Harappan society

The archaeological finds from Harappan sites help us in reconstructing the society of the period. We get an idea about their dress styles and food habits. We also get information about the trade and crafts and various social groups.

Dress Styles

What did the Harappans look like? 

The study of the skeletal remains shows that the Harappans looked like the present day north Indians. Their faces, complexion and height were more or less similar to the present day people living in those areas. But the similarities end here. They did not
wear the shirts and trousers or Salwar-Kameej like the modern men and women.

We can have some idea about their dresses and fashions by a study of contemporary sculptures and terracotta figurines. Men are mostly shown wearing a dress which would be wrapped round the lower half of the body with one end worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm-like the modern saree. The other dress was a kilt and a shirt worn by both men and women. The men arranged their hair in various ways sometimes making buns and using headbands.

The men used many more ornaments than the modern Indians. They would be wearing ring, bracelets and ornaments round their neck and hands. Growing beard was fashionable but they would shave their moustaches.

Women seem to have used ornaments on their waist.
Women wore a large number of necklaces. Bangles too were in fashion and of course there was no end to the number of ways in which hair was arranged. Men and women alike had long hair.

They used cotton clothes also that in one sculpture the cloth was shown as having trefoil pattern and red colours. However, for all his fashionableness if we saw a man from Harappa walk on the road-to our eyes he will probably resemble a mendicant more than anyone else.

Food Habits

What did they eat?

The Harappans of Sind and Punjab ate wheat and barley as their staple food. Those who stayed in towns of Rajasthan had to be content with barley only. The Harappans of Gujarat in places like Rangpur and Surkotdla preferred rice and millet.

From where they got their supply of protein and fat?They got their supply of fat and oil from sesame seeds, mustard and possibly Ghee.

We do not know whether they were familiar with sugarcane to supply them sugar. They might have used honey to sweeten their food.

Seeds of jujube and dates found in the Harappan sites indicate their preference for these fruits. It is likely that they also ate bananas, pomegranates, melons, lemons, figs and of course mangoes. They seem to have consumed a whole range of wild nuts and fruits but it is difficult to identify them. They were eating peas too.

Apart from this the Harappans seem to have relished non-vegetarian food. Bones of deer, bears, sheep and goats have been frequently found in the Harappan settlements. Fish, milk and curd too would be
known to them.

Language and Script

What language did they speak and what did they read and write?

It is not very clear to us. We have discovered the written script of the Harappans but have not deciphered it as yet.

Some scholars believe that the language written there is ancestral to the Dravidian group of languages like Tamil. Some other writers would like to think that it was ancestral to an Aryan language like Sanskrit.
However, no one has proved his case beyond doubt.

However, one noticeable thing about their script is that it did not change all through the life of the Harappan Civilization. All the other ancient scripts have showed distinct changes over a period of time. This indicates that the Harappan script was not in common use. Perhaps a very small section of privileged scribes had a monopoly over the written word.


Did they play and did they fight?

We know that they played dice. They did fight-and there is enough evidence for it. At the time of the emergence of the Harappan Civilization many ‘Early Harappan’ sites like Kot Diji and Kalibangan were burnt down. However an accidental fire could
destroy large towns, but it is more likely that some of the settlements were burnt down by victorious human groups.

Then there is the evidence of some skeletons lying
scattered in the streets of Mohenjodaro. Human societies from times immemorial have disposed off the bodies of their dead in some ordered fashion. It is natural that the Harappans would not leave their dead to rot in the streets. So, obviously some  extraordinary conflict is indicated when the Harappans did not get an opportunity to bury their dead.

The presence of citadels and fortification around many Harappan towns also indicates a need for protection against outsiders. Some of the protection
walls might have been bunds for protection against floods. But given the opulence of the Harappan townships in contrast to the surrounding rural communities it is likely that the Harappans wanted to protect their wealth and life by fortifying their
settlements. Many copper and bronze weapons have also been reported.

Main Crafts

What did the Harappans do for a living?

Most of the people  were engaged in agriculture. However, quite a few Harappan townsmen were engaged in various other kinds of activities.

Bead making was one of the favourite activities of the Harappans. In settlements like Mohenjodaro,
Chanhudaro and Lothal a fairly large number of Harappans were engaged in this work. Since a variety of stones like Carnelian, Lapis Lazul, Agate and Jasper were used for making beads it is likely that there were specialised bead makers for each
type of stone.

Some other Harappans specialized in making stone tools. Apart from them groups of potters, copper and bronze workers, stone workers, builders of houses, brick makers and seal-cutters must have lived in Harappan towns.

When we talk about the Harappan Civilization, we are basically referring to seals, bricks, pots and other such objects surviving from those times. These objects presuppose the existence of their makers.