Archaeologists discovered two 4000-year-old cities, 400 miles apart, along the banks of the Indus River in Pakistan. These expertly constructed cities were parts of an advanced civilization comparable to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. We don’t know what the ancient people of the Indus River Valley called themselves. Archaeologists named the cities Mohenjo-Daro, which means “hill of the dead,” and Harappa, after a nearby city.
The people of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa lived in sturdy brick houses that had as many as three floors. The houses had bathrooms that were connected to sewers. Their elaborate drainage system was centuries ahead of their time. Archaeologists have found the remains of fine jewelry, including stones from far away places. This shows that the people of the Indus Valley civilization valued art and traded with other cultures.
We don’t know what happened to the Indus River Valley civilization. It seems to have been abandoned about 1700BC. It is possible that a great flood weakened the civilization. The moving tectonic plates that created the Himalayas may have caused a devastating earthquake. It is also possible that the people may have been defeated by another culture.
What we know about the Indus civilization is evolving. Archaeologists are continuing to find new artifacts. In time, we may learn how this amazing civilization developed, how they learned to create an advanced ancient civilization, and why they suddenly disappeared.
The Harappan society was probably divided according to
occupations, which suggests the existence of an organised government. The figures of deities on seals indicate that the Harappans worshipped gods and goddesses in male and female forms, and had also evolved some rituals and ceremonies. The Indus people buried their dead, often in wooden coffins along with pottery vessels. Several statues of a Mother Goddess have been discovered suggesting that she was worshipped in nearly every home.
By 1700 BC, The Indus civilisation had gradually broken up into smaller cultures, known as the late Harappan and post-Harappan cultures. The breakup was partly caused by changing river patterns, when the Hakra River dried up and the Indus River changed its course. These natural changes disrupted agricultural and economic systems, and many people left the cities of the Indus Valley region. But no one is really sure if this was the only reason. Some archaeologists think the peaceful Indus people might have been invaded and destroyed by foreign attackers.
The Caste System
About 1500BC, powerful nomadic warriors known as Aryans appeared in northern India. The warriors were from Central Asia, but managed to overcome the Himalayas by finding lower passes in the mountains, such as the Khyber Pass in Pakistan. The Aryans conquered the Dravidians of Central India and imposed their social structure upon them.
The Aryans divided their society into separate castes. Castes were unchanging groups. A person born into one caste never changed castes or mixed with members of other castes. Caste members lived, ate, married, and worked with their own group.
At the top of the caste system were the Brahmin – the priests, teachers, and judges. Next came the Kshatriya (KUH SHAT REE YUHZ), the warrior caste. The Vaisya caste (VEEZ YUHZ) were the farmers and merchants, and the Sudras, were craftworkers and laborers.
The untouchables were the outcastes, or people beyond the caste system. Their jobs or habits involved “polluting activities” including:
• Any job that involved ending a life, such as fishing.
• Killing or disposing of dead cattle or working with their hides.
• Any contact with human emissions such as sweat, urine, or feces. This included occupational groups such as sweepers and washermen.
• People who ate meat. This category included most of the primitive Indian hill tribes.
Untouchables were often forbidden to enter temples, schools and wells where higher castes drew water. In some parts of southern India, even the sight of untouchables was thought to be polluting. The untouchables forced to sleep during the day and work at night. Many untouchables left their rigid social structure by converting to Islam, Buddhism, or Christianity.
The Caste System has been illegal in India for more than fifty years, but it continues to shape people’s lives. The Indian government has provided the Harijan a term now popularly used in place of untouchable, with specific employment privileges, and granted them special representation in the Indian parliament. Despite such measures, the Harijan continue to have fewer educational and employment opportunities than Indians from higher castes.