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Harappan Civilization

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Last updated date: 22nd Jul 2024
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What about Harappan Civilization

Harappa was among the earliest cities in the subcontinent to be discovered. Harappa is known to be a 4700-year-old city in the subcontinent that was discovered around the time of 1920.  Soon after, the discovery of cities such as Lothal, Dholavira, Mohenjodaro, and Kalibangan, have also come to be known as the Harappan cities or the advent of the Harappan civilization. These Harappan sites have been found around the Indus River, proving the existence of the Indus Valley Civilization.

The Harappan civilization did not appear suddenly.. It developed from different Neolithic villages. It is believed that the technology that was used to exploit the fertile plains of river Indus might have caused the increase of agricultural production. This has led to the production of larger surpluses, to feed and help non-agricultural people such as artisans, administrators, etc. It also gave way to the promotion of exchange or trading contracts with distant regions. It has brought prosperity to the Harappan people, and they were able to set up different cities.


By around 2000 BC, several regional cultures had developed in the different parts of the subcontinent which were also based on the usage of stone and copper tools. These Chalcolithic cultures which did lay out of the Harappan zone were not that rich in nature and flourishing. These were basically very rural in nature. The origin and development of these cultures has been placed in the chronological span between 2000 BC–700 BC. These are mainly found in Western and Central India and are described as non-Harappan Chalcolithic cultures.

What was Special about Harappan Cities?

These cities have been divided into two or more parts. 

  • Citadel:

The western part, which was smaller but higher, was called the citadel.

  • Lower Town:

The eastern part was larger, but the lower part was called the lower town.

The walls of the baked brick were built around each part of the city. The bricks were so excellently baked that they survived centuries. The walls were laid in an interlocking pattern, making the buildings strong. In several cities, special structures were constructed on the citadel. For instance, in Mohenjodaro, a very special tank, called the Great Bath, by historians, was built in this area. Some towns like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, and Lothal had elaborate storage facilities. These were some of the special facts about Harappan civilization.

Trading network both internal and external, was a very important feature of the urban economy of the Harappans. As the maximum urban population had to depend on the surrounding countryside for the supply of food and other necessary products, there did emerge a village town interrelationship. Both were interdependent on each other for their own benefit. The urban craftsmen needed different markets to sell their goods in some areas. It led to contact between different towns. The traders also made sure to establish contacts with foreign lands particularly Mesopotamia, where these goods were in demand.

It is important to note that different kinds of metals and precious stones which were needed by craftsmen to make goods, but as these were not readily available in the local market, they had to be brought from outside. The presence of such raw materials found at sites away from the place of its origin, n indicates that it must have reached there through an exchange activity. Thus, Rajasthan region is rich in various copper deposits and the Harappans acquired copper mainly from the Khetri mines which were located here. Kolar gold fields of Karnataka and the river beds of the Himalayan rivers might have supplied some of the gold there. The source of silver may have been the Jwar mines of Rajasthan.

Houses, Drains and Streets

Almost all the houses had a separate bathing area, and many had wells to deliver water. Most of those cities had covered the drains. Each drain had a gentle slope to allow the water to flow through it. The drains in the houses were linked to the roads and smaller drains, which eventually led to larger ones. All three of them, i.e. houses, drains and streets were designed and constructed at the same time.

Life in the City

  • The leaders were the ones who planned to build special buildings in the city. Rulers sent men to faraway places to get metal, precious stones, and other things they needed.

  • The scribes were the people who knew how to write and help prepare the Harappan seals and maybe write on certain materials which had not survived.

  • There had been men and women, craftsmen who made all sorts of things.

  • Numerous terracotta toys were found in the Harappan sites, which demonstrates that children might have played with them.

New Crafts in the City

  1. Most of the objects that were made and found in the cities of the Harappan civilization were of stone, shell and metal, including copper, bronze, gold and silver.

  2. Copper and bronze were used for the production of tools, weapons, ornaments and vessels.

  3. Gold and silver have been used in the making of ornaments and vessels.

  4. The Harappan seals were made up of stone that was rectangular and had an animal sculpted on them.

  5. The Harappan culture also made pots with beautiful black designs.

  6. Actual bits of cloth were attached directly to the lid of a silver vase and also some copper artifacts in Mohenjodaro.

  7. Archeologists also discovered spindle whorls, created from terracotta and faience, that had been used to spin thread.

In Search of Raw Materials

Raw materials are products that are either naturally found or produced by farmers or herders. Raw materials are processed for the production of finished goods. The raw materials used by the Harappans were locally available. Although other materials such as copper, tin, gold, silver and precious stones were brought from far away. 

  1. The Harappans probably brought copper from areas of Rajasthan, and Oman in West Asia. 

  2. Tin, which was combined with copper to produce bronze, was carried from areas of Afghanistan and Iran. 

  3. Gold was brought from modern Karnataka and gemstones from modern-day Gujarat, Iran and Afghanistan.

Food for People in the Cities

People dwelling in rural areas have grown crops and reared animals. Harappans began to grow wheat, rice, pulse, sesame seeds, barley, pea, linseed and mustard. 

  1. The plow was used to plow the earth to shift the soil and sow the seeds. 

  2. Water was collected and delivered to the farms when the plants grew. 

  3. Harappans brought up cattle, sheep, goats and buffalo. In the dry summer months, big herds of animals were likely taken farther away in search of pasture and water. 

  4. People also picked fruits like beer, caught fish, and hunted wild animals like an antelope.

A Closer Look – Harappan Towns in Gujarat

The town of Dholavira was situated on Khadir Beyt in the Rann of  Kutch. 

  1. This town had freshwater and rich soil. 

  2. Dholavira was divided into three parts, and each part was enclosed by huge stone walls, with entryways through gateways. 

  3. And there was a large open area in the establishment, where public celebrations took place. 

  4. Large letters from the Harappan script were engraved in white stone and carved in wood.

The town of Lothal stood beside the tributary of Sabarmati, in Gujarat, near the Gulf of Khambhat

  1. The raw materials, such as semi-precious stones, were readily available in shops. 

  2. There was a storage facility in the city, too. 

  3. Workshop for making beads: stone pieces, half beads, tools for making beads, and finished beads have also been discovered here.

The Mystery of the End

About 3900 years ago, we discovered the start of a major change. People stopped residing in a lot of cities. Harappan seals and weights were not used. Raw materials carried from long distances were becoming rare. In Mohenjodaro, we find that the garbage piled up on the streets, the drainage system broken, and new, less remarkable houses were constructed over the streets.

We're not sure why this happened. Some research shows that the rivers had dried up. Others indicate that there has been deforestation. There were floods in some areas. But neither of those reasons could explain the end of all the cities. It also seems as if the rulers had also lost control. Sites in Sindh and West Punjab (presently Pakistan) have been abandoned, while many have relocated to newer, smaller settlements to the east and south.

FAQs on Harappan Civilization

1. Briefly comment on the Harappan Architecture.

The town of Harappan was divided into two or more parts of which the western part was smaller, but higher, known as the citadel. Also, the part to the east was relatively larger but lower, and the archeologists called it 'the lower town.' The citadel consisted of granaries, places of worship, public spaces and assembly halls, while the lower town was divided into rectangular sections of wide roads perpendicular to each other.

People built single or multiple houses on each side of the road, with rooms built around the veranda. The town of Harappan had a well-planned sewage system where each house had a drain linked to the street drains, which were further connected to the larger drains. The drains were also covered with stone blocks laid in neat lines along with inspection holes for cleaning purposes.

2. Describe the agricultural activities of the Harappan Civilization.

Harappans grew crops like wheat, rice, pulse, peas, barley, sesame, linseed, and mustard. They also created some new tools known as plow which were used to dig the soil for sowing crops and turning the soil. Irrigation methods were used due to low rainfall. The Harappan raised the sheep, the goat and the buffalo. Water and grassland were present in many locations. People gathered fruit and fish and hunted wild animals.

Mohenjodaro, Harappa, and Lothal had huge storage facilities used to store grains, so they were called granaries. Huge fire altars are discovered in Kalibangan and Lothal that might have been used to make sacrifices. Lothal also suggested a huge dockyard for the transportation of cargo.

3. What were the religious beliefs of the Harappan civilization?

A large number of terracotta figurines discovered at the Harappan sites have been associated with the worship of the mother goddess. Many of these represent females who were adorned with a wide girdle, loin cloth and necklaces. They did wear a fan shaped head dress. In some underlying cases, the female is shown with an infant in arm. There is this one that shows a plant growing out of the uterus of a woman which probably symbolizes the goddess of earth.  Many scholars identify a statue with God Pashupati (Lord of beasts) or ‘Proto-Shiva’ though some don’t agree with it. A deity is shown with horns on his head and flowing hair standing in a nude position between the branches of a Pipal tree and a worshiper is seen kneeling in front of him. Animal worship also appears to be quite popular among the Harappans.

4. How was the planning of towns in the Harappan civilization?

The houses of common people differed in size. It was from a single-room house in Harappa to bigger structures in general. The houses were mostly  built out of burnt bricks. The bigger houses had many rooms which were surrounded by a square courtyard. These houses were provided with well built private wells, kitchens and bathing platforms. The difference in sizes of the houses suggests that the rich have lived in the larger houses, whereas the one room buildings or barracks might have been made for the poorer section of the society. The drainage system of the Harappans was elaborately well made. Every house had drainage openings, which opened into the different street drains. These drains were covered with manholes;i.e bricks or stone slabs which could be removed for cleaning. These were constructed at regular intervals, by the side of the streets for cleaning purposes.

5. How were the industries and crafts of Harappan civilization?

The gold objects included beads, armlets, needles and various other ornaments. The usage of silver was more common than gold metal. A large number of silver ornaments and dishes have been discovered. A number of copper tools and various weapons have also been discovered as well. The tools used included axes, saws, chisels, knives, spearheads, arrowheads etc. The weapons produced by the Harappans were mostly more defensive in nature. There is relatively no  evidence of weapons like swords etc. The most famous specimen  is the bronze ‘dancing girl’ figurine which was discovered at Mohenjodaro. It is a nude female figure, with the right arm on the hip and the left arm hanging in a dancing pose. She is wearing a large number of different bangles. Bead-making was also held as an important craft.