Sindhu (Indus) Valley Civilization at a Glance
One Civilization, Many Names
The Sindhu Valley Civilization has several names. In the West, it’s often referred to as the Indus Valley Civilization or IVC, after the river’s European name. It is known as the Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization after the Sindhu River and the Saraswati River, which vanished into the desert of Rajasthan long ago. It is also known as the Harappan Civilization after the modern city of Harappa, where one of the first major sites was excavated.
Recent Discovery of Ancient Civilization
Though it is known by many names, it was completely unknown to modern man until archeologists excavated a site near Harappa in 1921-1922. They were surprised to discover the ruins of a civilization contemporaneous with ancient Egypt, China and Mesopotamia. While each civilization evolved independently, with their own traditions and beliefs, they were linked and influenced by international trade.
While much is known about early river valley civilizations, archeologists are still unraveling the mysteries of the Sindhu Valley Civilization as they discover new sites and continue their research.
World’s First Urban Civilization
Nomads first settled in the fertile plains along the Sindhu River 8,000 years ago, where they started to grow crops and domesticate wild animals. By the year 2,500 BC, over 5 million people lived in over 2,000 cities and settlements in an area covering much of northwest India and Pakistan.
The ancient Sindhi, also known as Harappans, were accomplished city planners and civil engineers. They laid out their cities on a grid system, much like Chicago’s, and lined their streets with two and three-story mud brick houses. Every house had an indoor and outdoor kitchen, as well as fresh running water and a toilet.
Though some homes were larger than others, judging from their uniform design and construction, it appears Harappans lived in a class-free society where all citizens had equal access to resources and wealth.
Tolerant, Peaceful and Democratic
Unlike the other major world civilizations, which boasted imposing pyramids, towering ziggurats, and armies of terracotta soldiers, the Sindhu Valley Civilization lacked monumental architecture. Though most Sindhu cities were surrounded by massive walls and gateways to control trade and prevent flooding, there were no palaces, temples or forts.
The absence of such structures suggests that Harappans selected civilian leaders, lived peacefully and were tolerant of religious differences. Women, who were well regarded and respected, maintained many rights including the right of election to tribal chief.
Assemblies of male and female elders, selected and approved by the community, managed village affairs. Similarly selected leaders governed a loose federation of villages and cities that covered an area the size of Texas ensuring mutual cooperation and defense against invaders.
Brilliant. Yes. Literate? Maybe.
Due to the lack of a written language, there are many things we may never know about the Sindhu Valley Civilization. Between 400 and 600 distinct Indus symbols have been found on seals, small tablets, ceramic pots and other materials, however, they defy modern attempts of interpretation. While it’s widely believed the Indus symbols do not encode language, they were probably used to symbolize families, clans, gods, and religious concepts. They may have also been used for economic transactions.
The Sindhu Valley Civilization peaked between 2600 and 1900 BC. Signs of gradual decline began to emerge about 1800 BC and by 1700 BC most of the cities were abandoned. No one is sure why. Some speculate that Aryan invaders from Indo-Europe and Central Asia were responsible. (A theory we question.) Others blame climate change which led to deforestation, flooding and changes in the course of the river.
Learning from the Past?
It bears noting that an ancient civilization thousands of years old had a more advanced public sanitation system than many of the modern municipalities that lie within its footprint. And that the world’s greatest nonviolent civilization was rooted in an area, which is now torn, by sectarianism and religious strife.
Did our ancient forefathers know something we don’t? What can we learn from their example?
Dholavira in the Kachchh district of Gujarat is one of the largest five Harappan cities. Configured like a parallelogram, the city is divided into the “citadel,” “middle town,” and “lower town.” Massive reservoirs point to advanced hydraulic engineering.
Stone tools from Bhirrana, a small village located in the Indian state of Haryana.
Subterranean pit dwellings located in Bhirrana, a small village in the Fatehaban district of the Indian state of Haryana.
The dockyard at Lothal, the most extensively excavated site of Harappan Culture.
Farmana, the second largest Harappan site in Haryana, covers 18 hectares.