Town Planning of Harappan Civilization


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Prelims: History of India and Indian National Movement.

Mains: Indian Culture - Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

The Indus Valley Civilization thrived in the northwestern regions of the Indian subcontinent from approximately 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE. The architecture and town planning of the Harappan Civilisation represent one of the most impressive feats of urban planning and construction in ancient history. Their cities were meticulously planned, displaying a level of sophistication that was ahead of its time.

Features of Town Planning of Harappan Civilization

The Harappan Civilization showcased indigenous and uninfluenced architecture. Rather than focusing on aesthetics, their architectural designs prioritised practical functionality. Unlike grand palaces, monuments, or tombs, most structures were large-scale public buildings and spacious houses.

During the Harappan civilization, the towns of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro stood out for their remarkable town planning. Here are the essential features of their urban design:

  • Rectangular grid pattern: The IVC cities were designed on a grid pattern, with streets running in a north-south and east-west direction, forming a well-organized layout.
    • Streets and lanes were cutting across one another almost at right angles, thus dividing the city into several rectangular blocks.
    • The main street was connected by narrow lanes. House doors opened in these lanes rather than the main streets.
    • It shows the knowledge of measurement of the society of Harappan Civilisation.
  • Planned streets and alleyways: The streets and alleyways of IVC cities were planned and constructed with precision.They were wide enough to allow the movement of carts and pedestrians, and some streets had covered drains running alongside them.
    • The main street was ten metres wide, dividing the town into rectangular and square blocks.
  • Fortification: The cities were surrounded by fortified walls made of mud bricks, protecting robbers, cattle raiders and floods.
  • Division of cities: The city was divided into two parts–An upraised citadel and the lower part of the city.


  • Upper part: In the western part of these ancient cities, an elevated citadel was the foundation for constructing significant structures.
    • These included granaries, administrative buildings, pillared halls, and courtyards.
    • The citadel housed essential residential structures used by the general public or select residents.
    • Notably, cities like Harappa, Mohenjodaro,and Kalibangan featured a citadel built atop a tall mud-brick podium.
  • Lower part: Below the citadel in each city lay a lower town containing brick houses, which the common people inhabited.
  • Material used: They used burnt bricks on a large scale in almost all kinds of constructions, and there was an absence of stone buildings during the Harappan Civilisation culture.
    • The houses were built of mud bricks, while the drainages were built with burnt bricks.
    • Standardized brick size: The cities of Harappan Civilisation were constructed using standardised bricks, with a uniform size of 1: 2: 4 ratio in terms of thickness:width: length across all IVC structures. This standardisation suggests a sophisticated level of planning and craftsmanship.
    • There was equal uniformity in the average size of bricks for houses and city walls.
  • Residential areas: The cities were divided into distinct residential areas.
    • Houses were made of baked bricks, often with multiple stories, indicating a well-developed urban society.
    • The houses were generally built around courtyards, and some had private wells and properly ventilated bathrooms.
    • No windows were facing the streets, and the bathrooms were tiled.
  • The Great Bath: It is situated within a courtyard. Corridors can be found on all four sides, and stairs can be found on the northern and southern sides.
    • A flight of steps leads to the surface at either end. It was well-paved with several adjacent rooms. There were side rooms for changing clothes.
    • The bricks were water-tightly installed with gypsum mortar. The bath floor was made of burnt bricks.
    • It is associated with a ritual bath, which has been vital to any religious ceremony in India.
    • Water was drawn from a large well in an adjacent room, and an outlet from the corner of the bath led to a drain.
    • Example: Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro.

Great Bath of harappan civilization

  • Sophisticated drainage systems: The drainage system of the Harappan Civilisation was elaborate and well laid out.
    • Every house had drains connected to the street drains.
    • Drains were made of mortar, lime and gypsum.
    • These drains were covered with manhole bricks or stone slabs (which could be removed for cleaning) and were constructed at regular intervals by the side of the streets for cleaning.
    • This demonstrates that the people were well-versed in sanitation science.

Granary of Harappan Civilization

  • Granaries and storage facilities: The cities had well-planned granaries and storage facilities to store surplus agricultural produce. These structures featured thick walls to protect the stored food from pests and were often located near the citadel or the city centre.
    • Granaries was a brick structure built over 45 meters in north-south and east-west directions. It was partly paved with baked bricks.
    • Each room has three sleeper walls with air space between them.
    • There was the presence of a small triangular opening that may serve as an air duct to allow the flow of fresh air beneath the hollow floors.
    • Cities having granaries: Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Kalibangan.
  • Water management: The Harappans were adept at managing water resources. Many cities had wells, reservoirs, and water tanks that were well-built and strategically placed to ensure a consistent water supply for the residents.
    • Examples: Reservoir at Dholavira, Dholavira storm drain, Wells at Mohenjo-Daro, etc.
  • Commercial areas: Commercial areas were present within the cities, where artisans, craftsmen, and merchants conducted their trade. These areas had specialised workshops and shops, indicating a well-organized economic system.
    • Evidence of breadmaker shops has been found at Chanhudaro and Lothal.
  • Dockyard: The dominant sight at Lothal is the massive dockyard, the greatest work of maritime architecture during the IVC. It was discovered on the banks of the Sabarmati River.
    • The structure's design demonstrates a thorough investigation of tides, hydraulics, and the effect of seawater on bricks.
    • Lothal is the only IVC city with a dockyard.
  • Town planning uniformity: One notable aspect of IVC town planning was the uniformity observed across multiple cities.
    • The similarities in the layout, construction techniques, and standardisation of bricks indicate a centralised authority or a shared urban planning system.

Influence of the Harappan Town Planning on Present-Day Urbanisation

The town planning of the Harappan Civilization has had a profound influence on present-day urbanisation. Here are some key points:

  • Urban Planning: The cities of the IVC, such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, were well-planned and organized.
    • For instance, the city of Chandigarh in India, designed by Le Corbusier, follows a similar grid system.
  • Zoning and Segregation: The cities of the IVC were divided into a citadel or acropolis, likely inhabited by the ruling elite, and a lower town housing the general populace.
    • This principle of zoning and segregation is evident in today’s urban landscapes, with dedicated sections for different socio-economic classes.
  • Sanitation and Drainage: The IVC had an impressive drainage system, with almost every house having its own bathroom and courtyard. Modern cities continue to strive for efficient sanitation and waste management systems.
  • Use of standardised construction material: Using standardised, fired bricks in construction was a distinctive characteristic of the IVC.
    • This practice of using standardized construction materials is now a norm in modern construction.
  • Public spaces: The Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro, one of the first public water tanks in the ancient world, indicates the importance of public spaces in the IVC.
    • The concept of public spaces is integral to modern urban planning.

Overall, the town planning of the Harappan Civilization reflects a highly organized and efficient urban society, characterised by a strong emphasis on hygiene, safety, and community welfare. The planning and structures of the Harappan Civilization have become a landmark for contemporary civilization.

Important topics from GS 1
Princely StatesCaste Movement in India
MahajanapadasSalient Features of Indian Society
Cripps MissionJainism
British Education System In IndiaHome Rule Movement
Khilafat MovementFreedom Fighters of India
Peasant MovementTribal Movement

PYQs on Town Planning of Harappan Civilization

Question 1: The ancient civilisation in the Indian sub-continent differed from those of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece in that its culture and traditions have been preserved without a breakdown to the present day. Comment. (UPSC Mains 2015)

Question 2: To what extent has the urban planning and culture of the Indus Valley Civilization provided inputs to present-day urbanization? Discuss. (UPSC Mains 2014)

Question 3: Which one of the following is not a Harappan site? (UPSC Prelims 2019)

  1. Chanhudaro
  2. Kot Diji
  3. Sohgaura
  4. Desalpur

Answer: (c)

Question 4: Which of the following characterise/characterises the people of the Indus Civilization? (UPSC Prelims 2013)

  1. They possessed great palaces and temples.
  2. They worshipped both male and female deities.
  3. They employed horse-drawn chariots in warfare.

Select the correct statements using the codes given below:

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 2 only
  3. 1, 2 and 3
  4. None of the above

Answer: (b)

Question 5: Regarding the Indus Valley Civilization, consider the following statements: (UPSC Prelims 2011)

  1. It was predominantly a secular civilization and the religious element, though present, did not dominate the scene,
  2. During this period, cotton was used for manufacturing textiles in India.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: (c)

FAQs on Town Planning of Harappan Civilization

What is unique about the town planning of the Harappan Civilization?

The Harappan Civilization is known for its grid layout, standardised brick size, defensive walls, citadels, and sophisticated drainage systems, which display an advanced level of urban planning for its time.

What materials were used in Harappan Town Planning?

The main materials used were sun-dried and burnt bricks, which were made in moulds of 1:2:4 ratios. The easy availability of wood for burning meant baked bricks were used in abundance in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.