46. Indus Valley Civilization - Glorious Civilisation of Human History

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

I.Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) was a Bronze Age civilisation in the northwestern regions of South Asia, lasting from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE, and in its mature form from 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE. Together with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of three early civilisations of the Near East and South Asia, and of the three, the most widespread, its sites spanning an area stretching from northeast Afghanistan, through much of Pakistan, and into western and northwestern India. It flourished in the basins of the Indus River, which flows through the length of Pakistan, and along a system of perennial, mostly monsoon-fed, rivers that once coursed in the vicinity of the seasonal Ghaggar-Hakra river in northwest India and eastern Pakistan.

The Indus civilisation is also known as the Harappan Civilisation, after its type site, Harappa, the first of its sites to be excavated early in the 20th century in what was then the Punjab province of British India and now is Pakistan. The discovery of Harappa and soon afterwards Mohenjo-daro was the culmination of work beginning in 1861 with the founding of the Archaeological Survey of India during the British Raj. There were however earlier and later cultures often called Early Harappan and Late Harappan in the same area; for this reason, the Harappan civilisation is sometimes called the Mature Harappan to distinguish it from these other cultures.

By 2002, over 1,000 Mature Harappan cities and settlements had been reported, of which just under a hundred had been excavated,

However, there are only 5 major urban sites,

  1. Harappa,

  2. Mohenjo-daro (UNESCO World Heritage Site),

  3. Dholavira,

  4. Ganeriwala in Cholistan, and

  5. Rakhigarhi.

The early Harappan cultures were preceded by local Neolithic agricultural villages, from which the river plains were populated.

The Harappan language is not directly attested, and its affiliation is uncertain since the Indus script is still undeciphered. A relationship with the Dravidian or Elamo-Dravidian language family is favoured by a section of scholars like leading Finnish Indologist, Asko Parpola. Most of the present reseach is pointing towards Dravidian origins or present day South India. Its a hypothesis, yet to be proved.

The large cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa very likely grew to containing between 30,000 and 60,000 individuals,and the civilisation itself during its florescence may have contained between one and five million individuals. Gradual drying of the region's soil during the 3rd millennium BCE may have been the initial spur for the urbanisation associated with the civilisation, but eventually also reduced the water supply enough to cause the civilisation's demise, and to scatter its population eastward, actually ancient Indus valley people were farming , cowherding shepperds and trading community.

Pic : Priest King, Mohenjo-daro

By 2600 BCE, dozens of towns and citieshad been established, and between 2500 and 2000 /1900 BCE the Indus ValleyCivilization was at its peak.

II.The Life of the Indus Valley Civilization

Two cities, in particular, have been excavated at the sites of Mohenjo-Daro on the lower Indus, and at Harappa, further upstream. The evidence suggests they had a highly developed city life; many houses had wells and bathrooms as well as an elaborate underground drainage system. The social conditions of the citizens were comparable to those in Sumeria and superior to the contemporary Babylonians and Egyptians. These cities display a well-planned urbanization system.

There is evidence of some level of contact between the Indus Valley Civilization and the Near East. Commercial, religious, and artistic connections have been recorded in Sumerian documents, where the Indus valley people are referred to as Meluhhaites and the Indus valley is called Meluhha. The following account has been dated to about 2000 BCE: "The Meluhhaites, the men of the black land, bring to Naram-Sin of Agade all kind of exotic wares." (Haywood, p. 76, The Curse of Agade)

Pic : The 'Ten Indus Scripts' discovered near the northern gateway of the Dholavira citadel

The Indus Civilization had a writing system , which yet to be deciphered and still remains as a mystery.

All attempts to decipher it have failed. This is one of the reasons why the Indus Valley Civilization is one of the least known of the important early civilizations of antiquity. Examples of this writing system have been found in pottery, amulets, carved stamp seals, and even in weights and copper tablets.

Another point of debate is the nature of the relationship between these cities. Whether they were independent city-states or part of a larger kingdom is not entirely clear. Because the writing of the Indus people remains undeciphered and neither sculptures of rulers nor depictions of battles and military campaigns have been found, evidence pointing in either direction is not conclusive.

Pic : TheDancing Girlof Mohenjo-daro; 2300-1750 BCE; bronze; height: 10.8 cm

III.Trade and transportation

The Indus civilisation's economy appears to have depended significantly on trade, which was facilitated by major advances in transport technology. The IVC may have been the first civilisation to use wheeled transport. These advances may have included bullock carts that are identical to those seen throughout South Asia today, as well as boats. Most of these boats were probably small, flat-bottomed craft, perhaps driven by sail, similar to those one can see on the Indus River today; however, there is secondary evidence of sea-going craft. Archaeologists have discovered a massive, dredged canal and what they regard as a docking facility at the coastal city of Lothal in western India (Gujarat state). An extensive canal network, used for irrigation, has however also been discovered by H.-P. Francfort.

Harappan burnished and painted clay ovoid Vase, with round carnelian beads. (3rd Millennium-2nd Millennium BCE)

During 4300–3200 BCE of the chalcolithic period (copper age), the Indus Valley Civilisation area shows ceramic similarities with southern Turkmenistan and northern Iran which suggest considerable mobility and trade. During the Early Harappan period (about 3200–2600 BCE), similarities in pottery, seals, figurines, ornaments, etc. document intensive caravan trade with Central Asia and the Iranian plateau.

Archaeological discoveries suggest that trade routes between Mesopotamia and the Indus were active during the 3rd millennium BCE, leading to the development of Indus-Mesopotamia relations.

Judging from the dispersal of Indus civilisation artefacts, the trade networks economically integrated a huge area, including portions of Afghanistan, the coastal regions of Persia, northern and western India, and Mesopotamia, leading to the development of Indus-

Pic : Boat with direction finding birds to find land. Model of Mohenjo-daro seal, 2500-1750 BCE.

Mesopotamia relations. Studies of tooth enamel from individuals buried at Harappa suggest that some residents had migrated to the city from beyond the Indus Valley.There is some evidence that trade contacts extended to Crete and possibly to Egypt.

There was an extensive maritime trade network operating between the Harappan and Mesopotamian civilisations as early as the middle Harappan Phase, with much commerce being handled by "middlemen merchants from Dilmun" (modern Bahrain and Failaka located in the Persian Gulf).

IV.Decline of the Indus Valley Civilization

By 1800 BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization saw the beginning of their decline: Writing started to disappear, standardized weights and measures used for trade and taxation purposes fell out of use, the connection with the Near East was interrupted, and some cities were gradually abandoned. The reasons for this decline are not entirely clear, but it is believed that the drying up of the Saraswati River, a process which had begun around 1900 BCE, was the main cause. Other experts speak of a great flood in the area. Either event would have had catastrophic effects on agricultural activity, making the economy no longer sustainable and breaking the civic order of the cities.

Pic : Seals of IVC

Around 1500 BCE, a large group of nomadic cattle-herders, the Aryans, migrated into the region from central Asia. The Aryans crossed the Hindu Kush mountains and came in contact with the Indus Valley Civilization. This was a large migration and used to be seen as an invasion, which was thought to be the reason for the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization, but this hypothesis is not unanimously accepted today. 

Thus, the Indus Valley Civilization came to an end. Over the course of several centuries, the Aryans gradually settled down and took up agriculture. The language brought by the Aryans gained supremacy over the local languages: the origin of the most widely spoken languages today in south Asia goes back to the Aryans, who introduced the Indo-European languages into the Indian subcontinent.

Other features of modern Indian society, such as religious practices and caste division, can also be traced back to the times of the Aryan migrations. Many pre-Aryan customs still survive in India today. Evidence supporting this claim includes: the continuity of pre-Aryan traditions; practices by many sectors of Indian society; and also the possibility that some major gods of the Hindu pantheon actually originated during the time of the Indus Valley Civilization and were kept "alive" by the original inhabitants through the centuries.


Indus Valley Civilisation, like other civilisations like Mespotomia and Egyptian Civilisations had passed through its Glorious Phase in the Human History. IVC has achieved so many Advancements on Human Habitation and Technology.

The Major Achievements of this IVC civilisation are :

  1. Urban planning,

  2. Baked brick houses,

  3. Elaborate drainage systems,

  4. Water supply systems,

  5. Clusters of large non-residential buildings, and

  6. New techniques in handicraft (carnelian products, seal carving) and

  7. Metallurgy (copper, bronze, lead, and tin).

Its wonderful to know that, they ( Ancestors of India ) have lived in most urbanous conditions in 4600 years back, which was unthinkable of any Human Inhabitation on the planet at that time, with town planning and advanced drianage systems etc.

So the Legend of Indus Valley Civilisation lives on inspiring many future generations to come.

MM Rao


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