Harappan Sculpture

Sculpture of Harappan Civilisation

Sculpture of HarappanCivilisation is considered to be a golden chapter as the beginning of Indian art and sculpture in 3000 B.C. it can be easily deciphered that the people of this civilization were great lovers of the fine arts especially of dancing, painting, and creating sculptures.The Indus Valley art forms included sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewellery, terracotta figures etc.

Classify into following

  1. Stone Sculpture
  2. Bronze Casting
  3. Terracotta Sculpture
  4.  Lost Wax Technique

Stone Sculpture

In stone, the two most discussed male figures are male torso and the bearded priest.

Male Torso  

  • The Male torso is a red sandstone figure, which has socket holes in the neck and shoulders for the attachment of head and arms.
  • The frontal posture of the torso has been consciously adopted.
  • The shoulders are well carved and the abdomen looks slightly prominent.
  • This nude male torso is considered to be a remarkable object that in its balanced lines stands somewhat equal to the beautiful art of Gandhara two thousand years later.

Bearded Priest  

  • This steatite figure of the bearded man interpreted as a priest or priest king is draped in a shawl coming under the right arm and covering the left shoulder. His shawl is decorated with trefoil patterns. His eyes are a little elongated, and half-closed as in meditation.
  • The nose is well formed and of medium size; the mouth is of average size with close-cut moustache and a short beard and whiskers; the ears resemble double shells with a hole in the middle. The hair is parted in the middle, and a plain woven fillet is passed round the head.
  •  An armlet is worn on the right hand and holes around the neck indicate a necklace. The shawl on the shoulder of the bearded priest indicates that the handicraft of embroidery was commonly practiced in Indus Valley Civilization.

Bronze Casting

The most discussed example of metal sculpture in context with Indus Valley is the Dancing Girl. Metal casting was popular at all the major centres of the Indus Valley Civilisation, for example the copper dog and bird of Lothal, bull from Kalibangan and the human figures of copper and bronze from Harappa and Mohenjodaro.

 Dancing Girl 

  • This is one of the best known artefacts from the Indus Valley. It’s a four-inch-high copper figure, found in Mohenjodaro.
  • It depicts a girl whose long hair is tied in a bun. Bangles cover her left arm, a bracelet and an amulet or bangle adorn her right arm, and a cowry shell necklace is seen around her neck.
  • Her right hand is on her hip and her left hand is clasped. She is resting her weight on one leg in a very natural fashion, as in the contraposto techniques of later sculptures.
  • The girls seems be in what is called Tribhanga posture.  She is full of expression and bodily vigour and conveys a lot of information.

Terracotta Sculptures

The terracotta figurines had a universal popularity in the ancient world and Harappan culture was no exception to this. There are plenty of terracotta seals and figurines recovered from Harappan sites which range from toys to cult objects such as mother goddess to birds and animals , including monkeys, dogs, sheep, cattle-both humped and humpless bulls.

Mother Goddess 


  • The most important terracotta figure in the Indus Valley Civilization is the figure of Mother Goddess.
  • The crude standing female adorned with necklaces hanging over prominent breasts and wearing a loin cloth and a girdle.
  • The most distinct feature of the mother goddess figurines is a fan-shaped head-dress with a cup-like projection on each side.

The Seals

These small objects have been beautifully carved out of stone and then fired to make them more durable. Over 3,500 seals have been found so far. The most typical Indus seal is square, with a set of symbols along the top, an animal in the centre, and one or more symbols at the bottom. Animals found on the seals include rhinoceros, elephants, unicorns and bulls. On the back is a projection, probably to hold while pressing the seal into other materials such as clay. The projections also have a hole for thread, presumably so the seal can be worn or carried as a necklace.

Most of the seals have inscriptions in a pictographics script which is yet to be decpihered. The script was mostly by right to left, but bi- directional writing style i.e. right to left on one line  and left to right to another linehas been found.
The animal impression were also therewhich were carved intaglio on the surface. The common animals motifswere unicorn, humped bull, rhinoceros, tiger, elephant, buffalo, bison, goat, crocodile etc. Some seals had inscriptions on a third side as well.
Seals were primarily used for commercial purpose and helped in communication.  some seals with a hole on them have been found on dead bodies indicating its use as amulets, carried on the person on their owners. Mathematical images also found on some seals, which might have been used for educational purposes as well. Seals with symbol similar to ” Swastika” design have also been found.

Famous seals include: Pashupati Seal and Unicorn Seal

Pashupati Seal 

  • The Pashupati Seal is a steatite seal that was discovered at the Mohenjo-daro archaeological site of the Indus Valley Civilization.
  • The seal depicts a seated figure that is possibly tricephalic (having three heads).
  • The man has a horned headdress and is surrounded by animals. He may represent a horned deity. The seal is kept in the National Museum of India in New Delhi.
  • It has one of the more complicated designs in the thousands of seals found from the Indus Valley Civilization, and is unusual in having a human figure as the main and largest element; in most seals this is an animal.
  • It has been claimed to be one of the earliest depictions of the Hindu god Shiva, or a “proto-Shiva” deity. The name given to the seal, “pashupati”, meaning “lord of animals”, is one of Shiva’s epithets.
  • It has also been associated with the Vedic god Rudra, generally regarded as an early form of Shiva.

 Unicorn Seal 

  • This seal from Mohenjo-daro measures 29 mm (1.14) inches on each side and is made of fired steatite.
  • Steatite is an easily carved soft stone that becomes hard after firing. On the top are four “pictographs” of an as yet undeciphered Indus script, one of the very first writing systems in history.
  • Whether it designates a real or mythical animal is also unknown. Beneath it is a “sacred object,” which could have been anything from an animal’s trough to an incense burner.


The Harappan pottery is bright or dark red and uniformly sturdy and well baked. It consists chiefly of wheel made wares both plain and painted. The plain pottery is more common than the painted ware. The plain ware is usually of red clay with or without a fine red slip. The painted pottery is of red and black colours. Several methods were used by people for the decoration of pottery. Geometrical patterns, circles, squares and triangles and figures of animals, birds, snakes or fish are frequent motifs found in Harappan pottery. Another favourite motive was tree pattern. Plants, trees and pipal leaves are found on pottery. A hunting scene showing two antelopes with the hunter is noticed on a pot shreds from the cemetery jar found at Lothal depicts a scene in which two birds are seen perched on a tree each holding a fish in its beak.

Harappan people used different types of pottery such as glazed, polychrome, incised, perforated and knobbed. Polychrome pottery is rare and mainly comprised small vases decorated with geometric patterns mostly in red, black and green and less frequently in white and yellow. The Harappan pottery includes goblets, dishes, basins, flasks, narrow necked vases, cylindrical bottles, tumblers, corn measures, spouted vases and a special type of dish on a stand which was a offering stand or incense burner.

The potteries were used for three main purpose:

1. Plain pottery 

was used for household purposes, mainly storage of grain and water.

2. Miniature vessel 

generally less than half an inch in size, were used for decorative purposes.

3. Some are perforated 

-with large hole  in the bottom and small hole across the side. They might have been used for straining liquor.


Ornaments were made of gold, silver, copper, ivory, precious and semi-precious stones, bones and shells etc. Other pieces that women frequently wore were thin bands of gold that would be worn on the forehead, earrings, primitive brooches, chokers and gold rings.

Some of the gold items found in the excavation include:



The cone-shaped head ornaments constructed from gold were discovered in Harappa.


Gold necklaces have been excavated from the Indus Valley. These are likely to have been worn by men and women, as it is believed that men of the Indus Valley wore jewellery too.


Several gold rings are part of the jewellery excavated from the Indus Valley, which we believe would have adorned the fingers of the women of the Indus Valley.


A gold pendant set was also part of the excavated the jewellery. The experts are not sure about what it was worn with


The experts believe that amongst the excavated pieces, there is an amulet too which might have been used to ward-off the evil. The ornament is candle-shaped and appears to be a neck-ornament.
Most of these jewellery items have been put on exhibit at the Alamkara – the jewellery gallery as well as the Harappa gallery at the National Museum, New Delhi in India. The sculptures and other items from the excavation are also on display here.

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