Harappan Civilisation

Harappan Civilisation

This article deals with ‘Harappan Civilisation’ . This is part of our series on ‘Ancient History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here.


  • Indus Valley Civilisation represents the first phase of urbanisation in India contemporaneous with the civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt
  • This civilisation did not appear all of a sudden. It developed gradually on the foundations provided by Neolithic villages in the area.  For example, Neolithic villages in this region go back to about 7000 BCE at the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh.
  • It is known by various names like
    1. Indus Valley Civilization : It was mainly spread in valley of Indus and it’s tributaries.
    2. Harappan Civilization  : As Harappa was the first site of this civilisation to be discovered.

Area of spread

  • Civilization was spread over nearly 1.5 million sq. km area.
  • Its core area was in the regions of Pakistan, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
  • It is spread between
    1. Sutkagen-dor (on Pakistan-Iran border) in the west 
    2. Manda (Jammu and Kashmir) in the north
    3. Alamgirpur (Uttar Pradesh, India) in the east
    4. Daimabad (Maharashtra, India) in the south 

Phases of Harappan Civilisation

Harappan civilisation is dated between c. 2600 and 1900 BC. There were earlier and later cultures, often called Early Harappan and Late Harappan. The Harappan civilisation is sometimes called the Mature Harappan culture to distinguish it from these cultures.

Early Harappan 3000 to 2600 BCE It is known as ‘Period of Regionalisation‘. It was proto-urban formative phase . Settlements had fortifications and craft specialisation started to develop. But large cities were absent. 
Mature Harappan 2600 to 1900 BCE It is known as ‘Period of Integration ‘. It was full fledged Urban phase. Settlements were large and high degree of craft specialisation was reached.
Late Harappan 1900 to 1700 BCE It is known as ‘Period of Localisation‘. It was post-urban phase . Settlements were small , more in number but rural in character. Single Harappan Culture fragmented to 3local phases
1. West Punjab Phase (Cemetery- H Culture)
2. Jhukar Phase Rangpur Phase
3. Ganga Yamuna Doab Phase

Note : The urban phase was prevalent in the mature Harappan period and began to decline afterwards.

Town Planning

1 . Planned Towns

  • Harappan Cities were well planned .   
  • There was Grid Pattern of streets cutting each other at right angles . The streets were wide enough for too and fro movement of traffic.
  • City was divided into two distinct parts i.e.
    • Citadel : Small , higher &  fortified (walled) which housed important  buildings like Granaries, Great Bath etc.
    • Lower Town : Bigger , lower and separately walled housing common public .  
  • Since the city was walled, it meant that once the wall was built, it couldn’t be expanded. It corroborates the fact that city was first planned and then built according to the plan.

2 . Fortified Towns

  • Harappan cities were fortified
  • These fortifications could have served following purposes :-
    • Protection from attacks .
    • Exclude outsiders  .
    • Helps  to control activities inside the fortification.
    • If traders bring goods from places faraway they can demand share for allowing  access to potential buyers inside

3 . Impressive drainage system

  • It was the most complete ancient drainage system  seen in any ancient civilization.   Perhaps no other Bronze civilization paid such emphasis on health and cleanliness as Harappans.
  • Every house was connected to street drains.
  • Main channels were made of bricks set in mortar and  covered with loose bricks that could be removed for cleaning. House drains first emptied into a sump or cesspit into which solid matter settled while waste water flowed out into the street drains.
  • Drainage systems were not unique to the larger cities, but were found in smaller settlements  as  well. 

4 . Extensive use of standardised baked bricks

  • Size of bricks was uniform (ratio = 4:2:1).
  • Standardised size of bricks indicate that brick making was organised on large scale.
  • Various brick laying techniques were used including ENGLISH BOND STYLE (for maximum strength).
  • Note : In contemporary Egyptian Culture, dried bricks were used . Although, baked bricks were used in Mesopotamia but they were used much widely in Harappan culture.

5 . Houses

  • People lived in houses of different sizes showing that stratification was present in the society.
  • Staircases were present in some houses which might have led to roof .
  • Although most of houses were single storied . But two and three storied houses were also present.
  • Floors were made of high packed earth. 
  • Small houses attached to large ones might have been quarters of service groups  .
  • Toilets & Bathrooms : Houses  had separate bathing & toilet areas . Floor of these was made of tightly fitted bricks .
  • Houses were without much decoration showing utilitarian outlook of Harappan people .

Crafts and Techniques

  • Harappans mass – produced standardised items.
  • Some were quintessentially Indus, i.e. they are neither found prior to the advent of civilization nor after its collapse. Eg : Indus seals .

1 . Harappan Pottery

  • Harappan Pottery reflects efficient mass production .
  • Features of typical Harappan Pottery were
    • Harappan pottery was well baked .
    • Harappan Pottery was made with potter’s wheel.
    • Pottery has bright red slip decorated with black designs .
    • Shapes – There was great variety of shapes like pots,  large Jars  (to store grains or water), flattish dishes (used as plates), perforated jars (use not clear) etc.
    • Decorative designs on pottery includefish scales, pipal leaves , horned deity , intersecting circles, zig-zag lines  etc.
Harappan Pottery

2 . Copper Objects

  • Harappan civilisation was a ‘Bronze Age civilisation’ and Harappans knew how to make copper and bronze tools. They did not have the knowledge of iron.
  • Harappans used pure copper as well as  copper alloyed  with Arsenic , Tin or Nickel .
  • Artefacts include vessels , spears, knives, short swords, mirrors , rings & bangles etc.
  • With time %age of bronze increases.

Side Topic : Dancing Girl

  • Most of metal objects found are Utilitarian .
  • Most important Non-Utilitarian Copper Object excavated from Harappan Civilization is Dancing Girl found at Mohenjodaro .
  • It was made using   LOST WAX TECHNIQUE  .
  • Features of Dancing Girl
    • She is standing in Tribhanga posture .
    • She is naked .
    • She is wearing a necklace, 24-25 bangles in left arm & just 4 on right arm .
  • John Marshall called it DANCING GIRL (thought her to be equivalent of Nautch Girl dancing on music) . Although name struck , but she might not have been dancing at all .
Dancing Girl

3 . Seals

  • Use of seals was to facilitate long distance communication. They might have been used
    • For stamping on bag’s rope knot .
    • Insignia / images on seal conveyed the identity of sender.
  • Seals were square or rectangular .
  • Average size of square seal was 2.54 cm  .
  • Material used  –  Steatite  
  • Carvings are in intaglio ie sunken engravings with impression appearing in relief
  • Motifs on seals include elephant, tiger, humped bull, rhinoceros , one horned  unicorn etc.
  • Most seals have short inscription.     The longest inscription has about twenty six signs.
Seals of Harappan Civilsation

4 . Beads and Bangle making

  • This craft was known in earlier cultures too but Harappans  used new materials and better techniques 


  • Material used included Steatite, Carnelian , Lapis Lazuli ,etc.
  • Harappan long barrel cylinder carnelian  beads were  so beautiful that they are found in royal burials of Mesopotamia.
  • Main centres of Bead making were  Chanhudaro & Lothal . Bead making tradition in Gujarat today give us clue on how Harappan craftsmen might have made beads
Carnelian Beads


  • Bangles were often made from conch shell .
  • Nageshwar (near Jamnagar) and Balakot , situated near the coast, were  exclusively devoted to Bangle making from shell .
  • Dancing girl found at Mohenjo-Daro is shown wearing bangles in large numbers .
Bangles of Harappan Civilisation

Water Management System

Harappan sewage & drainage was far more advanced than any other  found in contemporary urban sites in the Middle East.

Sewage  System

  • Every house was connected to street drains.
  • Main channels  was made of bricks set in mortar and was covered with loose bricks that could be removed for cleaning.
  • House drains emptied into cesspit where solid matter settled and waste water flowed into street drains

Water Management in various cities

Mohenjodaro Almost all houses had private wells (700 wells found in city).
– It also had the Great Bath  .
Lothal It had port  with a dockyard .
Dholavira – System of water management was architectural marvel .
– Two seasonal streams – Manhar and Mansar – was dammed and diverted to the large reservoirs within the city walls . It had  16 water reservoirs  covering as much as 36 % of the walled area. 
Shortughai – Canal for irrigation brought water from nearby Kokcha river .
The Great Bath (Mohenjo daro) 
Water Wells (Lothal)


  • Harappans were producing enough food to sustain urban population which was engaged in activities other than agriculture. Their subsistence base was wide and diverse as it was situated on alluvial plains , mountains , plateaus & sea coasts .
  • Today the rainfall in Sindh is about 15 cm, but in the fourth century BCE , one of the historians of Alexander informs us, that Sindh was a fertile part of India. In earlier times, the Indus region had more natural vegetation which contributed to rainfall. Along with that , annual inundation of Indus made the region very fertile. Just as the Nile created Egypt and ​supported its people, so too the Indus created Sindh and fed its people
  • Crops : Harappans cultivated diverse crops such as
    • Wheat
    • Barley
    • Lentil
    • Chickpea
    • Sesame
    • various millets
    • Note : although rice husk has been found at sites like Rangpur but it wasn’t the main crop of Harappan civilisation.
  • Cotton : Cotton was cultivated in Harappan civilisation . Following evidences prove this fact
    • Figurines wearing clothes (eg : Priest King, Mother Goddess).
    • Mesopotamian texts state that cotton was important import from Meluha .
  • Ploughing :  Harappans used ploughs. They ploughed the land and then sowed the seeds increasing the agricultural output. Ploughed fields have been found at Kalibangan. Terracotta models of the plough have been found at at Banawali (Haryana).
  • Irrigation : Most Harappan sites are located in semi-arid lands, where irrigation was probably required for agriculture. Harappans built embankments and dams for irrigation. For example :-
    • Irrigation canals have been found at Shortughai .
    • Water drawn from wells was also used for irrigation.
    • Water reservoirs found in Dholavira (Gujarat).

Animal Domestication

  • Animals were domesticated by the Harappans for meat, milk and draught purposes.
  • They domesticated  sheep, goat, buffalo , fowl etc.
  • They also ate fish . In states like Gujarat, Molluscs were widely consumed. Marine catfish bones have been found at Harappa showing coastal community traded in dried fish  .
  • Evidence from seals show region also housed humped bulls, rhinoceros, ibexes , boar, deer and gharial .
  • Issue of Horse is controversial
    • Horse remains have been reported from  Harappa , Lothal, Surkotda & Kalibangan . But analysis of bones is questioned by other scholars .  
    • In any case, the Harappan culture was not horse-centered. Representation of horse has not been found  on seals or pottery .
    • For UPSC exam, we can say that horse was not known to them.

Trade and Exchange

  • Harappans did not use metal money, and in all probability carried exchanges through a barter system.
  • Two types of trade was going on
External Trade With Mesopotamia & Persian Gulf
Internal Trade Between different Harappan sites and various other cultures of India .

External Trade

  • Evidences showing External Trade are as follows
    1. Harappan seals and materials  found in the Sumerian and Mesopotamian sites as well as  in Oman, Bahrain and Iran.
    2. Mesopotamian  inscriptions mention the trade between Mesopotamia and Harappans. The mention of “Meluha” in the Mesopotamian  inscriptions refers to the Indus region.
  • Important exports were
    • Carnelian beads – found even in Mesopotamian Royal Graves
    • Textile – Mesopotamian Records of King Sargon mention this
    • Ivory & Ivory objects 
    • Lapis Lazuli,Gold, Silver , copper, tortoiseshell , chicken like bird
  • Import imports were
    • Fish, grain , wool, woollen garments & silver from Mesopotamia

Internal Trade

  • Harappans also interacted with various regions of India and acquired raw materials and processed them.
  • These regions were as follows
Copper Khetri deposits in Rajasthan
Tin Tosam area of Haryana
Gold Kolar mines of Karnataka
Most semi precious stones except Lapis Lazuli Gujarat
Lapis Lazuli Shortughai in Afghanistan 

Weights and Measures

  • Harappans had developed proper weights and measures. Since they were involved in commercial transactions, they needed standard measures.
  • Cubical weights made of chert, chalcedony, black stone etc. have been found at excavated sites.
  • Weights exhibit a binary system. The ratio of weight is doubled as 1:2:4:8:16:32.
  • They also used a measuring scale in which one inch was around 1.75 cm. Sticks inscribed with measure marks have been found, and one of these is made of bronze.

Faiths and Belief System

Harappan people had wide faiths and belief systems.

1 . Nature worship

  • Harappan seals, sealings, amulets & copper tablets depict number of trees , plants & animals . Some might have cultic significance as well and these include
    • Pipal (Ficus Religosa) 
    • Bull which is symbol of male virility . Seal from Chanhu-daro depict a bull bison with erect penis, fecundating a supine human figure. 
    • One horned animal probably Unicorn.
    • Composite animals like Tiger-Human. Conception of composite gods like Narsimha can be traced back to this .

2 . Mother Goddess

  • Worship of female goddesses is historically associated with fertility  .
  • Mother Goddess is slim female with  fan shaped headdress & wearing short skirt . She is heavily ornamented with necklaces and  earrings. 
The Mother Goddess

3 . Proto Shiva

  • Harappans also worshipped male god represented on  seal discovered at Mohenjodaro known as Pashupati Seal. The god is surrounded by an elephant, a tiger, a rhinoceros, and below his throne there is a buffalo, and at his feet two deer.
  • Note : It resembles with Shiva who is Mahayogi (the great yogi) & Pashupati( lord of animals)
Pashupati Seal

4 . Priest King

  • Found at Mohenjo Daro known as Priest king
  • He was called Priest King because archaeologists were familiar with Mesopotamian history and its “priest-kings” .
Priest King

5 . Fire Alters

  • Citadel at Kalibangan consists of  fire alters where offerings were made into fire.
  • Fire Alters have also been reported at Banawali, Lothal, Amri & Rakhigarhi .
  • Fire ritual was central to Vedic religion . These evidences indicate that Aryans might have adopted this from Harappans when they came & settled down in these areas .

6 . The Great Bath

  • The Great Bath found at Mohenjodaro might have  religious significance as well.
  • The Great Bath was a large rectangular tank with two staircases  on the north and south leading into the tank. There were rooms on three sides, in one of which was a large well. Water from the tank flowed into Great Bath . Across  a lane to the north lay a smaller building with eight bathrooms. The uniqueness of the structure and fact that it was found on citadel  led scholars to suggest that it was meant for some kind of a special ritual bath.
The Great Bath

Burial Systems

  • Harappans buried the dead.
  • The Harappan burials have grave goods in the form of pottery, ornaments, jewellery, copper mirrors and beads. This suggest their belief in an afterlife.
  • Compared with other civilisations, it can be said that on the whole, it appears that the Harappans did not believe in burying precious things with the dead.
  • Note : Although Harappans buried their dead but Harappan civilisation hasn’t yielded a monument for the dead which could equal Pyramids of Egypt or Royal Cemetery of  Ur .

Nature of Writing

  • The biggest mystery  about the Harappans is which language(s) they spoke.
  • Harappan script consists of 400-450 basic signs.
  • Harappan script was pictographic in nature (i.e. picture used to represent a word).   
  • It was written from right to left corroborated by the fact that some seals show a wider spacing on the right and cramping on the left. 
  • Although larger inscriptions were rare. In large inscriptions , they followed Boustrophedon Style (i.e. first line in right to left , then next line in left to right)
  • Nature of Language 
    • Some scholars argue that Harappan script and language belonged to Dravidian family . Father Heras  was strong advocate of this view . He argued that Brahui , language  still spoken in this region , belongs to Dravidian family .
    • Others historians believe that  it belonged to Indo-Aryan languages .
    • Yet others believe that it belonged to the Sumerian language.
  • Harappan script has not been deciphered yet .  Mortimer Wheeler writes the conditions requisite for the interpretation of the script are (1) bilingual inscriptions with known language and (2) long inscription with significant recurrent features . Both these conditions aren’t present in Harappan inscriptions.

Nature of Polity

State was present in Harappan Civilisation . Following things prove the existence of state

  1. Uniform culture over such a large area wasn’t possible without central authority.
  2. Granaries at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa where surplus was collected and stored , most probably by the rulers.
  3. Control of labour  as indicated by elaborate drainage system, citadels and public buildings which were made by mobilising labour on large scale.   
  4. Standardisation  , site specialisation  and establishment of trading outpost at Shortughai .
  5. Common system of writing across wide area .
  6. FORTIFICATIONS  especially imposing ones like Dholavira, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.
  7. We have no clear idea of an organized force or standing army, but a heap of sling stones and the depiction of a soldier on a potsherd at Surkotda may suggest a standing army.
  8. Harappan civilisation lasted for 700 years &  artefacts continued unaltered which suggests strong political stability . 

Side Topic : A Priest King 

  • In ancient Mesopotamian & Egyptian civilisations,  rulers were portrayed extensively in stone reliefs & sculptures to proclaim their power . But Harappan case is strikingly different because here no such things have been found .
  • Taking view from Egypt & Meso Civilisation , stone bust of Male found at Mohenjodaro is given label of  Priest King . However whether he represent priest or king or both is far from certain.
Priest King

Contemporary Cultures of the Harappan Civilisation

  • While the Indus Civilisation was flourishing in the north-western part of India, several cultures were developing in different parts of India..


  • Kashmir was under Neolithic culture during this phase. Sites like Burzahom belong to this phase.

Deccan and Western India

  • Chalcolithic cultures were prevalent in Deccan and western India.
  • Chalcolithic culture in the form of Ganeshwar-Jodhpura culture was prevalent in Rajasthan. Harappans imported copper from here (Khetri copper mines).

South India

  • Kerala and Sri Lanka were still under  hunting and gathering phase.
  • Northern part of South India, i.e. the Karnataka and Andhra region, had Neolithic cultures, engaged in pastoralism and plough agriculture.
  • Harappans used to send expeditions to South India to import gold especially from region surrounding Kolar gold fields.

Morphology of Harappan Cities

Harappan Civilisation

1 . Mohenjo Daro

Region Sindh (Pakistan)
River Indus
Excavator RD Banerji (1922)
Important points It was the second site to be discovered after Harappa.
It was spread over area of 125 Hectare  and at it’s peak , used to house population of around 35,000.
Important things excavated here includes
1. Great Bath
2. College of Priests
3. Granary
4. Large Pillared Hall
5. Dancing Girl
6. Pashupati Seal
7. Superficial evidence of horse (although refuted by many historians)
8. Model of ship/large boat

Problem  – water levels in Mohenjodaro has risen high . As a result, it is  not possible to determine whether early Harappan levels were present  

2. Harappa

Region Punjab (Pakistan)
River Ravi
Excavator Rai Bahadur Dayaram Sahni (1921)
Important points It was the first site to be discovered .
Important things excavated here include
1. 6 Granaries
2. Cemetery H with urn-burials
3. Large number of wells
4. All other Harappan features like Citadel, sewage system, fortification etc.
Issue : most of the citadel buildings was already destroyed (bricks used in railways &  robbed by brick  robbers). Clear profile of main citadel is lacking  .

3. Kalibangan

Region Ganganagar district of Rajasthan (India)
River Ghaggar
Excavator Amalanand Ghosh (1953) and BK Thakur (1961)
Important points – Get its name from the thick cluster of black bangles lying all over  mounds .
Important things excavated here include
1. Fire Alters – Interpreted as sacrificial pits 
2. Ploughed fields – first of its kind in history 
3. Black bangles
It wasn’t as well developed as Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Lower town didn’t have well developed drainage system.
It survived till 1800 BCE when Ghaggar river completely dried up 

4. Lothal

Region Near  Khambat in Gujarat
River Between Sabarmati river & its tributary Bhogavo
Excavator SR Rao (1957)
Important points It was a sea-port .
Although , not big in size but it was economically important .
Important things excavated here include
1. Huge basin / dockyard to dock ships .
2. Evidence of rice husk .
3. Evidence of double burial i.e. man and woman buried together.
4. Fire altars
5. Bead factory

5. Dholavira

Region Kadir Island in Gujarat (Rann of Kutch)
Excavator JP Joshi (1990)
Important point It was a large city spanned over 160 hectares.
It is one of the newest site to be excavated.
Important things excavated here includes
1. Extensive use of stone (instead of bricks).
2. 16 water reservoirs within the walls of city covering 36% of walled area.
3. Largest number of inscriptions have been found here.

6. Chanhudaro

Region Near Mohenjodaro in Sind (Pakistan)
River Indus
Excavator NG Mazumdar (1931)
Important point It is a small settlement spread in just 7 hectares .
Important things excavated here includes
1. It was important craft centre devoted to bead-making, shell-cutting, metal-working, seal-making and weight-making. 
2. It is the only Harappan site without fortifications.  

7. Rakhigarhi

Region Hissar district of Haryana (India)
River Ghaggar
Important points It was large city  spread over 350 hectares.
Important things excavated here includes
1. Fire altars like those found at Kalibangan.
2. Redware similar to Dancing Girl.  

8. Banawali

Region Hissar district of Haryana (India)
River Rangoi
Excavator RS Bist (1970s)
Important points Important things excavated here includes
1. Barley of high quality.
2. Fire altars
3. Terracotta model of plough  

9. Ropar

Region Punjab (India)
River Sutlej
Excavator YD Sharma (1955)
Important points It was a small site.
Important things excavated here includes
1. Harappan seals
2. Cemetery where dead were buried.
3. Burial where man was buried with dog.  

10 . Rangpur

Region Near Lothal in Gujarat
River Madar
Excavator MS Vatsa (1931)
Important point Rice husk found here is important finding .

11. Surkotda

Region Gujarat
Excavator JP Joshi
Important point Bones of horse have been excavated from this site.

12. Suktagendor

Region Baluchistan (Pakistan) on Iran-Pakistan border
River Dasht
Excavator A Stein
Important point It is the western-most site of Harappan civilization .
Port town with trade links with Mesopotamia and Sumeria.

13. Shortughai

Region North-East Afghanistan
River Oxus and Kokcha
Important points It was small site (2 ha).
It was an isolated Harappan site .
Excavations include Pottery with Harappan Designs, Toy carts , Lapis Lazuli , Carnelian , shell bangles  etc.
Ploughed field covered with flax in area unsuitable for farming ( dry farming practiced here) .
Small irrigation canals drawing water from Kokcha .  
Reason for making an isolated site 1. Lapis Lazuli mines nearby
2. Second Possibility –  Tin mines of Afghanistan
3. Third Possibility –  role to play in Camel Trade 

The decline of Harappan Civilization

It was a gradual decline

  • Roughly around 1900 BCE, there is a visible change in the material record.
    • Population seems to have either perished or moved away . Number of settlements in Core Harappan areas decreased but number of settlements in the outlying areas of Gujarat, East Punjab, Haryana and upper Doab increased (explained by the emigration of people from the core regions of Harappan Civilisation to outlying areas) .
    • In few Harappan sites that continued to be occupied after 1900 BCE, Material culture underwent a change – a far smaller, and that too more locally exploited raw materials was utilized . There was disappearance of  weights, seals, special beads, writing, long-distance trade, and craft specialisation .

Overall, artefacts and settlements indicate a rural way of life in what are called “Late Harappan”

  • Mesopotamian literature stops referring to Meluha by the end of 1900 BCE . 

Many theories are given for the decline of Harappan Civilisation by various scholars

Reason 1: Aryan Invasion

  • Theory was given by Ramaprasad Chanda in 1926 but elaborated by Mortimer Wheeler .
  • References to various kinds of forts of Dasas & Dasyus,  attacks on fortified cities & epithet Puramdara (fort destroyer) given to Indra reflect invasion of Aryans on Harappan cities .
  • Rig Veda mentions a place called Hariyupiya located on the bank of  Ravi where Aryans fought a battle . Name of the place sounds very similar to that of Harappa. Based on this, Wheeler concluded that it was the Aryan invaders who destroyed the city. 

Arguments against this theory

  • Historians like George Dale & BB Lal argue that  Rig Veda is a religious text of uncertain date & taking it as evidence on face value is not correct .
  • Harappans & Aryans are unlikely to have met each other. Harappan Civilisation declined around 1900 BCE whereas Aryans arrived in India around 1500 BCE.
  • No evidences of military assault have been found . Earlier Deadman Lane Theory of John Marshall has been discarded . Deadman lane is a street in Mohenjodaro where dead-bodies of 17 people were excavated. But later it was found that they didn’t belong to same period.  No bodies of warriors clad in armour and surrounded by the weapons of war have been found. The citadel, the only fortified part of the city, yielded no evidence of a final defence.

Reason 2 : Fall in Mesopotamian Trade

  • There was sudden end of long distance land and sea trade with Mesopotamia. Trade in luxurious items like lapis lazuli, beads etc. passed through Elam (located on eastern border of Mesopotamia) . In 2000 BC, Elam emerged as powerful state impacting Harappan exports to Mesopotamia and Mesopotamian Imports including tin to Harappa. Decline of trade led to decline of Harappan Civilisation as well.

Reason 3 : Raike’s Hypothesis – Floods 

  • RL Raikes was  famous hydrologist .
  • He believes that the Harappan civilization declined because of catastrophic flooding. But such flooding which could drown buildings 30 feet was not  result of normal flooding .  Geomorphologically ,  the Indus area is a disturbed seismic zone. Earthquakes might have raised the level of the flood plains of the lower Indus river along an axis roughly at right angles . This led to the ponding of the waters of the river Indus.

Reason 4 : Shifting away of Indus

  • Indus was  unstable river system which altered its course many times . 
  • River Indus shifted about 30 miles away from Mohenjodaro. People deserted the area because they were starved of water
  • But this cannot explain the decline of the Harappan civilization in totality. At best, it can explains the desertion of Mohenjodaro. 

Reason 5 : Drying up of Ghaggar

  • Ghaggar-Hakra area represented one of the core regions of Harappan  civilization. Ghaggar was a mighty stream . Rivers Sutlej and Yamuna used to be the tributaries of this river. Because of some tectonic disturbances, the Sutlej stream was captured by the Indus river and the Yamuna shifted east to join the Ganges. This kind of change in the river regime, which left the Ghaggar waterless, would have catastrophic implication for the towns located in this area.

Reason 6 : Increased Aridity

  • This theory was given by DP Aggarwal & Sood .
  • Basing their conclusions on the studies conducted in the U.S.A., Australia and Rajasthan , they have shown that there was an increase in the arid conditions by the middle of the second millennium B.C. In semi-arid regions like those of the Harappa, even a minor reduction in moisture and water availability could spell disaster. It would affect agricultural production which in turn would put the city economies under stress.

Reason 7 : Ecological Imbalance

  • “Harappans were over-exploiting their environment through over-cultivation, over-grazing, and excessive cutting of trees for fuel and farming. This would have resulted in decreasing soil fertility, floods, and increasing soil salinity.”
  • Deforestation was carried out on large scale for fuel to make bricks. Deforestation also reduced the rainfall in the area.
  • To sustain the city population, agriculture was to be done on large scale decreasing the soil fertility . Exhaustion of the soil may have diminished cereal production and starved the urban people.
  • Gradual movement away to other areas was already happening so as to reduce the pressure on the limited land. Harappan communities moved towards Gujarat and eastern areas, away from the Indus.

Localisation Phase

  • Debate on Terminology : Late Harappan vs Post Harappan
    • Those historians who are in favour of decline of Harappan Civilisation prefer to call it Post Harappan Civilisation .
    • Whereas those who argue for Transformation of Harappan Civilisation call it Late Harappan. Later Harappan terminology is preferred by most historians now a days.
  • Scholars working on the Indus civilization no longer look for the causes of its decline  because of the fact that the scholars who studied the Harappan civilization right upto the 1960s believed that the collapse of the civilization was sudden. It was towards the end of the 1960s  that scholars like Malik and Possehl focused their attention on various aspects of continuity of  Harappan tradition
  • Archaeologically speaking some changes are observable-
    • Some of the settlements were abandoned .
    • Tradition of uniform writing, seals, weights and pottery was lost.
    • Objects showing intensive interaction among the far flung settlements were lost.

In other words the activities associated with city-centred economies were given up.

  • But there was continuity as well.
  • Three prominent cultures which came after Mature Harappan Phase declined & Localisation Phase started were
    1. Cemetery H
    2. Jhukar/Late Kulli
    3. Rangpur 
Late Phase of Indus Valley  Civilisation

1 . Cemetery H

  • Cemetery H is a site in Harappa . Here, large Urn Burials dateable to Post Urban Culture were found.
  • Dated from 1900-1300 BCE.
  • Cemetery H Culture had Black on Red pottery with similar shapes of pottery as that of Mature Harappan Culture  , although motifs on pottery differed .

2. Late Kulli / Jhukar

  • Found in Southern Sindh, ChanhuDaro , Jhukar etc .
  • Some of typical Harappan elements like Stamp Seals continued but it was made of Terracotta or Faience .
  • They were still staying in brick houses but they gave up the planned lay out.

3. Rangpur

  • Found in Gujarat . Main sites were Rangpur & Lothal & Prabhas Patan (Somnath) .
  • There were fewer number of sites and settlements were smaller.
  • They were using ‘Lustrous Redware’ characterised by bright & burnished slipped surface.

This marks the end of our article on ‘Harappan Civilisation’ .

3 thoughts on “Harappan Civilisation”

  1. Very nice describe in the topic

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