The march of civilization

By Manzoor Chandio
Written on Aug 13, 2006

WHEN the Europeans had derived word India from the Indus River, no one at that time knew that one day the 2,900 km-long river, which rises in China and empties into the Arabian Sea, would be flowing out of that country.
Likewise, when Sir John Marshall renamed the Harappan culture as the Indus valley civilization which flourished from c.2600 to 1760 BC, he had no idea that in the future a number of cities and towns of that civilization would be found buried together with the Sarasvati River beyond the Indus valley.
It is indubitable now that a vast civilization existed in the river valleys of Sindhu and Sarasvati in the north-west of the Indian subcontinent.
According to the Oxford Talking Dictionary the civilization was characterized by "towns built on a grid-like plan with granaries, drainage systems, and public buildings, copper-bronze technology, a standard system of weights and measures, and steatite seals with hieroglyphic inscriptions, which remain undeciphered.
The civilization's economic wealth was derived from well-attested sea and land trade with the rest of the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, and Mesopotamia."
The remains of about 1,500 cities and towns of the integrated era of the civilization are scattered over 280,000 sq km in Mehrgarh (Balochistan), Moenjodaro (Sindh), Rehman Dheri (Pukhtunkhwa), Harappa (Punjab), Kalibangan (Rajasthan) and Dholavira and Lothal (Kutch).
It was about 9,000 years ago when men in the Khirthar mountainous range ended an era of hunting and heralded the age of settled life along the banks of the Bolan River and founded world's first town Mehrgarh.
The Khirthar man kept moving eastward leaving behind traces of incipient Indus script engraved on rocks along the banks of torrential streams.
The Khirthar man founded great cities and trade centers along the banks of Indus and Sarasvati rivers.
It was a homogenous civilization and people across the region used one single language which is yet to be deciphered. They shared the costumes and customs.
The civilization had pre-eminence in political and economical affairs for centuries.
First, the civilization was called Harappan after the unearthing of archaeological site at Harappa in 1920.

Then it was renamed the Indus valley civilization after the discovery of Moenjodaro in the same decade.
Since the 1950s, a number of sites of the civilization have been discovered along dried up banks of the Sarasvati River which is extolled in the Rig-veda as "the best of mothers" and "the best of rivers".
Therefore, the Indus valley civilization is also referred as the Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization.
About 60 Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization sites have been found in Kutch in the South of Sindh.
The city of Dholavira is considered one of the five major settlements of the earliest civilization.
Today Ganges, regarded by Hindus as the most sacred, purifies men of sins so the Sarasvati in the ancient times. "May Sarasvati be our purifier" says the Rig-veda.
The Sarasvati was most sacrosanct river for Hindus. There are over 72 hymns dedicated to the River Sarasvati in the Rig-veda.
The lower Indus valley from Multan to the Arabian Sea formed the nucleus of the Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization due to its marvellous topographical features -- the Khirthar mountainous range, (the provenance of the civilization), great lakes (Hamal, Manchhar and Keenjhar), savannah-like landscape, flood plains and deltas of the Indus and Sarasvati rivers.
Sir John Marshall in his essay "First Light on a long-forgotten civilization" writes:
"What seems prima facia more probable is that this forgotten civilization, of which the exaction of Harappa and Moenjodaro have now given as a first glimpse was developed in the Indus valley itself".
On the fusion of civilization, B.K. Thapar in his essay "Kalibangan: A Harappan Metropolis beyond the Indus valley" writes that Kalibangan in Rajasthan was the "cultural style of the Indus civilization beyond the Indus valley".
Lothal in Gujarat excavated in 1957 had been the most fascinating settlement of the Indus civilization.
Many of the historians have termed this civilization as a "wounded civilization" because of its discontinuity.
Some of the archaeologists have claimed that the Sarasvati River, which had several tributaries reinforcing it from different places, played a significant part in the sustenance of the civilization. Its cessation caused the death of the Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization.
The Chinese civilization is said to be the only civilization in continuity since 6,000 years.
But some of the historians are of the view that the Indus civilization is also in continuity.

Gregory L Possehl in his book "Ancient cities of the Indus" writes that "the first point to be emphasized is that the problem seems not to be best stated as the "end" of a civilization, at least in the sense of a tradition, since there are abundant signs of cultural continuity in Sindh, Gujarat, the Punjab and adjacent areas of the North India."
Robert L Raikes in his essay "the end of the ancient cities of the Indus" compares the Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization with the European civilization.
He says: "it is as if the material culture of France had remained unchanged in its minutia from the time of Charlemagne to the French Revolution, or that of England from before the Norman Conquest until the Industrial Revolution".
Similarly, from 1760BC till today the people of Sindh are witness to the centuries-old heritage.
Peculiar features in continuity
Through the ages multifarious societies emerged in South Asia and followed divergent beliefs with enormous contrasts.
If take a journey through the Sindhu-Sarasvati civilization, this is a region where men first started intensive agriculture, grew cotton and made cloth from it, built some of the world's first planned cities and created one of the world's first written languages.
According to the National Geographic special Holy Cow it was the Indus valley people who ended an era of hunting of wild animals and started livestock ranching and domestication of cow.
Cow was the first animal whose milk was used for drinking. Thus the concept of 'Gao Mata' (Mother cow) started in the Indus plains.
It is the vitality of the Indus valley civilization that Arnold Toynbee writes "One glance at history from the Indus basin told me more than 50 years of my studies".

The world-known historian termed this region as "the roundabout of history" because of its perpetual interaction and dialogue with Central Asian, Middle Eastern and European civilizations.
The region remains a melting-pot of different beliefs and cultures. This is a region where cultures converge and civilizations synchronize.

COTTON CULTIVATION: Like thousands of years back, country's major exports remain textile and clothing, bringing 75 per cent of foreign exchange. Sindhi-Seraiki farmers remain very good cotton growers.
SPINNING-WHEEL: Though textile mills have replaced most of the Charkha-based fabric making, but it is still in use in rural Sindh.
The spinning-wheel has special place in Sindhi-Seraiki folklore and poetry. It is symbol of empowerment and emancipation.

Sachal Saeen has special prayers for Charkha-running women because they were doing very important work of fabric-making.
FLOATING HABITATION: Still there are thousands of fishermen who live on floating houses (houseboats) on the Manchhar Lake like their forefathers thousand of years back. Fishermen still use eco-friendly way of catching birds with birds.
BANGLES: Thari women in Sindh and Kutchi and Rajasthani women in India still wear bangles that cover whole of the arm like we can see bangles on the arm of dancing girl.
AJRAK: Sindhi and Seraiki men wear Ajrak like the priest king found from Moenjodaro.
BULL-CART: There is use of bull-cart in Sindh.

Trade and Commerce

There was a significant enterprising community that exported the Sindh made products the world over.
"Just as American culture is currently exported along with goods and media, so too were the seals, pottery style, script of the Indus valley spread among the local settlements," says Indian historian Shanti Menon.
"The mercantile vessels navigating through the Indus River right from the Himalayan foothills destined to the southern seas as far as Oman, Bahrain, and Babylonia during the heyday of the civilization.
This international trade was the main cause of expansion, integrity and affluence of the civilization" says former director of the Moenjodaro Conservation Cell, Hakim Ali Shah.


Whatever language we have from Sindhu-Sarasvati sites is permanent documents inscribed on seals which might be government seals, codes and treaties.
There were about 30 letters in the Indus alphabet. More than eight words than English.
There are different figures about total Indus scrip words but if compiled the Indus script dictionary could be more than 400 words.
Linguists are of the view that the Indo-Aryan languages (Hindustani [Urdu and Hindi], Sindhi-Seraiki, Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali) and the Dravidian languages (Tamil, Telgo, Kannada and Malayalam) may have originated from the common lingua franca spoken by people in the Indus and Sarasvati river valleys.

No comments: