Harappan Civilization: Social Economic And Religious Life

The social and economic life of the people of Indus Valley Civilization (Harappan Civilization) was systematic and organised.

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 people had good understanding of an urban civilization. The population of Mohenjo-Daro was about 35000.

The economic condition of the Harappan people was quite good. Their affluence was due to agriculture, animal husbandry, industry, trade and commerce. These made them prosperous and opened for them the avenues of a comfortable life. Through trade and commerce they, too, were able to establish contacts with others inside India and outside


The Harappan people were dependent on agriculture as the primary source of living. Archaeological remains of the region reveal a variety of agricultural equipment’s used by them. Kalibangan gives us the idea about their agriculture. They also knew the use of sickle and used to cut crops with it.

The circular floor was used for harvesting, as the Harappan granary would reveal. They grew wheat. rice, maize, cotton and various vegetables in their fields. The surplus produce was stored in the granary. The agriculture depended on rain-fed water. In case of need they irrigated their land with water from the Indus.

The floods in the Indus inundated the fields and left a fertile silt-cover on the fields after the flood water receded. This fertile silt would yield a bumper harvest during following agricultural seasons. For all practical purposes, agriculture was the principal means of sustenance for the Harappan people.


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. However, the 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.


Many spindles were discovered at the Harappan sites. This 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.


The industrial know-how of the Harappan people was unique. They were busy in manufacturing many articles and each of their handiworks reveals an exquisite artistry. Making of metal pots, weaving, metallic works and such other artifacts reveal their enviable artistry. Given below is a detailed account of their industry.


Earthenware was their principal industry. They knew the use of wheel. With its help they made beautiful earthenware pots like cooking-pot, jug, plate, tray, perforated jars, cups and the like. The earthenware were as artistic as they were useful. In most cases, the earthenware were painted with pictures of comb, tooth, creepers, leaves, cowrie and small circles. On some were painted the pictures of peacock and sometimes, alternate rows of circles and squares running to five or six lines.

While earthenware of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan reveal the old style, that of Lothal is primarily modem. On the latter were painted images of birds and decorative designs of creepers. This is unique to the earthenware of Lothal.

The Harappan earthenware were smooth and glossy, resembling the earthenware recovered from Tel Asmar of Mesopotamia. Prominent among the Harappan earthenware is a cylindrical and perforated pot, used for extracting cheese from curd as per Mortimer wheeler’s inference. In all, these earthenware of Harappa was eulogy on the Harappan potters’ workmanship.


The Harappan people had mastered the art of preparing metallic objects, made of gold, silver, copper, tin and alloy. Articles like tray, flower vase, cups, jars, needle, verilion stick, cosmetics box and other articles of daily use were made from different metals. They, too, built images made of bronze. Excavations have brought to surface various ovens used by them for preparing meal alloy. They knew how to prepare metallic objects after melting the metal. They did not know the use of iron.


The Harappan people were familiar with many precious stones like agate, carnelian, steatite, lapis lazuli, turquoise etc. A manufacturing unit at Chanhudaro bears testimony to it. Beads recovered from Chanhudaro, Mohenjo-Daro and Lothal indicate their use in necklaces. The weight and measure was done with stone- slabs of varying sizes. Combs, ear-rings and ornaments were also made from ivory.


Ornament making was their technical forte. Ornaments were made both for men and women. All loved ornaments irrespective of whether they were rich or poor. Chains and necklaces, armlets, bracelets, rings and ear-rings were made for both men and women. Armlets, ear-rings and nose-buds etc. were only meant for the ladies.

Ornaments were also made of ivory, horn and bronze, particularly the combs and hair pin. The ordinary people sported ornaments made of bones, copper, earthenware and conch-shells. Such a picture about their ornaments becomes clear from a study of many images recovered from various places.


They aimed themselves with an adequate variety of weapons for purposes of war with enemies, self-defence and hunting. For purposes of war and hunting they used bows and arrows, axe and lance prepared by them. For self-defense, they made sword, shield, protective dress and head-gear. They also protected themselves by building forts and high walls to ward off the external enemy. The manufacture of these weapons was an outstanding aspect of their industrial manufacture.


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 clear 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


The Harappan people adopted a system of weight and measure. Both weight and measure was done in the multiples of two, like 2,4, 8,16,32,64 etc. The weight system involved the decimal method and done in multiples of 16 like 16,320,640,1600, 3200 etc. Stone-slabs used as weights and of varying weights have been recovered to indicate their use.

Length was measured in Ones. One foot was equal to almost 37.6 centimeters. Measuring by hand was also prevalent. It is a tragedy that no scale has yet been discovered from any site. Yet as per then prevalent length-scale, the main wall of the Harappan granary was 3 0 hands long.


Equally significant was their exchange-system in trade and commerce. Though exact details are not available, that they were not totally ignorant about the system of “exchange” that prevailed m’ ancient times is indicated from the hints about it in their seals and sealing process. The cylindrical seal recovered from Mohenjo-Daro substantiates to this. It was styled after the Mesopotamian model. The copper piece recovered from Lothal indicates that they had a mode and medium of exchange.


Adapt in trade, the Harappan people exported wheat, maize, other crops and cotton goods. They imported gold, silver and precious stones. Things produced by them were sufficient to meet the domestic demand and the craze for those in foreign markets as well.


Extensive trade-contacts were established by the Harappan people with such Indian areas as Sind, Punjab, Rajasthan, Rupar, Lothal, Kalibangan and areas where the Harappan culture was prevalent. Trade-links with Afghanistan and Central Asia by land and with Mesopotamia by maritime trade reveal a close reciprocity.

Extensive trade relations with Mesopotamia is proved through the discovery of Harappan seals from Mesopotamian towns like Susa and Ur and the Harappan script from its seals at Nipur along with the picture of an imaginary unicorn.

The heavy stone scales of Harappa recovered from the Persian gulf area is another proof of trade-links. The button-shaped seals of Lothal are similar to the ones of the Persian gulf region. There are similar indicators to show the trade-links with Egypt.


They conducted their trade by both land and sea routes. The cart was the principal vehicle of transport and trade by land. Many earthen toy-carts for children have been found. The cart was drawn either by bullocks or by men. Boats were used for trade through rivers and sea. Archaeological remains of a port are found at Lothal.

It stretches to a length of 219 metres and is 37 metres wide. An earthen boat has also been recovered from there. Also found are different seals and stone-slabs as weights and measure. These strongly point to maritime trade. So, carts by land and boats and ships by river and sea were the main medium of transport of goods.

Trade and commerce were well managed by the Harappan people. Raw-materials were brought from sub-urban villages on the outskirts of the towns and manufacturing work was done in towns. There from was conducted export, whether inland or foreign. This was indeed a highly successful venture of the Harappan people and it embellished their affluence.


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) has been suggested. 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 (Shiva); Trimukha (three faced), Pasupati (lord of animals), Mahayogin. Two more figures representing Siva(Shiva) have been unearthed also. In these figures Siva seats in a Yogic posture and plants or flowers emerge from his head. Shiva has infinite and limitless powers. Lord Shiva blesses his devotees in every-way. The worship of Shiva Linga was 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.


The Indus people had three funeral custom viz.,

  • Complete burial of the dead body.
  • Burial of the bones of the dead body after wild beasts ate of it.
  • 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.