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Indus Valley Civilisation – Religion – Script – Decay and End


It is widely suggested that the Harappan people worshipped a Mother Goddess symbolizing fertility.

A few Indus valley seals display the swastika sign, which were there in many religions, especially in the Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The earliest evidence for elements of Hinduism is before and during the early Harappan period. Symbols close to the Shiva lingam have been located in the Harappan ruins.

One famous seal displayed a figure seated in a posture reminiscent of the lotus position, surrounded by animals. It came to be labelled after Pashupati (lord of beasts), an epithet of Shiva.

The discoverer of the Shiva seal (M420), Sir John Marshall and others have claimed that this figure is a prototype of Shiva, and have described it as having three faces, seated on a throne in a version of the cross-legged lotus posture of Hatha Yoga. A large tiger rears upwards by the yogi’s right side, facing him. This is the largest animal on the seal, shown as if warmly connected to the yogi; the stripes on the tiger’s body, also in groups of five, highlight the connection. Three other smaller animals are depicted on the Shiva seal. It is most likely that all the animals on this seal are totemic or heraldic symbols, indicating tribes, people or geographic areas. On the Shiva seal, the tiger, being the largest, represents the yogi’s people, and most likely symbolizes the Himalayan region. The elephant probably represents central and eastern India, the bull or buffalo south India and the rhinoceros in the regions west of the Indus River.

What are thought to be linga stones, have been dug up. Linga stones in modern Hinduism are used to represent the erect male phallus or the male reproductive power of the god Siva. But again, these stones could be something entirely different from objects of religious worship. The deity sitting in a yoga-like position suggests that yoga may have been a legacy of the very first great culture that occupied India.


The Indus script (also known as the Harappan script) is a corpus of symbols produced by the Indus Valley Civilization during the Kot Diji and Mature Harappan periods between 3500 and 1900 BCE.

Most inscriptions containing these symbols are extremely short, making it extremely difficult to judge whether or not these symbols constitute a script used to record a language, or even symbolise a writing system. In spite of many attempts, ‘the script’ has not yet been deciphered, but efforts are ongoing. There is no known bilingual inscription to help decipher the script, nor does the script show any significant changes over time. However, some of the syntax varies, depending upon the location.

The first publication of a seal with Harappan symbols dates to 1875, in a drawing by Alexander Cunningham. Since then, over 4,000 inscribed objects have been discovered, some as far afield as Mesopotamia.

In the early 1970s, Iravatham Mahadevan published     a corpus and concordance of Indus inscriptions listing 3,700 seals and 417 distinct signs in specific patterns. He also found that the average inscription contained five symbols,

Decay and End

By 1900BC, many of the Indus Valley cities had been abandoned. Historians believe things started to fall apart around 1700BC. But how did this apparently peaceful, well-organised civilisation collapse in just 200 years?

Looking at the ruins we can see many changes. The cities became overcrowded, with houses built on top of houses. Important buildings like the Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro were built over.

People stopped maintaining the drains and they became blocked. Some traders even hid their valuables under the floors of their homes. Trade was very important for the Indus civilisation. Their main trade partner was Mesopotamia, which was an advanced civilisation in the Middle East.

Around the time the Indus cities started to fail, Mesopotamia was going through huge political problems. Their trade networks collapsed and this would have had a big impact on the Indus cities. There would have been less work for traders and for manufacturers, who made the things which the traders sold abroad. Some historians think this is why the cities collapsed.

We know that only the cities fell into ruins. Farmers in the Indus Valley went on living in their villages and working on their farms, but the civilisation would never return to greatness again.

Some historians believed the Indus civilisation was destroyed in a large war. Hindu poems called the Rig Veda (from around 1500BC) describe northern invaders conquering the Indus Valley cities. In the 1940s, archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler discovered 39 human skeletons at Mohenjo-Daro. He believed that they were people killed by invaders. Archaeologists now think this is not true. There is no evidence of war or mass killings. Indus Valley people seem to have been peaceful. If they had an army, they have left few signs of weapons or battles.

It is more likely that the cities collapsed after natural disasters. Enemies might have moved in afterwards. Movements in the Earth’s crust (the outside layer) might have caused the Indus river to flood and change its direction. The main cities were closely linked to the river, so changes in the river flow would have had a terrible effect on them. Repeated flooding may have led to a build-up of salt in the soil, making it hard to grow crops.

It is believed that at the same time, the Ghagger Hakra River (an important river in the area) dried up. People were forced to abandon many of the cities located along its banks, such as Kalibangan and Banawali. People would have starved and diseases would have spread. Perhaps because of this chaos, the rulers lost control of their cities.

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