Social Life at Indus Valley Civilization

Most knowledge about the life at Indus Valley comes from the remains of the cities of Harappa and Mohen-Jo Daro. Important aspects of social, economic and religious life are discussed below:

Administration: Was there any central authority in Indus Valley?

Cities are the symbols of the Indus Valley civilization  characterized by the density of population, close integration between economic and social processes, tech-economic  developments, careful planning  for expansion  and promotion  of trade and commerce, providing opportunities and scope of work to artisans and craftsmen etc. This was a sort of urban revolution, which could not have been possible without the strong central authority, specialized economic organization and socio-cultural unity.

The size and architectural complexity of all large Harappa cities mean something in terms of a socio-cultural development. The lay-out of the streets, the presence of a large-scale drainage system with its requirement for constant tending, the monumental citadels, all can be taken as an indication  of tendencies  toward a strong central government.

Another feature of Harappan urbanization was the elaborate craft specialization and the contacts with other reasonably distant parts of Asia. But the greatest challenge   to the archaeologists is their failure to get any idea of the Harappan urban institutions. For example, we almost know nothing about the form of the state and the economic institutions.

Maritime commerce with Mesopotamia was a part to their life, but the knowledge of inner working of these complex Harappan urban economic institutions completely eludes us.


Not a great deal of knowledge we have because the Harappa script has not been deciphered. In the Indus Valley Civilization, the style of script seems to be Boustrophedon i.e. written from right to left in first line and from left to right in second line. This language was pictographic and was engraved on seals, copper tablets, bone, ivory etc. However, such scripts is not seen on bricks.


Most prominent religious figures are Unicorn, so called Pashupati / Proto-shiva,, seven mothers (sapta matrika) and compound creatures. The later three are now inculcated in Hindu religion.  The mother goddess was dominant shows that the society was predominantly matriarchal. There was a division of labour and society was diversified and stratified. The people were scholars, artisans, traders, warriors and businessmen. The protoshiva or pashupati seems to be the only one male deity as depicted on seals. He is surrounded by four wild animals viz. an elephant, a tiger, a buffalo and a rhinoceros. Apart from this there 2 deer’s beneath the seat of the deity. The headdress of the deity has two horns. It wears a number of bangles.  There is an inscription of seven letters on top.

This representation  has at least three concepts which are usually  associated with Shiva viz., that he is (i) Trimukha (three-faced), (ii) Pashupati (Lord of animals), and (iii) Yogisvara or Mahayogi. The first two aspects are apparent from the seal itself. The deity is sitting cross-legged in a Padmasana posture with eyes turned towards the tip of the nose which evidence the Yogisvara aspect of the deity. The deity is always nude save for a cincture round the waist.

Linga Worship

Stone symbols of both male and female sex organs have been found which gives in indication that Phallus or Linga worship was in practice.

Tree Worship and other rituals

The peepal tree has been depicted on many seals which gives a sense that it might be a sacred tree. Humped bull seems to be a venerated animal and there are evidences of snake worship and snake charmers. No temples, No special places of worship, no castes. The people had a sense of arts and crafts and it is proved by the toys, figurines, bangles, stone statues, metal statues, etc.  The people were expert in making seals.


On a seal is depicted a six-rayed motif which may signify the sun.  Swastiks and cross signs were harbingers of good luck. A shell inlay, shaped like a heart, was probably used as a Talisman.


Both veg and nonveg life. There are evidences of cultivation of Wheat, Barley, Rice, Date, melon, lemon etc. people were cattle herders and used milk and milk products. There are evidences that people made sweets. Half burnt bones give evidence of nonveg life.


A figure of a bearded man has been found in Mohenjo-Daro which indicated that they used sewn clothing’s. The cloth used to cover the torso in the upper part of the body in such as way that it kept right hand Free. There are evidences that they people took interest in cosmetics and had great aesthetic sense. Men kept long hair and kept bread or also shaven beard.

The people of Indus valley civilization were aware of Bronze mirrors, Ivory Combs, antimony rods but NOT hair dyes.

Sports and Entertainments:

The large number of terracotta figurines and toys such as cart, bull, elephant, monkeys, chariots; whistles etc. indicate that the children entertained themselves. There are no clear evidences of Music in the civilization; however, the finding of a dance girl bronze figurine gives some insight about the social entertainment.

Science & Technology

The Harappan civilization was the womb of mathematics from where both the concept of numbers and the numerical system originated. The numerical system developed by the Harappan included symbols for most numbers and several innovations for mathematical manipulations such as addition and multiplication.

The Harappan numerical system is decimal and additive multiplicative in usage. There are symbols for numerical for 4 to 100, 1000 and their derivatives. The numerical system which was first used by the Harappan later found its way into other ancient civilization.

These people are known to have constructed the world’s first tidal port at Lothal at the head of the gulf company. They possessed a high degree of knowledge relating to the ebb and flow of tides and carried on brisk overseas trade with other civilizations.

They were also conversant with the medical sciences and used various herbs and drugs to treat diseases. The people of Indus valley Civilization practiced Trephination which is kind of medical intervention making a burr hole in the skull to treat migraines and mental disorders. The evidences of Trephination have been found at Lothal, Kalibangan and Burzahom but not at Harappa or most other sites.

Tools, arms and weapons

They are made up of Copper and Bronze. They were unaware of the use of Iron. The Harappan people were generally peace loving and had not much arms and weapons in their kitty.

Burial Practice

All Indus valley sites have distinct burial of the dead practice. Surkotda and Dholavira are two sites where the burial practice resembled the megalithic practice.


The economy was based upon agriculture as well as trade. Commerce was important and there were links from overseas places.


The agriculture was in flourishing condition which was due to timely and good rains. They sowed many crops including the rice, wheat, cotton, barley etc. Other crops were dates, melon, pea etc.

Predominantly Rainfed Crops as Irrigation was based upon the rainwater but also the sources of irrigations were available. Wheat and barley were the most important Harappan Crops.

In Harappa, 3 principle varieties of Wheat were sown; three varieties of barleys were also sown. The cultivation of lentils, mustard, linseed, Sesamum  has been found. The Finger millet, Ragi, Bajra, Jawar were cultivated and it seems that they diffused from Africa.

Animal Husbandry

The humped bull was domesticated animal, other were buffalo, pigs, elephants, donkeys, goats and sheep’s. Only Surkotada has given an evidence of domestication of Horse. Generally Horse is absent in the civilization.

The goats, cows and Sheep were commonly domesticated in the mature harappan phase but the evidences of Buffalo have not been found in that much quantity.


The carts and chariots were means of transport. For sea trade big boats were there to serve the purpose.

Relations with Other civilizations

Indus Valley people had established trade relations other contemporary civilizations by 2000BC. They conducted trade with other civilizations including Mesopotamia, Babylon by land as well as sea route. The historical records of Mesopotamia mention a place Meluha which seems to be either name of Indus River region or India itself. These records describe wood, copper, gold, ivory, and exotic birds (like peacocks) being exported from Meluha. The Harappans traded grain, copper utensils, mirrors, elephant ivory, cotton cloth, lapis lazuli (a semi-precious gemstone), and ceramic jewellery for gold, silver, marine shell, copper, tin, lead, jade, and amethyst. Some of these were crafted into ornaments and exported.

In various cities of Mesopotamia, the Harappan seals have been found which prove these relationships.

Weights and Measurements

The weights and measurements were calibrated to a considerable extent. The measures were standardized and perhaps there is binary system in use. A scale made up of Elephant tusk has been found at Mohenjo-Daro and Lothal.

Finance, Business and Industry

There was use of many kinds of metals including Gold, Silver, Copper, Lapis Lazuli, Turquoise, Amethyst, Alabaster, jade etc.  It is thought that Jade came from Central Asia, Turquoise came from Iran, Amethyst came from current Maharashtra and Lapis lazuli came from Afghanistan.

A Jewellery hoard has been found at Allahdino, an Indus valley Site near congregation of Indus River and Arabian sea. It has a necklace of 36 carnelian beads, Bronze spacer beads and a coper bead covered with Gold foil and 20 Gold lumps.

The trade was multifaceted. It was operated on intraregional as well as interregional basis and had a guild system coupled with nomadic trade. There are no evidences of monetary exchange.

Well developed stoneware industry. The manufacturing of the stone bangles was most prevalent in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Harappan civilization had an Economic Zone. This economic zone was along the bank of the Sirhind river.


These people were aware of Gold, Silver, Copper, Brass, Bronze and Tin but did not know much about Iron. Copper was the most widely used metal. Ganeshwar in Sikar District of Rajasthan is supposed to be the supplier of Copper to the cities of Indus Valley; however, the largest hoard of Copper came from Gungeria.


A large variety of pottery, both plain and decorated, has been found. Harappanwares were shaped on a potter’s wheel. The potters wheels, being made of wood, have not survived. The kilns in which the pots were baked have been unearthed.  The heating was skilfully controlled as most of the pottery was carefully fired. Once the vessel was shaped  on the wheels,  the ochre was painted  over it. Then the designs were painted on this red surface with a brush in black.

Bowls and other utensils were made with soft stones like alabaster. Such utensils have been discovered in Baluchistan and in the valley of the Indus.


The seals were used throughout the length and breadth of this civilization. Made of steatite, these seals range in size from 1cm to 5cm. Seals are either square or rectangular in shape. Square seals have carvings and inscription while rectangular have only inscription. Most frequently engraved animals on Indus Valley Seals are the humpless bull and unicorns.

Arts and Architecture

Indus Valley Civilization is also known as “Terracotta Civilization” because most of the items found there are of terra cotta such as utensils, toys etc. These people are known to have used the ornamental terracotta utensils, decorated with human figures, birds and animals and geometrical pattern. Some utensils have been decorated with lines, angles, and circles; some have been decorated with birds, animals, leaves and flowers. These terracotta utensils are smooth and shining and it has amazed what kind of base or varnish was used by those artists that even after thousands of years the shine is still there. The base is generally red with decorative lines in black.

The Harappans were not very much artistic people. Their architecture was completely utilitarian. There is no trace of ornamentation in houses and public buildings nor there are traces of paintings or monumental sculpture anywhere in the remains.

At the same time, the Harappans seem to have excelled themselves in producing works of art of small compass. Their notable artistic achievement was in their seal engravings, especially those of animals. The best are those of the humped bull, buffalo, rhinoceros and the tiger. These figures exhibit powerful nialism and appear to be the work of craftsmen whose arts are to be seen also in amulets and other objects.

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