The Religious Beliefs and Practices of Harappan Civilization is normally termed as animism i.e., worship of stones, trees etc. A large number of terracotta figurines discovered at the Harappan sites have been connected with the worship of mother goddess. Many of these show females adorned with a loin cloth, wide girdle and necklaces. They wear a fan-shaped head dress and in some cases the female is shown with an infant while there is another one that shows a plant growing out of the uterus of a woman which probably symbolizes the goddess of earth.Religious Beliefs and Practices of Harappan Civilization

There are many scholars who refer to the worshiping of linga (phallus) and yoni (female sex organ) by the Harappans but some are doubtful about it. Harappans’ belief in a male deity is evident by the seal depicting a deity with a buffalo horned head-dress , sitting in a yogic posture and surrounded by animals. Many scholars identify him with god Pashupati (Lord of beasts) or ‘Proto-Shiva’ though some dispute it. In another instance, a deity is shown with horns and flowing hair standing nude between the branches of a Pipal tree and worshipper is kneeling in front. It may represent tree worship. Animal worship also appears to be popular among the Harappans. The evidence of fire worship has also been found at some sites such as Kalibangan and Lothal. At Kalibangan, a series of raised brick platforms with pits containing ash and animal bones have been discovered. These are identified by many scholars as fire altars. This also shows that the harappans living in different areas followed different religious practices as there is no evidence of fire-pits at Harappa or Mohenjo-Daro. The burial practices and the rituals related with them have been a very important aspect of religion in any culture. However, in this context Harappan sites have not yielded any monument such as the Pyramids of Egypt or the Royal cemetery at Ur in Mesopotamia. Dead bodies were generally rested in north-south direction with their head.

Burials Practices:  The Harappan disposed their dead usually by burial in pit graves. General practice was body lying on its back and head to the north. A number of ornaments and other item like clay pots, which originally might have contained food and drink, are also found in the burial pits. There are instance of graves being lined with bricks. All these indicated the stratification in Harappan society.


Decline of Harappan Civilization – There are several theories propounded by different scholars regarding decline of Harappan Civilization in general and about Harappan cities in particular. Some of the popular theories are given below:


  1. Aryan theory: Scholars like wheeler suggested that invasion of Aryans destroyed the Harappan civilization. Indra who has been described as Purundhara is considered as destroyer of the forts, women and children and it helps in the propagation of the theory that massacre of harappans was result of Aryans invasion. However, scholars like Kane points out that few scattered dead bodies cannot prove a massacre. George Dales suggest that there is no proof Aryan invasion.
  2. Rock Faulting: According to George Dales rock faulting could have raised natural dams and this in turn would have encroached towns. The sites in Gujarat, Punjab and Sindh show signs of inundation.
  3. Trade: According to Shirin Ratnagar decline in external trade with western region was the reason for the collapse of civilization. The Indus people depended much on trade with Mesopotamia and other west Asian settlements. Trade was important component of Harappan economy. Therefore its decline let to decline and disintegration of the civilization.
  4. Mismanagement: According to Walter Fairservis there was disequilibrium between urban demand and carrying capacity of land. Reduction in surplus forced harappans to move away. Cattle remains depicted on figures and seals shows fodder needs of Mohenjo-Daro was not fulfilled.

Rise of population of both human and beast created seasonal stress and led to abandonment of region. Fire bricks required lot of fuel and rise in fuel demand led to deforestation. Problems further worsened due to overgrazing by animals.

This affected the ecology and had an adverse effect on land. The precarious economic and ecological situation led to downfall of Harappan civilization in general and big cities in particular since the administrators of Harappan cities could not handle this problem of resource crunch.

Harappan civilization was so widespread that no monolithic explanation was given above seems applicable to all the settlements. It would be more realistic to say that many factors combined together were involved in decline and disintegration of Harappan Civilization.


Why ButtonQ. Fire alters was found at which Harappan City?


This article was about the Religious Beliefs and Practices of Harappan Civilization and you can read here about in detail at Harappan Civilization

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