India’s Harappan and Aryan Ancient Civilizations

A morning shot of the Taj Mahal

The history of India began as nomadic herders settled in the Indus River Valley between 2300 BC-1200 BC. They developed well planned settlements & thrived in agriculture.

The ancient Harappan civilization of India began in the Indus River Valley, in what is today Pakistan. The first settlers to this area were nomadic herders that were attracted to the rich, fertile lands for grazing their cattle and farming. Eventually, villages formed and settlers began irrigating and farming the lands where they produced a surplus of wheat, barley, and other grains.

India is considered a subcontinent as it is surrounded by the Hindu Kush Mountain range to the west, and the Himalayas to the North. These mountain ranges made harder for invaders to enter ancient India; therefore, lessened the threat of attack. This allowed the first ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro to thrive from around 2300 B.C. to 1700 B.C. After the collapse of the Harappan civilization around 1700 B.C., the Aryans emerged in the Indus River Valley and contributed to the beginnings of the Hindu Religion and developed the Sanskrit language.

India’s Ancient Harappan Civilization

The Harappan civilization consisted of about 2,600 settlements within the Indus River Valley region. The two major cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were 300 miles apart, yet their discovered ruins share similar characteristics to suggest a strong central ruling authority. For instance the buildings crossed at right angles, and were lined with store houses, workshops, and market stalls. Stairs and ladders were built alongside buildings to allow access to the rooftops, and it is believed that settlers took advantage of this space by spending time up on the rooftops of buildings.

The Harappan civilization was considered to be advanced by ancient standards as buildings had bathrooms and indoor plumbing. The city of Mohenjo Daro had several public wells, and the streets were paved with a drainage system. Next to the city, the Harappans built a huge fortress to protect against invaders. Harappan achievements include:

  • Buildings and Houses were built at right angels to form a grid pattern.
  • Houses had bathrooms with indoor plumbing.
  • Streets were paved with drainage systems.
  • Pottery, jewelry, ivory objects and cotton clothing were made by artisans.
  • High quality tools were produced.
  • A system of weights and measures was developed to weigh precious stones.
  • India’s first known writing system was developed although historians have been unable to translate.

The connections between the Harappan people and their government leaders are unclear, as there are no large religious temples or shrines. However, the similarity of the settlements suggests a high level of social control and leadership. The Harappan civilization ended abruptly in the 1700s B.C., but historians are unsure why. This may have been due to natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes, or perhaps from distant attackers.

India’s Ancient Aryan Civilization

The Aryans took over the Indus River Valley after the collapse of the Harappan civilization; yet, it is unknown where the Aryans originally came from. It is believed by some historians that they came from central Asia near the Black and Caspian Seas. Some believe that they may have crossed over into India along the 28 mile Khyber Pass which is a narrow passage along the borders of present day Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Aryans were highly skilled warriors with advanced weapons and chariots, and may have been responsible for the sudden collapse of the Harappan civilization. By 1200 B.C., the Aryans had swept through the Hindu Kush Mountains and took control of entire Indus River Valley.

At first, the Aryans did not have a written language. They memorized and chanted religious Vedas which were religious poems, hymns, myths, and rituals. Later, these Vedas were written down by Aryan priests. Eventually, the Aryans developed a written system for their language which came to known as Sanskrit. Many modern day Asian languages have roots in the Sanksrit language, and Sanskrit records are a major source of information about the Aryan society.

Like the Harappans, the Aryans were nomadic herders that followed their grazing cattle. Eventually, however, they established small villages. Instead of a central ruler, each village had its own leader, which was usually a skilled warrior, called a Raja. Once villages were established, the Aryans farmed the lands of the fertile Indus River Valley, and raised cows, horses, sheep, and goats.

The Legacy of Harappan and Aryan Ancient Civilizations

The Harappans are most noted for first settling the lands of Ancient India along the Indus River Valley. They were an advanced society with the first bathrooms and indoor plumbing of the ancient world. They also built sophisticated cities in a grid-like pattern.

The Aryan civilization, on the other hand, is most noted for its Vedas and religious texts, which led to the development of the Hindu religion. In addition to the to Vedas, the Aryans are also responsible for developing the Sanskrit language that is the root of many Asian Languages today.


  1. Burstein, Dr. Stanely M. and Shek, Dr. Richard. “The Geography of Early India.” World History, Ancient Civilizations. Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2006. pp. 145-149.