Harappan Civilization or Indus Valley Civilization

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Harappan Civilization or Indus Valley Civilization| Features, Geography, Major Sites, Cities, Granary, Drainage System, Pottery

The Indus valley civilization also known as was a Bronze Age civilization from 3300-1300 B.C. also known as the Harappa civilization. The term Indus civilization was first used by John Marshall.

Harappan Civilization or Indus Valley Civilization

• It is called Harappan civilisation because it was first discovered at Harappa, situated in the province of west Punjab in Pakistan in 1921.After the discovery of Harappa, Mohenjodaro was also found by R.D. Banerjee on the bank of Indus River.

• The name Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Culture signifies not only the sites limited to the Indus Valley
proper but also to the similar kind of sites found in other parts of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Harappan Culture have been categorized into different phases:

• Post Urban Harappan – 1900-1400 B.C.
• Mature/Urban Harappan – 2600-1900 B.C.
• Pre/Early Harappan – 3500-2600 B.C.


• In 1826, C. Mason (mentioned in his article published in 1842) first mentioned the presence of some ancient site in Harappa. In 1834, Bernes expressed the possibility of any collapsed fort on the bank of the river. Alexander Cunningham traveled to Harappa twice in 1853 and again in 1856 and expressed the possibility of the suppression of an ancient civilization inside of many hills. Cunningham conducted limited excavation in the said site and thereafter published a map of antiquities (such as currencies) and excavation site from there. He identified Harappa with the Po-Fa-ta or Po-Fa-To-Two, seen by Chinese traveler Huin-tsang during his visit to India.

• The famous cities of Indus Valley Civilization were discovered accidentally in the mid-nineteenth century during the construction of a railroad by British engineers John and William Brunton. In 1922–1923, when the Archaeological Department of India carried out excavations at Mohenjodaro on the banks of the River Indus (Larkana district of Sindh in Pakistan), Harappa (Montgomery district of Punjab on the banks of the River Thorpe, Ravi, also in Pakistan) and Lothal (near Ahmedabad) in India.

• Various important sites which have been excavated are Harappa in 1921 by Daya Ram Sahni, Mohenjodaro in 1922 by R.D. Banerjee, Dholavira in 1967-68 by J.P. Joshi and in 1990-91 by R.S. Bisht, Kalibangan by Dr. A. Ghosh, Lothal in 1955-63, Chanhu-daro, Banawali in 1975-77 etc.

Features of Harappan Civilisation:

• Planned cities and towns with basic layout of citadel and lower town, Dholavira being the exceptional as it has middle town also. Use of the burnt bricks in pre-Harappan phase is 1:2:3, whereas, in mature phase it is 1:2:4.
• Red Ware pottery painted with black designs, well fired, paintings consisting of floral and geometric patterns and shapes including dish-on-stand, “S” shaped jars, beakers, goblets, perforated jars etc.,
• Beads of Faience and steatite and long tubular beads of camelian,
• Terracotta Mother Goddess,
• Triangular Terracotta cakes and Mushtikas,
• Terracotta and Faience Bangles,
• Rohri chert blades,
• Seals and Sealings,
• Writing system/inscriptions,
• Chert and agate weights and
• Copper and Bronze objects.

Geography of the Civilisation

Exploration, excavations, and research shows that the Harappan civilization was not limited to only Indus Valley region as was the concept of John Marshall. Although the central regions of this civilization fall in Sindh and Punjab but from here it is spread from Punjab, Haryana, Sindh, Baluchistan, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Western Uttar Pradesh and Northern Maharashtra in the south and east. In the right sense, this civilization is situated on the southern coast of Baluchistan (Makran coast) in the west from Suktagendor on the east in Uttar Pradesh to Alamgirpar in Upper Ganga-Yamuna Doab and from Manda in Jammu in the north to Bhagatrao, situated at the mouth of river Narmada in the south (Kim Muhana, Gujarat).

However, in 1974, in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, on the left bank of Parvara river, in Daimabad four bronze were found by coincidence which shows that this civilization was spread to the Deccan in the south but many scholars expressed doubt on this basis as it is based on circumstantial evidence only.

• The remains of the Harappan civilization dating from 2600 B.C. to 2000-1800 B.C., include cities and villages,
craft centers, river stations, camp sites, fortified palaces and probable ports.

• The sites of this civilization are found in Sind, Makran, Baluchistan, Punjab, Haryana, north Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh,
Gujarat, Maharashtra and Badakhshan, in the modem states of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

Major Sites

Site Plan of Harappa


R.B. Dayaram Sahni first discovered Harappa on Ravi in 1921. The centre of the civilization was in Sind and Punjab. All about 891 seals were found from Harappa. Traces of Jainism have been also founded from Harappa. Evidence of coffin burial and cemetery H culture has also been found and also two rows of six granaries with brick platforms.


Mohenjodaro is popularly known as the Mound of the dead, lies in Larkana district of Sind in Pakistan. A large granary which is the largest building of Mohenjodaro which suggests that the agricultural products are produce here and then redistributed it. A piece of woven cotton along with spindle whorls and needles were also been found. They also have the Evidence of direct trade contact with Mesopotamia. Some of the specific findings during the excavations of Mohenjodaro include a seal representing Mother Goddess with a plant growing from her womb, and a woman to be sacrificed by a man with a knife in his hand.


Kalibangan was an important Harappa city. The word Kalibangan means black bangles. Much evidence has been found from kalibangan sites such as seven fire altars in a row on a platform suggesting the practice of the cult of sacrifice, remains of a massive brick wall around both the citadel and the lower town, bones of a camel, the skull of a child found suffering from Hydrocephalus, a human head with long oval eyes, thick lower lips, receding forehead and straight pointed nose and also the evidences of two types of burials first is rectangular and second one is circular grave.


Banawali has provided two phases of culture during its excavations the pre-Harappa Phase I and the Harappa Phase II. It is situated in Hissar district of Haryana. Other important material remains include ceramics, steatite seal and a few terracotta sealing with typical Indus script, ear rings shaped like leaves of a peepal tree and terracotta bangles. In Banawali we also found a large quantity of barely and sesame and mustard.


Lothal was an important trade centre of the Harappa culture. The town planning in Lothal was different from that of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Here also we got many evidence, some are remains of rice husk has been found is Rangpur near Ahmadabad, an artificial dock yard, Evidence of a horse from a doubtful terracotta figurine and a ship designed on a seal. Evidence of double burial and an instrument for measuring 180, 90, 45 degree angles were also found.


Cities and Houses

The Harappan was excellent city planners. They based their city streets on a grid system. Streets were oriented east to west. The roads and streets intersected at right angles. There were covered drains along the road. Houses were built on either side of the roads and streets.


Each street had a well organized drain system. If the drains were not cleaned, the water ran into the houses and silt built up. Then the Harappans would build another storey on top of it. This raised the level of the city over the years


The granary was the largest structure in Mohenjodaro, in Harappa there were about six granaries or storehouses. These were used for storing grain. Large granaries were located near each of the citadels, which suggest that the state stored grain for ceremonial purposes and possibly the regulation of grain production and sale.

Drainage System

As seen in Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and the recently partially excavated Rakhigarhi, their plan included the world’s first known urban sanitation systems and they use the world’s earliest known system of flush toilets. These existed in many homes, and were connected to a common sewerage pipe. In the city, individual homes or groups of homes obtained water from wells.

The Great Bath

The “Great Bath” Found at Mohenjodaro is an enormous well-built bath which may have been a public bath. It is the first of its kind in the pre-historic period. This ancient town had more than 700 wells, and most houses in Mohenjodaro had one private well. Lothal was a port at the Arabian Sea with a dockyard. Dholavira had a series of water storing tanks and step wells, and it had at least five baths, size of one is comparable with the Great Bath of Mohenjodaro.

Authority and governance

Archaeological records provide no immediate answers for a center of power in ancient time but there are indications of complex decisions being taken and implemented. There was no single ruler but several, Mohenjodaro had a separate ruler, Harappa another, and so forth. Harappan society had no rulers, and everybody enjoyed equal status


Harappa society had no rulers, and everybody enjoyed equal status. There is impressive evidence of centralized planning. City space was divided into public and residential sectors. Kalibangan, Lothal, Kot Diji, Banawali and Amri are some of them and they can be considered as provincial centers. Mohenjodaro was at least 25 times the size of Lothal. Allahadino in Sind is one such site, which had a diameter of only 100 Metres but was an important metal crafting centre. Similarly, Kuntasi in Gujarat is a small Harappan site where semi-precious stones and copper were processed.


There are over fifty-five burial sites in the Indus valley were found. The principal sites are Harappa Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Lothal, Rojdi, and Ropar. R-37 cemetery has about 200 burials. The bodies of the individuals were usually buried with their jewelry which usually consisted of bangles made from shell, steatite beads, etc, and the men usually wore earrings. Copper mirrors have been found only amongst the bodies of the females which show a specificity of grave goods by gender. In Ropar a man was found buried with a dog. In Rodji two infants were found buried beneath the floor of a house. In Lothal three multiple burials have been found. This could possibly be the practice of sati but it is still doubtful.


Several segments had seen the birth and development of agricultural communities between 7000 B.C. Patterns that are widely seen at Harappa sites were a combination of wheat and barley cultivation and domesticated animal in which cattle was not preferred especially in Baluchistan which also yielded as earliest evidence of agricultural life in south Asia. The Harappa was familiar with the plough. Terracotta ploughs have been found at Indus sites in Cholistan and at Banawali and a ploughed field was revealed through excavation at Kalibangan. There is a range of other cultivated crops including peas, lentils, chickpeas, sesame, flax, legumes and cotton.


Cattle meat was the favorite animal food of the Indus people and cattle bone shave been found in large quantities at all sites that have yielded bones. Hunting of animals was not a negligible activity. The animals include wild buffalo, various species of deer, wild pig, ass, jackal, rodents and hare. The remains of fish and marine were also found.


A phase of occupation known as the Hakra ware culture named after river was largest sites around Hakra River spread included Jalipur in Multan and Kunal in Haryana. More than 100 sites belonging to this civilization have been excavated.


Bronze statue of Dancing Girl from Mohen-jo-Daro

A number of gold, terracotta and stone figurines of girls in dancing poses reveal the presence of some dance form. John Marshall, another archeologist at Mohenjodaro, described the figure as a young girl, her hand on her hip in a half-impudent posture, and legs slightly forward as she beats time to the music with her legs and feet. This is also true for the series of Indus stone statues of animals and men, of which the most famous is that of the priest king. Many crafts such as shell working, ceramics, and glazed steatite bead making were used in the making of necklaces, bangles, and other ornaments from all phases of Harappan sites and some of these crafts are still practiced in the subcontinent today.


They also made various toys and games, among them cubical dice with one to six holes on the faces, which were found in sites like Mohenjo-Daro.

Writing system

600 distinct Indus symbols have been found on seals, small tablets, ceramic pots and more than a dozen other materials, including a signboard that apparently once hung over the gate of the inner citadel of the Indus city of Dholavira. Typical Indus inscriptions are no more than four or five characters in length, most of which are tiny. Each seal has a distinctive combination of symbols. The script is also called logo-syllabic i.e. each symbol stood for a word or syllable. It is generally written right to left but longer inscription with more than one line is written in boustrophedon style which means writing in consecutive lines starting in opposite direction.


The people of the Indus Civilization achieved great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time. They were among the first to develop a system of uniform weights and measures. They were among the first to develop a system of uniform weights and measures. Numerous articles were also used as weights have been discovered. The weights proceeded in a series, first doubling from 1, 2, 4, 8 to 64 and then in decimal multiples of 16. Harappans evolved some new techniques in metallurgy and produced copper, bronze, lead, and tin. Their engineering skill was remarkable, especially in building docks. A touchstone bearing gold streaks was found in Banawali, which was probably used for testing the purity of gold. Harappans were inventors of linear system of measurement with a unit equal to one angula of the Arthasastra. Their smallest division, which is marked on an ivory scale found in Lothal, was approximately 1.704 mm, the smallest division ever recorded on a scale of the Bronze Age.

Religious Beliefs

There are no structures at Indus sites that can be described as temples nor are these any statues, which can be considered as images that were worshipped. Indus valley lacks any monumental palaces, even though the society possessed the requisite engineering knowledge. This may suggest that religious ceremonies, if any, may have been largely confined to individual homes or open air.


The Harappan pottery is dark red and well baked. It consists chiefly of wheel made wares both plain and painted. The plain pottery is more common than the painted ware. The painted pottery is of red and black color and several methods were used for the decoration of pottery. Geometrical patterns, circles, squares and triangles and figures of animals, birds, snakes or fish are frequent motifs found in Harappan pottery. Another favorite motive was tree pattern. Plants, trees and pipal leaves are found on pottery. A hunting scene showing two antelopes with the hunter is noticed on a pot shreds from the cemetery H. A jar was also found at Lothal depicts a scene in which two birds are seen perched on a tree each holding a fish in its beak. Animals depicted on the pottery were humped bulls, pumas, birds, etc. Bulls and pumas symbolized abundance, fecundity and power.


Craft production could survive because of a highly organized trading system. They mobilize resources from various areas ranging from Rajasthan to Afghanistan. In addition to raw materials, other types of objects were traded. There was trade in food items as is underlined by the presence of marine cat fish at Harappa, a city that was hundreds of kilometers away from the sea. Craft items were also traded. Small manufacturing centers like Nageshwar were providing shell ladles to Mohenjodaro which also received chert blades from the Rorhi hills of Sind. They may have been the first civilization to use wheeled transport. These advances may have included bullock carts as well as boats. There was inland trade, coastal trade, marine trade, internal trade and external trade. Shortughai in Afghanistan was a trade outpost.

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