Town-Planning, Public building and Drainage of Harappan Civilization

Town-Planning, Public building and Drainage of Harappan Civilization

  1. How was harappan Town Planning?
  • The most striking feature of Harappan civilization was its town-planning. The basic layout of large Harappan cities and towns shows a regular orientation. One finds the streets and lanes lay out according to a set plan: the main streets running from north to south and the cross-streets and lanes running at right angles to them.
  • Streets varied from 9 feet to 34 feet in width and ran straight sometimes as far as half a mile. They intersected at right angles dividing the city into square or rectangular blocks. Inside this square or oblong, the area is intersected by a number of narrow lanes crowded with houses. At Mohenjodaro each lane had a public well, and most of the houses had a private well and bath. Nowhere was a building allowed to encroach on a public highway as in Sumer.
  • Important Harappan cities, such as Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Dholavira and Surkotada, were divided into two parts – a fortified settlement on the high mounds designated as ‘citadels’ and the main residential areas to the west of it called ‘lower town’.
  • At Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Kalibangan and Surkotada, there was a ‘citadel’, smaller in area than the ‘lower town’ and invariably located to the west of it. The citadel at Mohenjodaro contained many imposing buildings; all made of kiln-burnt-bricks, for example, the great bath, the college, the granary and the assembly hall.
  • Harappa was regarded as another capital of the Indus Empire. Here, to the north of the citadel, lay the workmen’s quarter, their working platform, and a granary; the entire complex suggesting a high degree of regimentation of their population.
  • Situated on the left bank of the desiccated river (Ghaggar) Saraswati in Rajasthan, Kalibangan reveals the same pattern of planning as do Mohenjodaro and Harappa.
  • At Surkotada, the settlement pattern of Harappa, Mohenjodaro, and Kalibangan is repeated, but with a difference. The citadel and the lower town were joined, although their relative directional position remained the same, the former to the west and the latter to the east.
  • As at Kalibangan, both the citadel and the lower town were fortified. Each had its independent entrance, located on the southern side; there was also an intercommunicating gate between the two. In addition to mud bricks, stone rubble, which is easily available in the neighbourhood, was liberally used for construction.
  • At the recently excavated Harappan city of Dholavira, there existed three principal divisions, instead of the usual two at other sites. The first two divisions-the ‘citadel’ and the ‘middle town’- were fortified with stone masonry. The whole planning resembles the European castle having two well-fortified areas. The fortifications were provided with bastions at frequent intervals as well as gates, narrow or wide.
  • Banawali (Haryana) was one more fortified town of the Harappan civilization. Although the general principles of Harappan town-planning were followed here too, yet there were some significant departures from the established norms. The town lacked the general conception of a chess-board or gridiron pattern of planning. Here the roads are neither always straight nor do they necessarily cut each other at right angles and systematic drainage is the exception than the rule. Lastly, the general subdivision of a metropolitan or urban township into two distinctly separate walled establishments does not hold good at Banawali.
  • Still, the available evidence proves that there is a basic uniformity in the planning of most Harappan townships, including Banawali, irrespective of their spatial dimensions. Another significant aspect of the Harappan town planning was the provision of segregated houses, a modern feature. The lower township was populated by the merchants, artisans and craftsmen, while the priestly and ruling class occupied the citadel.
  • Harappan Gateways:

Most of the large Harappan towns, described earlier, were encompassed by elaborately designed walls with gateways. The Indus towns possessed no general system of urban fortification, which was often massive, as at Kalibangan, but the gateways were simple entry-points to the towns. At Surkotada and Dholavira these gateways were quite elaborate, while at other towns they were very simple.

Some of the gateways had attached guard rooms, which were invariably very small. The Harappan fortifications were not meant to defend the townships from strong attacks by enemies but were safety measures from robbers and cattle raiders. The fortifications also provided protection against floods and served as the hallmark of social authority over the area they commanded.

  1. How were harappan buildings?

The buildings so far unearthed in the Harappan cities fall into three main classes: (i) dwelling houses, (ii) larger buildings, (iii) public baths, granaries, etc.

  • There is much variation in the size of dwelling houses. The smallest have no more than two rooms, while the largest are so vast as to rank almost as palaces. The buildings were mostly plain, without any recession or plasters. Only in the floor of one house at Kalibangan ornamental bricks were used. Probably the verandahs were decorated with wooden screws which have now perished. The ground floor of a small house measured 8 x 9 m and of the large one was double its size.
  • There was no stone built house in the Indus cities. Most of the houses were built of burnt bricks. But unburnt sun-dried bricks were also used. That portion of the building where contamination with water was possible, burnt bricks were used. For other parts sun-dried bricks were used. Most of the bricks were of equal size.
  • The houses were separated from one another by about a foot, probably to avoid dispute with the neighbour, and the space in between was bricked up at either end to prevent the thief from scaling the walls. The walls were very thick which suggests that some of the houses were double storeyed- Square holes on the walls remind that the upper floors and roof rested on wooden beams.
  • The roofs were made of reed matting and then covered with thick coating mud. The matting was tied to the wooden beams with cords-some impressions of the cord are still noticeable. A few staircases of burnt bricks have, no doubt, been discovered but, as a rule, wooden staircases were used which have mostly perished.
  • The stairways had high narrow steps, sometimes 38 cm high and 13 cm wide to economize space. The roofs were flat and were enclosed by a parapet. To drain the rainwater, gutters of pottery were made; a number of them have been found at Chanhudaro. No roof tiles have so far been traced.
  • Ordinarily there was an entrance to the houses from the street side. The houses were quite commodious, divided into well-sized rooms, containing wells and bathrooms, and provided with covered drains, connected with street drains.
  • The open court was the basic feature of house planning in the Indus valley as in Babylon. The courtyard, which was usually paved with bricks laid flat, was surrounded by chambers and doors and windows opened into it. The kitchen was placed in a sheltered corner of the courtyard, and the ground floor contained store rooms, well chambers, bath, etc.
  • Doors, Windows and Stairs: Doors were possibly made of wood and were placed at the ends of the walls, not in the middle. Ordinary houses very rarely had windows in their outer walls. Possibly, perforated lattices were used as windows or ventilators at the top of the wall.
  • The great bath at Mohenjodaro had waterproofed with bitumen. Brick colonnades were discovered on the eastern, northern and southern edges. The preserved columns have stepped edges that may have been used to hold wooden screens or window frames. Two large doors lead into the complex from the south and other entrance was from the directions of north and east. A series of rooms are located along the eastern edge of the building and in one room is a well that may have supplied some of the water needed to fill the tank. Rainwater also may have been collected for this purposes, but no inlet drains are seen.
  • Granaries: Large granaries were located near each of the citadels, which suggest that the state stored grain for ceremonial purposes, times of shortage, and possibly the regulation of grain production and sale.


  1. How to describe harappan public buildings?
  • Public buildings includes public spaces such as markets, squares and courtyards and administrative buildings including granaries. The great hall or great bath structures are also a part of this serving possibly a religious as well as social function. A high pillared hall having an area of 80 sq. feet came to light which is accepted to have been used as an assembly hall for transacting matters of common interest.
  • What is proposed to be a granary is located on Mound F, lying on a massive mud brick foundation with a rectangular plan of 50m x 40m, with the length corresponding to the North-South axis. The foundations point to a total of 12 rooms in two rows (6 rooms per row) divided by a central passageway that is 7m wide and partially paved with baked bricks. Each room measures approx. 15m x 6m and has three walls at the long ends with air between them pointing to hollow floors.
  1. How was harappan drainage system?
  • The elaborate drainage system is a unique feature of the Indus Valley civilization, the like of which has not yet been found in any other city of the same antiquity. Below principal streets and many lanes ran a main drain, 1 to 2 ft deep, covered with bricks or stones, and provided with sumps and inspection traps at regular intervals.
  • Individual house drains, each one with its own sump pit, opened into the street drains, which in their turn opened into the great culverts emptying into the river. All soak pits and drains were occasionally cleared by workmen, and drains were provided with manholes at intervals for cleaning. This elaborate drainage system, like the town-planning, constitutes a notable point of difference with Sumer, where the inhabitants had, in most cases, vertical pottery drainage shafts beneath their courtyards, but these had no outlet.
  • Altogether, the extent of the drainage system and the quality of the domestic bathing structures and drains are remarkable, and together they give the city a character of its own, particularly indicating some sort of highly effective municipal authority. These features of urbanization and town planning are further reflected in the general layout and architecture of the Harappan cities and towns.

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