Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Indus Civilization: Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa

     Indus civilization, developed some 4,500-5,000 years ago is the earliest known urban civilization of the Indian subcontinent (now India and Pakistan). This civilization arose along the banks of the Indus River in Pakistan at about 2500 BC and ended with apparent destruction about 1500 BC. It was decidedly the most extensive of the world’s earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is uncertain that from where the first settlers of this city come from. To some experts opinion the natives of Indus valley civilization had its roots in Sumers of ancient Mesopotamia

   Around five thousand years ago, a nomadic herding people, settled into villages in the mountainous region just on the banks of the Indus River and surrounding areas. These settlements cover a remarkable region, almost 1.25 million kilometers of land which is today part of Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-western India. Instead of hunting and gathering their food Indus people subsisted primarily by farming. They also domesticated animals included dogs, cats, cattle, domestic fowl, pigs, camels, buffalo. By 2300 BCE this civilization had reached maturity and was trading with Mesopotamia.

   The Indus civilization is known to have comprised two large cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, and more than 100 towns and villages, often of relatively small size. In 1922, archaeologists found the remains of an ancient city called Harappa, 350 miles to the north on a tributary river, the Ravi and another city Mohenjo-Daro in 1922, located 400 miles southwest of Harappa. Each of these two cities had populations as high as around 40,000. The outstanding magnitude of these cities suggests that both of these two cities served as an alternative political centralization or capital. They had large and complex hill citadels, housing palaces, granaries, and baths that were probably used for sacred ablutions. The city was amazingly well planned with broad main streets and good secondary streets.

    The civilization is mostly noted for its cities built of brick, roadside drainage system, and multistoried houses. The people of Indus Valleys lived in sturdy brick houses that had as many as three floors and with a large enclosed yard. The houses had bathrooms that were connected to sewers. Their elaborate drainage system was centuries ahead of their time. 

   They invented the script of their language with some 250 to 500 characters, have been partly and tentatively decipher. They were very expert in making ornaments with gold, silver and many other precious stone imported from neighboring countries. The ivory tusks of elephants were also freely used at that time. They also have expertise of making clothes with cotton. Perhaps the best-known artifacts of the Indus civilization are a number of small seals, generally made of steatite, depicting a wide variety of real animals, such as elephants, tigers, rhinoceros, and antelopes and apparently seem to be used for trade purpose. Few examples of Indus stone sculpture have also been found, usually small and representing humans or gods. Aesthetically the most notable work of figurative art from the city is a famous bronze of a young dancing girl, naked slave for a multitude of armlets.

    The historians have very little information regarding the religion of Indus people. No temple have been discovered from the excavated site but seeming the ancient texts, seals, images and other inscriptions the archaeologist come to a conclusion that the Indus religion was polytheistic in nature. They used to worship many deities and had belief in afterlife but there were no temples, no ostentatious ceremonies or rituals. Some images and stone figures of some deities were found in the excavated site are approximately similar to some Hindu Gods, Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu; while some posture of standing deities also resembles to be the posture of Jain yogis. To see these image and statues some scholars opinioned that Hindu and Jain religion was developed from ancient Indus religion. 

     In fact these religions did not initially developed in Indus Valleys until the arrival of Aryans. The progressive expansion of the Aryans by war as well as peace increased detribalization, intermarriages, interdependence and intermix of religion and rituals with local people lead to develop a new religion enriched with more deities and more rituals. Aryans brought the Vedas with them to Indus Valley, which were in fact a sacred book accumulating hymns, poems, rituals and manifestation of Gods speech  that represented the beliefs of Aryan peoples. The Vedas were considered so sacred that they were only transmitted orally from one generation to the next until it got its written form near the end of the third century BC. With passage of time the Vedas followed by early Indus- Aryan people turn into a sacred scripture of Hinduism . 

      Though being a sophisticated region of hundreds of cities and towns, the Indus civilization not spread beyond the Indus Valley. The decline of Indus cities occurred  suddenly and mysteriously between 1800 BC and 1700 BC. It has been suggested by some historians that the Indus Valley Civilization were destroyed by invading barbaric tribes. While others hold climatic changes responsible for its decline. Since there are no reliable records for the period, the decline of the Indus valley civilization remain a mystery till today.  

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  1. Great post! Just wanted to comment that today we know of eight large cities that were contemporaneous with Harappa and Mohenjo-daro (which were the first two to be discovered). There are now over 1050 total sites including small towns, villages and trade posts. There are perhaps thousands more waiting to be discovered... and many that are probably buried under modern cities.

  2. A second comment: The most recent archeological evidence shows that the Indus Civilization did not cease to exist. Rather, as the old cities phased out, new settlements sprung up all over South Asia and there was a large move towards the country side. The decline of Indus cities interestingly coincides with the advancement of rural agricultural technologies. See the recent text by Historian Upinder Singh among other sources.

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