Harappan Civilization: Phases of Civilization

Earlier these archaeological sites were given names on the basis of the modern-day village Harappa near the site i.e. Harappan Civilization. Later, when it was discovered that it was not limited only to Harappa, then it was renamed as Indus Valley Civilization. However, in Modern day practice, both names are used equally. The Harappan Civilization flourished in the Indian subcontinent during the 3rd millennium B.C. It was a great civilization & pieces of evidence were discovered during archaeological excavation through light on the nature & character of this civilization. This evidence helped in understanding the socio-cultural-religious-eco & political life of the Harappan people.

Harappan Civilization was an indigenous civilization. Harappan Civilization was not the result of any sudden development but in reality, it represented the culmination of a long process of a gradual evolution spanning more than 3000 years. Understand more about the Indus Valley Civilization, which was divided into three phases; Early Harappa, Mature Harappa, and Late Harappa. However, we are going to study Indus valley in five phases which will include pre-Harappa and Post Harappa as well.

The Periodization of Harappa Civilization

The Harappan Civilization is divided into three major phases; Early, Mature, and Late Harappa. Archaeologists consider the ancient Indus towns to have been full-fledged civilizations. This is because of their social hierarchy, writing system, massive planned settlements, and long-distance trade. The peak period of the Harappan civilization lasted from around 2600 to 1900 BCE. With the inclusion of the predecessor and successor civilizations – Early Harappan and Late Harappan, respectively – the entire Indus Valley civilization may be considered to have existed between the 33rd and 14th centuries BCE. It is a part of the Indus Valley Tradition, which also encompasses the pre-Harappan settlement of Mehrgarh, the earliest agricultural site in the Indus Valley. The Post Harappan Phase marks the Iron Age of India.

Pre-Harappa Era: Mehrgarh Site near Harappan Civilization

The Pre-Harappan Stage/era seems to be originated from Mehrgarh. Mehrgarh is a Neolithic (7000 BCE to c. 2500 BCE) mountain site in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Mehrgarh shed new light on the rise of the Indus Valley civilization. Mehrgarh is one of the earliest sites in South Asia with evidence of cultivation and herding. Mehrgarh was affected by the Neolithic of the Near East, as evidenced by parallels between “Domesticated wheat types, early farming phases, pottery, other archaeological artifacts, a few domesticated plants and herd animals.

Ruins of Mehrgarh
Ruins of Mehrgarh | Image Source: Wikipedia

Some archaeologists argue that Mehrgarh has a separate origin and is not linked with Harappan Civilization. They note the idea that the farming economy was introduced fully from the Near East to South Asia, as well as the parallels between Neolithic sites in eastern Mesopotamia and the western Indus valley, which indicate a cultural continuity between those locations.

Another group of archaeologists hypothesizes that Mehrgarh’s population fluctuated while its cultural progress remained constant. While there is a high level of continuity between the neolithic and chalcolithic (Copper Age) cultures of Mehrgarh, dental evidence indicates that the chalcolithic population was not descended from the neolithic population, indicating moderate gene flow.

Early Harappa Era

Early Harappan, Harappan phase
Map showing Early Phase of Harappan Civilization | Image Source: Wikipedia
The Early Harappan Phase is also known as Ravi Phase. The name was given because of the adjacent  Ravi River. It lasted from approximately 3300 BCE to 2800 BCE. It began when farmers from the mountains moved gradually between their mountain homes and the lowland river valleys. It is related to the Hakra Phase, identified in the Ghaggar-Hakra River Valley to the west; and it predates the Kot Diji Phase (2800–2600 BCE), a site in northern Sindh, Pakistan, near Mohenjodaro. Pakistan’s Rehman Dheri and Amri are examples of the mature stage of older hamlet cultures. Kot Diji depicts the period preceding Mature Harappan, with the citadel symbolizing centralized government and a more urbanized way of life. Another city of this Early Harappan Phase was discovered on the Hakra River in India at Kalibangan.

Trade networks connected this culture to other regional cultures and distant sources of raw materials, such as lapis lazuli and other bead-making materials. At this point, villagers had tamed a variety of plants and animals, including the water buffalo. In 2600 BCE, early Harappan villages evolved into huge urban centers, marking the beginning of the mature Harappan period. A recent study indicates that the inhabitants of the Indus Valley shifted from villages to cities.

Mature Harappan Phase

The transition from the Early Harappan period to the Mature Harappan period is marked by the construction of large walled settlements, the expansion of trade networks, and the increasing integration of regional communities into a “relatively uniform” material culture in terms of pottery styles, ornaments, and stamp seals bearing Indus script.

The Mature Harappan phase started in 2600 BCE and lasted till 1900 BCE. It is called Mature because of the nature of the Civilization. This era of Harappa Civilization has a well-developed City, drainage System, Bricks, Seals, Authority and governance, Trade & Commerce, Arts & Cultural system, social system, political system, etc. Thus, making it a completely civilized city. The drainage system and city planning of this era were still better than the modern-day drainage system of some cities of the World.

By 2600 BCE, the Early Harappan communities had become urbanized. Such urban hubs include Harappa, Ganeriwala, Mohenjo-daro in modern-day Pakistan, and Dholavira, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Rupar, and Lothal in modern-day India. More than 1,000 cities and settlements have been discovered in total, primarily in the region between the Indus, Ghaggar-Hakra, and their tributaries.

Late Harappa

By approximately 1700 BCE, most of the cities had been abandoned. The fall began around 1900 BCE. A recent analysis of human remains from the Harappa site has revealed that the end of the Indus civilization was marked by an upsurge in interpersonal violence and infectious diseases such as leprosy and tuberculosis. According to historian Upinder Singh, the late Harappan period was characterized by the disintegration of urban networks and the development of rural ones.

During the period of around 1900 to 1700 BCE, a number of regional cultures evolved in the Indus region. Cemetery H culture was found in Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh; Jhukar culture was found in Sindh, and Rangpur culture (marked by Lustrous Red Ware ceramics) was found in Gujarat. Pirak in Balochistan, Pakistan, and Daimabad in Maharashtra, India, are also related to the Late phase of the Harappan civilization.

Kudwala in Cholistan, Bet Dwarka in Gujarat and Daimabad in Maharashtra are the largest urban Late Harappan sites, but they are smaller and fewer in number than the Mature Harappan towns. Bet Dwarka was fortified and maintained touch with the Persian Gulf region, but long-distance trade generally declined. On the other hand, the time also witnessed a diversification of the agricultural base, with a variety of crops and the introduction of double-cropping, as well as a movement of rural settlement toward the east and south.

The pottery of the Late Harappan period is defined as “displaying some continuity with mature Harappan pottery traditions” as well as displaying unique distinctions. Many locations remained to be occupied for centuries, despite the decline and disappearance of their urban characteristics. Once common items such as stone weights and female figurines have become uncommon. There are a few circular stamp seals with geometric motifs, but they lack the Indus script that defined the civilization’s mature era. The writing is uncommon and restricted to inscriptions on potsherds. There was also a reduction in long-distance trade, despite the fact that local cultures demonstrate new advances in faience and glass production and stone bead cutting.

No longer maintained were urban services such as drains and the public bath, and modern structures were “poorly constructed.” Stone sculptures were intentionally destroyed, treasures were occasionally concealed in hoards, indicating turmoil, and animal and human bodies were left unburied in the streets and abandoned buildings.

During the second part of the second millennium BCE, the majority of post-urban Late Harappan towns were completely abandoned. The subsequent material culture was marked by transient habitation, the campsites of nomadic and primarily pastoralist people, and the use of rudimentary handmade ceramics. However, there is considerable continuity and overlap between the Late Harappan and the following cultural periods in small rural communities in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh.

Why Indus Valley Civilization/Harappan Civilization was called Urban Civilization?

The Harappan Civilization was an urban civilization. The population size of Harappan settlements, their population density the pattern of their economic activities, and other such dimensions reflect the urban character of Harappan settlements (city). A settlement like Harappa & Mohenjo-Daro was mega-cities of this great civilization because more than 30,000 – 40,000 people lived there.

Till now more than 1400 Harappan towns & cities were discovered. This large number of urban centers indicates that Harappan Civilization reflected the urban revolution in the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd millennium BC. Harappan Civilization was highly evolved because Harappan lived a well-settled life socio-religious institutions were well developed. The Harappan cities didn’t represent any haphazard growth but their cities were laid out in a planned manner.

Harappan Civilization was a multiclass civilization

Harappan Civilization was a multiclass civilization because the rich and poor very important and less important people lived together in Harappan cities. Some of the Harappan people lived in big houses while many others lived in a single-room barrack. The pieces of evidence discovered from graves also support the multiclass character of the Harappan Civilization. The similarities of Harappan cities in terms of town planning, common script system of weights & measures, uniform size of bricks, and similar religious life indicate that Harappan Civilization was administered by some centralized authority.

It appears that Harappa & Mohenjo-Daro were two capital of this great civilization. Nothing is known definitely about the nature of polity on basis of the predominance of the merchant class in Harappan cities. Scholars have opined that civilization was administered by merchants. The presence of the modern municipality-type urban institution in Harappan cities was another important feature of this great civilization.

Without such an urban institution, the planned layout of cities, construction & maintenance of public buildings, etc. would have been impossible. The science & technology know-how of the Harappan Civilization was highly advanced. The Harappan know how to make bronze by mixture tin & copper in definite proportions. Their medical knowledge was at an advanced level as revealed by evidence of skull surgery found at Kalibangan & Lothal.

Ship Dockyard at Lothal, a Harappan Civilization site
Ship Dockyard at Lothal, a Harappan Civilization site

Harappan knew the technology of making books & ships. They were aware of the technology used in waterproofing walls & surfaces. The civil engineering knowledge was quite advanced because of Harappan builds-Dams-forts & other big public buildings. Harappan Civilization was secular in nature because till now no clearly identical public religious building has been discovered. Religious evidence associated with this civilization has been found in private houses. This suggests that religion was a private affair in the life of Harappan & public life was not much influenced by religion.

The predominance of secondary & tertiary economic activities was another important feature of the Harappan Civilization. Most of the Harappan were involved in arts & crafts and trade & commerce. The Harappan practices agriculture & domesticated animals but these were not identical features of this great civilization.

The materialistic outcome was dominant among the Harappan people. The high level of prosperities of Harappan cities revealed by archaeological pieces of evidence suggests that Harappan didn’t waste their time & energy on ritual ceremonies & philosophical speculation. But they invested their efforts in the improvement of their worldly life. Harappan has extensive resources at its disposal.

The utilitarian outcome was also dominant in Harappan Civilization. The Harappan focused on making life comfortable rather than luxurious & refine. The walls of their houses were plain without any paint etc. the door was simple without any carving. Harappan Civilization belongs to great tradition because archaeological evidence suggests that most of Harappan were literate. The script was known to the Harappan people. Evidence of script has been found from the pottery & seals of common use. These pots & seals were manufactured by common people who confirmed that the makers & users of these pots & seals were literate.

The Harappan Civilization was a peace-loving civilization

Harappan lived a defensive life because their cities were fortified. Weapons like swords & shields were rare in discoveries from Harappan settlements. The Harappan Civilization was extensive until now more than 1400 Harappan towns & cities have been discovered. It was 20 times bigger than its contemporary Egyptian civilization & 12 times bigger than Mesopotamian Culture.

The distance between its northernmost & south was about 1400 km & the distance between east & west was about 1600 km. Harappan Civilization was a proto-historic civilization because the Harappan script was yet to be deciphered. It was a bronze-age civilization because the use of bronze was a typical feature of the 3rd millennium BC worldwide. Harappan Civilization was a river in civilization because most of the Harappan settlements were located in river valleys. Harappan Civilization was a long-lasting civilization because it flourished for more than 1000 years.

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.

Harappa Civilization was larger than the Ancient Egypt Civilization; The urban planning of the Indus Valley/Harappa 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.

Dayaram Sahni

The Archaeologist Dayaram Sahni had discovered the Harappan Sites in 1921 and 1922.

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.

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 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.

There were no traces of Political, social or cultural war in Indus Valley Civilization. There were no mummified dead bodies likein other ancient Civilization. There were a political system but that doesn’t reflecting any Emeperor or Kingdom system.

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