A study guide to the Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilisation or the Harappan civilisation is an important aspect that every student has to study as a part of their history course. Here is a small and simple article that will help you to understand the various aspects of Indus Valley Civilisation through simple language.

Indus Valley civilization is also known as Harappan civilization. It is one of the ancient civilizations in the world. This article provides an insight to the various aspects of the Indus Valley civilization that flourished in the present North-West India and adjoining places.

History of expeditions at Indus Valley

Charles Mason was the first person who noticed the remains of a civilization in the region during 1890s. However, excavations were started at Harappa and adjoining Mohenjodaro during the 1920s for the first time. Alexander Cunningham, Dayaram Sahni etc are some of the important archaeologists who conducted excavations. However, the leader of the excavation was John Marshall. He himself named the region Harappa. Soon R. D. Banarjee conducted excavations at Mohenjodaro, Mortimer Wheeler at Harappa and many others at the other sites. All of these excavations pointed to the existence of a grand primitive civilization in the present regions of North-West India and Pakistan

Harappan Civilization: Facts

The civilization extends all over North West India. Important sites are Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Kalibangan, Lothal, Rupar, Kotdigi, Sarkotuda, Rajodi, Dholavira, Rakhiragarh etc. The existence of Harappan civilization was roughly from 3500 BC to 2600 BC. Indus Valley civilisation has three major phases – the early Harappan phase, the mature Harappan phase and the late Harappan phase.


Town Planning: Harappan civilisation was an urbanised one. Harappa and Mohenjodaro had similarly planned layouts. High platforms made of hot-bricks and monumental structures existed. There was a citadel protected by a wall. Lanes and drainage systems existed. Lothal however had a different planning.

House structure: Burnt brick was used for construction. Number of rooms varied from one to ten and some houses even had staircases and steps. Courtyards existed, but there were no fence or wall that separated one house from other. Each house had an individual drainage system, which was connected to the town drainage.

Great Bath: Great bath is a huge swimming pool-like structure existing in Mohenjodaro. Water to the pool was supplied from a huge tank like structure. There were steps to the pool. Walls of the pool were made water-proof with tar.

The Granary: The granary is also at Mohenjodaro. It consists of 27 blocks and it had access to the sea. Circular platforms existed for meshing grains. Boat transport existed.

Political and social life of Harappans

A centralised administrative system existed in Harappa and Mohenjodaro. They had standardised weapons, measures and monetary system. Extensive trade existed. There was a possible existence of tax system as well, though it is not confirmed. The Harappans made ornaments, accessories etc out of metals and stones. They also made showcasing pieces like terracotta figurines.

Religion of Harappans

Harappans worshipped a deity known as Mother Goddess. Mother Goddess is represented in Harappan art as a woman with a thin waist and many ornaments. Apart from the mother Goddess, they worshipped trees and animals as well. Pipal tree was among the venerated trees and the sacred animals included Pasupati, Ox etc. They also worshiped Phallus.

Artistic development of Indus Valley Civilisation

Harappans made figurines out of terracotta, metals, stone etc. Wooden carving did not exist. Dancing Girl is a famous piece of Harappan art. The statuette of a 'Priest' was excavated from Mohenjodaro. Seals made of terracotta were used by Indus valley people. They also used ornaments made of jewels like Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise, Carnelian etc. They made cloths, boats etc as well.

The Harappan language and script

The writings of Indus Valley are an enigma to the date. No one was successful in deciphering them though many attempts were made. The Harappan writings were mainly found in seals and carvings and had about 400 pictorial signs. Earliest models were found in 1850s. Father Heraz classified the Harappan scripts as pictorial. Soviet scholars identified that they belong to Dravidian language family and not Indo-European. But they are not deciphered yet.

The reasons for decline of Harappan civilisation

The decline of Harappan civilisation has always been a matter of debate. Harappan civilisation declines gradually stage-by-stage. Cities' urbanisation weakened gradually. Unique features also disappeared gradually. The reasons put forward are the following:

  1. Some propound that there are more than one reason for the decline

  2. Mortimer Wheeler believed that the civilisation declined due to a supposed Aryan Invasion. Characters such as the mythical massacre of Mohenjodaro testified this.

  3. Another supposed reason was the prolonged submerging of Indus cities under the flood waters. S. R. Rao and others supported this.

  4. A change in the course of river Indus was pointed out by some as a reason for the decline of Harappan civilisation

  5. D. P. Agarwal, Fairservice etc believed that the increased dryness and draught which resulted from the mass deforestation as the reason for decline

  6. Finally, some believe that economic decline mooted the degradation of Indus Valley Civilisation

However, it is more acceptable that multiple forces acted in favour of the decline of Harappan cities. Thus the civilisation, which possessed grandeur and elegance once, disappeared towards 2600 BC.


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