Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Niranjan Shah
My dear Snehi and Sohan:
Dora Jane Hamblin, editor of Time-Life Books publication The First Cities, writes on page 123: “Probably the very first First City, in which a 20th Century visitor could have found his way around without the aid of a native guide was Moenjo-Daro.” Moenjo-Daro and Harappa, dominating a cultural area of more than 500,000 square miles, were designed with wide streets, rectangular blocks and efficient drainage in accordance with a well-organized plan. Indeed, evidence from the ruins points to a degree of control and planning under some central civic authority unprecedented in the history of early civilizations. These twin cities grew according to a central plan that had been conceived at their foundation — much as Washington, DC, to this day follows the conception of George Washington’s French planner, Pierre L’Enfant.
As long ago as 2500 B.C., it and the half-dozen other cities of the Indus Valley had already put to use the crisscross gridiron system of street layout — an urban convention long thought to have been invented by the Greeks of a later era. Moenjo-Daro was planned with a broad boulevard 30 feet wide, running north and south, and crossed at right angles every 200 yards or so by somewhat smaller east-west streets. Along these impressive avenues were shops and food stands. The wide main streets bordered rectangular city blocks that measured about 400 yards in length and 200 yards in width, far larger than a typical block in modern Manhattan.
Each city at its peak covered an area of six or seven square miles and could house some 20,000 to 50,000 people, a very large urban population for that period. Cities like these could have been built and sustained only by a very prosperous and resourceful people. Cotton and wheat were grown in the fertile fields near Moenjo-Daro, and the surplus wealth accumulated from this produce served both to support the inhabitants of the city and to promote a lively trade.
The grid layout is only one indication of the perception and care that had gone into the planning of the city. Houses presented blank walls to the streets, an architectural scheme that persists today in much of the Near East for protection against the sun, prying eyes and thieves.
Dora Hamblin adds: “But of all the amenities provided by Moenjo-Daro and the other well-laid-out cities of the Indus Valley, none were more sophisticated than those that were devoted to public hygiene. Never before, and never again until Greek and Roman times, was so much attention paid by human beings to sanitation.”
Running along the sides of the streets were neat, brick-lined open sewers much like those in old Asian cities today, and at intervals there were catch basins dug below sewer level to trap debris that might otherwise have clogged the drainage flow. The sewers were connected to each house by an open gutter, also constructed of brick, into which emptied the house drains, which generally consisted of an enclosed system of clay pipes. These houses contained sit-down toilets —imposing structures of brick. They were not simple commodes, but were connected to the drains. Many houses had bath-rooms, their floors built of waterproof brick and fitted with drains leading directly to the sewer pipes.
Ruins of a tremendous storehouse for grain, a brick-walled public bath and other huge buildings that scholars believe to have been an assembly hall, state bank and a college are also found.
After new archeological discoveries scholars have termed this civilization as Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization, which covers an area including Gujarat in South, Kashmir in the north, and Delhi in the East and Iran in the West.
Editors of Time-Life Books write in The Epic of Man on page 83: “Of all the mysteries of civilized man’s emergence, that of the Indus Valley is the most complete.”
— Grandpa’s blessing
(From a talk at Institute of Engineers, India, at Baroda)