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 Civilization in the Indus Valley

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Sandeep Sunstar

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PostSubject: Civilization in the Indus Valley   Sat Nov 30, 2013 4:36 pm

Civilization of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa | Aryans Invade, Conquer and Make War in the Indus Valley | Aryans, Beginning Hinduism and the Vedas

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Satellite view of the Indus River basin (Today's Pakistan and Afghan borders in black)

The Lost Civilization of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa

Sometime around 6000 BCE a nomadic herding people settled into villages in the mountainous region just west of the Indus River. There they grew barley and wheat using sickles with flint blades, and they lived in small houses built with adobe bricks. After 5000 BCE the climate in their region changed, bringing more rainfall, and apparently they were able to grow more food, for they grew in population. They began domesticating sheep, goats and cows and then water buffalo. Then after 4000 BCE they began to trade beads and shells with people in distant areas in central Asia and areas west of the Khyber Pass. And they began using bronze and working metals.

The climate changed again, bringing still more rainfall, and on the nearby plains, through which ran the Indus River, grew jungles inhabited by crocodiles, rhinoceros, tigers, buffalo and elephants. By around 2600, a civilization as grand as that in Mesopotamia and Egypt had begun on the Indus Plain and surrounding areas. By 2300 BCE this civilization had reached maturity and was trading with Mesopotamia. Seventy or more cities had been built, some of them upon buried old towns. There were cities from the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains to Malwan in the south. There was the city of Alamgirpur in the east and Sutkagen Dor by the Arabian Sea in the west.

One of these cities was Mohenjo-daro (Mohenjodaro), on the Indus river some 250 miles north of the Arabian Sea, and another city was Harappa, 350 miles to the north on a tributary river, the Ravi. Each of these two cities had populations as high as around 40,000. Each was constructed with manufactured, standardized, baked bricks. Shops lined the main streets of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, and each city had a grand marketplace. Some houses were spacious and with a large enclosed yard. Each house was connected to a covered drainage system that was more sanitary than what had been created in West Asia. And Mohenjo-daro had a building with an underground furnace (a hypocaust) and dressing rooms, suggesting bathing was done in heated pools, as in modern day Hindu temples.

The people of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa shared a sophisticated system of weights and measures, using an arithmetic with decimals. Whether these written symbols were a part of a full-blown written language is a matter of controversy among scholars, some scholars pointing out that this and the brevity of grave site inscriptions and symbols on ritual objects are not evidence of a fully developed written language.

The people of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa mass-produced pottery with fine geometric designs as decoration, and they made figurines sensitively depicting their attitudes. They grew wheat, rice, mustard and sesame seeds, dates and cotton. And they had dogs, cats, camels, sheep, pigs, goats, water buffaloes, elephants and chickens.

Between 1800 and 1700 BCE, civilization on the Indus Plain all but vanished. What befell these people is unknown. One suspected cause is a shift in the Indus River. Another is that people dammed the water along the lower portion of the Indus River without realizing the consequences: temporary but ruinous flooding up river, flooding that would explain the thick layers of silt thirty feet above the level of the river at the site of Mohenjo-daro. Another suspected cause is a decline in rainfall.

Agriculture declined and people abandoned the cities in search of food. Later, a few people of a different culture settled in some of the abandoned cities, in what archaeologists call a "squatter period." Then the squatters disappeared. Knowledge of the Mohenjo-daro and Harappa civilization died – until archaeologists discovered the civilization in the mid-19th century.


Aryans Invade, Conquer and Make War in the Indus Valley

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The Indus River is surrounded by green. The Khyber Pass is at the top and left of center.

If rainfall had declined in the Indus Valley region between 1800 and 1700 BCE, around 1500 BCE it increased again, making the Indus Plain better able to support life. It has been estimated by various scholars that between 1500 and 1200 an illiterate, pastoral people migrated from the northwest, perhaps the steppe lands of central Russia through what is now Afghanistan, onto the Indus Plain. These migrants were to be called Aryans and to be classified as Indo-Europeans, their speech related to modern European languages except Basque, Finnish and Hungarian. Genetically they were related to some people of to the northwest of India.

It is argued that the migration might have been from the Indus Valley through the Khyber Pass northwest through what is today Afghanistan. At any rate, modern India was to be divided mainly between two language families, one Indo-European, who may have been descendants of Aryans, and the other Dravidian, their language called Harappa – a reference to the civilization in the Indus Valley that disappeared between 1800 and 1700 BCE.

The Aryans had a horse culture, and no evidence exists of horses among the many representations of animals of the lost Harappan civilization. The migration of Aryans appears to have been through the Khyber Pass into India.
Settlement, Conquest and Autocracy

It is believed by some that like other pastoral people, the Aryans were warriors. They had two-wheeled chariots like the Hyksos that they packed away on carts pulled by oxen.

The Aryans were familiar with prowling and hunting with bow and arrow. They enjoyed chariot racing, gambling and fighting. Like other pastoral peoples, men dominated the women. Like the pastoral Hebrews each family was ruled by an authoritarian male. And each Aryan tribe was ruled by a king who felt obliged to consult with tribal councils.

Aryan tribes were spread out across the Indus Valley region. They warred against local, non-Aryan people, and they settled in areas that provided them with pasture for their animals. They grouped in villages and built homes of bamboo or light wood – homes without statues or art. They began growing crops. Their environment supplied them with all they needed, but, responding to their traditions, and perhaps impulses, the different Aryan tribes warred against each other – wars that might begin with the stealing of cattle. The word for obtaining cattle, gosati, became synonymous with making war. And their warring grew in scale, including a war between what was said to be ten kings.

Gradually, Aryan tribal kings were changing from tribal leaders to autocratic rulers. Aryan kings had begun associating their power with the powers of their gods rather than the approval of their fellow tribesmen. They had begun allying themselves with priests. And, as in West Asia, kings were acquiring divinity. By taxing their subjects, these kings could create an army that was theirs rather than an instrument of the tribe. And these kings allied themselves with the horse-owning warrior aristocracy to which they often belonged.

Aryans, beginning Hinduism and the Vedas

The Vedas


When the Indo-Europeans called Aryans arrived in the Indus Valley they were illiterate. They enjoyed gambling and they drank and sang around their campfires. And like other pastoral people, they were storytellers. They had sacred hymns, myths and oral history – stories that expressed their desire to please the gods. Like the Hebrews, they had a father god of the heaven, sky and atmosphere: Dyaus Pitar (sky father). They had a male god of thunder and rain called Indra, who also was a god of that other awesome disturbance – war. Indra was also called the "breaker of forts." And Indra was what the men thought a man should be: a warrior with courage, strength and energy who, like they, enjoyed drinking and making war. They had a god called Agni who was fire. They believed that Agni hungrily devoured the animals that they sacrificed in their rituals of burning. These sacrifices were performed by priests to obtain from their gods the gifts of children, success in war, wealth, health, longevity, food, drink or anything else that contributed to their happiness.

These Indo-European speaking people had a hymn about creation. Like many other creation myths, theirs described the world as beginning with the kind of creation they understood: birth. They believed that their father god, Dyaus Pitar, the embodiment of sky, had mated with his own daughter, the goddess that was earth.

A later version of their creation theory was as follows:

In the beginning was nothing, neither heaven nor earth nor space in between. Then non-being became spirit and said: "Let me be!" He warmed himself, and from this was born fire. He warmed himself further, and from this was born light.

The Indo-European speakers had a story that described humanity as having been created with virtue and everlasting life. According to this story, the gods were concerned that humanity would become gods like themselves, and to guard against this the gods plotted humanity's downfall. The gods talked Dyaus Pitar into creating a woman who lusted after sensual pleasures and who aroused sexual desires in men. According to this story, the world had become overcrowded because humankind lived forever like the gods. So Dyaus Pitar decided to make humankind mortal, and he created the goddess Death – not a goddess who ruled over death, but death itself. This creation of mortality for humankind pleased the gods, for it left them separate and of a higher rank than humans. According to this story, Dyaus Pitar proclaimed that he did not create the goddess Death from anger. And the goddess Death was at first reluctant to carry out the task assigned her, but she finally did so, while weeping. Her tears were diseases that brought death at an appropriate time. To create more death, the goddess Death created desire and anger in people – emotions that led to their killing each other.

Hindus were to claim that Hindu scripture was composed sometime around 3000 BCE by several sages in direct contact with their god, Krishna. They would claim that there is no evidence that outsiders – Aryans – invaded the Indus Valley and brought Hindu scripture with them. They blame the notion of this invasion on Christian scholars from the 19th century.

When writing spread to the Aryans is not known. But after it arrived some Brahmins considered it a sacrilege to change from communicating their religion orally. Some other Brahmins supported the innovation, and they put traditional Aryan stories into writing, in what became known as the Vedas – Veda meaning wisdom.

The Vedas have been described as reflecting a rural lifestyle of the Aryans as opposed to the more urban culture of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa civilization (internet search, Ancient Indus Valley Script: Dani Interview).

The Vedas became wisdom literature, a literature that Hindus considered an infallible source of timeless, revealed truth. The most important of the Vedas was the Rig Veda, which consisted of hymns or devotional incantations of 10,562 written lines in ten books. Another Veda, the Yajur Veda, focused less on devotional incantations and more on sacrificial procedures as a means of pleasing the gods. A third Veda, the Sama Veda, was mainly concerned with the god Indra. Indra was now seen as the god that had created the cosmos, the ruler of the atmosphere, and the god of thunderbolts and rain – Dyaus Pitar having diminished in importance. Also mentioned in the Sama Veda were other gods of the sky and atmosphere: Varuna, guardian of the cosmic order; Agni, the god of fire; and Surya, the sun. A fourth Veda, the Atharya Veda, was a collection of 730 hymns, totaling six thousand stanzas, containing prescriptions for prayer, rituals for curing diseases, expiations against evils, protection against enemies and sorcerers, and prescriptions for creating charms for love, health, prosperity, influence, and a long life. Among the Vedas were descriptions of funeral rites that included cremation, and there were descriptions of lengthy and solemn rituals for marriage.

The Vedas implied that humanity is basically good, and, in contrast to the view of sin in West Asia, sin among the Hindus was viewed as a force from outside oneself – an invader. Hinduism's Vedas saw evil as the work of demons that might take the form of a human or some other creature, which could be removed by the prayers and rituals of priests.

Sources

A History of Ancient India by L.P. Sharma, 1992

A History of India, 4th Edition, by Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, 1998

A New History of India, Wolpert, Stanley, fifth and sixth editions, 1999

A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee, 1947

Encylopedias Britannica and Wikipedia
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