Friday, October 8, 2010

The Harappan Cities

Sharing some interesting facts about the history of urbanisation in India that I compiled as part of my research on Indian cities.

Urbanisation in Prehistoric India (2350-1800 BC)
Perhaps the oldest of settlements are the Paleolithic and Neolithic settlements more than 4500 years old that originated borders of Afghanistan and Baluchistan. They were Agriculture based and domesticated animals. Then there were larger village settlements with distinct urban attributes like use of stone and metals for making tools, storage of food grain and domestication of animals, pottery and clothing in the Indus Valley.

Theories of origin
View 1: Diffusion of Idea
The urban living ideas came to Indus valley from Mesopotamia through chance migration. This is as per following factors.
1. This view explains the abrupt origin of civilization in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.
2. The Mesopotamian urban attributes such as wheel turned pottery, art of writing, agriculture practices, river side settlement etc as seen in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.

View 2: Independent origin
This suggest independent origin with diffusion of specific ideas like wheel turned pottery, extraction techniques of Copper from ore etc. This holds well when the following factors are considered.
1. Rain fed and natural flood based agricultural practices prevailed as against the elaborate irrigation system found in Mesopotamia.
2. Motifs, shapes, artistic works, pottery are all indigenous.
3. System of writing, coins, weights are different from Mesopotamian systems.
4. City structure is found different.

Harappan people and their culture
The Harappan people and culture are considered product of Indian subcontinent and foundation for the composite Indian culture. The race composed of Proto Australoid, Mongoloid and Alpine origin and a dominant proportion of Mediterranean race. Harappans existed 1000 years before early Aryans and Dravidians (also primarily Mediterranean) who lacked the sophistication of urban spatial planning present in the Harappan cities. There is minor diffusion of ideas seen in their settlements but that doesn’t suggest direct inheritance.

Primarily agrarian people, settled in fertile plains on river banks, they depended on natural irrigation and cultivated barley, wheat, peas, seasum, cotton and rice. They reared sheep, cattle, buffalo, dogs, camels, pigs. Copper and bronze were used for tool making. No iron was in use. Gold, silver and bronze jewellery and vessels were made. Terracotta art and cotton textile industry were in existence. Systems of weights and measurements based on binary and decimal systems are evident. Deity worship of Gods and goddesses prevailed.

Urban Morphology of Harappan cities
Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa developed in the banks of navigable rivers Indus and Ravi respectively. They covered 2 sqm and had a population of 30,000. Mohenjo-Daro being the older city was rebuilt 9 times in it 800 years. Harappa was developed as a second capital. The twin cities hosted fully developed urban societies supported by rural villages around large urban centre.

The prominent common features of the twin cities are as below:

1. The Citadel, or the real capital: Situated on high grounds, on west side of the river, with fortified walls, large structures, palatial residences of nobles and high priests, great bath and the granary.
2. Lower City: EW and NS alignment with grid iron streets showing definite hierarchy (14m to 3m widths), elaborate covered drainage (separate sewers and storm water drains) with maintenance manholes. Earth ware pipes from residences connected to the drainage system, collected in soak pits at low areas for partial purification, before letting out to the river. Residences had brick lined wells of 1m diameter.
3. Housing: single room to multi room residences, palatial structures with courtyards and outer walls, all made of fired bricks. Separate privies and baths were attached to houses.

Other Harappan Towns: 
Lothal: Raised city. Houses had mud brick walls to escape flood. City was zoned into industries, commercial, residential areas. Traded ivory, cotton, warefare objects. Lost in floods from 2000 BC to 1900 BC

Kalibangan, Rajasthan: Inferior structure, Upper and lower cities, grid iron streets, no drainage, indicates lower status of towns and decline of urbanization. Another port town in Baluchistan: Dock yard, citadel and lower town. Small towns – No citadels, lower status in urban hierarchy. From Baluchistan to upper UP – few towns & cities – accounted for less than 5% of Harappan population

Urban Rural relationship in Harappan times:
Few large cities, number of small towns, very large number of rural villages. Mutual co-operation, no conflict of interest between city and country; Cities and villages have common language, religions, customs and belief, cultural. Cities had political and economic leadership.

Villages – agriculture & pottery, ordinary textile industry
Cities – centers of production of goods. Variety of goods, luxury items, rich clothes, artistic ware, metal works, tools. Class of people enjoyed luxury, responsible for welfare, security of entire society.

Decline of Harappan Cities (2400 BC – 1900 BC)
View 1: Pressure on available land and infrastructure due to population growth led to houses extending to streets, partitioning of houses, mixing residential/ and non residential uses, deterioration of infrastructure led to slow urban decline over a period of 2 centuries and ultimate abandonment. The eventual disappearance could be flood or invasive destruction. Weak agricultural technology, decline in land fertility, droughts, lack of agricultural surplus, overcrowding.

View 2: Invasion of early Aryans (references in Rigveda) who were village folk who were not did not revive cities. Baluchistan, invasion from S Russia. Harappans lacked defensive structures. 

The Harappan cities came to an end by 1800 BC. The high sophistication attained during the Harappan times was never repeated thereafter. 

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