Indus Valley : A “secular” civilization, where religious element didn’t dominate

Author Jawaharlal Nehru
The Indus Valley Civilization, of which impressive remains have been discovered at in and at in the Western Punjab, is the earliest picture that we have of India's past. These excavations have revolutionized the conception of ancient history. Unfortunately, a few years after this work of excavation began in these areas, it was stopped, and for the last thirteen years or so nothing significant has been done.

The stoppage was initially due to the great depression of the early 'thirties. Lack of funds was pleaded, although there was never any lack for the display of imperial pomp and splendour. The coming of World War II effectively stopped all activity, and even the work of preservation of all that has been dug out has been rather neglected. Twice I have visited Mohenjo-daro, in 1931 and 1936. During my second visit I found that the rain and the dry sandy air had already injured many of the buildings that had been dug out. After being preserved for over five thousand years under a covering of sand and soil, they were rapidly disintegrating owing to exposure, and very little was being done to preserve these priceless relics of ancient times. The officer of the archaeological department in charge of the place complained that he was allowed practically no funds or other help or material to enable him to keep the excavated buildings as they were.

What has happened during these last eight years I do not know, but I imagine that the wearing away has continued, and within another few years many of the characteristic features of Mohenjo-daro will have disappeared. That is a tragedy for which there is no excuse, and something that can never be replaced will have gone, leaving only pictures and written descriptions to remind us of what it was.

Mohenjo-daro and Harappa are far apart. It was sheer chance that led to the discovery of these ruins in these two places. There can be little doubt that there lie many such buried cities and other remains of the handiwork of ancient man in between these two areas; that, in fact, this civlization was widespread over large parts of India, certainly of North India. A time may come when this work of uncovering the distant past of India is again taken in hand and far-reaching discoveries are made. Already remains of this civilization have been found as far apart as Kathiawar in the west and the Ambala district of the Punjab, and there is reason for believing that it spread to the Gangetic Valley. Thus it was something much more than an Indus Valley civilization. The inscriptions found at Mohenjo-daro have so far not been fully deciphered.

But what we know, even thus far, is of the utmost significance. The Indus Valley civilization, as we find it, was highly developed and must have taken thousands of years to reach that stage. It was, surprisingly enough, a predominantly secular civilization, and the religious element, though present, did not dominate the scene. It was clearly also the precursor of later cultural periods in India.

tells us : 'One thing that stands out clear and unmistakable both at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa is that the civilization hitherto revealed at these two places is not an incipient civilization, but one already age-old and stereotyped on Indian soil, with many millenniums of human endeavor behind it. Thus India must henceforth be recognised, along with Persia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, as one of the most important areas where the civilizing processes were initiated and developed.'

And, again, he says that 'the Punjab and Sind, if not other parts of India as well, were enjoying an advanced and singularly uniform civilization of their own, closely akin, but in some respects even superior, to that of contemporary and Egypt.'

These people of the Indus Valley had many contacts with the of that period, and there is even some evidence of an Indian colony, probably of merchants, at Akkad.

'Manufactures from the Indus cities reached even the markets on the Tigris and Euphrates. Conversely, a few Sumerian devices in art, Mesopotamia toilet sets, and a cylinder seal were copied on the Indus. Trade was not confined to raw materials and luxury articles; fish, regularly imported from the Arabian Sea coasts, augmented the food supplies of Mohenjo-daro.'

Cotton was used for textiles even at that remote period in India. Marshall compares and contrasts the with those of contemporary and Mesopotamia: 'Thus, to mention only a few salient points, the use of cotton for textiles was exclusively restricted at this period to India and was not extended to the western world until 2,000 or 3,000 years later.

[ Excerpts from “The Discovery of India” first published in 1946 ]
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