The Indus Valley civilization was an ancient civilization thriving along the Indus River and the Ghaggar-Hakra River in what is now Pakistan and north-western India. Among other names for this civilization is the Harappan civilization in reference to the first excavated city of Harappa.

An alternative term for the culture is Saraswati- Sindhu civilization based on the fact that most of the Indus Valley sites have been found along the Ghaggar-Hakra River.

  • R.B. Dayaram Sahni first discovered Harappa (on Ravi) in 1921. R.D. Banerjee discovered Mohenjodaro or ‘Mound of the Dead’ (on Indus) in 1922. Sir John Marshal played a crucial role in both these.
  • Harappan civilization forms part of the proto history of India i.e. the script is there, but it cannot be deciphered and belongs to the Bronze Age.
  • The Indus valley civilization gradually developed to a full-fledged civilization which has been established through a continuous sequence of strata named as Pre-Harappan, Early Harappan, Mature Harappan and Late Harappan stages or phases.
  • The long term indigenous evolution of this civilization which obviously began on the periphery of the Indus Valley in the hills of eastern Baluchistan and then extended so far into the plains, can be documented by an analysis of four sites which have been excavated in recent years: Mehargarh, Amri, Kalibangan and Lothal which reflect the sequence of the four important phases or stages in pre and proto history in the north-west region of the Indian sub-continent.
  • The sequence begins with the transition of nomadic herdsmen to settled agriculturists in eastern Baluchistan (First Phase), continues with the growth of large villages and the rise of towns in the Indus Valley (Second Phase), and leads to the emergence of the great cities (Third Phase) and finally ends with their decline (Fourth Phase).
  • Mediterranean, Proto-Australoid, Mongoloids and Alpines formed the bulk of the population, though the first two were more numerous.

More than 100 sites belonging to this civilization have been excavated.

  • According to radio-carbon dating, it spread from the year 2500-1750 B.C.
  • Copper, bronze, silver and gold were known but not iron.


It covered parts of Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, Gujarat, Rajasthan and some parts of Western U.P. It extended from Manda in Jammu in the north to Daimabad in the south and from Alamgirpur in western U.P. to Sutkagendor in Baluchistan in the west.

  • Major sites in Pakistan are Harappa (on river Ravi in west Punjab), Mohenjodaro (on Indus), Chanhu-Daro (Sindh), etc. In India the major sites are Lothal, Rangpur and Surkotda (Gujarat), Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Banawali (Hissar) and Alamgirpur (western U.P.)
  • The largest and the latest site in India is Dholavira in Gujarat. Dr. J.P. Joshi and Dr. R.S. Bisht were involved in it.


2.1 Town Planning

The Indus Valley people were primarily urban people. Elaborate town-planning following the Grid System. Roads were well cut dividing the town into large rectangular or square blocks. Lamp posts at intervals indicate the existence of street lightening. Flanking the streets, lanes and by-lanes were well-planned houses. The streets were quite broad varying from 9 feet to 34 feet in breadth.

  • Burnt bricks of good quality were used for building material except in Rangpur and Kalibangan. Elsewhere in the contemporary world mud bricks were used. No pottery-kiln was allowed to be built within the four walls of the city.
  • Houses were often of two or more storey, of varying sizes but were quite monotonous – a square courtyard around which were a number of rooms. The windows faced the streets and the houses had tiled bathrooms. It is especially noteworthy that almost every house had its own wells, bathrooms, courtyards, drains and kitchens.
  • The towns were divided into two parts: Upper part or Citadel and the Lower part. The Citadel was an oblong artificial platform some 30-50 feet high and about some 400-200 yards in area. It was enclosed by a thick (13 m in Harappa) crenellated mud brick wall. The Citadel comprised of public buildings whereas the lower part comprised of public dwellings.
  • In Mohenjodaro, a big public bath (Great Bath) measuring 12 m by 7 m and 2.4 m deep has been found. Steps led from either end to the surface, with changing rooms alongside. The Great Bath was probably used for ritual bathing.
  • Lamp posts at intervals indicate the existence of street lighting.
  • There were special series constructed for the travelers and a system of watch and word at night also existed.

There is no clear idea of the political organization of the Indus valley people. Perhaps they were more concerned with commerce and they were possibly ruled by a class of merchants.

Also there was an organization like a municipal corporation to look after the civic amenities of the people.

2.2 Economic Life

The Indus people sowed seeds in the flood plains in November, when the flood water receded, and reaped their harvests of wheat and barley in April, before the advent of the next flood which indicated agriculture and knowledge of calendar reading. The people grew wheat, barley, rai, peas, sesamum, mustard, rice (in Lothal), cotton, dates, melon, etc. The Indus people were the first to produce cotton in the world.

  • In Kalibangan, fields were ploughed with wooden ploughs.
  • Domestication of animals was done on a large scale. Besides the cattle, sheep, pigs, camels, cats and dogs were domesticated. Horses weren’t in regular use but elephant was. Remains of horse at Surkotda and dogs with men in graves in Ropar have been discovered. Produced sufficient to feed them. There was no exchange of foodgrains/export or import. Food grains were stored in granaries. Example- In Harappa and Mohenjodaro.


2.3 Trade and Commerce

It is Well-knit external and internal trade. There was no metallic money in circulation and trade was carried through Barter System. Weights and measures of accuracy existed in Harappan culture (found at Lothal). The weights were made of limestone, steatite, etc. and were generally cubical in shape. 16 was the unit of measurement (16, 64, 160, and 320).

  • Flint tool-work, shell-work, bangle-making (famous in Kalibangan), etc. were practiced. Raw materials for these came from different sources: gold from north Karnataka, silver and Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan and Iran, copper from Khetri and Baluchistan, etc.
  • Bead making factories existed in Chanu daro and Lothal. They were items of export.
  • A dockyard has been discovered at Lothal. Rangpur, Somnath and Balakot functioned as seaports. Sutkagendor and Sutkakoh functioned as outlets.
  • The inland transport was carried out by bullock carts.
  • Every merchant or mercantile family probably had a seal bearing an emblem often of a religious character, and a name or brief description, on one side. The standard Harappa seal was a square or oblong plaque made of steatite stone. The primary purpose of the seal was probably to mark the ownership of property, but they may have also served as amulets.
  • The Mesopotamian records from about 2350 B.C. onwards refer to trade relations with Meluhha, the ancient name of the Indus region. Harappan seals and other material have been found at Mesopotamia. There were also instances of trade with Sumer, Babylonia, Egypt, etc.


2.4 Art and Craft

  • The Harappan culture belongs to the Bronze Age and bronze was made by mixing tin and copper. Tools were mostly made of copper and bronze. For making bronze, copper was obtained from Khetri in Rajasthan and from Baluchistan and tin from Afghanistan.
  • The people of this culture were not acquainted with iron at all.
  • The Indus Valley people had achieved a great skill in drawing the figures of men, animals and various other objects of nature and were fully conversant with the art of craving with figures on ivory, soap- stone, leather, metal and wood proving their artistic acumen.
  • Cotton fabrics were quite common and woolens were popular in winter.
  • One male figure or a statue shows that generally two garments were worn and the female dress was more or less like that of a male.
  • The Indus valley people were very fond of ornaments (of gold, silver, ivory, copper, bronze and precious stones) and dressing up. Ornaments were worn by both men and women, rich or poor. Women wore heavy bangles in profusion, large necklaces, ear-rings, bracelets, figure-rings, girdles, nose-studs and anklets. The Harappans were expert bead makers.
  • They were fully conscious of the various fashions of hair-dressing and wore beards of different styles.


2.5 Harappan Seals

The Potter’s wheel was in use. The Indus Valley Pottery was red or black pottery and the people indulged in dice games, their favorite pastime being gambling. The Harrapans most notable artistic achievement was their seal engravings especially those of animals. The red sandstone torso of a man is particularly impressive for its realism. However the most impressive of the figurines is the bronze image of a dancing girl (identified as a devdassi) found at Mohenjodaro.

  • Maximum number of seals discovered is made of steatite with the unicorn symbol being discovered on the maximum number of seals.
  • For their children, the Harappans made cattle-toys with moveable heads, model monkeys which could slide down a string, little toy carts and whistles shaped like birds all of terracotta.


2.6 Religious Life

The main object of worship was the Mother Goddess or Shakti. But the upper classes preferred a God– nude with two horns, much similar to Pashupati Shiva. Represented on the seal is a figure with three horned heads in a yogic posture, surrounded by an elephant, a tiger, a rhinoceros and below his throne is a buffalo. Near his feet are two deer. Pashupatinath represented the male deity. The elaborate bathing arrangement marking the city of Mohenjodaro would suggest that religious purification by bath formed a feature of the Indus Valley people. The phallus (lingam) and yoni worship was also prevalent.

  • Many trees (pepal), animals (bull), birds (dove, pigeon) and stones were worshipped. Unicorns were also worshipped. However no temple has been found though idolatry was practiced.
  • At Kalibangan and Lothal fire altars have been found. Dead bodies were placed in the north-south orientation.
  • Although no definite proof is available with regard to disposal of the dead, a broad view is that there were probably three methods of disposing the dead – complete burial (laid towards north), burial after exposure of the body to birds and beasts, and cremation followed by burial of the ashes.
  • The discovery of cinerary urns and jars, goblets or vessels with ashes, bones or charcoal may however suggest that during the flourishing period of the Indus valley culture, the third method was generally practiced. In Harappa, there is one place where evidence of coffin burial is there. The people probably believed in ghosts and spirits as amulets were worn.
  • It appears from excavations that the people of this culture were well-versed with surgery. For example, some evidences have come from both Kalibangan and Lothal hinting at head surgery. Otherwise, they used to take recourse to black magic, amulets etc.

The script is not alphabetical but pictographic (about 600 undeciphered pictographs). The script has not been deciphered so far, but overlaps of letters show that it was written from right to left in the first line and left to right in the second line. This style is called ‘Boustrophedon’. The Harappan culture lasted for around 1000 years.

The invasion of the Aryans, recurrent floods (7 floods), social breakup of Harappans, Earthquakes, successive alteration in the course of the river Indus and the subsequent drying up of the areas in and around the major cities, etc. are listed as possible causes for the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization.


Important Sites of the Indus Valley Civilization

  1. Harappa

The Harappa is situated in Montogomery district of Punjab (Pakistan). Excavations at the site have led to the following specific findings: Two rows of six granaries with brick platforms; 12 granaries together had the same area as the Great Granary at Mohenjodaro. Working floors, consisting of rows of circular brick platforms lay to the south of granaries and were meant for threshing grain and evidence of coffin burial and cemetery ‘H’ culture.

  • The dead were buried in the southern portion of the fortified area, called cemetery R-37.
  • Single room barracks just below the walls of the citadels for the labourers and factory workers.
  • It has been identified with Hari-Yupiya which is mentioned in the Rigveda.
  • Evidence of direct trade and interaction with Mesopotamia.
  • Discovery of a red sandstone male torso and Stone symbols of female genitals.
  • Almost 36% of the total seals excavated in the Indus Civilization are excavated from Harappa alone.

Other discoveries include Bronze image of an ‘ekka’ (vehicle) and a seal with the representation of the sign of ‘swastika’ on it.

2.     Mohenjo-daro

It is also known as the ‘Mound of the dead’; it lies in Larkana district of Sind (Pakistan). Some of the specific findings during the excavations of Mohen- jodaro include:

  • A college, a multi-pillared assembly hall,  the Great Bath and a bearded man
  • A large granary (the largest building of Mohenjodaro) which suggests extreme centralization as the ruling authorities must have first brought the agricultural produce here and then redistributed it. A piece of woven cotton alongwith spindle whorls and needles.
  • Superficial evidence of a horse or an ass and a pot-stone fragment of Mesopotamian origin.
  • Evidence of direct trade contact with Mesopotamia and a bronze dancing girl.
  • Evidence of violent death of some of the inhabitants (discovery of human skeletons put together) and a seal representing Mother Goddess with a plant growing from her womb, and a woman to be sacrificed by a man with a knife in his hand.
  • A seal with a picture suggesting Pashupati Mahadev and this city is also an extreme example of conservatism, as despite having been flooded almost nine times, they never tried to shift to a safer place. Rather, they came back to the original site whenever the water table receded. Nor did they ever try to build strong embankments to protect themselves from floods.

3.     Alamgirpur

The famous Harappan site is considered the eastern boundary of the Indus culture. Although the caves found here resemble those at other Harappan sites, other findings suggest that Alamgirpur developed during the late-Harappan culture. The site is remarkable for providing the impression of cloth on a trough.

4.     Kalibangan

Kalibangan was an important Harappan city. The word Kalibangan means ‘black bangles’. A ploughed field was the most important discovery of the early excavations. Later excavations at Kalibangan made the following specific discoveries:

  • A wooden furrow, seven fire altars in a row on a platform suggesting the practice of the cult of sacrifice and remains of a massive brick wall around both the citadel and the lower town (the second Harappan site after Lothal to have the lower town also walled.
  • Bones of a camel, the skull of a child found suffering from hydrocephalus and a tiled floor which bears intersecting designs of circles. A human head with long oval eyes, thick lower lips, receding forehead and straight pointed nose.

The evidences of two types of burials are also found:

1. Burials in a rectangular grave and

2. Burials in a circular grave.

5.     Kot-Diji

Kot-Diji is known more as a pre-Harappan site. It gives the impression of a pre-Harappan fortified settlement. Houses were made of stone. The remains of Kot-Diji suggest that the city existed in the first half of the third millennium B.C. Excavations at the site suggest that the city was destructed by force.

6.     Lothal

Lothal was an important trade centre of the Harap- pan culture. The town planning in Lothal was different from that of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. The city was divided into six sections. Each section was built on a wide platform of unripe bricks. Each platform was separated by a road with width ranging from 12 feet to 20 feet. Excavations at Lothal led to some specific discoveries which include:

Remains of rice husk (the only other Harappan city where the rice husk has been found is Rangpur near Ahmedabad), an artificial dock yard and evidence of a horse from a doubtful terracotta figurine and impressions of cloth on some of the seals, Evidence of direct trade contact with Mesopotamia and houses with entrances on the main street (the houses of all other Harappan cities had side entries).

  • A ship designed on a seal, a terracotta ship and a painting on a jar resembling the story of the ‘cunning fox’ and the ‘thirsty crow’ narrated in Panchatantra.
  • Evidence of double burial (burying a male and    a female in a single grave) found in three graves whereas in Kalibangan one such grave has been found and evidence of games similar to modern day chess and An instrument for measuring 180, 90, 45 degree angles (the instrument points to modern day compass).

7.     Amri

Amri also gives evidence of pre-Harappan settlement. However it lacks the fortification plan of the pre-Harappan phase. A spectacular feature of Amri is that it gives the impression of existence of transitional culture between pre and post Harappan culture. Important findings at Amri include the actual remains of rhinoceros, traces of Jhangar culture in late or declining Harappan phase and fir altars.

8.     Chanhu-daro

The excavations at Chanhu-daro have revealed three different cultural layers from lowest to the top being Indus culture, and the pre-Harappan Jhukar culture and the Jhangar culture, The site is especially important for providing evidences about different Harappan factories and these factories produced seals, toys and bone implements.

  • Through excavations, the evidence of bead maker’s shops has come to light; it was the only Harappan city without a citadel.
  • Some remarkable findings at Chanhu-daro include bronze figures of bullock cart and ekkas, a small pot suggesting an inkwell, footprints of an elephant and a dog chasing a cat.

9.     Ropar

Ropar is a Harappan site from where remains of pre-Harappan and Harappan cultures have been found, Buildings at Ropar were made mainly of stone and soil. The important findings at the site include pottery, ornaments, copper axes, chert blades, terracotta blades, one inscribed steatite seal with typical Indus pictographs, several burials interred in oval pits and a rectangular mud brick chamber.

  • There is also an evidence of burying a dog below the human burial (Though the practice was prevalent in Burzahom in Kashmir, it was late in the Harappan context.

10.      Banawali

It is situated in Hissar district of Haryana, Banawali has provided two phases of culture during its excavations: the pre-Harappan (Phase I) and the Harappan (Phase II).

Though Phase II belonged to the Harappan period, chess board or grid pattern of town planning was not always followed as in other Harappan sites, the roads were not always straight nor did they cut at right angles and it is also lacked another important feature of the Harappan civilization – a systematic drainage system.

  • High quality barley has been found in excavations.
  • Other important material remains include ceramics, steatite seal and a few terracotta sealing with typical Indus script, ear rings shaped like leaves of a peepal tree and terracotta bangles.

11.      Surkotda

It is situated in Kutch (Bhuj) district of Gujarat and excavated by J.P. Joshi in 1972; Surkotda was an important fortified Harappan settlement.

  • This site is important because it provides the first actual remains of horse bones.
  • A cemetery with four pot burials with some human bones has also been found.
  • A grave has been found in association with a big rock (megalithic burial), a rare finding of the Harappan culture.

12.      Sutkagendor

Sutkagendor situated in Sindh (Pakistan) was an important coastal town of the Indus civilization. The excavations of Sutkagendor have revealed a twofold division of the township: the Citadel and the Lower City, it is said that Sutkagendor was originally a port which later cut off from the sea due to coastal uplift.

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