Monday, April 28, 2014

Why the Indus Valley civilisation remains a model worth emulating

Taught to most Indian kids as a chapter in an early stage History book as part of the curriculum in schools, the Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) is forgotten as the students move on to higher classes. Neither do we hear about it anytime, nor does any teacher ignite the fire in our hearts about the miracle the IVC really was. I feel that the IVC is the strongest cultural gem we have, a proof of how mighty the Indian (Hindustani) minds were then, and how it still remains a model worth emulating. Not even the mass media covers the flurry of excavation activities still happening the way it should.

I feel the cold neglect that India has shown to the IVC is a big mistake that needs rectification.

Sample some startling IVC facts, first.

  • It was an urban civilisation, not a rural one! So, in an age starting 3000 BC (that's 5000 years earlier!) our ancestors had perfected the art of building cities! That's not trivial at all.
  • A minimum of 1000 settlements have been identified so far, making it the LARGEST civilisation of its kind. The two contemporaries - Egyptian, and the Mesopotamian - are not even half this size.
  • Of the 100+ sites dug up, the cities show a remarkable similarity in conceptual layout, the citadels, the homes, the sewer lines (imagine!), the wells, the granaries, the fire altars (in later day cities), etc.
  • The people were non-violent. Imagine, a 1000 settlements, all existing in mutual peace and harmony, not fighting, not developing weapons, but trading, and reaching out to each other - sharing! (we have no working model like that even today! We compete, destroy, raze.)
  • They were global traders - in their small and medium sized boats, they reached out to the entire middle-Eastern cities then including the giant Mesopotamian civilisation which was to thoroughly impressed with the trading and material capabilities of the IVC people that it left many written accolades that archaeologists are discovering now.
  • There was no forceful established religion for most of its duration of existence. Even the rulers (if there were any) were not megalomaniacs and lived in regular citadels, unlike the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians (and definitely every single one following that - what to speak of the violent marauders after the first century AD). That's the reason no huge temples, or pyramids are found. It's all generally egalitarian. Amazing, isn't it?

When the first site was discovered in 1920s, the British Raj was so shocked to see MATERIAL PROOF of the ancient Indian people's superiority, that three things followed -
  1. Everything was downplayed for as long as possible, in the media, and academia. It was as if just some normal excavations had thrown up normal things. (Remember : it was the first URBAN civilisation of this scale!) The Europeans who had built their Raj convincing Indians that they were far superior, realised that history's lessons are different. The Raj was shocked to discover that ancient Indians were not some idiotic rural-folk.
  2. A fantastic Aryan Invasion theory was developed, that proved yet again the superiority of the whites over us Indians. The Vedas were all credited to the so-called Aryans! Ha ha! Nothing is more fanciful than imagining a pastoral horse-riding tribe coming from Europe, creating the Vedas, and over-powering the urban settlements of IVC culturally and materially.
  3. The formal school curriculum, IMO, downplays the IVC surprisingly. It is as if we Indians have decided that there is no way we could actually have been the world-leaders 5000 years ago, because we are in such a pathetic state today.

What can the IVC teach us today? Well, 5 most important lessons.

  • Non-violence and prosperity can co-exist.
  • No copyrights and patents needed in sharing knowledge. 1000 cities were built sharing town-planning models and professionals who actually built them.
  • Global trade is nobody's birthright. All can do it.
  • Simple lifestyle can still be coupled with a satisfying urban existence.
  • Evolution happens, whether you like it or not (the drying up of the mighty Saraswati pushed the IVC people towards the Ganga valley).

So what really might have happened when the IVC ended around 2000 - 1500 BC? Well, IMPO, all the accumulated knowledge was condensed in the form of the Vedas by the IVC people, and their progeny. Movement of pastoral horse-riders from central Asia indeed happened, but it is not possible for them to have intellectually competed with an urban civilisation's accumulated IQ for over 2000 years. Intermarriages happened, genes got transferred, skin-colours started mixing up, and so on. Of course, this remains a debatable theory, but given the West's propensity to downplay everything worthwhile that the East makes, it is a creditable thought.

We are taught that the greatest of monuments are the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids. But does anyone teach us about the huge human cost that was paid to construct them? For what - the idiosyncracies of the ruling classes? Is a civilisation that does not bother about mighty monuments but happiness of the average guy much more respectable?

It is often projected that the script of the IVC is still undeciphered. My personal take on that is that the 400-500 symbols found are not decoded so far - but they can easily be trade symbols, nothing more. The language could very well be what we are overlooking (and crediting to the white-skinned horse-riders from Europe!) - early Sanskrit.

It is high time that the authorities start building into the education system lessons highlighting the real worth of what the IVC was - the world's biggest, first, most advanced and non-violent urban civilisation that gave birth ultimately to the Vedas. It's something we modern day Indians can be very proud of, and learn from.

I, for one, will be very happy as more facts are unearthed, and the best urban model that man created, is brought into sharper limelight, for all to benefit.


Singh Rishikesh said...

Very beautifully written with great insights and knowledge. Sir, Please keep writing.

shivam verma said...

how civilised actually we are is just and example that we found out through IVC. But one thing that clicked to my mind is that what was happened that time that destroyed everything.
The civilisation that spreaded over today India and Pakistan says that people of many religion definitely be there.

Shivam Verma

barbarik lifestyle said...

respected sir,
sir i am very much interested to know more about it. sir please write more new excavation. I read them now recently came to know Rakhigarhi is biggest site
than mohen jo-daro very difficult to answer any question.for various competitive exam

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Priyanka G Mukherjee said...

I'm happy and thrilled to read this because I completely endorse this view.IVC is one of my favourite topics ever since I read it in school.Whenever I come across the pathetic drainage conditions of my city, I keep on wondering how the IVC with their limited resources had exemplary drainage system and town planning. We boast of our technological feats but can we ever match the architecture of IVC? It's really sad that a civilisation as 'mighty' as IVC has not garnered so much support and attention from our educationists and the so called Nationalists. Visiting the ruins of Harappa and Mohenjodaro would be my dream come true!