The immortals of Harappa – Part III

End of Indus Valley Civilization:

The end of IVC was not sudden as is believed to be. Sir Mortimer Wheeler after examination of a group of skeleton contended that the bodies were the remnants of mass massacre perpetrated by invaders (Aryans?). Later analysis though showed that the people were not victims of violent crimes but sever anemia. It is now believed that economics and climate change may have resulted in the decline of the cities and the subsequent decline of the civilization. A L Basham writing during the middle of the 20th century believed in the decline due to Aryan invasion theory.

The remains of horses were found in the late Harappan period suggesting a movement of horse riding people. Later houses in the cities were further subdivided into smaller portions that indicate movement of refugees, perhaps running away from the horse riding invaders. The image of “Horse riding invaders” makes its appearance again during the 16th and 17th century in Central and South America again in the form of Conquistador. Fine tools like the shaft hole axe were found in the upper levels probably left behind by the invaders.

It is possible that the cities were already declining when the invaders came leading to migration away from the cities. Eventually the civilization collapsed and was assimilated into the invading culture. Barui people in Baluchistan still speak a language very identical to Dravidian languages lending credence to the theory that Dravidians were inhabitants of Northwest India but were later forced or moved on their own volition to the southern parts.

The immortals of Harappa – Part II

Harappan seals:

Scribe or Proto-Shiva?
Scribe or Proto-Shiva?
Seals
Seals

Harappan seals are perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the IVC. The seals were often made of steatite (Also known as soapstone as it feels soapy to touch). The seals were flat and depicted animals, humans, hybrids along with a still undeciphered script. The script was read right to left like the Arabic family of languages. The seals had a little hole in the back which was probably used to tie the seals. Probably the seal was worn as an amulet around the neck or perhaps the amulet on the arm of the Priest-King was a seal. Or perhaps the seal was used to tie the goods that was exported probably to indicate the authenticity of the origin of the goods. One interpretation is that the seals were similar to modern day logos. General length of the script was around 6 symbols while the longest that is known was 17 symbols long. This is too small to accommodate description of something. Its possible that the seals consists of names of the Harappan Apple and Microsoft and Google. Perhaps the animal on the seal indicated the specialty. Thus the one with the elephant would be the monopoly on elephant trade while the one scribe (?) could be a services company that provided accounting or other clerical support. Or perhaps they indicated the official bureaucracy. Some similarity have been found of the symbols with those found on Easter Islands which is half the world away and existed in different time periods. Did the immortal Harappans made Easter Islands their new home?

Do they look alike?
Do they look alike?

Religion:

The Harappan civilization does not show a presence of religious buildings. Even burial rituals appear to be rare. No elaborate icons or religious carvings have been found. Burials consisted of items of daily use compared to the elaborate pyramids that the Egyptians were building at around the same time. Perhaps the Harappans did not believe in an after life. Like the later Indians, Pipal tree was probably held sacred. A seal depicts a Goddess on the Pipal tree being worshipped by a horned man and what appears to be priestess. Bull appears on many seals as also a man in a yogic position which some historians believe to be “Proto-Shiva”. He was perhaps a fertility God. Terracotta female figurine with red color applied on the “maang” were also found. Small statues of “Mother Goddess” have been found perhaps indicating a fertility cult of worship. Some seals showed swastikas too. All these elements were later absorbed by the following civilizations.

Technology :

The blades of IVC were flat without the midrib which made them liable to be easily bent. The Sumerians already had much better blades. Why the Harappans did not import them will like so many other questions remain unanswered. Toys with movable heads, small toy carts, beads were also found. The domestic fowl or the chicken was first domesticated in the IVC. Cotton, Rice and perhaps the water buffalo were also first domesticated in IVC. The Pottery in Indus Valley mostly contained black designs of animals and plants and abstract shapes on red background.

Dancing Girl:

The Dancing Girl
The Dancing Girl

 

One of the most amazing piece of art found in the IVC is that of the “dancing girl”. The bronze statue is almost 4500 years old. She is naked with one arm completely filled with bangles which reminds me of similar bangles used by modern day Banjara.

Banjara Woman
Banjara Woman

She is very thin with what is believed to be a provocative (?) posture. It is generally believed that she belonged to a class of temple dancers or prostitute. But it begs the question of why anyone would make a costly (?) statue of a prostitute? Was it a gift from a lover appreciating her beauty? Who was she? Was she a famous princess or a famous priestess? What did she do in her life? Was she just an imagination of the metal worker or was she based on some real person? Who was she?

The immortals of Harappa – Part I

Time : 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE – Almost 1500 to 2000 year period. Mature Harappan period lasted from 2600BCE to 1900 BCE. Compared to IVC, American civilization is just 235 year old. Ancient Egyptian civilization is supposed to have begun with the union of Lower and Upper Egypt by Menes around 3100 BCE and lasted till 31 BC when Mark Anthony and Cleopatra were defeated by Augustus Octavian. Sumerian empire lasted from 26 century BCE to 23rd Century BCE when it was followed by Akkadian empire. Thus the three great civilizations of the ancient times were contemporaries at one time or the other.

Place : The IVC was mainly located in North Western Indian subcontinent from modern northern Maharashtra to the eastern edges of Iran and to Northern Pakistan. The Mohenjo Daro and Harappa were the two main cities with the later giving its name to the culture. The ancient name of the Civilization or of a prominent city of the civilization could be Meluhha or Melukka from Sumerian sources.

 

Location of Indus Valley Civilization
Location of Indus Valley Civilization

Economy : The cities were located with an eye towards trade. They were located close to rivers (Mohenjo Daro, Harappa, Kot Diji ) or closer to the sea (Lothal, Surkotada) to facilitate transport and trade. Some sites like Mehrgarh and Novsharo were located close to the land passes or the source of raw material. Harappan seals and weights were found in Mesopotamia and sites in Persian Gulf indicating extensive trade. Sumerian sources mention that the trade with the land of Meluhha consisted of ivory, Lapis Lazuli, wood and gold. The sea ports of Lothal and Surkotada must have facilitated trade with the southern parts of India as well. This could be an explanation of presence of Harappan art forms in the Edakkal caves. Overland trade with the Persians via the Bolan Valley was also maintained. Copper was mined in Rajasthan, Lapis in the mountains of Chagai Hills, wood from Gujarat. Carefully standardized weights and length rods were found in the remains of the cities. The chert weights were in the ratio of 5:2:1 with a unit being of 28 grams. The presence of these weights indicate an understanding of mathematics and also the presence of a strong central authority across the cities that standardized them. Another reason could be trade imperatives as the need for a standard weight might have been felt by the merchants in all the trading cities even in the absence of a central authority imposing it. Harappan were adept in metallurgy with copper, tin, bronze and tin being used. A “dockyard” has been found in Lothal and there is considerable controversy regarding its use. A warehouse near the dockyard could be the place of exchange of materials and a marketplace. Cotton was used for the first time in the Indus Valley. It was also an important export item from India even in the ancient times.

 

Mohenjo Daro Weights
Mohenjo Daro Weights

Cities :

Cities exhibit extensive planning. In Mohenjo Daro. The plan of the cities remained constant for hundreds of years. When the old buildings collapsed, new ones were constructed with exactly the same plan with minor variations. For at least a thousand years the street plan remained the same. Read that sentence again. For a thousand years the street plan remained the same! Look around you, how many buildings or streets have the same plan for even a hundred years? What about having an entire city with the same plan for a hundred years? Even with a liberal estimate of generation span of 30 years (For ancient times it should be 20 years), more than 30 generations saw the same city. The city must have entered into the thoughts and life of the people. It was a symbol of stability with its crenelated surrounding walls and 30ft wide streets. People from far off villages would rarely come to the city and when they did come they would have been in awe of the majesty of it. Perhaps there were laws preventing people from changing the layouts. The civilization was in contact with the advancing civilizations of Mesopotamia but still they did not adopt their advancements even simple ones like shaft hole axe. Why were the rulers against change? There were no evidence of large scale military presence in the cities thus it is unlikely that the rulers maintained order by force. The religious structure, that we will come to see later, also was not very pervasive. It is a wonder why and how they maintained their extreme conservatism. Was it a ghost city? Or a holy city? People just maintained the city but no one lived there? This is highly unlikely due to the cost involved and the evidences point to people living there.

An awesome shaft hole axe found in Bactria
An awesome shaft hole axe found in Bactria depicting a double eagle headed man fighting a tiger

The city contained a artificial platform or mounds to its west about 30ft above ground. The “citadel” contained the administrative and religious buildings. The effort required to build the citadel must have been tremendous and would have required considerable motivation. Perhaps the cities were threatened with frequent raids and had enemies in the nearby areas. The cities may have been the center of wealth (unlikely as little evidence is found of wealth but it could also have been looted through the centuries) or center of authority over the surrounding areas. These could have necessitated protection.

Mohenjo Daro Citadel showing the Great Bath
Mohenjo Daro Citadel showing the Great Bath

The city was laid out in a grid pattern with intersecting roads. The houses had a central courtyard with rooms around it facing inwards. There were no windows facing the roads. The houses were made of mud bricks and contained their own baths and wells. The cities had extensive drainage network not seen anywhere else till the Roman empire. The drains were built with kiln fired bricks. The city had huge baths. The presence of public bath as well as baths in houses indicate an observance of ritual purity very similar to what is seen in modern Hinduism. The architecture of the city shows knowledge of surveying and geometry indicating the knowledge of these sciences.  Maintaining the city for hundreds of years must have required a very efficient bureaucracy. How did they maintain their record is a mystery. The Indus script that has been found seems to be too complex for usual record keeping and must have been mostly ceremonial in nature. How did they keep their records? Did the ravages of time destroy these records or did they memorize everything? The later Vedic period’s stress of memorization of religious texts and the techniques developed to aid in memorization may have its origins in the IVC cities bureaucratic practices.

Sewers in Mohenjo Daro
Sewers in Mohenjo Daro

The cities do not show any evidence of a royal palace. What was the ruling structure of the cities like? Did they have an imperial system? An oligarchy? A theocracy? A statue of a “priest king” has been found with its eyes semi closed with a band on his head. The semi closed could represent meditation or could be because the statue is of a person of mongoloid origin. It is unlikely that we will ever know who he was. Was he a philosopher? Great King? Warrior? Or just a vanity bust of a rich merchant? The cloth which covered only one shoulder is very finely depicted. There is a band on his upper arm. Is it a sign of his authority like we have sleeve insignia or shoulder patches in the modern armies depicting ranks or was it just a religious amulet? Depicting it in a statue must have indicated its importance. The design of the cloth may have also indicated the social status. The ancient Roman/Greek senators had distinctive costume. Is the statue wearing such a “uniform”?

The "Priest King" of Mohenjo Daro
The "Priest King" of Mohenjo Daro
Roman Senators
Roman Senators

It is possible that the cities were independent city states like the Greek city states with extensive trading. The cities may have been in competition with each other with their own spheres of influence but perhaps not engaging in large scale warfare. The competition must have been mostly economic and trade related. But the uniformity of structure of the cities do not support this. It is possible that apart from the rival ry in trade, the cities exhibited a common underlying cultural and religious nature. Thus even when they were rivals in trade, they had the same social and architectural structure because  of religion.

Some image courtesy a very good article on http://www.andaman.org/BOOK/F1-IndusCivilization/indus.htm.