The road to the Indus.

The Indus river.the cradle of India's first civilization. While myths abound about the great people who lived by the Indus, this part of history remains obscured by darkness. Where did they come from? What was the genius behind their sophisticated cities and governance system? How did they eventually vanish from the land they tilled, built and thrived on?
A few proven facts

  • The cities were well planned and thickly populated, with an efficient public administration system in place. This is evident in the wide roads and airy houses lining the streets. 
  • They had an advanced drainage system in place with excellent bathhouses, and appear to have been very particular about cleanliness. 
  • Harappa and Mohenjodaro among other sites, indicate the presence of a centralized and highly sophisticated government. 
  • They had devised a method to calculate weights and measures. 
  • Their script was complex and revealed a high degree of refinement. 
  • There is also evidence of trade between this civilization and Mesopotamia. 
  • Cotton was one of the crops grown by the Valley. The cotton was spun, woven and dyed, leading to textile trade.

In recent times, archaeologists have uncovered many more sites in India and Pakistan that are shedding light on the Indus way of life. One such remarkable excavation has been carried out at Dholavira, an Indus site on the salty marshes of the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. The site revealed elaborate stone gateways (in contrast to the archaeological belief that the Indus architecture was monotonous), huge water reservoirs and a board inlaid with large Harappan text (Could it be the world's first billboard?).
Excavating in Kalibangan in the desert region of Rajasthan, archaeologists came across a field of crossed furrows dated back to around 2900 BC. The farmers of the region use a similar method of ploughing today, even after 5000 years. Another heirloom is the earthen oven, still used in the village kitchens of the region. But the question remains. Who were these people?
Another chink in the chain was plugged, as archaeologists stumbled over a massive dockyard along the coast of Gujarat. The place was Lothal, a major port of trade between the people of Indus, Sumer and Persia. Seals from these regions were discovered on the site, while evidence in the form of inscriptions also filtered in from Iraq and the Persian Gulf, supporting the theory that the Indus civilization was a highly advanced, trade oriented community.
Around 90 other sites are now being vigorously explored to crack the deep dark secrets of the Indus. The findings have lead to a hot debate in archaeological circles.
A shot in the dark?

  • Some archaeologists believe that the Indus Valley Civilization was in fact the largest of the ancient world civilizations, covering a whopping 1.5 million sq km, at the height of its glory! Its geographical boundaries are believed to extend up to Iran in the west, Turkmenistan and Kashmir in the north, Delhi in the east and the Godavari valley in the south. 
  • The Indus Valley Civilization is a misnomer, and should be called the Sarasvati Civilization.
  • Over time, the Indus people were transformed from self-contained agricultural communities to sophisticated, urbanized tradesmen. Evidence indicates that this giant leap occurred within a short span of over a hundred years. But what sparked this explosion of progress is not very clear. Was it an infusion of culture that came in with trade contacts with other civilizations? Or was it the ingenuity of the Harappans?
  • The civilization is termed a 'faceless culture' with no revered personalities or religious fervor that was deep rooted in the Sumerians and Egyptians. However, this vast empire revealed uniformity in every aspect of its culture, lifestyle and cities. From the meticulous towns to the script, measures and social stratification there has been homogeneity. So the question arises. was this an ancient form of democracy?
  • The burning question for Indus archaeologists is what brought the death of this powerful civilization? Was it the invasion of the Aryans or a great depression?

A major setback for archaeological explorations in the Indus Valley has been the fact that the Indus script is yet to be deciphered. As archaeologists pursue their efforts, one can only hope that these illegible strokes might one day, unlock the past glory of the Indus and its people to the world again.