Decline and survival of Indus Valley Civilisation

Decline and survival of Indus Valley Civilisation

  • Decline had set in at Mohenjodaro by 2200 BCE and the settlement had come to an end by 2000 BCE. In some places, the civilization continued till 1800 BCE.
  • Apart from the dates, the pace of decline also varied. Mohenjodaro and Dholavira give a picture of gradual decline, while at Kalibangan and Banawali, city life ended all of a sudden.

The archaeological evidence: 

  • Cities like Harappa, Mohenjodaro experienced gradual decline in urban planning and construction.
    • Houses made of old dilapidated bricks and shoddy construction encroached upon the roads and streets of the towns.
    • Flimsy partitions sub-divided the courtyards of the houses.
    • The Cities were fast turning into slums.
  • The study of the architectures of Mohenjodaro shows that many entry points to the ‘Great Bath’ were blocked.
    • Sometimes later the ‘Great Bath’ and the ‘Granary’ fell into total disuse.
    • At the same time the late levels (i.e. later habitations) at Mohenjodaro showed a distinct reduction in the-number of sculptures, figurines, beads, bangles and inlay works.
    • Towards the end, the city of Mohenjodaro shrank to a small settlement of three hectares from the original eighty-five hectares.
  • Before its abandonment Harappa seems to have witnessed the arrival of a group of people about whom we know through their burial practices.
    • They were using a pottery which was different from those of the Harappans. Their culture is known as the ‘Cemetery H’ culture.
  • Processes of decline were in evidence also in places like Kalibangan and Chanhudaro. We find that buildings associated with power and ideology were decaying and goods related to displays of prestige and splendour were becoming increasingly scarce.
  • Later on, cities like Harappa and Mohenjodaro were abondoned altogether.
  • A study of the settlement pattern of the Harappan and Late Harappan sites in the Bahawalpur area also indicates a trend of decay.
  • Along the banks of the Hakra river the number of settlements came down to 50 in the Late Harappan period from 174 in the Mature Harappan period.
  • In the last two-three hundred years of their life, the settlements in the core region of the Harappan civilization were declining.
    • The population seems to have either perished or moved away to other areas.
  • Whereas the number of sites in the triangle of Harappa, Bahawalpur and Mohenjodaro declined, the number of settlements in the outlying areas of Gujarat, East Punjab, Haryana and upper Doab increased.
    • This indicates a phenomenal increase in the number of people in these areas.
    • This sudden increase in the population of those regions can be explained by the emigration of people from the core regions of Harappa.
  • In the outlying regions of the Harappan civilization, i.e. the areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab; people continue to live. But life had changed for them.
    • Some of the important features associated with the Harappan civilization-writing, uniform weights, Harappan pottery and architectural style had disappeared.
  • The abandonment of the cities of the Indus is roughly dated to about 1800 B.C.
    • This date is supported by the fact that the Mesopotamian literature stops referring to Meluhha by the end of 1900 B.C.
    • However, even now;,the chronology of the end of Hrrappan cities remains tentative.
    • We do not as yet know whether the major settlements were abandoned at one and the same or at different periods. But the abandonment of the major cities and the de-urbanisation of other settlements indicates the decline of the Harappan civilization.

Theories of decline

  • Scholars have given different answers to the question as to why did the civilization end?
  • Some scholars, believing in a dramatic collapse of the civilization, have looked for evidences of a calamity of catastrophic proportions, which wiped out the urban communities. Some of the more plausible theories for the decline of the Harappan civilization are:
    • that it was destroyed by massive floods
    • that the decline took place because of the shift in the course of rivers and the gradual drying up of the Ghgggar-Hakra river system
    • that barbarian Aryan invaders destroyed the cities
    • that the growing demands of the centres disturbed the ecology of the region and the area could not support them anymore.

(1) Theory of Aryan invasions:

  • The idea that the civilization was destroyed by Aryan invaders was first put forward by Ramaprasad Chanda—he later changed his mind—and was elaborated on by Mortimer Wheeler.
  • Wheeler believed that the Harappan civilization was destroyed by the Aryan invaders.
    • Wheeler pointed to certain human skeletal remains found in the late phases of occupation at Mohenjodaro as proof of the Aryan massacre.
    • Evidence from Rig Veda:
      • Wheeler argued that references in the Rig Veda to various kinds of forts, attacks on walled cities, and the epithet purandara (fort destroyer) given to the god Indra reflect an Aryan invasion of the Harappan cities.
      • The Rig Veda refers to the fortresses of the Dasas and Dasyus.
      • The Vedic god Indra is called ‘Purandara‘ meaning ‘the destroyer of forts’.
      • The geographical area of the habitation of the Rig Vedic Aryans included the Punjab and the Ghaggar-Hakra region.
      • Since there are no remains of other cultural groups having forts in this area in this historical phase, Wheeler believed that it was the Harappan cities that were being described in the Rig Veda.
      • He identified a place called Hariyupiya in the Rig Veda with Harappa.
        • This place was located on the bank of the river Ravi. The Aryans fought a battle here.
        • The name of the place sounds very similar to that of Harappa.
    • These evidences led Wheeler to conclude that it was the Aryan invaders who destroyed the cities of Harappa.
  • Wheeler subsequently modified his hypothesis, to the extent that he acknowledged that other factors such as floods, decline in trade, and over-utilization of natural resources may have had a role to play.
    • But he insisted that the ultimate blow was given by an Aryan invasion.
    • The Cemetery-H culture, he suggested, represented the culture of the Aryan invaders.
  • Criticism:
    • Many scholars such as P. V. Kane, George Dales, and B. B. Lal have refuted the invasion theory.
    • The evidence from the Rig Veda, a religious text of uncertain date, is far from conclusive.
    • Moreover, if there had been an invasion, it should have left some traces in the archaeological record.
      • There is no evidence of any kind of military assault or conflict at any Harappan site.
      • The 37 groups of skeletal remains at Mohenjodaro do not belong to the same cultural phase and, therefore, cannot be connected to a single event.
        • Not one of these skeletons was found on the citadel mound, where we would have expected a major battle to have taken place.
        • This could have been caused by raids by bandits from the surrounding hilly tracts.
    • The fact that there is a sterile layer between the mature Harappan and Cemetery-H levels goes against Wheeler’s hypothesis that the latter represents the settlement of the Aryan invaders.
    • Moreover, K. A. R. Kennedy’s analysis of the skeletal remains does not show any discontinuity in the skeletal record in the north-west at this point of time, making it clear that there was no major influx of new settlers with a different physiognomy.
    • Scholars point out that the provisional date for the decline of the Harappan civilization is believed to be 1800 B.C. The Aryans on the other hand are believed to have arrived here not earlier than a period around 1500 B.C. So, the Harappans and the Aryans are unlikely to have met each other.

(2) Natural disaster (Floods and Earthquakes):

  • Natural disasters, not necessarily sudden or single, may have a role to play.
  • At several Indus cities such as Mohenjodaro, Chanhudaro and Lothal, there are silt debris intervening between phases of occupation and these underline the possibility of damage being caused by the inundations of swollen rivers.
  • Several layers of silt at Mohenjodaro give evidence of the city being affected by repeated episodes of Indus floods leading to the decline of Harappan civilization.
  • It appears that in Mohenjodaro various periods of occupation were separated by evidences of deep flooding.
    • This can be inferred from the fact that the houses and streets of Mohenjodaro were covered with silty clay and collapsed building material many times.
    • This silty clay seems to have been left by the flood waters which had submerged the streets and houses.
    • The people of Mohenjodaro again built up houses and streets on top of the debris of the previous buildings, after the floods had receded.
    • This kind of catastrophic flooding and rebuilding on top of the debris seems to have happened at least thrice.
  • Many occupation deposits (indicated successive phases of occupation levels) were divided by silt deposits.
    • Thick silt deposits have been noticed at points as high as 80 feet above the present day ground level.
    • Thus, many scholars believe that the evidences are indicative of abnormal floods in Mohenjodaro.
    • These floods led to the temporary desertion and reoccupation of the city throughout its history.
  • That these floods were catastrophic is shown by silt deposits 80 feet above the present ground level, meaning that the flood waters rose to such height in this area.
  • The Harappans at Mohenjodaro tired themselves out, trying to out top the recurring floods. A stage came when the impoverished Harappans could not take it any more and they simply abandoned the settlement.
  • Catastrophic flooding due to tectonic movement:
    • M. R. Sahni, and later Robert L. Raikes and George F. Dales, argued that the floods at Mohenjodaro were the result of tectonic movements.
    • The theory is that Indus area is a disturbed seismic zone and tectonic movements led to the creation of a gigantic natural dam that prevented the Indus from flowing towards the sea, turning the area around Mohenjodaro into a huge lake.
      • It caused prolonged submergence of the cities located on the bank of the river Indus.
    • They argued that such flooding which could drown buildings 30 feet above the ground level of the settlement could not be the result of normal flooding in the river Indus.
  • It has been pointed out that sites like Sutkagedor and Sutka-koh on the Makran Coast and Balakot near Karachi were seaports of the Harappans.
    • However, at present, they are located far’away from the sea-coast. This has happened because of the upliftment of the land on the sea-coast possibly caused by violent tectonic uplifts.
    • Some scholars believe that these tectonic uplifts took place somewhere in the second millennium B.C.
    • These violent earthquakes, damming rivers and burning the towns destroyed the Harappan civilization.
    • This led to the disruption of the commercial life based on river and coastal communication.
  • Criticism:
    • The theory of several such episodes of flooding induced by tectonic movements is not convincing.
    • H.T. Lambrick points out that the idea that a river would be dammed in such a manner even by tectonic uplifts is incorrect due to two reasons:
      • Even if an earthquake artificially raised a bund down stream, the large volume of water from the Indus would easily breach it.
      • Silt deposition would parallel the rising surface of water in the hypothetical lake.
        • It would take place along the bottom of the former course of the river.
        • Thus, the silt of Mohenjodaro might not be the deposition of a flood.
    • Another criticism of this theory is that it fails to explain the decline of the settlements outside the Indus system.

(3) The shifting away of the Indus:

  • Lambrick believes that changes in the course of the river Indus could be the cause of the destruction of Mohenjodaro.
    • The Indus is an unstable river system which keeps shifting its bed.
    • Apparently, the river Indus shifted about thirty miles away from Mohenjodaro.
    • The people of the city and the surrounding food production villages deserted the area because they were starved of water.
    • This kind of thing happened many times in the history of Mohenjodaro.
      • The silt observed in the city is actually the product of wind action blowing in lots of sand and silt.
      • This, combined with disintegrating mud, mud brick and baked brick structures, produced what has been mistaken for silt produced by floods.
  • Criticism:
    • This theory too cannot explain the decline of the Harappan civilization in totality. At best, it can explain the desertion of Mohenjodaro.
    • And if the people of Mohenjodaro were familiar with those kinds of shifts in the river course why could not they themselves shift to some new settlement and establish another city like Mohenjodaro.
    • H. T. Lambrick’s hypothesis is not convincing as it is based on what he himself describes as purely circumstantial evidence.

(4) Ecological imbalance: Over-exploitation of the environment

  • Scholars like Fairservis tried to explain the decay of the Harappan civilization in terms of the problems of ecology.
  • Making estimates of population, land, food, and fodder requirements on the basis of modern data, Fairservis suggests that the civilization declined because the growing population of people and cattle could not be supported from resources within the Harappan culture zone.
    • The delicate ecological balance of these semi-arid areas was being disturbed because the human and cattle population in these areas was fast depleting the scanty forests, food and fuel resources.
  • Harappans were over-exploiting the environment through over-cultivation, overgrazing, and excessive cutting of trees for fuel and farming.
    • The combined needs of the Harappan townsmen, peasants and pastoralists exceeded the limited production capacities of these areas.
    • Thus, a growing population of men and animals confronted by scanty resources wore out the landscape.
    • This would have resulted in forests and grass cover gradually disappearing, decreasing soil fertility, floods, droughts, and increasing soil salinity.
  • This depletion of the subsistence base caused strain on the entire economy of the civilization.
  • There seems to have been a gradual movement away to areas which offered better subsistence possibilities.
    • That is why the Harappan communities moved towards Gujarat and the eastern areas, away from the Indus.
  • Fairservis’s theory seems to be the most plausible one.
    • Probably the gradual deterioration in the town planning and the living standards was a reflection of the depleting subsistence base of the Harappans.
    • This process of decline was completed by the raids and attacks of the surrounding communities.
  • Criticism:
    • The theory of environmental disaster also has some problems.
    • The enduring fertility of soils of the Indian sub-continent over the subsequent millennia disproves the hypothesis of soil exhaustion in this area.
    • Also, the computation of the needs of the Harappan population is based on scanty information and a lot more information would be needed to make a calculation of the subsistence needs of the Harappans.
  • The emergence of the Harappan civilization involved a delicate balance of relations between cities, towns and villages, rulers, peasants and nomads.
    • It also means a fragile but important relationship with the communities of the neighbouring areas who were in possession of minerals crucial for trade.
    • Similarly, it meant maintenance of contact with the contemporary civilizations and cultures.
    • Apart from this, we have to take into account the ecological factor of relationship with nature.
    • Any breakdown in these chains of relationships could lead to the decline of the cities.

(5) Gradual desiccation and climate change:

  • Increased aridity and drying up of the Ghaggar:
    • While Mohenjodaro may have got worn out due to repeated episodes of naturally occurring floods, Harappan sites in the Ghaggar-Hakra valley were affected by gradual desiccation.
    • D.P. Agarwal and Sood believe that the Harappan civilization declined because of the increasing aridity in this area and the drying up of the river Ghaggar-Hakra.
    • They have shown that there was an increase in the arid conditions by the middle of the second millennium B.C.
      • In semi-arid regions like those of the Harappa, even a minor reduction in moisture and water availability could spell disaster.
      • It would affect agricultural production which in turn would put the city economies under stress.
    • Ghaggar-Hakra area represented one of the core regions of the Harappan civilization. The Ghaggar was a mighty stream flowing through Punjab, Rajasthan and the inn of Kutch before debouching into the sea.
      • Rivers Sutlej and Yamuna used to be the tributaries of this river.
      • Because of some tectonic disturbances, the Sutlej stream was captured by the Indus river and the Yamuna shifted east to join the Ganges.
      • This kind of change in the river regime, which left the Ghaggar waterless, would have catastrophic implication for the towns located in this area.
      • Apparently, the ecological disturbances brought by the increased aridity and the shift in the drainage pattern led to the decline of the Harappan civilization.
      • M. R. Mughal’s study of settlements in this region shows a drastic reduction in the number of sites as the river dried up.
    • Criticism:
      • The theory about the onset of arid conditions have not been fully worked out and one needs more information.
      • Similarly, the drying up of the Ghaggar has not been dated properly as yet.
  • A sudden rise in the Arabian Sea coastline of west Pakistan could have caused floods and a rise in soil salinity.
    • Such an uplift along the coast and in the lower Indus valley could also have seriously disrupted the coastal communications and trade of the Harappans.
  • On the basis of his study of pollen from Rajasthan lakes, Gurdip Singh suggests a connection between the onset of a drier climate and the decline of the Harappan civilization.
    • However, a study of the sediments of the Lunkaransar lake indicates that the onset of drier conditions in this area may have happened well before the emergence of the Harappan civilization.
    • Whether climatic change played a role in the decline of the Harappan civilization therefore remains unclear.
  • Monsoon Link Theory of 2012:
    • It is presented by Ronojoy Adhikari, Liviu Giosan and others.
    • This theory holds the climate change responsible for the decline of the Harappan civilization.
    • According to this theory, around 4000 BCE there existed extreme monsoon climate which was not favourable for the rise of civilization but with the weakening of the monsoon, the climate became favourable for the rise of the mighty harappan civilization and with the further weakening of the monsoon, the climate became again unfavourable which led to the decline of the civilization.
    • The example of this further weakening is the disappearance of the Saraswati river which was rainfed not Glacier-fed.
    • This theory is based on the latest archaeological evidence and research and tries to explain the decline of the Harappan civilization on the basis of the ecological degradation.
  • Shifting of Monsoon:
    • Climate change in form of the easterward migration of the monsoons led to the decline of the IVC.
    • According to this theory, the slow eastward migration of the monsoons across Asia initially allowed the civilization to develop. The monsoon-supported farming led to large agricultural surpluses, which in turn supported the development of cities.
    • The IVC residents did not develop irrigation capabilities, relying mainly on the seasonal monsoons.
    • As the monsoons kept shifting eastward, the water supply for the agricultural activities dried up.
    • The residents then migrated towards the Ganges basin in the east, where they established smaller villages and isolated farms.
    • The small surplus produced in these small communities did not allow development of trade, and the cities died out.
  • Recent study of IIT Kharagpur, ASI, PRL (2020):
    • The decline of Harappan city Dholavira was caused by drying up of river like Saraswati river and Meghalayan drought.
    • Researchers have for the first time connected the decline of Harappan city Dholavira to the disappearance of a Himalayan snow-fed river which once flowed in the Rann of Kutch.
      • They have been able to connect the dots between the growth and decline of the Dholavira, located in the Rann with this river which resembles the Himalayan river Saraswati.
    • Prolific mangroves grew around the Rann and distributaries of Indus or other palaeochannels dumped water in the Rann near southern margin of Thar Desert. This is the first direct evidence of glacial fed rivers quite like the supposedly mythological Saraswati, in the vicinity of Rann.
    • They dated the carbonates from human bangles, fish otolith and molluscan shells and found that the site was occupied from pre-Harappan period to ~3800 years before present i.e. Late Harappan period.
    • The Dholavirans were probably the original inhabitants in the region, had a fairly advanced level of culture even at its earliest stage. They built spectacular city and survived for nearly 1700 years by adopting water conservation.
  • Study of under-sea fossil evidence and its marine DNA (2018):
    • Climate change was the primary factor that drove people of the Indus Valley Civilisation away from the floodplains of the Indus.
    • The study, conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) used under-sea fossil evidence and its marine DNA which allowed researchers to pinpoint that climate change, in the form of an increase in winter monsoon resulted in the migration of people – leading to the decline of the ancient civilization.
    • Beginning roughly around 2,500 BCE – a shift in temperature and weather patterns over the Indus Valley caused summer monsoon rains to gradually dry up, which in turn made agriculture difficult or impossible near Harappan cities.
    • While fickle summer monsoons made agriculture difficult along the Indus, in the foothills, moisture and rain would come more routinely.
    • The evidence of the shift in seasonal rainfall – and the resultant switch away from the Indus floods to rains near the foothills to irrigate crops came from the sediments from the ocean floor of Pakistan’s coast.
    • The seafloor near the mouth of the Indus is a very low-oxygen environment, so whatever grows and dies in the water is very well preserved in the sediment.
    • During winter monsoons, strong winds would bring nutrients from the deeper ocean to the surface that fed a surge in plant and animal life. On the other hand, weaker winds other times of year provide fewer nutrients, causing slightly less productivity in the waters offshore.
    • Based on this evidence, it is found that as winter monsoons became stronger and summer monsoons became weaker. The later year of the Harappan civilization resulted in the move away from cities to villages.

(6) Decline in the lapis lazuli trade with Mesopotamia:

  • Shereen Ratnagar has argued that the decline in the lapis lazuli trade with Mesopotamia was a factor in the decline of the Harappan civilization.
  • Whether this trade was particularly important for the Harappans is, however, debatable; consequently, this could not have been a factor responsible for the decline.

Archaeological evidence does not give direct access to the possible social and political dimensions of the decline of the Harappan civilization. What it does indicate very clearly is that the Harappan culture underwent a gradual process of de-urbanization. The mature Harappan phase was followed by a post-urban phase, known as the late Harappan phase.

The tradition survive: Late Harappan Phase

  • Scholars working on the Indus civilization no longer look for the causes of its decline.
    • This is because of the fact that the scholars who studied the Harappan civilization right upto the 1960s believed that the collapse of the civilization was sudden.
    • These scholars concentrated their work on the studies of cities, town planning and large structures.
    • Such problem as the relationship of the Harappan cities with the contemporary villages and the continuity of various elements of the Harappan civilization were ignored.
    • Thus, the debate about the causes of the decline of the Harappan civilization became more and more abstract.
  • It was towards the end of the sixties that scholars like Malik and Possehl focused their attention on various aspects of continuity of the Harappan tradition.
  • It is true that Harappa and Mohenjodaro were abandoned and the urban phase came to an end. However, if we take a perspective covering the entire geographical spread of the Harappan civilization, a few things seem to continue in the old style.
    • Some of the settlements were abandoned but most other settlements remained in occupation. However, the tradition of uniform writing, seals, weights and pottery was lost.
    • The objects showing intensive interaction among the far flung settlements were lost.
    • In other words the activities associated with city-centred economies were given up. Thus the changes that came about simply indicated the end of the urban phase.
    • Small villages and towns continued to exist and the archaeological finds from these sites show many elements of the Harappan tradition.
    • In most of the sites in Sindh it is difficult to observe any change in the pottery tradition.
    • In the areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana, vibrant agricultural communities emerged in large numbers in the succeeding period.
    • Thus, from a regional perspective, the period succeeding the urban phase can be treated as one of flourishing agricultural villages which outnumber those of the urban phase.
    • That is why scholars now discuss is issues like cultural change, regional migrations and modification in the system of settlement and subsistence.
  • There are five geographical zones of the late Harappan phase:
    • Sindh;
    • West Punjab and the Ghaggar Hakra valley;
    • Eastern Punjab and Haryana;
    • The Ganga–Yamuna doab; and
    • Kutch and Saurashtra.
  • Sind:
    • In Sindh, the late Harappan phase is represented by the Jhukar culture at sites such as Jhukar, Chanhudaro, and Amri.
    • The transition from the mature to the late Harappan phase in this region does not show any sudden discontinuity.
    • There were gradual changes in the seals, a decrease in the frequency of cubical weights, and writing came to be confined only to pottery.
    • People were still staying in brick houses but they gave up the planned lay out.
    • They were using a slightly different pottery called the Jhukar pottery.
      • It was a buff-ware with red slip with paintings in black.
      • This pottery evolved from the ‘Mature Harappan’ pottery and as such need not be considered something new.
      • The evidence of pottery suggests reciprocal contacts between the Jhukar culture of Sindh and the late Harappan culture at Lothal and Rangpur.
    • In Jhukar certain distinctive metal objects have been found which might be indicative of trade links with Iran or the influx of a migrant population having Iranian or Central Asian influences.
    • Circular stamp seals of stone or faience and a bronze cosmetic jar are also indicative of contacts with the cultures to the west of the Indus.
  • Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan:
    • In the areas of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan several settlements have been reported where people continued to live in the same old way after the decline of the cities.
      • However, the Harappan influences on the pottery tradition gradually declined and the local pottery traditions which were always present along with the Harappan pottery gradually replaced the Harappan pottery altogether.
      • Thus, the decline of urbanism was reflected in the reassertion of regional traditions in these areas.
    • In the Punjab province of Pakistan (Western Punjab) and the Ghaggar-Hakra valley, the late Harappan phase is represented by the Cemetery-H culture.
      • There is a decline in the number of settlements from 174 in the mature Harappan phase to 50 in the late Harappan phase.
    • In east Punjab, Haryana, and north Rajasthan, the late Harappan settlements were small compared to the mature Harappan ones.
    • The sites of Mitathal, Bara, Ropar and Siswal are well known.
    • Brick houses have been reported from Bara and Siswal.
  • Ganga–Yamuna doab:
    • In the Ganga–Yamuna doab, compared to the 31 mature Harappan sites, there are 130 late Harappan sites.
    • The settlements were small, houses were generally made of wattle and daub, but the agricultural base was very diverse.
  • Kutch and Saurashtra:
    • In Kutch and Saurashtra the end of the urban phase is clearly documented in places like Rangapur and Somnath.
    • Even during the urban phase they had a local ceramic tradition co-existing with the Harappan pottery. This tradition continued in later phases.
    • Some sites like Rangapur seem to have become more prosperous in the succeeding period. They were using potteries called the Lustrous Red Ware.
    • However, the people stopped using the Indus weights, script and tools imported from distant areas. Now they were using stone tools made of locally available stones.
    • In the ‘Mature Harappan’ phase there were 13 settlements in Gujarat. In the subsequent ‘Late Harappan’ dated to about 2100 B.C. phase the number of settlement went upto 200 or more.
      • This increase in the number of settlements indicating an increase in population cannot be explained by biological factors.
      • In pre-modern societies the population could not increase so much in a space of a few generations that 13 settlements would multiply into more than 200 or more settlements.
      • Thus, there is a distinct possibility that people inhabiting these new settlements came from other areas.
    • Late Harappan settlements have also been reported from Maharashtra, where their culture merged into those of the emerging agricultural communities.
  • While there was abandonment or severe reduction in population in Sindh and Cholistan, the increase in the number of settlements in Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, northern Rajasthan, and Gujarat shows that this was not the case everywhere.
    • In fact, at around the time that people were abandoning Mohenjodaro, the people of Rojdi in Saurashtra were expanding and rebuilding their settlement.
    • The data suggests an eastward and southward shift of settlements and people.
  • The evidence from mature and late Harappan sites shows a complex interplay of elements of continuity and change:
    • Pottery:
      • Compared to mature Harappan pottery, the slip of late Harappan pottery is less bright.
      • The pots tend to be thicker and sturdier.
      • Some of the classic Harappan shapes—e.g., the beaker, goblet, perforated jar, s-shaped jar, and pyriform jar—disappear. Other shapes—e.g., jars of different shapes and the dish-on-stand—continue.
    • Various elements of Harappan urbanism such as the cities, script, seals, specialized crafts, and long-distance trade declined in the late Harappan phase, but did not completely disappear.
      • Some of the late Harappan sites such as Kudwala in Cholistan, Bet Dwarka in Gujarat, and Daimabad in the upper Godavari valley can be described as urban, but they are few and far between and certainly there is not city that matches the grandeur and monumentality of Mohenjodaro and Harappan cities, although baked bricks and drains are present in the Cemetery H occupation at Harappa while at Sanghol there was a solid mud platform on which mud houses stood.
      • Writing is occasionally encountered but remains generally confined to a few potsherds.
        • Graffiti on pottery occurs in Saurashtra and northern Gujarat as well as in the eastern regions.
        • Four potsherds with Harappan script were found at late Harappan levels at Daimabad.
      • Seals became rare:
        • Some circular seals occur at Daimabad and Jhukar not rectangular like the typical Indus specimens.
        • Rectangular seals without motifs were found at Dholavira.
      • A rectangular conch shell seal with the motif of a three-headed animal, similar to that found on seals of the Persian Gulf, was found at Bet Dwarka.
        • This suggests that contact with the Persian Gulf continued in the late Harappan phase, at least in the Gujarat region.
      • The indicator of a reduction in the scale of trade is the relatively sparse evidence of interregional procurement of raw materials.
      • A few craft traditions survived urban collapse and are found in the makeup of the late/post-Harappan mosaic.
        • Faience (Glazed earthenware decorated with opaque colors) was one such craft and ornaments fashioned out of this synthetic stone are commonly found in the post-Harappan period.
        • The late Harappan phase at Bhagwanpura shows flourishing specialized craft activity; there are 2 clay tablets and 19 sherds with graffiti, which could represent a script.
      • A continuity can be seen in the character of metal technology, although there was a general decrease in the use of copper.
        • The bronzes from Daimabad in Maharashtra made by the “lost wax” process and the replication of a marine shell in copper at Rojdi in Gujarat underline the continuation of the technical excellence of the Indus copper and copper alloy traditions.
      • In Punjab and Haryana, there are faience ornaments, beads of semi-precious stones, terracotta cart frames, kilns, and fire altars.
      • There was no cultural cohesion or artefactual uniformity of the kind that was a hallmark of that civilization. Instead of a civilization, there were cultures, each with its own distinct regional identity. (Localisation Era).
    • A notable development in the late Harappan phase was the diversification of agriculture:
      • At Pirak in Baluchistan, there was the beginning of double cropping—wheat and barley were being grown as winter crops and rice (with irrigation), millet, and sorghum as summer crops.
      • In the Kachi plain, there were fairly large settlements, growing a variety of crops, supplemented with irrigation.
      • Rice and millets were found at late Harappan levels at Harappa.
    • The general picture presented by the late Harappan phase is one of a breakdown of urban networks and an expansion of rural ones.
    • There is an overlap between the late Harappan and Painted Grey Ware (PGW) culture at sites such as Bhagwanpura and Dadheri in Haryana, and Katpalon and Nagar in Punjab.
    • Also significant is the overlap between late Harappan and Ochre Coloured Pottery (OCP) levels in western Uttar Pradesh at sites such as Bargaon and Ambakheri. The evidence from this area, Gujarat, and north Maharashtra suggests an eastward and southward migration of the Harappans.


Cemetary H Culture:

  • The Cemetery H culture developed out of the northern part of the Indus Valley Civilization around 1700 BCE, in and around western Punjab region. It was named after a cemetery found in “area H” at Harappa.
  • Together with the Gandhara grave culture and the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture, it is considered as a nucleus of Vedic civilization.
  • The distinguishing features of this culture include:
    • The use of cremation of human remains. The bones were stored in painted pottery burial urns. This is completely different from the Indus civilization where bodies were buried in wooden coffins.
    • Reddish pottery, painted in black with antelopes, peacocks etc., sun or star motifs, with different surface treatments to the earlier period.
    • Expansion of settlements into the east.
    • Rice became a main crop.
    • Apparent breakdown of the widespread trade of the Indus civilization, with materials such as marine shells no longer used.
    • Continued use of mud brick for building.

Transmission and survival of the Harappan tradition 

  • The end of the cities did not mean the end of the Harappan tradition.
    • The Harappan communities merged into the surrounding agricultural groups.
    • However, the centralised decision-making in the polity and economy had ended.
  • The Harappan communities which continued after the urban phase would have definitely retained their older traditions.
    • It is likely that the Harappan peasants would retain their forms of worship.
    • The priests of the Harappan urban centres were part of a highly organised literate tradition.
    • Even if literacy ended they are likely to have preserved their religious practices.
    • The dominant community of the subsequent early historic period called itself ‘The Aryans’. These people do not seem to have possessed a literary tradition. Possibly, the priestly groups of the Harappans merged into the ruling groups of the Aryans.
  • As such the Harappan religious tradition would be transmitted to the historical India.
    • The folk communities also retained the traditions of craftsmanship as is evident from the pottery and tool making traditions.
    • Once again when literate urban culture emerged in early India it absorbed elements of the folk cultures.
    • This would provide a more effective channel of transmission of the Harappan tradition.
  • Many elements of the Harappan civilization survived in the subsequent historical tradition.
    • The cults of Pasupati (Siva) and of the mother goddess and phallic worship seem to have come down to us from the Harappan tradition.
    • The cult of sacred places, rivers or trees and sacred animals show a distinct continuity in the subsequent historic civilization of India.
    • The evidence of fire worship and sacrifice in Kalibangan and Lothal is significant. These were the most significant elements of the Vedic religion.
    • Many aspects of domestic life like the house plans, disposition of water supply and attention to bathing survived in the settlements of the subsequent periods.
    • The traditional weight and currency system of India, based on a ratio of sixteen as the unit, was already present in the Harappan civilization.
    • The techniques of making potter’s wheel in modern India is similar to those used by the Harappans.
    • Bullock carts and boats used in modern India were already present in the Harappan cities. 

Q. “The continuity of the Indus Civilization into later ages was not confined to the religious and spiritual fields alone.” Analyse the statement. 


The culture and traditions of the Indus valley Civilisation have been preserved without a breakdown to the present day and it includes all walks of life not just the religious and spiritual fields.

How continuity in the religious and spiritual fields

1) The Pashupati of the Harappans shows a remarkable resemblance to the Shiva of the later Hinduism traditions.

2) Worship of Pipal tree and humped bull still prevalent in the Indian society.

3) Worship of Shakambari, the Earth mother still continues in the countryside.

4) Worship of male and female creative energy in the form of stone icons of lingas and yonis continues to the present day.

5) Discovery of fire altars in Lothal and Kalibangan gives indication towards fire cult. Later fire came to occupy a very important position in Hindu way of worship.

How continuity in other fields

1) Pottery- Some of the forms and features of the pots used by the Harappans can be seen in traditional kitchens even today.

2) House Plans- People lived in houses of different sizes, mostly consisting of rooms arranged around a central courtyard, which can be seen in Indian villages even today.

3) Lost-wax method – It was used in the making of the famous “dancing girl” of the Mohenjodaro. This technique is still used in certain parts of India.

4) Cotton – Mesopotamian texts mention cotton as one of the imports from Meluhha and traces of cotton cloth were also found at Mohenjodaro. India still continues to produce and export cotton.

5) The beginning of the system of binary and decimal and other measurements and weights which were used by the Harappans have continued into later India. For example- 1 rupee = 16 annas.

6) Garments-

  • Use of dhoti like lower garment which still continues in the countryside, and
  • An upper garment consisting of a shawl or cloak worn over one shoulder and under the other was in vogue during the historical periods. for ex- this style is visible in the images of Buddha also.

7) Use of talisman and amulets still continues in the Indian society.

8) Some of the symbols like “Swastik”, “Circle” etc found on the Harappan seals remain important till this day.

9) Continuance of dice games, kajal for the eyes kept in jars with sticks, ivory combs, nose rings, bangles, rosary etc continues.

10) Cultivation of crops like wheat, barley, rice, etc continue even today.

11) Separate bathing areas and toilets have been found in many houses of the Harappan civilization. This can be seen in the countryside till now.

12) The Harappans made elaborate arrangements for water for drinking and bathing. The emphasis on providing water for bathing suggests that they were very particular about personal hygiene. This consciousness for personal hygiene can still be witnessed in the Indian society.

13) The practice of building ritual bathing tanks and taking holy bath and ablution can be traced back directly to the Harappan period.

Thus it would be appropriate to say that the continuity of the Indus Civilization into later ages covers all the walks of life not just the religious and spiritual fields.

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