The Indus Valley Civilization


THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION, OF WHICH IMPRESSIVE REMAINS have been discovered at Mohenjo-Daro in Sind and at Harappa in the Western Punjab, is the earliest picture that’ we have of India’s past. These excavations have revolutionised the conception of ancient history. Unfortunately, a few years after this work of excavation began in these areas, it was stopped, and for the last thirteen years or so nothing significant has been done. The stoppage was initially due to the great depression of the early ‘thirties. Lack of funds was pleaded, although there was never any lack for the display of imperial pomp and splendour. The coming of World War II effectively stopped all activity, and even the work of preservation of all that has been dug out has been rather neglected. Twice I have visited Mohenjo-Daro, in 1931 and 1936. During my second visit I found that the rain and the dry sandy air had already injured many of the buildings that had been dug out. After being preserved for over five thousand years under a covering of sand and soil, they were rapidly disintegrating owing to exposure, and very little was being done to preserve these priceless relics of ancient times. The officer of the archaeological department in charge of the place complained that he was allowed practically no funds or other help or material to enable him to keep the excavated buildings as they were. What has happened during these last eight years I do not know, but I imagine that the wearing away has continued, and within another few years many of the characteristic features of Mohenjo-Daro will have disappeared.

That is a tragedy for which there is no excuse, and something that can never be replaced will have gone, leaving only pictures and written descriptions to remind us of what it was.

Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa are far apart. It was sheer chance that led to the discovery of these ruins in these two places. There can be little doubt that there lie many such buried cities and other remains of the handiwork of ancient man in between these two areas; that, in fact, this civilization was widespread over large parts of India, certainly of North India. A time may come when this work of uncovering the distant past of India is again taken in hand and far-reaching discoveries are made. Already remains of this civilization have been found as far apart as Kathiawar in the west and the Ambala district of the Punjab, and there is reason for believing that it spread to the Gangetic Valley. Thus it was something much more than an Indus Valley civilization. The inscriptions found at Mohenjo-Daro have so far not been fully deciphered.

But what we know, even thus far, is of the utmost significance. The Indus Valley civilization, as We find it, was highly developed and must have taken thousands of years to reach that stage. It was, surprisingly enough, a predominantly secular civilization, and the religious element, though present, did not dominate the scene. It was clearly also the precursor of later cultural periods in India.

Sir John Marshall tells us : ‘One thing that stands out clear and unmistakable both at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa is that the civilization hitherto revealed at these two places is not an incipient civilization, but one already age-old and stereotyped on Indian soil, with many millenniums of human endeavour behind it. Thus India must henceforth be recognised, along with Persia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, as one of the most important areas where the civilizing processes were initiated and developed.’ And, again, he says that ‘the Punjab and Sind, if not other parts of India as well, were enjoying an advanced and singularly uniform civilization of their own, closely akin, but in some respects even superior, to that of contemporary Mesopotamia and Egypt.’

These people of the Indus Valley had many contacts with the Sumerian civilization of that period, and there is even some evidence of an Indian colony, probably of merchants, at Akkad. ‘Manufactures from the Indus cities reached even the markets on the Tigris and Euphrates. Conversely, a few Sumerian devices in art, Mesopotamia toilet sets, and a cylinder seal were copied on the Indus. Trade was not confined to raw materials and luxury articles; fish, regularly imported from the Arabian Sea coasts, augmented the food supplies of Mohenjo-Daro.’

Cotton was used for textiles even at that remote period in India. Marshall compares and contrasts the Indus Valley civilization with those of contemporary Egypt and Mesopotamia: ‘Thus, to mention only a few salient points, the use of cotton for textiles was exclusively restricted at this period to India and was not extended to the western world until 2,000 or 3,000 years later. Again, there is nothing that we know of in prehistoric Egypt or Mesopotamia or anywhere else in western Asia to compare with the well-built baths and commodious houses of the citizens of Mohenjo-Daro. In these countries much money and thought were lavished on the building of magnificent temples for the gods and on the palaces and tombs of kings, but the rest of the people seemingly had to content themselves with insignificant dwellings of mud. In the Indus Valley the picture is reversed and the finest structures are those erected for the convenience of the citizens.’ These public and private baths, as well as the excellent drainage system we find at Mohenjo-Daro, are the first of their kind yet discovered anywhere. There are also two-storied private houses, made of baked bricks, with bathrooms and a porter’s lodge, as well as tenements.

Yet another quotation from Marshall, the acknowledged authority on the Indus Valley civilization, who was himself responsible for the excavations. He says that ‘equally peculiar to the Indus Valley and stamped with an individual character of their own are its art and its religion. Nothing that we know of in other countries at this period bears any resemblance, in point of style, to the faience models of rams, dogs, and other animals, or to the intaglio engravings on the seals, the best of which—notably the humped and short-horn bulls—are distinguished by a breadth of treatment and a feeling for a line and plastic form that have rarely been surpassed in glyptic art; nor would it be possible, until the classic age of Greece, to match the exquisitely supple modelling of the two human statuettes from Harappa. . . .In the religion of the Indus people there is much, of course, that might be paralleled in other countries. This is true of every prehistoric and most historic religions as well. But, taken as a whole, their religion is so characteristically Indian as hardly to be distinguished from still living Hinduism.’

We find thus this Indus Valley civilization connected and trading with its sister civilizations of Persia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, and superior to them in some ways. It was an urban civilization, where the merchant class was wealthy and evidently played an important role. The streets, lined with stalls and what were probably small shops, give the impression of an Indian bazaar of today. Professor Childe says: ‘It would seem to follow that the craftsmen of the Indus cities were, to a large extent, producing “for the market.” What, if any, form of currency and standard of value had been accepted by society to facilitate the exchange of x commodities is, however, uncertain. Magazines attached to many spacious and commodious private houses mark their owners as merchants. Their number and size indicate a strong and prosperous merchant community.’ ‘A surprising wealth of ornaments of gold, silver, precious stones and faience, of vessels of beaten copper and of metal implements and weapons, has been collected from the ruins.’ Childe adds that ‘well-planned streets and a magnificent system of drains, regularly cleared out, reflect the vigilance of some regular municipal government. Its authority was strong enough to secure the observance of town-planning bylaws and the maintenance of approved lines for streets and lanes over several reconstructions rendered necessary by floods.’

Between this Indus Valley civilization and today in India there are many gaps and periods about which we know little. The links joining one period to another are not always evident, and a very great deal has of course happened and innumerable changes have taken place. But there is always an underlying sense of continuity, of an unbroken chain which joins modern India to the far distant period of six or seven thousand years ago when the Indus Valley civilization probably began. It is surprising how much there is in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa which reminds one of persisting traditions and habits—popular ritual, craftsmanship, even some fashions in dress. Much of this influenced Western Asia.

It is interesting to note that at this dawn of India’s story, she does not appear as a puling infant, but already grown up in many ways. She is not oblivious of life’s ways, lost in dreams of a vague and unrealizable supernatural world, but has made considerable technical progress in the arts and amenities of life, creating not only things of beauty, but also the utilitarian and more typical emblems of modern civilization—good baths and drainage systems.

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The Discovery Of India – Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru

Bharat Ek Khoj – Doordarshan

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