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Inarch Center Publication

Art of Indus Valley- a short note

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

InArchCenter ID :- IACBN0022


The Indus Valley art, and the mysteries surrounding it, Is the un-deciphered script that appears on the many steatite seals or talismans found at the centers excavated. The Indus Valley Period certainly can't be described as prehistoric, nor does the evidence of the finds entirely permits the definition of chalcolithic in the sense of a bronze or copper age. In view of the many well—forged links with later developments in Indian culture, a better descriptive term would be “proto-historic". Major sites of artistic important such as Harappa, Mohen-jo-daro, Dholavira etc…


  • Among the fragments of sculpture found at Mohenjo—Daro is a male bust carved of a whitish limestone originally inlaid with a red paste. Most likely it was a votive portrait of a priest or shaman. There has been a great deal of speculation on the identification of this and other bearded heads at Mohenjo-Daro. Some scholars have argued that they represent deities or portraits of priests. In the present example, the disposition of the robe over the left shoulder is not unlike the Buddhist shanghati. The way in which the eyes are represented, as though concentrated on the tip of the nose, is suggestive of a well-known method of yoga meditation, and this would therefore favour the identification as a priest or holy man.

  • The most notable piece of sculpture that the Indus Valley excavations have brought to light is a small male torso in limestone found at Harappa. The view chosen for illustration reveals its magnificent plastic quality to great advantage. Although it is impossible to tell the exact iconographic significance of this nude image, it seems almost certain that it must have been intended as a deity of some sort. In its present damaged condition no recognizable attributes remain; nor is there any explanation for the curious circular depressions in the clavicle region. This statuette appears to us extra-ordinarily sophisticated in the degree of realistic representation.

  • Another damaged statuette, also from Harappa, complements this torso in its striking forecast of iconographic and stylistic elements of the historical periods of Indian art. This image, carved in greyish limestone, represents a dancing male figure, perhaps originally ithyphallic, four-armed and three-headed. These attributes, together with the dancing pose, make it possible that this is a prototype for the later Hindu conception of Siva as Lord of the Dance. Even in its present fragmentary state, the figure is imbued with a vital & dynamic quality and a suggestion of movement imparted by the violent axial dislocation of the head, thorax, and hips, exactly the same device employed to suggest the violence of Siva's dance in the great Hindu bronzes of the Cholas Period.

  • No surprising in its sophistication is a bronze figurine Of a Dancing-girl from Mohenjo-Daro, this is one of 2 bronze art works found at Mohenjo-daro that show more flexible features when compared to other more formal poses. The girl is naked, wears a number of bangles and a necklace and is shown in a natural standing position with one hand on her hip. She wears 24 to 25 bangles on her left arm and 4 bangles on her right arm, and some object was held in her left hand, which is resting on her thigh; both arms are unusually long. Her necklace has three big pendants. She has her long hair styled in a big bun that is resting on her shoulder.


The most numerous single type of object found in the cities of the Indus culture are the steatite seal, apparently used for sealing compacts and as amulets, with representations of creatures both fabulous and real, and almost invariably accompanied by a number of pictographic symbols. These objects never more than two and a half inches square, reveal the most consummate and delicate perfection of craftsmanship.

  • On a number of the seals we find a representation of a three-headed bovine monster. On one we find a horned deity seated in yoga posture, who is probably to be recognized as a prototype of the Hindu god Siva (Plate 40.14 The central figure has three heads, and the trident above his head. The central personage is surrounded by a number of wild beasts, perhaps as a reference to Siva's function as Lord of Beasts or to suggest Siva's dwelling as an ascetic in the wilderness. What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this seal is that in it we have the earliest recognizable representation of a divinity in human form in Indian art.

  • On other seals the representations of horned female figures in trees are certainly to be interpreted as the earliest portrayals of the yakshi, the fertility and tree-spirit that figures so largely in later Buddhist art.

  • The greatest number of the Indus Valley seals are carved with figures of bulls, either the Zebu or the urus ox, some of them with Objects resembling altars or mangers before them.


  • The figurines in the shape of toys or cult images that have been found in enormous numbers in all the sites inhabited by the Indus people. They belong more definitely to a popular, folk art tradition than the sophisticated objects we have already examined. By the most numerous in this collection are crude female effigies which have been recognized presentations of a mother goddess. ‘She is the Great Mother. It is she who makes all nature bring forth. All existing things are emanations from her. She is the carrying the holy child. She is the mother of men and animals, too. She continually appears with an escort of beasts.

  • Some of these Statuettes are so primitive, certain others, with fin-like head-dresses, these statuettes are really to be regarded as symbols, rather than realistic representations. A typical example is a terracotta figurine in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that was found at Sari Dheri, just south of the Khyber Pass. This fragment illustrates the appliqué technique universally employed in these images, whereby such as the head-dress, eyes, nose, lips, breasts, and ornaments were attached as separately pinched pellets while the clay was still moist. At this period of Indian civilization the mold was unknown for clay figurines, therefore were built up by hand.


1. Art & Architecture Of India (Buddhist-Hindu-Jain) – Benjamin Rowland

2. The Art & Architecture Of The Indian Subcontinent – J.C. Harle

3. History Of Indian And Indonesian Art – Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

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1 commentaire

Membre inconnu
19 déc. 2020

Very interesting article. The bronze figurine Of a Dancing-girl is really attractive for its plastic pose and I guess the exact number of the bangles should have a meaning. Maybe can be age related that on left arm. Anyhow, thank you very much for sharing it.

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