Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) was a Bronze Age civilization in the northwestern regions of South Asia, lasting from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE, and in its mature form from 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE. Indus Valley Civilization is also known as the Harappan Civilization. Along with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of three early civilizations of the region comprising North Africa, West Asia, and South Asia, and of the three, the most widespread, its sites spanning an area stretching from northeast Afghanistan, through much of Pakistan, and into western and northwestern India.

Indus Valley Civilization
Indus Valley Civilization: Mature Phase

It flourished in the basins of the Indus River, which flows through the length of Pakistan, and along with a system of perennial, mostly monsoon-fed, rivers that once coursed in the vicinity of the seasonal Ghaggar-Hakra River in northwest India and eastern Pakistan

In the 1920s, the Archaeological Department of India carried out excavations in the Indus valley wherein the ruins of the two old cities, viz. Mohenjodaro and Harappa were unearthed. In 1924, John Marshall, Director-General of the ASI, announced the discovery of a new civilization in the Indus valley to the world.

Discovery of Indus Valley Civilization

Charles Masson, a deserter from the East India Company’s army in 1829, provided the first modern account of the remnants of the Indus civilization. Harappa, an Indus civilization city in the basin of the Indus tributary river Ravi, was Masson’s most important archaeological discovery in Punjab. Masson took numerous notes and sketches of the rich historical items of Harappa, many of which were half-buried. His views of Harappa were published in 1842 in the book Narrative of Various Journeys in Baluchistan, Afghanistan, and Punjab.

After the British takeover of Punjab in 1848–49, Harappa was attacked even more perilously for its bricks. A substantial quantity was transported as track ballast for Punjab’s newly constructed rail lines. Midway through the 1850s, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) of railroad track between Multan and Lahore was supported by Harappan bricks.

Formation of Archaeological Survey of India

Alexander Cunningham, the first director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India, returned to Harappa to conduct a survey, but this time of a site whose entire upper layer had been removed in the interval. He established the Archaeological Survey of India in 1961. He believed that Harappa was a lost Buddhist City. Cunningham did publish his discoveries in 1875, in which he was unable to verify that Harappa was the lost Buddhist city recorded by the Chinese traveler Xuanzang in his 7th-century CE. For the first time, he deciphered a Harappan stamp seal with an unfamiliar character, concluding that it was not indigenous to India.

Archaeological work in Harappa slowed until a new viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, pushed through the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act of 1904 and hired John Marshall as director of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Marshall assigned Hiranand Sastri to survey Harappa, and he reported that it was not of Buddhist origin. Marshall ordered ASI archaeologist Daya Ram Sahni to dig the site’s two mounds after appropriating Harappa for the ASI under the Act.

Marshall dispatched an assortment of ASI officials to survey Mohendaro. This group comprised D. R. Bhandarkar (1911), R. D. Banerji (1919, 1922–1923), and M. S. Vats (1924). Later in 1923, in conversation with Marshall, Vats made similar observations regarding the seals and script discovered at both locations. Marshall was convinced of the significance of the discoveries by 1924, and on 24 September 1924, he made a cautious but noteworthy disclosure in the Illustrated London News. British Assyriologist Archibald Sayce was able to point to extremely identical seals discovered in Bronze Age levels in Mesopotamia and Iran, providing the first convincing evidence of their date; other archaeologists confirmed his findings.

The Archaeological Survey of India conducted a large number of surveys and excavations along the Ghaggar-Hakra system in India after the partition of India in 1947 when the majority of excavated sites of the Indus Valley civilization lay in territory awarded to Pakistan and its area of authority was reduced. As of 1977, around 90 percent of Indus Valley Civilization script seals and inscribed artifacts were discovered in sites in Pakistan near the Indus river, while the other 10 percent were discovered at other sites. In 2008, approximately 616 sites were reported in India, whereas 406 sites were reported in Pakistan.

Origin of Indus Valley Civilization

Harappan Civilization or Indus Valley Civilization was one of the oldest & greatest civilizations in the history of mankind. It flourished for more than 1000 years in the Indian subcontinent. The discovery of this civilization pushed Indian history back by almost 2000 years because previously it was believed that the Vedic age represented the first phase of evolved life in the Indian subcontinent.

The Harappan Civilization was extensive until now more than 1400 Harappan settlements have been discovered. This civilization covered an extensive area of about 1.3 million square kilometers but the origin of this great civilization has remained at the center of historical controversy different scholars have explained the origin of this great civilization quite differently.

Controversies related to the origin of Harappan Civilization

The origin of Harappan Civilization has been a controversial issue because most of the pieces of evidence gathered from Harappan towns & cities during archaeological excavation belong to the mature phase of civilization. The pieces of evidence related to the early phase of this civilization are quite limited. These limited pieces of evidence have been interpreted which different scholars. As a result of which different theories emerged about the origin of a great civilization.

Most archaeological excavations carried out at Harappan cities have focused on discovering the horizontal expansion of the Harappan settlement. The vertical excavation was quite limited. At many prominent Harappan cities such as Mohenjo-Daro, the lower levels are lying submerged in water. Because of this very limited evidences could be gathered about the early phase of Harappan Civilization. In absence of sufficient evidence associated with the early phase of life in Harappan settlement the picture of their origin has remained quite hazy & different theories have emerged to explain the origin of this great civilization.

Theory of Sudden origin 

According to this theory, Harappan Civilization was established by a group of foreigners coming from Sumerian Civilization. These immigrants knew urban life because they were living in towns & cities for a long time. This knowledge was used by them to establish. Towns & Cities in the Indian subcontinent. This urban phase is referred to as the Harappan Civilization.

This theory was put forward by scholars like Sir John Marshall, R.E. Mortimer Wheelers & V. Gordon Childe. The supporters of this theory believed that Harappan Civilization emerged rapidly. It attained a mature phase within a short span of about 500 years. This time period was estimated by keeping in mind 7 Stratigraphic levels discovered at Mohenjodaro. Such kind of rapid rise was possible only if makers of the cities had prior knowledge of urban life.

Basis of theory

Supporters of the foreign origin theory emphasized similarities between Harappan Civilization & Mesopotamia civilization to prove that both civilizations were the work of the same group of people. The Harappan Civilization & Mesopotamia civilization was similar in their lifestyle & various other features-

Both civilizations were urban. Both used seals (seals – authentication – seal on packed material stamp) to authenticate their transaction. Both used a pictographic script. Potter’s wheel was used by both. Both used bronze. Burned bricks were used by both civilizations. Both were contemporary.

Theory of “Aryan Origin”

Map related to Theory of Aryan Invasion in Indus Valley Civilization
Map related to Theory of Aryan Invasion for Indus Valley Civilization

Before the time of the Aryan migration into the Indian subcontinent, there was a highly developed civilization in ancient India known as the Indus Valley Civilization, which was located in what is Pakistan and northwest India today, on the fertile flood plain of the Indus River and its vicinity.

The earliest evidence of religious practices in this area dates back approximately to 5500 BCE, farming settlements began around 4000 BCE, and around 3000 BCE there appeared the first signs of urbanization. By 2600 BCE, dozens of towns and cities had been established and between 2500 and 2000 BCE the Indus Valley Civilization was at its peak. The evidence suggests that the Indus Valley Civilization had social conditions comparable to Sumeria and even superior to the contemporary Babylonians and Egyptians.

By 1500 BCE the Aryans migrated into the Indian subcontinent. Coming from central Asia, this large group of nomadic cattle herders crossed the Hindu Kush Mountains and came in contact with the Indus Valley Civilization. This was a large migration and used to be seen as an invasion, which was believed by some scholars to be behind the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization; this hypothesis is not unanimously accepted today.

Today scholars have a different understanding of how things developed. We know that a process of decay was already underway in 1800 BCE; some say that the Saraswati River was drying up, others that the region suffered catastrophic floods. The consequences of either event would have had a catastrophic effect on agricultural activity, making the economy no longer sustainable and breaking the civic order of the cities.

Theory of Gradual Evolution

Recent archaeological excavation carried out in the north-western part of the Indian Subcontinent has successfully discovered the antecedent communities & culture of the great Harappan Civilization. The gradual evolution of these communities over a period of 3000 years resulted in the emergence of Harappan Civilization.

This theory has been supported by the evidence discovered by archaeological like Walter A. Fariservis, G.F. Dales, A.N. Ghosh, Stuart Piggott, and Raymond. According to this archaeological evidence, the number of small communities like Kullu, Zhob, Nal Quetta, Mundigak was living in the North-Western part of the Indian subcontinent during the 6th millennium BC.

These communities were small in size; their economy was subsistence & represented a very early stage of human life. The process of gradual evolution transformed these communities into villages by 5000 BC. Evidence of this phase of human life has been found at Mehargarh. It was a flourishing village in 500 BC in the valley of the river Bolan. Mehargarh region was a semi-arid natural resource that was rare in that area. Some people from the Mehargarh region migrated into the valley of the river Indus.

The Indus Valley provided them an extensive fertile alluvial plain perennial source of water a better climate for agriculture & plenty of other natural resources like timber & minerals. This favorable geographical environment gave a boost to the process of evolution & by the middle of 4th, BC Mesopotamia towns like Amri and Kot Diji emerged in the Indus region. These towns represented the proto-Harappan phase (similar to Harappan Civilization).

The process of gradual evolution resulted in the stage of agriculture surplus by around 2800 BC by this time people had started using copper tools. The availability of agriculture surplus paved the way for rapid progress in fields of arts n crafts & trade & commerce. As a result of this number of centers of arts & crafts & the number of centers of trade & commerce emerged. These urban settlements symbolized the emergence of Harappan Civilization.

The balance involving Agriculture surplus arts & crafts and trade & commerce prepared the material basis for Harappan Civilization till the time this balance remained instant, civilization continued to flourish. In beginning, the Harappan traded with nearby people. Their trade & commerce was local and regional in nature. By around 2500 BC, Harappan started trade & commerce with Mesopotamia people because around this age Mesopotamia record started mentioning Meluha, the region identified with Harappan Civilization.

The balance of Harappan external trade was highly favorable (that is positive) because Harappan exported the primary & secondary goods. They imported gold and silver & semi-precious stone this inflow of foreign wealth carried the prosperity of Harappan cities to great Harappan Trade & civilization reached its mature stage. Harappa & Mohenjo-Daro were Mega-cities of this great civilization during this period.

Previous Year Questions for UPSC Prelims

Ques 1: Regarding the Indus Valley Civilization, consider the following statements:(UPSC Prelims 2011)

  1. It was predominantly a secular civilization and the religious element, though present, did not dominate the scene,
  2. During this period, cotton was used for manufacturing textiles in India.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a.) 1 only

(b.) 2 only

(c.) Both 1 and 2

(d.) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: Option C


Ques 2: Which of the following characterizes/characterizes the people of the Indus Civilization? (UPSC Prelims 2013)

  1. They possessed great palaces and temples.
  2. They worshipped both male and female deities.
  3. They employed horse-drawn chariots in warfare.

Select the correct statement/ statements using the codes given below.

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 only

(e) 1, 2 and 3

(d)  None of the statements given above is correct

Answer: Option B

Quick Questions on Indus Valley Civilization for UPSC Preparation

Standardized weights and measurements, seal carving, and the use of copper, bronze, lead, and tin in metallurgy are some of this civilization’s most significant inventions. The Indus script is poorly understood, and as a result, little is known about the governmental structures and institutions of the Indus River Valley Civilization.

Sir John Hubert Marshall.

Following the finding of seals by J. Fleet, the civilization was initially uncovered at Harappa during an excavation campaign directed by Sir John Hubert Marshall in 1921–1922. Marshall, Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, and Madho Sarup Vats found the Harappan ruins.

Indus Valley Civilization was larger than the Ancient Egypt Civilization; The urban planning of the Indus Valley Civilization was way better than some of cities in Modern Era; They have knowledge of Bricks and seals; at its peak Indus Valley Civilization was holding more than 10% of world population.

Climate Change was one of the major factor that might have destroyed the Indus Valley Civilization. Many historians think that changes in the region’s topography and climate are what caused the fall of the Indus civilisation. The Indus river may have flooded and changed course due to movement in the Earth’s crust, or outer layer.

Around 2600–1900 BCE marked the Harappan civilization’s prime period. The entire Indus Valley civilization may be assumed to have existed from the 33rd to the 14th century BCE if the precursor and succeeding cultures, Early Harappan and Late Harappan, are included.

The earliest civilization that has ever been discovered by humans is Sumerian. These days, southern Mesopotamia is referred known as Sumer. A thriving urban society existed in 3000 BC. The Sumerian civilisation was largely agricultural and had a strong sense of community.

No, Ramayana is not older than Indus Valley Civilization. Indus Valley Civilization was dated back to 3300 to 1300 B.C. Ramayana Text was dated back to 700 to 600 B.C.

According to the Harappan/Indus culture timeline provided by Historians, the Early Phase/Ravi Phase occurred between 3300 and 2800 BCE. The Mahabharata War occurred during this time period in 3136 BCE, the year determined by the Kali Yuga calculation, a time scale that is being used today in India.

The 4 oldest civilization of world are Egypt, Mesopotamia, Indus Valley and China.

The Indus Valley Civilization began far before the Egyptian (7000 BC to 3000 BC) and Mesopotamian (6500 BC to 3100 BC) civilizations, according to research from IIT-Kharagpur and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It is now believed to be at least 8,000 years old, not 5,500 years old.

After its excavation, it earned the name Mohenjo-Daro, which means “Mound of the Dead.” But in 2500 BCE, this city was inhabited and much more developed. Knowing how well-organized and useful this city previously was will astound you! This archaeological site is currently located in Pakistan’s Sindh province.

The archaeological site was given named Harappa after the name of modern village located near site.

Teams led by archaeologist S.R. Rao found several Harappan sites between 1954 and 1963, notably the harbour metropolis of Lothal.

The raw materials came from diverse sources for the Harappans. They most likely obtained copper from Oman as well as from what is now Rajasthan. Iran and Afghanistan supplied the tin. The gold may have come from Karnataka.

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