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Arts & Crafts of Harappa Civilization

The patterns that the craft traditions in India were to take and which were to survive for years, appear already mature and firmly established in the cities of the Indus valley. The Indus people were expert craftsmen. They made beads of carnelian, agate, amethyst, turquoise, lapis lazuli, etc. They manufactured bangles out of shells, glazed faience and terracotta and carved ivory and worked shells into ornaments, bowls and ladles. They cast copper and bronze for weapons, all types of tools, domestic objects and statues; they also worked silver and gold with great skill, specially for ornaments. Of course, they baked pottery in large quantity - to the delight of archaeologists, since the different shapes, styles, and painted motifs are among the best guides in the evolution of any civilization. The Harappans also excelled at stone-carving, complex weaving and carpet-making, inlaid woodwork and decorative architecture. And, of course, they engraved with remarkable artistry their famous seals, mostly in steatite. Those seals, over 3,000 of which have been found, seemed to have served various purposes : some commercial, to identify consignments to be shipped, and some ritual or spiritual, to invoke deities.

Dancing, painting, sculpture, and music were all part of their culture. Statues are not abundant, but refined, whether in stone, bronze or terracotta. An ancestor of the game of chess has been unearthed at Lothal. Children too were not forgotten, judging from the exquisite care with which toys were fashioned.

One of the most known figurines is perhaps the `dancing girl` (in bronze) naked but for a necklace and a series of bangles almost covering one arm, her hair dressed in a complicated coiffure, standing in a provocative posture, with one arm on her hip and one lanky leg half bent. This face has an air of lively pertness quite unlike anything in the work of other ancient civilizations. Her thin boyish figure and those of the mother goddesses found here, indicate incidentally, that the ideas of female beauty among the Harappan people were very different from those of later India. It has been suggested that this `dancing girl` is representative of a class of temple dancers and prostitutes, such as existed in contemporary Middle Eastern civilizations and were an important feature of later Hindu culture, but this cannot be proved. It is not certain that the girl is a dancer much less a temple dancer.

In stone much discussed are two male figures - one is a torso in red sandstone and the other is the bust of a bearded man. In the former, the limbs have been made separately and fitted into sockets.

The Harappan people also made rough terracotta statuettes of women, usually naked, but with elaborate head dresses, These are certainly icons of the mother goddess and are so numerous that they seem to have been kept in nearly every home. They are crudely fashioned so historians assume that the Goddess was not favoured by the upper classes who commanded the services of the best craftsmen, but that her effigies were mass produced by humble potters to meet popular demand. In terracotta, we also find a few figurines of bearded male with coiled hair, their posture rigidly upright, legs slightly apart, and the arms parallel, to the sides of the body. The repetition of this figure in exactly the same position would suggest that he was a deity. A terracotta mask of a horned deity has also been found.

Archaeologists have discovered thousands of seals with beautiful figures of animals, such as unicorn bull, rhinoceros, tiger, elephant, bison, goat, buffalo etc. The most remarkable seal is Pashupati Seal (size: 1/2" to 2" with square and rectangular shape). The standard Harappan seal was a square plaque 2 x 2 sq. inches usually made from the soft river stone steatite. Every seal is engraved in a pictographic script (yet to be deciphered). It appears that the seals were also used as amulets, carried on the persons of their owners, perhaps as modern day identity cards. Some seals have also been found in gold, ivory or blue or white. They all bear a great variety of designs, most often of animals including bull, with or without hump, elephant, tiger, goat and also monsters. Sometimes trees or human figures were also depicted.

The jewellary in gold and silver-bangles, necklaces and other ornaments are well crafted. They are "so well finished and so highly polished that they might have come out of a Bond Street Jeweller`s of today rather than from a pre-historic house of thousands years ago" says Marshall. The Harappan people also made brilliantly naturalistic models of animals, specially monkeys and squirrels, used as pin-heads and beads. They also made toys in terracotta with movable heads, monkeys which would slide down a string, little toy carts (one of the oldest example of a wheeled vehicle) and whistles shaped like birds.

It is evident from the discovery of a large number of spindles of various sizes that people used both of cotton and woolen materials. Men and women wore two separate pieces of clothes similar to dhoti and shawl . The `shawl` covered the left shoulder, passing below the right shoulder. Both men and women wore ornaments. While necklaces, fillets, armlets and finger-rings were common to both sexes, women wore girdles, earrings and anklets. Ornaments were made of gold, silver, copper, ivory, precious and semi-precious stones, bones and shells etc. From archaeological findings it appears that the Harappans were conscious of fashion. Different hairstyles and beards were in vogue. Cinnabar was used as a cosmetic and face-paints, lipsticks and collyrium (eye liners) were also known to them.

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