Indus River Valley Civilization – Two great cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.


Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

In the days when historians supposed that history had begun with Greece, Europe gladly believed that India had been a hotbed of barbarism until the “Aryan” cousins of the European peoples had migrated from the shores of the Caspian to bring the arts and sciences to a savage and benighted peninsula. Recent researches have marred this comforting picture as future researches will change the perspective of these pages. In India, as elsewhere, the beginnings of civilization are buried in the earth, and not all the spades of archaeology will ever quite exhume them. Remains of an Old Stone Age fill many cases in the museums of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay; and Neolithic objects have been found in nearly every state. These, however, were cultures, not yet a civilization.

Harappa. The early Indus valley civilization–later called Harrapan–was first excavated in the 1850s, during the construction of railways under British supervision. Alexander Cunningham,a British general involved in the discoveries, later headed the Indian Archeological Survey. In 1856, British colonial officials in India were busy monitoring the construction of a railway connecting the cities of Lahore and Karachi in modern-day Pakistan along the Indus River valley.

As they continued to work, some of the laborers discovered many fire-baked bricks lodged in the dry terrain. There were hundreds of thousands of fairly uniform bricks, which seemed to be quite old. Nonetheless, the workers used some of them to construct the road bed, unaware that they were using ancient artifacts. They soon found among the bricks stone artifacts made of soapstone, featuring intricate artistic markings.

Though they did not know it then, and though the first major excavations did not take place until the 1920s, these railway workers had happened upon the remnants of the Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization, after Harappa, the first of its sites to be excavated, in what was then the Punjab province of British India and is now in Pakistan.

In 1924 the world of scholarship was again aroused by news from India: Sir John Marshall announced that his Indian aides, R. D. Banerji in particular, had discovered at Mohenjo-daro, on the western bank of the lower Indus, remains of what seemed to be an older civilization than any yet known to historians. There, and at Harappa, a few hundred miles to the north, four or five superimposed cities were excavated, with hundreds of solidly-built brick houses and shops, ranged along wide streets as well as narrow lanes, and rising in many cases to several stories. Anchored on the two great cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro., it had developed rapidly, and independently of Mesopotamian patterns, in the mid-3d millennium B.C.E. The total area of the civilization was much larger than Sumer or Old Kingdom Egypt. The Great Cities of the Indus Valley .

Scholars are still piecing together information about this mysterious civilization, but they have learned a great deal about it since its rediscovery. Its origins seem to lie in a settlement named Mehrgarh in the foothills of a mountain pass in modern-day Balochistan in western Pakistan. There is evidence of settlement in this area as early as 7000 BCE.

The Indus Valley Civilization is often separated into three phases: the Early Harappan Phase from 3300 to 2600 BCE, the Mature Harappan Phase from 2600 to 1900 BCE, and the Late Harappan Phase from 1900 to 1300 BCE.

Harappan civilization, a huge complex of cities and villages, developed rapidly during the 3rd millennium B.C.E. within the Indus river system. The two principal cities were Harappa, in the north, and Mohenjo-Daro, in the south. The rivers were fed by the melting snows of the Himalayas, and monsoon rains, depositing rich soil in the valley plains. Early settlers profited from the region’s rich environment. They domesticated animals, practiced sophisticated agricultural techniques; they made pottery, mirrors and bronze tools and weapons.

An advanced agricultural system supported Harappa’s peoples. The main food crops were wheat, rye, peas, and possibly rice, and  and cotton was also part of the system.They domesticated animals, practiced sophisticated agricultural techniques; they made pottery, mirrors and bronze tools and weapons. Irrigation systems controlled the rivers’ flow.

Harappa was a fortified city in modern-day Pakistan that is believed to have been home to as many as 23,500 residents living in sculpted houses with flat roofs made of red sand and clay. The city spread over 150 hectares—370 acres—and had fortified administrative and religious centers of the same type used in Mohenjo-daro.

The Indus valley had been home to a huge network of towns and villages, first arising in the mid-3rd millennium B.C.E. Two great cities, Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, were at the heart of the civilization. The ancestor to Indian civilizations, Harappa, flourished in the Indus River Valley. Nomadic Aryan invaders moved into the region of the latter between 1500 and 1000 B.C.E. and established the basis for a new pattern of civilization in South Asia.

Nomadic Aryan invaders moved into the region of the latter between 1500 and1000 B.C.E. and established the basis for a new pattern of civilization in South Asia. .The Indus River Valley and the Birth of South Asian Civilization. Harappan civilization, a huge complex of cities and villages, developed rapidly during the 3rd millennium B.C.E. within the Indus river system.

Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were densely populated, walled cities similar in layout and construction. They were built on a square grid pattern divided by main streets into smaller, precise, grids. Buildings and walls were made of standardized kiln-dried bricks. The massive scale required an autocratic government able to manage large numbers of workers.

The remains of the Indus Valley Civilization cities indicate remarkable organization; there were well-ordered wastewater drainage and trash collection systems and possibly even public baths and granaries, which are storehouses for grain. Most city-dwellers were artisans and merchants grouped together in distinct neighborhoods. The quality of urban planning suggests efficient municipal governments that placed a high priority on hygiene or religious ritual.

Harappans demonstrated advanced architecture with dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms, and protective walls. These massive walls likely protected the Harappans from floods and may have deterred military conflicts. Unlike Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilization did not build large, monumental structures. There is no conclusive evidence of palaces or temples—or even of kings, armies, or priests—and the largest structures may be granaries.

These discoveries establish the existence in Sind (the northernmost province of the Bombay Presidency) and the Punjab, during the fourth and third millennium B.C., of a highly developed city life; and the presence, in many of the houses, of wells and bathrooms, as well as one of the first elaborate drainage-system, betoken a social condition of the citizens at least equal to that found in Sumer, and superior to that prevailing in contemporary Babylonia and Egypt. . . . Even at Ur the houses are by no means equal in point of construction to those of Mohenjo-Daro.

The city of Mohenjo-Daro contains the Great Bath, which may have been a large, public bathing and social area. Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, demonstrate the world’s first known urban sanitation systems. The ancient Indus systems of sewage and drainage developed and used in cities throughout the Indus region were far more advanced than any found in contemporary urban sites in the Middle East and even more efficient than those in many areas of Pakistan and India today. Individual homes drew water from wells, while wastewater was directed to covered drains on the main streets. Houses opened only to inner courtyards and smaller lanes, and even the smallest homes on the city outskirts were believed to have been connected to the system, further supporting the conclusion that cleanliness was a matter of great importance.

Each city possessed fortified citadels which served as defensive sanctuaries, community centers, assembly halls or places of worship, and public bathing tanks. Large granaries located nearby stored grain, whose sale and production may have been regulated by the state. Smaller uniformly constructed residences made of brick were arranged along twisted lanes. They lacked exterior decoration and ornamentation and contained a courtyard surrounded by rooms for sleeping, cooking, and receiving visitors. Bathing areas and drains emptied into a citywide sewage system, one of the best in the ancient world.

The cities were major trading centers; there is evidence for trade with Mesopotamia, China, and Burma. The Harappans remained conservative and resistant to external influences, including weapon development.

Little is known about Harappan religion and language. A collection of written texts on clay and stone tablets unearthed at Harappa—which have been carbon dated 3300-3200 BCE—contain trident-shaped, plant-like markings that appear to be written from right to left. There is considerable debate about whether it was an encoded language at all and whether it is related to Indo-European and South Indian language families. The Indus script remains indecipherable without any comparable symbols, and is thought to have evolved independently of the writing in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.

The Harappan religion also remains a topic of speculation. It has been widely suggested that the Harappans worshipped a mother goddess who symbolized fertility. In contrast to Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, the Indus Valley Civilization seems to have lacked any temples or palaces that would give clear evidence of religious rites or specific deities.

A powerful class of priests, drawing authority from their role as intermediary between the populace and gods, dominated society. Promoting fertility was a paramount concern. The most prominent deity depicted was a fierce-faced naked male with a horned head. The concern with fertility was demonstrated by numerous naked female figures (devis, or mother-goddesses, and sacred animals—especially bulls), and phallic-shaped objects.

The figures, along with carvings depicting members of society, represent the pinnacle of Harappan artistic expression. The rigid order of the society required an extensive administrative class serving the priests. The latter, along with merchants, occupied the larger residences of the city.

Many Indus Valley seals include the forms of animals; some depict the animals being carried in processions, while others show mythological creations like unicorns, leading scholars to speculate about the role of animals in Indus Valley religions. Interpretations of these animal motifs include signification of membership in a clan, elite class, or kin structure. One seal from Mohenjo-daro shows a half-human, half-buffalo monster attacking a tiger. This may be a reference to the Sumerian myth of a monster created by Aruru—the Sumerian earth and fertility goddess—to fight Gilgamesh, the hero of an ancient Mesopotamian epic poem. This is a further suggestion of international trade in Harappan culture.

Indus Valley excavation sites have revealed a number of distinct examples of the culture’s art, including sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewelry, and anatomically detailed figurines in terracotta, bronze, and steatite. However, Harrapan artifacts display an extraordinary uniformity. Pottery, seals, weights, and bricks with standardized sizes and weights, suggest some form of authority and governance

Among the various gold, terracotta, and stone figurines found was a figure of a priest-king displaying a beard and patterned robe. Another figurine in bronze, known as the Dancing Girl, is only 11 centimeters high and shows a female figure in a pose that suggests the presence of some choreographed dance form enjoyed by members of the civilization. Terracotta works also included cows, bears, monkeys, and dogs. In addition to figurines, the Indus River Valley people are believed to have created necklaces, bangles, and other ornaments.

It is widely believed that the Harappan civilization was a peaceful one that did not engage in any warfare, but there is not conclusive evidence to support this belief, and some archaeologists consider it a pervasive myth. Some scholars argue that Harappans were peaceful primarily because there were no natural enemies due to the geographic location of the major cities. Weapons have been found at sites, but there is debate as to whether they were used in conflict with other groups or as defense against wild animals.


The precise causes of Harappan decline during the mid-2nd millennium B.C.E. remain disputed. Many factors contributed to its demise. Mohenjo-Daro and other locations suffered from severe flooding. Shifts in climatic patterns eventually transformed the fertile region into an arid steppe. The priestly class lost power. Migrants, some of them Aryan pastoralists, destroyed the irrigation system over a long period of time.

The Indus Valley Civilization declined around 1800 BCE, and scholars debate which factors resulted in the civilization’s demise. One theory suggested that a nomadic, Indo-European tribe called the Aryans invaded and conquered the Indus Valley Civilization, though more recent evidence tends to contradict this claim. Many scholars believe that the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization was caused by climate change. Some experts believe the drying of the Saraswati River, which began around 1900 BCE, was the main cause for climate change, while others conclude that a great flood struck the area.

Various elements of the Indus Civilization are found in later cultures, suggesting the civilization did not disappear suddenly due to an invasion. Many scholars argue that changes in river patterns caused the large civilization to break up into smaller communities called late Harappan cultures.

Another disastrous change in the Harappan climate might have been eastward-moving monsoons, or winds that bring heavy rains. Monsoons can be both helpful and detrimental to a climate, depending on whether they support or destroy vegetation and agriculture.

By 1800 BCE, the Indus Valley climate grew cooler and drier, and a tectonic event may have diverted or disrupted river systems, which were the lifelines of the Indus Valley Civilization. The Harappans may have migrated toward the Ganges basin in the east, where they could have established villages and isolated farms. These small communities would not have been able to produce the same agricultural surpluses to support large cities. With the reduced production of goods, there would have been a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia. By around 1700 BCE, most of the Indus Valley Civilization cities had been abandoned.

The huge city of Mohenjo-Daro

Mohenjo-daro is thought to have been built in the twenty-sixth century BCE; it became not only the largest city of the Indus Valley Civilization but one of the world’s earliest major urban centers. Located west of the Indus River in the Larkana District, Mohenjo-daro was one of the most sophisticated cities of the period, with advanced engineering and urban planning.

The ruins of the huge city of Mohenjo-Daro – built entirely of unbaked brick in the 3rd millennium B.C. – lie in the Indus valley. The acropolis, set on high embankments, the ramparts, and the lower town, which is laid out according to strict rules, provide evidence of an early system of town planning.

Mohenjo-Daro is the most ancient and best-preserved urban ruin on the Indian subcontinent, dating back to the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, and exercised a considerable influence on the subsequent development of urbanization on the Indian peninsula.

The archaeological site is located on the right bank of the Indus River, 400 km from Karachi, in Pakistan’s Sind Province. It flourished for about 800 years during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. Centre of the Indus Civilization, one of the largest in the Old World, this 5,000-year-old city is the earliest manifestation of urbanization in South Asia. Its urban planning surpasses that of many other sites of the oriental civilizations that were to follow.

Of massive proportions, Mohenjo-Daro comprises two sectors: a stupa mound that rises in the western sector and, to the east, the lower city ruins spread out along the banks of the Indus. The acropolis, set on high embankments, the ramparts, and the lower town, which is laid out according to strict rules, provide evidence of an early system of town planning.

The stupa mound, built on a massive platform of mud brick, is composed of the ruins of several major structures – Great Bath, Great Granary, College Square and Pillared Hall – as well as a number of private homes. The extensive lower city is a complex of private and public houses, wells, shops and commercial buildings. These buildings are laid out along streets intersecting each other at right angles, in a highly orderly form of city planning that also incorporated important systems of sanitation and drainage.

Of this vast urban ruin of Mohenjo-Daro, only about one-third has been reveal by excavation since 1922. The foundations of the site are threatened by saline action due to a rise of the water table of the Indus River. This was the subject of a UNESCO international campaign in the 1970s, which partially mitigated the attack on the prehistoric mud-brick buildings.

Among the finds at these sites were household utensils and toilet out- fits; pottery painted and plain, hand-turned and turned on the wheel; terracotta’s, dice and chess-men; coins older than any previously known; over a thousand seals, most of them engraved, and inscribed in an un- known pictograph script; faience work of excellent quality; stone carving superior to that of the Sumerians;  copper weapons and implements, and a copper model of a two-wheeled cart (one of our oldest examples of a wheeled vehicle) ; gold and silver bangles, ear-ornaments, necklaces, and other jewelry “so well finished and so highly polished,” says Marshall, “that they might have come out of a Bond Street jeweler’s of today rather than from a prehistoric house of 5,000 years ago.”

Strange to say, the lowest strata of these remains showed a more developed art than the upper layers as if even the most ancient deposits were from a civilization already hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years old. Some of the implements were of stone, some of copper, some of bronze, suggesting that this Indus culture had arisen in a Chalcolithic Age i.e., in a transition from stone to bronze as the material of tools.” The indications are that Mohenjo-Daro was at its height when Cheops built the first great pyramid; that it had commercial, religious and artistic connections with Sumeria and Babylonia;  and that it survived over three thousand years, until the third century before Christ,  These connections are suggested by similar seals found at Mohenjo-Daro and in Sumeria (especially at Kish), and by the appearance of the Naga, or hooded serpent, among the early Mesopotamian seals. u In 1932 Dr. Henri Frankfort unearthed, in the ruins of a Babylonian-Elamite village at the modern Tell-Asmar (near Baghdad), pottery seals and beads which in his judgment (Sir John Marshall concurring) were imported from Mohenjo-Daro ca. 2000 B.C.”

Macdone.U believes that this amazing civilization was derived from Sumeria;” Hall believes that the Sumerians derived their culture from India;” Woolley derives both the Sumerians and the early Hindus from some common parent stock and culture in or near Baluchistan.  Investigators have been struck by the fact that similar seals found both in Babylonia and in India belong to the earliest (“pre-Sumerian”) phase of the Mesopotamian culture, but to the latest phase of the Indus civilization  which suggests the priority of India. Guide inclines to this conclusion: “By the end of the fourth millennium B.C. the material culture of Abydos, Ur, or Mohenjo-Daro would stand comparison with that of Periclean Athens or of any medieval town. . . . Judging by the domestic architecture, the seal-cutting, and the grace of the pottery, the Indus civilization was ahead of the Babylonian at the beginning of the third millennium (ca. 3000 B.C.). But that was a late phase of the Indian culture; it may have enjoyed no less lead in earlier times. Were then the innovations and discoveries that characterize proto-Sumcrian civilization not native developments on Babylonian soil, but the results of Indian inspiration? If so, had the Sumerians themselves come from the Indus, or at least from regions in its immediate sphere of influence?”  These fascinating questions cannot yet be answered; but they serve to remind us that a history of civilization, because of our human ignorance, begins at what was probably a late point in the actual development of culture.

We cannot tell yet whether, as Marshall believes, Mohenjo-Daro represents the oldest of all civilizations known. But the exhuming of prehistoric India has just begun; only in our time has archaeology turned from Egypt across Mesopotamia to India. When the soil of India has been turned up like that of Egypt we shall probably find there a civilization older than that which flowered out of the mud of the Nile.  Excavations near Chitaldrug, in Mysore, revealed six levels of buried cultures, rising from Stone Age implements and geometrically adorned pottery apparently as old as 4000 B.C., to remains as late as 1200 A.D.”




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