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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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residuum (śeşa) and the final negation (neti neti       ) of all that is manifest, just as all the linear signs of the alphabet are reducible to a zero, the indivisible. Conversely, it is the Zero that evolves or manifests itself into all linear signs called letters or Varņas.


How does the unmanifest manifest itself ? “By its inherent power of self expression” is the answer which seems to be implied in the Indus symbolism. The symbol of this ‘power’ of manifestation known as Paraa is a line, straight or curvital, but in its all-inclusive form, it is represented by a horizontal ellipse which is the letter P of the Indus script and incidentally the initial letter of the word Parā. Now just as the ellipse is supposed to be the mother of all linear designs of  Varņas, even so, all manifestations of the unmanifest ‘self’ of man are the products of its power of self expression and can, therefore be symbolized in Varņas (letters) of the alphabet.


Thus, if one were to trace the history of this ellipse, the mother of all lines, one would find it present not only in the manifested forms of the letter v ‘a’ and all other Varņas, but also inherent in the ‘unmanifested’ zero, its ultimate resort, origin and the constant constituent in all  its linear manifestations called Varņas. In the same way, Parā, the power of self-manifestation inherent in the unmanifest ‘self’ can be found in all its manifested forms, represented by the three forms of the first Varņa (av) mentioned above, and in fact of all the Varņas. In other words, the self, both manifest and unmanifest, as also its power to manifest may be conceived to have three subtle states, namely the unmanifest a v or zero, (2)  inclined to manifest and (3) the manifested, respectively known as a v] at vr~ and ‘man’ eu~ which combine to form the word ‘Atman’ signifying the inner ‘self’. Following the  pratyahara system of Sanskrit Grammar, the last two or the three together may also be called An (vu~) formed by combining the first and the last letter of the group. This in its negative form (i. e. not-An) is Annam [1] or Anna (vUUk~) which means, in the Indus tradition, the gross ‘self’, and may be called the outer Atman. In between the two, there exists a middle stage called prāņa (      ) which in essence is not different from either of the two. Therefore, in order to signify this essential unity of the three states (An, Pran and Anna)  of the human self (Atman), the syllable An (vu~) is common to them all.


In spite of this essential unity, An (vu~) and Anna (vUUk)  represent the two poles of the human personality, and the two together signify the dichotomy in man. Therefore, An and Anna occur frequently in the Indus seals. What surprises most is the fact that the two words are written with all the three forms of the letter a v and express in each case, three shades of meaning, namely (1) the abstract, (2) the medium and (3) the gross forms of An or Anna, as the case may be. Thus in seal 505 of Harappa [2], we find the use of the first and the third form, whereas the second[3] is used in No. 545 and 443 of the same.


At all the three stages of  manifestation, An (vu~) has three aspects respectively[4] known as Indra, Soma and Agni As an inseparable companion, his power of manifestation also assumes three forms signified respectively by double u m with ib] the su u lq m and the aigni u ,sfXu +m. An illustration of the same may be seen in seal[5] 489 (plate XCVI) of Harappa bearing. On its obverse the word Indra, flanked on one side by sa u l m and on the other by aigni u ,sfXu m, each with a super-inscription of the letter ib. This means that Indra was supposed to be the combination of Soma and Agni with their su u lq m and the aigni u ,sfXu m each  superinscribed with the initial ib of indra. On the reverse[6] of the same seal the syllable Um ( else-where[7] called avara voj) is another name of this Indra. This Indra, as the combination of Soma and Agni, may also be seen in seal 210, plate CXVIII Of MIC, where a central figure seated on a throne is flanked by the two figures each presenting the letter U to the central figure who again bears on his head a composite symbol formed by a pair of the letter U.


As opposed to this Avara, UM or Indra, there is also a para Indra[8] ( ij banz ) written with elliptical P inscribed at its foot. Obviously, the elliptical letter P stands for the Parā, his power of self-manifestation in its supreme form who when bifurcated turns into the pair of the letter U called SU and Aigna, associated with the trinity mentioned above. The power of self-manifestation associated with this Parā Indra or UM is also known as Indrā and Umā, because it belongs to Indra or Um; the same Umā as also its cognate UM may derive its name from the letter U as suggested in a seal[9] of Mohenjodaro published by Mackay in his book, “Further Excavation at Mohenjodaro”. Here the inscription reads[10] as Sā Indrā Umā (       ) and beside this inscription, there is a human figure  presenting a letter U to a tree which is the symbol of physical manifestation (creation)[11] in microcosm as well as macrocosm and is also called Varņa as stated above. Thus the  word Umā comes in close association with U and suggests thereby that, most probably, the word Umā is somehow derived from the symbol U.


Now U is equated with the epithet ‘Vŗtra Agni’ in one seal[12] and with triple A (vertical stroke) in another. Thus indeed, the letter U seems to represent the manifested trinity of Indra, Soma and Agni (signified by triple U of An) mentioned above and is additionally called the ‘Vŗtra Agni’ which in Indus terminology, seems to signify ‘the covered fire’ alternatively known as Varņa, the manifested aspect of human personality in its variety of trios (Indra, Soma and Agni). For clarification, it may be added that the word Vŗtra and Varņa may be derived from the same Sanskrit root ‘Vŗ’ which means ‘to cover’. But in the above context, who covers whom ? The answer is that it is obviously the ‘power of manifestation’ that seeks constantly to cover the unmanifested Varņa and is known as Vŗtra Agni.


But, it is not only the ‘power’ that covers the ‘powerful’, but the vice versa is also true. The powerful, vu in its role of  ‘covering the power (Umā) is known as Varuņa[13] is a cognate of Vŗtra and from Varņa , ‘Vr to cover’. But in order to differentiate the ‘covering’ by      from that by Anna, it is called ‘colouring’ which is the other sense given to the root       . Thus, the Varņa is both a coverer Vŗtra representing Anna and a coloured Varņa representing    . In fact in view of their inseparable companionship as mentioned above, it is but natural. Therefore, the treble creation, as symbolized in letter U (two separate and one conjunct) is as much a manifestation of    , the Varuņa, as the transformation of Uma, the Anna as Vŗtra. Therefore,  in a three-faced seal (MFEM pl. XC, 12), we find a man, symbolizing vu holding the rod-like letter v in both the hands and trying to unite it with the elliptical letter ‘p’ held by a woman in a kneeling posture, symbolizing parā, his great power of manifestation. Behind the woman is the letter U with a child-like figure, combining in itself the letters P. R. A. and N to form the word Praņ. Behind  the  man vu , there is a terrace-like oblong syllabic sign MA, with the syllable Pra giving the appearance of a flag-like thing. In between Pra and MA, there is the letter N serving as a common property of the two syllables to form a composite Man-Prān (       ) symbol. Each of the two sides of the angular letter N also serves as a pair of combined legs of the two antelopes flanking the two sides of the composite symbol. The hind legs of one of the antelopes touch the man representing   while those of the other are lost in the stem of the tree which is definitely a symbol of Anna[14]. Here the two antelopes seem to represent two aspects of the human mind, one introvert disposed towards the psychic, and the extrovert inclined towards the physical, the exterior and the gross.


Thus, it will be seen that the above seal depicts a symbolic representation of human personality with distinct polarization into the introvert and the extrovert which seem to act as positive and negative sides of the manifested self. In their unmanifested stage, they are symbolized in zero where both of them have one and the self-same identity with no trace of dualism. To  signify the relationship of the two in this state, the symbol of cross is employed in the Indus seals. In a cross, the vertical line representing the positive aspect cuts the horizontal line representing the negative aspect at a Zero, the unmanifested one. Thus the cross represents the unmanifested self ready to manifest itself, portrayed by the Indus artist as an eagle with its two wings stretched side-ways in readiness to fly. This is what is meant by the Harappan[15] seal No. 255, having the cross on one side and the eagle on the other. At the Zero stage, the unmanifested self is represented as a bird[16] surrounded by a circle or placed within brackets. There are also seals[17] where the word ‘Agni’ substitutes the ‘bird’ and at one place[18] the word ‘Agni’ and a bird are both together inside the bracket. There is no wonder, therefore, that Agni itself written vertically[19] as well as horizontally[20] is found equated with a pair of straight lines, both vertical and horizontal representing respectively the positive and negative aspects of the manifesting self, symbolized in a cross or eagle indicated above.


What may appear to be a strange thing is that the word Agni[21] as well as the figure of a bird[22] in the above sense is often, found accompanied ( or rather qualified ) by the word Vŗtra. This  shows that the curves forming the bracket or the circle to encompass the bird or Agni are supposed to be the binding ropes or snares of Vŗtra to captivate the bird or Agni. This inference is corroborated by an inscription[23] where the word qualifies two parallel curves and the animal figure below the inscription bears a wave-like curve on the head and several curves encircling its neck, besides one small curve serving as the tail. To prove itself as a cognate of the word Vŗtra, Varuņa in several inscriptions is accompanied by animal figures which seem to be fettered with rope-like curves. That the word Varuņa bears some relation to these curves may seem from the fact that  the number of  curves is in proportion to the numerical sign put before the word Varuņa in the inscription. Thus at two places[24] where the word Varuņa in the inscription is prefixed by 1, the animal hardly bears one or two curves at the neck whereas the animal[25] occurring with Varuņa prefixed by number 11 has a large number of curves at its neck, and the one found with that prefixed by the letter N signifying negation has a clean neck[26]. Like Varuņa, the word Vŗtra also when suffixed by the word meaning ‘No triple U’ describes the animal with a clean neck[27]. As stated above, the triple U indicate the three aspects of manifested self known as Indra, Soma and Agni; therefore it is natural to suppose that the stage indicated by the phrase “ No triple U” points to the fourth aspect of the self where Vŗtra is conceived without its snares. In case of Varuņa also, its nooseless stage may be guessed to exist at that very fourth stage of human self.


There is an inscription suggesting that Agni itself is Varuņa. This inscription[28], above a clean animal begins with the word Agni surrounded by the letter b in quadruped, followed by two vertical straight lines and then states ‘it is Agni and Anna, not Varuņa the eater.’ This means that Agni surrounded by b in quadruped, as also the two vertical lines signify, the Agni-Anna compound and not Varuņa the eater. This shows that the clean stage indicated

1 See, Swaha Dec, 68

[2] ibid

[3] lbid.

[4] lbid.

[5] lbid.

5. lbid.

[7] lbid.

[8] lbid.

[9] M FEM., Plate XC, 23-a a 7 b

[10] "She is Uma, the power iof Indra.""

[11] See "Swaha', Dec. 68

[12] ibid.

[13] ibid.

[14] See "The tree symbol" in Swaha Dec. '68

[15] MEH Seal Pl XCl.

[16] MIC 93; MFEM 28, pl LXXXIII; 696 pl. LXXXCl; 576 XCVILL

[17] MFEM 688, PL lXXXII; 7 PL.XCIII

[18] MEH546, pl XCVII; 489, pl. XCVI, 573, pl. XCVII

[19] Ibid 635, pl. XCIX; pl. XCVII.

[20] MIC pl. CII, b

[21] MEH, 546 pl. XCVII; MIC.551 CXV; MIC.148, pl CVIII

[22] MIC.93 pl.CVI; MFEM. 28, pl. LXXXIII. 696 pl. LXXXII; 576,XCVI.

[23] MFEM,606, pl. XCVIII

[24] Ibid 511 and 535 pl. XCVI

[25] Ibid 492 pl. XCVI

[26] Ibid 340, pl. LXXXIX

[27] Ibid 340, pl. LXXXIX

[28] MFEM. 340 pl LXXXXIX.




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