The Harappan Civilisation: Its Sub-cultures

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The Harappan Civilisation: Its Sub-cultures

Thursday, 10 May 2018 | Roshen Dalal

Every person in India has heard and read about the Harappan Civilisation, but very few are aware of its sub-cultures. This Harappan Civilisation lasted from about 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE, and evolved from earlier settlements in the area. It extended over almost 1.3 million square kilometres, and had several large cities with baked brick structures and an intensive drainage network, occupying an area from Afghanistan in the north-west through Balochistan, Punjab, and Sindh, and further east through Haryana up to the Yamuna. It also extended into Rajasthan and Gujarat. Over 1000 sites have been found of this culture.

Harappan cities and towns had some common features. Some had a separate area where large buildings were built on raised brick platforms, with the whole area surrounded by a massive brick wall. At Mohenjodaro, these large buildings included the Great Bath, which was a large swimming-pool-like complex, another structure that may have been a granary or storage room, and a pillared structure like an assembly hall. There was a large granary or storage building at Harappa as well. 

Harappa and Mohenjodaro (both in Pakistan today) were the earliest and largest cities discovered, with an estimated size of 100 hectares. Other large cities and their probable size were: Rakhigarhi in Haryana, 80 hectares; Ganweriwala in West Punjab (Pakistan), Dholavira in Gujarat, 60 hectares each; Nagoor, Tharo Waro Daro, lakhanjo daro, all in Sindh, 50 hectares each; Nandowari in Balochistan, 50 hectares. There are also some large sites in Bathinda district of Punjab (India), lakhmirwala, Gurnikalan 1 and Hasanpur 2. Some of these cities had a population of 30,000–40,000, very large for those times. Other cities included Chanhudaro, lothal, Kalibangan, Banawali, Sutkagendor, and Surkotada. Kot Diji, Amri and others may have been smaller cities. Some of these, such as Kalibangan, Amri, and Kot Diji, were occupied even in the Early Harappan period and earlier.

The Early Harappan Cultures

Early Harappan refers to a period between 3200 and 2600 BCE, when settlements had spread all over the north-western plains, extending into Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. There are even earlier settlements in the area, but it is these that evolved into the grand urban civilisation. According to the archaeologist Gregory Possehl there were four approximately contemporary, interrelated, archaeological cultures that can be called Early Harappan. The main differences in these cultures are the different pottery types. These are:

[1] Amri-Nal: named after two sites of Amri and Nal, this culture was located in Sindh, north Balochistan, and north Gujarat. Amri types predominate in Sindh, and Nal types in Balochistan. Nal, in the area linking north and south Balochistan, probably dates back to 3500 BCE. Sites in north Gujarat have ceramics suggesting a combination of Amri-Nal and Kot Diji.

[2]Kot Diji: over 100 Kot Diji sites are known in northern Sindh and adjacent regions, which succeeded the even earlier Hakra Ware settlements.

[3] Damb Sadat: this type, with more than thirty-five known sites, represents a culture mainly in the Quetta valley of central Balochistan. The Quetta valley is linked to the Indus Valley via  passes through the mountain ranges. The largest site is Quetta Miri (23 hectares), located at a site occupied from prehistoric to modern times. Mundigak in Afghanistan, 200 km northwest of Miri, is another large site, with Damb Sadat pottery. Miri Qalat was probably occupied from 4500 BCE and, before 3000 BCE, had close contacts with southeast Iran and Afghanistan. Miri Qalat also had a Mature Harappan site. There was influence from the Indus Valley and Central Asia too.

[4] Sothi-Siswal: this type is located in the valleys of the Ghaggar–Chautang rivers, often identified with the ancient Sarasvati and Drishadvati of Vedic texts. There is another site, Nawabans, in the Ganga–Yamuna doab. There are at least 165 Sothi-Siswal sites, two of them larger than 20 hectares.

The site of Harappa also has an early phase dating to 3500 BCE. On the whole, Early Harappan sites were agricultural with domesticated animals, and some specialised crafts. Within a short period, the urban Harappan civilisation, named after the type site of Harappa, emerged, from these and other early settlements.

The Sub-cultures of the time of the Harappan Civilisation

 As noted above, while the main features of the Harappan Civilisation are well known, between 2600 and 1900 BCE there were also several local cultures with just some Harappan elements, which were related to cultures of the Early Harappan period. These are described below:

[1].In the Ghaggar–Chautang system above Sirsa, the Sothi-Siswal of the Early Harappan period continued. There are some typical Harappan settlements such as Kalibangan, Mitathal, Banawali, and Rakhigarhi, but also contemporary late Siswal settlements with few Harappan elements.

[2].The site of Kunal, north of Hissar (Haryana), has local pottery and house styles as well as a treasure trove of gold-leaf and silver ornaments and beads of semi-precious stones in an earthen pot. This may have been through Harappan contacts.

[3] Further north of the Sothi-Siswal on the Ghaggar–Chautang is the Bara culture, which extends to the Satluj region.

[4].The early Kot Diji culture of northern Sind continued during Harappan times. Its sites extend to the north at this time. Sites of this culture had Harappan contacts but the main elements were different from the Harappan.

[5].The Kulli culture in southern Balochistan, represented by Kulli and related sites had some Harappan influence, but was otherwise distinctive. Kulli material also occurs at some Harappan sites.

[6].Several sites in Gujarat too have some different and non-Harappan elements.

(A PhD in ancient Indian History, the writer lives in Dehradun and has authored ten books.)

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