The Enigma of Indus Valley Civilization

indus valley civilization images mohenjo daro harappa

The Indus Valley Civilization was an ancient civilization, extended geographically along the river Indus and the Saraswati, a now dry river of India in the Indian subcontinent. The civilization find its first mention in the Vedas, which developed along the two rivers. It was also known as civilization of Harappa, from the first known site, discovered in 1857, but first excavated in 1920.

Indus Valley civilization is one of the oldest civilizations in the world along with those of Mesopotamia and of Ancient Egypt, characterized by the development of agriculture, urbanization and the use of writing. Urban development takes place earlier in Egypt and Mesopotamia, but the Indus civilization experienced a greater geographical coverage.

Of the 1,052 sites identified so far, more than 140 are located on the banks of a course of seasonal water that irrigated the main agricultural production area of this culture. According to some, this hydrographic system, may be identified with the river Ghaggar-Hakra, identified by some scholars with Saraswati of the Rig Veda.

Most of the other sites are located along the valley of Indus or along its tributaries, but the spread came from the west to the border with Iran, east to Delhi, south to the Maharashtra and north up to Himalayas and even to Afghanistan. This civilization originated in the Neolithic period (7000 BC), growing from 3300 BC-2500 BC and definitely sinking around 1800 to 1500 BC. It was an agricultural and urbanized civilization with highly developed trade links with Mesopotamia who left us important relics and works of art which retain a writing not yet deciphered.

The most important cities so far known are:

Harappa (the province of Punjab in Pakistan, river Ravi);

Mohenjo-daro (the province of Sindh in Pakistan);

Dholavira (island of Khadir Beit in the state of Gujarat in India );

Lothal (on the coast of the Gulf of Cambay, still in the state of Gujarat in India);

Rakhigarhi (state of Haryana in India);

Ganweriwala (province of Punjab in Pakistan, near the border with India);

Daimabad (state of Maharashtra, in Mumbai , India, but discussed the relevance);

Chanhudaro (province of Sindh, Pakistan);

Sutkagen Dor (province of Baluchistan in Pakistan, near the border with Iran is the westernmost known site).

The Indus Valley civilization was forgotten until the first extensive excavations on sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro in 1920s. Its writing has not yet been deciphered, and even the language features. It has recently been questioned whether it's writing or rather a system of symbols. The religion of Indus Valley was centered on the worship of a female deity, heir to a wider rural religious culture that reached Elam.

Such religious culture was maintained up to the period of urbanization when it was separated, finishing Elam under the control of the Sumerians. The presence of goddess worship, dating from the sixth century BC, is particularly present in the Mehrgarh, but it is also present in Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, albeit with different iconography. Besides these figurines and these seals that connects with Pasupati or Mahisasura, the area of the Indus Valley Civilization were found several lingam or phallic symbols.

The Sumerian and Akkadian texts refer repeatedly to a people with whom they had active trade, in a land called Meluhha, which could be identified with the Indus Valley civilization, perhaps with the name given by its own inhabitants. The term is perhaps attributable to the Dravidian Met-AKAM, with the meaning of high lands, and may also have given rise to the term Sanskrit Mleccha, with the meaning of barbarian or foreigner.

The roots of the civilization of the Indus valley date back from the beginning of the practice of agriculture and of breeding in local Neolithic cultures. The new ways of livelihood appear in the hills of Balouchistan, west of the Indus Valley around the middle of the seventh millennium BC. The best known site of this era is Mehrgarh.

These early farmers cultivated the grain and domesticated and bred a variety of animals that made ​​up the cattle. It started to use the ceramic in the mid-sixth millennium BC. Around 4000 BC, appeared in the same area an original regional culture (Early Harappan or ancient Harappan civilization). Commercial networks linked it with other regional cultures in the Arabian Gulf, West Asia and Central Asia and the Indian peninsula and was the sources of raw materials, such as lapis lazuli and other stones used in the manufacture of beads for necklaces.

Villagers also had domesticated a large number of plant species from peas, sesame, dates, cotton and animals, such as buffalo, which remained essential in agricultural production in Asia.

Around 2600 BC, some villages of the ancient Harappan civilization developed in real cities, with thousands of inhabitants, mainly farmers, artisans and merchants. The use of elaborate ornaments, sculptures and terracotta figurines, spread and appeared the seals, writing, pottery decorated with standardized reasons; ritual objects, which show a strong push to cultural integration, which made ​​almost completely disappear the previous regional differences.

The trend towards urban planning of the Indus Valley civilization is evident in larger sites. Typically the cities are divided into three areas:

a first zone with a raised earth platform, that the first archaeologists called citadel

a second zone, called lower city.

a third area, called fortress Hal Kubir

The road network consisted of a network of major roads (north-south and east-west), which were attached to the housing service alleys and streets. The most populated city probably came to 30.000 inhabitants. The main buildings were built of brick, raw or sun-dried, a highly standardized form. The houses had to be two-story and included a room for ablutions. Water was drawn from the existing wells in homes, but in the major cities existed a network for the discharge of water, covered with pipes running along the main streets, which were connected with the bathrooms.

Urban planning shows the existence of a central organization: there are public facilities (so-called lofts, which are, however, perhaps be interpreted as palaces or administrative centers) and, at Mohenjo-Daro, a large brick bath has been interpreted as a public bath perhaps ritual.

In contrast to the contemporary civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, seems to be no trace of a central power of royal or priestly type and seem to lack traces forces or fortifications: the walls present in some cases and the raising of the so-called citadel seem due the need to protect themselves from the floods of the rivers rather than by external enemies.

Most city dwellers appear to have been traders or artisans, who lived together in well-defined areas, according to their activities. Although some homes are larger than the others, the impression one gets from these cities is to a great egalitarianism, with all the houses had access to water and treatment of wastewater.

The area of spread of the Indus Valley civilization extends from the region of the mines of lapis lazuli in the northern mountain of today's Afghanistan to the shores of the Arabian Sea to the south, and from the pastures of the hills of Baluchistan to the west mining deserts of Cholistan and the Thar Desert to the east. The heart of the territory was represented by the river valleys of the ' Indo and ancient Ghaggar-Hakra, now he disappeared. The economy was based mainly on agriculture, and the exchange of handicrafts even over long distances. The term Meluhha that appears in some Sumerian documents to indicate a major trading partner has been interpreted as the name of the Indus Civilization.

Flooded plains watered by the melting snow in the mountains and by seasonal monsoon rains allowed the development of a prosperous agriculture, supplemented by fishing and hunting and the forest resources, which ensured the existence of the urban population. Little news has reached us about the nature of the agricultural system, however, some hypotheses can be formulated.

The agricultural system had to be highly productive, to ensure the existence of a large urban population not employed primarily in agriculture itself. Than the ancient Harappan culture had to be of important technological innovations, including possibly the use of plow, but it seems to be no trace of a system of irrigation and water regulation, which, however, could not have been preserved because of the frequent disastrous floods of rivers.

It would seem, then, that does not apply in the case of the Indus valley civilization, the hypothesis of hydraulic despotism, according to which the development of an urban civilization could not be had except through the production of a significant agricultural surplus, enabled by 'introduction of irrigation systems, and in turn these inevitably imply the presence of a centralized power and despotic, which has the possibility of using the work force of thousands of people. As I mentioned in the city rather lacking any trace of a royal power.

Moreover, the traditional still used in Asia cultivation system allows the production of a significant agricultural surplus by means of the cultivation of rice in terraces, realized with the work of several generations without implying forms of forced labor or bondage: Similar procedures may have allowed the development urban civilization of the Indus valley.

The economy depended to a large extent on trade, probably facilitated by the significant technological advances in transport: the wagon pulled by oxen, very similar to what we find now throughout South Asia, and the river boat with a flat bottom, maybe sailing, again quite similar to those sailing still on the Indus. There are also indications of maritime navigation: archaeologists have discovered at Lothal a channel connected to the sea and a reservoir docking, while on the coast of Oman, were found along with hundreds of Harappan bitumen vessels with reed imprints and ropes that testify to the existence of caulked boats in the third millennium BC

In light of the dispersion of objects made ​​from the Indus Valley civilization, its sales network was to include a very wide area, from today's Afghanistan , the northern and central India, to the coastal regions of Persia , the Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia . Goods exported include beads and ornaments, weights, large jars and probably cotton , timber , grain and livestock . Materials that came from distant regions were used for the construction of seals, beads and other objects.

A decimal system must necessarily exist in conversion systems, being the Sumerian and Akkadian system of sexagesimal type of weights and measures was used throughout the area and bears witness to an organization and control of trade and perhaps even the existence of taxation. The measures were quite precise: the smallest measure of length, measured on a scale ivory, is 1,704 mm and the smallest weighs 0.871 grams.

A form of economic organization seems also evidenced by the presence of seals, with representations of animals and deities and registration. Some were used to imprint on the clay seal, but had to have possibly other purposes.

Despite several attempts, researchers have not been able to decipher the form of writing used by this civilization: almost all the available inscriptions on seals or on ceramic vessels, not in fact exceed 4 or 5 characters, while the longest inscription it includes only 26.

The signs are about 400 known, but it is believed that some of them are derivations with slight modifications or combinations of top 200 characters. It is probably an ideographic script , making it difficult to assume the language or the spoken language family: it is considered more probable the hypothesis that it is a Dravidian language .

Because of the brevity of the inscriptions, some researchers have suggested that the known ones were not a form of actual writing, but an economic transaction identification system, comparable to the signature. It is however possible that have existed longer texts, but that there have not been received as they are made of perishable material.

An inscription more extended, recently discovered, seems to have been installed on a panel above the door of the city of Dholavira. It has formulated the hypothesis that this was a panel informing travelers of the city name, similar to the welcome signs that are found in our current cities.

In the absence of the beliefs of this civilization texts can be envisaged only on the basis of representations on the seals with divinities or scenes of ceremonies or terracotta figurines, perhaps used for ritual purposes. Based on the large amount of figurines representing female fertility that has left us, there appears to be venerated a mother goddess.

The burials took place in wooden crates and were accompanied by a certain amount of pottery, which was to contain offers of food, testifying to the belief of a life after death. In burials are simple personal ornaments, while the more elaborate had to be transmitted as an inheritance to their descendants.

The Indus Valley civilization seems to have spread from west to east: the sites located to India in fact seem to have had the greatest flowering after the decline of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Around 1900 BC, some signs show the onset of the first problems. The city began to be abandoned and the remaining inhabitants seem to have had trouble getting enough to eat. Around 1800 BC, most of the city had been completely abandoned.

The populations did not disappear, however, and in the same places they developed a series of regional cultures that show the prolongation, in varying degrees, the same culture. Part of the population probably migrated to the east and the plains of the Ganges. However, in later centuries it lost the memory of the Indus Valley civilization and its name, partly because of the lack of impressive stone monuments whose remains could transmit the memory.

One of the causes of this rapid end could instead have been a major climate change as in the middle of the third millennium we know that the Indus valley was a lush region, rich in forests and wild animals, very moist, while around 1800 BC the climate changed, becoming colder and drier.

The main factor was the probable disappearance of the hydrographic network of Ghaggar-Hakra, identified with the river Sarasvati, mentioned in the Rig Veda. A tectonic catastrophe could divert the waters of this system in the direction of the Ganges. In fact the modern satellite photographs to identify the course of a river now disappeared in the region and some evidence suggests that significant seismic events have accompanied the demise of the Indus Valley civilization.

If a large river had dried when the Indus Valley civilization was at its height, the effects would have been devastating: there were probably substantial migratory movements and the critical mass of people indispensable to the maintenance of this civilization probably he dissolved in a fairly short time, causing its end.

The decline of the Indus Valley civilization might well have been accentuated because of the interruption of trade routes to other countries now Uzbekistan and Southern Turkmenistan, the Persia and Mesopotamia, caused by the Indo-Aryans populations, who were in Bactria around 2000 BC and brought the Sanskrit in India, where they settled towards 1700 BC

Relations between the Indus Valley civilization and culture of the first Sanskrit, which produced the texts of the Vedas, are not clear. It is noteworthy, however, that the most ancient Vedic texts mention the river Sarasvati and describe a future utopian society that lived on its banks. The later texts do, however, refer to its disappearance.

The Vedic civilization is the culture associated to the people who wrote the religious texts known as the Vedas, in the Indian subcontinent. The territory then occupied by that civilization corresponds to the current region of Punjab between India and Pakistan, in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and most of northern India.

Based on testing language, the majority of scholars believe that the peoples of Indo-Aryan language migrated to northern India, the initial expansion in the wave Indo-Iranian starting from Central Asia. So, according to this theory, the Indo-Aryans would have blended with the survivors of the Indus Valley civilization precisely giving rise to the Vedic civilization. Scholars, however, differ on whether the migration to the Indian subcontinent have had peaceful or violent character.

After the collapse of the Indus Valley civilization, groups of peoples Indo-Aryan people migrated from the north in northwestern India, settling in these new territories. Most of the knowledge of these people are from the Rigveda samhita, composed between 1500 and 1200 BC. These people brought with them new practices and religious traditions were formed, according to some archaeologists, in an area between the Uzbekistan and the northeastern Iran, occupied in antiquity by the Bactrian-margiana archaeological complex, where you had the syncretism between the customs brought by the Indo-European steppes of central Asia and indigenous peoples, which included the worship of Indra and the ritual soma.

Overall this religious literature describes the Indo-Aryan peoples as nomadic warriors in conflict with local people, heirs of the Indus Valley Civilization. The Vedic texts describe the native people as a dark-skinned now identified as Dravidian. The Indo-Aryan peoples showed themselves as noble reserving the term Dasa with indigenous peoples with whom they came in contact. According to the Indo-Aryan people, these Dasa did not worship gods nor possessed religious rites but rather worship a phallus or lingam, while their language is described as hostile and rude.

Other adjectives related to their physical appearance are subject to various interpretations. However, many scholars see today Dasas and Dasyus not as indigenous people but as Indo-Aryan peoples immigrants who arrived in the subcontinent before those Vedic. Among the most important clashes there is the battle of the ten kings, which took place on the banks of the river Parushni, today said Ravi.

Subsequently, the Indo-Aryan peoples moved southward and eastward in a process of conquest that was never finished as there still vast southern and eastern regions of India where people still speak dialects of Dravidian and Munda.

After the twelfth century BC, the vedic society abandoned the style of semi-nomadic life in order to adopt a more sedentary and based on an agricultural economy. Vedic culture, including the adoption of the iron which was used to deforest more easily the jungle, was extended until the Indo-Gangetic Plain Western. When the Indo-Aryan peoples settled in the plains of the Ganges to the Vedic religion is further developed by merging the cultures of northern India. However, the development of the system of caste led to the exclusion of indigenous peoples. One of the most important religious customs that appear at this stage is the Ashvamedha, ie the sacrifice of the horse.

Many Vedic tribes joined together to form larger political entities and important as the Kuru kingdom that became the main power of the iron age of North India. The Vedic Sanskrit and Vedic religion persisted until the sixth century BC, when the culture began to transform in the classical forms of Hinduism.

In its late phase from 700 BC, witnessed the rise of Mahajanapadas with sixteen great Indian kingdoms of Iron Age till the period of the Maurya Empire from 325 BC and began in this period a process of urbanization and developed businesses, even over long distances.

In its early Vedic society it was fairly egalitarian, had not yet developed the caste system that emerged rather in later Vedic age. The society was then divided into four groups of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudra with social boundaries, roles and status for each of these groups.

The early Vedic Aryans were organized into tribes, rather than kingdoms. The leader of a tribe was called rajan. The autonomy of rajan was limited by tribal councils called sabha and samiti. These two institutions were, in part, responsible for the management of the tribe. The rajan could not climb to the throne without their approval. The distinction between the two institutions is not clear. The sabha was a meeting of the great men of the tribe, while the samiti was a meeting of all free tribes. Some tribes had hereditary chiefs and were ruled directly by the tribal councils.

The rajan had a rudimentary court formed by sabhasad and gramani. The main responsibility of rajan was to protect the tribe. He was helped by some officials as purohita (priest), the Senapati (army chief) and the Dutas (messengers). The purohita performed ceremonies and spells to ensure success in war and prosperity in peace. They were nomadic herdsmen who gradually settled in fortified towns with walls of clay. From the Vedic scriptures these Arya appear rich, addicted to meat, ceremonial feasts and madhu or honey-based liqueur such as mead.

The villages of Indo-Aryan peoples were erected after a ceremonial complex consecration that foresaw the plowing of the place and the mass in pose of nine columns intended to support the buildings. At the center, the village post office was the most important column placed as the primordial tree. In the civilization and religious Vedic literature there was no reflection on the suffering in the world, the cycle of rebirth and, therefore the paths of liberation from it, but rather the enjoyment of earthly life.

It is therefore only the first Upanishads from ninth century BC that starts the Indian theological reflection on the suffering in the world and the need for a path of liberation from it.

In the later Vedic period, the tribes were working together in small kingdoms, with a capital and a rudimentary administrative system. To help navigate these new states, kings and their priests Brahmins organized Vedic hymns in collections and developed a series of new rituals to strengthen emerging social hierarchy. The rajan was seen as the guardian and protector of the social order of the rashtra (political system).

It began to emerge a new hereditary kingship and competitions such as the racing cars, theft of livestock, and the game of dice, which previously decided who was worthy to be king, became only nominal. The rituals of this period the exalted status of the king over his people that was sometimes referred to as samraat (supreme leader). With the increase of their political power the rajan gained greater control over productive resources. The offer of voluntary gifts (bali) became obligatory contribution; however, there was no organized system of taxation. Samiti Sabha and are still mentioned in the Vedic texts, however, with the growing power of the king, their influence diminished.

Some features of the current India seem to have previous away in what appears to be reconstructed of this culture, such as the importance which seems attributed to ablutions and cleanliness of the body and its apparent non-violence. The Vedic Religion is decidedly polytheistic and in Veda are cited numerous devas, certainly to a greater number of thirty-three to which the tradition makes reference. The Vedic devas mostly correspond to the asuras present in Iranian cults and cited in Avesta and these are often interchangeable.

The ancient hymns of the Rigveda does not pay particular attention to the religious rite but rather extol the exploits of the devas. Varuna, is definitely the most important among the key deities of the Vedic hymns. Mitra is a lesser deity in the Vedic hymns, and is invoked to seal alliances or contracts. Aryaman, is the devas tied to marriage and hospitality. Bhaga is the god tied to the function of the sovereign when it distributes the spoils of war or collective products among adult members of the tribe arias, is related to inheritance of property.

Daksa, in the Vedic hymns is the guarantor of the effectiveness and success of the sacrifice. Amsa is attached and invoked for the acquisition of assets by means of good luck. Other Vedic deities are Rudra and Indra, the one who kills Vrtra, the cosmic serpent with the vajra or thunderbolt. Shiva and Vishnu and later in the form of Krishna instead then encompass them as heroic post Vedic deities.

The place of Vedic sacrifice, however, was delimited and prepared with great care and precision, with specific areas delegated to particular rites. The Vedic sacrifice could, however, be celebrated in any place chosen, which is suited to the nomadic life of the ancient Indo-Aryan peoples. The tools used for the sacrifice came from those used in everyday life and made sacred only on the moment. Critical of the Vedic sacrifice element was the focus and center line of rite was offered to the fire with food or drink. The act of the fire offering was called Agnihotra.

The central role in this case was entrusted to the deva Indra and the sacrificial process included races between carts and verbal competitions. So the priests acquired a greater role than divinity and those of their practices or related to the priestly caste. Although in the Rigveda, Indra was the king of the devas, in post-vedic period Brahma was given the supremacy over the other devas.

If in the struggle emerging in the earlier religious literature between devas and asuras were still interchangeable, while in a late anthem, they represent two separate entities fighting each other and where the devas end up having supremacy over asuras. Finally in post-vedic literature Indra kills Vrtra no longer with the vajra but by the effectiveness of a ritual.

Around 1000 BC, appear the aranyaka, texts that represent the reaction of some Kshatriya's to their exclusion from Vedic rituals indicated in earlier texts and, consequently, their attempt to acquire a status of religious sect. In aranyaka it emerges therefore a displacement of the sacrificial rite from the village to wild places and less attention to the description of the rite with the enhancement of its internalization.

From the ninth century BC are to be of the texts that will be crucial as the Upanishads rather consist of a deepening of religious beliefs and practices found in the Vedas, and in India represent its start in the axial period.

Given the appropriate caveat that the term and the notion of Hinduism are very recent and mostly related to the classifications of scholars, it would be wrong to believe that in fact the Vedic religion is wholly thing of the past. Many important ceremonies of the cycle of life, especially marriage and funerals, in Hinduism have the same structure as that in Vedism.

We must also emphasize that there are families, as less and less numerous, who retained without interruption to this day the study of the Vedas. There are also those who have never ceased to feed or rekindle their sacrificial fires and who continued to celebrate, discreetly altered, the Vedic sacrifices. At the same time start to take its final shape the epic poem known as the Mahabharata that has great history of the descendants of Bharata, which, however, has far more ancient origins dating back to the common period with Iranian associated epic.

If therefore in the Vedas the origin of everything is the Purusha who is sacrificed by the Devas , which is beginning to give shape to the universe, while exalting Vishnu as the supreme being, the poem emphasizes the complementarity of Shiva and Vishnu, and from this point of view the Mahabharata can be considered to be the cornerstone of the hinduism and in fact these two gods, with the great Shakti, Kali, and Durga have dominated Hinduism from the first centuries AD until today based on the literature of the Smriti and not so on that Śruti.

In subsequent developments, probably around the third century BC, the Bhagavad gita, spreads to the popular level some theological elements already present in the late upanishads, or the double function, complement, of Vishnu and Shiva as creator and destroyer of the universe from the eighth century AD linked to the cult of Krishna. Since the early centuries of our era will start to appear the first such standard texts called puraṇas written by priests, which, together with epic literature, could be heard, read, and even taught among the members of the last caste, the sudras and among women.

These texts, therefore, possess the peculiarity to spread the religious message to the whole society, retaining the characteristic use of a simple and easy to understand Sanskrit, and also picks up the slang and popular expressions. Unlike the texts collected in Śruti, the Puraṇa is written down relatively soon, perhaps around the fourth or fifth century AD. Because of their nature, considered inferior to the Vedic collections, it allowed such forms of dissemination.

Indeed, the copying of these writings and their spread was the occasion of spiritual merit. Compared to the epic literature, however, the Puraṇa often exhibit a lower universality instead preserving the marked regionalization of doctrines and the strong presentation of a single god, whether it is Shiva, Vishnu or with different names, which were risen in absolute divinity from their respective traditions. Buddhists and Jains however do not recognize that authority. By the sixth century AD, particularly in the area now corresponding to Nepal and Kashmir, emerged a new religious literature and spiritual practices, Tantra and inherits that of Sakti, one of the Great Goddess.

Timeline of civilizations in the Indus Valley

Food production (7000-5000 BC Mehrgarh).

Era of regionalization (5000-2600 BC, the ancient Harappan civilization).

Indus - Harappa (2600-1900 BC culture valley civilization of the Indus Valley or Harappan civilization classical).

Late Harappan period (1900-1300 / 1000 BC).

Painted Grey Ware culture (1200-800 BC).

Culture of Northern polished black pottery (700-300 BC).

Modern Era (since 600 BC).