Dancing Ancient Indian Civilization Presented by Surapsari

Recommended Ages: 6-14 (parental guidance recommended for 6-8)

Duration of the Program: 45 minutes

Indus Valley Civilization

Have you heard of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC)? Civilization means a developed society that has a government, laws, a written language, and technology. IVC was one of the first civilizations in the world. It emerged more than 5,000 years ago in the Indus River plains in modern Pakistan and northwest India. Can you imagine what was life like in the Indus Valley? Although there was no internet, computer, phone, or movie theater, this civilization produced a lot of great things that people all over the world still use today. Try the following quiz:

Which of the following things were invented during the Indus Valley Civilization; chess, scale, or dice?

The answer is - all of them! It was a tricky question!

In this program, you will learn about the Indus Valley Civilization through traditional Indian dance called Bharatanatyam. It is based on the performing arts guidelines written about 2,000 years ago. However, the origin of the dance is considered to be found in the time of IVC.

Photo credit: Simple general map on Indus valley civilization (image by Merikant, distributed under CC BY 4.0 license)

The Dancing Girl

Let's travel back to the Indus Valley Civilization with a 4,500-year-old statuette, Dancing Girl, as a guide! This small bronze statue was discovered in Mohenjo-daro, one of the largest cities of IVC. Why do you think this statue is called Dancing Girl, although she doesn't look like she is dancing? Compare the statue with me in a Bharatanatyam dance costume (see the photos below). What do we have in common? Look carefully!

Photo credit: The Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-daro (Universal Public Domain)

Do you see we both wear a necklace and many bracelets? Now compare the photos of the back of the Dancing Girl's head and mine. The Dancing Girl's long hair is styled in a big bun and twisted while I use a big bun and braiding hair extension. We have 4,500 year age difference but have some things in common. The Dancing Girl shows us that dance was an important part in IVC.

Amazing Indus Valley Civilization

Watch the short video below to learn about how advanced IVC was.

Video Source: "Indus River Valley Civilizations...in five minutes or less" by TheMrGranito, Feb 1, 2017

Photo credit: Excavated ruins of Mohenjo-daro, with the Great Bath in the foreground and the granary mound in the background (image by Saqib Qayyum, distributed under CC BY 3.0 license)

Major Achievements of IVC

  • The largest ancient civilization.
  • Uniform system of weights and measurement.
  • Urban sanitation system and indoor plumbing.
  • Irrigation system and canals for farming.
  • Cities laid out in a grid format.
  • Sophisticated jewelry, arts, and craft work.
  • Extensive trade network.
  • Centralized government.
  • Stone, copper, and bronze tools.
  • Wheeled vehicles.
  • Pottery and seals.
  • First to invent cotton cloth, dice, and chess.

Photo Credit: The Priest-King; 2400–1900 BC; low fired steatite; height: 17.5 cm; National Museum of Pakistan (Karachi) (image by Mamoon Mengal, distributed under CC BY 1.0 license)

Seals from the Indus Valley Civilization

IVC had an extensive long-distance trade network. Seals were used to close business documents and mark packages of goods. Over 3,500 carved stone seals have been discovered at IVC sites. Many of IVC seals are square-shaped and have an animal in the center and symbols at the top. The animals carved on the seals include rhinoceros, elephants, unicorns, and bulls. The hieroglyphic-looking symbols still remain a mystery. No researcher has decoded them yet. Can you guess what the symbols mean? You could be the first one who cracks the codes from 5,000 years ago!

Photo credit: Stamp seals of the Indus Valley Civilization, some of them with Indus script; probably made of steatite; British Museum (London) (image by World Imaging, distributed under CC BY 3.0 license)

Indian Dance Mudra

Bharatanatyam dancers use hand gestures called mudra to express feelings or tell stories. There are 28 single-hand gestures and 23 double-hand gestures in Bharatanatyam. Each mudra has specific meanings such as snake, lion, and moon. A Bharatanatyam dancer can tell a variety of stories using mudra, facial expression, and body movement. It's amazing!

Bharatanatyam dancers can describe different designs of IVC seals using mudra, too. For example, Swastika mudra can be used to show the IVC seal below.

Swastika Seal
Swastika Mudra

Photo credit: Swastika seals of Indus Valley Civilisation. British Museum (distributed under CC BY 3.0 license).

Photo credit: Mamallapuram, Indian Dance Festival, Bharatanatyam dance (image by Arian Zwegers, distributed under CC BY 2.0 license).

Let's Try Mudra

Here are some single and double hand mudra that are often used in traditional Indian dance. Let's try each one!

Copyright © Surapsari 2020.

Indian Storytelling Dance

Bharatanatyam dancers use mudra, facial expression, and body movement to tell stories without speaking. Watch my performance videos below to see how it can be done. The first story is about a young boy named Krishna. He is very naughty and causes troubles for his family and neighbors. But people can't stop loving him because he is really a god who was sent from heaven to save the humankind. The second story is also about Krishna. His mother tries to get Krishna's attention by offering delicious fresh butter to him. Stories about Krishna have been very popular in India.

Pashpati (Lord of Animals)

The Pashupati seal (shown right) is from about 4,000 years ago. It shows a man with a big headdress sitting surrounded by animals.; The man is believed to be the Lord Shiva. Shiva is one of the three main Hindu gods; Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, and Shiva the Destroyer. Shiva destroys what is no more needed to create space for a new life. Lord Shiva appears in many forms. In this seal, he is the lord of animals.

Pashupati's seated pose has been practiced in yoga for thousands of years. The history of yoga began in the Indus Valley Civilization.

Can you sit like Pashupati? See the photo below and try to sit in the same way. Place the soles of your feet together and bring the knees close to the ground. Keep your back stretched toward the sky and your shoulders relaxed. That's it! You look like the magnificent lord of animals!

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Yoga Pose)

Photo credit: Shiva Pashupati (Public Domain)

Try More Yoga Poses!

There are many more yoga poses. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the yoga text written in the 15th century, lists 84 poses while the Light on Yoga, the modern yoga book, describes more than 200 poses. The photos below show some of the most practiced yoga poses. Let's try them all! Start standing with feet together and arms alongside your torso. Gently move into each pose and hold it. How long can you hold without feeling stress or pain? Keep focusing on your breath. Slowly move out of the pose with your out-breath. No forcing in yoga. Easy does it!

Tree - Goddess - Triangle - Warrior II


In the photo right, you see me striking the pose of Nataraja (the Dancing God), another form of Shiva. Nataraja dances energetically to promote the process of death and birth and celebrate new lives. You may have seen a Nataraja statue as shown in the photo below at an Indian restaurant. Nataraja dance is a popular item in Bharatanatyam.

Photo credit: Shiva as the Lord of Dance (Public Domain)

Draw an Indus Valley Civilization Seal

Sample IVC Seal Drawing
  1. Download the template for the seal outline (www.onlinewebfonts.com).
  2. Draw an animal, person, or any other object that you want to show on your IVC seal.
  3. Draw symbols at the top to record your short message in a mysterious language.
  4. Show your IVC seal to your family and let them guess what the symbols say.
  5. Create as many IVC seals as you like!

Indus Valley Civilization Quiz

I'm challenging you with the questions below! How many of them can you answer correctly? You will find the answer key at the end of this program. No worries, it's okay to do some research to find the right answers!

  1. Which of the following ancient cities developed in the Indus Valley Civilization? A)-Babylon, B)-Athens, C)-Mohenjo daro
  2. What did the Indus Valley farmers build to help with farming? A)-Irrigation system, B)-Canals, C)-Both
  3. What did people in the Indus Valley build to prevent their streets from flooding? A)-Drains and extensive sewer system, B)-Wall, C)-Dam
  4. What is the name of the river that helped an ancient civilization emerge in the Indian subcontinent? A)-Yellow River, B)-Indus River, C)-Euphrates River
  5. What toys did children play in the time of the Indus Valley Civilization? A)-Toy animals and carts made from baked clay, B)-Lego, C)-Playing cards

Vocabulary List

  • Civilization: An advanced state of a society that has a central government, laws, a written language, technology, and systems that improve people's lives.
  • Statuette: A statue smaller than life-size.
  • Archaeologist: A person who studies past human life and culture using information gained from the analysis of artifacts, such as pottery, tools, and buildings.
  • Excavate: To expose by digging away overlying material; unearth.
  • Sewage: Water and waste material carried away in sewers.
  • Seal: A design that is stamped on wax or other soft material. Seals are used to make a document authentic or official.
  • Swastika: A symbol consisting of a cross with four arms of equal length that are bent at right angles.

Video Resources

IVC Quiz Answer Key

  1. C)
  2. C)
  3. A)
  4. B)
  5. A)

I hope you enjoyed this program. Thank you for your participation!

Copyright © Surapsari 2020.