Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro have been on my wish list since I read about them in my school textbooks. Despite being right next door, they are not the easiest place to visit for an Indian. I still hope that I would be able to visit them one day. The news of Dholavira getting the much-deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site tag made me think of the Sindhu Sarasvati Valley or Indus Valley civilization heritage we have in India. Most of it can be found in the museums across the country on display as proud remnants of a highly developed civilization of which we are the descendants.
Sindhu Sarasvati Valley Heritage
Of the heritage sites of the Indus valley civilization, Lothal in the gulf of Kambatis a unique site. Both because it is accessible to the general public, but also because it is probably the oldest known dockyard in the world. When you walk around the ruins of the city, which looks more like walking on the foundations of an unfinished building. You have to stretch your imagination to think of it as a bustling international trade center. Which connected India to the world overseas route thousands of years ago.
What I remember most from this site are the kiln and the bead-making factory. The micro-beads in sparkling white color can still be seen at the site museum along with other excavated material. Beads are so minute that you need to use a magnifying glass to appreciate their shape and the holes within. One wonders about the technology used to craft such miniature beads or even where they were used besides being part of jewelry. Another thing that I remember is the baked bricks in an isosceles trapezoid shape. Designed such that they come together perfectly in a circle to line a circular well.
Indus Valley Civilization
A visit to a small museum in Ropar near Chandigarh told me that the planned city of Chandigarh was actually built on top of the ancient planned city of Indus Valley civilization. The museum located right next to the excavated mound has artifacts that we now so identify with this civilization like burial pottery, beads, toys, and terracotta figurines. Sanghol is another Indus civilization site located not too far from Chandigarh, on way to Ludhiana. Sanghol village is more popularly known as UcchaPind. Based on excavations, it is dated back to the late Harappan period that was potentially inhabited right up to Kushan Period. You can see sculptures excavated from here at the site museum as well as at Chandigarh Museum.
Dancing Girl of Harappa
The dancing girl of Harappa invariably takes us back to school history books. But not many know that you can see her at the National Museum in Delhi. One may be a bit disappointed to find her way too smaller than we imagined, at just about four inches of height. But being face to face with her is like getting transported to the era when she must have been cast using the lost wax method. A technique that continues to be practiced in remote corners of India. The gallery also has seals, painted pottery, and large funeral mounds on display.
I also remember the skeleton of a buried woman from Rakhigarhi. One of the oldest and largest of the Indus civilization sites in Hisar district of Haryana. Rakhigarhi and Sinauli in Western Uttar Pradesh as of now are not so accessible to the general public. But I hope to visit them or their artifacts as and when possible.
On the west coast, on the island of Beyt Dwarka, marine archaeological excavations have revealed late Harappan period material including a typical Indus civilization seal, pottery, inscribed jar, copper object, and a coppersmith’s stone mold used for casting spearheads, etc. Remember, the island surrounded by sea must have undergone massive corrosion. But still glimpses of the past managed to survive more or less in situ.
Kalibangan in the Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan is supposedly located at the confluence of Sarasvati and Drishadvati rivers. That marks the boundary of Kurukshetra in Mahabharata. Like the typical Indus Valley sites, it has an upper city and a lower city. The latter being the earlier site. Some even call it a pre-Harappan site. Cities are designed in a grid pattern aligned to cardinal directions. There are usual markers of the civilization like the use of clay and burnt bricks, seals, pottery, terracotta figures, and burial pits. There are fire altars for rituals. However, this site stands out for the evidence of ploughed fields, the earliest known one.
There is something that we know about the Sindhu Sarasvati Valley civilization. But there is a lot that we still do not know. A lot that we are yet to uncover, decipher and understand. I hope that we not only learn sophisticated town planning from our ancestors. But also understand what led to their steep and probably sudden downfall that we are still trying to recover from.
Edited for this online publication.