Wednesday, 26 December 2007

The Ancient Indus Valley Civilization

The Ancient Indus Valley Civilization
The underlying efficiency of the ancient Indus Valley civilization is remarkable. The Harappan government was very complex, and yet very efficient. An efficient and technologically advanced urban culture is clearly evident in the Indus Valley civilization. Advanced Harappan art indicates that the people of the ancient Indus Valley had fine artistic sensibilities. Moreover, the underlying efficiency of this civilization is accurately reflected by the complex Harappan social structure, which integrated several different ethnic and religious groups and ensured enduring peace and prosperity. The ancient Indus Valley civilization was quite clearly advanced, to a great extent.

The quality of municipal town planning is an outstanding feature of the Harappan civilization. The uniform planning of towns and cities suggests the presence of efficient municipal governments which placed a high priority on hygiene. The streets of Harappan cities such as Mohenjo-daro or Harappa were laid out in an efficient grid pattern, which ensured that houses were protected from noise, odors and thieves. In addition, houses were safeguarded against floods by platforms, and, as an additional measure of precaution against inundation, rectangular salients or bastions were added to the peripheral brick walls of the towns, Lothal for example, in order to divert the current. Baked bricks, which were rare at this time in the Near East, were used by the Harappans to construct wells, building platforms and drains that provided the cities of the Indus Empire with excellent drainage for rainwater and sewage.

Most Harappan towns had adopted the standard Indus gridiron planning, including smaller towns such as Rangpur and Surkotada. One exception is the town of Banawali, according to the excavator, who commented that "the general principles of Indus planning as observed elsewhere were followed here also, yet there were some significant departures from the established norms. It therefore belies the general conception of a chess-board or grid-iron pattern of planning ... Systematic drainage is the exception rather than the rule." Regardless, the uniformity of town planning throughout the Indus Empire indicates that a strong centralized government must have functioned to standardize urban planning.

An efficient Harappan administration had many functions in the ancient Indus Valley civilization. There is evidence that town administrators enlisted the cooperation of the people in order to efficiently execute public works. The Harappans were highly disciplined people who were very conscious of their civic duties. The citizens kept their cities clean, and also had various other responsibilities. For example, residents would ensure that the underground drains were not choked by the solid waste carried by private drains from the baths. Moreover, the Harappans cooperated wholeheartedly when planning the towns and rebuilding damaged public buildings such as the docks, warehouses, fortification walls and platforms. The Harappan administration also functioned to standardize industrial products such as metal tools and weapons, and even the units that were used to measure length.

According to S. R. Rao, the "smooth flowing of trade channels can be attributed to strict vigilance by guilds or state agencies." In fact, an efficient system of distribution of agricultural and industrial products, and raw materials, indigenous as well as imported, is the high watermark of Harappan administration. The Harappans could grow surplus food to feed the various specialized workers through an efficient distributory channel which presupposes an equally efficient administration of towns and cities and regulation of trade. The high degree of homogeneity in Harappan products, the uniform planning of Indus towns, the rigorous enforcement of trade and municipal regulations and the efficient Harappan distribution system all confirm that there was a highly effective and efficient administration in the ancient Indus Valley civilization.

The Harappans had analytical minds. The great accuracy that they achieved in measuring the physical units of length, mass and time indicates the advanced level of scientific and technological development reached by them. Harappan measurements were extremely precise. Their smallest division, which is marked on an ivory scale of Lothal, was approximately 1.704 millimetres, the smallest division ever recorded on a scale of the Bronze Age. Harappan engineers followed the decimal division of measurement for all practical purposes, including the measurement of mass as revealed by their hexahedron weights. Consequently, Harappan measurements are very precise. The remarkable symmetry in the disposition of Harappan buildings is shown by the remaining rows of baths, drains and remnants of walls. The designing of the Lothal dock and warehouse and the provision of manholes and sewers in cities are other examples of the Harappan scientific approach to human problems. The scientific approach of the people of the Indus Valley is indicative of their technologically advanced and efficient lifestyle.

A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture is evident in the Indus Valley civilization. An amazing sewage and drainage system, uniform standard of weights and measures, and advanced buildings are evidence of this. The ancient Harappan systems of sewage and drainage that were developed and used in cities throughout the Indus Empire were far more advanced than any found in contemporary urban sites in the Middle East and even more efficient than those in some areas of modern India. The Harappans were among the first to develop a system of uniform weights and measures. The advanced architecture of the Harappans is shown by their impressive dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms and protective walls. The massive citadels of Indus cities that protected the Harappans from floods and attackers were larger than most Mesopotamian ziggurats. Unique Harappan inventions include an instrument which was used to measure whole sections of the horizon and the tidal dock. In addition, the Harappans evolved new techniques in metallurgy, and produced copper, bronze, lead and tin.

Clearly, the contributions of the Indus Valley civilization to the fields of science and technology are numerous. The Harappans were great lovers of the fine arts, and especially dancing, painting, and plastic arts. Various sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewelry, terracotta figures and other interesting works of art indicate that the Harappans had fine artistic sensibilities. The art of the Harappans is highly realistic.

The sheer anatomical details of much of Harappan art is unique, and terracotta art is also noted for its extremely careful modeling of animal figures. Sir John Marshall once reacted with surprise when he saw the famous Harappan bronze statuette of the slender-limbed "dancing girl" in Mohenjo-daro:

When I first saw them I found it difficult to believe that they were prehistoric; they seemed so completely to upset all established ideas about early art. Modeling such as this was unknown in the ancient world up to the Hellenistic age of Greece, and I thought, therefore, that some mistake must surely have been made; that these figures had found their way into levels some 3000 years older than those to which they properly belonged. ...

Now, in these statuettes, it is just this anatomical truth which is so startling; that makes us wonder whether, in this all-important matter, Greek artistry could possibly have been anticipated by the sculptors of a far-off age on the banks of the Indus.

Bronze, terracotta and stone sculptures in dancing poses also reveal much about the Harappan art of dancing. Similarly, a harp-like instrument depicted on an Indus seal and two shell objects from Lothal confirm that stringed musical instruments were in use in the ancient Indus Valley civilization.

Today, much of the Harappan art is considered advanced for their time period. The pictures that were carved into seals that were used for commercial purposes are regarded today as masterpieces in miniature art form. The fine brush work of the Harappans is attested to by various motifs drawn on the vessels of Micaceous Red Ware from Lothal. The finest examples of plastic art are the seals, known for their calligraphy and realistic rendering of animal figures.

In fact, the Harappans were responsible for developing a new style of painting animal figures in their natural environments. It is generally accepted that Harappan art is much more advanced than any other art from this time period. The crowning achievement of the Indus Empire was the cultural integration of different ethnic and religious groups, which ensured enduring peace and material prosperity. Although mythological scenes portrayed on seals suggest occasional skirmishes between the different socio-religious groups, the Protoaustioloids, Mediterraneans, Mongoloids and Alpines, many more seals suggest the integration of ideologically or socially different groups, which is symbolically shown by animals with several heads that represent a combination of different tribes or social groups.

This integration of heterogeneous clans or tribes in the Harappan socio-politico-economic structure was secured by the free trade of different goods and commodities between different peoples of the Indus Valley, which resulted in mutual benefits for all Harappans. The central government could regulate trade and ensure the efficient and equitable distribution of agricultural and industrial products throughout the vast Empire, and to all socio-religious groups, by establishing a network of market towns. Another approach of the Harappan peoples to the problem of religious differences was to form confederacies in order to convert other peoples to the Harappan ideology and way of life by offering the benefits of superior material culture and ensuring a more peaceful life.

In addition, inter-ethnic marriage was encouraged and was very common, as revealed by the examination of joint-burials of Lothal. This integration of different socioethnic groups in Harappan society closely resembles the integration of different cultures in the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great, who ruled over two thousand years after the prime years of the Indus Valley civilization.

Serious social inequalities existed in the Harappan civilization, most notably between the rulers and the ruled, and between men and women. The treatment of women by the Harappans indicates that this civilization, at least in some respects, was very primitive. The dichotomy of Harappan towns and cities into a citadel or Acropolis and a "Lower Town" was deliberately introduced in the Indus Valley in order to enhance the prestige of the ruler of the town, or rajah. These rulers and nobles lived on the Acropolis, which offered better protection from floods.

Although greater importance was clearly given to the rulers than the ruled, among the ruled the rich merchants and the poor craftsmen lived together in the "Lower Town," and, in contrast to ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian traditions, Harappan rulers were treated as common men after their deaths. Within the Harappan family, the father had absolute authority. He would make all of the decisions in the house, and the children and wives were often treated unfairly. Girls were unwanted, and boys were treated much better, and with more respect.

Undeniably, these social inequalities were a major problem for many of the peoples of the Indus Valley, and were likely among the many factors which led to the decline of Harappan civilization. The Harappan society was indeed a "Complex Society" in the sense in which Gordon Childe first used the term. According to him, the criteria for considering a society as complex are (1) cities (2) full-time craft and career specialists (3) taxation (4) monumental architecture (5) social stratification (6) exact and predictive sciences (7) writing (8) developed artistic styles (9) long distance trade in luxury items and (10) the state. Firstly, it is universally accepted that Indus cities such as Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, Lothal and Rehman Dheri were extremely well planned.

The knowledge that full-time specialists, such as bead-makers, ivory-carvers, metallurgists and seal-engravers, contributed to the efficiency of the Harappan economy satisfies the second criterion. Although there is no evidence of taxation, the third requirement, the maintenance of public works must have necessitated the collection of a minimal amount of taxes, since the wages of workers would have to be paid. Monumental architecture, the fourth requirement, is evident in the massive Harappan dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms and protective walls which were utilitarian in character. The fifth requirement, social stratification, is obvious from the dichotomy of Harappan town planning which gave greater importance to the ruler than to the ruled.

The contributions of the Indus civilization to exact and predictive sciences, which criterion number six requires, such as mathematics, astronomy, engineering and chemistry are noteworthy: they introduced the decimal division in measuring length and mass, studied the stars and invented an instrument to measure whole sections of the horizon, built tidal docks after studying tides, waves and currents, perfected the system of sewerage and evolved new techniques in metallurgy. In addition, certain seal-inscriptions suggest great progress in conceptual thinking, especially in the field of cosmology.

Harappan writing, the seventh requirement, was extremely advanced. The Harappans were the first to simplify a primitive logographic-cum-syllabic writing into a phonetic script which was partially syllabic in the beginning, and then ultimately evolved into an alphabetic script. Indus script is currently being decoded, which is of crucial significance to ancient Indian history. Consequent of their fine artistic sensibilities, the Harappans did indeed have developed artistic styles, which satisfies the eighth requirement.

Long distance trade, the ninth requirement, with the other ancient civilizations of that time period, namely Egypt and Mesopotamia, was quite common, as indicated by the presence of foreign seals in the cities of these Empires. Finally, the uniformity of town planning in cities throughout the Indus Empire, from Surkotada to Mohenjo-daro, indicates the existence of a strong centralized government, and satisfies the final requirement of Gordon Childe, the State. Undeniably, the Harappan civilization was very sophisticated and complex. The Indus civilization has made several permanent contributions to the progress of humankind. Their simplified alphabetic system of writing which facilitated quick communication and recording of thought was the first of its kind.

Harappan metrology laid the foundation of science and technology. The engineering skill of the Harappans, especially in building docks after a careful study of tides, waves and currents, is remarkable for their age. They not only followed modern principles in their building techniques, but also achieved advanced standards of construction. The Indus decimal graduation of weights and length measures was the basis of later metrology. Another great achievement was the cultural integration of different religious and ethnic groups. As written by S.R. Rao, the eminent archaeologist and Indologist, "the Indus Valley civilization could not have survived for five centuries in its pristine form enforcing uniform laws and ensuring the proper distribution of goods over a vast territory of 1.5 million square kilometres had it not been a culturally and politically advanced society with a state that was effective, but not ruthless." Nevertheless, Harappan social inequalities indicate that the Indus Valley civilization was indeed a relatively primitive, ancient civilization.

1 comment:

NS said...

1.but there are no subtopics that makes easy to understand
2.there is no information about the weights and measures used by the indus valley people
3.overall it is good with some important points needed for students for projects