Harappan Civilization – Economic Activities


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

The availability of fertile Indus alluvium contributed to the surplus in agricultural production. It helped the Harappan people to indulge in exchange, both internal and external, with others and also develop crafts and industries. Agriculture alongwith pastoralism (cattle-rearing) was the base of Harappan economy. The granaries discovered at sites like Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Lothal served as the storehouses for grains. We do not have any clear evidence of the tools used for agriculture. However, the furrows or plough-marks have been observed in a field at Kalibangan. These indicate plough cultivation. A terracotta plough has also been reported from Banawali in Hissar district of Haryana. The irrigation was carried on a small scale by drawing water from wells or by diverting river water into channels. The chief food crops included wheat, barley, sesasum, mustard, peas, jejube, etc. The evidence for rice has come from Lothal and Rangpur in the form of husks embedded in pottery. Cotton was another important crop. A piece of woven cloth has been found at Mohenjodaro. Apart from cereals, fish and animal meat also formed a part of the Harappan diet.
Industrial Activities
The Harappan people were aware of almost all the metals except iron. They manufactured
gold and silver objects. The gold objects include beads, armlets, needles and other ornaments. But the use of silver was more common than gold. A large number of silver ornaments, dishes, etc. have been discovered. A number of copper tools and weapons have also been discovered. The common tools included axe, saws, chisels, knives, spearheads and arrowheads. It is important to note that the weapons produced by the Harappans were mostly defensive in nature as there is no evidence of weapons like swords, etc. Stone tools were also commonly used.
 Copper was brought mainly from Khetri in Rajasthan. Gold might have been obtained from the Himalayan river-beds and South India, and silver from Mesopotamia. We also have the evidence
of the use of the bronze though in limited manner. The most famous specimen in this regard is the bronze ‘dancing girl’ figurine discovered at Mohenjodaro. It is a nude female figure, with right arm on the hip and left arm hanging in a dancing pose. She is wearing a large number of bangles. Bead-making also was an important craft. Beads were made of precious and semiprecious stones such as agate and carnelian. Steatite was used for making beads.  The evidence of beadmakers’ shops have been found at Chanhudaro and Lothal. Gold and silver beads have also been found. Ivory carving and inlaying used in beads, bracelets and other decorations were also in practice. The Harappans thus showed their masterly skill in a variety of arts and crafts. A well-known piece of art of the Harappan period is a stone sculpture of a bearded man discovered at Mohenjodaro. His eyes are half closed indicating a posture of meditation. Across the left shoulder is an embroidered cloak. In the opinion of some scholars it could be a bust of a priest.
A large number of terracotta figurines of males and females have been discovered from various Harappan sites. The female figurines outnumber those of males and are believed to represent the worship of mother goddess. Besides these, a variety of models of birds, monkeys, dogs, sheep, cattle, humped and humpless bulls are found. However, the noteworthy specimen in this regard are various models of terracotta carts.
Pottery-making was also an important industry in the Harappan period. These were chiefly wheel-made and were treated with a red coating and had decorations in black. These are found in various sizes and shapes. The painted designs consist of horizontal lines of varied thickness, leaf patterns, palm and pipal trees. Birds, fishes and animals are also depicted on potteries.
The Harappans manufactured seals of various kinds. More than two thousand seals have been discovered from different sites. These were generally square in shape and were made of steatite. It is noteworthy that while the seals depict a number of animals there is no representation of horse on these. It has led many scholars to argue that horse was not known to the Harappan people though there are others who do not accept this argument. Besides various kinds of animals, the Harappan seals contain some signs in the Harappan script which however has not been deciphered so far. The most famous of the seals is the one with a horned male deity represented on it. He has three heads and is sitting in a yogic posture surrounded by four animals viz elephant, tiger, rhinoceros and a buffalo. He has been identified by many scholars with the ancient form of the god Pashupati (Lord of beasts) though there are others who dispute this identification.
Trading Activities
Trading network, both internal (within the country) and external (foreign), was a significant feature of the urban economy of the Harappans. As the urban population had to depend on the surrounding countryside for the supply of food and many other necessary products, there emerged a village-town (rural-urban) interrelationship. Similarly, the urban craftsmen needed markets to sell their goods in other areas. It led to the contact between the towns. The traders also established contacts with foreign lands particularly Mesopotamia where these goods were in demand.
It is important to note that various kinds of metals and precious stones were needed by craftsmen to make goods, but as these were not available locally they had to be brought from outside. The presence of such raw material found at sites away from the place of its origin naturally indicates it must have reached there through an exchange activity. Thus Rajasthan region is rich in copper deposits and the Harappans acquired copper mainly from the Khetri mines located here. Kolar gold fields of Karnataka and the river-beds of the Himalayan rivers might have supplied the gold. The source of silver may have been Jwar mines of Rajasthan. It is believed that it must have also come from Mesopotamia in exchange for the Harappan goods.
Among the precious stones used for making beads, the source of lapis-lazuli was located in Badakshan mines in northeast Afghanistan. Turquoise and Jade might have been brought from Central Asia. Western India supplied agate, chalcedony and carnelian. The seashells must have come from Gujarat and neighbouring coastal areas. Timber of good quality and other forest products were perhaps obtained from the northern regions such as Jammu.
The Harappans were engaged in external trade with Mesopotamia. It was largely through Oman and Behrain in the Persian Gulf. It is confirmed by the presence of Harappan artefacts such as beads, seals, dice etc. in these regions. Though the artefacts from those regions are rarely found at the Harappan sites, a seal of West Asian or Persian origin has been discovered at Lothal which confirms this contact. Mesopotamian cities like Susa, Ur, etc. have yielded about two dozen of Harappan seals. Besides seals, other artefacts of Harappan origin which have been discovered
include potteries, etched carnelian beads and dices with Harappan features.
The inscriptional evidence from Mesopotamia also provides us with valuable information on Harappan contact with Mesopotamia. These inscriptions refer to trade with Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha. Scholars have identified Meluhha with Harappan region, Magan with the Makran coast, and Dilmun with Bahrain. They indicate that Mesopotamia imported copper, carnelian, ivory, shell, lapis-lazuli, pearls and ebony from Meluhha. The export from Mesopotamia to Harappans included items such as garments, wool, perfumes, leather products and sliver. Except silver all these products are perishable. This may be one important reason why we do not find the remains of these goods at Harappan sites.
 

Sunday, 23rd Feb 2014, 09:33:24 AM

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