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Arts of the Indus Valley Civilisation

Timeline: Bronze Age

The arts of the Indus valley civilisation can be traced to the second half of the third millennium BCE – a period roughly coinciding with the Bronze Age. These art forms include sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewellery, terracotta figures, and other forms of art that were discovered at numerous sites of the civilization along the Indus River and its tributaries.

Major Sites : Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa

Two of the major cities of the Indus Valley Civilization are Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa which have characteristic high-level civic planning in a grid-like pattern and a highly developed drainage system.

A number of important sites such as Lothal, Dholavira, Ropar, Kalibangan among others are also found in India.

The excavations at these sites have thrown light at the various techniques used by the people in carving, moulding and metallurgy during the prehistoric period. Let’s now look at various art forms from the Indus Valley Civilisation.

Pottery in Indus Valley Civilisation

Pottery is a cultural art that is still practised extensively in the Indian subcontinent. Since it is durable, its analysis can help us throw light on archaeological culture. The majority of Indus Valley pottery was manufactured on the wheel with only a small percentage of it being handmade. Some of the most important characteristics of Indus Valley pottery can be summarised as follows:

  • Red clay pottery was more prevalent: Red clay is used to make plain pottery, which was more prevalent than painted ware.

  • Geometric and Animal Designs were painted on fine red/grey slip coating with glossy black paint.

  • Polychrome Pottery was uncommon and consisted primarily of small vases with geometric patterns in red, black, and green.

  • Perforated pottery has a huge hole at the bottom and numerous little holes along the wall.

  • Household pottery comes in as many shapes and sizes as can be imagined for daily practical usage, with the exception of straight and angular shapes.

Bronze Casting in Indus Valley Civilisation

Lost Wax Technique: The Harappans were experts in large-scale bronze casting. They used the lost wax technique, which entails coating wax figures in clay and letting them dry. The clay was then heated and the molten wax was drained out creating a hollow mould. This mould of clay can then be used to solidify molten metal.

They used this style for both human and animal figures. Bronze casting was popular in all of the major settlements of the Indus Valley civilisation. Bronze casting techniques of the same kind are still used in numerous parts of the country today, which is a Harappan speciality.

Some popular figures excavated from the sites include: 1. Dancing Girl: Made up of bronze, the 4-inch tall artefact was excavated from Mohenjodaro. It depicts a girl with tied hair and bangles in her left arm. Her right hand is on her hips and a cowry necklace can be seen around her neck. Her facial features have prominent eyes and a flat nose. This is presently housed in the National Museum, New Delhi

2. Bull from Mohenjo-Daro: The bronze sculpture is able to express the fury and massiveness of the bull. It is detailed with the bulls head turned right with a cord around the neck.

Stone Statues

Priest-King: A steatite (soapstone) bust of a bearded man, supposed to symbolise a priest, is one famous specimen. The left shoulder is covered by a trefoil-patterned shawl. The eyes are slightly expanded and half-closed, as in serious concentration. An armlet is worn on the right hand, and holes around the neck indicate a necklace. A Greek influence can be seen in the sculpture. It was excavated in Mohenjo-Daro and is presently housed at the National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi

Red Sandstone Male Torso: This is one of the most important pieces excavated at Harappa. Made of red sandstone, the male torso has socket holes in the shoulders and neck to attach arms and head. It is a well-baked and carved specimen.

Terracotta Images

Terracotta images were also created by the people of the Indus valley, albeit they pale in contrast to stone and metal statues. Terracotta renderings of the human form in the Indus valley are unsophisticated. Terracotta was also employed to make a horned deity mask, toy carts with wheels, whistles, rattles, birds and animals, gamesmen, and discs, which are among the most important Indus figures.

Mother Goddess: Mother goddesses are often crude standing female figures clad in loin robes and girdles with necklaces draped across prominent breasts. A notable decorative aspect of Indus Valley mother goddess statues is the fan-shaped headpiece with cup-like projections on each side. Pellet eyes and beaked noses on the figurines are crude, and their mouths are designated by a slit.


Thousands of seals, predominantly made of steatite but also agate, chert, copper, and terracotta, have been discovered in the Indus Valley, with wonderful animal forms such as unicorns, bulls, rhinoceros, tigers, elephants, bison, goats, and buffalos. The level of realism with which these creatures are shown in various moods is incredible.

Making seals appears to be primarily for commercial purposes. Seals, like modern-day identity cards, appear to have been worn as amulets as an indication of the carrier's identity.

Features of Seals

· The traditional Harappan seal was a 2-by-2-inch square steatite plaque.

· The seals were engraved in a pictographic script that has not been translated.

· They all include a diverse range of motifs, most typically animals, such as bulls with or without a hump, elephants, tigers, goats, and even monsters.

The most notable seal is the Pashupati Seal, which features a human figure seated cross-legged and surrounded by animals such as an elephant, a tiger, a rhinoceros, and a buffalo.

Beads and Ornaments

Men and women at Harappa were ornamented with a variety of materials, ranging from expensive metals and gemstones to bones and baked clay. Generally, ladies wore girdles, earrings, and anklets, while men and women wore necklaces, fillets, armlets, and finger rings.

The bead industry appears to have been well established, as numerous types of beads have been discovered, including disc-shaped, cylindrical, spherical, barrel-shaped, and segmented beads. Numerous other arts have also been discovered as being used to decorate it. Several were incised or painted, while others were engraved with motifs. Additionally, the Harappans sculpted exquisite animal images such as monkeys and squirrels for use as beads and pinheads.

Culture of Clothing/Garments

Spinning cotton and wool appears to have been widespread among the residents of the Indus valley, as demonstrated by the discovery of many spindles and spindle whorls.

Both the wealthy and needy appear to have spun. Furthermore, archaeological evidence indicates that the Indus valley's inhabitants were fashion-conscious. Numerous hairstyles were worn, and cosmetics containing cinnabar were used.


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