The Harappan Civilization

Decline of Harappan Civilization
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The Harappan Civilization was one of the oldest civilization in the Indian sub-continent known for its modern structures. It was a Bronze Age Civilization in the northwestern region of South Asia. It is called Harappan because the remnants of the civilization was discovered first at the modern site of Harappa located in the province of Punjab, Pakistan. Archeological evidences suggest that the civilization flourished in the Indus valley, hence it is also known as the Indus Valley Civilization. The entire history of the Harappan Culture can be sub-divided into three phasesthe Early Harappan Phase(3300 BC – 2600 BC), the Mature Harappan Phase (2600BC – 1900 BC) and the Late Harappan Phase(1900 BC – 1300BC).

The Discovery of Harappan Civilization

The Harappan Civilization is a path-breaking discovery that relates us to the Ancient India’s way of living and lifestyle. The discovery is not a result of a particular day but it is a conglomeration of various archaeological findings that has been discovered continuously since 19th century. In 1853, a British engineer, Sir Alexander Cunningham discovered a seal. The seal was a smooth black stone without polish. A bull without a hump was engraved on the seal. There were two stars under the neck of the bull and it was looking to the right. Above the bull there was an inscription of six characters. Cunningham thought that the seal cannot be Indian. However, the seal stimulated the discovery of the Harappan Civilization.

In 1921, an Indian archaeologist, Ray Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, started excavating the Harappan site. In 1922, another archaeologist Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay (R.D Banerji) discovered Mohenjo-daro in Sindh and started excavation. Large scale excavation were carried out at Mohenjo-daro under the supervision of Marshall in 1931. The same site was excavated by Mackey in 1938. In 1948 Vats excavated Harappa. Mortimer Wheeler also excavated Harappa in 1946. This were all done in the pre-Independence period.

After the Independence, Suraj Bhan, M.k Dhavalikar, B.K Thapar, B.B lal among many others continued excavation works in areas of Gujarat, Haryana and Rajasthan. In Pakistan F.A khan, A.H Dani, M.R Mughal and many others excavated many areas.

Location of the Indus Valley


The total area of the Harappan Culture is accounted to be about 1,299,600 sq. km. The central zone of the matured Harappan culture lay in the area of Sindh and Punjab in the Indus Valley. The geographical extent of Harappan civilization covered areas of Punjab, Haryana, Gujrat, Rajasthan, Sindh, Baluchistan and the fringes of western Uttar Pradesh. It extends from Sivaliks to Arabian Sea and from Meerut to Makran coast of Baluchistan. It can be regarded as the largest cultural zone of the second and third millenia of the world.

Cities of Harappan Civilisation

Remnants of Mohenjo-daro (Source- Wikimedia)

When it comes to the cities of Harappan Civilization, the Harappa in Punjab and the Mohenjo-daro in Sindh can be regarded as the most important ones. Both forms part of present Pakistan. Another city lay at Chanhu-daro situated 130 km from Mohenjo-daro in Sindh. The fourth city lay at Lothal of Gujarat. Kalibagan is the fifth city that lay in northern Rajasthan. The sixth one is called Banawali. It is situated in the Hisar district of Haryana. These were cities that carries evidence of the modern phase of the Harappan Culture. Banawali and Kalibangan saw two phases of the Harrapan history- the early and the mature phase.

The late Harappan Phase can be traced to Rangpur and Rojdi located at Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat. Another city Dholavira lay in the Kutch area of Gujrat. In Ghaggar of Haryana lay another city called Rakhigarhi. Both Dholavira and Rakhigarhi can be related to all the three phases of Harappan Civilization.

The Town Planning of Harappan Civilization


The Harappan Civilization can be distinguished from its remarkable system of Town Planning. It is almost unbelievable that such arrangement existed in the ancient time unless one studies the remnants of the towns. The town planning has amazed the archaeologist from all over the world. Let’s have a look on the features of the towns in Harappan culture.

  • The Citadels or Acropolis – The Harappa and Mohenjo-daro had a citadel or acropolis mount built on a high podium of mud-brick. The citadel is believed to be occupied by the ruling class.
  • The Houses -The common people lived in the brick houses of the lower town that lay below the citadel. The houses were arranged in the form of a grid system, with roads cutting across one another almost in right angles.
  • The Great Bath – The great Bath was the most important public place of Mohenjo-daro. It may have been used for ritual bathing. The dimension of the Great Bath was 11.88 m(length) x 7.01 m (breadth) x 2.43 m(depth). The floor of the bath was made of burnt brick. There was a large well in the adjacent room and an outlet to drain out the dirty water. Side rooms were available to change clothes. And there were flight steps at either end to the surface.
  • Granaries – The largest building in Mohenjo-daro is a granary. It is 45.71 m long and 15.23 m wide. In the citadel of Harappa, there were as many as six granaries. Each granary measured 15.23 m x 6.09 m. Some kind of circular brick platforms are found to the south of the granaries at Harappa. These might be used for threshing of grains.
  • The drainage system – Almost all the cities had a good drainage system. Every house had their own courtyard and bathrooms. In Kalibangan most houses had wells. The waters from the houses were flown to the big drains of the city. Altogether the cities had a unique drainage system that were probably not present in any civilization of that time.
The Great Bath of Mohenjo-daro (Source- Wikimedia)

Social organization in Harappan Culture

Archaeological evidences suggest that there was a hierarchy in the structure of urban settlement. There is no clear evidence of whether the hierarchy was based on occupational differences or socio-economic differentiation. The cities like Harappa, Kalibangan or Dholavira had three distinct localities or residential structures. The Citadel was the first locality where the ruling classes dwelt. The lowest tower was where the common citizens lived. The middle settlements were meant for bureaucrats and middle class merchants.

Trade and Commerce in Harappan Civilization


Several archaeological findings point towards active trade and commerce in the Harappan society. The urban people used weights and measures. Numerous articles used as weights were discovered in the excavations. Besides weights and measures, the seals, the uniform scripts etc shows occurrence of active trade at that time They did not use metal money but conducted exchanges through barter system. The Harappans carried out trade in metals, stone, shell etc. within the Indus. However they had commercial links with foreign lands like Afghanistan and Iran.

Agriculture in Indus Valley

The Indus valley was a fertile land as it was inundated annually. The Harappans sowed seeds in November and reaped their harvest in April. They primarily Cultivated wheat, barley, rai, peas, sesamum, mustard, cotton etc. They used wooden ploughs drawn by oxes and camels. Stone sickles were used for harvesting the crops. The Harappan villagers must have worked tirelessly to produce food in surplus not only for them but also for the peoples dwelling in town.

Religious practices of Harappan People


In a terracotta figurine of Harappan era, a plant is shown growing out of the embryo of a women. The image may have portrayed the Goddess earth and her connection with the origin and growth of plant. Thus the Harappans looked upon the earth as a fertility goddess and worshiped her.

A seal showing male deity ( Source- Wikimedia)

The male god is represented on a seal. The god is represented to have three horned head, surrounded by an elephant, a rhinoceros and a tiger. He is depicted seating on his throne in yogic posture. Below his throne there is a buffalo and two deer at his feet.

The Harappan people also worshiped trees and animals. The depiction of a deity is represented on a seal amidst branches of peepal tree. The most important animal is the one horned animal unicorn. Next important animal that they worshiped is the humped bull.

The seals and Sealings

The seals were used very widely in Harappan culture. About 2000 seals have been discovered during various excavations. Seals were served as symbols of authority. They were used for stamping. Many animals like unicorn, rhinoceros, goats, antelopes, crocodiles and elephants were inscripted on the seals. Besides seals, there were few objects called sealings.

The Harappan Script


The earliest script of Harappan people was discovered in 1853. A specimen of complete script was found in 1923. Though the Harappans used written scripts, the scripts has not been deciphered till now. So it is not possible to say anything about the ideas or beliefs conveyed through those scripts. The writings are found to be on stones, seals and other objects. Most inscriptions contain only a few words. The scripts are not alphabetical but pictographic.

The decline of Harappan Civilization

The two cities Harappa and Mohenjo-daro disappeared by the nineteenth century. Other cities and villages degraded and faded out gradually. The exact reason of extinction of such an advanced civilization is not known till now.

Environmental factors

Some scholars believe that the environmental factors might have played a role for this cultural collapse. In 1700 the Yamuna and Sutlej moved away from the Saraswati. This may have lowered the water level and lead to water scarcity. Rainfall decreased tremendously in those areas at that time.

Human Activities

It is said that humans constructed dams in the Indus valley for irrigational purpose and the like. But due to heavy rain the dam might have destroyed leading to heavy flooding in Mohenjo-daro area. Due to the flood many died, several others shifted to some others places.

Emergence of Elam

Due to emergence of Elam as a powerful state in 2000 BC , trade and commerce with Mesopotamia along the long distance sea and land route was put on halt. The luxurious items like lapis lazuli, beads, etc were traded through Elam which covered a substantial part of Iran and was located on the eastern boundary of Mesopotamia. Beads made of stones were exported to Mesopotamia and tin was imported to Harappa from Mesopotamia. Due to the break in export or import the traders and craftsmen were deprived of their livelihood.

Soil lost fertility

It is also said that the soils had lost fertility and diminished cereal production. This might have starved the urban people. Due to loss of aristocracy the Harappan culture collapsed.

Aryan Invasion

According to Staurt and Piggot, Aryans might have invaded the Indus territory and led to the destruction of the civilization. This theory is put forwarded as it is commonly believed that Aryans were the next settlers. They were skilled fighters and are known for invading and occupying great cities.

Climatic Change

Another theory suggest that a huge climatic change or natural disaster occured around 2000 BC. These changes might have caused flood or different natural calamities. The people of Indus might not be able to adapt to such sudden environmental change.


KVR Kennedy put forwarded another theory. According to Kennedy, an uncontrollable epidemic might have spread in the Indus. Due to lack of developed medical facilities the entire population might be wiped out.

Harappan And Mesopotamian Culture- Some differences

  • The geographical extent of the Harappan culture was much larger than the Mesopotamian culture.
  • Burnt bricks were used in both Harappan and Mesopotamian culture but the extent of use was much larger in Harappan civilization.
  • Both Harappan and Mesopotamian people domesticated animals and cultivated grains. But Harappans of Gujrat produced rice and domesticated elephants which was not the case with the Mesopotamians.
  • Temples were found in the Mesopotamian region, but there were no temples at any Harappan sites.
  • The written scripts of the Mesopotamian civilizations are found to be long. While the written scripts of the Harappan culture contains only a few words in pictographic form.
  • Seals were part of both Mesopotamian and Harappan Culture. However Sealings are found only in Harappan Civilization.

It is really hard to believe that such an advanced and modern civilization has ended leaving only the remnants behind it. Some scholars speaks about the continuity of the Harappan culture, while others says about change from urbanization to de- urbanization. But we feel that if the civilization has converted from urban to rural form than there is no chance of any kind of cultural continuity.

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