Friday, July 24, 2015

Reconstructing the History of Harappan Civilization

ABSTRACT The Harappan Civilisation (HC) was spread over large parts of western region of the Indian Subcontinent. Its earliest roots can be found from 7000 BC in Mehrgarh but its peak urban period is around 2500 to 1900 BC. It declined completely by 1300 BC. At its peak, it covered more than 30 per cent of the present landmass of the Indian Subcontinent. The entire evidence for it is archaeological. It is classified as proto-historic since in the absence of deciphered written records it is not possible to create a detailed scenario of its evolution (Possehl 1999). From archaeological data, the timeline of the HC can be discerned, but the archaeological evidence of individual regions is not detailed enough to permit a systematic study of the rise and fall of HC (cf. Wright 2010). However, a lot of work has been done to understand other cultures and their evolution. 

We compare the knowledge on the evolution of other cultures (Snooks 2002) and evaluate the archaeological and other data available for HC based on ten parameters (Murdock and Provost 1973) to create a possible scenario of the evolution of the Harappan Civilization (HC). We show that the pattern of HC can be divided into 4 major phases. The first three phases mark an increase in the standard of living triggered by the arrival of a specific organizational change while the fourth phase is marked by a decline due to the failure of the society to solve the problem of increasing needs of the civilization because of the delay in arrival of new technologies.

The Harappan Civilisation (HC) covered an area of about 1.5 million square kilometres (Agrawal 2009: 1) at its peak. It was spread over the present day western parts of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan covering 30 per cent of the present landmass of the region. However, since all the evidence for HC is archaeological, it is generally classified as proto-historic. Here we use the knowledge from other civilizations to create a comprehensive scenario about the growth if HC and its critical landmarks. HC had several features indicating a high degree of uniformity in life-style at its several urban centres (see, e.g., Wright 2010; Agrawal 2007; Possehl 1999). The most spectacular aspect of HC is that at its peak, it boasted of large well-planned cities. Joshi (2008: 48–49) lists 10 distinct characteristics that identify sites of HC at its peak.

These are: 1. Characteristic written materials and seals.
2.Beads and other jewellery.
3.Standardized brick sizes in the ratio of 1 x 2 x 4.
4.Planned towns with citadels, platforms and podiums and specific burial patterns.
5.Standardized weights.
6.Black or red painted pottery.
7.Parallel sided blades.
8.Copper and bronze articles.
9.Terracotta toys.
10.Cotton, barley and wheat.

To this, features such as sophisticated water management can also be added. HC was complex and well spread out with a fair degree of sophistication and homogenisation even though regional variations did exist. Due to an apparent discontinuity between HC and later Indian civilisation and the lack of long written records, the manner of rise, stabilisation and eventual fall of the HC is not clear. Farming and related activities arise in the subcontinent by 7000 BC in Mehrgarh (Wright 2010: 48). This was to prove crucial and Mehrgarh played an important role in developing early farming technology and keeping contacts with settlements farther west (Bellwood 2008: 91). It also had a large number of small and medium size sites all over the Indus plane by 4000 BC (Possehl 1999). However, the first large city-state arises, not in the region of Indus valley close to Mehrgarh but in a far away region of Hakra Basin in Harappa around 3200 BC and seems to be an indigenous development.1 There is substantial evidence in the form of the rise and nature of small town conglomerations all across the HC region to suggest that self-governing communities must have arisen at several locations that did not eventually transform into states with large population on their own (Kenoyer 2008).

This can be discerned from the fact that the rise of habitation sites in the HC are not random but arise in clusters of different sizes with time (Possehl 1999; Kenoyer 2008). Only some of these later become cities. Even these cities do not rise at the cost of the dwellings in the neighbourhood but in concert with them (Kenoyer 2008) as can be estimated from the number of satellites sites that grow with them. The city of Harappa rises as an isolated small cluster of communities around 3200 BC on one of the tributaries of Indus River, more than 3000 years after the first agriculture in Mehrgarh about 1000 km farther west. Other cities of HC such as Mohenjo Daro appear between Mehrgarh and Harappa on the banks of Indus River around 2500 BC. Harappa also continues to be inhabited for about 400 years after other large cities in the HC are deserted and well after the drying of Ghaggar-Hakra further south.

A conglomeration of small to medium size settlements appear along the GhaggarHakra basin and comparable sized settlements also arise further South East of Harappa at the mouth of the Ghaggar-Hakra Basin around 2500 BC, a period which sees a very steep rise in the number of inhabited sites. After 1900 BC, there is a dramatic shift further East into the Gangetic Valley. Dholavira – Lothal complex in Gujarat region was apparently specifically set up for trade. It is situated in the middle of the great Rann of Kutch. At its active period, Dholavira was a busy prosperous city and Lothal was at the edge of the Gulf of Khambhat. Even then, it has been an arid region severely short of fresh water. The Gujarat complex was created in a hostile environment made habitable by major hydro-engineering works. Dholavira was inhabited from 2500 BC and is deserted around 1900 BC. Other small and medium size sites continue to appear in Saurashtra region after that.

Since HC had no fast means of communication and since it lacked the knowledge of iron, it seems difficult that an ideologically homogenous single state could have existed over the vast geographical and temporal scale. HC lacks several characteristics of a single Nation State but it clearly shared a lot of knowledge giving a feeling of a homogenous civilisation with a high level of technological uniformity. For the states to emerge, it is necessary that they have a sufficient number of people to form a complex stratified society, control a specified territory and have a surplus to maintain the specialists and the privileged categories (Claessen and Oosten 1996: 5). This apart, a defining ideology must exist, which explains and justifies a hierarchical administrative organization and socio-political inequality (see also Grinin 2003).

Most civilisations go through various stages of growth from the family to the local groups to collective fiefdoms, chiefdom, and archaic state on to the nation-state (Johnson and Earle 2000: 245). It should be noted that formation of state is not inevitable and that if pre-warned a society may actually not adopt to transfer to being a ‘state’ since state necessary involves stratification of society (Claessen 2002). Since HC can be taken to be a civilisation, it is likely that they too went through some of these stages. However, it is also not clear how and when the different regions of HC evolved since very little is known about the social organisation of this civilisation. The exact level of the civilisation and its transformation from early state analogues to the state (see Grinin 2003 for general discussion) is unclear (cf. Wright 2010: 16–17 for specific issues of HC). It is not even clear if it had the social structure of one or more nation states. The town layout, on the other hand, clearly suggests that there was a stratification in the society.

The HC was formed by a conglomeration of at least three distinct groups with their own pattern of development, growth and time line (Wright 2010: 311). They were interrelated with cultural and technological exchange. While their high level of standardisation has been noted by several authors (see, e.g., Joshi 2008: 48–49) but detailed studies shows that even in the highly standardised world of writing signs of HC, there are small and important differences between regions (at the same time, their art on miniatures are collected in CISI volumes (Joshi and Parpola 1987; Shah and Parpola1991) shows a very high level of sophistication and complexity. Their best art work on miniatures, highly standardised use of bricks and weights (see, e.g., Vahia and Yadav 2007, 2010; Yadav and Vahia 2011) all seem to arise around 2500 BC to the extent that Kenoyer (2008) has suggested that the truly urban period of HC should be considered from 2500 BC to 1900 BC and this too can be divided into smaller finer time lines of growth and decay.

Possehl (1990) has pointed out that in a small time interval of about 100 to 150 years around 2600 BC, the civilisation seems to have transformed from Pre-urban to Early Harappan State with sudden emergence of the following features:

1)writing on well designed and carefully made seals with high quality animal motifs;
2)town planning and development of:
a)massive brick platforms,
b) well-digging,
c) drainage system,
d) grid plans for city;
3)appearance of widely used system of weights and measures;
4)other changes in a wide variety of lifestyle material such as ceramic corpus;
5)new art forms and stylistic growth such as new human and animal figurines; 6) distinctive Harappan black – on red slip painting style;
7)core trends of urbanisation such as:
a)social stratification,
b) apparent emergence of the state and political differentiation,
c) craft and career specialisation,
d) creation of cities and a new form of social regulation.

He notes that these changes are in continuity rather than discontinuity. It therefore seems that around 2500 (+ 100) BC, HC transformed from a loose confederation to a state. Precipitation into a state comes generally in response to internal pressures rather than external threat as there is no clear evidence of large-scale conflicts in HC. Once the internal stresses become severe, the pre-state is forced to create surplus to permit specialization and the state came into being. In many ways, the civilization shows the signs of rising from internal dynamics. There are few signs of large-scale conflicts. There are no mega structures to glorify the great. At the same time, the technology for large-scale structures was used essentially for utilitarian purposes such as the Great Bath or raised platforms to set up a whole city. Their water management was far in advance of their period.

Possehl (1999) has listed more than 2,500 sites that were part of the region that marks the spread of HC at its peaks. However, most of these sites are small to medium sized and less than 10 sites have an area exceeding 0.5 km2 (Joshi 2008). Also, the urban centres continue to be surrounded by smaller sites indicating that the formation of an urban centre neither stunted the sustenance of small habitation sites nor did it destroy them. This suggests that the relation between the urban and rural sites must have been more symbiotic rather than adversarial. Given the fertility of land and the mobility that the rivers in that part of the subcontinent, all three kinds of population groups – trading groups, self-governing groups and rogue groups would have all found easy subsistence in the region. With these conditions met, even small groups of population of about 5,000 or more can form seed societies. These societies can borrow from the ideas of urbanization and city-state from developments elsewhere.

Kenoyer (2008) has noted that the major step in standardization and expanded urbanisation in all three sub-regions arises around 2500 BC. At that stage it is by far the most extensively spread out civilisation. Turchin (2009; cf. see figure 2) has compiled the data of several civilisations and shown to cover an area well below 0.3 million square kilometers while HC had an area of 1.5 million square kilometers indicating that no equivalent cultures existed elsewhere. Hence, a lot of developments must have been internal to HC. This is also borne out by the uncommon nature of their art and writing as well as architecture.
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The Indus Valley Civilization

Two major cultural streams contributed to the development of what later came to be called Hinduism. The first was an intriguing and sophisticated ancient culture known today as the Indus Valley Civilization. The second source was a nomadic people called the Indo Aryans, whom most scholars believe migrated into India from Central Asia and bequeathed to Hindus their most sacred texts and rituals. In this and the next two chapters, we will study each of these cultures and explore their respective influences on the evolution of the Hindu Traditions.

In the nineteenth century, British engineers searching for ballast for a railway line in what was then northwestern India and is now Pakistan stumbled upon the remains of an ancient city known only to locals. The engineers were only interested in the well-fired bricks from the ruins, and they proceeded to quarry the city for that resource. It was not until the early twentieth century, as other similar sites were uncovered, that archaeologists appreciated the full significance of this unwitting discovery. They determined that the ancient city, now reduced to railroad ballast, was part of a vast network of villages and towns constituting an entire civilization long forgotten by the rest of humanity. The discovery of this ancient culture, one of the most remarkable archaeological finds of modern times, compelled scholars to revise their understanding of the earliest history of India and has in recent years sparked a heated debate about the original inhabitants of the Indian Subcontinent.

The Indus Valley Civilization, so named because many of its settlements were situated along the Indus River, turned out to be one of the great cultures of the ancient world.1 What has come to light since the first excavations suggests that the Indus Valley Civilization was as impressive as ancient Egypt and Sumeria. While many Hindus today do not regard the Indus Valley Civilization as part of their sacred history, the evidence suggests that this culture contributed significantly to the grand complex known to many as Hinduism.

Two Views of Time

Traditional Hindus regard the passage of time as cyclical rather than linear. According to an ancient Hindu cosmology developed after the Vedic era, the universe undergoes a series of four successive ages, or yugas, of varying lengths before it is destroyed and re-created. The world’s destruction at the end of the final yuga marks a new beginning, initiating a whole new cycle of yugas. This pattern has had no beginning and will have no end. The first period, known as the Satya Yuga, is a golden age in which the gods maintain close relationships with human beings, who are naturally pious and live an average of a hundred thousand years. The later yugas—the Treta, Dvapara, and Kali (the current period)—are characterized by the decline of human piety and morality and evinced by cruelty, discord, materialism, lust, and shorter life spans. According to a common method of reckoning, the four yugas make one Mahayuga, lasting for a period of 4,320,000 human years. One Mahayuga is a single day in the life of Brahma, the creator god according to many traditions. A period of 360 Brahma-days equals one Brahma-year, and a Brahma lives one hundred such years. Thus, a Brahma lives 155,520,000,000,000 human years!

What is known about the Indus Valley culture comes exclusively from archaeological evidence, because its cryptic script has never been completely deciphered. We do not even know what the citizens of this civilization called themselves. The archaeological data indicate that the Indus Valley culture was established around 3300 b.c.e. and flourished between 2600 and 1900 b.c.e. Around 1900 b.c.e., it entered a period of decline and ultimately disappeared around 1400 b.c.e. At its height, the Indus Valley Civilization covered most of present-day Pakistan, the westernmost part of present-day India, and parts of Afghanistan, in an area estimated to include over five hundred thousand square miles (figure 1.1). Over fifteen hundred Indus Valley sites throughout this region have been unearthed so far, and most have yet to be fully excavated. Several hundred of these sites are large enough to be classified as villages or towns. The largest and most important are cities known as Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. These names are post–Indus Civilization designations that refer to towns built much later on the ruins of the ancient urban centers. In their heyday, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa may have each hosted a population as large as forty to fifty thousand, which was immense by ancient standards. Harappa appears to have been the capital, and accordingly the culture is sometimes referred to as the Harappan Civilization.

All of the Indus Valley municipalities were highly organized and carefully planned, displaying remarkably similar features. The uniformity of these cities suggests a centralized authority and code enforcement, since many of the settlements were over fifty miles apart. The remains of buildings and the layout of the towns indicate that their inhabitants prized order and organization. But aside from the urban consistency that indicates central administration, we know very little about the way Indus dwellers governed themselves or structured their society. We also know little about their economy except that village life focused on agriculture and cattle herding and life in the larger cities centered on the production of arts and crafts. The discovery of Indus Valley artifacts as far away as Mesopotamia and Central Asia suggests that trade played a significant role in the Harappan economy.

Although the archaeological data do not tell the complete story of this society, they do reveal enough for scholars to make informed judgments about its worldview and religious practices. Yet, since literary sources are unavailable for corroboration, and because the artifacts are often ambiguous, these judgments remain conjectures and are frequently debated by experts. We will consider the archaeological discoveries that appear to have religious import and attempt to comprehend what they tell us about the Indus culture and its possible impact on the development of the Hindu Traditions.

Purity and Pollution

One of the most obvious and intriguing features of the Indus cities is the evidence that points to an intense concern with cleanliness. Private homes were furnished with sophisticated indoor bathing and toilet facilities that were plumbed and lined with ceramic tiles in a relatively modern way. The plumbing and sewer systems were superior to those found in other cultures of the time and are in fact superior to facilities found in many Indian and Pakistani homes today. Not only did individual homes feature advanced lavatories, but municipalities did as well.

Mohenjo-daro and Harappa each had a large central bath with public access (figure 1.2). These public baths predate similar facilities in ancient Rome by many centuries. The ubiquity of the baths, their central locations, and the care with which they were constructed all point to a deep preoccupation with purity and cleanness. Almost certainly, this concern was more than a matter of bodily hygiene. Like many premodern cultures, and like Hindus today, the Indus dwellers were probably anxious about ritual purity. Ritual purity, as compared to hygiene, involves more than removing the sweat and grime that accumulate on the body and avoiding germs that cause disease. In its most basic sense, ritual purity is the state of cleanness that is required for approaching what is sacred, or holy. It often concerns what and how one eats, the kinds of clothes and ornamentation one wears, the flow of one’s bodily fluids, and the great mysteries of life: birth, sex, and death. What counts as pure and impure varies greatly from culture to culture and time to time (box 1.2).

Observant Jews and Muslims regard pork as unclean, but others consider it a great delicacy. Traditional Christianity once considered childbirth to be an occasion requiring ritual purification, but most contemporary Christians no longer regard it as such. In some societies, including Hindu India, one may become ritually contaminated simply by coming into contact with someone who is impure. Despite the wide variation in practices, all purity regulations essentially involve maintaining a community’s order, its sense of what is right and appropriate. Purity regulations are not always explicit or written into law. Unspoken taboos are often laid upon those areas of life where one may run the risk of violating order. Societies impose these restrictions out of the shared belief that they prevent personal and social disorder, and for this reason many cultures enforce taboos with harsh punishments for violations. Whenever order has been violated, it must be restored to ensure social and personal well-being. Cultures therefore develop methods for reestablishing ritual purity. We do not know what specific things the Indus dwellers regarded as ritually impure.

Whatever the cause of impurity, the baths most likely served to remove contaminants and reinstate the order of things, just as public and private baths do in contemporary Hindu traditions. In modern India, the first religious act of the day for most Hindus is bathing, a ritual that brings the individual into the appropriate bodily and mental states for relating to the gods and other persons. Today, many Hindu temples have tanks or reservoirs that function as ritual baths. Many natural bodies of water, such as the river Ganges, serve this purpose as well (figure 1.3).
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Friday, August 8, 2014

All About India

Welcome to India... The ultimate land of contrast. At least that's the most striking thing I discovered in my recent travels to this amazing place.

Whether it's the vast difference between the heights of the mighty Himalayan mountains and the flats of the epic Thar desert or the huge variety of foods, colours, smells, wildlife, scenery, culture and adventure means India is truly a place to get excited about.


India is not just a people.

It is the celestial music,

And inside that music

Anybody from any corner of the globe

Can find the real significance of life.

'An uncontrollable mob of humanity, a gigantic amalgamation of life on the move, an infinite list of paradoxes and a stormy ocean of cultural diversity. No book, poem or photo can illustrate her fully. It's here that all the aspects of human consciousness meet, all the shit and scum and money and hate and love, the religion, the science and superstition. They melt into one and it's called a way of life.'

A sample of what you can find on this site...

What does offer you...? Well take a look at just a small handful of the pages. Scroll down to to the bottom for loads more and to find a full list of pages follow this link for the Site Map.

A very warm Namaste and equally warm Welcome to the Land which can be best described as the 'Incredible India'. It seems improbable that any other country across the globe offers so much diversity and richness in all aspects. Be it diverse geographic and climatic regions – snow capped mountains, dry sandy desert, coastal areas, beautiful beaches, backwaters, islands, deltas, rain forests with abundant wild life – its all here. Social and cultural thread which runs through India and binds together entirely different and diverse social and cultural groups is an amazing aspect of the land called India. Peaceful co-existence of multi religious, multi ethnic and multi racial groups also offers a grand opportunity to come face to face with the real meaning of peace and harmony. It is a country which offers excellent opportunity to witness the beauty of nature in all its shades from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to Arunachal. The rich heritage of India can be seen in innumerable Historic Monuments spread across the length and breadth of the country. We welcome you to explore India with us and assure you that it will be a journey of Discovery having many dimensions external as well as internal.
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