Photo: Dholavira – one of the two largest Harappan sites in India. Credit: Gujarat Tourism
India’s history starts with the emergence of the Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization. It thrived about 2,500 BC in western South Asia, which now is Pakistan and Western India. Over 1400 Indus Valley Civilization sites have been discovered, of which 925 sites are in India, which are spread across various states, such as Rajasthan (Kalibangan, Baror), Uttar Pradesh (Alamgirpur), Gujrat (Lothal, Dholavira, Bet Dwarka and Bhagatrav ), Haryana (Rakhigarhi, Balu and Farmana), and Punjab (Rupnagar ). However, some of the prime ones went to Pakistan during the time of partition.
Archaeologists have found Indian crafts in the remnants of Indus Valley Civilization. Excavations of the Indus cities have given us a lot of evidences of a highly developed civilization existed in this area four to five thousand years ago and the artistic activities by Indus people. These discoveries are very important, as they tell us about their lifestyle, script, trade and religious beliefs.
The Indus Valley civilization is one of the initial urban civilizations in the world, along with its contemporaries, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. The people of this ancient Indus river valley developed new techniques in handicraft. The forms of art found from various sites of the civilization include sculptures, seals, pottery, jewellery, terracotta figures, etc.
Perhaps the best-known artifacts of the Indus civilization are a number of small seals. Seal cutting occupied a place of importance and the harappan sites have yielded more than 2000 seals. About 2000 seals have been discovered. Of these a great majority comprise short inscriptions with pictures of the one-horned bull, buffalo, tiger, goat, elephant and rhinoceros. Mateiral used in making seals comprise terracotta, steatite (soapstone), agate etc. The seals were carved in intaglio or incised with a copper burin (cutting tool).
Prominent Seals of Indus Valley → Shiva Pashupati – Adi Yogi (depicted with a human figure seated cross-legged in the centre and animals around.), humped bull, elephant and rhinoceros
The Indus people produced a wide variety of Terracotta, bronze and stone figures and sculptures.
The art of bronze-casting was practiced on a wide scale by the Harappans. The Harappans lived in bronze Age. They manufactured bronze by mixing tin with copper. Their bronze statues were made using the ‘lost wax’ technique in which the wax figures were first covered with a coating of clay and allowed to dry. Then the wax was heated and the molten wax was drained out through a tiny hole made in the clay cover. The hollow mould thus created was filled with molten metal which took the original shape of the object. Once the metal cooled, the clay cover was completely removed. This process is similar to Dhokra art practiced by the tribal of Kondagaon, Bastar, Chhattisgarh.
Prominent sculptures of Indus Valley → Harappan objects excavated by archaeologists include a 4.25 inch high bronze statuette of a dancing girl, c. 2300BC, unearthed from Mohenjo-Daro. Dancing girl is one of the rarest artifacts in the world, a statue of a young lady, representing a stylistically poised female figure performing a dance.
Amongst animal figures in bronze casting the buffalo with its uplifted head, back & horns claims artistic merits.
Pic: The iconic ‘Dancing Girl’ of Mohenjodaro; Credit : National Museum, New Delhi (India)
The beginning of stone sculpture in India goes back to a very remote age. Among the few stone figurines, a male Torso in red sandstone, is remarkable for its naturalistic pose and sophisticated modelling, highlighting its physical beauty.
Another example of stone sculptures from this Indus culture is the bust portrait of a bearded nobleman or high priest, from Mohenjodaro. Priest king, sculpted in steatite/soapstone, represents a yogi, draped in a shawl worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm. His beard is well-kept and his eyes are half-closed.
Pic: The famous ‘Priest-King’ of Mohenjodaro; Credit: Harappa.com
Compared to the stone and bronze statues the terracotta representations of human form are crude in the Indus Valley. Terracotta is a fire baked clay and is handmade using pinching method.
One of the fascinating terracotta figures of Indus Valley is the sculpture titled Mother Goddess as a mark of fertility and properity. It is an excellent example of technical maturity that Harappan artisans has acquired in clay modeling and baking.
Indus people made terracotta toy carts with wheels for their children.
The terracotta seals were also made by the artist of Indus with the motifs of animals, human figure and god on this seals.
Pic: ‘Mother Goddess’; Credit: The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT); Small Model of Bullock or Humped Ox of Indus Valley; Credit : The Brooklyn Museum; Cart; Credit : Harappa.com
The Indus Valley pottery consists chiefly of very fine wheel-made wares, very few being hand-made. Plain pottery is more common than painted ware. Plain pottery is generally of red clay. Pottery items were mainly used for household purpose (storage of water, food grains etc.) and decoration. This pottery making art is similar to Khavda pottery practiced by the Kumbhars (potters) of Khavda village(Kutch, Gujrat, India).
Bead and Ornaments
The Harrapans possessed the knowledge of gold. Indus jewellery includes bangles, bead necklaces, chokers, armlets, brooches, pendants and other personal ornaments. Use of silver was perhaps more common. Pictures of some pottery and jewellery items of Indus Civilization are given below –
Other crafts that have been unearthed include shell works, ceramics, agate, glazed steatite bead making, special kind of combs etc
For more details check out the video of the Harappan Civilization : Arts and Crafts by ikenschool HERE
1. Indus Civilization, Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, Retrieved from http://ccrtindia.gov.in/induscivilisculp.php
2. History behind the Indus Valley Civilization, By Seema Verma, Dated 29 June, 2021, Bennett Coleman and Co. Ltd. (Times Group), Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/bloggify/history-behind-the-indus-valley-civilization-34399/