THE HARAPPAN STATE AND SOCIETY

THE HARAPPAN STATE AND SOCIETY- It is this culture to which the now rejected paradigm outlined above pertains. Much  has  been  learned  about  Harappan  settlements  in  recent  years. The number of known sites is now over 400 in a 1000 square mile triangle of the northwest. While  few  if  any  scholars  currently  support  the  idea  that  these hundreds of settlements were transplanted from western Asia, the older notion has  been  replaced  by  several  different  conceptions  of  how  a  few  great  cities and  numerous  smaller  satellite  communities  dated  between  3500  and  2500 bce continued a smooth evolutionary trajectory stemming from neolithic set- tlements like Mehrgarh. In addition, some scholars have considered the pos- sibility that there might have been a sudden and rapid series of external stimuli that jolted an old evolutionary process into the new urban forms typified by the large cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa on the lower and upper Indus. None of the known Harappan sites contains stratigraphic sequences capable of falsifying one or the other of these hypotheses, so the Indus urbanization remains unresolved, as do other aspects of Harappan culture.

One area of persistent mystery pertains to the nature of the state that might have existed from around 2500 bce. Under the supposition that the cities of northwestern  India  were  colonies  of  Mesopotamia, it  was  assumed  that  the mode  of  government  was  the  same. A  theocratic  polity  was  posited, with  a degree of centralized control that exceeded anything known in western Asia, because  the  area  governed  by  Indian  cities  was  far  greater.  It  was  believed that this unified state managed a vast and homogeneous culture area from its inception in 3500 bce until it was destroyed around 1500 bce.

Now that postulated homogeneity is considered to have been vastly exag- gerated, especially considering that the region defined by the distribution of Harappan cultural elements covers 158,000 square miles; hence, the distances over which an administrative grid supposedly extended would have had to link the city of Harappa with the cluster of recently uncovered Harappan sites in northern Afghanistan called Shortugai. This was a distance of 300 miles and very unlikely, given the terrain and the transportation available at the time.

Each subregion of these sites contained one or more clusters of dense population in a river valley or coastal area, demarcated from neighbouring subregions by ecological differences. It was in these several settings that the cities emerged, each becoming a commercial gateway for a hinterland of agri- cultural villages and each, it is now thought, the seat of local government in the form of complex chieftaincies, with a hierarchy of rank and multiplicity of sources of legitimacy, function and power. Beyond that the extant evidence does not permit us to proceed, except to stress that this civilization was essen- tially an indigenous development that evolved in relation to other civilizations from which it differed in its political forms and in other ways.

No documentation exists to explain the very high degree of civic control implied by the massive ‘citadels’ and other monumental structures of Mohenjo-

Daro and Harappa, but it was assumed that the ‘state’ implied by these structures would have been impressive, even if the cities were not simultane- ous, but successive, political capitals of a single changing political order. Such a state, or states, would have had government as powerful as any in the world at that time, including the Egyptian Old Kingdom of the third to sixth dynas- ties or Minoan Crete. Yet there was and is not a shred of corroborating docu- mentary evidence about this state, or any other Indian ‘state’, until much later. Whatever their government, sustaining such a network of major urban sites would have required advanced levels of surplus production, commerce and elaborate divisions of labour; all of these are substantiated in archaeological remains of foreign trade goods, workshops and grain storage facilities. Wood was prodigiously consumed in construction, especially for firing the bricks that were used in the splendid buildings and drainage works. In fact, defor- estation and eventual erosion may have forced the evacuation of the Indus cities and migration to new lands to the east and to the south, where the characteristic Harappan goods and architecture are found in smaller urban

places and farming settlements.

Nevertheless, the unlikelihood of the existence of a strong, unified political system is reinforced by the absence of any building that can be identified as a temple or a palace that housed the state’s autocrats and of fortified walls, which might have protected them from attack. Nor have the excavations of numerous cemeteries of the time yielded the sort of grave goods that would support the presence of a ruling elite, and there are few signs of the treasure from western Asia that might have been expected of a colonial elite, notwith- standing the substantial evidence of intensive trade relations between north- western India and Central Asia, southern Iran, Mesopotamia and the Gulf region.

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