Like Dholavira in Gujarat, the Harappan site of Banawali in Harayana tells us the interesting story of how a small village turned into a town and then declined. No river flows past Banawali today, but there is dry bed of a river known by several names - Rangoi, Sottar, Nali, and Nadi. At one time it must have been a good source of water for the people who lived here.
We do not know just how big the settlement at Banawali was in the beginning (archaeologists call this first stage Period I). This is because only a small part of it was excavated. The houses were laid out neatly in either north-south or east-west arrangement. They usually made of sun-dried mud bricks, but some of them were made of bricks baked in kilns. Inside the houses archaeologists found mud ovens (chulas) where people did their cooking. There were other deeper pits with plastered walls, which may have been used to store food grains. Pots with different designs on them were made and used. One pot had a design that looked like a horned animal. Another had what looked like a cart with a canopy over it. The other things that were found were a stone weight, and an arrow-head and fish-hook made of copper. There were also beads made of clay, bone, a stone called steatite and semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli and carnelian. Bangles were made of shell, clay, and faience (this was usually made out of crushed quartz stone mixed with a little lime).
At some point of time, in about 2300 B.C. or so, the settlement at Banawali became a town with a new lay-out. The town had two parts-a citadel area and a lower town. In some other cities of the Harappan civilization the citadel and the lower town are separate from each other. But at Banawali both these sections are located in the same area, although there was wall that separated the two. The citadel was built at a higher, more prominent level than the rest of the city. This showed off its importance. The wall of the citadel had bastions-towers from which guards could keep a watch on who was coming and going. There was ramp made of bricks leading from the lower town in to the citadel. The whole city was surrounded by strong walls, and the walls were surrounded by a moat for added protection.
What is the difference between a village and town or city?
Size and population for one thing. Villages tend to be smaller than towns and cities and fewer people live there. The architecture and planning of towns and cities tend to be on a larger scale than that of villages. Cities often contain large, sometimes very grand buildings. Most people lived in village are involved in farming. But cities have many people who are involved in other sorts of activities as well. There may be some farmers, but there are also rulers, crafts persons, traders, priests and others.
It is visitor came into Banawali though the eastern gateway, she would find herself in a wide open space from where three streets branched off in different directions into the city. Inside the city there were some big houses where rich people must have lived. These houses had a central courtyard, with several rooms built all around. The floors of the rooms were sometimes paved with bricks. The bricks were bigger that those used in the earlier period. Bricks backed in kilns were usually reserved for places where some kinds of water-proofing was useful-for wells, pavements of bathrooms and drains. Otherwise, sun-dried bricks were used.
One of the houses had many rooms, including a kitchen and a bathroom. Inside the bathroom there was a large pottery jar that seemed to function as a wash basin. There was a drain nearby, which led the used water into a large refuse jar outside the street. Lots of seals and weights were found in this house, so we can guess that it must have belonged to a rich merchant. Another house seems to have belonged to a jeweler. Many beautiful beads made of materials like gold, lapis lazuli and carnelian were found in it. Some tiny weights were also discovered. Particularly interesting was the discovery of a 'touchstone.' Jewellers rub gold against such a stone to test whether it is pure or not. The stone found in this house had streaks of gold on it, which gave the clue that this is what it was used for.
Many of the things found at Banawali were similar to those found at other sites of the Harappan civilization. These include seals with the Harappan scripts. Interestingly, the seals were only found in the lower town and not in the citadel. We know that some of the seals must have been used by traders. Does this mean that only the people who lived in the lower town were involved in trade? We are not sure. Blades made of stone have also been found. Terracotta figurines, many of them what seems to have been a goddess, have also been found. Terracotta is a hard-baked reddish-brown clay. Small pieces made out of stone, ivory and bone that seem to have been used to play games with (archaeologists call them 'gamesmen') were also found. One of the most important things found at Banawali was a clay model of a plough. This shows that the people of Banawali were similar with the use of this implement. The actual ploughs used by them must have been made of wood, and have not survived.
We are not sure what led to the end of town-life in Banawali. But we do know that the site was deserted for some time. And then, after some time, people moved into the area and settled down to the east of the old city. But their way of life was rather different from the life of the city-dwellers who had lived here before. The town planning, the fortification, the seals, writing... all these things had disappeared. The new houses were made of mud, not bricks. Fewer artifacts have been found from this phase. But some craftsmen were still active. New kinds of pottery with different sorts of designs were being made. Some of the craftsmen of Banawali seem to have specialized in the making of ornaments made of faience. Lots of beads, rings, earrings, bangles, and anklets of this period have been found.
Other sites of the Harappan civilization found in Harayana include Balu, Siswal, Mitathal, Bhagwanpura, and Rakhigrahi. Remains of the Harappan civilization have also been found in the western part of Uttar Pradesh. All these sites show us how far eastwards the Harappan civilization had spread. Archaeologists are still working out the story of how and why the Harappan civilization declined. How and why did flourishing cites and towns fade away and make way for village life? What happened to the brisk trade that the Harappan carried on with various parts of the country and with foreign lands? And what happened to their system of writing? The evidence from excavations at more and more Harappan sites might give us a clearer idea about the answers to these puzzles.