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The Indus Valley Civilization, or the Harappan Culture, formed the earliest urban civilization on the Indian sub-continent,

and one of the earliest in the world. Its unique urban characteristics ensure it a place in the annals of world architecture. However, before discussing these, it is worthwhile to briefly examine the history of its discovery. Archaeologists were always puzzled by Vedic texts (dated c.1500 - 900 BC) that talked about "nomadic invaders conquering mighty citadels under the banner of their God, Indra ..."* . However, no trace of the 'mighty citadels' had ever been found, nor of their mysterious inhabitants, the Dasas. Then, in 1856, six miles from the river Ravi, in the foothills of the Himalayas, railway construction workers came upon a small crumbling hill of fire-baked bricks. These they quickly appropriated for the railway line's ballast. Along with the bricks, certain steatite (soapstone) seals were found. Archaeologists, notably Sir John Cunningham, quickly confirmed their antiquity. Thus started a voyage of amazing discovery during which archaeologists unearthed the remains of an ancient civilization, which had its epicenter in the plains of the Indus. However, settlements were found as far west as Baluchistan in Pakistan and well down into the Gangetic plain in India. New discoveries are still being made. The main cities are Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, both in modern-day Pakistan.

The Land of the Gods

What were the origins of the Indus Valley people? Some 5000 years ago, a nomadic people made their way into northwest India from Sumeria (modern day Iran) by means of the Mula Pass across the Himalayas, near modern Karachi, and there found a fabulously rich land, fertilized by the great river systems of the Indus, Ravi, Beas, Chenab and Sutlej. This same area forms modern-day Punjab. Compared to the deserts of Iran, this was God's blessed land, with ample water, fodder and fuel supply. Clay for making bricks was plentiful in the

riverbeds and so was wood to burn the bricks. Over a period of a thousand years, these immigrants spread over an area of half a million square miles.

Architecture and Town Planning

If by 'urban' we mean the tendency to form society, founding cities with all their attendant rules, then the Harappan people succeeded admirably. Excavations show a degree of urban planning which the Romans achieved only later, after a gap of 2500 years. The twin cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa formed the hub of the civilization. They are representative in the sense that planning principles employed here are followed practically without change at all other sites. Both cities were a mile square, with defensive outer walls. An orthogonal street layout was oriented toward the cardinal directions. The street layout shows an understanding of the basic principles of traffic, with rounded corners to allow the turning of carts easily. These streets divided the city into 12 blocks. Except for the west-central blocks, the basic unit of city planning was the individual house. The Harappan house is an amazing example of a native people, without the benefit of technology, adapting to local conditions and intuitively producing an architecture eminently suited to the climate. The house was planned as a series of rooms opening on to a central courtyard. This courtyard served the multiple functions of lighting the rooms, acting as a heat absorber in summer and radiator in winter, as well as providing an open space inside for community activities. There were no openings toward the main street, thus ensuring privacy for the residents. In fact, the only openings in the houses are rather small - this prevented the hot summer sun heating the insides of the houses. An advanced drainage system is also in evidence. Drains started from the bathrooms of the houses and joined the main sewer in the street, which was covered by brick slabs or corbelled brick arches, depending on its width.

In most of the sites, the central-western blocks were reserved for public architecture. Perhaps the most famous examples are theGreat Bath and Granary at Mohenjo-daro. The Great Bath has been the subject of much debate over its exact function. The prevalent view seems to be that it was used for ritualistic bathing - much as continues in the Hindu tradition even today.

It is unfortunate that none of the structures of the Indus Valley civilization survive intact today. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Harappan people left nothing monumental, like the pyramids or ziggurats, for posterity to marvel at. This may be the reason that among the majority of books on architecture, the Harappan Culture hardly merits a note. However, the planning principles and response of the architecture to climate are a lesson to us all.

Artifacts for Posterity

The most numerous of the surviving artifacts are a series of steatite (soapstone) seals, of which the best known are those of the Humped Brahmani Bull and Pashupati. Apart from this, there are some carved figurines - the bronze Dancing Girl and the statues of a priest and a male torso, again in steatite.

Decline and Decay

The peaceful life of the Harappan people bred a sense of complacency. Hence, when the Aryan invaders poured in from the Northwest, they encountered little or no resistance. City after city fell, and the pathetic remains of the people were either assimilated into the conquerors' way of life, or fled further south. In fact, the fall of Mohenjo-daro, almost 3,500 years ago, typified this decay. In terms of achievements in town planning and civil administration, this was a great setback, as more than a thousand years were to pass before anything of this magnitude was accomplished in India again. The invaders were a nomadic people, unused to urban life. They revered all natural phenomena, ascribing divinity to animals, the wind, the trees, the sky and the water, among myriads of others. It was during this age that the Vedas began to be composed - this formed the basis of early Hinduism. The culture and architecture of these early nomads is the focus of our next article: The Vedic Age.

The earliest traces of civilization in the Indian subcontinent are to be found in places along, or close, to the Indus river. Excavations first conducted in 1921-22, in the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, both now in Pakistan, pointed to a highly complex civilization that first developed some 4,500-5,000 years ago, and subsequent archaeological and historical research has now furnished us with a more detailed picture of the Indus Valley Civilization and its inhabitants. The Indus Valley people were most likely Dravidians, who may have been pushed down into south India when the Aryans, with their more advanced military technology, commenced their migrations to India around 2,000 BCE. Though the Indus Valley script remains undeciphered down to the present day, the numerous seals discovered during the excavations, as well as statuary and pottery, not to mention the ruins of numerous Indus Valley cities, have enabled scholars to construct a reasonably plausible account of the Indus Valley Civilization. Some kind of centralized state, and certainly fairly extensive town planning, is suggested by the layout of the great cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. The same kind of burnt brick appears to have been used in the construction of buildings in cities that were as much as several hundred miles apart. The weights and measures show a very considerable regularity. The Indus Valley people domesticated animals, and harvested various crops, such as cotton, sesame, peas, barley, and cotton. They may also have been a sea-faring people, and it is rather interesting that Indus Valley seals have been dug up in such places as Sumer. In most respects, the Indus Valley Civilization appears to have been urban, defying both the predominant idea of India as an eternally and essentially agricultural civilization, as well as the notion that the change from rural to urban represents something of a logical progression. The Indus Valley people had a merchant class that, evidence suggests, engaged in extensive trading. Neither Harappa nor Mohenjodaro show any evidence of fire altars, and consequently one can reasonably conjecture that the various rituals around the fire which are so critical in Hinduism were introduced later by the Aryans. The Indus Valley people do not appear to have been in possession of the horse: there is no osteological evidence of horse remains in the Indian sub-continent before 2,000 BCE, when the Aryans first came to India, and on Harappan seals and terracotta figures, horses do not appear. Other than the archaeological ruins of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, these seals provide the most detailed clues about the character of the Indus Valley people. Bulls and elephants do appear on these seals, but the horned bull, most scholars are agreed, should not be taken to be congruent with Nandi, or Shivas bull. The horned bull appears in numerous Central Asian figures as well; it is also important to note that Shiva is not one of the gods invoked in the Rig Veda. The revered cow of the Hindus also does not appear on the seals. The women portrayed on the seals are shown with elaborate coiffures, sporting heavy jewelry, suggesting that the Indus Valley people were an urbane people with cultivated tastes and a refined aesthetic sensibility. A few thousand seals have been discovered in Indus Valley cities, showing some 400 pictographs: too few in

number for the language to have been ideographic, and too many for the language to have been phonetic. The Indus Valley civilization raises a great many, largely unresolved, questions. Why did this civilization, considering its sophistication, not spread beyond the Indus Valley? In general, the area where the Indus valley cities developed is arid, and one can surmise that urban development took place along a river that flew through a virtual desert. The Indus Valley people did not develop agriculture on any large scale, and consequently did not have to clear away a heavy growth of forest. Nor did they have the technology for that, since they were confined to using bronze or stone implements. They did not practice canal irrigation and did not have the heavy plough. Most significantly, under what circumstances did the Indus Valley cities undergo a decline? The first attacks on outlying villages by Aryans appear to have taken place around 2,000 BCE near Baluchistan, and of the major cities, at least Harappa was quite likely over-run by the Aryans. In the Rig Veda there is mention of a Vedic war god, Indra, destroying some forts and citadels, which could have included Harappa and some other Indus Valley cities. The conventional historical narrative speaks of a cataclysmic blow that struck the Indus Valley Civilization around 1,600 BCE, but that would not explain why settlements at a distance of several hundred miles from each other were all eradicated. The most compelling historical narrative still suggests that the demise and eventual disappearance of the Indus Valley Civilization, which owed something to internal decline, nonetheless was facilitated by the arrival in India of the Aryans.

The greater Indus region was home to the largest of the four ancient urban
civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia and China. It was not discovered until the 1920's. Most of its ruins, even its major cities, remain to be excavated. The ancientIndus Civilization script has not been deciphered.

Harappa was a city in the Indus civilization that flourished around 2600 to 1700
BCE in the western part of South Asia.

Cities and Context

The Harappans used the same size bricks andstandardized weights as were used in other
Indus cities such as Mohenjo Daro and Dholavira. These cities were well planned with

wide streets, public and private wells, drains, bathing platforms and reservoirs. One of its most well-known structures is the Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro .

There were other highly developed cultures in adjacent regions of Baluchistan, Central
Asia and peninsular India.

Material culture and the skeletons from the

Harappa cemetery and other sites testify to a continual intermingling of communities from both the west and the east. Harappa was settled before what we call the ancient Indus civilization flourished, and it remains a living town today.

The Saraswati River

In fact, there seems to have been another large river

which ran parallel and west of the Indus in the third and fourth millenium BCE. This was the ancient Saraswati-Ghaggar-Hakra River (which some scholars associate with the Saraswati River of the Rg Veda).

Its lost banks are slowly being traced by researchers. Along its now dry bed,
archaeologists are discovering a whole new set of ancient towns and cities.


Ancient Mesopotamian texts speak of trading with at least two seafaring civilizations Magan and Meluhha - in the neighborhood of South Asia in the third millennium B.C. This trade was conducted with real financial sophistication in amounts that could involve tons of copper. The Mesopotamians speak of Meluhha as a land of exotic commodities. A wide variety of objects produced in the Indus region have been found at sites in Mesopotamia.

This site tells the story of the ancient Indus Civilization through the words and
photographs of the world's leading scholars in the US, Europe, India and Pakistan. It starts with the re-discovery of Harappa in the early 19th century by the explorer Charles Masson and later Alexander Burnes, and formally by the archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham in the 1870's. This work led to the the first excavations in the early 20th century at Harappa by Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, and by R.D. Banerji at another Indus Civilization city, Mohenjo Daro .

HARP and Indian excavations

Since 1986, the joint Pakistani American Harappa Archaeological Research

Project (HARP) has been carrying out the first major excavations at the site since before independence in 1946. These excavations have the shown Harappa to have been far larger than once thought, perhaps supporting a population of 50,000 at certain periods. These continuing excavations are rewriting assumptions about the Indus Civilization, as is recent work by archaeologists in neighboring India. New facts, objects and examples of writing are being discovered every year in India and Pakistan.

Almost 600 slides from HARP photographed by Dr. Jonathan Mark Kenoyer [University
of Wisconsin, Madison] and Richard H. Meadow [Harvard University] appear on this Website, including the 90 Slide Introduction to the Ancient Indus Civilization. A detailed look at the discoveries from 1995-1998 at the actual site in Punjab describes the comprehensive evidence for aEarly Harappan Ravi Phase dating to 3300 BCE. Another 90 slide section covers excavations in 2000-2001. It includes an essay on the early development of Indus arts and technologies. Another section explores the mysterious socalled granary and circular platforms at Harappa. A fifth 90 slide section covers further evidence for the Ravi and Kot Diji phases at the site. A 72 slide series bySharri

Clark [Harvard University] looks at ancient Indus figurines discovered in Harappa. There is also a 103 introduction and image series on Mohenjo Daro, the best known ancient Indus site in Sindh, southern Pakistan.

Another 600 slides and essays by a number of other leading scholars of the
ancient Indus civilization in India, Pakistan, Europe and America are part of this Website. Many more new facts and theories will be published here in the coming years, for we are only at the beginning of what are likely to be a long series of exciting future discoveries in the Indus and Saraswati river basin.

The Largest Bronze Age Urban Civilization

Indus civilization remnants have been discovered from as far south as Mumbai
[Bombay], in Maharashtra State, India, and as far north as the Himalayas and northern Afghanistan.

The westernmost sites are on the Arabian sea coast in Baluchistan, Pakistan, right
next to the Iranian border.

A thousand miles to the east in India, Harappan settlements have been found

beyond India's capital, New Delhi in Uttar Pradesh State. Discoveries in Lothal andGola Dhoro and Dholavira in Gujarat State suggest a southern coastal network spanning hundreds of miles.

Cultural Development

Indus culture seems to have gradually spread from west to east, with sites
towards central and southern India flourishing after Harappa andMohenjo Daro had declined. The drying up of the ancient Saraswati or Ghaggar-Hakra River, east of and parallel to the Indus, may also have affected the civilization. There are numerous Indus sites along that river bed.

Earlier scholars thought that Indo-Aryan invaders destroyed the Indus cities and pushed
the remnant populations into southern India.

This model is no longer supported,

but the decline of the Indus people and the language that they spoke is still a subject of study. It is unclear whether the ancient Harappans would have spoken an Indo-Aryan or Dravidian language, or possibly have spoken even other languages such as Mundari.

The existence of the Brahui tribe

inBaluchistan, to the west of the Indus, who speak a Dravidian language like Tamilspoken in southeast India, suggests that some migration of people or culture did occur. However, the date for these migrations is not confirmed. The possible endurance of certain Indus signs like the arrow sign is suggestive of some continuity, but this too needs to be studied further.

There also seems to be much greater cultural continuity between ancient Indus
times and the era after 1700 BCE until today than earlier archaeologists have tended to recognize. An archaeological look at a contemporary Baluchi fishing village by William Belcher is one such example.


Harappa was an Indus civilization urban center. It lies in Punjab Province,

Pakistan, on an old bed of the River Ravi.

The latest research has revealed at least five mounds at Harappa that 3-D
renditions of Harappashow to have been surrounded by extensive walls. Two mounds have large walls around them, perhaps as much for trade regulation as defense.

A structure once considered a granary is now thought to have been a large

building with ventilated air ducts. A set of working platforms to the south of this structure are also of great interest to archaeologists.

An abundance of terracotta figurines at Harappaprovided the first clues in the

19th century to the ancient Indus - often abbreviated as Harappan civilization.

Mohenjo daro

Mohenjodaro is probably the best known

Indus site. Mohenjo Daro is in Sindh, Pakistan, next to the Indus River, not far from the very early human flint mining quarries at Rohri. The Indus may once have flowed to the west of Mohenjo Daro, but it is now located to the east.

Here the Great Bath, uniform

buildings and weights, hidden drains and other hallmarks of the civilization were discovered in the 1920's. This is where the most unicorn seals have been found. Due to a rising water table, most of the site remains unexcavated, and its earliest levels have not been reached.


Dholavira is located on Khadir Beyt, an island in the

Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat State, India. It has only been excavated since 1990. As large as Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, it has some of the best preserved stone architecture.

A tantalizing signboard with Indus script has also been


Dholavira appears to have had several large reservoirs,

and an elaborate system of drains to collect water from the city walls and house tops to fill these water tanks.


Lothal is on the top of the Gulf of

Khambat in Gujarat, India, near the Sabarmati River and the Arabian Sea. It is the most extensively researched Harappan coastal site.

A bead factory and Persian Gulf seal

have been found here suggesting that like many sites on the Gulf of Khambat, it was deeply into trading.


Rakhigarhi is a recently discovered city in Haryana, India. Partial excavations have

revealed that it is as large as Harappa, Mohenjo Daro and Ganweriwala.


Ganeriwala is in Punjab, Pakistan near the Indian border. It was first discovered by Sir
Aurel Stein and surveyed by Dr. M. R. Mughal in the 1970s. It spreads over 80 hectares and is almost as large as Mohenjo Daro. It is near a dry bed of the former Ghaggar or Sarasvati River, and has not been excavated, yet. Equidistant between Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, Ganweriwala may have been a fifth major urban center.

Smaller Settlements

Gola Dhoro (also known as Bagasara) is a site in Gujarat, India, excavated from 1996 to
2004.A distinctive ancient Indus seal was found there, as well as extensive

evidence for the sudden evacuation of this tiny town with well stocked manufacturing facilities.

Daimabad is in Maharashtra near Bombay. Discovered in 1958, it is a controversial site.

Some suggest that the pottery and single shard with ancient Indus signs on it is definitive of Harappan settlement; others say the evidence is not sufficient. A unique hoard of exquisite bronze chariots and animals that may or may not be of Indus Civilization style was also found here.

Chanhudaro is 80 miles south of Mohenjo Daro in Sindh. It was a manufacturing center.

Various tool, shell, bone and seal-making facilities which involved writing were found. Beads were made using efficiently layered floors. Chanhudaro seems also to have been hastily abandoned.

Sutkagen Dor in Baluchistan is the westernmost known Harappan site located on the
Pakistani border with Iran. It is thought to have once been on a navigable inlet of the Arabian Sea. The usual citadel and town are present, as well as defensive walls 30 feet wide. Sutkagen Dor would have been on the trade route from Lothal in Gujarat to Mesopotamia and was probably heavily involved in the fishing trade similar to that which exists today in the coast along Baluchistan.

All these sites flourished for various periods between 3500 and 1700 BCE. There are
probably many more important Indus sites. Some must have been lost or destroyed by shifting river paths. Others are probably buried under modern towns.

What does seem clear is that the important sites were ancient commercial centers. They
are on rivers or near the coast. Various specialized manufacturing facilities suggest that they were heavily involved in trade with each other and far outside the region.