The exact belief system of the Indus Valley Civilization is difficult to define because the written language has not yet been deciphered, and there were no direct successors, nor colonialists, to interpret and record prevailing beliefs. Furthermore, the civilization left behind little physical evidence of their beliefs, and that evidence that has been unearthed is open to a wide range of interpretation. We are therefore left to speculate the belief system by ascribing meaning to the physical evidence left by the archaeological record, in order to understand the ideologies of these ancient people. That being said, the belief system of the Indus Valley people is important to consider because it is likely to have contained many precursors to deities and religious practices of religions that developed later in the region.
Despite the fact that no temples have been found dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization, the religion is said to have believed in the otherworld as well as in gods and goddesses. In 1931, John Marshall identified a number of prominent features of the Indus religion, namely the Great Mother Goddess (female sexuality is deeply ingrained in Indus religion and ideology), a Great Male God and veneration of animals. Also among the important depictions are the symbolic representation of the phallus (linga) and vulva (yoni), and the importance of bath and water in religious practice.
Many images found in Harappan sites are thought to be the predecessors to Vedic ideology. A stone seal known as the “Proto-siva”, which depicts a male character sitting on a dias in a yogic position surrounded by animals, was thought by Marshall to be a forerunner of Shiva, the well-known Hindu deity. While other scholars have purported that this figure is actually a “Proto-Brahma”/ “Brahma-Bull” (the great creator) or other god, the general consensus is that the figure is a precursor to later belief systems in India and beyond. Other figures in yoga postures, Shiva-like Gods, fire altars and swastikas may provide further evidence of the connection.
- Miller, D. Ideology and the Harrapan Civilization. Journal of Anthropological Archeology. 4. 34-71. (1985)
- Possehl, Gregory. The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Altamira Press. 2002.
- Frawley, D. Underworld: Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age, A Vedic and India Perspective. https://grahamhancock.com/archive-review2/