History of Indus Valley Civilization

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This booklet describes the history of Indus valley civilizations, discussing its town planning and structures, economy, institutions, religions.
1. Indus Valley Civilization
The history of India begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC),
also known as Harappan Civilization.
It flourished around 2,500 BC, in the western part of South Asia, in contemporary
Pakistan and Western India.
The Indus Valley was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of
Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China.
In 1920s, the Archaeological Department of India carried out excavations in the Indus
valley wherein the ruins of the two old cities, viz. Mohenjodaro and Harappa were
In 1924, John Marshall, Director-General of the ASI, announced the discovery of a
new civilisation in the Indus valley to the world.
Sites of IVC
Site Excavated Location Important Findings
Harappa Daya Ram Situated on the bank of river Sandstone
Sahini in Ravi in Montgomery district of statues of
1921 Punjab (Pakistan). Human anatomy
Bullock carts
2. Mohenjodaro R.D Situated on the Bank of river Great bath
(Mound of Banerjee Indus in Larkana district of Granary
Dead) in 1922 Punjab (Pakistan). Bronze dancing
Seal of Pasupathi
Steatite statue of
beard man
A piece of woven
Sutkagendor Stein in In southwestern Balochistan A trade point
1929 province, Pakistan on Dast between
river Harappa and
Chanhudaro N.G Sindh on the Indus river Bead makers
Majumdar shop
in 1931 Footprint of a
dog chasing a cat
Amri N.G On the bank of Indus river Antelope
Majumdar evidence
in 1935
Kalibangan Ghose in Rajasthan on the bank of Fire altar
1953 Ghaggar river Camel bones
Wooden plough
Lothal R.Rao in Gujarat on Bhogva river near First manmade
1953 Gulf of Cambay port
Rice husk
Fire altars
Chess playing
3. Surkotada J.P Joshi in Gujarat Bones of horses
1964 Beads
Banawali R.S Bisht Hisar district of Haryana Beads
in 1974 Barley
Evidence of both
and Harappan
Dholavira R.S Bisht Gujarat in Rann of Kachchh Water harnessing
in 1985 system
Water reservoir
Phases of IVC
Three phases of IVC are:
the Early Harappan Phase from 3300 to 2600 BCE,
the Mature Harappan Phase from 2600 to 1900 BCE, and
the Late Harappan Phase from 1900 to 1300 BCE.
The Early Harappan Phase is related to the Hakra Phase, identified in the Ghaggar-
Hakra River Valley.
The earliest examples of the Indus script date back to 3000 BC.
This phase stands characterized by centralized authority and an increasingly urban
quality of life.
Trade networks had been established and there are also evidences of the
cultivation of crops. Peas, sesame seeds, dates, cotton, etc, were grown during that
Kot Diji represents the phase leading up to Mature Harappan Phase.
By 2600 BC, the Indus Valley Civilization had entered into a mature stage.
The early Harappan communities were turning into large urban centers, like Harappa
and Mohenjodaro in Pakistan and Lothal in India.
The signs of a gradual decline of the Indus River Valley Civilization are believed to
have started around 1800 BC and by 1700 BC, most of the cities were abandoned.
However, one can see the various elements of the Ancient Indus Valley Civilization in
later cultures.
4. Archaeological data indicates the persistence of the Late Harappan culture till 1000-
900 BC.
Town Planning and Structures
The Harappan culture was distinguished by its system of town planning .
Harappa and Mohenjodaro each had its own citadel or acropolis, which was possibly
occupied by members of the ruling class.
Below the citadel in each city lay a lower town containing brick houses, which were
inhabited by the common people.
The remarkable thing about the arrangement of the houses in the cities is that they
followed the grid system.
Granaries constituted an important part of the Harappan cities.
The use of burnt bricks in the Harappan cities is remarkable, because in the
contemporary buildings of Egypt mainly dried bricks were used.
The drainage system of Mohenjodaro was very impressive.
In almost all cities every big or small house had its own courtyard and bathroom.
In Kalibangan many houses had their wells.
At sites such as Dholavira and Lothal (Gujarat), the entire settlement was fortified,
and sections within the town were also separated by walls.
The Harappan villages, mostly situated near the flood plains, produced sufficient
Wheat, barley, rai, peas, sesame, lentil, chickpea and mustard were produced. Millets
are also found from sites in Gujarat. While rice uses were relatively rare.
The Indus people were the earliest people to produce cotton.
While the prevalence of agriculture is indicated by finds of grain, it is more difficult to
reconstruct actual agricultural practices.
5. Representations on seals and terracotta sculpture indicate that the bull was known,
and archaeologists extrapolate shows oxen were also used for ploughing.
Most Harappan sites are located in semi-arid lands, where irrigation was probably
required for agriculture.
Traces of canals have been found at the Harappan site of Shortughai in Afghanistan,
but not in Punjab or Sindh.
Although the Harappans practised agriculture, animals were also reared on a large
Evidence of the horse comes from a superficial level of Mohenjodaro and from a
doubtful terracotta figurine from Lothal. In any case the Harappan culture was not
horse centred.
The importance of trade in the life of the Indus people is witnessed by the presence
of numerous seals, uniform script and regulated weights and measures in a wide
The Harappans carried on considerable trade in stone, metal, shell, etc.
Metal money was not used and trade was carried by barter system.
They practised navigation on the coast of the Arabian Sea.
They had set up a trading colony in northern Afghanistan which evidently
facilitated trade with Central Asia.
They also carried commerce with those in the land of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
The Harappans carried on long distance trade in lapis lazuli; which may have
contributed to the social prestige of the ruling class.
The Harappans were very well acquainted with the manufacturing and use of
Copper was obtained from the Khetri copper mines of Rajasthan and Tin was
possibly brought from Afghanistan.
Textile impressions have also been found on several objects.
Huge brick structure suggest that brick-laying was an important craft. This also
attests the existence of a class of masons.
The Harappans practised boat-making, bead making and seal-making. Terracotta
manufacture was also an important craft.
The goldsmiths made jewellery of silver, gold and precious stones.
The potter's wheel was in full use, and the Harappans produced their own
characteristic pottery, which was glossy and shining.
6. Very few written materials have been discovered in the Indus valley and the
scholars have not been able to decipher the Indus script so far.
As a result, there is difficulty in understanding the nature of the state and
institutions of the Indus Valley Civilization.
No temples have been found at any Harappan sites. Therefore the possibility of
priests ruling Harappa can be eliminated.
Harappa was possibly ruled by a class of merchants.
If we look for a centre of power or for depictions of people in power, archaeological
records provide no immediate answers.
Some archaeologists are of the opinion that Harappan society had no rulers,
and that everybody enjoyed equal status.
Another theory argues that there was no single ruler, but a number of rulers
representing each of the urban centers.
In Harappa numerous terracotta figurines of women have been found. In one
figurine a plant is shown growing out of the embryo of a woman.
The Harappans, therefore, looked upon the earth as a fertility goddess and
worshipped her in the same manner as the Egyptians worshipped the Nile
goddess Isis.
The male deity is represented on a seal with three horned heads, represented in
the sitting posture of a yogi.
This god is surrounded by an elephant, a tiger, a rhinoceros, and has a buffalo
below his throne. At his feet appear two deer.The depicted god is identified as
Pushupati Mahadeva.
Numerous symbols of the phallus and female sex organs made of stone have been
The people of the Indus region also worshipped trees and Animals.
The most important of them is the one horned unicorn which may be identified with
the rhinoceros and the next important was the humped bull.
Amulets have also been found in large numbers.
Decline of the Indus Valley Civilization
The IVC declined around 1800 BCE but the actual reasons behind its demise are still
7. One theory claims that Indo-European tribe i.e. Aryans invaded and conquered the
In later cultures various elements of the IVC are found which suggest that
civilization did not disappear suddenly due to an invasion.
On the other hand, many scholars believe natural factors are behind the decline of
the IVC.
The natural factors could be geological and climatic.
It is believed that the Indus Valley region experienced several tectonic
disturbances which causes earthquakes. Which also changed courses of rivers
or dried them up.
Another natural reason might be changes in patterns of rainfall.
There could be also dramatic shifts in the river courses, which might have brought
floods to the food producing areas.
Due to combination of these natural causes there was a slow but inevitable collapse
of IVC.