From the earliest times, the Indus River valley region has been
both a transmitter of cultures and a receptacle of different ethnic,
linguistic, and religious groups. Indus Valley civilization (known
also as Harappan culture) appeared around 2500 B.C. along the
Indus River valley in Punjab and Sindh. This civilization, which
had a writing system, urban centers, and a diversified social
and economic system, was discovered in the 1920s at its two most
important sites: Mohenjo-daro, in Sindh near Sukkur, and Harappa,
in Punjab south of Lahore. A number of other lesser sites stretching
from the Himalayan foothills in Indian Punjab to Gujarat east
of the Indus River and to Balochistan to the west have also been
discovered and studied. How closely these places were connected
to Mohenjo-daro and Harappa is not clearly known, but evidence
indicates that there was some link and that the people inhabiting
these places were probably related.
An abundance of artifacts have been found at Harappa--so much
so, that the name of that city has been equated with the Indus
Valley civilization (Harappan culture) it represents. Yet the
site was damaged in the latter part of the nineteenth century
when engineers constructing the Lahore-Multan railroad used brick
from the ancient city for ballast. Fortunately, the site at Mohenjo-daro
has been less disturbed in modern times and shows a well-planned
and well-constructed city of brick.
Indus Valley civilization was essentially a city culture sustained
by surplus agricultural produce and extensive commerce, which
included trade with Sumer in southern Mesopotamia in what is today
modern Iraq. Copper and bronze were in use, but not iron. Mohenjo-daro
and Harappa were cities built on similar plans of well-laid-out
streets, elaborate drainage systems, public baths, differentiated
residential areas, flat-roofed brick houses and fortified administrative
and religious centers enclosing meeting halls and granaries. Weights
and measures were standardized. Distinctive engraved stamp seals
were used, perhaps to identify property. Cotton was spun, woven,
and dyed for clothing. Wheat, rice, and other food crops were
cultivated, and a variety of animals were domesticated. Wheel-made
pottery--some of it adorned with animal and geometric motifs--has
been found in profusion at all the major Indus sites. A centralized
administration has been inferred from the cultural uniformity
revealed, but it remains uncertain whether authority lay with
a priestly or a commercial oligarchy.
By far the most exquisite but most obscure artifacts unearthed
to date are the small, square steatite seals engraved with human
or animal motifs. Large numbers of the seals have been found at
Mohenjo-daro, many bearing pictographic inscriptions generally
thought to be a kind of script. Despite the efforts of philologists
from all parts of the world, however, and despite the use of computers,
the script remains undeciphered, and it is unknown if it is proto-Dravidian
or proto-Sanskrit. Nevertheless, extensive research on the Indus
Valley sites, which has led to speculations on both the archaeological
and the linguistic contributions of the pre--Aryan population
to Hinduism's subsequent development, has offered new insights
into the cultural heritage of the Dravidian population still dominant
in southern India. Artifacts with motifs relating to asceticism
and fertility rites suggest that these concepts entered Hinduism
from the earlier civilization. Although historians agree that
the civilization ceased abruptly, at least in Mohenjo-daro and
Harappa there is disagreement on the possible causes for its end.
Invaders from central and western Asia are considered by some
historians to have been "destroyers" of Indus Valley civilization,
but this view is open to reinterpretation. More plausible explanations
are recurrent floods caused by tectonic earth movement, soil salinity,
Until the entry of the Europeans by sea in the late fifteenth
century, and with the exception of the Arab conquests of Muhammad
bin Qasim in the early eighth century, the route taken by peoples
who migrated to India has been through the mountain passes, most
notably the Khyber Pass, in northwestern Pakistan. Although unrecorded
migrations may have taken place earlier, it is certain that migrations
increased in the second millennium B.C. The records of these people--who
spoke an Indo-European language--are literary, not archaeological,
and were preserved in the Vedas, collections of orally transmitted
hymns. In the greatest of these, the "Rig Veda," the Aryan speakers
appear as a tribally organized, pastoral, and pantheistic people.
The later Vedas and other Sanskritic sources, such as the Puranas
(literally, "old writings"--an encyclopedic collection of Hindu
legends, myths, and genealogy), indicate an eastward movement
from the Indus Valley into the Ganges Valley (called Ganga in
Asia) and southward at least as far as the Vindhya Range, in central
India. A social and political system evolved in which the Aryans
dominated, but various indigenous peoples and ideas were accommodated
and absorbed. The caste system that remained characteristic of
Hinduism also evolved. One theory is that the three highest castes--Brahmins,
Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas--were composed of Aryans, while a lower
caste--the Sudras--came from the indigenous peoples.
By the sixth century B.C., knowledge of Indian history becomes
more focused because of the available Buddhist and Jain sources
of a later period. Northern India was populated by a number of
small princely states that rose and fell in the sixth century
B.C. In this milieu, a phenomenon arose that affected the history
of the region for several centuries--Buddhism. Siddhartha Gautama,
the Buddha, the "Enlightened One" (ca. 563-483 B.C.), was born
in the Ganges Valley. His teachings were spread in all directions
by monks, missionaries, and merchants. The Buddha's teachings
proved enormously popular when considered against the more obscure
and highly complicated rituals and philosophy of Vedic Hinduism.
The original doctrines of the Buddha also constituted a protest
against the inequities of the caste system, attracting large numbers
At about the same time, the semi-independent kingdom of Gandhara,
roughly located in northern Pakistan and centered in the region
of Peshawar, stood between the expanding kingdoms of the Ganges
Valley to the east and the Achaemenid Empire of Persia to the
west. Gandhara probably came under the influence of Persia during
the reign of Cyrus the Great (559-530 B.C.). The Persian Empire
fell to Alexander the Great in 330 B.C., and he continued his
march eastward through Afghanistan and into India. Alexander defeated
Porus, the Gandharan ruler of Taxila, in 326 B.C. and marched
on to the Ravi River before turning back. The return march through
Sindh and Balochistan ended with Alexander's death at Babylon
in 323 B.C.
Greek rule did not survive in northwestern India, although a
school of art known as Indo-Greek developed and influenced art
as far as Central Asia. The region of Gandhara was conquered by
Chandragupta (r. ca. 321-ca. 297 B.C.), the founder of the Mauryan
Empire, the first universal state of northern India, with its
capital at present-day Patna in Bihar. His grandson, Ashoka (r.
ca. 274-ca. 236 B.C.), became a Buddhist. Taxila became a leading
center of Buddhist learning. Successors to Alexander at times
controlled the northwestern of region present-day Pakistan and
even Punjab after Maurya power waned in the region.
The northern regions of Pakistan came under the rule of the Sakas,
who originated in Central Asia in the second century B.C. They
were soon driven eastward by Pahlavas (Parthians related to the
Scythians), who in turn were displaced by the Kushans (also known
as the Yueh-Chih in Chinese chronicles).
The Kushans had earlier moved into territory in the northern
part of present-day Afghanistan and had taken control of Bactria.
Kanishka, the greatest of the Kushan rulers (r. ca. A.D. 120-60),
extended his empire from Patna in the east to Bukhara in the west
and from the Pamirs in the north to central India, with the capital
at Peshawar (then Purushapura) . Kushan territories were eventually
overrun by the Huns in the north and taken over by the Guptas
in the east and the Sassanians of Persia in the west.
The age of the imperial Guptas in northern India (fourth to seventh
centuries A.D.) is regarded as the classical age of Hindu civilization.
Sanskrit literature was of a high standard; extensive knowledge
in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine was gained; and artistic
expression flowered. Society became more settled and more hierarchical,
and rigid social codes emerged that separated castes and occupations.
The Guptas maintained loose control over the upper Indus Valley.
Northern India suffered a sharp decline after the seventh century.
As a result, Islam came to a disunited India through the same
passes that Indo-Aryans, Alexander, Kushans, and others had entered.
Data as of April 1994