Age of Awareness
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Dholavira Civilization — Each Water Drop Counts

An Indus Valley Civilization that teaches water conservation and building efficient water management techniques

Dholavira Water Management methods I Image: Author

Amongst many ancient civilizations which have been discovered, Dholavira has a distinguished position. Dholavira is the most prominent archaeological site in India belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization.

Dholavira civilization (3000 BCE to 1700 BCE) speaks volumes of the ability and expertise of the people during Harappan and Indus Valley Civilization periods. As a result of the extensive excavations over the years, Dholavira has emerged as a major Harappan city remarkable for its exquisite town planning, monumental structures, aesthetic architecture, and water storage system.

Dholavira is unique in many aspects but one of the most distinguished features which you should take note of is its efficient drainage and water management systems.

About Dholavira

Dholavira is a small village located at a corner of an isolated Island of Khadir in the Great Rann of Kachchh in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

Dholavira is the fifth largest Harrapan civilization in the subcontinent after Mohen-jo-Daro, Ganweriwala, and Harappa in Pakistan and Rakhigarhi in Haryana of India.

The cityscape consisted of a citadel, middle town, and lower town, several fortifications, reservoirs, and an amphitheater for the congregation. Unlike other Harappan sites, including Harappa itself and Mohenjo-Daro, which were built of brick, buildings in Dholavira are built of stone.

The ancient site known as Kotada (large fort) spans an area of about 100 hectares and nearly half (around 54 acres) is devoted by the Dholavira civilization.

The site is surrounded by two seasonal water streams (naala), Mansar in the north and Manhar in the south.

A variety of funerary structures indicate the socio-religious beliefs of that time thereby showing the presence of composite ethnic groups in the Indus population of Dholavira.

The identification of a stadium with seating arrangement and introduction of middle town added a new feature to the Harappan studies.

Dholavira has a unique distinction of producing a large signboard that includes an inscription of ten large-sized signs of the Harappan script, indeed the oldest signboard in the world.

Dholavira Signboard (Illustration) and Layout Map I Image: Author

What is unique about Dholavira Civilization?

Dholavira is unique because, if we look at several ancient civilizations around the globe, they are known to be established around rivers and giant water bodies, for obvious reasons.

The civilizations found in the Indian subcontinent are called Indus Valley Civilization because the settlements were largely made near the Indus river.

At Dholavira, the only sources of water for this ancient civilization were the two small seasonal water streams — Mansar and Manhar. The seasonality of the streams meant water was precious and it needed to be collected and saved in large capacities.

This is why you will see huge water storage systems at Dholavira — the city had massive reservoirs, three of which are currently exposed, and they were used for storing water brought by rains or to store water diverted from two nearby rivulets.

Dholavira’s water management system consisted of a sophisticated water network system of channels and reservoirs, the earliest found anywhere in the world, built completely of stone.

The kind of efficient system developed for conservation, harvesting, and storage of water speaks eloquently about their advanced hydraulic engineering.

The water conservation at Dholavira was developed based on rainwater harvesting to support life in a region that was largely arid and dry.

The inhabitants of the Dholavira civilization would have realized that depending on the rainwater was not a reliable option for sustainability.

They developed large rock-cut reservoirs, located on the eastern and southern sides and also constructed huge stone drains that directed the water to the western and northern section of the lower town separated by broad bunds, creating in effect a series of large water tanks.

An impressive well was located in the castle and is possibly the earliest example of a rock-cut well.

Dholavira Rock Well I Image: Author

Dholavira drainage system was also as intricate, with many small and large drains intersecting each other to link to an arterial drain. Many of these drains are also covered from the top.

Many pipes and pots have also been discovered from the site, which also indicates the Harappan’s abilities in ensuring optimum usage of water.

Piece of Pipe made with Terracotta at Dholavira I Image: Author

Every drop of water was conserved through a highly expansive system of town planning and an efficient water preservation system that supported life for more than 1200 years against a harsh hot arid climate — to ensure survival.

The excavated remains of the complete Dholavira water management system distinguish this site from others Harrapan sites of the ancient world.

Here is a video on Dholavira elucidating our experience at this ancient site.

History of Dholavira Harappan

Dholavira Harappan civilization flourished from about 3000 BCE to 1700 BCE. The archaeological excavations at the site have revealed seven significant cultural stages documenting the rise and fall of this Dholavira Civilization.

The history of Dholavira has a stratified account of these 7 successive stages. (The below excerpts are picked from the Archeological museum at Dholavira).

Stage I starts right from the virgin ground. The first settlers came with advanced ceramic techniques, copper working, lithic industry, bead making, stone dressing, and certain principles of planning and architecture. They constructed a formidable fortification (11 m thick at the base) around the settlement. The houses were made of molded mud bricks of standard sizes.

Stage II is marked by the widening of the fortification, increase in ceramic forms, decorations, and the number of minor antiquities.

Stage III is a very creative period for the Dholavira Civilization. The small settlement grew into a large town having two fortified major divisions in addition to annexes and water reservoirs, all within a peripheral wall. The existing fortified settlement was in fact made into a Citadel and another fortified subdivision was added to it on the west. These two sub-divisions have been designated as Castle and Bailey respectively.

Towards the closing decades of Stage III, the entire settlement witnessed a natural catastrophe most probably caused by an earthquake of severe magnitude. Consequently, large-scale repairs were executed and significant changes were made in the planning. The city wall was also extended eastwards. At least, during that sub-stage, the monumental gateways along with their front terraces had been introduced. Now, the entire settlement reached its fullest growth. The cityscape possessed three principal divisions, ceremonial ground, and a series of water reservoirs all around.

Stage IV belongs to the classical Harappan Culture. The city of Stage III was thoroughly maintained along with the monumental structures such as gateways, fortification walls, and the drainage system.

The famous inscription of ten large-sized signs of the Harappan script found in a chamber of North Gate should also pertain to this stage. All the classical Harappan elements such as pottery, seals, lithic tools, beads, weights, and other items of gold, copper, stone, shell, and clay are now found in abundance. Among the most impressive items are elements of functional pillars and free-standing columns made out of locally available limestone.

Stage V is characterized by the general decline particularly in the maintenance of the city as is more vividly reflected in Citadel. However, the other items such as pottery, seals, etc. continued in their developed forms and styles. This stage was followed by temporary desertion of the site.

Stage VI presents an entirely different fond of the Harappan culture that has been found widely distributed in other parts of Gujarat. The culture has certainly undergone a drastic transformation by, incorporating in it diverse pottery traditions coming from the sites of Sindh (Pakistan), South Rajasthan, and Gujarat while many Harappan traditions, albeit in changed form and style, were still present in pottery, stamp -seals and weights. At Dholavira also, this late Harappan Culture is present. The one-time city relapsed into a much smaller settlement with a different inner layout. Having lived there for about a century, the late Harappans abandoned the settlement.

Stage VII people, the newcomers appeared to be closely related to their predecessors of Stage VI as the ceramic assemblages remained the same. Strangely enough, the new people constructed their houses in an entirely new form that is circular. All the urban attributes are conspicuous by their absence.

Thus, the urbanization that made its, humble beginnings in Stage I and went on developing through several Stages became totally deurbanized by the time of the advent of Stage VII.

The site was never occupied thereafter.

Originally published at https://changestarted.com on November 28, 2021.

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Varun P

Varun P

Working towards a sustainable future. Product Manager. Interests in — Environment I Nature I Digital Technologies I Consulting I ClimateTech I Sports I Travel.

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