Indus Valley Civilisation

The Indus Civilization is among the world's earliest civilizations. It peaked around 2500 BCE in the western part of South Asia, declined during the mid-2nd millennium BCE and was forgotten until its rediscovery in the 1920s by R.D. Banerjee.

Geographically, it was spread over an area of some 1,260,000 sqkm, comprising the whole of modern day Pakistan and parts of modern-day India and Afghanistan. Thus there is an Indus Valley site on the Oxus river at Shortughai in northern Afghanistan (Kenoyer 1998:96) and the Indus Valley site Alamgirpur at the Hindon river is located only 28 km from Delhi. At its peak, the Indus Civilization may have had a population of well over five million.

The Indus civilization is still poorly understood. Its very existence was forgotten until the 20th century. Its writing system remains undeciphered. Among the Indus civilization's mysteries are fundamental questions, including its means of subsistence and the causes for its sudden disappearance beginning around 1900 BCE. We do not know what language the people spoke. We do not know what they called themselves. All of these facts stand in stark contrast to what is known about its contemporaries, Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt.

To date, over 1,052 cities and settlements have been found, mainly in the general region of the Hakra-Ghaggar river and its tributaries. Among the settlements were the major urban centers of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, as well as Lothal, Dholavira, Ganweriwala, Kalibanga, and Rakhigarhi.

Additionally, there is some disputed evidence indicative of another large river, now long dried up, running parallel and to the east of the Indus. The dried-up river beds overlap with the Hakra channel in Pakistan, and the seasonal Ghaggar river in India. Over 500 ancient sites belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization have been discovered along the Hakra-Ghaggar river and its tributaries (S.P. Gupta 1995: 183).

In contrast to this, only 90 to 96 of the over 800 known Indus Valley sites have been discovered on the Indus and its tributaries. A section of scholars claim that this was a major river during the third and fourth millennia BCE, and propose that it may have been the Sarasvati River of the Rig Veda. Some of those who accept this hypothesis advocate designating the Indus Valley culture the "Sarasvati-Sindhu Civilization", Sindhu being the ancient name of the Indus River. Most archeologists dispute this view, arguing that the old and dry river died out during the mesolithic age at the latest, and was reduced to a seasonal stream long before the Vedic period.

The Indus civilization was predated by the first farming cultures in south Asia, which emerged in the hills of what is now called Balochistan, to the west of the Indus Valley. The best-known site of this culture is Mehrgarh, established around 6500 BCE. These early farmers domesticated wheat and a variety of animals, including cattle. Pottery was in use by around 5500 BCE. The Indus civilization grew out of this culture's technological base, as well as its geographic expansion into the alluvial plains of what are now the provinces of Sindh and Punjab in contemporary Pakistan and Northern India.

By 4000 BCE, a distinctive, regional culture, called pre-Harappan, had emerged in this area. (It is called pre-Harappan because remains of this widespread culture are found in the early strata of Indus civilization cities.) Trade networks linked this culture with related regional cultures and distant sources of raw materials, including lapis lazuli and other materials for bead-making. Villagers had, by this time, domesticated numerous crops, including peas, sesame seeds, dates, and cotton, as well as a wide range of domestic animals, including the water buffalo, an animal that remains essential to intensive agricultural production throughout Asia today.

Town-planning: In some of the excavations, the remains of entire cities have been unearthed. From these it is observed that a Harappan city was protected by huge walls built on all sides. The walls had watch-towers at regular distances.

Seals: Square seals or coins have been found in the excavations at various places. They were made of the powder of a particular white stone. Besides, seals of ivory, clay and metals, too , have been found. These seals bear the pictures of animals and manlike figures. At the top, letters are engraved in a script which has not yet been deciphered. Historians believe that such seals were used in rituals or for trade.

Earthenware: Shapely earthen pots is one of the characteristics of the Harappa civilisation. Several specimens of such earthen pots have been found in excavations. One city on another: At Mohen-Jo-Daro, the remains of cities built one above the other have been found. From those remains it appears that the original city at the site perhaps got buried due to some reason. After a period of time, another city was built on the same site. Seven such layers of construction have been found at Mohen-jo-daro.

The Great Bath: A huge square bath of 56 meters x 56 meters has been found at Mohen-jo-daro. At its centre there is a tank measuring 12 meters X 7 meters and 2.5 meters in deep. There are steps leading down to the tank. The tank has been built in baked bricks in such a way as would prevent seepage of water. There is also a provision for draining and re-filling the tank from time to time. The Harappan people seem to have given special attention to facilities for cleanliness and hygiene. Their town-planning was systematic.

The facilities provided in the Harappan cities clearly indicate that these cities must have had an administrative system which laid down rules of town management and implemented them strictly.