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Harappan Culture - A Link with the Past

Punjab has been the cradle of many a civilization and has a rich and hoary past. Mahatma Gandhi succinctly conveyed Punjab’s pre-eminence when he called it ‘historically, the most importan6t province of India.’ Punjab’s fertile land and its strategic position on the trade route between Africa, Europe and Asia have enabled glorious civilizations to flourish here.

In the third and fourth millennia, there flourished a great civilization in the Indus Valley of Punjab. A contemporary of the ancient civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley civilization or the Harappa Culture is today acknowledged as the third major civilization in the history of mankind. Archaeological excavations have revealed that the people of this culture enjoyed a life of luxury and refinement, with a highly evolved civic system and prosperous trade links.

Harappa and Mohenjodaro, the two cities excavated first, appear to have functioned as twin capitals of this civilization. Later excavation revealed smaller cities such as Kot Diji in Sindh, Kalibangan in Rajasthan, Ropar in Punjab and Lothal in Gujarat. Mohenjodaro and Harappa show a surprising similarity despite being 350 miles apart. Both cities consist of an acropolis and a lower city, each fortified separately. The acropolis contains large assembly halls, granaries and edifices for religious purposes. There are large public baths built on highly scientific lines. The lower cities are divided into rectangles by broad streets. All the houses were connected directly to the well planned drainage system of covered drains and soak pits. Each house had a courtyard, private wells and bathrooms and was built with well baked standardized bricks. People of the Harappa Culture appear to have known the use of the potter’s wheel. They were fond of ornamentation as proved by a large number of necklaces, anklets, rings, earning and nose studs recovered from the sites.

The most mystifying find from the Harappa Culture sites is the large number of well carved seals made of steatite. The seals bear representations of animals, figures and symbols of the religious life of the people accompanied by a pictorial script which has yet to be deciphered. One particular seal bears an image of a male god who has been identified as the prototype of God Siva as shown seated in a yogic posture surrounded by animals. The seals may have been used for trade as some seals have been found in Mesopotamia.

The people of the Harappa Culture appear to have used both cotton and woollen textiles. Skeletal remain from the different sites prove that animals like the buffalo, sheep, elephant, bull and camel were domesticated. People had the time and leisure to pursue fine arts – the excellent carvings on the seals and some exquisite stone sculptures from Harappa show the high degree of development.

The Harappa Culture declined suddenly between 1800-1700 B.C. and its end is as puzzling as its beginning. How and why did this first great empire of South Asia decay into oblivion? Was it due to massacres by marauders or did the decay begin in the cities themselves? Or were there forces against which man was helpless such as climatic changes and natural calamities? Research has proved that the decline of the glorious Harappa Culture was due to a variety of factors, both man-made and natural. In the beginning of the second millennium B.C., there were great changes in the environmental conditions – the climate changed and large parts of the plains were flooded when tectonic changes threw up a dam in the lower Indus Valley. There were other socio-economic factors which contributed to the decline. Agricultural production perhaps declined with the changes in the climate and the big cities could no longer sustain themselves. People from the major centers perhaps left for the smaller outposts of this great civilization and slowly riveted back to village life when they could no longer maintain the prerequisites of an urban existence.

Even today excavations at the Harappa Culture sites throw up new facts not just about the great civilization but also about mankind’s evolution. The Harappa man is a link to the past, a window into the life and history of our ancestors. That he was a man of taste and culture and that he lived a civilized life of sophistication is without doubt and a matter of pride. Punjab is indeed, as Rabinder Nath Tagore called it “the land where the first civilized man trod on earth.”