CRADLE OF INDIAN CULTURE
India has made a major contribution to world history in the form of the Indus valley Civilization. This civilization originated in the fertile plains of the Indus River (also Sindhu), in the third and fourth millennium BC. The Indus Valley Civilization, or the Harappan Culture, was the contemporary of the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and is acknowledged the third major civilization in the history of humankind. 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.
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. The grid layout of the cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, along with their advanced drainage system, has made them the first truly planned cities in the world. Each house had a courtyard, private wells, and bathrooms and was built with well-baked standardized bricks.
People of the Harappan Culture appear to have known the use of the potter's wheel. Archaeological excavations in the various cities have revealed a hoard of pottery and potshards, which are decorated with geometric patterns. These items reflect the aesthetic sense of this ancient culture. These people were fond of ornamentation as proved by a large number of necklaces, anklets, rings, earrings, amulets, beads, and nose studs that have been recovered from various sites. The artisans of the Indus Valley Civilization made exquisite jewelry, using a variety of material like gold, silver, copper, stone, and bone.
The most mystifying find from the Harappan Culture sites is the large number of well-carved seals made of steatite. The seals bear representation of animals, figures, and symbols of the religious life of the people accompanied by a pictorial script that has yet to be deciphered. One particular seal bears an image of a male god who has been identified as the prototype of God Shiva, 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 numerous Mesopotamian sites.
The people of the Harappan culture appear to have used both cotton and woolen textiles. A number of small figurines excavated from various sites show that they are clad in some sort of garment. Skeletal remains 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. Of great importance is the copper figurine of the Dancing Girl. This figurine not only shows the expertise in metalworking of the Harappan people but also reflects the repertoire of the ornaments bedecking this figurine. Small toys like carts harnessed with oxen are testimony to the expertise of the artisans.
The Harappan culture declined suddenly between 1800-1700 BC and its end is as puzzling as its beginning. How and why did this first great empire of South Asia decay into oblivion? One cannot say with certainty whether massacres by marauders or the inbuilt decay that had set in caused the decline of this powerful civilization. Another school of thought relates the demise of the Indus valley civilization to have been brought about by a major tectonic shift that caused continuous floods of this area.
Research has proved that the decline of the glorious Harappan culture was due to a variety of factors, both manmade and natural. In the beginning of the second millennium BC, 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 also other socio-economic factors that contributed to the decline. Agricultural production 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 and slowly riveted back to village life when they could no longer maintain the prerequisites of an urban existence.
Even today, excavations at Harappa throw up new facts, not just about the great civilization but also about mankind's evolution. The people of the Indus Valley Civilization are a link to the past, a window into the life and history of our ancestors. Without doubt, the people of the Harappan Culture led a life of sophistication. "The land where the first civilized man trod on earth"-this is how the great poet laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore has described the fertile plains of Punjab, the breeding grounds of this great civilization.