The Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization, thrived during the Bronze Age (approximately 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE, with its mature period spanning from 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE). This ancient civilization extended across what is now northeast AfghanistanPakistan, and northwest India. Alongside Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of the three early civilizations of the Old World, and arguably the most widespread.

The Town Planning of Indus Valley Civilization shows that these people were living a very civilized and developed life. The people of the valley had built their cities with proper planning and with a fixed pattern. Some essential structures of the town are the streets, closed drainage system, the great bath, granaries and buildings.

Harappa (Punjab, Pakistan), Mohenjo-Daro (Sindh, Pakistan), Dholavira, Lothal, and Surkotada (Gujarat, India), Kalibangan and Banawali (Rajasthan, India), and Rakhigarhi (Haryana, India) are the major cities in the Harappan period.

Indus Valley Civilization: Town Planning

Features of Town Planning of Harappan Civilisation

Rectangular Grid pattern:

  • The Harappan cities were designed on a grid pattern, with streets running in a north-south and east-west direction, forming a well-organized layout.
    • Streets and lanes were cutting across one another almost at right angles, thus dividing the city into several rectangular blocks.
      • The main street was connected by narrow lanes. 
      • The doors of the houses opened in these lanes and not the main streets.
    • It shows the knowledge of measurement of Harappan society. 

Planned streets and alleyways: 

  • The streets and alleyways of Harappan cities were planned and constructed with precision. They were wide enough to allow the movement of carts and pedestrians, and some streets had covered drains running alongside them.
    • The main street was ten meters wide and divided the town into rectangular and square blocks.
  • The streets and houses of Harappan cities are thought to be laid on a grid-pattern oriented north–south and east–west,
    • But even Mohenjodaro does not show a perfect grid system.
    • Roads in the Harappan cities were not always absolutely straight and did not always cross one another at right angles.
    • But the settlements were clearly planned.
  • There is no strict correlation between the level of planning and the size of a settlement.
    • For example, the relatively small site of Lothal shows a much higher level of planning than Kalibangan, which is twice its size.
  • There were covered drains along the road. Houses were built on either side of the roads and streets.
  • Each street had a well organized drain system. If the drains were not cleaned, the water ran into the houses and silt built up. Then the Harappans would build another storey on top of it. This raised the level of the city over the years.
  • Obviously, this kind of alignment of streets and houses represents conscious town planning.  However, the resources of the town planners in those days would be very limited.
    • This assumption is based on the finds from Mohenjodaro and Kalibangan where the streets stagger from block to block and the alignments of streets and buildings in one part of Mohenjodaro is quite different from the rest of the areas.
    • Mohenjodaro was not constructed in homogeneous horizontal units. In fact it was built in different times.

Fortification/City wall:

  • City in the Indus Valley was surrounded by massive walls and gateways.
  • The cities were surrounded by fortified walls made of mud bricks, providing protection against robbers, cattle raiders and floods. 
  • Each part of the city was made up of walled sections. Each section included different buildings such as: Public buildings, houses, markets, craft workshops, etc.
  • In Mohenjodaro and Harappa the citadel was surrounded by a brick wall.
    • Although the citadels were walled, it is far from clear that these structures were defensive. They may have been built to divert flood water.
    • At Kalibangan both the citadel and the lower city were surrounded by a wall.
  • In settlements like Kot Diji and Amri in Sind there was no fortification of the city.
  • The site of Lothal in Gujarat also shows a very different layout.
    • It was a rectangular settlement surrounded by a brick wall.
    • It did not have any internal division into citadel and lower city.
    • Along the eastern side of the town was found a brick basin which has been identified as a dockyard by its excavator.
  • The site of Surkotada in Cutch was divided into two equal parts and the building materials were basically mud bricks and lumps of mud.

Division of cities: 

  • The city was divided into two parts – An upraised citadel and the lower part of the city.
    • Upper part: An upraised citadel in the western part was used for constructing buildings of large dimensions, such as granaries, administrative buildings, pillared halls and courtyards.
      • The citadel area had important residential structures that the public or select residents either used.
        • Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Kalibangan each had its own citadel built on a high podium of mud brick
      • Great Bath: Great bath, found at the site of Mohenjodaro, had an ingenious hydraulic system. It denotes the prevalence of public baths and thus importance of ritualistic cleansing in that era.
      • The pool used to be in the centre of a large open quadrangle surrounded by rooms on all sides. It is connected to these rooms through a flight of steps at either end. The pool was fed by a well nearby and the dirty water was drained into the city’s sewage system through a large corbelled drain.
      • Granaries: The granaries were designed with strategic air ducts and raised platforms, giving us an idea of the intelligence behind its construction. The largest building in Mohenjodaro was granary. Some sites like Harappa had as many as six granaries.
      • Pillared Assembly Hall: The pillared hall with twenty pillars arranged in rows of five probably carried a large roof supported on them. It might have served as the court of the city magistrate or as a secretariat of the State.
    • Lower part: Below the citadel in each city lay a lower town containing brick houses, which were inhabited by the common people.
      • Lower town had houses of various different sizes which, as some researchers believe that, showed people had different economic status. The class distinction between rich and poor existed where rich had private wells and toilets.
        • No house had windows opening up in the main street. Even entrance of the house was through sideways.
        • Most buildings were properly ventilated even as the constructions varied from a one-roomed building to even double-storied houses.

Material used:

  • They used burnt bricks on a large scale in almost all kinds of constructions, and there was the absence of stone buildings during Harappan culture.
    • The houses were built of mud bricks while the drainages were built with burnt bricks.
      • These bricks were coated with plaster and also made water tight with natural tar or gypsum.
    • Standardized brick size: The cities of Harappa were constructed using standardized bricks, with a uniform size of 1: 2: 4 ratio in terms of thickness:width: length across all Harappan structures. This standardization suggests a sophisticated level of planning and craftsmanship.
    • There was equal uniformity in the average size of bricks for houses and for city walls.

Residential areas: 

  • The cities were divided into distinct residential areas.
    • Houses were made of baked bricks, often with multiple stories, indicating a well-developed urban society. 
    • The houses were generally built around courtyards, and some had private wells and properly ventilated bathrooms. 
    • No window faced the streets, and the houses had tiled bathrooms.
  • Housing Pattern:
    • People lived in houses of different sizes, mostly consisting of rooms arranged around a central courtyard.
    • The average citizen seems to have lived in the blocks of houses in the lower city.
    • Here too there were variations in the sizes of houses.
      • It could be single room tenements meant for slaves like the ones discovered near the granary in Harappa.
      • There were other houses complete with courtyards and moving upto twelve rooms.
      • In the larger houses, passages led into inner rooms, and there is evidence of frequent renovation activity.
      • Bigger houses had much the same plan- a square courtyard around which were a number of rooms.
      • The bigger houses or groups of houses were provided with separate private wells, bathing areas and toilets
      • Bathing platforms with drains were often located in rooms next to a well.
      • The floor of the bathing area was usually made of tightly fitted bricks, frequently set on edge, to make a carefully sloped watertight surface.
      • A small drain led from here, cut through the house wall, and went out into the street, connecting ultimately with a larger sewage drain.
    • Small houses attached to large ones may have been the quarters of service groups working for wealthy city dwellers.
    • Doorways and windows generally faced the side lanes and rarely opened onto the main streets.
      • The entrances to the houses were from the narrow lanes which cut the streets at right angles.
      • The view from the lane into the courtyard was blocked off by a wall.
    • Kitchen:
      • Generally house had an indoor and outdoor kitchen.
      • The outdoor kitchen would be used when it was warmer (so that the oven wouldn’t heat up the house), and the indoor kitchen for use when it was colder.
      • In present day, village houses in this region (e.g. in Kachchh) still have two kitchens.
    • Staircases:
      • There are remains of staircases that may have led to the roof or a second storey.
    • The fact that some of the houses at Mohenjodaro were two stories high or more is also suggested by the thickness of their walls.
    • Floors:
      • Floors were usually made of hard-packed earth, often re-plastered or covered with sand.
    • Ceilings:
      • The ceilings were probably over 3 m high.
      • Roofs may have been made of wooden beams covered with reeds and packed clay.
    • Doors and windows:
      • The doors and windows of houses were made of wood and mats.
      • Clay models of houses show that doors were sometimes carved or painted with simple designs.
      • Windows had shutters (perhaps made of wood or reeds and matting), with latticework grills above and below to allow in light and air.
    • A few pieces of carved alabaster and marble latticework have been found at Harappa and Mohenjodaro; such slabs may have been set into the brickwork.
    • Toilets:
      • Although some people may have used the area outside the city walls to relieve themselves, toilets have been identified at many sites.
        • They ranged from the simple hole in the ground above a cesspit to more elaborate arrangements.
      • Recent excavations at Harappa have uncovered toilets in almost every house.
        • The commodes were made of big pots sunk into the floor, many of them associated with a small lota-type jar, no doubt for washing up.
        • Most of the pots had a small hole in the base, through which water could seep into the ground.
      • The waste from the toilets was in some cases discharged though a sloping channel into a jar or drain in the street outside.
      • Some people must have had the job of cleaning the toilets and drains on a regular basis.
    • The house-building in some villages in the region still resembles in some respects the house-building of the Harappans.

Sophisticated drainage systems:

  • The drainage system of the Harappans was elaborate and well laid out.
    • Every house had drains, which opened into the street drains. 
    • Drains were made of mortar, lime and gypsum.
    • These drains were covered with manhole bricks or stone slabs (which could be removed for cleaning) and were constructed at regular intervals by the side of the streets for cleaning. 
    • This shows that the people were well acquainted with the science of sanitation.

Granaries and storage facilities: 

  • The cities had well-planned granaries and storage facilities to store surplus agricultural produce. These structures featured thick walls to protect the stored food from pests and were often located near the citadel or the city centre.

Water management:

  • The Harappans were adept at managing water resources. Many cities had well-built and strategically located wells, reservoirs, and water tanks to ensure a regular water supply for the inhabitants.
  • Drainage System:
    • An efficient and well-planned drainage system is a notable feature of Harappan settlements.
    • Even the smaller towns and villages had impressive drainage systems.
    • The drains for collecting rainwater were separate from the sewage chutes and pipes.
    • Drains and water chutes from the second storey were often built inside the wall, with an exit opening just above the street drain.
    • At Harappa and Mohenjodaro, terracotta drain pipes directed waste water into open street drains made of baked bricks.
      • These connected into large drains along the main streets, which emptied their contents into the fields outside the city wall.
    • The main drains were covered by corbelled arches made of brick or stone slabs.
    • There were rectangular soakpits for collecting solid waste at regular intervals.
      • These must have been cleaned out regularly, otherwise the drainage system would have become choked and a health hazard.
    • Excellent  arrangements for sanitation indicates the presence of a civic administration which would take decisions for the sanitary requirements of all the townsmen.
  • Bathing and drinking:
    • The Harappans made elaborate arrangements for water for drinking and bathing.
      • The emphasis on providing water for bathing, evident at several sites, suggests that they were very particular about personal hygiene.
    • It is possible that frequent bathing also had a religious or ritualistic aspect. The sources of water were rivers, wells, and reservoirs or cisterns.
      • The Great bath at Mohenjodaro is a unique example.
        • This brick built structure measures 12 m. x 7 m. and is about 3 m. deep.
        • It is approached at either end by flights of steps.
        • The bed of the bath was made water tight by the use of bitumen.
        • Water was supplied by a large well in an adjacent room.
        • There was corbelled drain for disgorging water too.
        • The bath was surrounded by porticoes and sets of rooms.
        • Scholars generally believe that the place was used for ritual bathing of kings, or priests.
    • Mohenjodaro is noted for its large number of wells.
      • In the city of Mohenjodaro, there may have been more than 700 wells.
      • Most houses or house blocks had at least one private well.
      • Many neighbourhoods had public wells along the main street.
    • Harappa had much fewer wells but a depression in the centre of the city may represent a tank or reservoir that served the city’s inhabitants.
    • There are a few wells at Dholavira, which is noted more for its impressive water reservoirs lined with stone.
      • Dholavira had water storing tanks and step wells.
  • Other water management features:
    • In Allahdino (Near Karachi), the wells had very small diameter to enable the ground water to rise higher due to hydraulic pressure.
      • It may have been used to irrigate the nearby fields.
    • The city of Dholavira had an impressive and unique water harvesting and management system.
      • Dholavira’s system of water management was architectural marvel which was crucial in an area, which is prone to frequent droughts.
      • Rain water in the catchment areas of the two seasonal streams – Manhar and Mansar – was dammed and diverted to the large reservoirs within the city walls.
      • Several large, deep water cisterns and reservoirs have been found which preserved precious stores of rain water.
        • Apparently, there were 16 water reservoirs within the city walls, covering as much as 36 percent of the walled area.
      • Brick masonry walls protected them, although reservoirs were also made by cutting into the bedrock.
    • Dockyard of Lothal is the most distinctive feature of the site.
      • It is roughly trapezoidal basin, enclosed by walls of burnt bricks.
      • The dockyard had provisions for maintaining a regular level of water by means of a sluice gate and a spill channel.

Commercial areas:

  • Commercial areas were present within the cities, where artisans, craftsmen, and merchants conducted their trade. These areas had specialised workshops and shops, indicating a well-organized economic system.
    • Evidence of breadmaker shops has been found at Chanhudaro and Lothal.

Town planning uniformity:

  • One notable aspect of Harappan town planning was the uniformity observed across multiple cities. The similarities in the layout, construction techniques, and standardization of bricks indicate a centralized authority or a shared urban planning system.

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