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Early India: Intro to The Indus Civilisation

The Indus Civilisation

  • The Indus Civilisation represents the first phase of urbanisation in India.
  • While the civilisation was in its peak, several cultures, namely, Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures that we discussed earlier in the chapter, prevailed in other parts of India.

Nomenclature, Phases and Chronology

  • The civilisation that appeared in the northwestern part of India and Pakistan in third millennium BCE is collectively called the Indus Civilisation.
  • Since Harappa was the first site to be identified in this civilisation, it is also known as Harappan Civilisation.
  • This civilisation did not appear all of a sudden.
  • The beginnings of the Neolithic villages in this region go back to about 7000 BCE at the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh.
  • Harappan culture is divided into various phases:
    • Early Harappan – 3000–2600 BCE
    • Mature Harappan – 2600–1900 BCE
    • Late Harappan – 1900–1700 BCE  
  • The urban phase was prevalent in the mature Harappan period and began to decline afterwards.
  • The Indus valley site of Harappa was first visited by Charles Mason in 1826 CE (AD), and Amri by Alexander Burnes in 1831.
  • The site of Harappa was destroyed for laying the railway line from Lahore to Multan.
  • The seal from this site reached Alexander Cunningham, the first surveyor of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
  • Alexander Cunningham visited the site in 1853, 1856 and 1875.
  • But the importance of the site and the associated civilisation were not realised until Sir John Marshal took over as the Director General of ASI and initiated research at the site.
  • Sir John Marshal played an important role in the development of archaeology in India.
  • Later in the 1940s, Mortimer Wheeler excavated the Harappan sites.
  • After the partition of the Indian subcontinent, many of the Harappan sites went to Pakistan and thus archaeologists were keen to trace the Harappan sites on the Indian side.
  • Kalibangan, Lothal, Rakhi Garhi and Dholavira are the Indian sites that have been since excavated.
  • The explorations and excavations conducted after the 1950s have helped to understand the Harappan Civilisation and its nature.

Geographical Area and the Settlements

  • The Indus Civilisation and the contemporary cultures covered nearly 1.5 million sq. km area in India and Pakistan.
  • The settlements of Sutkagen-dor in the west on the Pakistan–Iran border; Shortugai (Afghanistan) in the north; Alamgirpur (Uttar Pradesh, India) in the east and Daimabad (Maharashtra, India) in the south are the boundaries of this civilisation.
  • Its core area was in the regions of Pakistan, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana.

The Early Beginnings

  • The Indus region (Mehrgarh) is one of the areas of the world where agriculture and animal domestication began very early.
  • We do not know if there is any continuity between the Neolithic cultures of the Indus region and the later urban civilisation.
  • The early Harappan phase saw the development of villages and towns in the entire region.
  • In the Mature Harappan phase, urban centres developed.

Planned Towns

  • Harappa (Punjab, Pakistan), MohenjoDaro (Sindh, Pakistan), Dholavira, Lothal, and Surkotada (Gujarat, India), Kalibangan (Rajasthan, India), Banawali and Rakhigarhi (Haryana, India) are the major cities in the Harappan period.
  • Fortification, well-planned streets and lanes and drainages are noticed in the Harappan towns.
  • A civic authority perhaps controlled the planning of the towns.
  • The Harappans used baked and unbaked bricks, and stones for construction.
  • The towns had a grid pattern and drainages were systematically built.
  • The houses were built of mud bricks while the drainages were built with burnt bricks.
  • Houses had more than one floor.
  • The site of Mohenjo-Daro had a planned town, built on a platform.
  • It has two distinct areas.
  • One is identified as a citadel and another as the lower town.
  • The houses had bathrooms paved with burnt bricks and proper drains.
  • Some houses had stairs indicating the existence of an upper floor.
  • The houses had multiple rooms.
  • Many of the houses had a central courtyard with rooms all around.
  • The citadel area had important residential structures that were either used by the public or select residents.
  • In Mohenjo-Daro, a building has been identified as a warehouse.
  • The Great Bath is a tank situated within a courtyard.
  • The corridors were present on all four sides and stairs are seen on the northern and southern sides.
  • It was well paved with several adjacent rooms.
  • Some structures are identified as granary.
  • The bricks were laid watertight with gypsum mortar.
  • It had drainage.
  • It is associated with ritual bathing.

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