The Story of Harappa



  • About 150 years ago, during the British raj when railway lines were being laid down for the first time in Punjab, the engineers stumbled upon the site of Harappa, in present day Pakistan.
  • Then about 80 years ago, archaeologists found this site and declared that this was one of the oldest site in the subcontinent.
  • As Harappa was the first site to be discovered belonging to this civilisation, all other sites nearby from where similar buildings and other things were found were described as Harappan. These sites were developed about 4700 years ago.
  • These sites were found in the Punjab and Sind in Pakistan, and in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab in India.
Harappan sites | Credit: Wikipedia


  • Many of the cities in this civilisation were divided into two parts generally, the western part was smaller but higher.
  • Archaeologists describe this part as the citadel.
  • Generally, the part to the east was larger but lower. This was called the lower town.
  • Walls of baked brick were built, through interlocking the bricks, around these separate parts of the city.
  • In some cities, special buildings were constructed on the citadel. For eg. in Mohenjodaro, a very special tank, called the Great Bath, was built.
The Great Bath at Mohenjodaro | Credit:
  • This was lined with bricks and coated with plaster and natural tar to make it water-tight.
  • There were steps leading down to it from two sides.
  • Water was probably brought from a well and drained after use.
  • It is believed that important people took a dip in this tank on special occasions.
  • Some cities like Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Lothal had elaborate houses.

Houses, drains and streets

  1. Houses were either one or two storeys high, with rooms built around the courtyard.
  2. Most of them had separate bathing area
  3. Some had wells to supply water.
  4. Most of these cities covered drains.
  5. They had a gentle slope so water could flow through them.
  6. Very often, drains in houses were connected to those in the streets.
  7. Drains were covered, and had inspection holes at regular distance to clean them.
  8. The drains were laid at 90 degree angle from each other and thus made a grid pattern.
Drains found in Harappan civilisation | Credit:

Life In City

  • The Harappan city was a very busy place.
  • There were people who planned the construction in the cities. They were probably the rulers. They sent people to distant lands to get raw materials for construction and precious items such as ornaments, gold & silver, etc.
  • There were scribes (people who knew how to write) too, who helped in the preparation of seals, that were made of the materials that did not survive.
  • There were men and women who were crafts persons and made items to trade.

New Crafts In The City

  • The archaeological finds in Harappa are made of stone, shell and metal, including copper, bronze, gold and silver.
  • Copper and bronze was used to make tools, weapons, ornaments and vessels.
  • Gold and silver were used to make ornaments and vessels.

Harappan Vessels

  • Most striking finds are of beads, weights and blades.
  • They also made seals of stone which were rectangular and usually have an animal carved on them.
  • The Harappans also made pots with beautiful black design.
  • Cotton was probably grown at Mehrgarh (vi. in map showing archaeological sites above). actual pieces of cloth have been found attached to vessels and vases at Mohenjodaro..
  • Archaeologists have also found spindle whorls, made of terracotta and faience (an artificially produced gum used to shape sand or powdered quartz into shape). These spindles were used to spin threads.
Priest king of Harappa| Credit:
Molded faience tablet| Credit:

Search Of Raw Materials

Raw materials are substances that are either found naturally (eg. wood, ores of metals) or produced by farmers or herders. These raw materials are then converted into finished goods. For eg., cotton, produced by farmers, is a raw material, that is processed to make cloth, which is a finished product.

  • While some of the raw materials used by the Harappans were available locally, other items such as gold, copper, tin and precious stones were brought from distant places.
  • Copper- Rajasthan, Oman, West Asia; Tin (mixed with copper to produce bronze- Afghanistan, Iran; Gold- present-day Karnataka; Precious stones– present-day Gujarat, Iran and Afghanistan.

Food For City Dwellers

  • People who lived at countryside grew crops and reared animals. These farmers and herders supplied food to craft persons, scribes and rulers in the cities.
  • We know from the remains of plants that the Harappans grew- wheat, barley, pulses, peas, rice, sesame, linseed and mustard.
  • Evidences also show models of  toy plough was used to dig the earth, for turning the soil and planting seeds. While real ploughs which were probably made of wood didn’t survive, these toy models help us understand the farming techniques used.
Toy plough


  • Irrigation- as this region does not receive heavy rainfall, some form of irrigation technique must have been used. This means that water was stored and supplied to the fields.
  • The Harappans reared cattleman’s, sheep, goat and buffalo. They usually stayed at places where water and pasture was available. However during summers, they travelled great distances in search of water and pasture.

NCERT- A Closer Look- Harappan Towns In Gujarat

Find Dholavira in the map you saw earlier.

  • Unlike most of the Harappan cities which were divided into two parts, Dholavira was divided into three parts 
  • Each part was surrounded with huge stone walls that had entrance gateways.
  • There was also a large open areas where public ceremonies were held.
  • Other finds include letter os the Harappan script carved out on white stone. This is a unique find as generally Harappan writings has been found on small objects such as seals.

Now check the map of Lothal in Gujarat.

  • It is situated where materials such as precious stones, shells for ornaments were easily available.
  • There was also a stone house in the city. Many seals (may have been used to stamp bags containing goods that were sent to distant places; these seals contained information about the sender) and sealings (the impression of seals on clay) were found in the storehouse.
Seal | Credit:
Seal | Credit:
  • A building that was probably used for making beads and tools for bead making has also been found here.

End Of The Great Civilisation

Around 3900 years ago, we find the beginning of a major change.

  • People left these cities, stopped using seals, trade of raw materials became rare.
  • In Mohenjodaro, for instance, we find garbage piled up on the streets, the drain system broken.

A few reasons for these factors can be:

  1. dried up rivers – when the rivers dried up, the people shifted from these ares to others where water was available.
  2. deforestation- due to deforestation, wood, which was used as a fuel, was no longer available.
  3. no green cover/ pasture- the cattle, sheep and goat me have over-grazed the area.
  4. floods

But all of these reasons only impact a small area and it can’t be believed that they led to the end of such a vast spread civilisation.

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