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5-08-2015, 23:39


Daily life in ancient India was like modern life in many mays. People had relationships, they honored rituals and customs, and they survived by creating homes and finding meals. Depending on who was governing, life was easier during some eras than in others.


The Indus people appear to have differed from other ancient groups in that women played an important role, at least in religion. Thousands of ceramic sculptures exist that depict women. They often take the form of goddesses, especially mother goddesses, suggesting the society revered females. The generally patriarchal society of the Indo-Aryans suggests they considered women less highly. Fathers headed most families, and the mother answered to the father. Families usually prized sons over daughters.

One important facet of relationships in ancient India involved the caste system. Ancient Indian society

Archaeologists have discovered several mother goddess sculptures in Mohenjo-Daro.

consisted of three major groups: priests, rulers, and producers. During the Vedic period, the Indo-Aryans introduced the caste system, which was similar and split society into four main varnas, “classes,” based on occupation. The Brahmin, “priest,” varna was the highest and most powerful caste. The Kshatriya, “noble,” was the second varna and consisted of those who ruled and fought. Merchants and traders belonged to the third varna: Vaishya, “commoner.” Members of the lowest class, the Shudra, “servant,” were workers.

With time, the castes became more rigid socially. By the 200s BCE, the castes had changed to being hereditary rather than determined by occupation, meaning people were born into them. The castes affected several aspects of life. For one, members of different castes were not allowed to marry one another. Members of a caste could take an offering of food from someone in a higher caste but not from someone in a lower caste. In addition, access to temples also varied by caste. Brahmins had complete access and led religious activities. The Kshatriya and Vaishya were allowed to worship, but sometimes the Shudra were prevented from making sacrifices.


The peoples of ancient India ate a varied diet. Initially, grain was a cornerstone. Rice has been around for thousands of years. By approximately 400 BCE, rice was a key crop in northern India. The Indo-Aryans ate a lot of rice, sometimes boiled. It was also eaten with milk and curd, or yogurt. Millets and pulses, a branch of the legume family that includes lentils and peas, were eaten throughout the subcontinent.

As foods changed, grain remained a key crop. Barley—especially fried barley—appears regularly in the Rigveda. Saktu, or pulverized grain, was also common. Cuisine also included crushed grain combined with curd. Puroddsa was a type of cake people during the Vedic era used as part of rituals, in which they also sacrificed animals.

Meats from buffalo, bulls, dogs, and horses were sometimes eaten as part of a meal. Later, meat of barren cows and sterile oxen became delicacies, as did meat from goats and sheep. However, the popularity of meat changed with the rise and spread of Jainism and Buddhism, which stressed not harming any living being, including killing and eating animals and fish. Vegetarianism became more common.

Depending on the era and the faith, certain foods were not supposed to be eaten. The Dharma sutras, which means “righteousness thread” in Sanskrit, provided the earliest laws for Hindus, including guidelines for

Although ancient India was divided into four castes, the rules during the Vedic period were not as strict as they were later.

eating. Some aquatic animals were prohibited, including the porpoise. A variety of plant items were also not allowed, including garlic, mushrooms, and sprouts.

While many ancient Indians faced certain restrictions, there were plenty of other foods to enjoy. Fruits included dates and mangoes. Honey and sugarcane juice added sweetness to the menu, too. With time, milk products were developed. In addition to curd, people used curdled milk; porridge; cream; a mixture of curd and milk; the thickened surface of milk; butter in various forms; and a mixture of milk, curd, honey, and butter. Many of the spices used today were also part of ancient Indian cooking. Early options included salt, black pepper, and long pepper, a spicier, more flavorful relative of black pepper.

To wash down their meals, the peoples of ancient India enjoyed an assortment of beverages. Wine was popular. Takra was a mixture of buttermilk and water. Mantha was barley meal mixed in curd, malted butter, milk, or water. Madhuparka was a blend of curd, honey, sugar, water, and ghee, a type of butter.

Utensils were made of clay, metal, stone, and wood. Lower classes using metal likely had utensils made of copper and iron, while upper classes may have had gold and silver. Household items included pots, plates, and pitchers. Bags made of leather held various ingredients, ranging from ghee or oil to honey or grains.


Clay artifacts provide clues to the wardrobe of the Indus people. Terra-cotta figures are adorned in what scholars believe is cotton. Researchers have also uncovered beads containing silk fibers. The Vedas mention wool. However, the bulk of researchers’ understanding of ancient Indian garb comes from sculptures and paintings in caves.

The artwork shows ancient Indians wearing fabric in different ways, wrapping various parts of the body in a dhoti, sari, or turban. A dhoti is a long piece of fabric worn as a loincloth. Both men and women wore the garment, wrapping the length of material around the legs and hips and tucking the ends into material at the waist. The upper bodies for both men and women were often left bare. A sari is also a long piece of fabric. Women wore it wrapped around the body in such a way as to form a skirt with one end of the fabric and a head or shoulder covering with the other.

During the Vedic period, ancient Indians began wearing three pieces of clothing. The antariya was white cotton or muslin and went around the waist, held in place by a kayabandh, a sash. An uttariya was a scarf that covered the torso.

The people in ancient India dyed their fabrics a variety of colors. Indigo, madder red, and safflower, also a red, were common. In addition, the Vishnudharmottara, an ancient Hindu text about painting, lists five shades of white: August moon, August clouds after the rain, conch shell, ivory, and jasmine.


Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that the people of ancient India were accomplished at construction. Excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro have revealed the Indus people were skilled planners and builders. The cities were organized in a grid, with a main street, side streets, and alleys. Archaeologists discovered remains of many buildings, some of which they think were public areas. Many others were likely private houses.

Houses were at least two stories tall and built around a central courtyard into which the rooms of the house opened. The ground floor usually did not have windows, which provided more privacy and helped keep out street noise and thieves.

Upper floors had screened windows. The screens were grills made of alabaster, terra-cotta, or wood. The main door was behind the house, on the alley. The rooms of the house lined the courtyard, and a balcony, made of wood, likely looked out over it. People accessed upper floors via a brick stairway.

Many houses had a well. Many also had a toilet. And most houses had a platform for bathing. Builders constructed these ancient indoor conveniences against outside walls. There, water and waste would flow down drains and into a city drainage system. Houses also had chutes for garbage that carried refuse to bins at the ground level.

The Fate of Mohenjo-Daro

In 2014, after existing for approximately 4,500 years, what remains of Mohenjo-Daro was at risk for being lost forever. Dr. Asma Ibrahim, a prominent Pakistani archaeologist, explained, “Every time I come here, I feel worse than the previous time. I haven’t been back for two or three years. The losses since then are so immense and it breaks my heart.”1

Ibrahim was referring to the deterioration caused by humidity, rain, and salt. Efforts to conserve the site were problematic, too. Ibrahim was clear about the severity of the situation, noting, “In my assessment, the site will not last more than 20 years.”2 Some researchers have proposed burying the site again to stop its deterioration.

The Indo-Aryan people who arrived from the north during the Vedic era did not have such sophisticated houses as the Indus civilization. Their housing reflected their nomadic lifestyle and were basic buildings constructed of mud.


The remains of the houses and other evidence from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro suggest the Indus people in those cities lived relatively comfortably. In addition to having thoughtfully planned cities and homes, they seemed to have lived in a society of equality. Archaeologists have not found grand palaces or fancy temples—structures that might suggest a class of ruling elite.

While the Indus civilization thrived culturally, its people were civil and law-abiding. Archaeological findings of the period suggest the groups lived peacefully, fighting neither internally nor externally. In addition, crime seems to have been almost nonexistent.

Daily life varied greatly in ancient India. Its richness reflects changing knowledge, beliefs, and ideas by a developing culture. Life in ancient India was based in faith, a tradition that continues today.