Social and Economic Life of Indus Valley Civilization (Harappan Civilization)

Social and Economic Life of Indus Valley Civilization

The social and economic life of of the people of Indus Valley Civilization (Harappan Civilization) was systematic and organised. In this article we will discuss about the food, social Dress, ornaments, house hold articles, amusements, trade, social class and structure, religion and funerary customs of the people of Indus Valley Civilization. This will give us an overview of the Socio-economic activites of the Indus People.

People of the Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus valley population consisted of Australoid, Mediterranean, Mongoloid and Alpine races. The cosmopolitan character of the population proves that the Indus valley was the meeting place of the people of various races. The approximate population of Mohenjo-Daro was 35000.

Food of the people of Indus Civilization 

The food of the Harappans was supplied from extensive areas cultivated in vicinity of the city. Besides food was supplied from distant areas by boats plying on the rivers. Rice was probably grown in the Indus valley. The staple food of the people comprised wheat, barley, rice, milk and some vegetables like peas, sesamums and fruits like date palms. Beef, mutton, pork, poultry, fish etc. were also eaten by the Indus people. Agriculture appears to be the main occupation of the Indus people. The discovery of a granary at Harappa lends support to this.

Social Dress of the Harappan People

The discovery of large number of spindles proves the use of cotton for weaving social cloths. Probably wool was also used. The garments might have been sewn. Both men and women used two pieces of cloth. The men folk wore some lower garment like dhoti and upper garment like shawl. The upper garment wrapped the left shoulder. Female attire was the same as that of men. Arts and crafts and trade formed one of the main occupations of the people. The potter, the mason, the metal worker had high demand. The cotton and woolen dresses show the existence of cotton and woolen industries. Goldsmiths and silversmiths made ornaments.

Hair-style, Ornaments of people of Indus Valley

Men wore long hair, parted in the middle and kept tidy at the back. The women of Indus valley usually wore long hair in plait with fan-shaped bow at the end. Fillets made of gold or silver were used to keep the hair in particular position. Both men and women of harappa were fond of ornaments made of gold, silver and copper. The ornaments were decorated with precious stones like jade, carnelian, agate and lapis-lazuli. The female beauties of the Indus valley had a taste for toilet culture like their modern sisters. The “vanity case” and the toilet jars found at Harappa consisted of ivory powder, face-paint and many other varieties of cosmetics.

House-hold articles and Furniture’s of Indus People

Most of the house-hold articles were made of pottery or of metals like copper and bronze. The art of pottery attained a wonderful excellence at Mohenjo-Daro. This is proved by painted and glazed wares. Most of the kitchen utensils including jars, vessels, dishes etc. were made of earth and stone. Domestic implements like axe, knife, needles, saws etc. were made of bronze or copper. Copper supply was limited as it had to be imported from outside. So copper had to be discretely used for making necessary implements and weapons like axe, lance, and dagger. There is lack of defensive weapons like sword. Chairs and tools were used for decorating rooms and for sitting comfortably.

Amusements of Indus Valley people

Dicing was a favorite pastime. Hunting of wild animals, bull fighting, fishing and clay modeling were general social amusements of people.

Animals of Indus Valley 

Some of animals living in the Indus valley were domesticated while others were wild. The remains of humped bull, buffalo, sheep, elephant, pig and camel have been found. Dogs, cats were also domesticated. Formerly it was believed that the Indus people did not tame horses as domestic animals. But bones and skeletons of horses have been found at Kalibangan and Sukanjodaro in the upper layers. Perhaps at a late stage of the Indus civilization horses were domesticated. The existence of wild animals like rhinoceros, tiger, and bison in the Indus forests is confirmed by terracotta figures of these animals.

Trade and Commerce and Economy of Harappa

The Indus people used copper and tin. Copper, gold, tin, silver were brought from the Nilgiri region of South India, Mysore, Rajputana, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Persia. That the Indus people had a brisk trade link with Western Asia is evident from the discovery of the Indus seals in these areas. Silver and sapphire were imported from Persia and Afghanistan. That the Indus cities had brisk trade with Sumeria is proved by the discovery of numerous Indus seals in Sumeria. At Umma and Akkad two bales of Indus clothes with Indus seals have been discovered. Indus cities had a lucrative market of cotton goods in Sumeria and Western Asia. Besides ivory works, combs, pearls were exported to West Asia from the Indus cities. It is presumed that large number of merchants from the Indus cities lived in Sumeria. The Indus cities had maritime trade with Sumeria through the Persian Gulf. The skeletal remains of camels have prompted scholars to think that trade with Turkomania and West Asia was also carried by overland route. The domestic articles used by the Indus people and the comfortable houses in which they lived convey the prosperity of the Indus people. It was a rich bourgeois civilization. Rich people used gold instruments studded with jewels. The excellence in art and craft is proved by fine ornaments, stone and copper implements and the potters. Weaving was a principal occupation of the people. Apart from trade and industry, agriculture was the chief occupation of the Indus people. The Indus people used various types of weights and measures. A strict control was exercised to maintain proper standard of weight. The decimal system was also known to them.

Social Class and Social Structure of Indus Valley Civilization

The humped bull, buffalo, ship etc. and the granary indicate the existence of a prosperous agricultural community. Some scholars believe that there was a prosperous and powerful ruling class in the Indus cities who imposed their domination on the rest. All men of the cities and the nearby areas did not enjoy social and economic equality. Those who lived in the upper portion of the cities near the forts formed a ruling class. The existence of forts has led Prof. Wheeler to surmise that the ruling class dominated over the workers and peasants from these forts. As copper was scarce, common men could hardly afford to possess copper weapons. The ruling class had a monopoly of the copper weapons by which they terrified the people and exploited the resources produced by them by fanning or by craft. The existence of two roomed tenements has led Sir Mortimer Wheeler to guess that they were perhaps workers’ quarters.

In respect of the social life of the Indus people, it is suggested by scholars that there was strong family organizations among them. The craftsmen taught their skill in crafting to their children. The toys were used by children of the family. The large number of seals engraved with letters conveys the idea that there was good percentage of literacy among the Indus people. The sanitary system, the drainage system also speaks of their cleanliness and public hygiene. The seals, the terracotta figurines, the images of dancing girls prove the artistic taste of the Indus men.

Indus Religion : Religion of Indus People

The religion of the Indus people had some interesting aspects. There is a striking absence of any temple among the remains of the Indus valley. Some scholars like to believe that the large buildings found at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro was in fact temples. But Dr. Basham has rejected this view on the ground that no idol has been found within these buildings. The prevalence of the worship of the Mother Goddess (Sakti) is proved by the discovery of numerous terra-cota figurines in nude form. The worship of Siva is suggested by the discovery of figure of a deity with three faces, with horned head dress, seating cross-legged in a Yogic posture, surrounded by animals like buffalo, rhinoceros, deer, tiger, etc. The figure has been identified by Prof. Marshall with that of Siva; Trimukha (three faced), Pasupati (lord of animals), Mahayogin. Two more figures representing Siva have been unearthed also. In these figures Siva seats in a Yogic posture and plants or flowers emerge from his head. He represents the God of Fertility. Siva is also a God of Fertility. According to Basham the Harappan symbol of Siva is the indication of proto-Siva Cult. The worship of phallus (linga) of Siva and yoni (female organ of generation) of Mother Goddess were widely prevalent. Animal worship is attested by seals and terracotta figurines. Worship of tree, fire, water and probably sun seems to have been in vogue among the Indus people. The discovery of a few seals bearing Swastika symbol and Wheel symbol also indicates Sun worship. As Swastika is the symbol of the Sun. The discovery of a sacrificial pit of Lothal lends support to the view that the Indus people performed animal sacrifices. But we are not sure on this point and must wait for further proof.

Funerary Custom of Indus People

The Indus people had three funeral custom viz.,

  1. Complete burial of the dead body.
  2. Burial of the bones of the dead body after wild beasts ate of it.
  3. Burial of ashes and bones after burning the dead body.

Many historians have discovered existence of different classes in the Harappan society from the difference of the funeral custom.

The Indus Script : Scripts of Harappa

The Indus script is yet a closed realm to scholars as it is undeciphered. There are various theories about the origin of the Indus Script. According to Waddel it was of Sumerian origin. Hunter believes it to be of  Egyptian origin. But, David Diringer suggests it to be of Elamite origin. It is true that there are many resemblances between the Indus Script and that of Sumer, Elam, Egypt, Crete, Chinese etc. But the similarities go up to the certain points only. Indications are there that fundamentally the Indus Script is different from them. Mr. Langdon holds it to be of purely indigenous origin. According to him Brahmi Script was derived from the Indus Script. Dr. Pran Nath of Benaras Hindu University holds it to be of Sanskrit Origin. Some other scholars suggest the theory of Dravidian origin of the Indus Script. All these assumptions are merely clever guesses. No authentic explanation is yet possible about the origin of the Indus Script. The only indubitable things which we know of the Indus Scripts are that originally they were pictographic and later on they became standardized. Four hundred distinct signs have so far been listed from it. The direction of writing is from right to left, and in few classes from left to right.