Social Classification in the Indus Valley Civilization

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The Indus River Valley Civilization was based in 3300 until 1300 BC. On the territory of modern day Pakistan and North West India south of the Himalayan Mountains, east of the Pakistan Highlands, west of the Thar Desert, and around the Indus River. One of the most important aspects of the Harappan civilization is that the existence of their social classes is questionable. For this reason, among many, for example a lack of religion, some historians do not count the Harappan society as a civilization. When archeologists want to learn more about social classification they focus on differences and similarities between people (for example: their race, gender).

The Harappan civilization standard of living seemed to be pretty good (from the artifacts that archeologists found there), but artifacts don’t say much about their classification so let’s get deeper in details, we can get many information from hairstyles, patterns, clothing, jewelry and so on about individuals and social groups. In Indus valley we have the array of ornaments found on skeletons in burials, also bangles which are important part of Indian culture and clothing. Bangles were made of different materials so they may represent status differentials, bangles were made of terra-cotta, clay and less common were shell bangles, also some were decorated and some were plain. Terra-cotta was probably everyday wear but wasn’t found in Harrappa, in Harrappa archeologists only found shell bangles.

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There was this one very unusual and very valuable hair ornament found on a man buried in Harrappa which may have had very high social status, similar jewelry but cheaper version was found in Nausharo. There are differences between female firgurine’s hairstyles too, some wore just simple buns or wear a turban, they may be servants and there are others who wore their hair folded up over a pannier or fan-shaped frame or piled high on the top of their head which are considered to have higher social status as well because of the jewelry they wore. Many figures also wear their hair in a long plait which are considered to be just worshippers. There also were found male figures who wear their hair in a bun, divided evenly, a few gold ones have been found at Harrappa and Mohenjo-daro. As well as the jewelry clothes were made of different materials too (for example: cotton, leather, wool and latter), latter wasn’t often and was probably imported from Mesopotamia only for elite which suggests that there were different classes. In clothing artwork doesn’t help much because men and women are usually naked.

Of course, house type and size matters, but there is no evidence for a clear class of rich people, because all of the houses are similar, so there were no people who could afford bigger and more luxurious houses, or people who couldn’t afford a normal standard house. Sarcina says “quality of found objects suggest a well distributed welfare and a comfortable standard of living, devoid of either luxury, on the one hand, or evident signs of exploitation on the other.” Sarcina also suggests that ‘’citadels’’ may include palaces or residences for wealthy people but that is not a fact. Fentress worked on the compering two part of the towns, upper and lower. She said that artifacts made of metal which might be considered as having luxury and are less common on the Harappan high mound compared to the lower town, but at Mohenjo-daro, in ‘’citadel’’ arca there is much lower proportion of such objects. Artifacts found at public buildings are similar to the ones found at the ordinary residences of the lower town. Another way to study and learn social differentials is the analyses of burials. In burials archeologists found grave goods, but they are simple pottery forms, so compared to other civilizations at that time, there is nothing luxurious about them, so again there is no evidence of the specific class of wealthy people.

Every civilization which is ordered needs some kind of system of government, Indus civilization was strong and complex, clearly there is unequal access to things (for example: recourses, decision-making), Now there is a debate over the existence of caste system in Harappa archeologist and Indologist Dr. Jamkhedkar says: “Within Harappa, walls separated one section of the people from another, which clearly shows how the caste system existed way back.” So Dr. Jamkhedkar believes that caste system existed, with main four groups of people: The Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. Brahmins consisted of priests and kings, Kshatriysas consisted of warriors, Vaishyas consisted of merchants and Shudras consisted of peasants. Caste system had similar concept of Varna (meaning that it depended on the person’s choice of profession), the main difference is that Caste was hereditary and depended on birth, but in Varna anyone could choose their own Varna depending on their education. People who were to become the ruler were in Kshatriyas to protect and fight for their kingdoms. Each city was probably organized as a city-state, there is little evidence of hereditary monarchies. Local leaders were probably responsible for the buildings and the infrastructure of the city.

In many civilizations we have people separated and not having equal rights because of their gender and Indus valley civilization is no exception, women practically didn’t have any right to do anything without their husband’s permission, but men could do anything with their wives and children without answering to any law. To summarize everything, in my opinion there is no chance in any civilization for people to have exactly same rights and access to everything, that is impossible so I would say the same about Indus valley civilization, as I already said there is no such evidence that separated class of wealthy people existed, but there were different professions which already says that they did different things, figurines say that they dressed differently and so on so they still were not the same. Maybe one day we will discover a series of royal tombs and that may challenge and change my opinion but with the evidence that we have right now that is my opinion about social classification in Indus Valley.

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