THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION

(3000 BC - 1500 BC)


The great bath at Mohenjo-daroUntil the discovery of the Indus Valley Civilization, the development of literature and culture in India was always credited to the Aryans. In 1920 archaeologists announced the discovery of extensive urban ruins in the Indus Valley which pre-dated the earliest archaeological sources and this has caused scholars to re-examine their views on the different phases of Indian culture. The Rig Veda which speaks in such derogatory terms of the enemies subdued by the Aryan tribes, gives the impression that they were all savage barbarians.1 The Brahmins for centuries have degraded the original inhabitants of India with the intention of self elevation, preservation and oppression. These ancient dwellers in India were Dravidians, and in fact, their culture had developed a highly sophisticated way of life. The existence of the Brahui tribe in Baluchistan, to the west of the Indus, who speak a Dravidian language like South Indian Tamil, gives evidence that a migration of people or culture did occur. Also the Harappa religion shows many similarities with those elements of Hinduism which are specially popular in the present Dravidian culture5. Archaeological evidence shows that the Indus Valley culture moved from west to east, with sites towards central and southern India flourishing after Harappa and Mohenjo-daro had declined. This civilization is one of the three great early civilizations that arose in the late fourth and third millennia BC around the three large alluvial systems of the Tigris-Euphrates, Nile and Indus rivers.

Housing and streets in Mohenjo-daroThis civilization was thought to have been confined to the valley of the river Indus, hence the name given to it was Indus Valley civilization. This civilization was a highly developed urban one and two of its towns, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, represent the high watermark of the settlements. Subsequent archaeological excavations established that the contours of this civilization were not restricted to the Indus valley but spread to a wide area in northwestern and western India. Thus this civilization is now better known as the Harappan civilization. Mohenjo-daro and Harappa are now in Pakistan and the principal sites in India include Ropar in Punjab, Lothal in Gujarat and Kalibangan in Rajasthan. Recent research has shown Sutkagen Dor in Baluchistan next to Iran is the westernmost known Harappan site. It is thought to have once been on a navigable inlet of the Arabian Sea, and the usual citadel and town are present, as well as defensive walls 30 feet wide. Sutkagen Dor would have been on the trade route from Lothal to Mesopotamia.

The extensive excavations carried out at the two principal city sites, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, indicates that this Dravidian culture was well established by about 2500 B.C. What we know of this ancient civilization is derived almost exclusively from archaeological data since every attempt to decipher the script used by these people has failed so far. Recent analyses of the order of the signs on the inscriptions have led several scholars to the view that the language is not of the Indo-European family, nor is it close to the Sumerians, Hurrians, or Elamite, nor can it be related to the structure of the Munda languages of modern India. If it is related to any modern language family it appears to be Dravidian akin to Old Tamil, presently spoken throughout the southern part of the Indian Peninsula. 2 A study of the evolution of scripts in India indicates that the Dravidians, over the centuries, have made the key contributions to the development of language and literature in India.

Unicorn Seal, Mohenjo-daroThere are literary as well as archaeological evidences to show that there was trade with Mesopotamia2. The presence of a number of Indus seals at Ur and other Mesopotamian cities and the discovery of a 'Persian Gulf' type of seal at Lothal - otherwise known from the Persian Gulf ports of Bahrain and Failaka, and from Mesopotamia-provide convincing corroboration of the sea trade suggested by the Lothal dock in Gujarat. Ancient Mesopotamian texts speak of trading with at least two seafaring civilizations - Makkan and Meluha - in the neighborhood of India in the third millennium B.C. This trade was conducted with real financial sophistication in amounts that could involve tons of copper. The Mesopotamians speak of Meluha as an aquatic culture, where water and bathing played a central role. A number of Indus Valley objects have been found buried with Mesopotamians7.

The Indus cities seem to have had very few public buildings. The only one of any note is the Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro which appears to have been used in the performance of certain rituals. Nothing that can be clearly identified as a temple or a shrine has yet been discovered. A structure once considered a granary is now thought to have been a palace with ventilated air ducts7. The people depended upon agriculture and trade for their livelihood. Wheat, barley and the date palm were cultivated; animals were domesticated; and the cotton textiles, ivory and copper were exported to Mesopotamia, and possibly China and Burma in exchange for silver and other commodities. Production of several metals such as copper, bronze, lead and tin was also undertaken and some remnants of furnaces provide evidence of this fact. The discovery of kilns to make bricks support the fact that burnt bricks were used extensively in domestic and public buildings. The Harappans used the same size bricks and standard weights7.

Dancing GirlEvidence for the religious beliefs and practices of these people is slight, since the Indus script cannot be read and apart from the bath, there appears to be no religious structure. A certain amount of information has been derived from scenes depicted on seal-amulets and from the terra-cotta figurines found at different sites throughout the area. However such evidence is open to wide interpretation. The predominance of female figurines and seals depicting a horned goddess in association with the sacred pipal tree are generally regarded as evidence of the worship of a mother goddess who presided over fertility and birth and who may have acted as guardian and protector of the dead.

In some of the mother goddess cults of the Ancient Near East, the Great Mother who symbolized the power of fertility came also to be associated with the renewal of human life after death. She protected and revived those committed to the earth from whence this new life sprang. Inhumation was the most common method of disposing a corpse and they were buried with an assortment of grave goods, including pottery vessels which may have contained food and drink offerings.

The great bath at Mohenjo-daro could not have been constructed for the purpose of hygiene since all the private dwellings were equipped with excellent bathrooms. Since so many elements of the Indus culture appear to have found their way into Hinduism, it is possible that ancient purification rites were taken over and reinterpreted by members of the Brahmin caste4. If this is so the later practice of constructing artificial lotus ponds may be very ancient indeed. These lotus ponds were used during historic times for various purification ceremonies and one theory suggests that the bath was probably used by the mother goddess cult. The cult at Mohenjo-daro may have involved some form of ceremonial bathing as a prelude to ritual cohabitation with prostitutes associated with the goddess, carried out in the small ante-chambers adjoining the bath4.

One seal uncovered at Mohenjo-daro depicts a three-faced male god with arms outstretched, seated on a low platform in a cross legged position (like a yogi). His arms are adorned with bangles and his head is crowned with a fan-shaped head-dress from which two horns project. He is surrounded by animals and fertility symbols suggest that he concerned with the promotion of fertility.

The appearance of coarser type of pottery indicates invaders in the Indus cities5. At Mohenjo-daro large rooms were divided into smaller ones and mansions became tenements, and the street plan no longer maintained. Evidently the city was over populated and law an order were less kept, perhaps because the invaders were already ranging the provinces and city was full of newcomers. Around 1750 B.C. the uniform culture of this great area broke up. The cause or causes of the end of the Indus civilization are not easy to determine. At Mohenjo-daro groups of sprawling skeletons in this period suggests some sort of massacre or invasion. The end of the Indus Valley Civilization may have been fairly abrupt and violent, but long before the end came, there seems to have been a gradual process of internal decay and stagnation.

There is not enough evidence to say that the destroyers of the Indus cities were members of the group of tribes whose priests composed the RgVeda5. However it is probable that the fall of this great civilization was partly due to the widespread migratory movements of charioteering peoples which altered the face of the whole civilized world in the 2nd millennium B.C. During King Solomon's reign over Israel (970-931 B.C.) we see that chariots and horses were imported from Egypt and exported to Asia Minor. 6

From the evidences presented in religions of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism, and the linguistic evidence in Sanskrit, we can see that early Indian Christianity totally transformed the religions and worships in India. However, these earlier practices were syncretised into Christianity resulting in it's corruption and decay.

________________________________

1 Hinduism, edited by John Hinnells and Eric Sharpe, Oriel Press in association with Blackie, India, 1972.

2 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1982 Edition, Macropedia Vol 9.

3 Hinduism, edited by John Hinnells and Eric Sharpe, Oriel Press in association with Blackie, India, 1972.

4 The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India, D.D.Kosambi

5 The Wonder That Was India, A.L. Basham, Rupa & Co, 1994, pg 27.

6 Bible, 'They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans.', 1 Kings 10:29 (NIV).

7 HARP - Harappa Archaeological Research Project. The slides are a courtesy of HARP. A visit to their site at http://www.harappa.com/ is highly recommended to see more of the Indus Valley Civilization.

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