The Indus Valley Civilisation is one of a kind and here’s what makes it so special
I remember sitting in the classroom listening to my teacher talk about the Harappan Civilisation better known as the Indus Valley Civilisation. I was on the edge of my seat keenly listening to each and every word she said. I was fascinated and intrigued by this civilisation where my roots might lie. My teacher talked about the water supply systems, the houses and the roads; this civilisation kept getting amazing with each new snippet of information, that was until she dropped the bomb. She told us that the Harappan language or the Indus script is not yet deciphered. This sent a shockwave of amazement across the classroom. Especially when she explained that if the script be deciphered, it could change the ancient history we’ve come to know.
Let us rewind a bit and start with the simple question in your mind- what is so fascinating about this civilisation?
The Indus Valley civilisation is traced back to 3300 BCE and is considered one of the four Old World Civilisations along with Mesopotamia, Egypt and China. It was the most widespread amongst the four, spread across Pakistan, Afghanistan, and northwestern India. This civilisation is so very enigmatic that it was almost lost to history and fortunately rediscovered not even 100 years ago.
Approximately 100 years ago, the Indian subcontinent was under the British Raj. A railway system proved to be a good thing in this widespread colony. The British had begun laying railway tracks across the subcontinent right from the then city of Bombay. As work was ongoing for the railway between the towns of Lahore and Karachi, the workers stumbled upon what seemed to be a buried city. This was the site of Harappa, one of the many settlements in the Indus Valley Civilisation. The excavation of Harappa began in 1921.
Not long after that, the famous Mohenjo-daro bath was found. They soon discovered that the more they dug around, the more sites they seem to find. This forgotten civilisation had resurfaced after centuries, thanks to the East Indian Railway Company.
The Archaeological Survey of India was specially set up to find out this huge discovery. And they discovered something incredible.
The Harappans had a high degree of knowledge in town planning, sometimes I wonder that they were more intelligent when it came to town planning than we are even today. They had a complex town arrangement. The town was divided into blocks. Each block had 25 houses (5 by 5) placed in such a way that sunlight and air could grace its presence in each house. These houses only opened up to a inner courtyard or small lanes. Some houses had private wells and almost all houses had a washing platform.
Dividing these blocks, they had made roads at an angle of 90º from each other. These roads were wide enough for a cart to pass and had street lamps on the roadside. Each person had a clear view of the roads which intersected with each other. This prevented accidents.
A series of underground sewage systems ran under under the main roads of the city. This system was connected to each house and was underground to prevent the spread of diseases. The Harappans had invented the first flush toilets and hydraulic engineering system. The waste from the sewage was later used as fertiliser. The bathing area was away from the town to keep the potable water pure. Each town had a reservoir built carefully using bricks to block water for future use.
Furthermore they had a futuristic architecture in the towns especially for their dockyards, granaries, warehouses and the massive thick walls that could protect the city from floods and attacks as well. The Harappans may have never expected military attacks since there is hardly a sign of a citadel. I believe that they were peace loving people who practised equality to a certain extent. Most of the Harappans were artists or traders who traded with far and wide civilisations like Mesopotamia. Some of the Indus Valley seals were found in Mesopotamia.
They also had a knowledge of length, time and mass. In Mehrgarh, Pakistan archaeologists found signs of dentistry being practised which involved drilling into a human teeth. I wonder if they had anaesthesia….ouch.
Coming to the most juicy information- the undeciphered Indus Script. Many people have claimed to have deciphered this language but they have not even come close. Generally archaeologists try to find an underlying language that matches with other known languages in the area, or they try to see wether through the passage of time a change in the script might lead to clues and if they are lucky enough a bilingual text like the Rosetta Stone helps decipher a language. When it comes to Harappa, all the three methods have been fruitless. There is no bilingual literary work that has ye been found, the language hardly changes through the centuries and only a few seals and carvings which have the script can be found, the rest have vanished. These few pieces of literary content have as many as only 26 signs. As for the underlying language, two separate studies have shown two separate results. Some archaeologists believe that the Harappan script gave birth to the Dravidian language. They prove their theory by comparing the likeliness of the Harappan scripts with the present south Indian languages (Dravidian). The other set of archaeologists have facts that prove this theory wrong and say that the Harappan language created the Sanskritic languages. This theory also has opposition.
This topic is being researched till date, even as you are reading this article right now. It is incredible to think that it has been almost a 100 years since Harappa has been discovered and yet the advanced modern civilisation that invents smartphones has not yet been able to uncover a script their forefathers left behind thousands of years ago.
My only hope is that one day in the near future, the script might be uncovered and this enigmatic incredible civilisation will get the praise it deserves. This script might tell us even more overwhelming possibilities and facts of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Are we ready for it? It will be a magical day when we fully comprehend and understand this civilisation that vanished without a trace in 1300 BCE only to resurface under railway tracks. What catastrophe might have lead to the death of such an advanced thriving civilisation? Guess we’ll find out sooner rather than later. What are your thoughts on this?
By the Editor Shanaya Wagh from GiGlee Magazine
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