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A heritage to behold - The Harappan civilization


The differences between Masson and Marshall

The Harappan civilization of the Indus valley civilization's discovery was a gift of serendipity. In the early 1800s workers saw an unclaimed structure of bricks and started using the bricks for construction elsewhere. It was only in 1826 that Charles Masson visited the village of Harappa (now in Pakistan) and noted remarkably high walls built of larger bricks. He believed that it belonged to the time of Alexander as locals told him it was about a thousand years old. However, when archaeologist John Marshall went to investigate the area in 1924, he called this timeline bluff. The two main shreds of evidence that led him to conclude, it was way older than 1000 years were -

In Mohenjo Daro above the Harappan civilization was a Buddhist monastery of the Kushan period so this civilization must have been established before the Kushans.

Several tools and implements were excavated and none of them was made of iron, so iron was not in use which indicates that it was older than the second Millennium.

Marshal deduced that the Harappan civilization was 5000 years old and this chronology is supported by modern methods like radiocarbon dating.


Present-day area and sites

The Harappan Civilization refers to a large number of cities, towns and villages spanning present-day Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana and Pakistan. These areas are characterized by dry weather and scanty rainfall in general with Punjab and Sind being Alluvial Plains and Baluchistan with steep Hills. The major sites of the Civilization are Harappa, Mohenjo Daro, Kalibangan, Lothal, Rakhigadhi and Sutkagen Dor. Harappa being the first excavated site gives its name to the Indus Valley Civilization. In archaeology, there is a convention of naming an ancient civilization after the first revealed site. Mohenjo Daro is hands-down the second most popular site, which was the city that gave us an insight into Harappan town planning and Agriculture. Kalibangan is located in Rajasthan and is significant for its ideas about the religion of Harappans. Lothal is in Saragwala, Gujrat and historian SR Rao claimed that he found a dockyard there. Suktagen Dor is near the Makran coast close to the Pakistan-Iran border and is known for its citadel. The latest added site in the list is Dholaveer of Gujarat and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some of these places are also tourist attractions because of the unique views they offer, especially in Gujarat and Rajasthan.


Moving to settle

There is evidence of the existence of pastoral nomadic communities in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC in the Mehrgarh region. Agriculture developed too with the increasing need for wheat, barley, cotton and dates. Animal husbandry was also practised. When people began settling they made towns primarily for reserving personal space. At Lothal and Rangpur, rice husks were found embedded in clay and pottery. A furrowed field in Kalibangan is proof that the Harappans used some sort of a wooden plough. Their subsisting system was based on the exploitation of a wide range of crops and domesticated animals. Cities had granaries where grains from nearby villages were stored and supply was regulated. These cities were meticulously planned in connection with most places. Mohenjodaro was closer to the sea for trade purposes and the availability of salt. The village people were engaged in the craftsmanship of stone tools, bricks, beads of precious and semi-precious stones, weaving and agriculture. Copper was acquired from the Khetri mines of Rajasthan and gold from the Kolar mines of Karnataka. Seashells for religious ceremonies and ornaments came from the seashores of Gujrat. Thus it is clear that the Harappa was a well linked and developed civilization by modern standards.


What sets it apart?

It might come as a surprise to some that toilets were first made and used in India back in the Harappan civilization. It was a part of their dextrous town planning with the systematic underground drainage system. Each town is divided into two parts - a raised Citadel for the rulers and the lower ground for the ruled. In Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the citadel was surrounded by a brick wall for its protection. The fact that the streets ran from north to south in the lower city and were cut at right angles shows conscious town planning. Lothal has a different layout with its rectangular settlement surrounded by a brick wall, but without any internal divisions in the city. Harappans used both baked and unbaked bricks of standard size. These features are remarkable for such an old Civilization. The Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro is a characteristic structure in the Citadel mound of Mohenjo Daro. It measures 230 × 78 feet, with an open court of 33 square feet containing three verandas. Some other monuments of interest include the Great Granary and the Assembly Hall. They were masters of casting bronze and copper into implements like flat-axe, chisels, knives, spearheads etc. Such a variety of tools is unparalleled by civilizations across the globe.


Knowing a typical Harappan person

Harappans looked much like the present-day north Indians with slightly more average height, according to a study of skeletal types. They were keen on fashion and jewellery with several types of drapes in beaded ornaments. Men wore a kilt in the lower half styled with one end of the cloth over the shoulder like a saree. Women had skirts and a similar saree style shirt. Both men and women were fond of elaborate hairstyles, pulled with the help of hair bands and beads. They wore bracelets, amulets, necklaces and anklets frequently. They ate rice, wheat and barley as staple food and used salt, honey, dates, mustard oil, sesame seeds and ghee. Their preferred fruits were bananas, pomegranates, melons, lemons, figs and mangoes. The Harappans also relished non-vegetarian food as indicated by the bones of dear, bear, sheep and goat. They consumed milk and other dairy products but there is no sign that they ate eggs. Their language has not yet been deciphered but experts believe it was restricted to only a few rulers and administrative staff. They worshipped a deity identified as the proto Shiva called Pashupati and the mother goddess. They also believed in tree spirits, mythical heroes and beasts. Signs of animal sacrifice and fire altars have been found in Kalibangan.


Globalisation back then

The Harappans tried regulating trade and exchange by uniform weights and measures. The weights had a Binary System in the lower denomination 1, 2, 4, 8 to 64 made of limestone or steatite. The unit of length was 37.6 cm and cubits of about 50 1.8 to 53.6 cm. The Harappans had trade relations with Persia and Mesopotamia. More than a dozen seals of Harappan origin have been found in Mesopotamia and Persian sites of Failaka and Bahrain. In the Mesopotamian city of Nippur, a Harappan seal with a Unicorn drawing was discovered. In Mohenjo Daro, 3 cylindrical seals of Mesopotamian type have been uncovered. A circular button seal was excavated at both Lothal and Bahrain indicating exchange. Some critics have questioned the scarcity of material but there is the possibility of barter of edible commodities. The nature of contact and exchange brings the issue of transportation. The Bullock carts have been dug at different sites but there is no sign of ships. So the Harappan civilization was on fairly stable terms with contemporary civilizations though the economic backbone was internal trade. They had systems befitting and international trade relationships thousands of years ago.


Diffusion or decline?

Scholars have different views about the end of the Indus valley civilization. Some say that it dramatically ended while others think that they moved in search of fresh lands to other places. There are four theories proposed by historians supporting the idea that Civilization declined.

The Harappan Civilization could have been destroyed by flooding indicated by the presence of silty clay in the houses and streets of Mohenjo Daro. It was carried forward by hydrologist R L Raikes.

Lambert believed that the Indus river being unstable shifted 30 miles away from Mohenjo Daro, so people deserted the town.

Mortimer thought that the Harappan civilization was destroyed by Aryan Invaders. This theory is highly contested as recent studies show that Aryans could have been Indian in origin.

Fairseevis tried to explain the decay of Harappa in terms of ecological imbalance. Like the Easter Island, people exhausted the resources of the land and so the ecology died.

Other Scholars say that the Civilization might not have collapsed at all. They think that the population mixed with other tribes and lost their Harappan identity. So Harappans lived throughout but as separate sections in the subcontinent.


The Legacy living inside us

The cults of Pashupati Shiva and the Mother Goddess seem to have been passed on from the Harappan tradition. So does the tradition of tree spirits, river and animal worship. The evidence of fire worship and sacrifice in Kalibangan and Lothal is significant, as it is similar to the Aryan system of Havan and Agni Puja. It was one of the primary pillars of the Harappan priesthood which has survived. Animal sacrifice remains a popular practice more so in tribal areas. Many other aspects of domestic life like the house plans, disposition of water supply and attention to bathing continued in the subsequent periods. The additional weight and currency system of India, based on the ratio of 16 as a unit was common in the Harappan time, it might have been derived from them. The technique of making Potter's Wheel in modern India is similar to the those used in Harappa like bullock carts and boats. So it would be safe to consider Harappans our ancestors and their Civilization the very beginning of our society.

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