HARAPPA – Whispers of an Ancient Past

River Ravi and Bias provided large scale irrigation to Indus Valley settlements around Harappa. Water was abundant so an advanced drainage system also existed. Drains started from the bathrooms of the houses and joined the main sewer in the street, which was covered by brick slabs. Living quarters even had latrines [which still can be seen in their most ancient traditions in many cities of Sind and also in modern day Harappa village]. Map aboove shows location of the two sites of ancient Indus Valley Civilisation in modern Pakistan



Time present and time past, Are both present perhaps, in time future, 

And time future contained in time pastIf all time is eternally present all time

is unredeemable.

[T.S. Eliot]


by Umair Ghani


322Seated on a high deserted mound amid ruins of Harappa I experience timelessness, envisioning the time when world was not a chaotic blend of tension, power and dominance, but a warm cosmic breath that gave impetus to a simple yet blooming life. I tried to relate frayed ends of an existence distorted by merciless scythe of time.

It was in year 1856, some six miles from River Ravi, that British engineers John and William Brunton were laying the East Indian Railway Company track connecting Karachi and Lahore. Gossip of an ancient ruined city called Brahminabad already existed there. Charles Masson had already mentioned it in 1842. Railway construction workers struck their spades on a mound of backed bricks. The mound crumbled and collapsed. Along with the bricks, some unrecognizable pieces of soapstone (with figures of animals and plants) and other objects were also revealed.


Some more brick mounds were reported near the village of Harappa. Buried truth of many thousand years began to yawn and got set for resurrection. In 1872-73, Sir Cunningham confirmed the antiquity of the discovered material (3300 -1700 BC) and archeologists embarked upon a course of astounding discoveries that provided evidence of many missing links to the past of humanity. More sites were unearthed and the world resounded with the discovery of Harappa civilization in the plains of Indus River.

Later, more seals of the ancient Harappa civilization were discovered by J. Fleet, in an excavation campaign under Sir John Hubert Marshall [Sir John Marshall, To Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni and Madho Sarup Vats goes the credit who unearthed much of Harrappa settlements in 1921-22]. Indus Valley settlements were scattered all over present day Pakistan and into some parts of India but main cities were Harappa and Moenjo-Daro. Now the past of human civilization got a new dimension i.e. the Pre- and Post Harappan periods.

“The story of Harappan civilization is a story of a people intricately tied to their environment,”

Harappa flourished as a centre of civilization between 2600-1900 BC [most precisely between 2250-1900BC]. Indus Valley civilization was twice as extensive as earliest civilizations, the Old Kingdom of Egypt and the Sumerian city-states. Its people, towns, markets thrived with economy entirely depending upon agriculture. Use of fire bricks in certain residences suggests that people were governed by a rich bureaucracy [in form of an efficient municipal government] that lived lavishly and enforced a system of collection and distribution of available resources. Ruling elite carefully laid down the city plans [with pathways within the city in a perpendicular criss-cross fashion] and suggested the use of sun backed bricks as an option easily available to everyone [which still continues without much change]. Since financial system revolved mostly around agriculture, huge granaries were built at each city which contained grains. These semi-nomadic people cultivated wheat, barley, peas, sesame seed, and cotton. A system of weights and measurements was also introduced [Indus Valley civilization is credited with the earliest known use of decimal fractions in a uniform system of ancient weights and measures, as well as negative numbers].

Evidence of manufacturing stone and copper drills, large pit kilns, copper melting crucibles, and button seal devices with geometric designs were a hallmark of Indus Valley people. Harappan seals have pictures of animals that relate to a wet and marshy environment. Rhinoceroses, elephants, and tigers are placed in the midst of marshy plants. The Harappans reared a range of domesticated animals such as cats, dogs, goats, sheep, and buffalo.

ok_6_61The term “Fertile Crescent” was coined around 1900 by archaeologist James Henry Breasted. It involved rivers of Middle East, but Arnold Toynbee with a keen look at world map suggests that earliest civilizations flourished along a wider Fertile Crescent which spanned from Latin America to Yangtze River in China, including Mediterranean, Euphrates, Nile and Indus rivers.

River Ravi and Bias provided large scale irrigation to Indus Valley settlements around Harappa. Water was abundant so an advanced drainage system also existed. Drains started from the bathrooms of the houses and joined the main sewer in the street, which was covered by brick slabs. Living quarters even had latrines [which still can be seen in their most ancient traditions in many cities of Sind and also in modern day Harappa village].

Harappan society had a strong social stratification. The towns were planned in a way that the citadel was a good 20 ft higher than the tower of the middle cities. Dr. J.M. Kenoyer, an expert on Indus Valley Civilization states, “Several competing classes of elite who maintained different levels of control existed there. Instead of one social group with absolute control, the rulers included merchants, ritual specialists and individuals who controlled resources such as land, livestock and raw material. Maybe — Just may be — we are seeing an ancient democracy at work”.


We know nothing of the religion of the Harappans”, writes Richard Hooker, “Unlike in Mesopotamia or Egypt, we have discovered no building that so much as hints that it might be a temple or involve any kind of public worship. We do, however, have a number of tantalizing figures on various seals and statues. What we gather from these figures is that the Harappans probably exercised some sort of goddess worship”.

I stared at the figures of gods and goddesses of Harappan people with all the qualms of an atheist. There was a time when they governed the fate of an entire civilization, which looked after them as protectors and sought benevolence from them. New all of them mutilated tiny statues of terracotta, helplessly hanging by steel clamps in glass shelves at Harappa Museum. The statue of King Priest found at Moenjo- Daro leads to a speculation that Indus Valley Civilization had a religious hierarchy [or probably a chain of  command and chartered social norms and implemented ethics].

The most copious of the existing artifacts are a series of soapstone seals [some two thousand inscribed seals in good, legible condition], of which the best known are those of the humped Brahmani bull and Pashupati. These seals carry a pictographic script which is enigmatic and undecipherable at present. Some archeologists argue about their nature signifying that they were used as currency; while some believe that they were mere imperial seals and were issued to bestow authority upon some high ranking officials. What puzzles the scholastic world is very short and brief text. The average number of symbols on the seals is 5, and the longest is only 26 and the language is completely dissimilar to anything else, meaning an isolate. It appears that the maximum number of Indus script symbols is 400, although there are 200 basic signs.

In 2005 Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel stunned the world by their hypothesis that the Indus sign system was not writing thus thwarting the work ofDr. Asko Parpola who had concluded that the Indus Valley sign system represented an ancient Dravidian language. But Dr Ahmed Hassan Dani, one of the subcontinent’s most remarkable archaeologists, disproves of any possibility that Indus Valley script relates to Dravadian language and asserts that its agglutinative language, without doubt.


And then Harappans disappeared, and they disappeared without a trace. Between 1800 and 1700 BC, the Harappan cities and towns were mysteriously abandoned. Dr Kenoyer quotes that from the earlier excavations in the Cemetery H, occupation areas have been identified dating to the late Harappan phases [1900-1300 BC)] in contrast to earlier interpretations of decline and abandonment, the city was in fact thriving and at the center of important cultural, economic, and ideological transformations till 1300 BC. However, some scholars believe that they were overrun by the war-like Aryans around 1700 BC. Aryans called themselves the “noble ones” or the “superior ones, who, like a storm, rushed in from Euro-Asia and overran Persia and northern India. Again Dr Ahmed Hassan Dani quotes, “Whatever we know of the Aryans, from the literary records, in the Rig Veda, the earliest book, do not speak at all of any urban life. They speak of only rural life, villages, and as the Indus Civilization is an urban civilization, therefore to talk of any Aryan association with the urban life seems to me rather unthinkable.”

Another possibility is that the periodic changes in the course of Indus contributed to the decline of Indus Valley Civilization. Whatever the cause or the causes, the Harappans disappeared and the archeologists still wriggle and tangle to unlock the heart of the sentinel hush of Harappan ruins. These artifacts for posterity remain shrouded in mystery. Only faint whispers tell the tale to passing winds and yet the secret is guarded by the night.

“Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning.”

(Rig Vedas)

Image source Title map,   Remaining images 

Pictures Description:

Photograph # 1: J. Mark Kenoyer is Professor in Anthropology. He teaches archaeology and ancient technology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. USA.I n this picture he is sitting in the right foreground taking notes during excavations at site in Harappa. Photograph # 2: Three Early Harappan zebu figurines from Harappa. They are typically very small with joined legs and stylized humps. A few of these zebu figurines have holes through the humps that may have allowed them to be worn as amulets on a cord or a string.
Photograph # 3: Bird figurine from Harappa. Many bird figurines have circular bases instead of legs and feet. Some have outstretched wings and may represent birds in flight. (Photograph by Richard H. Meadow) Photograph # 4: Zebu figurine with painted designs from Harappa. Other animal and sometimes anthropomorphic figurines are decorated with black stripes and other patterns, and features such as eyes are also sometimes rendered in pigment. Figurines of cattle with and without humps are found at Indus sites, possibly indicating that multiple breeds of cattle were in use.  (Photograph by Richard H. Meadow) Photograph # 5: Unicorn seal after conservation.Note the deeply chiseled engraving of the script similar to that found particularly on Period 3C rectangular seals.



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12 replies to “HARAPPA – Whispers of an Ancient Past

  1. Dr. J.M. Kenoyer’s comment above sounds interesting: “Maybe — Just may be — we are seeing an ancient democracy at work”.

    I believe that the word ‘Meluhha’ means Democracy. Please refer to Sumerian Lexicon at http://www.sumerian.org/sumerian.pdf . Therein I found the following meanings:

    Me = responsibility; function; office
    lu = men; people
    ha = diverse; numerous

    Therefore by the word ‘Meluhha’, the Mesopotamians might be meaning ‘(a country where) numerous and diverse people share responsibilities and functions (of governance)’.

    When we do not see any symbol of an empire like Sargon’s or the Pharoahs’ in IVC, it might be possible that Meluhha was a democratically ruled state.

  2. A great site the pictures are beautiful and we should learn about the ancient period from these sites.


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