Art of the Indus Valley Civilisation: 5500-1300BC

From the prehistoric era art, one moves through to the Bronze age of the Indian subcontinent from about 3300 BC to about 1300 BC, within which there are classifications like Early Harappan age, Mature Harappan age, Indus Valley Civilisation, and the Late Harappan age. The Indus Valley Civilisation which took off in the North West part of the country, stands out like a beacon in the historical map of India, with its definitive colonisation, regional identity, social hierarchies, a script, proof of written communications, hence an advanced language structure, vast architectural advances from burnt bricks to proper channels of cities, towns, water distribution systems, sewage systems, drainage systems, phenomenal pottery and jewellery and the immense advanced techniques in metallurgy in those times. In terms of art, various seals, bronze vessels, pottery and gold jewellery were uncovered. Along with it were the metal bronze, steatite and terracotta figurines from many excavation sites. Many small figurines and sculptures of women in dancing poses hinted at the presence of dance forms, along with music. Of this era, the ‘Dancing girl’ bronze figurine from Mohenjo-Daro is very famous. The ornaments which adorn the dancing girl statue hint at the presence of jewellery making methods and a certain aesthetic standard towards life and art. Some of the terracotta statues and figurines depict religious purposes, like the bust of the priest found in Mohenjo-Daro and the remains of a figurine of a fertility goddess in the Harappan age around 2400BC to 1900BC. The seals have been intricately illustrated with animals like the elephant, and other hybrid human and animal forms. Fragments of pottery indicate the intense sense of design in the decorating and utility of these objects which was common for that era. The town planning structures indicate the possibility of trade routes and channels from various places. Today over 500 excavations sites have revealed that the cities spread beyond Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro to sites as far east as Uttar Pradesh in the East to Maharashtra in the South and stand as proof of the metropolitan culture of those times.

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(Indus Valley Art – Bearded Man, Dancing Girl, and Pashupati Seal images are used only for illustration purpose)

While new discoveries come up on a regular basis from these archaeological expeditions, one often wonders what impact the Indus Valley Civilisation has had on the generations to come. There has been very little evidence to support the art of painting for example, from this era. Though there are remnants of vessels with pigments and colours found all over the sites, the purposes of these are yet to be determined. While it seems that metallurgy found a strong hold in the Indus Valley Civilisation, the evidence of sculptures, figurines, jewellery and carvings seem to have been the precursors to the aesthetic art and artistic expressions in a 3D format. This was of course apart form the huge contribution towards architecture and town planning, water supply and drainage systems, along with the culture of trade or barter.

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When one looks back at a civilisation that died out and another one which steadily burgeoned there on, it has to be mentioned that it is not a strict cut-off point in time. This is a gradual evolution over hundreds of years. It is definitely possible that multiple layered belief systems co-existed and the dominant one having faded out, the ones that endured became the dominating culture in a specific ‘period’ in time. The decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation happened between 1700BC to 1500BC. It is often seen in many examples that the Vedic Age, which followed the Indus Valley Civilisation probably had been coexisting and it burgeoned with its own religious tenets, cultural, social, economical and political appropriations thereon. Hence we find many derivatives in terms of architecture, religion, aesthetics, social structures or stark examples like the forms and figures in the Vedic Age resembling the seal inscriptions from the Indus Valley Civilisation, be they bull figures or the forms of what came to be known regarded as Lord Shiva of the pantheon of gods and goddesses.