Indus Valley Civilization

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

The Indus Valley Civilization was the first civilization to implement architectural designs for creating entire cities. The most popular of its cities were Harappa and Mohenjo Daro in modern Sind state, and Dholavira and Lothal in modern Gujarat.

From their discovered artifacts found in the early 20th century we have a good idea of what their religious customs were like. Three lingas dating around 5000 years old were found in Harappa, the famous Pasupati Seal was found there too, while Mohenjo Daro contained the ceremonial Great Bath, fire altars were found in Kalibangan, and Dholavira contains a ceremonial well for purification purposes.

Massive and constant flooding, due to sea levels rising, was the major reason for abandoning the cities and relocating to other urban centres. From the devastation of flooding, its residents migrated and many of the Sindi migrants were the ones who had spread the Indo-European languages from their homeland in the Indian Subcontinent to the Middle East and Europe. Some of its residents had also migrated by sail in a 30° pathway fron Mohenjo Daro to Giza (Egypt), Machu Pichu (Peru), and Easter Island. In the latter two are where Indus Valley scripts were found.

First Evidence of Indus Valley Civilization

Indian shoreline before submersion from sea levels increasing, which began after end of last ice age in 10000 BCE.
Dr. Glenn Milne of Durham University depicts and points at receding Indian shore from sea level rises.

During the middle of the 19th century, two British engineers who were in charge of constructing a railway-line, got the mounds at Harappa.[1] While digging for the burnt bricks to be used as ballast, they explored the unknown facets of the history of India. It was a great and exciting discovery. Suspecting the existence of the remnants of an ancient civilization, systematic excavations were undertaken during A. D. 1921-22 by the Archaeological Department of India. These excavations led to the detection of a proto-historic city now called as ‘Harappa’.

Archaeological Sites in India

Further excavations over the next few decades in about 80 sites all over India revealed some more pre-historic cultures and civilizations. However, almost all the cultures cognate to the discoveries at Harappa. These findings were concentrated to the Sind, Baluchistan and Punjab areas now in Pakistan. A few were also found in Gujarat and Rajasthan of India.

The most extensively researched findings are at Harappa and Mohenjo Dāro so far. The other sites are at Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Lothal, Rangpur (both in Gujarat), Bahawalpur Chānhu Dāro, Amri, Ali Murad, Pandi Wahi, Dabarkot and Quetta (all in Pakistan now).

Overview of Discoveries

The archaeological findings at various levels or depths have been assigned to different periods of history. The oldest of these findings is from 4000 B. C. and the most recent one is from 2200 B.C. Several conjectures have been made by the European scholars regarding the nature and culture of the civilization. They have a mixed opinion about this civilization and culture being pre-Aryan and pre Vedic. They became famous as Draviḍians. The scholars opine that this civilization was destroyed by the invading Aryans around 1500 B. C. However, detailed researches based on the various discoveries have revealed that Harappan culture and allied sites was a continuation of the Vedic culture in it's later phase. The Aryans were indigenous people who had always lived in the Indo-Gangetic plains.

Harappan Civilization

Harappan civilization might have disappeared due to the drying up of the Sarasvatī river. It happened due to the disturbance of the ecological balance and severe climatic changes resulting in a great famine probably during the period 2200-1900 B.C.

The Harappa town was a square of about 1.5 kms. (0.9 mile) on each side and 4.8 kms. (3 miles) in circumference. It was laid out in a grid pattern of the streets. The houses were built of burnt bricks whose dimensions conformed strictly to the Kāśyapa Samhitā. The dimensions of the bricks were 11.75" x 5.25" x 7.5" and two other sizes. The houses had only one main door for entrance fixed on the side lanes. There were courtyards inside and the windows opened to the streets. Small houses had just two rooms whereas the bigger ones could have even twenty five rooms. Bathrooms, latrines and sanitary arrangements were very good. Apart from bricks and mortar, wood was generously used not only for construction purposes but also for a wide range of furniture like cots, chairs, stools, tables and easy-chairs. Firewood and charcoal were in use in the domestic stoves. Rooms were often set apart for the purpose of worship.

Roads were straight and well maintained. Special chambers had been constructed for the collection and disposal of garbage. One of the most striking features of the Harappa town was its big granary or warehouse. There were 12 granaries arranged in two parallel rows with proper arrangements for ventilation and passages of approach. There were grain millers built on brick platforms where wooden pestles were used for crushing the grains.

Mohenjo Dāro Civilization

Mohenjo Dāro means ‘the mound of the dead’. It is situated on the west bank of the Indus river about 600 kms. (375 miles) to the south-west of Harappa. This site is larger and better preserved than Harappa. The layout is strikingly similar to that of Harappa.

The chief attraction of this site is ‘The great Bath.’ It was built of brick set in gypsum mortar with a damp-proof course of bitumen. The dimensions were 54 by 33 meters (177 by 108 ft.). The outer walls were massive having thickness of 2 to 2.5 meters (7 to 8 ft.). In the center there was an open paved quadrangle with verandahs on the four sides. At the back of the verandahs, galleries and rooms were situated. In the center of the paved quadrangle there was a large swimming bath of 11.8 by 7 meters (39 by 23 ft.) dimensions. The swimming pool was lined by finely dressed brick laid in gypsum mortar and covered with bitumen. Steps leading to a low platform were also constructed for the convenience of the bathers. Arrangements for some kind of steam-bath were also found.

Salient Features of Indus Valley Civilization


The soldiers used weapons as bows, arrows, spears, axes, maces, catapults and slings. Weights and measures had been standardized. One scale discovered in the ruins had very accurate markings. Trade and commerce through land and sea were quite flourishing. Contacts had been well-established with Sumeria, Babylonia and Egypt for trade and commerce.

Culture and Arts

People were good at arts and crafts. This can be surmised through the various well-finished toys unearthed from the ruins. Chānhu Dāro town was famous for this. Music and dancing were also known to them. One can deduce from the figures found that the stringed instruments resembling a vīṇā (lute), cymbals, mṛdaṅga (drum) were in use. Pots and jars with various drawings and paintings have been recovered from the site. Various traditional Indian games like dice-game were known to them.

Religious Convictions

Coming to the religious beliefs, worship of Śiva-Paśupati, Goddess Durgā, liṅgas and certain animals and trees like bison, fish, serpent, holy basil (tulasī) and peepul tree seem to have existed.

Script or Language

One enigmatic aspect of the Indus Valley Civilization is the script discovered on the various seals. All attempts over the last few decades by eminent paleographers to decipher them, have not yielded many results. It is difficult to say whether the seals were amulets containing some mantras or it is some kind of the earliest form of Brāhmī script.

Staple Diet

This civilization was more ancient and comprehensive than the ones of Egypt, Sumeria, Assyria and Mesopotamia. People were mostly vegetarians and many others consumed fish also. Apart from wheat, barley and rice, they grew several varieties of fruits and vegetables like pumpkin, dates and coconuts. They wore clothes made of cotton, jute and fibres.

Appearance of Men & Women

Several varieties of dressing hair were common among the women. The ornaments used to decorate them were girdles, ear-rings, bangles, necklaces, nose-rings, anklets, hairpins and beads. Turbans and head-dresses were used by women. The use of metals like gold, silver, lead, tin, copper, nickel, bronze and many precious stones like diamonds, rubies, emeralds and topaz was well-known to them. Shaving razors and highly polished mirrors were made out of these metals.


Dead bodies were disposed through cremation, burial and the system of leaving the bodies to be eaten up by birds and animals seem to have existed. Bodies of babies and little children were generally interred in pots and then buried.


One can conclude that the Indus Valley Civilization and Culture represents the later phase of the Ṛgvedic culture. There is no clinching evidence to support the views by the European scholars based on insufficient evidence or wrong assumptions.


  1. Harappa is presently located in Pakistan.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore