The Indus Valley Civilization

It was in 1921 and 1922 that archaeologists discovered remains of an ancient civilization after distinct stone seals from around the Indus river valley perked their interest. This civilization which flourished around the Indus river was termed the Indus Valley civilization or the Harappan civilization and it was found to be one of the earliest civilizations along with the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations. But what makes Indus valley civilization intriguing for many is that this civilization, unlike its counterparts in Egypt, China and Mesopotamia, had no evidence of war, conquests, or the existence of armies or slaves. It had some of the most impressive city planning and sewage systems. So, what is the story of this civilization and how did it come to an end?


Indus Valley Civilization existed from 3300 BC to 1300 BC. Archaeologists first identified the civilization at Harappa in the Punjab region of Pakistan in 1921 and then at Mohenjo-Daro in the Sindh region in 1922. These two sites were found to be the 2 major cities of the civilization. It is the most extensive of the world’s 3 earliest civilizations, covering an area of 1 million square kilometers. Like many other civilizations, this one also developed around river valleys. The people set up farming and grew crops along the banks of 2 rivers – the river Indus and the Ghaggar river. A larger number of settlements were found along the Ghaggar than the Indus and it appears to have been more productive too. The river Ghaggar has presently almost completely dried up, however, and flows only during the monsoon season. Many even believe that this is the lost river Saraswati which is mentioned in the Rig Veda as a big river located between the Indus and the Ganges.

Agriculture was the main source of livelihood while trade was also an important part of the economy. People grew wheat, barley, mustard field peas and spices like turmeric, ginger, cumin and cinnamon. Cattle, water buffalos, sheep, goats, chickens and even elephants were domesticated. Figurines of dogs with collars and paw prints suggest that dogs and cats were kept as pets too. . The Harappans also practiced extensive trade with the Mesopotamians, Central Asia and Iran, with Mesopotamian records calling the land of Harappans “Meluha”. Gold, silver, lapis lazuli, copper, timber etc. were exported to Mesopotamia probably in exchange for luxury or manufactured goods.

One of the most impressive discoveries about this civilization was how well planned their cities and sewage systems were. It seems water, drainage and bathing were held in high significance by the people. There was a brick-lined sewage system below the main streets that channeled water out of the city. Every house had a bathroom and toilet from where the used water flowed into a small drain cut into the house wall which brought it to the brick-lined sewage system. The public bath in Mohenjo-Daro called “The Great Bath” is one of the earliest instances of water-proofing in the world. This stately multistoried building had a 2.4m deep bathing pool in the center made of specifically-fitted burnt bricks coated with a layer of tar. Every brick found in these sites has the exact same ratio of 1:2:4. They also had a well-formed regular system of weights and measures. Harappan settlements were walled and important buildings like the granaries, warehouses and the Great Bath were separately walled and built on a mound to protect them at the time of floods.

A number of statues and terracotta figurines have been excavated, most of which were probably intended as images for worship. There were figures of seated men, a standing nude male, a dancing girl, small chariots, and kids and animals which appear to be toys. All of them are of excellent quality, signifying that it was a highly developed art in the Harappan culture. Thousands of small Harappan seals are the best-known artifacts from these sites. These seals show an animal such as a “humpless unicorn”, buffalo, elephant, bison, rhinoceros or tiger, with some kind of inscription on top. Around 450 signs or symbols have been identified from these seals which are the only proof that the Harappans had a written language. These seals were could have been used as stamps, identity cards or passports.

This rich and prosperous civilization went into a sudden decline around 1900 BC. It is said that in over a century, the urban social and political system collapsed, and the use of seals and writing disappeared. The Ghaggar or the Saraswati river started to dry up, causing many of the Harappans living in its banks to move in search of greener pastures. Some of them moved to the Ganges which would become the center of North Indian civilization. By 1300 BC, this majestic civilization was completely gone, leaving no traces of its written language or beliefs.