(Ancient Indian History) Indus Civilisation (2900 BC - 1700 BC) - Special Features of Harappan Sites

Ancient Indian History

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Indus Civilisation (2900 BC - 1700 BC)

Indus civilisation is one of the four earliest civilizations of the world alongwith the Mesopotamian civilisation along the Tigris and the Euphrates the Egyptian civilisation along the Nile and the Chinese civilisation along the Hwang Ho. Indus civilisation is the most extensive of all the riverine civilizations encompassing more than 1500 sites over an area of 1.5 million km2. The Ghaggar- Hakra river system has the most concentration of settlements. Haryana has the largest number of sites, Daya Ram Sahni excavated the ruins of Harappa in Montgomery district of Punjab. Harappa has been identified with hariuppa mentioned in the Rig Veda. John Marshal promptly called it Harappa civilisation after the first excavated site. In 1922, R.D. Banaerjee excavated Mohenjodaro (mound of the dead) in Larkana district of Sind

The Indus civilisation belongs to the Bronze Age; it is older but surprisingly more developed than the Chalcolithic cultures in the subcontinent. All settlements are found in different phases:

  1. Early Harappa phase- 2900-2500 BC
  2. Middle Harappa phase – 2500-2000 BC
    (Mature Harappa Phase)
  3. Late Harappa Phase – 2000-1700 BC

(Most of the sites are in later Harappa phase)




River bank



Pakistani Punajb

River Ravi




River Indus



Indian Punajb

River Sutlej




River Bhogava




River Ghaggar




River Indus



Uttar Pradesh

River Hindon




River Dasht




River Ghaggar



Jammu & Kashmir

River Chenab




River Pravara




River Indus




River Bhadur




River Indus

Town Planning

(i) Town planning was not uniform but some common features can be highlighted. There was systematic town planning on the lines of the grid-system, i.e. streets and lanes cutting across one another almost at right angles, thus dividing the city into several rectangular blocks.

(ii) There was an impressive fortified citadel on the western side which housed public buildings. Below the citadel on the eastern side is the lower town consisting of the houses of the commoners. Houses generally had side entrances and there were no windows even facing the main streets.

(iii)There was large-scale use of standardized burnt-bricks and the total absence of the stone building.

(iv)There was a remarkable underground drainage system connecting all houses to the street drain which were covered with either bricks or stone stabs and equipped with manhole.


(1) Agricultural technology was well developed. Main crops that were cultivated were wheat, barely. We have evidence of cultivation of rice in Lothal and Rangpur only. Other crops included dates, mustard, seasmum, leguminous plants and cotton. Indus people were the first to produce cotton in the world.

(2) Alongwith agriculture, animal rearing was also practiced. They reared buffaloes, camels, oxens, sheep, asses, goats, pigs, elephants, dogs, cats etc. The remains of horses have been found at Surkotada in Gujarat.

(3) There existed specialized groups of artisans such as goldsmiths, silversmiths, bronze-smiths, brick- makers, stone-culture, weavers, boat-builders, terracotta manufactures, ivory-workers etc. Harappans were the first to use silver in the world.

(4) (a). Agriculture and industry provided the basis for trade. Forest produce also supplemented them. Internal trade developed first among various areas like Rajasthan, Saurashtra, South India, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra.

(b) Foreign trade with Mesopotamia or Sumeria (Iraq), Central Asia, Persia Afghanistan, Bahrain.

(c) Main exports were several agricultural products and a variety of finished products like cotton goods, pottery, ivory products etc. Teak was obtained from Gujarat, Amazonite from Hirapuri in Gujarat, Slate from Kangra and Rajasthan, Futshite from North Karnataka, Conch from Saurashtra, Deccan, Amethyst from Maharashtra, Lead from Kashmir and south India, Tin, Jade and Copper from Baluchistan.


(1) Harappan seals are made of Stealite (Soft Stone)
(2) Size varies from ½ inch to 2-1/2 inches. The two mains shapes are the square type with a carved animals and inscription on it, and the rectangular type with an inscription only.
(3) The animal most frequently encountered on the seals is a humpless bull.
(4) The purpose of seats was probably to mark ownership of property, hence every important citizen must have possessed one.
(5) The Harappan seals are the greatest artistic creations of the Harappans.
(6) Three-cylindrical seals from Mesopotamia have been found from Mohenjodaro, one cylindrical seal from Kalibangan, one circular button shaped seal called the Persian gulf seal has been found from Lothal.
(6) 33 Harappan seals are found in various foreign places such as Susa, Ur, Kish, lagaas and tell Asmar.

Script and Language

(1) Harappan script is regarded as pictographic since its signs represent birds, fish, varieties of human form etc.
(2) The Number of signs of the harappan script is known to be between 400 and 600 of which about 40 or 60 are basic and the rest are their variants.
(3) The language of the harappan is at present unknown and must remains so until the Harappan script is read.
(4) Fish symbol is most represented in the pictographs.
(5) Most of the pictographs appear on seals.
(6) A signboard inscription bearing 10 pictographs has been found from Dholavira in Gujarat.


(1) There is no clear-cut evidence about the name of the polity.
(2) According to D.D. Kosambi, the priests constituted the ruling class.
(3) According to R.S. Sharma, the merchants were the rulling class.
(4) Harappans had very efficient and well organised administrative machinery.


(1) The Chief female diety was Mother Goddess (Goddess of Earth), represented in terracotta figurines.
(2) The chief male diety was the Pasupati Mahadeva (proto-Siva), represented in seals as sitting in a yogic posture on a low throne, and having three faces and two horns. He is surrounded by four animals (elephant, tiger, rhino and buffalo, each facing a different direction), and two deer appear at his feet.
(3) There is sufficient evidence for the prevalence of Phallic (lingam) worship which came to be closely associated with Siva in later times.
(4) Numerous stone symbols of female sex organs (yoni worship), have been discovered.
(5) Indus people also worshipped gods in the form of trees like Pipal and animals like Pigeon and humpless bull.
(6) Indus people believed in ghosts and evil forces and used amulets as protection against them.

Terracotta Figurines

(1) Terracotta figurines were made of baked clay. Majority of them are hand-modelled.
(2) Both male and female figurines are found, the later being more common.
(3) Also terracotta figurines of a range of birds and animals, including monkeys, dogs, sheep and cattle are seen, Both humped and humpless bulls are found; the pride of place seemingly going to the great humpless bulls.


(1) Image of both metal and stone have been discovered.
(2) The Best metal specimen is that of a bronze image of a nude woman dancer at Mohenjodaro.
(3) The best stone specimen is a steatite image of a bearded man at Mohenjodaro.
(4) Stone sculptures have also been found from Harappa, Dabarkot and Mundigak.


(1) The Indus people indulged in widespread use of potter’s wheel.
(2) Pots were painted in various colours and decorated with human figures, plants, animal and geometrical patterns.
(3) Harappan glazed pottery was the first of its kind in the world.
(4) Both plain and painted pottery were present, but the plain pottery is more common than the painted ware. The plain pottery is red in colour whereas painted pottery is of red and black colour.

Weights and Measures

(1) Harappan used weight and measures for commercial as well as building purposes. Numerous articles used as weights have been discovered. The weight proceeded in a series, first doubling from 1, 2, 4, 8 to 64 etc. and then in decimal multiples of 16.

(2) Several sticks inscribed with measure marks have been discovered. Harappans were the authors of a linear system of measurement with a unit equal to one angula of the Arthasastra which was used in India till recently. The measure of length was based upon a foot of 37.6 cm and a cubit of 51.8 to 53.6.

Burial Practices

(1) Cemeteries are generally located around the perimeter of the settlements.
(2) Three forms of burials are found at Mohenjodaro, viz. complete burial, fractional burials ( Burial of some bones after exposure to wild beasts and birds) and post-cremation burials.
(3) The general practice was extended inhumation, the body lying on it back, with the head generally to the north.
(4) A number of graves took the form of brick chambers of cists as in the case of those found at kalibangan.
(5) At Harappa, traces of a wooden coffin and bodies covered by a reed-shroud were found.
(6) From Surkotada comes the evidence of the practice of pot-burial.
(7) From Lothal cemetery comes evidence of double burial with several examples of pairs of skeletons, one male and one female in each case, buried in a single grave.
(8) In Harappa, cemetery it is present in which graves are not situated in the usual North- West axis but are situated on East-West axis.

Theory of Decline

(1) Theory of Aryan invasion talks about the reference to the destruction of forts by Aryans in the Rig Veda. The discovery of human skeletons huddled together at Mohenjodaro might indicate invasion by foreigners. There is also evidence of further strengthening of defences at Harappa.

(2) Natural calamites such as recurring floods leading to decline of Mohenjodaro and Chanhudaro, drying of rivers leading to decline of Kalibangan and Banwali, decreasing fertility; deforestation; occasional earthquakes have also been suggested.

(3) Suicidal weaknesses of the Harappans due to lack of flexibility of mind, ignoring of defences have also been suggested.
(4) The decline of oceanic trades with the Sumerians must have contributed partly to the decline of Indus civilisation.
(5) Outbreak of certains epidemics such as malaria might also have been end, but faded away gradually.

Special Features of Some Harappan Sites

(1) Harappa
(a) It was the first Indus site to be discovered by Daya Ram Sahni in 1921.
(b) It is located on the banks of river Ravi.
(c) There are two rows of six granaries, these were the nearest buildings to the river.
(d) Barracks in the form of rows of single roomed habitations which housed labourers are seen.
(e) Largest number of wheat grains are seen from Harappa.
(f) Red sandstone tarso of nude male seen.
(g) Two types of burial practices one of typical R37 type and another of atypical cemetery H type seen.

(2) Mohenjodaro
(a) It was the second Indus site to be discovered by R.D. Banerjee in 1922.
(b) It is located on the banks of river Indus in Sind.
(c) Great granary- the largest building.
(d) Multi-pillared assembly hall and a big rectangular building.
(e) Another building, identified as the temples.
(f) First street located in Mohenjodaro.
(g) Pasupati seal from Mohenjodaro.
(h) Bronze image of a dancing girl with right hand on hip.
(i) Steatite image of a bearded man said to be of a priest.
(j) 3 cylindrical seals of Mesopotamia.
(k) Bronze mirror, bronze needle, bronze saw seen in Mohenjodaro.
(l) Great both from Mohenjodaro has the largest brickwork.
(m) Skeletons are found on the stairs of a well indicating warfare and probably suggests Aryan invasion.
(n) Outbreak of Malaria.
(o) Settlement said to have declined due to floods.
(p) Mohenjodaro literally means ‘mound of the dead’.

(3) Lothal
(a) Lothal in gujarat was excavated by S.R. Rao.
(b) Lothal is located on the books of river Bhagava in Gujarat.
(c) The only Indus site with an artificial dockyard. The world’s first tidal port at Lothal.
(d) Evidence of double burials from Lothal.
(e) Evidence of Cultivation of rice in Lothal and Rangpur.
(f) Beadmakers shop seen in Lothal, Chanhudaro.
(g) Lothal is known as Monchester of Harrappan civilisation for its cotton trade.
(h) Copper furnaces have been found.
(i) A circular button shaped seal called Persian gulf seal seen.
(j) Two terracotta models of Egyptian mummies found wrapped in muslim cloth.
(k) A sacrificial fire alter found both in Lothal and Kalibangan suggesting medical and surgical skills.
(l) The game of chess seemed to have been played at Lothal.

(4) Chanhudaro
(a) Chanhudaro was excavated by N.G. Majumdar in Sind.
(b) It is known as the Lancashire of India.
(c) It’s the only Indus city without a citadel.
(d) Like Mohenjodaro it was also flooded more than once.
(e) Discovery of a small pot with was probably an ink-well.
(f) Largest number of copper implements are found from chanhudaro.

(5 ) Kalibangan
(a) The word kalibangan literally means black bangles.
(b) It was excavated by B.B. Lal and K. Ghosh.
(c) It is situated on the banks of Ghaggar river in Rajasthan.
(d) One of the two Indus cities which have both proto-Harappan and Harappan cultural phase.
(f) Discovery of platforms with five altars.
(G) Conspicuous absence of mother Goddess Figurines.
(h) Mud are found from every house in Kalibangan.
(i) 6- patterns of pottery type are found from Kalibangan.
(k) Evidence of mixed cropping from Kalibangan.
(l) A cylindrical seal has been found Kalibangan.

(6) Surkotada
(a) It was excavated by Joshi and is located in Gujarat.
(b) There is evidence of bones of a horse.
(c) The only Indus city to have a stone wall as fortification.
(d) Evidence of Pot burial in Surkotada.

(7) Dholavira
(a) Dholavira in Gujarat was excavated by R.S. Bisht.
(b) Dholavira is the largest of all the Indus settlement.
(c) A middle town is seen only in Dholavira.
(d) Stone has been used in constructions.
(e) A 10- alphabet signboard indicating direction has been seen.
(f) A megalith burial has been seen from Dholavira.
(g) Evidences of irrigation, dams and embankments.
(h) Dholavira is the warehousing settlement of Harappan civilisation.
(i) Well prepared gold rings have been seen in Dholavira, Mandi and Daimabad.
(j) Dholvira being located on a faultline might have been destroyed by an earthquake.

(8) Banwali
(a) Is located in Hissar district of Haryana on Ghaggar River.
(b) Evidence of largest number of barley grains.
(c) Oval shaped settlement. Banwali is the only Harappan city with Radial streets.

(9) Daimbad
(a) Excavated by Dhavalikar.
(b) Located on the banks of pravara river in Maharashtra.
(c) Largest number of bronze items.
(d) A bronze chariot, rhino, elephant, bull seen.

(10) Kot Diji
(a) Located in Sind. Located on the banks of river Indus.
(b) Excavated by Ghurey.
(c) Kot diji has been destroyed by fire.
(d) Largest number of stone implements are found from Kot diji.
(e) Stone arrow heads have been seen from Kot diji.