Sanitation of the Indus Valley Civilisation

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Great Bath, Mohenjo-daro. Mohenjodaro Sindh.jpeg
Great Bath, Mohenjo-daro.
A water well in Lothal. Lothal - ancient well.jpg
A water well in Lothal.
Dholavira Sophisticated Water Reserving Dholavira1.JPG
Dholavira Sophisticated Water Reserving

The ancient Indus Valley Civilization of South Asia, including current day Pakistan and Northwest India, was prominent in infrastructure, hydraulic engineering, and had many water supply and sanitation devices that were the first of their kind. Most houses of Indus Valley were made from mud, mud bricks or clay bricks. The urban areas of the Indus Valley civilization included public and private baths. Sewage was disposed through underground drains built with precisely laid bricks, and a sophisticated water management system with numerous reservoirs was established. In the drainage systems, drains from houses were connected to wider public drains. Many of the buildings at Mohenjo-daro had two or more stories. Water from the roof and upper storey bathrooms was carried through enclosed terracotta pipes or open chutes that emptied out onto the street drains. [1]

Indus Valley Civilisation Bronze Age civilisation in South Asia

The Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) was a Bronze Age civilisation in the northwestern regions of South Asia, lasting from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE, and in its mature form from 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE. Along with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia it was one of three early civilisations of the region comprising North Africa, West Asia and South Asia, and of the three, the most widespread, its sites spanning an area stretching from northeast Afghanistan, through much of Pakistan, and into western and northwestern India. It flourished in the basins of the Indus River, which flows through the length of Pakistan, and along a system of perennial, mostly monsoon-fed, rivers that once coursed in the vicinity of the seasonal Ghaggar-Hakra river in northwest India and eastern Pakistan.

South Asia Southern region of Asia

South Asia, or Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan SAARC countries and, for some authorities, adjoining countries to the west and east. Topographically, it is dominated by the Indian Plate, which rises above sea level as Nepal and northern parts of India situated south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush. South Asia is bounded on the south by the Indian Ocean and on land by West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

Pakistan federal parliamentary constitutional republic in South Asia

Pakistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is a country in South Asia. It is the world’s sixth-most populous country with a population exceeding 212.7 million people. In area, it is the 33rd-largest country, spanning 881,913 square kilometres. Pakistan has a 1,046-kilometre (650-mile) coastline along the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest, and China in the northeast. It is separated narrowly from Tajikistan by Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor in the northwest, and also shares a maritime border with Oman.


The earliest evidence of urban sanitation was seen in Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, and the recently discovered Rakhigarhi of Indus Valley civilization. This urban plan included the world's first urban sanitation systems. Within the city, individual homes or groups of homes obtained water from wells. From a room that appears to have been set aside for bathing, waste water was directed to covered drains, which lined the major streets.

Devices such as shadoofs and sakias were used to lift water to ground level. Ruins from the Indus Valley Civilization like Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan and Dholavira in Gujarat in India had settlements with some of the ancient world's most sophisticated sewage systems. They included drainage channels, rainwater harvesting, and street ducts.

Shadoof water well mechanism

A shadoof or shaduf is an irrigation tool. A less common English translation is swape and it is also called a counterpoise lift, well pole, well sweep, or simply a sweep in the US., and a Jiégāo in Chinese. The shadoof was an early crane-like tool with a lever mechanism, used in irrigation since around 3000 BCE by the Mesopotamians, 2000 BCE by the ancient Egyptians, and later by the Minoans, Chinese, and others. Irrigation is a way of watering crops using basins, dikes, ditches, walls, canals, and waterways. The shadoof was used to lift water from a river or lake onto land or into another river or lake. It looks like a long pole with a bucket attached to the end of it. It is still used in many areas of Africa and Asia and very common in rural areas of India such as in the Bhojpuri belt of the Ganges plain where it is named "dhenki". They remain common in Hungary's Great Plain, where they are known as "gémeskút" and are considered a symbol of the region. It was also known by the Ancient Greek name kēlōn (κήλων) or kēlōneion (κηλώνειον); this term (קילון) is also borrowed in Mishnaic Hebrew.

Sakia Mechanical water lifting device

A saqia, alternative spelling sakieh, saqia or saqiya, also called Persian wheel, tablia, rehat, and in Latin tympanum is a mechanical water lifting device, similar in function to a scoop wheel, which uses buckets, jars, or scoops fastened either directly to a vertical wheel, or to an endless belt activated by such a wheel. The vertical wheel is itself attached by a drive shaft to a horizontal wheel, which is traditionally set in motion by animal power Because it is not using the power of flowing water, the sakia is different from a noria and any other type of water-wheel. It is still used in India, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, and in the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands. It may have been invented in Hellenistic Egypt, Persia or India. The sakia was mainly used for irrigation, but not exclusively, as the example of Qusayr Amra shows, where it was used at least in part to provide water for a royal bathhouse.

Mohenjo-daro archaeological site in the province of Sindh, Pakistan

Mohenjo-daro is an archaeological site in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. Built around 2500 BCE, it was one of the largest settlements of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation, and one of the world's earliest major cities, contemporaneous with the civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Minoan Crete, and Norte Chico. Mohenjo-daro was abandoned in the 19th century BCE as the Indus Valley Civilization declined, and the site was not rediscovered until the 1920s. Significant excavation has since been conducted at the site of the city, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. The site is currently threatened by erosion and improper restoration.

Stepwells have mainly been used in the Indian subcontinent.

Stepwell waterbody reached by steps

Stepwells are wells or ponds in which the water is reached by descending a set of steps to the water level. They may be multi-storied with a bullock turning a water wheel to raise the well water to the first or second floor. They are most common in western India and are also found in the other more arid regions of the Indian subcontinent, extending into Pakistan. The construction of stepwells is mainly utilitarian, though they may include embellishments of architectural significance, and be temple tanks.

With a number of courtyard houses having both a washing platform and a dedicated toilet / waste disposal hole. The toilet holes would be flushed by emptying jar of water, drawn from the house's central well, through a clay brick pipe and into a shared brick drain, that would feed into an adjacent soakpit (cesspit). The soakpits would be periodically emptied of their solid matter, possibly to be used as fertilizer. Most houses also had private wells. City walls functioned as a barrier against floods.

Cesspit Either an underground holding tank (sealed at the bottom) or a soak pit (not sealed at the bottom)

A cesspit, is a term with various meanings: it is used to describe either an underground holding tank or a soak pit. It can be used for the temporary collection and storage of feces, excreta or fecal sludge as part of an on-site sanitation system and has some similarities with septic tanks or with soak pits. Traditionally, it was a deep cylindrical chamber dug into the earth, having approximate dimensions of 1 metre diameter and 2–3 metres depth. Their appearance was similar to that of a hand-dug water well.

Flood Overflow of water that submerges land that is not normally submerged

A flood is an overflow of water that submerges land that is usually dry. In the sense of "flowing water", the word may also be applied to the inflow of the tide. Floods are an area of study of the discipline hydrology and are of significant concern in agriculture, civil engineering and public health.

The urban areas of the Indus Valley provided public and private baths, sewage was disposed through underground drains built with precisely laid bricks, and a sophisticated water management system with numerous reservoirs was established. In the drainage systems, drains from houses were connected to wider public drains. [2]

Reservoir A storage space for fluids

A reservoir is, most commonly, an enlarged natural or artificial lake, pond or impoundment created using a dam or lock to store water.

Drainage natural or artificial removal of surface and sub-surface water from an area

Drainage is the natural or artificial removal of a surface's water and sub-surface water from an area with excess of water. The internal drainage of most agricultural soils is good enough to prevent severe waterlogging, but many soils need artificial drainage to improve production or to manage water supplies.


Mohenjo-daro, located in Sindh, Pakistan is one of the best excavated and studied settlements from this civilization. The Great Bath might be the first of its kind in the pre-historic period. This ancient town had more than 700 wells, and most houses in Mohenjo-Daro had at least one private well. [3]

Sindh Province in Pakistan

Sindh is one of the four provinces of Pakistan, in the southeast of the country, and the historical home of the Sindhi people. Sindh is the third largest province of Pakistan by area, and second largest province by population after Punjab. Sindh is bordered by Balochistan province to the west, and Punjab province to the north. Sindh also borders the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the east, and Arabian Sea to the south. Sindh's landscape consists mostly of alluvial plains flanking the Indus River, the Thar desert in the eastern portion of the province closest to the border with India, and the Kirthar Mountains in the western part of Sindh.

Great Bath, Mohenjo-daro structure at the ruins of Mohenjo-daro in Sindh, Pakistan

The Great Bath is one of the well-known structures among the ruins of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization at Mohenjo-daro in Sindh, Pakistan. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Great Bath was built in the 3rd millennium BCE, soon after the raising of the "citadel" mound on which it is located.


Dholavira, located in Gujarat, India, had a series of water storing tanks and step wells, and its water management system has been called "unique". [4] Dholavira had at least five baths, the size of one is comparable with the Great Bath of Mohenjo-daro. [5]


The Indus Valley Civilization in Asia shows early evidence of public water supply and sanitation. The system the Indus developed and managed included a number of advanced features. A typical example is the Indus city of Lothal (c. 2350 BCE). In Lothal all houses had their own private toilet which was connected to a covered sewer network constructed of brickwork held together with a gypsum-based mortar that emptied either into the surrounding water bodies or alternatively into cesspits, the latter of which were regularly emptied and cleaned. [6] [7]

See also

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  1. Rodda, J. C. and Ubertini, Lucio (2004). The Basis of Civilization - Water Science? pg 161. International Association of Hydrological Sciences (International Association of Hydrological Sciences Press 2004).
  2. Rodda, J. C. and Ubertini, Lucio (2004). The Basis of Civilization - Water Science? pg 161. International Association of Hydrological Sciences (International Association of Hydrological Sciences Press 2004).
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