Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Harappan Civilization: An Attempt at Unity and Peace

By Matthew Zuk

Harappan Mehenjo-Daro ancient city National Geographic
Mehenjo-Daro - photo by National Geographic

Located in the Indus Valley on the western border of India, the Harappan civilization is one of the largest ancient civilizations that has “flown under the radar” as very few people have heard of it. It existed around 2200-1900 BC and was primarily an agricultural and mercantile community, focusing on farm and trade.[1] This civilization has several aspects that set it apart from the other civilizations of its day such as:
  • Architecture
  • Unity
  • Religion
  • Burials
  • Relative peace

There are two major Harappan city ruins that provide a great deal of insight into the Harappan way of life as well as displaying the advanced and well organized Harappan architecture. Harappa (after which the civilization was named) was the largest city and is thought to have been the capital; Mehenjo-Daro was the second largest city and was most likely the capital of one Harappa’s provinces.[2] Each city is estimated to have housed up to 80,000 people, quite large for that time period.[3] They also had a precise measuring system as well as a written language.[4]

ruins Harappan ancient city
Ruined Harappan city "Dholavira"

Organized Architecture

The architecture of the Harappan civilization was unique for its day. The cities were designed in an extremely uniform and organized manner on a grand scale. It appears that the engineers planned the city before they built it, resulting in much more organization than is typically seen in ancient cities.

Their structures were also uniform; they used bricks of the same material and shape for all of their structures, in both cities. It wasn’t just one city that was built the same way; the two major cities listed above both have bricks the same size.[5] This consistent engineering is very impressive, demonstrating that the people were unified.

The Harappan irrigation system was another architectural feat. Instead of using canals or waterways all year round, they would instead merely use the flood season to their advantage. Their style of irrigation would simply control the water from heavy rainfalls, which caused floods throughout the year.[6] This control of such violent natural disasters is quite impressive coming from such an ancient civilization.

Unified Government

Another aspect of intrigue about the Harappan civilization is the seemingly unified government and lack of castes (social classes). No temples or palaces have been found, which indicates that there did not seem to be a caste system.[7] Typical societies of that time would have sections where the “common” people live, and then there would be the middle (mercantile) class, and lastly there would be the “palace” district where the nobles and/or ruler would live. The Harappan civilization exhibits none of these characteristics, which has caused historians to believe that they did not have a caste system. This would be very rare for that time. 
Their governing body is also a mystery as it is yet unknown how their government was run. Did the religious priesthood run it? A king? A council? A group? Or was it another form of government? These questions remain unanswered due to the lack of both palaces and temples.[8] However, even though it is unknown who held power it is apparent that the government was unified, or at the very least the people were. This is seen in the well-organized layout of all of their cities. It is one thing to have a single well organized city in an empire, it is an entirely different matter when all of the cities have similar layouts, all organized, built with the same material, the same sized bricks. 

ancient skull Harappan trauma evil war
Skull with evidence of blunt force trauma

It has long been held by historians that they were a somewhat peaceful people with small amounts of civil strife. It was once thought that they were almost entirely peaceful, however recent evidence shows they were not beyond violence. Skeletons have been found evidencing that people were killed by blunt force trauma and other brutal deaths showing there was conflict and crime.[9] They also had fortified cities and weapons to defend against invasion, so they were not completely peaceful as many would like to believe.[10]

Non-existent Religion?

Yet another interesting aspect of the Harappan is the absence of a central religion. Due to the lack of temples it is unknown what their religious system was. They also did not seem to place any significance on burial chambers; all of the burials found thus far are simple and small.[11] Both of these aspects are almost unheard of! All other civilizations of that time had some sort of temple system or place of worship and yet these have not been found in Harappa. Most pagan civilizations of that time also placed a great deal of emphasis on the afterlife and therefore created elaborate tombs in order to better prepare for the life after death. However this is not found at Harappa either, leading to the question of why? This question remains unanswered.

Rapid Downfall

One of the reasons few have heard of this civilization is due to their incredibly rapid demise, the cause of which is not entirely known. Around 1900-1800 BC they were invaded by a group known as the “Aryans”. Very little is known about this group, however it is widely believed that they were pantheistic indo-europeans who swept through the area. They are said to be a very warlike people, skilled in chariot use as well as mathematics and astronomy. They swept through the Indus Valley area and eventually controlled most of modern day India.[12]

Map of Indus Valley

While it is accepted that eventually the Aryans took over the Harappans, it is yet disputed whether they were the direct cause of their downfall or if something else weakened the Harappans before the Aryan invasion. One theory holds that the Harappan civilization was severely weakened by climate change. When they controlled the area it was quite fertile, however it is believed that around 2000-1900 B.C. a major shift occurred in the climate which “desertified” the area. This weakened them, making them vulnerable to attack, it also may have made many of the Harappan people move to other locations for better farmland.[13] Regardless of exactly what happened the Aryans eventually overran them.

Interestingly the climate change theory coincides with our timing of the ice age. During the ice age much of the land that is now desert used to be fertile and green, however due to the recession of the ice and cooler oceans the climate changed resulting in the “desertification” of many areas which were once choice pieces of land. Thus the fall of the Harappan civilization could support that theory.


While it is clear that the Harappan were an advanced, organized, and unified civilization there is yet a great deal of mystery surrounding their religion and form of government. One interesting aspect of the Harappans is that, until very recently, they were held to be a peaceful people with no internal or even external violence. However the recent evidence has countered this theory. The Minoans too were once held to be a peaceful race, but now it is being realized that war was central to their way of life.

All of this should be expected; there never was and never will be a completely peaceful civilization until the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom. Why is this the case? Because of humanities nature. The Bible is clear that all men are depraved sinners and as long as sinful man is within a civilization it will not be completely peaceful. It is because of this depravity that we needed Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is also because of this depravity that we needed Christ to change our hearts; we would never choose Christ, but He chose us and it is only by His grace and strength that we can come to Him.

Recognizing our depravity should deepen our awe of God. We chose to reject Him and in return He provided His amazing grace and gave us the opposite of what we deserved. It is only by His grace that we are saved, not by any merit of ourselves, we are wholly unworthy. Because of God’s saving grace and His sanctifying work in our lives we can strive towards peace. Whereas the ancient pagan Harappans had no hope for true peace, we are called to, “if possible, so far as it depends on [us], be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18) and to “pursue peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14). This incomprehensible peace is a testimony to God’s glorious saving work in us in direct contrast to the conflict of the world around us. However we must always remember that we cannot achieve this peace on our own, it is only through His strength and by His grace!

[1] Musser, Ann, Swanson, Emily, & Koeller, David W. "Harappan Civilization: ca. 3000-1500 BC." (accessed July 10, 2013).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Watson, Traci. "New Views of Ancient Culture Suggest Brutal Violence." (accessed July 10, 2013).
[4] "Harappan Civilization." (accessed July 10, 2013).
[5] (Musser, Swanson, & Koeller)
[6] Maugh II, Thomas H. "Eastward migration of monsoons created, then killed the Harappan civilization in Indus Valley - Los Angeles Times." (accessed July 10, 2013).
[7] (Harappan civilization).
[8] (Musser, Swanson, & Koeller)
[9] (Watson)
[10] (Musser, Swanson, & Koeller)
[11] Ibid.
[12] Library of Congress Country Studies. "Harappan Culture." (accessed July 10, 2013).
[13] (Maugh II)


  1. Very interesting article. I feel the key to the mysteries lies in the littler known Harappan calendar, still in use.

    For details please see

    1. Thank you for your comment. I looked at the link you gave and while I found it interesting there seemed to be some discrepancies between it and the study we have conducted on the Harappan civilization, such as the idea that they were actually puranic. I am not sure how much evidence there is to support such an idea.

      We would also disagree with some of the website's content, such as the rejection of the biblical creation date. Because the Bible is the ultimate and supreme authority, as it is the Word of God, it takes precedence over all other authorities. And as the Bible teaches that the earth is young (around 6000 years old) and created by God that is the account that is accurate and true. All other things must be viewed with this perspective in mind, including the chronologies of other civilizations. If there is a contradiction between a historical account and the biblical account the Bible takes precedence. Here are some of our previous articles that explain why millions of years and the Bible are incompatible and why the Bible is the ultimate authority:;

  2. Thank you! I had this as a project for Social Studies! I also really liked how you incorporated Christ & God along with your explanation! Thanks again!=D

  3. Thank You! I had to do this as a project for Social Studies. I really liked how you incorporated Christ & God into your explanation. Thanks again!

  4. Thank you that was helpful. This world needs a little more God,and peace. May god bless you in what ever you do and where ever you go. Thank you for sharing gods light