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General Studies 1 >> Ancient Indian History




1. Context

The latest round of excavations at the 5,000-year-old Harappan site of Rakhigarhi in Haryana’s Hisar has revealed the structure of some houses, lanes, and a drainage system, and what could be a jewelry-making unit, say Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials leading the project.
2. Harappan Civilisation
  • The Harappan/ Indus Valley civilization was the first urban civilization in South Asia, contemporaneous with the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
  • It was larger than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia civilizations. First site excavated: Harappa site by Dayaram Sahni in 1921.
  • John Marshall: first scholar to use the term Indus Civilisation. Most accepted timeline: 2500 BC-1750 BC (Carbon-14 Dating).
  • Period: India Civilization belongs to the proto-historic period- Chalcolithic Age/Bronze Age. Heartland of Indus Civilization: Harappa-Ghaggar- Mohenjo Daro axis.
  • Indus sites found in Afghanistan: Shortughai and Mundigaq.
  • Capital cities: Harappa, Mohenjodaro.
  • Port cities: Lothal, Sutkagendor, Allahdino, Balakot, Kuntasi.
  • Areas covered: Harappan civilizationtion was triangular in shape and was the largest among the three ancient urban civilization the other two being ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). It roughly covers modern day Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, and Pakistan.
  • Father of Indian archaeology: Alexander Cunningham, the first Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Image Source: WEB

3. Four phases of Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC)

3.1 Pre-Harappan Phase from 7000 to 3300 BCE

  • This stage is located in eastern Balochistan.
  • Excavations at Mehrgarh- northwest of Mohenjodaro reveal the existence of Pre- Harappan culture.
  • The earliest evidence of farming and herding is in South Asia.
    This shows the first evidence of cotton cultivation. Nomadic people began to lead settled agricultural life.

3.2 Early Harappan Phase from 3300 to 2600 BCE

  • Characterized by rudimentary town planning in the form of muddy structures and elementary treat hearts and craft
  • Also related to Hakra Phase, identified with the Ghaggar-Hakra valley.
  • Village settlements in plain areas; Gradual growth of towns in Indus Valley.
  • The transition from rural to urban life in this period.
  • Indus script dates back to 3000 BC (This script is still undeciphered) Sites of Amri and Kot diji remain evidence for this stage.

3.3 Mature Harappan Phase from 2600 to 1900 BCE

  • Marked by a well-developed town with a burnt brick structure established foreign trade crafts of various types.
  • Excavation at Kalibangan with its elaborate town planning and urban features proves this the phase of evolution.
  • Slow southward migration of the South Asian monsoon allowed villages to develop by taming floods of the Indus and tributaries.

3.4 Late Harappan Phase from 1900 to 1300 BCE

  • It was the declining phase. During this several cities were abandoned and the trade disappeared.
  • A gradual decay of significant urban Traits is noticed. Reduction in rainfall triggered a reorganization into large urban centers.
  • Mature Harappan civilization was an ‘a fusion of the Bagor, Hakra, and Kot Diji traditions on Borders of India and Pakistan’- According to D.A. Lichtenstein
  • Large urban centers include Harappa, Ganeriwal, Mohenjodaro, Dholavira, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Rupar, and Lothal. Excavation at Lothal revealed this stage of evolution.
  • Multiple regional cultures emerged within the area of IVC: Culture was in Punjab, Haryana, Western UP; Jhukar culture in Sindh, Rangpur culture was in Gujarat.
  • The latest phases of Harappan culture are Pirak in Balochistan, Pakistan, and Daimabad in Maharashtra.
  • The largest late Harappan sites are Kudwala in Cholistan, Bet Dwarka in Gujarat, and Daimabad in Maharashtra

4. Town planning and structure

  • The towns were in a rectangular grid pattern with roads at right angles. Used burnt mud bricks joined with gypsum mortar (contemporary Egyptian dried bricks were used).
  • The city was divided into two parts, the city on a raised platform, known as Upper Citadel & the lower town known as Lower Citadel (working-class quarters).
  • A fortified citadel was found, except in Chanhudaro. Most buildings have private wells and properly ventilated bathrooms.
  • Do not have large monumental structures such as temples or palaces for rulers, unlike Egyptian and Mesopotamian Civilization.
  • Evidence of an Advanced drainage system. At sites such as Dholavira and Lothal (Gujarat), the entire settlement was fortified, and sections within the town were also separated by walls.
  • The Citadel within Lothal was not walled off but was built at a height.

5. Agriculture

  • Main crops: Wheat and Barley. Evidence of the cultivation of rice in Lothal and Rangpur (Gujarat) only.
  • Other crops: Dates, Mustard, Sesamum, Cotton, Rai, Peas, etc.
  • First to produce cotton in the world and used it for textiles, Called Sindon by the Greeks.
    Used animal-drawn wooden plough, and stone sickles.
  • Gabarbands or Nalas enclosed by dams were found but channel or canal irrigation was
    probably not practiced.
  • Produced sufficient food grains and cereals were received as taxes from peasants and stored in granaries for wages and emergencies same as in Mesopotamia.

6. Domestication of Animals

  • Animals: Oxen, buffaloes, goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, cats, asses, and camels domesticated.
  • Humped bulls were favored by the Harappans. Neither horse centered nor were they aware of it, but evidence of horses is found in Surkotada, Mohenjo Daro, and Lothal.
  • The lion was not known.  Elephants and Rhinoceros (Amari) were well known.

7. Technology and Craft

  • This is known as the first urbanization in India. Along with stone, they were well acquainted with copper, silver, gold, and bronze (occasionally mixed arsenic with copper instead of tin).
  • Iron was not known to the people.
  • Important crafts: spinning (Spindle whorls), bricklaying, boat-making, seal making, terracotta manufacturing (potter’s wheel), goldsmiths, bead making.
  • They were aware of the use of the wheel.

8. Trade and Commerce

  • The importance of Trade is established by the presence of Granaries, seals, a uniform script, and regulated weights and measures.
  • They engaged in inter-regional as well as foreign trade. Sumerian texts refer to trade relations with Meluha i.e. ancient name given to the Indus region & mentions two intermediate trading stations- Dilmun (Bahrain) & Makan (Makran coast).
  • Used boats and bullock carts for transportation. No metallic money was in circulation and trade was conducted by means of barter.
  • Import: Gold, Silver, Copper, Tin, Jade, Steatite.
  • Exports: Agricultural products, cotton goods, terracotta figurines, beads from Chanhudaro, conch-shell from Lothal, ivory products, copper, etc.

9. Social Organisations

  • Hierarchy in urban habitation. Merchants and priests were an important class of this period.
  • Harappans were fashion-conscious. Different hairstyles and wearing a beard were popular.
  • The use of cosmetics was common (Cinnabar, lipstick, and collyrium) Necklaces, filets, armlets, and finger rings were worn by both men and women but bangles, girdles, anklets, and ear-rings were worn by women only.
  • Beads were made from gold, copper, bronze, cornelian, quartz, steatite, lapis lazuli, etc. - naturalistic animal models as pin-heads and beads.

10. Religious Practices

  • Seal: Male deity Pashupati Mahadeva (proto- siva), three-horned heads, and is represented in the sitting posture of a yogi, surrounded by an Elephant, Tiger, Rhinoceros, and Buffalo, and two deer at his feet.
  • Harrapan was a predominantly secular civilization. Prevalence of the Phallus (Lingam) and Yoni, two deer.
  • The chief female deity was the mother Goddess. They worshiped both male and female deities.
  • The people of the Indus region also worshiped trees (pipal), fire, and animals (unicorns, humped bulls, etc).
  • Harappans believed in ghosts and evil forces. They used amulets against them.
  • Burials: At burials in Harappan sites the dead were generally laid in pits. Some graves contain pottery and ornaments, perhaps indicating a belief that these could be used in the afterlife.
  • Jewelry has been found in the burials of both men and women.

11. Seals and Sealings

  • Most of the seals are square-shaped (2x2 square inches) and made mostly from Steatite.
  • Seals had an animal (except cow and horse) or human figure on one side and an inscription on the opposite side or inscriptions on both sides.
  • Seals were primarily used for commercial purposes, as an amulet, as a form of identification, and for educational purposes as well.
  • Seals with symbols similar to the Swastika design have also been found. The round Persian Gulf seal found in Bahrain sometimes carries Harappan motifs.
  • Interestingly, local Dilmun weights followed the Harappan standard. 
Image Source: Web

12. Art

  • Bronze Casting: Practiced on a wide scale using the lost wax or Cire Perdue technique. They mainly consist of human and animal figures. Example: Dancing Girl. She stands in a Tribhanga dancing posture.
  • Stone Statues: Bearded man: found in Mohenjo- daro and made of Steatite, interpreted as a priest.
  • Red sandstone: a figure of a male torso is found in Harappa and made of Red sandstone.
  • Terracotta Figures: Found less in number and crude in shape and form. Examples: Mother Goddess, the mask of a horned deity, toys, etc.

13. The Decline of Indus Valley Civilisation

The IVC declined around 1800 BCE but the actual reasons behind its demise are still debated between:
  • Aryan Invasion: One theory claims that Indo-European Tribe i.e., Aryans invaded and conquered the IVC.
  • Natural Factors: On the other hand, many scholars believe natural factors are behind the
    decline of the IVC.
  • The natural factors could be geological and climatic.
  • It is believed that the Indus Valley region experienced several tectonic disturbances which
    causes earthquakes. Which also changed the course of rivers or dried them up.
  • Another natural reason might be a change in patterns of rainfall or it could have been due to a combination of these natural and anthropogenic causes.
For Prelims: Indus Valley Civilisation, Pre-Harappan Phase from 7000 to 3300 BCE, Early Harappan Phase from 3300 to 2600 BCE, Mature Harappan Phase from 2600 to 1900 BCE, and Late Harappan Phase from 1900 to 1300 BCE, Lothal, Sutkagendor, Allahdino, Balakot, Kuntasi.
For Mains: Discuss the phases of the Indus Valley Civilisation and explain the Political and Social life during the Indus Valley civilization. (250 Words).

Previous year Questions

1. Regarding the Indus Valley Civilization, consider the following statements: (UPSC 2011)
1. It was predominantly a secular civilization and the religious element, though present, did not dominate the scene.
2. During this period, cotton was used for manufacturing textiles in India.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A. 1 only
B. 2 only
C. Both 1 and 2
D. Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: C
Source: World History Encyclopedia

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