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Indus Valley Script Decipherment

Indus Valley Script

Vedic Basis of Indus Culture

Symbolism of Brahmanas and Upanishdas in Indus Valley Script

Critical view of decipherment of Indus script



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So fascinating and natural seemed this approach that even those who looked for an indigenous origin of Indus Script could not free themselves from this. In this respect, the Tantric origin of Indus script which was first accepted in certain cases, by Dr. Prannath guided the effort’s of Swami Shankaranand [1] and Shri Raj Mohan Nath[2]

also, believing ‘that the mother of the Sanskrit alphabets were simple pictures of different objects.’ Swami Shankaranand[3] spoke of five ‘pictographic scripts’ namely Jaipurean, Egyptian, Cuneiform, Indus and the Chinese, all of which, according to him, owe their ultimate origin to the Tantric system. Shri Rajmohan Nath[4] on the other hand starts with the Tantrik belief that ‘the fifty one letters of the alphabet are but fifty one dismembered limbs of the great Mother, the creative Energy of the Universe’, and comes to correlate the Indus Valley script is of the Ancient Hattusa-school of the period when the Hattusa-city was razed to the ground by Anita, perhaps in the fourth millennium B.C.’[5]


This reliance on the traditions of the Western Asia or Eastern Mediterranean originated from the fact that the Indus script employed some figures resembling man, animal and bird which could compared with ancient hieroglyphs of that region, With due respect to all the scholars mentioned above, I must confess that, after working on the same lines for about 33 years, I found that I was on a wrong track leading to a blind alley where one could only grope into the dark, with no hope for a ray of light from any direction. On examining the Indian, Semitic and the scripts of Aramaic origin, I came to the conclusion that Hieroglyphic origin of these scripts was a myth and Sir A. Cunningham’s suggestion[6] of an early Indian pictographic writing as the origin of the Brahmi script a mere pious hope. On the contrary, I was lead to the hypothesis (which I had put forward in two Hindi journals) that most of the letters of these scripts originated from the linear figures, drawn to reproduce the shapes of  vocal organs employed in pronouncing different sounds. This hypothesis found some corroboration from the Indus script also.


While I was engaged in the analysis of the Indus script in the light of the above hypothesis, I came across the brilliant memorandum on the Indus script written by Shri Sudhanshu KUmār Ray[7] who revealed ‘the existence of alphabetic elements in the Indus Valley inscriptions.’ Already S. Langdon had pointed out the derivation of some Brahmi characters from the Indus script. Ray’s contribution appeared to me more promising, as unlike Langdon he believed that the direction of Indus script and Brahmi script was same, that is from left to right.[8]  Mr. Ray, therefore, rightly declared, that the “Indus script, as we shall see, is the ancestor of the both the secular Brahmi as well as the traditional vernacular script of India . As a matter of fact, the success of my decipherment of Indus script is dependent on the Brahmi alphabetic signs which have been brought to the proper juxta-positions with those of the Indus script.”[9] His real contribution to the study of the Indus script will, however, be found in his unique success[10] in the ‘Segregation of Alphabetic signs,’ with a bold declaration that ‘comparative study of the script undertaken purely on the basis of external resemblance with a view to imposing phonetic value on the signs is not only a dangerous game  but a worthless academic pursuit that often confuses the intellectual understanding. The only way of escaping from this banality is to bring internal evidences, as much as possible out of the inscriptions themselves, in  support of the conclusions to be drawn from the comparative study.’ Working on these lines, Mr. Ray made a very important statement partially similar to that of Swami Shankaranand saying that, ‘the non-Aryan population of Sind had already a kind of pictographic system of writing at their disposal at a very remote period, out of which both the writing systems—Egyptian and Indian—gradually evolved as two independent wings.’[11]



Thus, in spite of his illuminating approach to the problem Mr. Ray also could not free himself of the old prejudice that some ‘non-Aryan population’ of Sind having affinity with Egyptian people was the author of the Indus script and culture. That is why he had to  disown his own knowledge with the remark, ‘Although I have read the inscriptions which speak of an archaic Sanskrit, I do not want to insist now on its acceptance.’[12] Writing under the same vein, he said elsewhere ‘Indus valley provides us with the prototypes of almost all the alphabetical signs used by the various nations of the New World including Indian script, is not a criterian of  language, as language is not a criterian or race. Although, Indo Aryans cannot claim for the procreation of the Indus script, they were fully responsible for the procreation of true alphabetical characters out of the Indian spoils.’[13] These words seem to be in direct contrast with the underlying spirit of the following statements made by him in the same book:--


1. “Whatever may be the case, Mohenjodaro should be given credit for giving birth to certain scripts and their nursing.”


            2. “The excavated epigraphical materials, available at our hand speak of an archaic Aryan tongue.”


3. “Discovery of a large number of grammar school tables indicates that Mohenjodaro was the world’s first University town. Here, in the “foundry” its Aryan-speaking academicians were hammering out the linear “types” from gross pictographs, transforming the hieroglyphic script into pseudo hieroglyphics and gradually discovering the complicated principles of alphabetic and syllabic writings out of the primitive rebus.”


Surely, there is some compelling force which prevented Mr. Ray, like so many others, from speaking the truth that his intuition and study revealed to him in a natural way. The existence of the compelling force has been recently hinted by shri K.N Shastri, the great archaeologist associated with Indus Valley Excavations, in his thoroughly original book “New Light on the Indus Civilization.” He says, “The need for correct assessment of the date of the Indus Civilization is self-evident. At the far end of the date of the vast expanse of the Dark Age of Indian history stands, like a rock, the Indus civilization which appears to be the only sure guiding landmark. If we can locate it correctly and understand it in all its bearing, it will serve as a  valuable yard stick for measuring the intervening gap and solving its many chronological problems. I am afraid the low date recently given to it by foreign archaelogists which is now being followed tacitly by the Indian students and the scholars alike, does not fit in the chronological framework of Indian prehistory, as shown by the evidence from Lothal and other proto historic sites. We must not accept anything and everything cooked and offered to us by foreigners. We should have our independent views and the capacity to test others’ views on the touch-stone of independent evidence.”


I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. K. N. Shastri for this bold stand which enabled him to give the correct lead to the students of Indian Prehistory and say,[14] “I strongly hold that the Indus people though practicing inhUmātion, did not believe unlike the Sumerians and the Babylonians, in an under-world, but in a sky-world or rather in a solar world to which the spirits of  the deceased were supposed to repair after death. Their beliefs about life after death were strikingly similar to those of the Vedic Aryan, though the latter practiced cremation and not burial”. But Shri Shastri again, like Shri S. K. Ray, hesitated to tell the whole truth. In fact the Rgvedic[15] people practiced cremation as well as burial, and in this respect at least, Indus people did not differ from the Vedic people, whether Aryan or Non Aryan. Therefore, the farthest limit to which he could go was the conclusion[16] that the Non-Aryan Culture of the Indus people was integrated with the Vedic Culture already in the time of Atharveda and that the Ŗgveda was anterior to Indus-Valley Civilization.


This is by no means a small achievement; for the earlier writers, Indian or foreign, never dared challenge or modify the stand taken in the three volumes of ‘Mohenjodaro and the Indus Civilization’, though their Editor, John Marshall[17] himself said that they “do not claim to be other than provisional.” To some extent the reason for the tacit acceptance of John Marshall’s views by scholars lies in his ruthless criticism of his opponents. A glimpse of his intolerant attitude may be found in the preface itself where he says “I cannot refrain from stressing this point here because the  antiquities from Mohenjodaro and Harappa already figured in the pages of our Department Reports have been made the subject of much nonsensical writing which can be nothing but a hindrance in the way of useful research.” This may account for the peculiar attitude of professor Langdon who on the one hand regards the Indus script as the mother of Brahmi scripts and seems[18] to accept Sanskrit as the language of the Indus inscriptions, but on the other hand, he hastens to add that “it is of course possible that this is not an Indo-Germanic language. So early a date(3200-2800 B. C.) for the existence of an Aryan Civilization in India is confidently asserted to be pure legend and dream of a national tradition.”[19] That Sir John Marshall could  not have tolerated the view hinting at the Aryan association with the Indus Valley Culture may be corroborated by his criticism of Professor Langdon for his statement that  ‘likely is it that Aryans in India are the oldest representatives of Indo-Germanic race.’ With reference to this view Sir John Marshall says,[20] “Professor Langdon does not seek to identify the Indo-Aryan with the authors of the Indus Civilization, but he is led by his theory on the derivation of Brahmi from Indus script to infer that the Aryans must have been established in India and in contact with those authors long before the middle of the second millennium B. C. when according to the majority of Vedic scholars, they first entered India. With this view of  Professor Langdon’s I must confess that I find it impossible to agree”.


There is, however a justification for his strong attitude on the subject, for Vedic Scholars have continuously harped upon the conflict between the Devas and the Dasas which was taken by some historians as a war between the invading Aryans and the aboriginal Dravidians. The claim that the Indus Valley Civilization and its script are the creations of Dravidians has been strongly supported by the work of late Father Heras and Bishop Caldwell. It is with this back-ground that Sir John Marshall spoke of the Indus people in this way[21]—“The picture of them as gleaned from the Hymns of the Ŗgveda was that of black-skinned, flat nosed barbarians, as different from the fair Aryans in physical aspect as they were in speech and religion, though at the same time it was evident that they must have been rich in cattle, good fighters, and possessed of many forts in which they defended themselves against the invaders. These “forts” however, were explained by Vedic scholars as being no more than occasional laces of refuge—simple earth-works, that is to say, surrounded, may be, by palisades or rough stone walls; for seeing that the Aryans themselves were still in the village state and that their society was in other respects correspondingly primitive, it was deemed impossible that the older races of India—the contemptible outcast Dasas—could already have been living in well-built cities or fortresses or in other respects have attained to a higher state of culture. Mentally, physically, socially and religiously, their inferiority to their conquerors was taken for granted, and little or no credit was given to them for the achievements of Indian Civilization. Never for a moment was it imagined that five thousand years ago, before even the Aryans were heard of, the Punjab and Sind, if not other parts of India as well, were enjoying an advanced and singularly uniform civilization of their own, closely akin but in some respects even superior to that of contemporary Mesopotamia and Egypt. Yet this is what the discoveries at Harappa and Mohenjodaro have now placed beyond question. They exhibit the Indus peoples of the fourth and third millennia B. C. in possession of a highly developed culture in which no vestige of Indo-Aryan influence is to be found”.


[1] See his two books, namely : (1) Rigvedic Culture of the Pre-historic Indus (II) The Indus people Speak.

[2] He worte, ‘ A clue to the Indus-Valley Script and Civilization

[3] The Rigvedic Culture of the Pre-historic Indus. Vol. 2, pp.68-69

[4]A clue to the Indus Valley Script and Civilization, p.14.

[5] lbid. pp. 5-6

[6]  Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum; 1.52.

[7] See his Memorandum No. 1 & 2 entitled Indus Script.

[8] Indus script, Memorandum No.2, p.19.

[9] ibid, Memorandum No.1, pp. 8-13

[10] Ibid, Memorandum No.2, p.30.

[11]Ibid.  Memorandum p.34

[12] Ibid. Memoradnum No.1, p.14

[13] Ibid. Memorandum No.2, p.53

[14] lbid p. 5.

[15] See R. V. 10, 15, 14

[16] New Light on Indus Civilization Vol 2.

[17] Preface P. IX

[18] Mark his remark "Working with the present national, I suggest to Sanskrit scholars that they choose the names of a few mythical heroes and of deities, and with the few identification here, made attempt to separate the constantly recurring groups of sign and compare them with the these names. " (M. I. C. P. 431

[19] lbid

[20] lbid.

[21] M.I.C. Vol II P. 432






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