The first gallery on the ground floor of National Museum is called the Harappan gallery. The collections in this gallery grew out of the discoveries of the pioneering excavations made during early 20th century, and later after the Indian independence in 1947. The Harappan civilization is believed to be one of the oldest world civilizations together with Egypt and Mesopotamia. Objects in this gallery remain the richest and most important of their kind in the world.
The Harappan civilization developed along the mighty river, Indus and for that reason it is also known as the Indus Valley Civilization. Most of the exhibits in this gallery come from important centers of the Harappan Civilization and ancient towns like Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Nal (now in present-day Pakistan), Dholavira, Kalibangan, Lothal and Rakhigarhi (in India).
The Harappan civilization is identified as a Bronze-age civilization because many objects have been found that are made up of copper based alloys. For example, the gallery displays the famous ‘dancing girl,’ a bronze figurine that provides an insight into the advances made in art and metallurgy, as well as the hairstyle and ornaments prevalent during the period. The gallery depicts the comparative chronology of four major Bronze Age civilizations in 3rd millennium B.C.E. which existed simultaneously across the world. It also shows the major Harappan sites and representation of the layout of a street from Dholavira which, gives the visitor a picture of the urban civilization that flourished during the time.
The Harappan civilization produced many seals, a representation of which is displayed in the gallery. A remarkable seal depicts a man in ‘yogic’ posture, surrounded by animals, leading to the speculation that this could be ‘Pashupati’, an early form of Shiva. Many of the seals have inscriptions, the characters and symbols in a language that has not yet been deciphered. These seals give useful information about the civilization of Indus Valley and can be seen in different geometrical shapes.
There are also a few famous examples of the Harappan terracotta figurines. These offer the most intimate insight into the people of Harappan age, since many of the representations seem to have been taken from daily life. Another remarkable collection is the variety of toys, animal-like objects and household implements.
Weights made of Chert in different shapes and of different denominations are exhibited in one of the wall cases. Some well- shaped bronze tools and elaborate jewellery of semi-precious stones are also displayed in other showcases. Polished stone pillars are on show to present an idea of how these stones, made up of parts, were used in architecture – a unique feature of Harappan masonry.
The gallery has on display a range of pottery, representing individual regional styles in terms of both forms and vessel types. These include offering stands, goblets, beakers, tumblers, perforated jars and vases. The remarkable pottery from Nal (3000 B.C.E.) is displayed in a separate showcase. Nal pottery is particularly known for its polychrome ware, which is of high technical and artistic quality. The pottery is made on potters’ wheel, well fired and is adorned with geometrical patterns made intricately with fine lines, parallels and concentric circles.
A skeleton excavated from Rakhigarhi (in present day Haryana) is on display in the gallery. Objects placed with this skeleton in the burial indicate that the Harappans believed in afterlife. The pottery items placed in the grave unearthed from cemetery H in Harappa reveal the funerary customs prevalent during the period. Post-cremation burials are inferred from urns having wide-open mouths; two such specimens are on display.
The wealth and variety of the exhibits offer both a comprehensive idea and evidence of continuity of the Indian cultural legacy.
The Indus Civilisation
One of the earliest civilasations on the globe, India sought her initial identity not in the rise of empires or kingdoms but in the rise of the centres of her creativity. Whatever the material finds, indications are not as to who commanded people to an order or system, or ran a society or group; things speak rather as to how they made life worth living, discovered yarn, wove their textiles and replaced hides, fashioned their ensembles, dyed their wears as also the utensils in the kitchen, if not their hair, processed metals, and even stones, bones and clay, to yield ornaments, discovered, as also added, beauty in things around, transformed into delight-giving playthings the otherwise ferocious beasts… Not political, India’s is the history of her art and its roots are deeply set in her pre-historic endeavour to discover herself, her creative talent and aspirations.
Time is not the scale that divides India’s past into different phases. These are rather the stages of her creative endeavour that distinguish one phase from the other. Human hands seem to have begun translating the human mind into creative forms as early as 10,000 BC; however, its more definite reflections began appearing in around 6000 BC when this early man passed through the Mesolithic stage. The man of this Mesolithic or Stone Age: Middle and Late, revealed his creative mind on the walls of his rock-shelters that he transformed into picture-galleries covering them with drawings and paintings. However, such early creative aspirations – subject-matter of anthropological studies, precede the phase that pre-history defines. It is actually the second part of this phase, broadly from the third millennium BC onwards, that manifests in remains of Indus Valley Civilisation or those recovered from the sites of Harappan settlements to which the Museum’s Pre-history Department holds mirror.
The Museum has quite a representative collection of the antiquities excavated from both, the pre-Indus sites, like Amri, Nal and Kalibangan, and the post-Indus, like Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Chanhudaro. There are in the collection also some antiquities of the late and post-Harappan phase recovered from Harappa, Jhukar, Shahi Tump and others. Most of them are primarily functional objects like the painted earthen vessels, but each piece reveals the face of art. Some objects, such as the bronze Dancing Girl recovered from Mohenjo-Daro, or the priest’s steatite statues, reveal a more decisive creative endeavour. The Indus glyptic art, the cultic imagery in special, whatever its medium, soft stone, clay or metal, seem to have been the works of a school specially founded for art. Among such pieces of purer art some seek to represent likenesses of isolated individual figures, while others, narratives of human life, though the context in both seems to be the same – mythological and ritualistic. The Indus script is yet to be deciphered, and so is to be known yet the meaning of these narratives.
The Harappan and pre-Harappan collection of art and craft objects in the Museum, numbering over 3500, came to the Museum as ‘permanent loan’ from the Archaeological Survey of India. The Stone Age artefacts, of which the Museum has a small but representative collection, were gifted to it by the Deccan College, Pune. A good part of it was explored by the members of the Museum staff. These artefacts comprise sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, bone objects, ivory, steatite, semi-precious stones, painted pottery, jewellery – gold and silver…