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.
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 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.
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.
One of the most fascinating yet mysterious cultures of the ancient world is the Harappan civilization. This culture existed along the Indus River in present day Pakistan. It was named after the city of Harappa, which it was centered around. Harappa and the city of Mohenjo-Daro were the greatest achievements of the Indus valley civilization.
Artifacts and clues discovered at Mohenjo-Daro have allowed archaeologists to reconstruct this civilization. The similarities in plan and construction between Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa indicate that they were part of a unified government with extreme organization. Both cities were constructed of the same type and shape of bricks. The two cities may have existed simultaneously and their sizes suggest that they served as capitals of their provinces. In contrast to other civilizations, burials found from these cities are not magnificent; they are more simplistic and contain few material goods. This evidence suggests that this civilization did not have social classes. Remains of palaces or temples in the cities have not been found. No hard evidence exists indicating military activity; it is likely that the Harappans were a peaceful civilization. The cities did contain fortifications and the people used copper and bronze knives, spears, and arrowheads.
The Harappan civilization was mainly urban and mercantile. Inhabitants of the Indus valley traded with Mesopotamia, southern India, Afghanistan, and Persia for gold, silver, copper, and turquoise. The Mesopotamian model of irrigated agriculture was used to take advantage of the fertile grounds along the Indus River. Earthlinks were built to control the rivers annual flooding. Crops grown included wheat, barley, peas, melons, and sesame. This civilization was the first to cultivate cotton for the production of cloth. Several animals were domesticated including the elephant, which was used for its ivory.
Most of the artwork from this civilization was small and used as personal possessions. The first objects unearthed from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were small stone seals. These seals were inscribed with elegant portrayals of real and imagined animals and were marked with the Indus script writing. The seals suggest a symbolic or religious intent. Stone sculptures carved in steatite, limestone, or alabaster depict a male figure who may have represented a god. Pottery figures were shaped into humans and animals. Very few bronze figures have been recovered.
The Harappan civilization experienced its height around 2500 BC and began to decline about 2000 BC. The causes of its downfall are not certain. One theory suggests that the Aryan people migrated into this area. Aryan religious texts and human remains in Mohenjo-Daro suggest that the Aryans may have violently entered the area, killing its inhabitants and burning the cities.
However, another theory supported by more recent evidence suggests that this civilization may have begun to decline before the Aryans arrived. The inhabitants of the Indus valley dispersed before the Aryans slowly entered the area as a nomadic people. The Aryans were then able to take over this area since most of the inhabitants had previously left. One cause of the dispersal of the Harappans could have been a result of agricultural problems. Topsoil erosion, depletion of nutrients from the soil, or a change in the course of the Indus River may have forced these people to leave their towns and move northeastward in search of more fertile land.