Indus Valley Civilization

Indus Valley Civilization

  • The Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan Civilization was the culmination of a long and sustained cultural evolution in the Indus Valley and surrounding areas. The term “Indus Valley Civilization” was used by John Marshall for the first time.



  • Indus valley civilization developed on bank of Indus and several other nearby rivers such as Ghaggar– Hakra, the now dried up Saraswati and the Drasadvati.
  • Centre of the civilization was in Sind and Punjab and from there, it spread in all directions. Its westernmost point was Suktagendor in South Baluchistan while easternmost point was Alamgirpur in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh. In North, it extended Afghanistan while in South, its extent was up at least Maharashtra state.
  • So far, around 1400 settlements have been discovered, most of which are located on river banks. This civilization was largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia and China and covered an area of around 1.3 million square kilometers. This area is triangular in shape and no other ancient civilization was extended to such a large area.


Origin and Period

  • Indus Valley civilization is now considered as a continuation of the neolithic Mehrgarh culture which flourished between 7000BC to 5000BC. The overall period assigned to Indus Valley Civilization is 3300–1300 BC, with its mature period between 2600 to 1900 BC.
  • Some people call Indus Valley people as Proto-Dravidians, who might have been pushed to south in mature Harappan phase when Aryans, with their advanced military skills commenced their migration around 2000BC.


Indus Valley Sites


  • Harappa is the first discovered site of this civilization excavated in 1921 by a team led by Daya Ram Sahni.
  • It was a major urban centre during its mature phase surrounded by extensive walls. It is located in Punjab Province, Pakistan, on an old bank / bed of the River Ravi. Its location along old course of Ravi provided access to trade networks, aquatic food and water for drinking and cultivation. Due to this, Harappa remained occupied for a long time. Further, Harappa was also a meeting point of trade routes coming from east.
  • Archaeologists have divided Harappa in five different phases of which oldest is Ravi aspect / Hakra (3300-2800BC), followed by Kot Dijian or Early Harappa (2800-2600BC) followed by Mature (2600-1900BC), Transitional (1900-1800BC) and Late Harappa (1800-1300BC) phases.


Important Findings of Harappa

  • The important material findings at Harappa include pottery, chert blades, copper or bronze implements, terracotta figurines, seals and sealing, weights, etc.
  • This apart, the two rows of granaries with brick platforms, a citadel on elevated platform, a supposed workmen’s quarter, vanity case, furnaces, crucibles for bronze smelting etc. have also been found.
  • Harappa also is the only site which yields the evidence of coffin burial. A copper bullock cart is another notable finding.


Mohen-jo Daro

  • Mohenjo-Daro (mound of dead) was excavated by a team led by R.D. Banerjee in 1922.
  • It is located in the Larkana District of Sindh Pakistan on bank of Indus River.


Important Findings of MohenJo Daro

  • Notable findings at Mohenjo-Daro are the magnum opus Great Bath, uniform buildings and weights, hidden drains and other hallmarks of the civilization. This is the site where most unicorn seals have been found.
  • Mohenjo-Daro is also sometimes known as largest urban centre of the civilization. The famous bronze dancing girl, seal of supposed Pashupati, steatite statue of bearded priest, numerous terracotta figurines are another notable findings of Mohenjo-Daro.


Great Bath

  • The most famous building found at Mohenjo-Daro is a great bath. It is a 6×12 meter specimen of beautiful brick work. The water for the bath was provided from a well in an adjacent room. The floor was made up of bricks. Floor and outer walls were bituminized so that there is no leakage of water. There are open porch’s on four sides of the bath. There is use of Burnt bricks, Mortar and Gypsum in the Great bath but NO use of stone is there.



  • Kalibangan (black bangles) is in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan. It was located on the banks of now dried up Sarwaswati River; and flourished for at least 5 centuries.
  • The site was first discovered by Italian Luigi Pio Tessitori and was later excavated extensively by A Ghosh.


Important Findings at Kalibangan

  • The oldest ploughed field, evidence of earliest recorded Earthquake (which might have ended this city itself), Fire-Altars, Charging bull, tiled floor, two kinds of burials (circular and rectangular graves), bones of camels etc. are important findings of Kalibangan.
  • Further, this site was different from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the following respects:
    • The bricks in other sites were baked ones, while Kalibangan bricks are earthen ones.
    • There was no drainage system in Kalibangan.

Due to these, Kalibangan is not considered a well planned city as comparable to other important sites of Indus Valley.



  • Dholavira is located in Rann of Katch of Gujarat. It is relatively a new discovery, excavated in 1990s by a team led by R S Bisht.
  • It had several large reservoirs, an elaborate system of drains to collect water from the city walls and house tops to fill these water tanks.


Dholavira versus Harappa & MohenJo Daro

  • Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Dholavira are called the nucleus cities of the civilization. Unlike the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro where there are two settlements, in Dholavira 3 citadels or principal divisions have been found which have been duly protected by fortifications. There is an open ground out of the fortifications.
  • In Dholavira there has been foundth e inner enclosure of the citadel too which has not been found in any other cities of the Harappan culture.


Important Findings of Dholavira

One of the most important findings of Dholavira has been a signboard with Indus Script.


  • Lothal is located in Ahmadabad, Gujarat. It was a coastal town {three important coastal towns of IVC are Lothal, Suktagendor and Balakot} and had different type of town planning.
  • The city was divided into six sections and each section was built on a wide platform of unripe bricks. Entry to the houses were on Main Street while other sites of IVC have lateral entry.


Important Findings of Lothal

  • Important findings of Lothal include an artificial dockyard {which makes it an important sea link}, rice husk {rice husk has been found only at Lothal and Rangpur}, bead making factory etc.
  • Lothal is thought to have direct sea trade links with Mesopotamia because of finding of an Iranian seal from there.



  • Suktagendor was located around 55 kms from the shore of Arabian Sea on the Bank of Dasht River near the Iran Border. It was an important coastal town along with Lothal and Balakot (in Pakistan) and is considered to be the western border of Indus Valley Civilization.
  • It was originally a port and later cut off from the sea due to coastal upliftment. The conclusion has been drawn up that Suktagendor had trade relationships with Babylon.




Kot Diji

  • Kot Diji was a pre-harappan site and located on the left bank of River Sindh. This city was destructed by Force or some fire. A tar is the major object found here. Statues of bull and mother goddess are other things found in Kot diji.



  • Ropar in Punjab was excavated under Y D Sharma. There is another site Bara near Ropar, which shows an evidence of the decaying culture of pre harappan era.



  • Mittathal is located in the Bhiwani district of Haryana. A terracotta cartwheel has been found.
  • Weights of stones have also been found. The evidence of residence outside a Citadel have been found in Mittathal. The site gives evidences of rise, flourishing and fall of Harappa civilization.



  • Chanhu Daro is situated 130 kms south of Mohenjo-Daro in Sindh and is the only harappan city which does not have a fortified citadel.
  • The Chanhu Daro has given evidence of factories of various figurines, seals, toys, bone implements so it has been interpreted that it was a settlement with lots of artisans and was an industrial town.



  • Banawali is located in Hissar district of Haryana. High quality barley has been found at Banawali.



  • Alamgirpur is located in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh and is considered to be easternmost boundary of Indus Valley. Important findings of Alamgirpur include pottery, plant fossils, animal bones and copper tools.



  • Surkotda is located in the Bhuj area of Gujarat and has provided evidence of the first actual remains of the horse bones.



  • Rangpur is located 50 kms from Ahmadabad in Gujarat. This along with Lothal are two sites where rice husk has been found by archaeologists.



  • Rakhigarhi in Hissar, Haryana is one of the largest sites of Indus Valley.



  • Bhagatrav is located in Bharuch district of Gujarat along the Arabian Sea coast and seems to have remained an important port of the Indus valley.


Salient Common Features of Entire Civilization

  • A common script which remains undeciphered so far.
  • Proper Town planning in all Indus valley cites except few such as Kalibangan.
  • Presence of cooking area, water reservoir in houses.
  • Presence of a fortified citadel in almost all urban centres.
  • Presence of residential and non-residential buildings. Absence of temples of special places of worship except few altars at some sites.
  • Use of standard weights and measurements
  • Pottery of wheels and bead making industries
  • Practice of burying the dead.


Life at Indus Valley Civilization


Administration: Was there any central authority in Indus Valley?

  • The size and architectural complexity of all large Harappa cities mean something in terms of a sociocultural development.
  • The lay-out of the streets, the presence of a large-scale drainage system with its requirement for constant tending, the monumental citadels, all can be taken as an indication of tendencies toward a strong central government.
  • Another feature of Harappan urbanization was the elaborate craft specialization and the contacts with other reasonably distant parts of Asia.
  • But the greatest challenge to the archaeologists is their failure to get any idea of the Harappan urban institutions. For example, we almost know nothing about the form of the state and the economic institutions.
  • Maritime commerce with Mesopotamia was a part to their life, but the knowledge of inner working of these complex Harappan urban economic institutions completely eludes us.



  • Harappa script has not been deciphered.
  • In the Indus Valley Civilization, the style of script seems to be Boustrophedon e. written from right to left in first line and from left to right in second line. This language was pictographic and was engraved on seals, copper tablets, bone, ivory etc. However, such scripts is not seen on bricks.



  • Most prominent religious figures are Unicorn, so called Pashupati / Proto-shiva,, seven mothers (sapta matrika) and compound creatures. The later three are now inculcated in Hindu religion. The mother goddess was dominant shows that the society was predominantly matriarchal.
  • There was a division of labour and society was diversified and stratified. The people were scholars, artisans, traders, warriors and businessmen.
  • The protoshiva or pashupati seems to be the only one male deity as depicted on seals. He is surrounded by four wild animals viz. an elephant, a tiger, a buffalo and a rhinoceros. Apart from this there are two deers beneath the seat of the deity. The headdress of the deity has two horns. It wears a number of bangles. There is an inscription of seven letters on top.
  • This representation has at least three concepts which are usually associated with Shiva viz., that he

(i) Trimukha (three-faced),

(ii) Pashupati (Lord of animals)

(iii) Yogisvara or Mahayogi.

The first two aspects are apparent from the seal itself. The deity is sitting cross-legged in a Padmasana posture with eyes turned towards the tip of the nose which evidence the Yogisvara aspect of the deity. The deity is always nude save for a cincture round the waist.


Linga Worship

Stone symbols of both male and female sex organs have been found which gives in indication that Phallus or Linga worship was in practice.


Tree Worship and other rituals

  • The peepal tree has been depicted on many seals which gives a sense that it might be a sacred tree.
  • Humped bull seems to be a venerated animal and there are evidences of snake worship and snake charmers. No temples, No special places of worship, no castes.
  • The people had a sense of arts and crafts and it is proved by the toys, figurines, bangles, stone statues, metal statues, etc. The people were expert in making seals.



  • On a seal is depicted a six-rayed motif which may signify the sun.
  • Swastiks and cross signs were harbingers of good luck. A shell inlay, shaped like a heart, was probably used as a Talisman.



  • Both veg and nonveg life. There are evidences of cultivation of Wheat, Barley, Rice, Date, melon, lemon etc. people were cattle herders and used milk and milk products. There are evidences that people made sweets. Half burnt bones give evidence of nonveg life.



  • A figure of a bearded man has been found in Mohenjo-Daro which indicated that they used sewn clothings. The cloth used to cover the torso in the upper part of the body in such as way that it kept right hand Free. There are evidences that they people took interest in cosmetics and had great aesthetic sense. Men kept long hair and kept bread or also shaven beard.
  • The people of Indus valley civilization were aware of Bronze mirrors, Ivory Combs, antimony rods but NOT hair dyes.


Sports and Entertainments:

  • The large number of terracotta figurines and toys such as cart, bull, elephant, monkeys, chariots; whistles etc. indicate that the children entertained themselves.
  • There are no clear evidences of Music in the civilization; however, the finding of a dance girl bronze figurine gives some insight about the social entertainment.


Science & Technology

  • The Harappan civilization was the womb of mathematics from where both the concept of numbers and the numerical system originated. The numerical system developed by the Harappan included symbols for most numbers and several innovations for mathematical manipulations such as addition and multiplication.
  • The Harappan numerical system is decimal and additive multiplicative in usage. There are symbols for numerical for 4 to 100, 1000 and their derivatives.
  • The numerical system which was first used by the Harappan later found its way into other ancient civilization.
  • These people are known to have constructed the world’s first tidal port at Lothal at the head of the gulf company. They possessed a high degree of knowledge relating to the ebb and flow of tides and carried on brisk overseas trade with other civilizations.
  • They were also conversant with the medical sciences and used various herbs and drugs to treat diseases. The people of Indus valley Civilization practiced Trephination which is kind of medical intervention making a burr hole in the skull to treat migraines and mental disorders. The evidences of Trephination have been found at Lothal, Kalibangan and Burzahom but not at Harappa or most other sites.


Tools, arms and weapons

  • They are made up of Copper and Bronze. They were unaware of the use of Iron. The Harappan people were generally peace loving and had not much arms and weapons in their kitty.
  • Armour is not found in Harappan civilization.


Burial Practice

  • All Indus valley sites have distinct burial of the dead practice. Surkotda and Dholavira are two sites where the burial practice resembled the megalithic practice.



  • The economy was based upon agriculture as well as trade. Commerce was important and there were links from overseas places.



  • The agriculture was in flourishing condition which was due to timely and good rains. They sowed many crops including the rice, wheat, cotton, barley etc. Other crops were dates, melon, pea etc. Predominantly Rainfed Crops as Irrigation was based upon the rainwater but also the sources of irrigations were available. Wheat and barley were the most important Harappan Crops.
  • In Harappa, 3 principle varieties of Wheat were sown; three varieties of barleys were also sown. The cultivation of lentils, mustard, linseed, Sesamum has been found. The Finger millet, Ragi, Bajra, Jawar were cultivated and it seems that they diffused from Africa.


Animal Husbandry

  • The humped bull was domesticated animal, other were buffalo, pigs, elephants, donkeys, goats and sheep’s.
  • Only Surkotada has given an evidence of domestication of Horse. Generally Horse is absent in the civilization.
  • The goats, cows and Sheep were commonly domesticated in the mature harappan phase but the evidences of Buffalo have not been found in that much quantity.



  • The carts and chariots were means of transport. For sea trade big boats were there to serve the purpose.


Relations with Other civilizations

  • Indus Valley people had established trade relations other contemporary civilizations by 2000BC. They conducted trade with other civilizations including Mesopotamia, Babylon by land as well as sea route. The historical records of Mesopotamia mention a place Meluha which seems to be either name of Indus River region or India itself. These records describe wood, copper, gold, ivory, and exotic birds (like peacocks) being exported from Meluha.
  • The Harappans traded grain, copper utensils, mirrors, elephant ivory, cotton cloth, lapis lazuli (a semi-precious gemstone), and ceramic jewellery for gold, silver, marine shell, copper, tin, lead, jade, and amethyst. Some of these were crafted into ornaments and exported.
  • In various cities of Mesopotamia, the Harappan seals have been found which prove these relationships.


Weights and Measurements

  • The weights and measurements were calibrated to a considerable extent. The measures were standardized and perhaps there is binary system in use.
  • A scale made up of Elephant tusk has been found at Mohenjo-Daro and Lothal.


Finance, Business and Industry

  • There was use of many kinds of metals including Gold, Silver, Copper, Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise, Amethyst, Alabaster, jade etc.
  • It is thought that Jade came from Central Asia, Turquoise came from Iran, Amethyst came from current Maharashtra and Lapis lazuli came from Afghanistan.
  • A Jewellery hoard has been found at Allahdino, an Indus valley Site near congregation of Indus River and Arabian Sea. It has a necklace of 36 carnelian beads, Bronze spacer beads and a coper bead covered with Gold foil and 20 Gold lumps.
  • The trade was multifaceted. It was operated on intraregional as well as interregional basis and had a guild system coupled with nomadic trade. There are no evidences of monetary exchange.
  • Well-developed stoneware industry. The manufacturing of the stone bangles was most prevalent in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Harappan civilization had an Economic Zone. This economic zone was along the bank of the Sirhind river.



  • These people were aware of Gold, Silver, Copper, Brass, Bronze and Tin but did not know much about Iron. Copper was the most widely used metal.
  • Ganeshwar in Sikar District of Rajasthan is supposed to be the supplier of Copper to the cities of Indus Valley; however, the largest hoard of Copper came from Gungeria.



  • A large variety of pottery, both plain and decorated, has been found. Harappanwares were shaped on a potter’s wheel.
  • The potters wheels, being made of wood, have not survived. The kilns in which the pots were baked have been unearthed. The heating was skilfully controlled as most of the pottery was carefully fired. Once the vessel was shaped on the wheels, the ochre was painted over it. Then the designs were painted on this red surface with a brush in black. Bowls and other utensils were made with soft stones like alabaster. Such utensils have been discovered in Baluchistan and in the valley of the Indus.



  • The seals were used throughout the length and breadth of this civilization. Made of steatite, these seals range in size from 1cm to 5cm. Seals are either square or rectangular in shape. Square seals have carvings and inscription while rectangular have only inscription.
  • Most frequently engraved animals on Indus Valley Seals are the humpless bull and unicorns.


Arts and Architecture

  • Their architecture was completely utilitarian. There is no trace of ornamentation in houses and public buildings nor there traces of paintings or monumental sculpture anywhere in the remains.
  • At the same time, the Harappans seem to have excelled themselves in producing works of art of small compass.
  • Their notable artistic achievement was in their seal engravings, especially those of animals. The best are those of the humped bull, buffalo, rhinoceros and the tiger. These figures exhibit powerful realism and appear to be the work of craftsmen whose arts are to be seen also in amulets and other objects.


Indus Valley: Critical Analyses


Comparison of Indus Valley and Mesopotamian Civilization

  • While theory of Kingship or a ruler class has not been proved for Indus Valley, the Mesopotamians were ruled by a priest King, who was considered to be divine. That King solved disputes; led administration and had an army too.
  • While no special places of worship have been found in Indus Valley, it is assumed that these people worshipped nature. However, presence of different religious objects such as seals, statues etc. indicate that Indus Valley might be having a polytheistic religion. In Mesopotamia also, polytheism was present but the Mesopotamians also built temple for worship.
  • The Harappan society seems to be a matriarchal society, evident from so many statues of female deities. On the other hand, Mesopotamia across its history became more and more a patriarchal society, one in which the men were far more powerful than the women.


Question of Decline of Indus Valley Civilization

  • Decline set in around 1900 BC and after 1700 BC, little remained in Harappan civilization. However, it did not come to an abrupt end within particular decade or century. Until recently, it was believed that Indus Cities were destroyed by the Aryans who entered India from Iran and Afghanistan through northwestern passes such as the Bolan and the Khyber. The evidences of this theory were two pronged. Firstly, there is a reference in the Rig-Veda, that Indra destroyed hostile people of Hariyuppa (Harappa) called Dasyus who lived in forts called Pur (Thus, one name of Indra is Purandhar, destroyer of Pur). Secondly, there was a discovery of some skeletons of men, women and children from the lower city of Mohenjo Daro, killed during the so-called last massacre. Most ardent propounder of this theory was Sir Mortimer Wheeler. However, most scholars and archaeologists dismiss the Wheeler’s theory to be too simplistic.
  • The argument against this is that a Pur of Rigveda was not a fort of Indus Valley but just a structure of filmy ramparts and stockades etc. Further, Rig-Veda never mentions anything about some of the recognizable features of the sites such as streets, houses, wells, drains, granaries etc.
  • Another theory considers a combination of natural and socio-economic factors behind decline of the Indus cities. The natural factors could be geological and climatic. It is believed that the Indus Valley region experienced several tectonic disturbances which caused earthquakes. These upheavals not only disturbed their life but also changed courses of rivers or dried them up. The modern satellite imagery confirms dramatic shifts in the river courses, which might have caused great flood cutting the food producing areas from urban centres. This is evident from the quantities of silt layers in the upper levels of Mohenjo Daro indicating heavy floods.
  • Another natural reason might be changes in patterns of rainfall. During the mature Harappan age in 2500 BC, there was a great rise in the amount of rainfall, but by the beginning of the second millennium BC it had dropped dramatically thus affecting food production adversely. With the rivers shifting their courses, the rainfall declining and sufficient food failing to arrive from the countryside, there was a slow but inevitable collapse of the Indus system. Its final outcome was catastrophic for the Mature Harappan phase. This decline theory of environment degradation was given by John Marshall. The dogma says that cutting of forests for agriculture and timber for fuel may have resulted in the barren land and silting of rivers. It has been postulated that in Saraswati region, the civilization declined mainly because of the shifting of the river channels.


Claim of the Indus Civilisation being a Vedic Civilisation

  • Some Indian historians make a claim essentially on the basis of the Puranas; that Indus valley Civilization was one of the tribes / Janas of the Vedic civilization. Puranas provide long lists of ancient dynasties, and the so-called Uttanapada Dynasty of Manu Swayambhuba of the tenth millennium BC is considered as the first of the dynasties that continue for thousands of years. This claim is also made to describe Harappan civilization as Saraswati Civilization.
  • Many Indus Valley sites like Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Banawali, Dholavira, Lothal are believed to be located along the Saraswati River. However, this cannot be a credible rationale unless there are archaeological or any other types of evidence for claiming a continuity of Indian kingship from such an early period. The claim is thus treated with scepticism and the belief that no waves of migrants entered India after the tenth millennium BC is considered false. However, the claim finds resonance among Hindu religious nationalists imbued with the idea of Hindutva.
January 1, 2018

0 responses on "Indus Valley Civilization"

Leave a Message

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

UPSC Mentors. All rights reserved.