Describe the material life of Indus Civilization and discuss its expansion and contact with the outside world.  सिन्धु सभ्यता के भौतिक जीवन का वर्णन कीजिये तथा इसके प्रसार एवं विदेशों के साथ सम्पर्क का विवेचन कीजिये । [UPPSC, 1990]

Describe the material life of Indus Civilization and discuss its expansion and contact with the outside world. सिन्धु सभ्यता के भौतिक जीवन का वर्णन कीजिये तथा इसके प्रसार एवं विदेशों के साथ सम्पर्क का विवेचन कीजिये । [UPPSC, 1990] 


About 5000 years ago, a highly advanced urban civilization called the Indus Valley or Harappan Civilization, existed along the river Indus.

The material life of Indus Civilization

Town Planning:

  • The settlements were planned. The streets and houses of Harappan cities were laid on a grid-pattern oriented north-south and east-west.  Roads were straight and cross each-other at right angles.©
  • Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Kalibangan each had citadel built on a high podium of mud brick. Below the citadel in each city lay a lower town containing brick houses, which were inhabited by the common people.
  • Drainage system:
    • An efficient and well-planned drainage system is the notable feature of the Harappan settlements.
    • The main drains were covered by corbelled arches made of brick or stone slabs.
    • The drains for collecting rainwater were separate from the sewage chutes and pipes.
  • Houses:
    • People lived in houses of different sizes , mostly consisting of rooms arranged around a central courtyard.
    • Doorways and windows generally faced the side lanes. The doors and windows were made of wood and mats.
    • Small houses attached to large ones were the quarters of service groups working for wealthy city dwellers.
    • Houses were also provided with’weils and bathrooms.
  • Bricks and brick laying style:
    • Burnt bricks were extensively’ used.
    • Uniformity in the average size of the bricks- 7x 14 x 28 cm for houses and 10x 20x 40 cm for city walls.
    • Both these brick sizes have an identical ratio of thickness, width and length i.e. 1:2:4.
    • There were various styles of laying bricks, including ”English bond Style”.
  • The other important structures found in the Indus cities include the Great Bath and pillared hall at Mohenjodaro, the dockyard at Lothal and the granary at Harappa and Mohenjodaro. These structures stand testimony to the architectural skills of the Indus people.

Economic Conditions:

  • The Harappan civilisation covered an enormous area and the diversity of the subsistence base. The base consists of agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting, and fishing.
  • Agriculture:
    • Agriculture was the main occupation of the Indus people. They grew wheat, barley, peas and in some places rice. They not only produced enough for themselves but also for trade.
    • They did not irrigate their lands by canals. The annual flood provided enough moisture to grow crops. Fields were ploughed using a wooden ploughshare.
  • Domestication of animals:
    • On the basis of the Indus seals, it can be said that a large number of animals including goats, buffaloes, oxen, elephants, dogs and camels were domesticated. But the Harappans seem not to have been familiar with the horse.
  • Crafts:
    • The Harappan people were good craftsmen. Bronze work had reached a degree of perfection.
    • Brick-making and masonry were other important occupations.
    • Pottery made on potter’s wheel was decorated with different designs and painted red and black.
    • Spinning and weaving too were a common craft.
    • Factories and workshops related to bead making, seal making, shell working, making of stone weights etc. have been found at several places.
  • Trade:
    • The urban culture and highly specialized manufacturing activity suggest that the Harappan cities had a flourishing trade. Most city dwellers appear to have been traders or artisans.
    • Both external and internal trade flourished.
    • The river Indus served as the high waterway through which most of this trade was carried out. They also traded with Mesopotamian cities. Many Harappan seals have been found from Mesopotamian cities.
    • They exported grain, jewelry, pottery etc. and imported thin copper, precious stones etc.
  • Standardization of crafts as well as weights and measures is displayed.
    • A shell scale, an ivory scale and a shell object to measure angles have been found.

Seals, Script, Weights of Harappan Civilisation:

  • Seals and sealings were used to facilitate long distance communication. If the bag of goods reached with its sealing intact, it meant that it had not been tampered with. Seals also conveyed the identity of the sender.
  • The Harappan script remains undeciphered to date. The script was not alphabetical and had many signs between 375 and 400.
  • Exchange were regulated by a precise system of weights, usually made of a stone called chert with no marking. The lower denominations of weights were binary and the higher denominations followed the decimal system.

Art and architecture:

  • The advanced architecture of the Harappans is shown by their impressive dockyards, granaries, great bath, warehouses, brick platforms, and protective walls. The massive walls of Indus cities most likely protected the Harappans from floods.
  • The Harappan sculpture revealed a high degree of workmanship. Figures of men and women, animals and birds made of terracotta and the carvings on the seals show the degree of proficiency attained by the sculptor.
  • The figure of a dancing girl from Mohenjodaro made of bronze is remarkable for its workmanship.
  • Two stone statues from Harappa, one representing the back view of a man and the other of a dancer are also specimens of their sculpture.
  • The pottery from Harappa is another specimen of the fine arts of the Indus people. The pots and jars were painted with various designs and colours. Painted pottery is of better quality.


  • The worship of mother goddess, proto-pashupati god, and male and female creative energy were the important features of the religious beliefs of the Harappan people.
  • The fire altars found at Kalibangan suggest the existence of ritualistic practices.

Burial customs:

  • Extended burials, symbolic burials, fractional burials, urn burials, multiple burials, use of wooden coffin in a burial at Harappa and presence of grave goods in the burials have been found.

Harappan script and writing:

  • The Indus seals are small rectangular tablets of terracotta on which some figures of plants, animals, etc. are drawn. There is some kind of pictorial writing too on them.
  • The Harappan script has not been deciphered. The number of signs is between 400 and 600 of which 40 or 60 are basic and the rest are their variants. The script was mostly written from right to left.
  • The Dholavira signboard may indicate a high level of urban literacy and a civic use of writing.

Dress and hairstyle: 

  • The discovery of a number of spindies suggests the use of cotton and woollen fabrics.
  • The bronze statues too give some information about the dress of the people.
  • The women wore a skirt and an upper garment. Men wore a band of cloth around their loin and a loose garment over their shoulders.
  • Women  wore their hair variously in braids.
    • At Harappa, it is supplemented by flowers or flower-shaped ornaments.
  • There are various hairstyles of men—braids, buns, and hair hanging loose. Most of the male figurines have beards.
  • Men and women alike had long hair.


  • Female figurines wear ornaments such as necklaces, chokers, hair ornaments, bangles, belts, ornaments on their waist.
  • The men used many more ornaments than the modern Indians.
    • They would be wearing ring, bracelets and ornaments round their neck and hands.
    • Growing beard was fashionable but they would shave their moustaches.
  • Men and women both wear bangles and necklaces.

Recreation and amusements:

  • The people of Harappa seem to have had a great liking for dance and music. They were also familiar with indoor games like dice.
  • Terracotta toys of various kinds have been found at Harappan sites.
    • They include balls, rattles, whistles, gamesmen, carts with moveable parts, and animals on wheels. There are spinning tops made of terracotta and shell.
    • Miniature terracotta cooking vessels, beds, and other toy furniture have been found, with which children must have played house.
    • There are figurines of children playing with toys.
    • Some of the terracotta figurines of people and animals have a comic appearance, reflecting a sense of humour.
    • Lots of terracotta figurines of dogs have been found at Harappan sites, some with collars, suggesting that people kept dogs as pets.

Food Habits:

  • The people of Harappan Civilisation ate a wide range of plant and animal products including fish and meat, wheat, maize, millet, pulses, rice and another eatables. For this, cattle, sheep, goat, buffalo and pig were domesticated by the Harappans.

Expansion and contact with the outside world

  • The centre of the civilization was in Sind and Punjab in undivided India, from this center the civilization spread towards all direction.
    • In West the last extent is seaboard of South Baluchistan at the Suktagendor which can be called its western border.
    • In east Alamagirpur in Uttar Pradesh (District Meerut) can be called its Eastern Border.
    • In North it extended up to Manda in Jammu & Kashmir.
    • and in south it extended up to Diamabad  (Maharashtra).
  • Approximately 1400 settlements have been discovered so far. Most of these settlements are located on River banks.
  • This civilization was largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia and China and covered an area of around 13 Lakh square kilometers. This area is triangular in shape and no other ancient civilization was extended to such a large area.
  • The Harappans had commercial contacts with their western neighbours. Lothal Surkotada and Balakot were some of the important trading coastal towns which connected to Mesopotamia and other west Asian sites.
  • Trade routes:
    • Two main overland routes connected the Harappan civilization with West Asia.
      • The northern one passed through northern Afghanistan, north Iran, Turkmenistan, and Mesopotamia.
      • A southern route passed through Tepe Yahya, Jalalabad and Ur. Dholavira and the sites along the coast of Kutch no doubt played an important role in maritime trade
    • Sea route in Persian Gulf: From indus region to Mesopotamia via Dilmun (Bahrain) and Makan (Oman).
      • The Mesopotamian records from 2350 BC onward refer to trade relations with Meluha the ancient name given to the Indus region. Mesopotamian texts refer to Meluha as a land of seafarers which shows trade between Mesopotamia and Indus region was carried by sea. The depiction of ships and boats on seals also indicate this.
  • Important sites and traded commodities:
    • A number of Harappan and Harappan-related objects found in south Turkmenistan at sites such as Altyn Depe and Khapuz. The most definite evidence comes from Altyn Depe, in the form of a rectangular Harappan seal bearing the Harappan script.
    • Harappan and Harappan-related artifacts have been found at Ras-al-Qala on the island of Bahrain. Jar fragments with Harappan writing have been found at many sites in the Persian Gulf.
    • The Harappans were also trading with the Oman peninsula. Carnelian bead of the Harappan type was found at Umm-an-Nar. The major imports from Oman may have included chloride vessels, shell.
    • The sites in Iran are Hissar, Shah Tepe, Jalalabad etc.
    • The archaeological evidence for Harappan-Mesopotamian trade consists Harappan-related seals and carnelian beads at Mesopotamian sites such as Kish, Nippur, and Ur.
    • Carnelian beads were clearly an important Harappan export to West Asia. Textiles and conch shell objects were other possible exports.
      • Mesopotamian texts mention the following items as imports from Meluhha: lapis lazuli, carnelian, gold, silver, copper, dog, cat, and monkey.
      • Mesopotamia’s general exports included fish, grain, raw wool, woolen garments.
    • Among the Harappan imports were lapis lazuli was probably an import from Afghanistan, Jade must have come from Turkmenistan.
      • Tin may have been obtained from Ferghana.
      • Carved chlorite and green schist vessels from Persian Gulf.
    • The Harappans had also set up a trading colony in northern Afghanistan which facilitated trade with central Asia.

Ratnagar argues that its decline in trade was a reason for the decline of the Harappan civilization.

Chakrabarti and Shaffer argue that Harappan trade with Mesopotamia was not direct, extensive or intensive. Such argument is persuasive. Unlike the resource-poor area of Mesopotamia, the Harappan culture zone was rich in a variety of natural resources. ©

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