Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture

By John S. Bowman | Go to book overview

India
ARTS, CULTURE, THOUGHT, AND RELIGION

INDUS CIVILIZATION: 3000–1700 B.C.

3000B.C.: Early Baluchistan settlements worship fertility goddess; the bull is also associated with religion.

3000–2600B.C.: Symbolism in Early Harappan culture provides evidence of intellectual developments. Incised and painted marks on pots are currently interpreted as identifying owners. Religious symbols include buffalo and Bos indicus (Indian cattle) heads, pipal foliage.

2600–2000B.C.: Inscriptions on seals, pottery, and household goods employ earliest system of writing on subcontinent. Although pictographic script, containing hundreds of symbols, is still undeciphered, it represents a lingua franca in use throughout the Mature Harappan civilization; current scholarly opinion assigns language to early Dravidian family.

The finest artworks of the Harappan civilization are small, square stamp seals, finely carved of steatite and polished. These usually incorporate an inscription and a mythic or real animal (bull, zebu, rhinoceros) or geometrical motifs. Individuals typically use them to mark ownership or seal packages; some, evidently of religious significance, serve as amulets. Stone carving and sculpture are to endure as India's most important art forms.

A new kind of finely decorated pottery heralds the arrival of the Mature Harappan period. Floral, geometric, or fish-scale designs are painted in overall designs on mass produced, wheel-thrown redware. Terracotta is also used to fashion expressive human and animal figurines. Sculptures of stone and high-quality bronze include animals and human and divine figures, the most famous being a Mohenjo-Daro bronze of a naked dancing girl. No evidence of monumental sculpture or painting survives from the Harappan culture.

Religion is pervasive in Mature Harappan civilization, although no temples are built. Terracotta mother-goddess figures are ubiquitous, as are depictions of tree spirits and stone and phallic representations resembling later Siva lingam. Rituals are associated with animal sacrifice, public wells and baths (including Mohenjo-Daro's famous Great Bath), and burials. Bulls, tigers, and elephants have ritual significance.

Harappans wear diverse ethnic styles of

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