshare has been discovered, but the furrows discovered in the Pres Harappan phase at Kalibangan show that the fields were ploughed in Rajasthan in the Harappan period.
  • They probably used wooden ploughshare.
  • Stone sickles may have been used for harvesting crops.
  • The Indus people produced wheat, barley, rai, peas, etc.
  • From Banawali a good quantity of barley has been discovered.
  • They also produced sesamum and mustard.
  • The remains of rice have been discovered from Lothal.
  • The Indus people were the earliest people to produce cotton.

Domestication of Animals by Indus People:

Animals were kept on a large scale by Harappans. They mostly domesticated Oxen, buffaloes, goats, sheep, and pigs on large scale.

  • Cats were also domesticated by Harappans.
  • Dogs were regarded as pets at the very beginning. They also kept asses and camels, which were used as beasts of burden.
  • The remains of a horse are reported from Surkotada, situated in west Gujarat, which belongs to around 2000 B.C. but its identity is doubtful.
  • The Harappan culture was not Horse centered.
  • Elephants were well known to the Harappans.
Technology and Crafts in Harappan Culture:

The Harappan culture belongs to the Bronze age as Harappans were very well acquainted with the manufacture and use of the Bronze. Bronze was made by mixing tin with copper by smiths.

  • The impurities of the ores show that the copper was obtained from the Khetri copper mines of Rajasthan, also it could be brought from Baluchistan.
  • Possibly, Tin was brought from Afghanistan, although its old work is stated to have been found in Hazaribagh and Bastar.
  • Bronzsmiths produced images, utensils, various tools, and weapons such as axes, saws, knives, and spears.

Important crafts:

Several important crafts flourished in Harappan towns:

  • From Mohenjodaro, a piece of woven cotton has been recovered.
  • textile impression found on several objects.
  • Spindle whorls were used for spinning.
  • Weavers wove cloth of wool and cotton.
  • The dress for both men and women consisted of two pieces of cloth as upper and lower garments.
  • Brick laying was an important craft of Harappans.
  • They also practiced boat-making.
  • Seal making and Terracotta manufacture were also important crafts in Bronze age civilians.
  • Silver and gold jewelry were obtained from Afghanistan.
  • Bead were worn by men and women.
  • Jewelry of precious stones discovered in Harappans from South India.
  • The Harappans were also experts in bead making.
Trade in Harappan Culture:

The importance of trade in the life of the Indus civilization can be attested by granaries discovered at Harappa, and Mohenjodaro, and also by the presence of numerous seals, uniform script, and regulated weight and measures in a wide area.

  • They carry on a considerable trade in stone, metal, shell, etc.
  • They did not use metal money, probably they carry on all exchanges through barter.
  • They practiced navigation on the coast of the Arabian sea.
  • They knew the use of wheels, and carts with solid wheels. (not spoked wheel).
  • Internal trade with other parts of India and foreign trade was mainly conducted with Mesopotamia, Afghanistan, and Iran.
  • The Harappans had commercial links with one area of Rajasthan, Afghanistan, and also with Iran.
  • Many Harappan seals have been discovered in Mesopotamia.

Political organization in Indus civilization:

About the political organization of the Indus people, we have no clear idea.  Also, we have no religious structures of any kind except the Great Bath which may have been used for ablutions.

  • There is some indication of the practice of fire cult at Lothal in Gujarat in the Later phase, but no temples were used for the purpose. (NCERT)
Religious practices:

Numerous terracotta figurines of women have been found in Harappa.

Mother goddess: In a famous figurine, a plant is shown growing out of the embryo of a woman. The image probably represents the goddess of the earth. Through this, the Harappans looked upon the earth as a fertility goddess and worshiped her.

  • We don’t know whether the Harappans were Matriarchal people.

Male deity: The male deity is represented on a seal having three horned heads. This god is sitting in the posture of a Yogi and surrounded by an elephant, a tiger, a rhinoceros, and a buffalo below his thrown. The depicted god is Identified as Pashupati Mahadeva.

  • In Harappa number of symbols of the phallus and female sex organs made of stone have been found. They were possibly meant for worship.

Tree and Animal Worship: The Indus people also worshiped trees. many trees are represented on seals.

  • The picture of a deity is represented on a seal in the midst of the branches of the pipal.
  • Animals were also worshiped by the Indus people. Many of them are represented on seals.
  • The most important of them is One horned animal unicorn which may be identified with the rhinoceros.
  • The next important is humped bull.
  • The gods were not placed in temples.
  • Amulets have been found in large numbers. Probably the Harappans believed in ghosts and evils, therefore they used amulets against them.
Burial method in Harappan culture:

Cemeteries discovered around the cities like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Lothal, and Rupur show the burial practice of Harappans.

  • At Lothal the burial pit was lined with burnt brick indicating the use of coffins.
  • The practice of pot burial is found at Lothal sometimes with pair of skeletons.
  • No clear evidence of the practice of Sati.

Art and architecture of Harappan Culture

The Harapan Script:

They invented the art of writing. The earliest specimen of the Harappan script was noticed in 1853, and the complete script was discovered in 1923. It has not deciphered yet.

  • There are about 4,000 specimens of Harappan writing on stone seals and other objects.
  • Most inscriptions were recorded on seals and contain only a few words.
  • We have about 250 to 400 pictographs.
  • The Harappan script is mainly pictographic not alphabetical. The script of Harappans is the indigenous product of the Indus region and does not show any connection with the Scripts of Western Asia.
  • They invented their own script.
Seals of Indus valley civilization

Seals of Indus valley civilization: Source Wikipedia

Weight and Measures:

Numerous articles used for weights have been found. The articles show that the Harappan mostly used 16 or its multiples in weighing.

The Harappans also knew the art of measurement. The sticks inscribed with measure marks are recovered. One of the sticks is made up of bronze.

Pottery in Harappa:

The Harappans were experts in using the potter’s wheel. Many pots with various designs painted are found. The Harappan produced their own characteristic pottery and seals.

  • Generally, these pots were decorated with the design of trees and circles.
  • On some pottery, the image of men is also shown.

Seals: They are a great artist and their greatest creation was seals. About 2000 seals have been found. The seals contain short inscriptions with pictures of a one-horned bull, buffalo, tiger, rhinoceros, goat, and elephant.

Images: They made beautiful images of metal. The best specimen is ‘a women dancer’ made up of bronze.

  • A woman dancer made of bronze: The dancer is naked only wearing a necklace.
  • One steatite statue wears an ornamental robe over the left shoulder under the right arm, and it is short locks at the back of the head kept tidy by a women fillet.

Terracotta figurines: These are figurines made of fire-baked earthen clay. The figurines were either used for worship or as toys. The terracotta represents birds, dogs, sheep, cattle, monkeys, men, and women.

Important facts of the Harappan civilization - The Harappan Culture

Important facts of the Harappan civilization

Different views on the cause of the decline of Indus valley civilization:

  • External Aggression: Wheeler, Piggot, Gorgan-Childe
  • Inundation: MR Sahani
  • Epidemic: K V R Kennedy
  • Tectonic Disturbance (Ex. Dholavira): Marshall and Raikes
  • Sudden Decline: Wheeler
  • Climatic change: RL Stein, AN Ghosh
  • Deforestation, scarcity of resources, ecological imbalance: Fairservis
  • Flood (Ex. Mohenjodaro): Marshal, S R Rao, Maickey
  • The destruction due to change in course of river Ghaggar: G F Holes

 

Read about major sites of the Indus valley civilization

Major Sites of Indus Valley Civilization

 

Book – The story of the First civilization from Mesopotamia to the Aztecs

 

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