Introduction to the Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilizations (3300-1400 BCE), also known as the Harappan Civilizations, were one of the contemporaries of the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. They were located on the flood plain of the River Indus, which covers parts of modern-day Pakistan and northwest India, including Sindh, Baluchistan, Afghanistan, West Punjab (Pakistan), Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and Maharashtra. The Indus Valley script has not yet been deciphered, so we do not know much about the institutions and systems of governance of the Indus Valley Civilization.
Agriculture and Trade in the Indus Valley Civilization
One important aspect of their society was agriculture, which was practised in the villages situated near the flood plains of the Indus River. These villages were able to produce sufficient food grains, including wheat, barley, rye, peas, sesame, lentil, chickpeas, and mustard. Rice was less common in their diet. The Indus people were also known for being the earliest civilization to produce cotton.
The lands of the Harappan sites were typically located in semi-arid areas, where irrigation was probably necessary for agriculture. To aid in this process, the Harappan people developed a new tool called a plough, which was used to dig the earth and plant seeds, as well as turn the soil. The plough allowed them to effectively cultivate crops in an environment with limited rainfall. A method of irrigation was used due to the low amount of rainfall. The Harappan reared cattle, sheep, goats, and buffalo. Water and pastures were present around many sites. People collected fruits, fish, and hunted wild animals. Sites such as Mohenjodaro, Lothal, and Harappa also had storehouses used for storing grains.
Urban Planning and Architecture in the Indus Valley Civilization
At its peak, the Indus Valley Civilization had around five million people. They had planned urban townships where houses were made of baked bricks, which was also one of the most noticeable and important features of the Indus people. The technique and design of the urban environment saw town planning divided into two parts: the Citadel and the Lower Town. The Citadel was the uppermost part of the Civilization, built on a high podium of mud bricks, where the administrative centre of the town was located. The higher authorities of the town and the headquarters for the rulers of the society lived here. These high ground houses (citadels) had storehouses where grains were stored for future use and protection from floods that may occur in the Lower Town region of the civilization. Significant buildings such as the Great Bath, granary, assembly halls, and workshops were built in this part of the city.
The Drainage System of the Indus Valley Civilization
The Citadel points towards an elaborate and efficient planning of the city, which suggests that the Harappan Civilization was an urban civilization. The Lower Town was where the common people lived and was the residential area. Here, we can see streets, covered drains that intersected at right angles. The houses varied in size, and some may have had two storeys. The houses were made of burnt bricks. Most houses had a central courtyard, a well, a bathing area, and a kitchen.
The drainage system of the Harappan cities was one of the most significant features in the history of civilizations. Each house in the town had drains. The brickwork prevented dirty water from leaking, and wooden screens stopped solid wastes from being washed away with the water. Drains were built on either side of the roads, covered with stones that could be removed for cleaning. The streets were aligned east-west or north-south in a grid. Houses had doors in narrow alleys off the main streets. There were uniform size bricks in a ratio of 4:2:1. There was a well-engineered sanitation system with baths in houses. The city was protected by walls.
The Social Structure of the Indus Valley Civilization
The Citadel and Lower Town of the Indus Valley Civilization denote that there was a class system that divided some sections of society as lower and upper class based on their work. The society of the Civilization was divided into three distinct social groups. One group ruled and administered the city, another group included merchants associated with trade and other business activities in the city, and the third group consisted of labourers who worked in the city, including farmers who cultivated wheat and barley as their main crops.
Trade and Economic Systems in the Indus Valley Civilization
The excavation did not reveal any evidence of currency during that period. People practised the barter system for the exchange of different goods and commodities. It has been revealed that there was an excellent system of weight measurement, as they used hand-made balances for measurement with the help of equal-sized, weighed stones. The Indus Valley Civilization is very well known for its trading. People travelled long distances to collect raw materials and were also engaged in foreign trade, as evidence was found of them trading with their contemporaries in Mesopotamia and the Nile.
They imported copper, gold, silver, and jade from Afghanistan, Arabia, Iran, and Central Asia, and exported lead and copper from India to other regions of the world. The excavations also reveal that the traders of the Indus Valley Civilization used high-quality unicorn seals to stamp their goods. It has been said that “The unicorn was a legendary creature for the people of the Indus Valley Civilization. From ancient times, the people described the unicorn as a beast with a big, pointed, spiralling horn stemming from its forehead.”
The Legacy of the Indus Valley Civilization
We can say that the Indus Valley Civilization is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, which gave the world its earliest cities. Its town planning is still a topic of discussion today, as well as the hygiene maintained by the Indus people, their concern for health and sanitation, and their well-known architecture. Prior to the excavations of the Harappan Cities, the history of Indian Civilization was thought to have begun in the Ganges Valley by scholars, who believed that Aryan immigrants from Persia and Central Asia populated the region around 1250 BCE. The discovery of the Harappan Cities cleared up these misconceptions and moved the timeline back 1500 years, giving us a completely different location and environment.
The Indus Valley Civilization was a sophisticated and advanced society that made significant contributions to the development of urban planning, agriculture, trade, and other areas. The Indus Valley Civilization was an influential contemporary of other ancient civilizations, such as those of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. Despite the impressive achievements of the Indus Valley Civilization, much remains unknown about their institutions and systems of governance due to the undeciphered nature of their script.