The earliest excavations in the Indus valley were done at Harappa in West Punjab and Mohenjo-Daro in Sindh. Both places are now in Pakistan. The findings in these two cities brought to light a civilization. It was first called the ‘The Indus Valley Civilization’.  But this civilization was later named as the ‘Indus Civilization’ due to the discovery of more and more sites far away from the Indus valley. Also, it has come to be called the ‘Harappan Civilization’ after the name of its first discovered site.

Important Sites

Among the many other sites excavated, the most important are Kot Diji in Sindh, Kalibangan in Rajasthan, Rupar in Punjab, Banawali in Haryana, Lothal, Surkotada and Dholavira, all the three in Gujarat. The larger cities are approximately a hundred hectares in size. Mohenjo-Daro is the largest of all the Indus cities and it is estimated to have spread over an area of 200 hectares. 

Origin and Evolution

The archaeological findings excavated for the last eight decades reveal the gradual development of the Harappan culture.  There are four important stages or phases of evolution and they are named as pre-Harappan, early-Harappan, mature-Harappan and late Harappan.

The pre-Harappan stage is located in eastern Baluchistan. The excavations at Mehrgarh 150 miles to the northwest of Mohenjo-Daro reveal the existence of pre-Harappan culture. In this stage, the nomadic people began to lead a settled agricultural life.  In the early-Harappan stage, the people lived in large villages in the plains. There was a gradual growth of towns in the Indus valley. Also, the transition from rural to urban life took place during this period. The sites of Amri and Kot Diji remain the evidence for the early-Harappan stage.

In the mature-Harappan stage, great cities emerged. The excavations at Kalibangan with its elaborate town planning and urban features prove this phase of evolution. 

In the late-Harappan stage, the decline of the Indus culture started. The excavations at Lothal reveal this stage of evolution.  Lothal with its port was founded much later. It was surrounded by a massive brick wall as flood protection. Lothal remained an emporium of trade between the Harappan civilization and the remaining part of India as well as Mesopotamia.

Date of the Harappan Culture

In 1931, Sir John Marshall estimated the duration of the occupation of Mohenjo-Daro between 3250 and 2750 B.C. Subsequently, as and when new sites were discovered, the dating of the Harappan culture was modified. The advent of the radiocarbon method paves way for fixing almost accurate dates. By 1956, Fairservis brought down the dating of the Harappan culture to between 2000 and 1500 B.C. on the basis of radiocarbon dates of his findings. In 1964, D.P. Agarwal came to the conclusion that the total span of this culture should be between 2300 and 1750 B.C. Yet, there is further scope of modification of these dates.

Salient Features of the Harappan Culture

Town Planning

The Harappan culture was distinguished by its system of town planning on the lines of the grid system – that is streets and lanes cutting across one another almost at right angles thus dividing the city into several rectangular blocks. Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Kalibangan each had its own citadel built on a high podium of mud brick. Below the citadel in each city lay a lower town containing brick houses, which were inhabited by the common people. The large-scale use of burnt bricks in almost all kinds of constructions and the absence of stone buildings are the important characteristics of the Harappan culture. Another remarkable feature was the underground drainage system connecting all houses to the street drains which were covered by stone slabs or bricks. 

The most important public place of Mohenjo-Daro is the Great Bath measuring 39 feet length, 23 feet breadth and 8 feet depth. Flights of steps at either end lead to the surface. There are side rooms for changing clothes. The floor of the Bath was made of burnt bricks. Water was drawn from a large well in an adjacent room, and an outlet from one corner of the Bath led to a drain. It must have served as a ritual bathing site. The largest building in Mohenjo-Daro is a granary measuring 150 feet length and 50 feet breadth. But in the citadel of Harappa we find as many as six granaries.

Economic life

There was a great progress in all spheres of economic activity such as agriculture, industry and crafts and trade. Wheat and barley were the main crops grown besides sesame, mustard and cotton. Surplus grain is stored in granaries. Animals like sheep, goats and buffalo were domesticated. The use of horses is not yet firmly established.  A number of other animals were hunted for food including deer.   Specialized groups of artisans include goldsmiths, brick makers, stone cutters, weavers, boat-builders and terracotta manufacturers. Bronze and copper vessels are the outstanding examples of the Harappan metal craft. Gold and silver ornaments are found in many places. Pottery remains plain and, in some places, red and black painted pottery is found. Beads were manufactured from a wide variety of semi-precious stones. Internal trade was extensive with other parts of India. Foreign trade was mainly conducted with Mesopotamia, Afghanistan and Iran Gold, copper, tin and several semi-precious stones were imported. Main exports were several agricultural products such as wheat, barely, peas, oil seeds and a variety of finished products including cotton goods, pottery, beads, terracotta figures and ivory products. There is much evidence to prove the trade links between the Indus and Sumerian people. Many seals of the Indus valley have been found in Mesopotamia. Trade was of the barter type. The seals and the terracotta models of the Indus valley reveal the use of bullock carts and oxen for land transport and boats and ships for river and sea transport. 

Social Life

Much evidence is available to understand the social life of the Harappans. The dress of both men and women consisted of two pieces of cloth, one upper garment and the other lower garment. Beads were worn by men and women. Jewelries such as bangles, bracelets, fillets, girdles, anklets, ear-rings and finger rings were worn by women. These ornaments were made of gold, silver, copper, bronze and semi-precious stones. The use of cosmetics was common. Various household articles made of pottery, stone, shells, ivory and metal have been found at Mohenjo-Daro.  Spindles, needles, combs, fish hooks, knives are made of copper. Children’s toys include little clay carts. Marbles, balls and dice were used for games. Fishing was a regular occupation while hunting and bull fighting were other pastimes. There were numerous specimens of weapons of war such as axes, spearheads, daggers, bows, arrows made of copper and bronze.  


The Harappan sculpture revealed a high degree of workmanship. Figures of men and women, animals and birds made of terracotta and the carvings on the seals show the degree of proficiency attained by the sculptor. The figure of a dancing girl from Mohenjo-Daro made of bronze is remarkable for its workmanship. Its right-hand rests on the hip, while the left arm, covered with bangles, hangs loosely in a relaxed posture. Two stone statues from Harappa, one representing the back view of a man and the other of a dancer are also specimens of their sculpture.  The pottery from Harappa is another specimen of the fine arts of the Indus people. The pots and jars were painted with various designs and colours. Painted pottery is of better quality.  The pictorial motifs consisted of geometrical patterns like horizontal lines, circles, leaves, plants and trees. On some pottery pieces we find figures of fish or peacock. 


The Harappan script has still to be fully deciphered. The number of signs is between 400 and 600 of which 40 or 60 are basic and the rest are their variants. The script was mostly written from right to left. In a few long seals the boustrophedon method – writing in the reverse direction in alternative lines – was adopted. Parpola and his Scandinavian colleagues came to the conclusion that the language of the Harappans was Dravidian. A group of Soviet scholars accepts this view. Other scholars provide different views connecting the Harappan script with that of Brahmi. The mystery of the Harappan script still exists and there is no doubt that the decipherment of Harappan Script will throw much light on this culture.


From the seals, terracotta figurines and copper tablets we get an idea on the religious life of the Harappans. The chief male deity was Pasupati, (proto-Siva) represented in seals as sitting in a yogic posture with three faces and two horns. He is surrounded by four animals (elephant, tiger, rhino, and buffalo each facing a different direction). Two deer appear on his feet. The chief female deity was the Mother Goddess represented in terracotta figurines. In later times, Linga worship was prevalent. Trees and animals were also worshipped by the Harappans. They believed in ghosts and evil forces and used amulets as protection against them.

Burial Methods

The cemeteries discovered around the cities like Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Lothal and Rupar throw light on the burial practices of the Harappans. Complete burial and post-cremation burial were popular at Mohenjo-Daro. At Lothal the burial pit was lined with burnt bricks indicating the use of coffins. Wooden coffins were also found at Harappa. The practice of pot burials is found at Lothal sometimes with pairs of skeletons. However, there is no clear evidence for the practice of Sati. 

Decline of the Harappan Culture  

There is no unanimous view pertaining to the cause for the decline of the Harappan culture. Various theories have been postulated.  Natural calamities like recurring floods, drying up of rivers, decreasing fertility of the soil due to excessive exploitation and occasional earthquakes might have caused the decline of the Harappan cities. According to some scholars the final blow was delivered by the invasion of Aryans. The destruction of forts is mentioned in the Rig Veda. Also, the discovery of human skeletons   huddled together at Mohenjo-Daro indicates that the city was invaded by foreigners. The Aryans had superior weapons as well as swift horses which might have enabled them to become masters of this region.


  1. Module-1 Ancient India by NIOS
  2. India’s Ancient Past by RS Sharma
  3. Class-11 Tamil Nadu State Board History Book

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