How did the Indus Valley Civilisation start?
Before the start of the civilisation, thousands of farming settlements were spread across the Indus river and its tributaries. The river during the monsoon brought floods; but it also made the soil rich in minerals. People living around the river had mastered the pattern of the annual flood and they used the flood water as a means of irrigation. The mineral rich soil brought surplus in agricultural produce.
Farmers from various settlements traded their agricultural goods at trading posts, often travelling days and nights to get there. The trading posts started to evolve into commercial hubs where goods were exchanged in barter systems. It is believed that people like potters, artisans, weavers and carpenters settled here, buying raw materials brought in by farmers and converting them into finished goods. They would alongside sell farmers clothes and agricultural equipment. As more and more people began to settle, the trading posts eventually became urban and prosperous cities. Image - Mohenjodaro Ruins
In time, the regions around the vicinity of Indus river, covering what is now Afghanistan, India and Pakistan flourished ,thus taking the name - Indus Valley civilisation.
How was Indus Valley Civilisation discovered?
Charles Mason, a British East Indian company solider and an explorer was the first to mention about the ruins of Harappa in his book the Narrative of Various Journeys in Baluchistan, Afghanistan and the Punjab in 1842.
A decade later, while laying the bed for the railroad, British soldiers found an abandoned city of Brahminabad in Pakistan. The city had buildings that were made out of hard bricks. Not thinking much about the city, the engineers broke down the bricks into small pieces and laid them along the railway lines as ballast. Image - Indus Valley Seals
Alexander Cunningham who visited the site found a unpolished clay tablet, with drawings of a bull and other strange symbols. In 1872, Cunningham as the director of the Archaeological Survey of India released the first Harappan seal to the public. As the work along the railroad progressed the soldiers started unearthing more artefacts.
It wasn't until 1921 when full-fledged excavations began in light of even more evidence of an ancient culture in the region. Sir John Hubert Marshall led the expedition which resulted in the discovery of two cities in 1922 - Harappa in Punjab province of Pakistan and Mohenjo-Daro near the Sindh Region of Pakistan.
How far was the Indus Valley Civilisation spread?
Image - The spread of Indus Valley Civilisation
Indus valley was the biggest of the Ancient River Valley Civilisation; with its contemporaries being Nile Valley in Egypt, Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia and Yellow River Valley in China. It covered eastern and southern Afghanistan, the whole of Pakistan and western part of India.
Have the ancient Indus Valley Scripts been deciphered?
No. Close to 4000 seals have been discovered but deciphering the hieroglyphic script has proved to be complicated. One of the problems is that the seals recovered have an average of five symbols, with the longest having 26 - which makes understanding the structure difficult. The other problem is the lack of information in regards to the languages that preceded it or any other related languages. A few researchers consider the valley glyphs to be connected to the Brahmi glyphs which were used in the later periods in India, while others dismiss the theory.
How do we know there was civilisation in the Indus Valley?
The proof lies in the various cities, towns and seals that have been unearthed over time. Indus valley is known for its fabulous architectures, which are similar all across the region. Here is what we know : they had advanced urban planning, with houses made with equal sized bricks like in the modern day; they build wide roads with intersections; they had drainage systems and sewerage - something other contemporary civilisations did not.
The people of Indus Valley were known for their hygiene. Each city had its own public baths. A famous site in Mohenjo-Daro still has the remains of a public bath known as the Great Bath, measuring around 11.8m x 7.01m and 2.43m deep. Image - Mohenjodaro's Great Bath
They were the first to have a systematic sanitation system. Most households had their own bathing space with a waste outlet connected to the closed drainage system present across the city, made of bricks. Not just bathing area, most of the households also had the earliest known flush toilets.
The people of Indus Valley had mastered hydraulic engineering techniques which are visible from the huge reservoirs, and private and public water wells that sustained the need of water. Mohenjo-Daro is said to have around 700 wells.
Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro had similar town planning. They had brick-paved roads stretching the city expanse, intersecting each other at right angles. These roads divided the cities into rectangular grid-blocks with each blocks having their own small lanes. Beside the roads were houses with open courtyards. The size of the house depended on the wealth. Rich people could afford houses with many rooms -some containing 40 to 60 rooms - while others had fewer than two rooms.
Image - Charles Manson Drawing of Citadel (BBC)
From excavations, the most prominent structure found in the major cities is the Citadel. The towns were divided into a western side and an eastern side. The western side, the Citadel, was a huge fortified area situated on a high ground; constructed on a layer of bricks, stretching 12 meters high. The Citadel is said to be used for administrative purposes, community gatherings or even used as a granary to store surplus grains in a few parts. For example, "the great bath" can be seen in the Mohenjo-Daro Citadel. However, not all cities in Indus Valley had Citadels.
The city was also surrounded with protective walls made out of baked bricks to safeguard the city from calamities like floods or intrusions.
Not much is known about the administration in the Indus valley but it is thought to be an egalitarian society with everyone having equal rights. The cities were very active and busy trading points; and it is suggested that the presence of a central governing body was a requirement. With cities acting as a hub, the ruler of the city was responsible for managing and maintaining the roads, sanitary systems, water system and trades; ensuring a smoothly operating city. Image - Statue of a King Priest
The Economy and Religion
The people of Indus valley were dependant on agriculture, animal husbandry and trade. They used wooden transports - mostly bullock carts as local transportation and boats with sails for overseas trading.
Recent excavations in Lothal, Gujarat, suggests they also constructed docking ports for the boats. Proof of international trade have been found at different sites and it suggests an extensive network ranging from Afghanistan, Persia, Northern and Western India and also Mesopotamia. Image - Lothal Dock
They traded terracotta pots, artefacts, gold, silver, bronze, turquoise, jewellery and pearls to name a few. The minerals were brought from Afghanistan, India, Iran and China.
There is no evidence of religious presence in the Indus Valley, though they were known to worship mother Goddess Sakti and also Siva, which are predominant in the Hindu culture.
What were the great things about Indus Valley Civilisation?
The decline in the economy is said to have been one of the reasons for Indus Valley's fall. As the cities became prosperous, they also became overcrowded. The economy was also highly dependant on rain. Poor rainfall could have resulted in economic scarcity which led to poverty and social unrest.
Floods in few parts destroyed agricultural lands, reservoirs and swept away the towns. While in other regions drought hit hard and the barren lands became futile for agriculture. There was also a 200 year drought in the region that led to cities being abandoned. The change in course of Indus could have also had a great affect on the communities dependant on agriculture.
In recent findings, it is suggest that the people died from infectious disease such as Leprosy, Malaria and Tuberclosis.
What were the reason behind the fall of the Indus Valley Civilization?
By 1700BC Indus Valley saw a gradual decline. Though, we don't know why the civilisation came to an end these are listed as possibilities.
The Indus Valley did not decline completely, parts of its civilisation merged and evolved into other cultures around the region.
Image Credit - WikiPedia Commons
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