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Let Us Explore India’s Cultural History – Indus Civilization

R. Balachandra

India Discovery Center, IDC, has taken up the valiant effort to present Indian History in all its aspects from ancient times to the present. The goal is to examine the aspects of Indian life and society as they have developed through time.  The analysis is expected to develop a viewpoint for the immigrant parents to help understand the tokens of significant milestones that form Indian thinking and her value system.

The time span of the recorded history has been divided into logical segments. The first segment explored is the Indus civilization known to have flourished from the early period of about 7000BC until its abandonment apparently around 1900BC.  A number of dedicated individuals have been conducting research into various aspects of this period.  The available archaeological reconstruction may represent the Indus society in the 2500BC to 2000BC timeperiod.

On Sunday May 1, 2016 four of the researchers made presentations on the following topics:

Arts and Culture                                     Srabonti Bandyopadhyay

Language and Literature                      Jaspal Singh

Science and Technology                       Krishna Gazula

Economics and Politics                         Sanjeev Tripathy


Art and Culture

Srabonti Bandyopadhyay started the presentations with a well-researched talk on Art and Culture. It appears that the civilization was highly developed in these areas. They had created sculptures of people both in clay and in metal, though they were very small in size. The most prominent is of a priest/king wearing a crown or a head ornament. There is also a beautiful metal sculpture of a young nude woman. She is wearing a number of bangles evoking similarities with some of the tribal women in India of today. There are also figurines of different kinds but it is hard to know their significance. Most of these figurines appear to be female suggesting that women were held in high esteem and prayed to in some rituals. Then there are vases and pots. Some are covered with beautiful designs and baked similar to old Greek vases. Some of the pots were found buried among with human bones suggesting that many earthly things were buried along with their owners, a practice similar to the ancient Egyptians.

There were also small items that appear to be toys – little animal figures, a small two-wheeled cart similar to bullock carts without the animals and other figures. Jewelry and art objects were produced indicating that the society was highly conscious of beauty and other aspects of art. Some of the beads and jewelry were produced with a great degree of skill.

Srabonti draws some interesting conclusions from these relics. The society was technologically advanced and it had a thriving arts culture. They produced fine jewelry and ornaments that may have been used to distinguish social classes. Clothing and hair styling were different for the two sexes.

Language and Literature

The next presentation was by Jaspal Singh. He covered Language and Literature. The civilization covered a vast area. Many signs and seals have been unearthed numbering over 4000. Efforts of over a hundred years have proved futile in deciphering the script and the language. A major reason for this is that the number of characters or symbols in any sample seal is very small. There are many hypotheses regarding the seals - that the society was illiterate and the symbols were used in rituals or in commercial transactions; the symbols represented a rebus with the first letter of a Tamil word; the precursor to Indo Aryan languages; and finally the script represented different languages in different regions of the civilization just as cuneiform was used for different languages in Mesopotamia.

Some seals do not have any characters but seem to depict a narrative with animals and humans. Jaspal raised further issues such as the relationship between this civilization and the Vedic literature and culture.  He also made the suggestion if any relationship would exist between the Indus language and today’s tribal languages of India.

Science and Technology

Science and Technology in the Indus Civilization was the next presentation by Krishna Gazula. There is evidence to show that the society possessed good knowledge about health, agriculture, science and technology, mathematics and measurement systems. Some tablets depict yogic poses signifying that there was awareness of yoga and its role in health. The water and sewer channels seen from the digs demonstrate that there was a keen sense of hygiene. There were baths for the pleasure and cleanliness of the people. Brick making technology was prevalent. Bricks were used for housing construction, baths, and roads and for water supply. Walls were also plastered.

There is evidence of irrigation, and the use of implements to plough the land. Transportation of goods and people seems to have been done by bullock carts. Toy carts with solid wheels have been found resembling bullock carts used in Pakistan today.

There was manufacturing technology also. Textiles were produced and used by the common people. There appears to be the knowledge of metallurgy - gold, silver, copper, bronze and brass.  It is possible that steel production technology was known.  They created a number of tools and worked with great precision to produce beads that were probably exported to Mesopotamia. Jewelry was made using gold and beads. They had measurements and measuring systems. The weights appear standardized. Boat making seems to have developed to a good degree.  Boats were on duty not only on the rivers but also on the sea to reach distant markets in the Middle East.

Economy and Politics

The final presentation was by Sanjeev Tripathi on the Economics and Politics of the Indus Society. The economics of the society was based on agriculture as many of the societies of that era. Toy ploughs and carts have been found suggesting possible common use. Bullocks seem to be the most common animal to perform the chores. Wheat, barley, cotton, were the major crops supplemented by peas and sesame. There seems to be a very good irrigation system with canals, and dams. Grains were stored in huge granaries.

Most of the economy consisted of trade within and outside of the region. It appears there was possibly no currency in use leading to the conclusion that most of the trade was through barter. The weights and measures systems seem be very sophisticated, some even used the octal and decimal system. As in other parts of the world at that time, most of the larger towns and cities were located on the banks of rivers, which were also part of the trade routes. There were also docks in ports near the Arabian Sea suggesting there was international trade by sea going boats. The probable exports were cotton, food grains, wool and jewelry. It is likely that the society imported metals and gold. Some suggest that seals were used primarily for trade, with the elephant seal being the most valuable.

There is very little direct evidence about the administration, though the organization and the building of the towns with their well-planned roads and houses suggest that there was good local organization. The governing administration must have built and maintained the towns and their infrastructure. They also built public structures such as baths, granaries, places of worship (though we don’t know which gods they worshipped), and city walls. Residences were separated from administrative and public buildings. One very interesting aspect noticed is that there is no evidence of wars or even of weapons, suggesting a peace loving society.

The presentations ended with a brief Q&A session.  The full presentations including two other tracks of (a) Geography and People and (b) Philosophy and Religion will be made at an event on Saturday, July 23, 2016 at Lexington Community Center, 39 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA.  Interested persons are requested to visit http:///www.indiadiscoverycenter.org for more information.

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