History – Ancient Civilizations

Indus Valley Civilization

According to the carbon-dating process, the Indus Valley Civilization appears to have flourished between 2500 to 1700 BC, though at some places it may have lasted till later. This period is known as pre-historic period. It belongs to the Chalcolithic Age. Archaeological excavations for the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization have been carried out at many places. Two big cities discovered in the beginning were Harappa in the Montgomery district of what is now West Punjab in 1921, situated on the bank of river Ravi, and Mohenjodaro in the Larkana District of Sind in 1922. In India, important sites connected with the Indus Valley Civilization are Ropar in Punjab and Kalibangan in Rajasthan. Yet another site of this civilization discovered in India is Lothal in Gujarat State on the sea-plain of former Saurashtra, 720 km south-east of Mohenjodaro. It was an ancient port city of the Indus Vallley people. The excavations made here represent the Harappan culture. The discovery of a dockyard here measuring 710 feet by 125 feet (found blocked) proves maritime trade with Mesopotamia and other countries. It is the best example of maritime activity during the Harappan period.

Mohenjodaro, on the bank of river Indus, is the largest known Indus Valley period city.

Recent excavations at Dholavira in Kachchar (Gujarat) have further illuminated Indian history with revelations of an extensive Harappan city in the Rann of Kutch.

Dholavira, an ancient city, was most conspicuous for its aesthetic architecture, a unique water harnessing system and its storm-water drainage system. A large well and a bath were also excavated.

From archaeological excavations at Indus Valley sites it appears the people belonging to that era cultivated barley, wheat, peas, melons, sesame etc. The large number of earthen spindles found in the remains go to show that the people knew how to spin both cotton and woollen threads.

From the statues and carvings, we can make out that women put on skirts, and the men wore a band of cloth round their loins, and sometimes put on wrappers covering their left shoulder and passing below the right shoulder. They also sported beards and whiskers. Both men and women wore ornaments like finger-rings, necklaces, armlets etc. made of gold, silver, ivory, shell, bone, copper or terracotta. Women also used anklets, girdles, earstuds, nose-studs etc. The ornaments of the poor people were made of copper, shells and bones. People had domesticated the humped bull (zebu), buffalo, pig, elephant, horses and dogs. Available evidence suggests that among wild animals the Indus Valley people were familiar with tigers, bears, rhinoceros etc. The Harappans were the earliest people to produce cotton.

According to eminent archaeologists, the supreme god of the Indus Valley people was the Pipal God. A form similar to that of the Great God Siva of the Hindus has also been repeatedly found.

The people worshipped trees. The large number of steatite seals and other carvings discovered in the excavations show that art had made great progress. This is also borne out by the excellent finish of some stone-images found among the ruins.

The area in which the Indus Valley Civilization flourished had at least two big cities and more than 100 towns and villages. The big cities were Harappa and Mohenjodaro. These cities appear to have been well planned with broad streets up to 33 ft. in breadth. The roads cut each other at right angles. The people used burnt bricks with gypsum and mud-plaster. Most of the houses had bathrooms and the cities had a well laid out drainage system. In every house, big jars were fixed in the floor for storage of grains. In Mohenjodaro, there was a great communal bath with a 30’ x 23’ x 8’ tank in the middle. The town had a good system of water supply built round a large number of wells.

The area occupied by the Aryans was then called Sapt Sindhu (Frontier Province and Punjab as before partition).

The Indus Valley civilization was primarily urban. The system of governing was probably kingship.

A very interesting feature of this civilisation is that Iron was not known to the people.

The Rigveda speaks of a battle at a place named Hariyumpiya which has been identified with Harappa.

Language: Malati J. Shendge in his book “The Language of Harappans” says that the language of the Indus Valley Civilization was “Akkadian”, and not proto-Dravidian, as is generally believed. The earliest script was noticed in 1853 and complete script discovered by 1923.

The Indus script has not been deciphered so far.

Similarity with the Sumerian and Mesopotamian Civilizations: According to the historians, there were close commercial and cultural contacts between the Indus Valley and the Sumerian civilization. The Valley of the Indus has been referred to in Sumerian myths as Dilbun. The similarities between the Indus Valley Civilization and the civilizations which developed in Sumeria and Mesopotamia were the use of burnt bricks, copper and bronze vessels, the potter’s wheel, pictorial seals etc. They had a flourishing trade with each other and each one of them had a fairly well developed pattern of urban life. Mesopotaminans called the Indus region Meluha.

Difference with the Vedic Civilization: The Indus Valley people had not learnt to domesticate horses but those who lived in the Vedic age did make use of the horse. The use of armour was likewise a Vedic practice unknown to the Indus people. Whereas the latter lived mostly in towns and cities, the Vedic people were for the most part pastoral. They lived mostly in the countryside. They knew the use of iron which was not known to the inhabitants of the Indus Valley. The two civilizations worshipped different gods.

The Indus Empire—Latest Discoveries: In 1921, when the archaeological discoveries of Harappa and Mohenjodaro were made, it was thought that the Indus Valley Civilization was confined to Punjab and Sind only. Later, archaeological discoveries, however, traced it as far east as Alamgirpur in Uttar Pradesh, and as far north as the foothills of the Himalayas. Excavations at Lothal, further proved that the civilization extended to the shores of Gujarat. Lothal was an outpost for sea trade with the contemporary West Asian civilizations.

Recent excavations at many sites on or near the banks of the Krishna river show that this civilization percolated as far south as the Krishna valley. A scholar suggests that the civilization influenced culture in this region even in the post-Harappan period. It may have extended even further south.

The latest excavations show that the extent of the Harappan empire may have been widely spread throughout the country. As such, many theories as to its race and language are likely to become obsolete. With so many claims about deciphering of the mysterious Harappan script, the geography of the Indus people may have yet to be finally drawn!

Earliest evidence of agricultural communities: Earliest evidence before the emergence of Harappan civilisation comes from a place called Mehrgarh, near the Bolan Pass. Radiocarbon dates indicate that people here were growing wheat and barley and tending sheep and goats in 5000 BC. The Harappans were the earliest people to produce Cotton.

Vedic or Aryan Civilization

The location of the original home of the Aryans still remains a controversial point. Some scholars believe that the Aryans were native to the soil of India and were living in the Punjab or in the Ganga-Jamuna valley.

According to popular belief, the Aryans are supposed to have migrated from Central Asia in the course of a great nomadic movement that spread from the Mongolian Steppes in the east to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean in the West. It is not definitely known when the Aryans first came to India.

The group that came to India first settled in the present Frontier Province and the Punjab—then called Sapta Sindhu. They lived here for many centuries and gradually pushed into the interior to settle in the valleys of the Ganges and the Yamuna.

While according to Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the Aryans came from Arctic region, according to Max Muller they came from Central Asia. Ganganath Jha claims they are original inhabitants of India or Brahamrishi Dish. According to D.S. Kala, Aryans came from Himalayan region or Kashmir.

It is presumed that the Rig Veda was composed while the Aryans were still in the Punjab.

The Aryans were skilful farmers. They knew the art of domesticating animals. They were engaged in trade and knew maritime navigation.

The religious books of the Aryans show their culture at the highest perfection. The most important of these books are the Vedas—four in number: (i) the Rig Veda (collection of lyrics), the oldest, it contains 1028 hymns, divided into 10 mandals. The hymns were recited by Hotri. (ii) the Yajur Veda (book of sacrificial prayers). Its hymns were recited by Adveryu. (iii) the Sama Veda (book of chants). All verses (excluding 75) were taken from Rig Veda and recited by Udgatri and (iv) the Atharva Veda (book of magical formula). It contains charms and spells to ward off evils and diseases; the Upanishads—Philosophical treatises; the Epics— the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; the Puranas—18 in number; the Shastras or the Darshanas—six in number and the Manu Simriti.

Rig Veda contains tribal assemblies such as the Sabha, Samiti, Vidath and Gana, Sabha was committee of few privileged and important individuals.

The Aryans or the Hindus were divided into four groups called castes: (i) Brahmanas, (ii) Kshatriyas, (iii) Vaishyas and (iv) Sudras.

To lead an ideal life they had divided human life into four stages (Ashrams): (i) Brahamcharya Ashram, (ii) Grahastha Ashram, (iii) Banprastha and (iv) Sanyas Ashram.

Gradually, changes of far-reaching importance occurred in the social system of Aryans. The caste system became more rigid and the sacrificial side of religion was greatly developed by the Brahmanas. The privileges of the Brahmanas and growing complexities of their rituals, however, did not last long and the struggle against Brahmanism found expression in two new faiths—Jainism and Buddhism.

Aryans in the Rigvedic Period: The Aryans in the Rig vedic period were a highly organised patriarchal society. Marriage was a recognised institution and it was looked upon as a sacrament which could not be broken by any means. Women occupied a place of honour in society and had freedom to choose their marriage-partners. As a rule people were monogamous though those in the higher strata of society sometimes practised polygamy also. Widows were allowed to remarry, particularly when they had no male progeny. The father was the head of the family, which was the basic unit of the social structure. It has not been conclusively established whether the Aryans in the Rig vedic age believed in or observed the caste-system, but they did look down upon the non-Aryans or the original inhabitants of the land whom they described as dasyus or asuras. As compared to the Aryans, the latter were short-statured and dark-skinned. They spoke a different language and worshipped other gods. The Aryans deified natural phenomenon like fire, wind, water etc. and worshipped them. They had an elaborate code of rituals and sacrifices. They performed several types of Yajnas to propitiate the elemental forces.

It is believed that the Aryans of the Rig vedic period were settled in what are now known as the Shivalik Hills. As has been said earlier, the basic social unit was the family. Families were further organised into Kulas or clans, Janapads or cantons and then into the Rashtra or the nation. The system of government prevailing in the age was monarchic. The king was the protector of his people and also led them in the battlefield. He had ministers to help him in running the administration. He was also advised in the task of government by sabhas and samitis—assemblies of representatives elected by the people.

The king did not maintain any army. In times of war he mustered a militia whose military functions were performed by different tribal groups called Vrata, Gana, Grama and Sardha.

The later Vedic people were acquainted with 4 types of pottery: (i) black and red ware, (ii) black slipped ware, (iii) painted grey ware and (iv) red ware.

The Red ware was the most popular type of pottery in later vedic period. It has been found almost all over western Uttar Pradesh. However, the most distinctive pottery of the period is known as Painted Grey Ware. It consisted of bowls and dishes, which were used either for rituals or for eating or for both, but by the upper orders.

The Vedic people continued to produce Yava (barley) but during later vedic period, rice (vrihi) and wheat became their Chief crops. For the first time, the vedic people came to be acquainted with rice in doab and its remains recovered from Hastinapur belong to the 8th century BC.

During later Vedic period, popular assemblies i.e. Sabha and Samiti continued to hold the ground but their character changed. They came to be dominated by princes and rich nobles. Women were no longer permitted to sit on the Sabha and it was now dominated by nobles and brahmanas. The Vidath was completely disappeared during this period.

The institution of gotra appeared in later Vedic period.

The later vedic texts mention only three asramas (stages of life)— brahmacharya, grihastha and vanaprastha. The last and the 4th stage (samyasa) had not been well established in later vedic times.

Foreign Countries Influenced by Indian Culture in the Ancient Period

India in the ancient past was a great maritime and colonial power. According to researches made by eminent Indian and foreign historians, ancient Indians extended the frontiers of India to include several countries in the Far East. Traces of Indian culture can be found even to-day in the following countries/regions (the ancient Indian names are given in brackets in each case): Vietnam (Champa), Java (Yavadwipa), Sumatra (Suvarnadwipa), Borneo (Varunadwipa), Cambodia (Kamboja), Sri Lanka (Tamraparni), Myanmar (Indradwipa), Malaya (Malaya Desha) etc.