Religious beliefs and Practices of the Harappan people?

The religion of the Indus people had some interesting aspects. There is a striking absence of any temple among the remains of the Indus Valley. However, scholars like Mortimer Wheeler and others believe that the large buildings found at Harappa and Mohenjodaro were, in fact, temples. However, Dr. Bassam has rejected this view on the grounds that no idol has been found within these buildings. An idea of the religion of the Harappan people can be formed by studying seals, sealings, inscribed copper tablets, stone statuettes, and terracotta figurines.

MOTHER GODDESS: The prevalence of the worship of the Mother goddess (Shakti) is proved by the discovery of numerous terracotta figurines in nude form. The worship of the female goddess associated with fertility has long been held as a major feature of Harappan religion. Terracotta figures are shown wearing elaborate headdresses, neck ornaments, and a skirt secured by a girdle around the waist. Their headdress is usually fan-shaped or arched framework made of some light material. Ordinarily, the figurines in the Indus Valley are in a standing pose with their arms hanging parallel to the body. According to Dr. K.N. Shastri, the female figurines might have represented some minor gods that held a subordinate position under the “Pipal-God,” which was the supreme deity of the Indus Age. But Sir John Marshall emphasized the mother goddess, stating, “But in no country is the worship of the Divine Mother so deep-rooted and universal as in India, where she became a prototype of the Cosmic Energy (Prakriti) and the counterpart of the Cosmic Soul (Purusha).

TREE WORSHIP: The seals and painted pottery of the Indus Valley show figures of people and Acacia trees. These trees were regarded as celestial plants and were believed to be inhabited by divine spirits. The Pipal tree was considered the supreme abode in the Indus Valley. Due to the high sanctity associated with the plant, its symbolic representation formed the crest of the horned head-dresses of lower-grade deities. The Pipal tree was considered the tree of creation and knowledge, believed to bestow the highest knowledge upon those who adorned its branches on their heads. The Sami tree is usually identified with “Jand & Jandi.” The Jand tree is still believed to be the abode of a deity, and many religious ceremonies are performed under it.

There was a struggle between the gods and demons for the possession of the tree. Certain demons were always trying to steal away the branches of the trees, which were heavily guarded by a spirit. One important figure was a composite animal with a human face but a body composed of various animals. It possessed the intelligence of a man, the vigor of a ram, the ferocity of a tiger, and the deadly bite of a cobra. There were also other single-bodied but multi-headed animals, such as “sentinels.” In one case, the heads were those of a unicorn, bison, and an indeterminate quadruped with long, hooked horns curving forward. A cobra or naga deity is also seen guarding the tree. One seal also represents an Acacia tree guarded by the buffalo-headed god. Tree worship is very ancient in India, and its persistence in historical times clearly shows that the ancient tradition related to this cult was later incorporated by the Hindus into their religious system in a highly modified form.

SHIVA WORSHIP: The main consort of the Mother Goddess corresponds to Shiva, who is also known as Pashupati. On the seals, a male god is depicted with horns and three faces, in a yogic pose, with his legs bent and surrounded by four animals: the elephant, the tiger, the rhinoceros, and the buffalo. The animals surrounding him indicate his lordship over them. Sir John Marshall concluded that this deity was “the prototype of the historic Shiva.”

The Harappan people also practiced the worship of the “Linga” and “Yoni.” According to Wheeler, the importance, not necessarily the deification, of water in the lives of the Indus people can be traced through the Great Bath at Mohenjodaro and the extensive provision for bathing and drainage throughout the city. Purification through bathing or ceremonial ablutions must have been an integral part of the religion of the people. To quote Wheeler, “The Indus religion was a melange of much that we already know of third millennium Asiatic religious observance, augmented by specific anticipations of later Hinduism.

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