The Harappan sculptors were extremely adept at handling three-dimensional volumes. The most commonly found were seals, bronze figures and potteries.
Archaeologists have found numerous seals of different shapes and sizes all across the excavation sites. While most seals are square, it was found that triangular, rectangular and circular seals were also used. Steatite, a soft stone found in the river beds, was although the most common material used to make seals, yet agate, copper, faience and terracotta seals have also been found. Some instances of copper, gold and ivory seals have also been found.
Most seals have inscriptions in a pictographic script that is yet to be deciphered. The script was written from right to left. Animal impressions were also there, generally five, which were carved intaglio on the surfaces. The common animal motifs were unicorn, humped bull, rhinoceros, tiger, elephant, buffalo, bison, goat, etc. However, no evidence of cow has been found in any seal. Generally, the seals had an animal or human figure on one side and an inscription on the opposite side or inscriptions on both the sides,. Some seals had inscriptions on a third side as well.
Seals were primarily used for commercial purposes. Some seals with a hole on them have been found on dead bodies. This indicates they might have used as amulets, carried on the persons of their owners, probably used as some form of identification. Mathematical images have also been found on some seals, which might have been used for educational purposes as well.
Example: Pashupati seal, Unicorn seal
Pashupati sealPashupati seal
A steatite seal discovered at Mohenjo-daro depicts a human figure or a deity seating cross-legged. The image, referred to as Pashupati wears a three-horned headgear and is surrounded by animals. An elephant and a tiger are there on the right side of theimage while a rhinoceros and a buffalo are seen on ' the left side.
Unicorn sealUnicorn seal
The Harappan civilisation saw a wide scale practise of bronze casting. The bronze statues were made using "lost wax technique" or "Cire Perdue". In this technique, wax figures are first coated with wet clay and allowed to dry. The clay coated figures are then heated, allowing the wax inside to melt. The wax is then poured out through a tiny hole and liquid metal is poured inside the hollow mould. After the metal has cooled down and solidified, the clay coat is removed and a metal figure of the same shape as the wax figure is obtained. Even now, the same technique is practiced in many parts of the country.
Example: Bronze dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro, bronze bull of Kalibangan, etc.
The Dancing Girl is the world's oldest bronze sculpture. Found in Mohenjo-daro, this four inch figure depicts a naked girl wearing only ornaments, which include bangles in the left arm, and amulet and on the right arts. She stands in a , 'tribhanga'. dancing posture with the right hand on her hip.
Terracotta refers to the use of fire baked clay for making sculptures. Compared to the bronze figures, the terracotta sculptures are less in number and crude in shape and form. They were made using pinching method and have been found mostly in the sites of Gujarat and Kalibangan. Terracotta was generally used to make toys, animal figures, miniature carts and wheels, etc.
Example: Mother Goddess, mask of horned deity, etc.
The mother goddess figures have been found in many Indus sites. It is a crude figure of a standing female adorned with necklaces hanging over prominent breasts. She wears a loincloth and a girdle. She also wears a fan-shaped headgear. The facial features are also shown very crudely and lacks finesse.
The potteries found at the excavation sites can be broadly classified into two kinds - plain pottery and painted pottery. The painted pottery is also known as Red and Black pottery as it used red colour to paint the background and glossy black paint was used to draw designs and figures on the red background. Trees, birds, animal figures and geometrical patterns were the recurring themes of the paintings.
Most of the potteries that have been found are very fine wheel-made wares, with a very few being handmade. Some examples of polychrome pottery have also been found, though very rare. The potteries were for three main purposes:
1. Plain pottery was used for household purposes, mainly storage of grains and water.
2. Miniature vessels, generally less than half an inch in size, were used for decorative purposes. They are so marvellously crafted, even now they evoke awe.
3. Some of the potteries were perforated - with a large hole in the bottom and small holes across the sides. They might have been used for straining liquor.
The Harappans used a large variety of materials, from precious metals and gemstones to bones and even baked clay, to make ornaments. Both men and women wore ornaments like necklaces, fillets, armlets and finger rings. Girdles, earrings and anklets were worn only by women.
Beads made from cornelian, amethyst, quartz, steatite, etc. were quite popular and were produced on a large scale, as is evident from the factories discovered in Chanhu-daro and Lothal. For fabric, the Harappans used cotton and wool, which were spun by rich and poor alike. Spindles and whorls were made from expensive faience as well as cheap clay. The people of the time were conscious of fashion as well, as can be inferred from the different styles of hair and beard.
Thus, we see that the artisans and sculptors of the Harappan civilisation made giant strides in the field of architecture and sculpture. From a scientific city plan to artistic figures, this ancient civilisation has left behind a legacy of skill and craftsmanship.
The bust of the bearded priest is one of the excellent examples of stone figures found in the Indus Valley civilisation. It is the figure of a bearded man, draped in a shawl with trefoil pattern, The eyes are elongated, and half closed as in meditation. The figure has an armlet on the right hand and a plain woven fillet across the head
The red sandstone figure of a male torso is another specimen of rock sculpture. The torso has a frontal posture with well baked shoulders and a prominent abdomen. There are socket holes in the neck and shoulders, probably for the attachment of head and arms.