Indus Valley (Harappan) Civilization



Breaking News


Earliest civilization found??


Earliest writing?







Development of the civilization


·        This civilization existed from about 4,000-2,500 BC to about 1500 BC, which means it existed at about the same time as the Egyptian and Sumerian civilizations – trades with both of these civilizations

·        Kids played with toys and women wore lipstick


Culture and Government

·        Over 4,000 years ago, in the Indus Valley, people built huge, planned cities, with straight streets, and brick homes with private baths

o       Harappa and Mohenjodaro were busy cities of about 35,000 people each

o       Homes

§         Houses were one or two stories high, made of baked brick, with flat roofs, and were just about identical

§         Each was built around a courtyard, with windows overlooking the courtyard

§         The outside walls had no windows

§         Each home had its own private drinking well and its own private bathroom

§         Clay pipes led from the bathrooms to sewers located under the streets

·        These sewers drained into nearly rivers and streams

o       Clothing

§         Men and women dressed in colorful robes

§         Women wore jewelry of gold and precious stone, and even wore lipstick

§         Among the treasures found was a statue of a women wearing a bracelet

·        Bracelets with similar designs are worn today in India

o       Entertainment

§         A beautiful small bronze statue of a dancer was found, which tells us that they enjoyed dance and had great skill working with metals

§         In the ancient city of Mohenjo-daro, scientists have found the remains of a large central pool, with steps leading down at both ends

·        This could have been a public swimming pool, or perhaps have been used for religious ceremonies

·        Around this large central pool were smaller rooms, that might have dressing rooms, and smaller pools that might have been private baths

o       Food

§         Dinner might have been warm tasty wheat bread served with barley or rice.

§         It would appear they were very good farmers.

·        They grew barley, peas, melons, wheat, and dates. Farms raised cotton and kept herds of sheep, pigs, zebus (a kind of cow), and water buffalo.

à In ancient India, from the time of the oldest sacred text, the Rig Veda (c 1000 BC), cows were eaten regularly, both ritually and for many of the same reasons that people nowadays eat Big Macs (“I eat beef, as long as it is juicy”, said a great Vedic sage, Yajnavalkya, in about 900 BC).

(2) Almost as early, the practice of vegetarianism in general, and, somewhat later, the prohibition of beef-eating in particular, spread throughout India, in Buddhism and Jainism as well as in Hinduism, and continued alongside an on-going practice of meat-eating.

(3) Several reformers, most famously Gandhi, made vegetarianism a central tenet of Hinduism.

… the people of the Rig Veda (like other members of the Indo-European family) were cattle-herders and cattle-rustlers, who went about stealing other peoples’ cows and pretending to be taking them back, all in the service of a religion that argued for Lebensraum , constant expansion, more and more grazing land for their horses. They sacrificed cows to the gods and ate them , and counted their wealth in pashus (cattle), cognate with Latin pecus (as in “impecunious”) and Spanish pecos (as in “Pecos Bill”).

[see D. N. Jha THE MYTH OF THE HOLY COW (review)]

·        Fish were caught in the river with fish hooks

·        Each town had a large central storage building for grain.

·        Crops were grown, and the harvest stored centrally, for all in the town to enjoy  

o       Toys

§         Some of the toys found were small carts, whistles shaped like birds, and toy monkeys which could slide down a string

o       Art

§         Marvelous craftsmen, skilled in pottery, weaving, and metal working.

§         Pottery that has been found is of very high quality, with unusually beautiful designs. Several small figures of animals, such as monkeys, have been found.

·        These small figures could be objects of art or toys. There are also small statues of what they think are female gods.

§         They have found bowls made of bronze and silver, and many beads and ornaments.

·        The metals used to make these things are not found in the Indus Valley

·        Either the people who lived in this ancient civilization had to import all of these items from some other place, or more probably, had to import the metals they used to make these beautiful things from somewhere else

o       Seals with a pictographic script, which has not as yet been deciphered, were found at the Indus Valley sites. Similar seals were found in Mesopotamia, which seems to indicate possible trade between these two civilizations.

o       Transportation

§         Used camels, oxen and elephants to travel over land

§         They had carts with wooden wheels

§         They had ships, with one mast, probably used to sail around the Arabian Sea

End of the Indus Valley Civilization

·        The people who lived in these marvelous cities disappeared around 1500 BC. After a decline of 250 years before that

o       Conjectures

§         They ran out of wood to hold back flooding

§         Their soil gave out and no longer would grow crops

§         Indus River changes course (as it has done at times)

·        Maybe due to an earthquake

§         Driven east and south by Aryan invaders?

·        No one knows for sure what happened these people, or where they went

Aryan Civilization (1500-500 B.C.)

·        Things certainly changed in the Indus Valley when a new group arrived, called the Aryans (=”nobles” in their language)

o       From Central Asia (modern day Russia)

o       Entered the Indus Valley through the fabled Khyber Pass

o       Nomads

o       Raised livestock

o       Count their wealth in cattle

o       Rode chariots

o       Loved to gamble

o       No sophisticated government

o       Grouped in clans

o       Ruled by warrior chiefs called rajas

o       Their history is one of constant war amongst themselves, between the various clans

o       Left conquered cities abandoned

o       Language an early form of Sanskrit

§         Indo-European family of languages, like English


A Unique Indian Culture

·        Between 1500-500 B.C., Aryans and native IRC people intermarry and their cultures blend together to form a uniquely Indian civilization

·        The Aryans did not have writing but they created marvelous stories, stories they told or sang for centuries (finally written down c. 1400 A.D.)

o       Hinduism, one of world’s major religions

o       The Aryan beliefs and daily life are described in the four Vedas

§         Collection of poems and sacred hymns

§         Composed about 1500 BC.  

§         Veda means knowledge

§         Vedas are composed of the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas

§         Aryans teach that everything in creation is holy

§         The period from roughly 1500 BC to 1000 BC is called the Vedic Period

·        Around 1000 BC, the Aryans started to create two marvelous epics, The Ramayana & the Mahabharata

o       We know about daily life during this period from these famous epics

o       Stories about Aryan life, wars, and accomplishments.

o       The Ramayana tells a story in which the (good) Aryan king Rama destroys the (evil) pre-aryan king Ravana.

o       The Mahabharata, talks of Aryan wars amongst themselves, where two clans, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, battle it out, and the Pandavas emerge victorious.

o       The period from roughly 1000 BC to 500 BC is called the Epics Period

·        Around 400 B.C., the Upanishads are compiled

o       They were a scholarly interpretation of so-called hidden meanings in the Vedas

§         4 basic ideas

·        Brahman – the one true reality

·        Atman – self/soul

·        Reincarnation – cyclical view of history (vs. Judeo-Christian linear view)

·        Moksha – state of perfect understanding where atman (self) merges into Brahman

o       Goal of the Hindu

·        Caste system – still exists today

o       Rig Veda says 4 different groups were created from the body of a Hindu god

§         Brahmins (priestly class): mouth

§         Kshatriyas [kuh-shaht-ree-uhz] (warriors/rulers): arms

§         Vaishyas [vhsh-yuhz] (landowners/merchants/artisans): legs

§         Shudras [shoo-druhz] (slaves): feet

§         Then there are ‘untouchables’ outside caste system (out-castes = outcasts) – lower than servants or slaves – shunned by all others

·        Why is a person is one of these groupings?

o       Karma (actions in previous lives)

§         The “dirty little secret” about reincarnation: no doctrine of grace

·        Groupings harden up over time, so there is no “upward mobility”

o       Only eat with and marry members of your group


Aryan Social Life

·        The life of the tribal Aryans was focused around the central fireplace called the Yagna.  

·        Dinner time was social time.

o       The tribe would gather around the central fireplace, and share news, and the days happenings.

§         Those who tended the central fireplace also cooked for the rest of the tribe.

§         This was a very special job.

§         The fire tenders were the go-between between the fire god and the people.

§         These fire tenders, later on, formed the caste of priests.

o       The Aryans ate meat, vegetables, fruit, bread, milk, and fish

o       The word for guest was Go-Ghna (or “eater of beef”)

·        Aryans introduced the horse to ancient India and raced chariots.

·        They played fighting games.

·        They loved to tell stories.

·        The ancient Aryans were proud and fierce, and deeply religious.

·        They had many gods and goddesses.

·        Caste system

o       As the Aryans settled in and began to grow crops, people started to have occupations.

o       In each tribe, people began to belong to one of four groups: the Brahmana (priests), Kshatriya (warriors), Vaishya (traders and agriculturists), and Shudra (workers).  

o       In the beginning, these were just occupations. You could move from group to group.

o       This changed over time, until a person's occupation or group depended upon birth. If your father was a farmer, you had to be farmer.

o       Change from one group to another became very difficult.

·        Education  

o       Kids were taught by a guru (a teacher).

o       Even chief’s sons had to obey the guru.

o       All students followed a rigorous course of studies which was imparted orally.

o       Writing was done on bark and leaves, and hence was perishable, so we have very few rock edicts to tell us what they studied or what they wrote

·        Clothing

o       Initially made of animal skins.

o       As the Aryans settled down, clothing began to be made of cotton 

·        Houses  

o       The people in the Vedic period lived in straw and wooden huts.

o       Some homes were made of wood, but not until later, during the Epics Period


·        At end of Aryan Period, Buddha is born

o       Born 563 B.C. to a royal family under name of Gautama

o       Legend is that father shielded son from the tragedies of life

o       Four chance encounters

§         Old man with a cane

§         Sick man unable to get up

§         Corpse

§         Samana (an ascetic holy man) – Gautama questions him about his way of life

o       First tried asceticism

o       Giving up, he tries some food and sits under bodhi tree and meditates for a long time

o       Becomes “fully awakened” (or “Buddha”= “the Enlightened One”) because he sees the true nature of things – that all is transient and goal is to reach nirvana

o       Teachings written down by Buddha’s followers and codified into system known as Buddhism

§         Four Noble Truths

·        Everything in life is suffering and sorrow

·        The cause of suffering and pain is desire

·        End pain by ending desire

·        End desire by Eightfold Path

o       Like staircase

o       Master one step at a time

§         Right…knowledge, purpose, speech, action, living, effort, mindfulness, meditation

·        Both Buddhists and Hindus seek to escape woes of this world

o       How Christianity differs – does not advocate escape; like Jesus, we are to go into the world and work to make it better


Aryan Political Structure

·        The Aryans clans, or tribes, settled in different regions of northwestern India

·        The tribes were called Gana (literally a "collection" of people)

·        The chief of each tribe was an hereditary job.

·        The chief made decisions, after listening to a committee, or perhaps even to the entire tribe

·        People had a voice, but the chief was the boss

·        The problem is that Aryans can never centralize their power

·        By the end of the Vedic era (c. 500), a dozen families had carved the nation into states that were often at war with each other

 End of the Aryans

·        512 B.C. – Army of Darius I (remember him?) comes through Khyber Pass and conquers NW India and Indus Valley

o       almost 200 yrs., ruled by Persian satrap (governor)

·        326 B.C. – Alexander the Great wants to unify India

o       conquers Indus Valley, but his troops, after years of tromping across Europe and Asia, refuse to go any further

o       Alex the Great nearly killed in 326 B.C. by an arrow that pierced his lung

o       Dies in 323 B.C., his dream unfulfilled

·        323 B.C. – a young warrior from Ganges River to East finally unites India

o       Chandragupta Mauyra [chuhn-druh-gup-tuh mou-ree-uh] takes 9,000 elephants and 700,000 soldiers puts down local fiefdoms

o       The united India lasts until 180 B.C.


If Rao found himself on shaky ground where the Indus script was concerned, he made waves with his excavation of Lothal, an Indus port town located off the Gujarat coast. It shattered notions that the Indus was a landlocked civilisation, conservative and isolated, and as a result sank without a trace. Rao uncovered a dock 700 ft long -- even bigger than the one currently at Visakhapatnam. It took an estimated million bricks to build it. Next to the dockyard were massive granaries and specialised factories for bead-making. Hundreds of seals were found, some showing Persian Gulf origin, indicating that Lothal was a major port of exit and entry.

Meanwhile, independent evidence started flowing in when Indus seals were found both in Iraq, where the ancient Sumer civilisation flourished, and in the Persian Gulf. The Sumers apparently called India "Meluha", and their inscriptions talk of how they purchased beads of various kinds, timber, copper, gold and ivory crafts from India. It was evident that the goods were upmarket and purchased by the Sumer royalty. Indus sailors appear to have discovered the trade winds long before Hippolus, and their maritime interests were vast. "Harappan traders were among the most enterprising," says Jagat Pati Joshi, another former ASI director-general, who discovered Dholavira. Gold, for instance, was carted from distant Karnataka, and then hammered into delightful chains to be exported to Sumer. A lapis lazuli bead factory recently discovered in distant Shortugai in Afghanistan is believed to have been a major supplier to Harappan traders.

Like modern-day Indian businessmen, the Harappans had a huge domestic market to cater to. The climate around that time was conducive for growing a variety of crops in the region. Harappans are credited with being the earliest growers of rice and cotton. The agricultural surpluses ensured craft specialisation. And at its peak, the Indus was dotted with over 300 cities of varying sizes, supported by hundreds of towns and villages which supported a cottage industry. Quality standards seems to have been strictly observed, resulting in uniformity of arts and craft. And the flourishing trade was an energiser that powered Indus' phenomenal growth in the middle of the third millennium BC. It brought prosperity that saw the cities provide their citizens with the finest of drainage systems and reservoirs to supply water. And helped them evolve into one of the greatest civilisations ever.

Did aryans kill them or a depression?

Archaeologists are known to stumble, but the kind of knocking Wheeler has taken over his Aryan invasion theory has few parallels. When the British archaeologist discovered a dozen skeletons in Mohenjodaro, he propounded a theory about the final massacre by marauding invaders that put an end to the Indus civilisation. When an Indian scholar told him of Hariyuppa being mentioned in the Rigveda, he took it to mean Harappa. And since a fort was known as pur, and Indira, the Aryan god, was known as Purandhara or destroyer of forts, it all fitted neatly. After all, weren't the Indus cities among the most fortified? Yet the past 50 years, and more so the last decade, has shown just how wrong Wheeler was. The last massacre theory was his imagination running riot. Far from being snuffed out, there was a brilliant resurgence of Indus culture further south for a while. Possehl, who made a recent study, found that in 2000 BC in Pakistan's Sindh district the sites were down from 86 to 6 and in Cholistan, 174 to 41. But in India the sites in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan exploded from 218 to 853. Possehl asks: "How can this be construed as an eclipse? We are looking at a highly mobile people."

Allchin argues that there is clear indication that the rainfall pattern, which had initially brought fertility, had become adverse in the Sindh region. And theorises that, given the instability of the Himalayan region, there may have been a massive earthquake that possibly changed the course of rivers such as the Sarasvati and affected many Indus cities. The Indus people then migrated eastward. Lal talks of steep decline in trade because of problems in Sumer that resulted in a Great Depression and turned many urban centres into ghost cities.

Bisht concurs with Lal but goes a step further. He says that after the quake hit the heart of the civilisation, the Indus people migrated east which acted like a sort of bypass to their woes. And like a dying candle, it shone brilliantly again but briefly before being snuffed out. Dholavira, Banawali, Mehrgarh, Harappa -- in fact, all the major cities show that as the cities declined, encroachments on streets that were unseen at its peak began to occur with alarming regularity. There was a breakdown in sanitation and cities like their modern-day counterparts in India simply ran themselves aground. They were replaced by massive squatter colonies and an explosion of rural sites as people, disillusioned with cities, went back to farming communities. A giant step backward.

Yet it wasn't as if all came to nought as was earlier believed. Some of the writings survived in the pottery of the following ages. The weight and decimal system too lived on. And so did the bullock-cart technology that the Indus had perfected. Rather than a violent transition, there may have been an orderly interaction with oncoming Aryans. Lal in his most recent book even puts across the most audacious theory: Could the Bronze Age Harappans be Aryans themselves? He says this because of the presence of fire worship and the discovery of horse remains and idols in Indus sites. Meadows dismisses it as premature and points out that it was more likely that ass remains were mistaken for that of a horse's. And that the Vedas showed a great antipathy for urban centres.

Whatever the cause, it would take another 1,000 years for a semblance of civilisation to return to the subcontinent -- a dire warning to modern India of the catastrophe that can befall an errant populace.



[excerpted in part from Daily Life in Ancient India, BBC (1,2,3), and Indus Riddle]