IATR and the World Classical Tamil Conference

July 24, 2010

IATR and the World Classical Tamil Conference

Noboru Karashima


Noboru Karashima - Since "The Hindu" picture disappeared, this photo is added for reference.

Noboru Karashima – Since “The Hindu” picture disappeared, this photo is added for reference.

Dr. Noboru Karashima. Photo: K.V.Srinivasan
The Hindu Dr. Noboru Karashima. Photo: K.V.Srinivasan

A new International Association of Tamil Research must now be created to function as a real academic body.

The World Classical Tamil Conference that was held in Coimbatore last month attracted lakhs of people, according to reports. The International Association of Tamil Research (IATR), which is an older academic organisation of international scholars and of which I am President, kept its independence from this Conference. I will explain here the reasons for this and also contemplate the future of the IATR and Tamil studies in general.

Circumstances that led to the formation of the World Classical Tamil Conference

In September 2009, I was informed that the Tamil Nadu government had decided to hold the 9th session of the IATR conference in January 2010 in Coimbatore. I was greatly surprised as I had not been consulted on this matter. For accepting the government’s kind offer to sponsor our 9th Conference, I put forth the following as conditions.

1) A period of at least one year to organise the conference, as I felt it was impossible to organise any big international academic conference within four months. The earliest possible date of the Conference, I said, could be December 2010 or January 2011.

2) The clear demarcation of the academic sessions of the IATR conference from the political events and programmes associated with it.

3) The release for distribution by the Government of the five-volume Proceedings of the 8th IATR Conference held in 1995 in Thanjavur sponsored by the then State Government. These had been ready for distribution in 2005, but had been kept in the Tamil University despite repeated requests for their release to the present Government.

In response, the State Government postponed the Conference from January 2010 to June 2010, and accepted my second and third points. I was strongly urged to accept this offer, as the Government could not put off the date later than June 2010 in view of the expected State Assembly election. I however held to the position that the conference should not be held earlier than December 2010. Incidentally, in the case of the 14th World Sanskrit Conference that was successfully held in Japan in September 2009, the first circular was issued two years before the conference.

Having consulted many internationally reputed scholars in various countries on this matter and having secured their support, I sent my final answer to the Government in the negative — with a statement, however, that the Government could hold any Tamil Conference of its own, if it did not involve IATR. Accordingly, the Government decided to hold its own conference, the World Classical Tamil Conference, in June 2010 in Coimbatore.

History of the IATR and past conferences

The IATR was established by some eminent scholars who were deeply concerned about the development of Tamil studies on the occasion of the 26th International Congress of Orientalists held in New Delhi in 1964. The first IATR Conference was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1966, and the second in 1968 in Madras. The 1960s witnessed the culmination and triumph of the Dravidian Movement, and the government headed by C.N. Annadurai of the DMK was voted to power in 1967 — just before the IATR conference in Madras.

It was quite natural that the Madras conference turned out to be a massive political celebration of the victory of the Dravidian Movement, though the conference showed its strength academically too. Therefore, the political statement made by this academic conference was understandable and probably permissible, although politics cast a shadow over the following conferences held in Tamil Nadu. The 5th Conference held again in Tamil Nadu in 1981 in Madurai, under the sponsorship of the AIADMK Government, became a political show again as the government made it a platform for the forthcoming elections. The 6th Conference, which was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1987, was equally affected by regional politics, as it was attended by a large group of Tamil Nadu politicians.

Although I was absent from the 7th Conference held in Moka in Mauritius in 1989, I was elected President of IATR on that occasion. I therefore organised the 8th Conference held in Thanjavur in 1995 with the sponsorship offered by the Tamil Nadu Government. Although I tried my best to separate the academic session from the political programme, two lakh persons attended the closing ceremony held in the stadium. Moreover, the conference was spoiled by the deportation of some Sri Lankan scholars. Though I sent a letter of protest to the then Chief Minister asking for an explanation, I did not receive a reply.

Historical role of IATR

The Dravidian Movement, or the Non-Brahmin movement as it was called, arose in the 1910s spearheaded by the Justice Party. Language became the focus of the movement by the late 1930s, and great emphasis was placed on the economic and political struggle by the South (Dravidian) power against the North (Aryan) power. The movement demanded the overturning of the North/Aryan ‘oppression’ of the South/Dravidian.

From the 1970s, however, the situation changed in accordance with the changes in caste society and the gradual economic growth of the South. The Dravidian Movement could be said to have fulfilled its historical role to a certain extent. From the 1980s, we see a shift in the aims of the movement. The political mobilisations by the DMK and AIADMK, and their appeals to the regional sentiments of the Tamil people, were primarily aimed at the expansion of their political vote base.

The Proceedings volumes of the 8th IATR Conference held in Thanjavur in 1995 still remain in Tamil University without distribution. The World Classical Tamil Conference was the best opportunity for their distribution. In the Preface (of the Proceedings), I have suggested that IATR should change its structure, free its conferences from politics, and respond to new academic trends.

It is true that IATR had not been able to conduct the 9th Conference since 1995. However, it is important to note that IATR originally planned to hold the 8th Conference in London in 1992, but as that did not materialise, it recommended in Thanjavur in 1995 the U.K., U.S.A. or South Africa as the venue for the 9th Conference. However, none of the IATR national units of these countries came forward to invite IATR to hold the conference; they were daunted perhaps by the inevitable political overtones that enter the conferences.

As for new trends in research, the “Tamil Studies Conference” organised by the University of Toronto has held its fifth conference, although on a much smaller scale, in May 2010. Some workshops and seminars on specific areas have been held in various places in the last ten years. I do not deny the advantages of large conferences, provided they are free from politics. However, the time has come now for small-scale workshops and seminars for comparative studies with other fields, instead of big conferences covering all aspects of Tamil studies.

Renaissance for Tamil Studies?

The time has come for the IATR to assume a new avatar. It has completed its historical role by making people realise the importance of Tamil studies, just as the Dravidian Movement did in respect of its original objectives. A new IATR must now be created to function as a real academic body.

My only satisfaction as President of IATR and a lover of the Tamil people and culture who has devoted his life to Tamil studies is the conviction that IATR has defended its academic freedom by keeping its independence from the government-organised and politically oriented conference held last month in Coimbatore.

However, IATR must be resurrected in a new way. Its renaissance rests on the shoulders of young and sincere scholars of Tamil studies.

(Noboru Karashima is the President of the International Association of Tamil Research and Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo.)

Rebuttal of Sproat, Farmer, et al.’s supposed “refutation” by Rajesh Rao

July 13, 2010

Rebuttal of Sproat, Farmer, et al.’s supposed “refutation”

[Updated: July, 2010]

This article is reproduced here, with due acknowledgements, as it has bearing on the Dravidian researches going on here in Tamilnadu.

Particularly, Asko Parpola had delivered his lecture at Coimbatore and Chennai, but full details are not provided to general readers, as these issues affect them socially and politically.

In 2004, Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat, and Michael Witzel published a paper in “Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies” (entitled “The Collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis: The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilization”) claiming that the Indus valley civilization was illiterate and that Indus writing was a collection of political or religious symbols.

The publication of our paper in Science elicited hostile reactions from them, ranging from off-the-cuff dismissive remarks such as “garbage in, garbage out” (Witzel) to ad-hominem attacks (labeling us “Dravidian nationalists”) and a vicious campaign on internet discussion groups and blogs to discredit our work. Their first knee-jerk reaction was to call the two artificial control datasets in our study “invented data sets” (Farmer). This was followed by Sproat and others on a blog claiming to have constructed “counterexamples” to our result. Sproat has even attempted to publicize his claims using an article in Computational Linguistics and a web page entitled “Why Rao et al.’s work proves nothing”(!), despite the fact that our work has now been published in journals like Science, PNAS, PLOS One, and IEEE Computer.

Here, we respond to their arguments in a point-by-point fashion. First, their arguments:

(1) Two datasets, used as controls in our work, are artificial.

(2) Counterexamples can be given, of non-linguistic systems, which produce conditional entropy plots like those presented in our Science paper.

(3) Conditional entropy cannot even differentiate between language families.

(4) The absence of writing material and long texts is “proof” that the Indus people were illiterate.

We view arguments (1)-(3) as arising from a misunderstanding of our approach and an overinterpretation of the conditional entropy result. Some of these arguments are made with a narrow computational linguistics point of view without considering other properties of the Indus script and the Indus civilization (see below). The last argument has been controverted by several other researchers as discussed below.

Here is the point-by-point rebuttal:

(1) As stated in our Science paper, the two artificial data sets (which Farmer et al. call “invented data sets”) simply represent controls, necessary in any scientific investigation, to delineate the limits of what is possible. The two controls in our work represent sequences with maximum and minimum flexibility, for a given number of tokens. Though this can be computed analytically, the data sets were generated to subject them to the same parameter estimation process as the other data sets. Our conclusions do not depend on the controls, but are based on comparisons with real world data: DNA and protein sequences, various natural languages, and FORTRAN computer code. All our real world examples are bounded by the maximum and the minimum provided by the controls, which thus serve as a check on the computation.

(2) Counterexamples matter only if we claim that conditional entropy by itself is a sufficient criterion to distinguish between language and non-language. We do not make this claim in our Science paper. As clearly stated in the last sentence of the paper, our results provide evidence which, given the rich syntactic structure in the script (and other evidence as listed below), increases the probability that the script represents language.

The methodology, which is Bayesian in nature, can be summarized as follows. We begin with the fact that the Indus script exhibits the following properties:

  • The Indus texts are linearly written, like the vast majority of linguistic scripts (and unlike nonlinguistic systems such as medieval heraldry or traffic signs);
  • Indus symbols are often modified by the addition of specific sets of marks over, around, or inside a symbol. Multiple symbols are sometimes combined (“ligatured”) to form a single glyph. This is similar to later Indian scripts which use such ligatures and marks above, below, or around a symbol to modify the sound of a root consonant or vowel symbol;
  • The script obeys the Zipf-Mandelbrot law, a power-law distribution on ranked data, which is often considered a nec­essary (though not sufficient) condition for language (see our PLOS One paper);
  • The script exhibits rich syntactic structure such as the clear presence of beginners and enders, preferences of symbol clusters for particular positions within texts etc. (see References), not unlike linguistic sequences;
  • Indus texts that have been discovered in Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf use the same signs as texts found in the Indus region but alter their ordering. These “foreign” texts have low likelihood values compared to Indus region texts (see our PNAS paper), suggesting that the script was versatile enough to represent different subject matter or a dif­ferent language in foreign regions.

Given that the Indus script shares the above properties with linguistic scripts, we claim that the similarity in conditional entropy of the Indus script to other natural languages provides additional evidence in favor of the linguistic hypothesis.

We have recently extended the result in our Science paper to block entropies for sequences of up to 6 symbols (see IEEE Computer paper for details):



The language-like scaling behavior of block entropies in the above figure, in combination with the other properties of language enumerated above, could be viewed in a Bayesian framework as further evidence for the linguistic nature of the Indus script.

The above figure also addresses objections raised by some (e.g., Fernando Pereira) who felt conditional entropy (which considers only pairwise dependencies) was not a sufficiently rich measure.

Let us now consider the nonlinguistic systems that have been suggested:

  • Mark Liberman, Sproat, and Cosmo Shalizi in a blog constructed artificial examples of nonlinguistic systems whose conditional entropy was similar to the Indus script but their examples have no correlations between symbols – these examples do not exhibit the entropy scaling property exhibited by the Indus script and languages in the above figure, let alone other language-like properties like those exhibited by the Indus script.
  • Two natural nonlinguistic systems that have been suggested, medieval heraldry and traffic signs, are not even linear, nor do they exhibit other script-like properties such as those listed above.
  • The Vinca markings on pottery are linear but scholars have established that the symbols do not appear to follow any order – the system thus can be expected to fall in the maximum entropy range (MaxEnt) in the above figure.
  • The carvings of deities on Mesopotamian boundary stones are also linear but the ordering of symbols appears to be more rigid than in natural languages, following for example the hierarchical ordering of the deities. This system can thus be expected to fall closer to the minimum entropy (MinEnt) range in the above entropy scaling figure than to natural languages.

We therefore believe that the new result above from our IEEE Computer paper, showing that the block entropies of the Indus script scale in a manner similar to natural languages, when viewed in conjunction with the other language-like properties of the script as described above, adds further support to the linguistic hypothesis.

(3) Sproat has endeavored to produce a plot where languages belonging to different language families have similar conditional entropies, thereby claiming that the conditional entropy result “proves nothing.” This claim is once again based on an overinterpretation of the result in our Science paper. We specifically note on page 10 in the supplementary information that “answering the question of linguistic affinity of the Indus texts requires a more sophisticated approach, such as statistically inferring an underlying grammar for the Indus texts from available data and comparing the inferred rules with those of various known language families.” In other words, conditional entropy provides a quantitative measure of the amount of flexibility allowed in choosing the next symbol given a previous symbol. It is useful for characterizing the average amount of flexibility in sequences of different kinds. We do not make the claim that it can be used to distinguish between language families – this requires a more sophisticated measure.

(4) With regard to the length of texts, several West Asian writing systems such as Proto-Cuneiform, Proto-Sumerian, and the Uruk script have statistical regularities in sign frequencies and text lengths which are remarkably similar to the Indus script (Details can be found in http://indusresearch.wikidot.com/script). These writing systems are by all accounts linguistic. Furthermore, the lack of archaeological evidence for long texts in the Indus civilization does not automatically imply that they did not exist (“absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”). There is a long history of writing on perishable materials like cotton, palm leaves, and bark in the Indian subcontinent using equally perishable writing implements (see Parpola’s paper below). Writing on such material is unlikely to have survived the hostile environment of the Indus valley. Thus, long texts may have been written, but no archaeological remains are to be found.

As regards the argument for literacy from the point of view of cultural sophistication of the Indus people, we believe Iravatham Mahadevan has addressed this adequately in his op-ed piece below (see also Massimo Vidale’s entertaining article).


  • Final version of the Science paper (including Supplementary Information), 2009:

o        http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/rao/ScienceIndus.pdf

  • IEEE Computer review article with new block entropy result:
    Probabilistic analysis of an ancient undeciphered script, 2010:

o        http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/rao/ieeeIndus.pdf

  • PLoS One paper: Statistical Analysis of the Indus script using n-grams, 2010:

o        http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0009506

  • PNAS paper: A Markov model of the Indus script, 2009:

o        http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/rao/PNASIndus.pdf

  • Asko Parpola’s point-by-point rebuttal of Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel:

o       Parpola A (2008) Is the Indus script indeed not a writing system? in Airavati: Felicitation volume in honor of Iravatham Mahadevan (Varalaaru.com publishers, Chennai, India) pp. 111-131.


  • Massimo Vidale’s “The collapse melts down: a reply to Farmer, Sproat and Witzel”:

o        http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=9163376

  • Iravatham Mahadevan’s “The Indus non-script is a non-issue”:

o        http://www.hindu.com/mag/2009/05/03/stories/2009050350010100.htm

  • Syntactic structure in the Indus script:

o       Koskenniemi K (1981) Syntactic methods in the study of the Indus script. Studia Orientalia 50:125-136.

o       Parpola A (1994) Deciphering the Indus script. (Cambridge University Press), Chaps. 5 & 6.

o       Yadav N, Vahia MN, Mahadevan I, Joglekar H (2008) A statistical approach for pattern search in Indus writing. International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics 37(1):39-52.


o       Yadav N, Vahia MN, Mahadevan I, Joglekar H (2008) Segmentation of Indus texts. International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics 37(1):53-72.


Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation: Asko Parpola

July 7, 2010

Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation


Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Ancient civilisations and long un-deciphered mysterious scripts have always been hauntingly engaging challenges to the human consciousness.
Fired by John Chadwick’s classic in archaeology, ‘The Decipherment of Linear-B’, that chronicles how the secrets of the late Minoan and Mycenaean civilisation in ancient Greece were unveiled, renowned Indologist Prof Asko Parpola set out on an equally challenging task over 45 years back to crack the script of the Indus Valley Civilisation. For someone who has done a lifetime of monumental research on ‘Deciphering the Indus Script’ even using modern computerised tools, Parpola, whose path-breaking study on ‘A Dravidian Solution to the Indus Script Problem’ had bagged the ‘Kalaignar M Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Research Award’ at the ‘World Classical Tamil Conference (WCTC)’ in Coimbatore, is remarkably self-effacing and realistic. A diligent scholar from Finland in both ‘Vedic’ and ‘Dravidian’ studies,spoke to M R Venkatesh of ‘Deccan Herald’.


What prompted you to undertake this amazing intellectual journey?

Well, my interest in the Indus Script was aroused during my student years. I also studied the classical languages of Europe, Greek and Latin, when I became a student of Helsinki University in 1959. At that time there was much discussion whether the ‘Linear-B Script’ had been deciphered or not. Actually it had been deciphered in 1952. A book on it by John Chadwick came out in 1960. I read it and it was quite fascinating. I was quite convinced that this (decipherment) is correct though there were still some Greek scholars who were sceptical. And then, my childhood friend Seppo Koskenniemi who was working for IBM in Finland asked if I would like to try computers for any problem in my field. He volunteered to do the programming; so at that time I thought we might do something useful to promote the study of the Indus Script. Because compiling statistics (on the frequency with which signs are repeated, etc.) has been very useful in all decipherment
attempts. My brother Simo who studied ‘Assyriology’ also joined the team.

How did you use computer technology in this study of Indus Script as India’s renowned epigraphist, Iravadham Mahadevan says you are the first person to have done it?

Asko Parpola: Well, it is not me. Seppo Koskenniemi and his brother Kimmo Koskenniemi, who is now Professor of Computer Linguistics at the University of Helsinki, assisted me. They have been there from the beginning.

On your seminal work on the Indus Script, what effected your change of approach to include sociology, anthropology and linguistics, instead of just an epigraphist approach that failed to make headway earlier?

Well, actually, I have not changed my approach. It has been there all the time.
I think every aspect has to be taken into consideration. We have to take advantage of every possible source (of knowledge) at our disposal.

Your solution to the Indus Script riddle – that the underlying s a syncretism rather than a collusive view of Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian family of languages. Your comments please?

Yes, I think these two language families have been in contact with each other ever since the Indo-Aryan speakers entered South Asia. It is impossible to leave Indo-Aryan sources out of account. They have preserved very important information of Harappan heritage.

One of 20th century’s greatest philosophers Wittgenstein had said understanding a language is understanding a whole form of life. Has your findings on Indus Script vindicated that insight on how language works?

Well, may be. You are putting it in very lofty words. I think every language is a unique way to see the world. I am using this phrase in connection with the tragic situation that is prevailing now in the world. So many languages, minority languages, are disappearing. At the moment, we are still having may be some 5,000 languages in the world, but very rapidly a large number of them have disappeared. It is just as with plant and animal species. Once they have gone, you can’t get them back and each of them is a unique
creation which is very valuable.

But these linguistic identities, when politicised, could lead to all kinds of disastrous consequences. So how is a harmonious understanding of world languages possible?

Yes. Besides Tamil, there are other Dravidian languages that have descended from the proto-Dravidian. But Tamil has preserved the language structure in a very archaic form. And also it has very ancient sources that are very precious. But at the same time, we must say that ‘Sanskrit’ has also preserved a very important part of the Indus heritage. So, it is impossible to say that there is something like ‘pure Dravidian’ or ‘pure Aryan’. They should not be pitted against each other. I mean, there has been mixture from the beginning. And even if you look at the history of Tamil Nadu, the ‘Brahmins’ were here
already in ‘Sangam’ times. So, they have also contributed hugely to the Tamil civilisation. So you have at least these two main language groups in India from very early times, side by side.

Your next project: will you continue your work on the Indus script?

I think it will be difficult not to continue, but actually my PhD was originally on ‘Sama Veda’ and I have been doing ‘Sama Vedic’ research in South India for many decades. There is a lot of material which I have not really had a good opportunity to work on, but which I would like to publish. Also, the ‘Thirukkural’ (of Tamil Saint-poet Thiruvalluvar) is a timeless book. I am working on a translation of it into Finnish and I would like the Finns also to have it.

How do you see the WCTC’s significance? Has it provided a platform to take forward your work on the Indus script?

Yes, I think so. For the Indus script it (WCTC) is certainly very important, a big boost to draw the attention of more Tamil and other Dravidian scholars into this venture. Scholars should get funds to pursue the studies further.

“The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and the Wild Ass” by Asko Parpola and the debate thereafter

June 30, 2010

“The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and  the Wild Ass” by Asko Parpola and the debate thereafter


Venue (Backside of CPT): Roja Muthiah Research Library, 3rd Cross Road, CPT Campus, Taramani, Chennai 600113

28-06-2010 (Monday) 4,00 pm: when I entered the Roja Muthaiah research Library premises, Venkatachallam[1], the old man was sitting in the Indus Research Centre (IRC), a room allotted to them on RHS.  Then I saw K. V. Ramakrishna Rao[2] and Orissa Balasubramaniam[3] entering the room and all started discussing about something with some papers.

The women / girls started rearranging chairs and tables at the entrance hall leading to the lecture hall. Two persons started displaying the books they brought on the tables. Only three-four persons were there for attending the meeting.

4.22 pm: Iravatham Magadevan came inside the room of IRC. Then he went to meet Asko Parpola, who was there already in the Computer room. Few more added.

4.40 pm: Tea came. Stil, people started coming slowly. Most of them have been elite, rich coming in cars. Then one woman came, identified as Rani Gift Siromoney, the wife of Gift Siromoney.

Then came P. R. Subramaniam, Narasaiah, Ramamurthy, Kavitha, Solomon, Vasanthi, Subbu, Ravichandran, Malar Mannan, Haran, K. V. Gopalakrishnan, ……………………and so on. And of corse reporters from the media.

4.50 pm: People started going inside the lecture hall. Hardly 20-25 were there. Some went and sat in the first two rows and others were hesitating and settling down in the last rows.

5.20 pm: the lecture not started, obviously, they were looking for some group to come. Then came the group from the Madras Christian College.

Iravatham Mahadevan He started explaining his relationship with Gift Siromoney from 1968, when he met him at the 2nd World Tamil Conference, where both came to present papers. He was praising his analysis of Kolam carried with the primitive computer in those days. He claimed that Gift was responsible for finding out the significant of “Pulli ezhuthu” that differentiates Tamil Brahmi from other Brahmi. He pointed out how he prepared charts showing the inscriptional way of development of Tirukkural written. He told that one Abdul Haq was the first to bring out computer analysis of the IVC. Pointing to his wife, he lamented that Rani was so worried as Gift was quoting from his concordance brought out in 1968 than the Bible.

Prof. Mrs. Rani Siromoney started his speech invoking god etc., Repeating the above with intermittent invoking god for all happenings.

Mrs & Mr Siromoney

Mrs & Mr Siromoney

R.W. Alexander Jesudasan, though not introduced to the audience by name for unknown reasons, the Principal of the Madras Christian College was called to say few words and he started his sermon praising the lord, Gift and others. He claimed that the Tamil studies of the college might come to end, but continues. He mentioned about Parithimal Kalainjar (V. Suryanarayana Sastri) of their college. However, he did not explain how it continues (He did not mention about M. Deivanayagam[4] who has been creating problem now or Moses Micheal Faraday[5] who confuses Siddhas with Christians).

R W Alexander Jesudasan

R W Alexander Jesudasan

M. Deivanayagam

M. Deivanayagam

Moses Michael Farradey

Moses Michael Farradey

The invitation card read as follows: Indus Research Centre of the Roja Muthiah Research Library  invites you to the inauguration of the Gift Siromoney Endowment Lecture Series Welcome address Dr. Iravatham Mahadevan Inaugural Lecture Prof. Asko Parpola on “The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and  the Wild Ass”.

Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

6.10 pm: Asko Parpola started his speech showing the ppt. The first slide showed that the same papers was presented on 25-06-2010 at Coimbatore on the occasion of the World Classical Tamil Conference. He delved upon the seal M-1690a, but revealed that it was missing long back.

“In a paper to be presented at the World Classical Tamil Conference, I am going to discuss recent developments in my study of the Indus script. In the book Deciphering the Indus Script (Cambridge 1994), I interpreted the ‘fish’ sign as Proto-Dravidian *miin ‘fish’ = *miin ‘star’, and its compounds with preceding signs as names of heavenly bodies attested in Old Tamil. One newly deciphered sign depicts “a hoofed animal’s hind leg.” It occurs once before the plain ‘fish’ sign. Old Tamil taaL ‘leg’ has a Toda cognate meaning “thigh of animal’s hind leg” and denotes a star in PuRam 395. The ‘hind leg’ sign once precedes a sign that depicts the wild ass. Is the reading taaL ‘(hind) leg’ meaningful in this context?

“Just one Indus seal has the wild ass as its iconographic motif; it was excavated in 2009 at Kanmer in the Kutch, next to the only wild ass sanctuary in South Asia. Bones of wild ass come from Harappan sites in Baluchistan, the Indus Valley and Gujarat; the salt deserts of this very area have always been the habitat of the wild ass. Bones or depictions of the domestic horse and the donkey are not found in South Asia before 1600 BCE.

“Tamil kaZutai or “donkey” has cognates in Malayalam, Kota, Toda, Kannada, Kodagu, Tulu, Telugu, Kolami, Naiki, Parji, Gondi and Kuwi. Bhadriraju Krishnamurti reconstructs *kaZ-ut-ay and asserts that Proto-Dravidian speakers knew of the donkey. More probably *kaZutay meant ‘wild ass’ in Harappan Dravidian, and the term was transferred to the similar-looking donkey when this newcomer came to South Asia from the west through the Indus Valley. Rigvedic gardabha – ‘donkey’ has no cognates in Iranian; it is a Dravidian loan word with the added Indo-Iranian animal name suffix –bha-. I explain *kaZutay as ‘kicker of the salt desert’, from *kaZ(i) / *kaLLar ‘saline soil’ and *utay ‘to kick’. The wild ass lives in the salt desert and is a vicious kicker.

“There is a Hindu myth explicitly associated with the wild ass, the Dhenukavadha of Harivamsa 57. Krishna and Balarama came to a palmyra forest occupied by the fierce ass demon Dhenuka and its herd. Wanting to drink the juice of ripe palm fruits, Balarama shook the trees. Hearing the sound of falling fruits, the enraged ass demon rushed to the spot. Seeing Balarama beneath a wine palm, as if holding the tree as his banner, the wicked ass bit Balarama and started kicking him hard with its hind legs. Balarama seized the ass by those hind legs and flung it to the top of a palm. The ass fell down with its neck and back broken and died. Dhenuka’s retinue met with the same fate, and the ground became covered with dead asses and fallen palm fruits. The palm forest, horrible when terrorised by the asses, impossible for humans to live in, difficult to cross, and with a great extent and salty soil (iriNa), now became a lovely place.

“The description of the palm forest as a salt desert confirms that wild asses are meant. The palm tree, Sanskrit taala from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ, is prominent in the myth and its earliest sculptural representations. The wine palm is associated with the wild ass, which inhabits the palm forest and finally falls down from the top of the palm like its ripe fruits. The wine palm is connected also with the ass’ killer (his successor as the god of its drink), Balarama, whose addiction to toddy is “an essential part of his character.”

“The myth also refers to the palm emblem on Balarama’s banner (tâla-dhvaja). In the Rigveda, Indra is invited to drink Soma like a thirsty wild ass (gaura) drinks in a pond of salty soil (iriNa). In Kutch today, such ponds are called taalaab. This Persian word comes from Indo-Aryan taala ‘pond’, from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ ‘low place, depression.’ Like the camel, the wild ass can quickly drink an enormous amount of water, becoming through homophony the prototypal toddy-drinker. Further homophones of taaZ connect the wild ass with the ebb of tide and its mythical cause, the mare-faced demon of the netherworld who drinks the whole ocean.”

He also relied upon his paper “Equus hemionnus & Equus Kiang and their vernacular names” along with Juha Janhunen.

Though, he mentioned about “wild ass” i,e, Asiatic Wild Ass[6] prevalent in different parts of the world, Asia in particular, he kept silence as to how they crossed over to Kiang in China. However, he went on as follows:

The Asiatic wild ass in Harappan, Dravidian and Indo-Iranian record Asko Parpola University of Helsinki, Finland This abstract summarizes my part of a longer paper written in collaboration with Juha Janhunen (who deals with the Turkic, Mongolic and Tibetan terms), entitled “The Asiatic  wild asses (Equus hemionus & Equus kiang) and their vernacular names”, to be published in full in the Proceedings of this roundtable[7].

“After an introduction on the taxonomy and geographical distribution of the different ass species and subspecies, I discuss one grapheme of the Indus script (no. 46 in the sign list of Parpola 1994: fig.5.1), proposing that it depicts the wild ass. The sign has realistic (cf. fig.1 a & b) and schematic variants (fig.1 c). The wild ass is present in the Harappan osteological record at least in Baluchistan, Sindh and Gujarat, but probably also in the Punjab and Rajasthan. Moreover, there are terracotta figurines of the wild ass, but it is not among the “heraldic” animals of the Indus seals, probably because the ass was already an animal of ill omen: later on it was associated with Nirrti

“The principal Harappan language, and apparently the only one in which the Indus texts from South Asia were written, was Proto-Dravidian (cf. Parpola 1994). Attested in 13 Dravidian languages, representing all the subgroups except North Dravidian, is a word for ‘ass’ (DEDR no. 1364). Bhadriraju Krishnamurti (2003: 12 and 525) reconstructs this  etymon for Proto-Dravidian as *kaz–ut-ay. Franklin Southworth (2005: 269-270) accepts this recontruction, proposing that instead of the domestic ass, the word originally denoted the wild ass, and that this animal was once present even in South India. This does not seem impossible in view of the continuous belt of semi-arid thorn-desert and dry tropical savannah from Kutch to Tamil Nadu, although there is little osteological support for this hypothesis. The wild ass assumption is endorsed by a new etymology that I propose for the word, as a Proto-Dravidian compound of *kaz- – ‘salt desert’ (DEDR no. 1359 + Turner 1966 no. 2954) and *utay ‘kick’ (DEDR no. 616). Desert, especially salt desert, is the habitat of the wild ass, and figures in the names of the onager in Sumerian (anše-eden-na) and Persian (χar-e daštī). On the other hand, the ass is famous for its kicking, and represented as kicking in the myth of the (wild) ass demon Dhenuka (cf. Harivamśa .57).  Sanskrit gardabha- ‘ass’ is very probably derived, with the animal name suffix -bha- (of PIE origin but still productive in Indo-Aryan), from the Dravidian word for ‘ass’, as proposed by Thomas Burrow and Murray Emeneau

Conclusion: taaL (from *taaZ, preserved in Old Kannada) ‘(hind) leg, stem of tree’ (whence taaZ ‘tree with a prominent stem’ > ‘wine palm’) is in many ways connected with the wild ass[8].

7.11 pm: Discussion and questions: Surprisingly, Iravatham Mahadevan this time allowed questions from the audience with with conditions[9]. There were only six questions and they are as follows:

KVR asks question

1. K. V. Ramakrishna Rao: your claim is confusing about the words – தாள்/தால்/தாழ், கழ்/கழு etc. What you mention about தாள் of Puram is different from your interpretation of தால்/தாழ்.

Asko Parpola accepted the possibility of other interpretations of the words. When Rao told that there had mean specific words used for ass and horse in the Sangam literature, he requested to provide them.

bearded man asks

2. White bearded person: Taking the reference that Indra was invited to drink Soma like a thirsty wild ass (gaura) drinks in a pond of salty soil (iriNa), he asked as to whether the “wild ass” drank urine………so that it could be salty.

Asko Parpola replied that it was only figurative.

Vasanthi asks

3. Dr. Vasathi: In our field excavations, we found the pictures / rock paintings of ass / horse and there have been may references in Sangam literature about ass / donkey. Whether the “koverukazuthai” and “wild ass” as mentioned by you are one and the same?

The Neolithic and megalithic findings of south India have been dated after the Wild ass of IVC.

Person with namam aasks

4. A man with namam on his forehead: You mentioned about camel as one of five things to be sacrificed. Does camel to do anything in the context?

Asko Parpola went back to his slide that shown the five things for sacrifice:

Man Purusha Kimpurusha
Cow Gau Gavya
Sheep Mesha
Goat Aja

He explained that hunting wild ass ws royal pastime and in ritual, it could have found place.

Girl student asks

5. Kavitha (who does Ph.D in Indus script, as introduced by IM): Why there was no wild as in South India?

They entered India through IV before proto-dravidians.

old man asks

6. Ramamurthy (very old man shaking…………As IM himself called him so): ……………………Researchers fall trap to such interpretations and also others to, but without coming to any specific conclusion……………………….

Asko Parpola accepted that his decipherment is incomplete and all the seals cannot be read like that and multi-interpretation is possible! However, it s ironical that media reports that Asko reads IVC in Dravidian, Tamil and so on, as if, it is final. Iravatham Mahadevan intervened to accept that “multiple-interpretations of the seals are possible and nothing is final in the decipherment”.

KVR Rao clarifies again

Conclusion: The function started as Christian crusade, went on as Dravidian propgandist lecture and ended with confessional statement that the decipherment was not final!

Meanwhile, the press has carried on undue publicity about the meeting, of course, bth The Hindu and New Indian express do not publish the responses posted in their websites:

1. The Indus script and the wild ass – published on June 23, 2010


For this, “The Hindu” has published three responses in its site.

2. ‘Dravidians headed south before Aryans’ arrival’ –  published on 29-06-2010


3. பேராசிரியர் அஸ்கோ பர்போலா சொற்பொழிவு




[1] An enthusiastic IVC researcher, who concentrates on the weights and measures of IVC. He was accusing that Bryan Wells used his findings without mentioning his name.

[2] Independent researcher in Chennai.

[3] Comes from Orissa, but now in Chennai doing maritime and other connected research  on the antiquity of the Tamil maritime activities etc.

[4] Incidentally, Deivanayagam claims that I Mahadevan helped Devakala his daughter for her Ph.D. Now, both father and daughter have indulged in attacking Tiruvalluvar, Hindus etc.

[5] Now he has been the HOD of Tamil department of the Christian College.

[6] Several authorities, including “Mammal Species of the World”, list as individual species Equus

hemionus, Equus kiang and Equus onager, and several subspecies are built on these, such as E.

kiang polyodon. Also Equus luteus has been used synonymously with onager and hemionus

[7] http://woodstove-jack.blogspot.com/

[8] Ironically, the entire thing was already published in “The Hindu” and there have been three responses also: see at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article481104.ece

[9] I understand that K. V. Ramakrishna Rao requested IM that there should be discussion.

A Review of “Deciphering Indus Script” by Asko Parpola

June 26, 2010

A Review of “Deciphering Indus Script” by Asko Parpola

K. V. Ramakrishna Rao

A paper presented at the “National Seminar on Indus Valley Civilization: A Review in Recent Research” held at the Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture, Pondicherry, on September 28th, 2003

Introduction: In recent research on Indus Valley Civilization, particularly in “Deciphering Indus script”, Asko Parpola’s book of the same name is talked about much1. Initially published in 1994 and it has appeared in paperback in 2000. The present review is about the 2000 edition printed in India but exported and sold from outside India. Ironically, according to ISBN, it is classified as follows: 1. Indus script. 2. Indus Civilization. 3. Harappan site (Pakistan). 4. Pakistan – Antiquities. I. Title.

The book contains four parts:

  1. Introduction.
  2. The Indus script.
  3. The Linguistic context.
  4. Interpretations of Indus pictograms.

For convenience the chapter headings themselves are taken in the order for review as follows. In the first paragraph, the findings, conclusions or certain statements made are reproduced or summarized and in the second paragraph they are for commented critically or refuted in the context. Only important points in the context are taken up for discussion.

1. The Indus Civilization and its historical context. The Indus (or Harappan) Civilization, now dated to c.2550-1900 BCE, collapsed before the composition of the hymns collected in the Rigveda Samhita, the oldest historical document in India.

There had been two “Aryan invasions” – 1. The Rigvedic Aryans and 2. Indo-European-speaking invaders – these Aryans called themselves Dasa.

Rigveda was compiled in 1200 BCE and historical period begins.

Discussing about the rise and fall of Harappan / Indus culture, he gives the periods archaeologically and chronologically as follows:

The archaeological levels Site Dated to period approximately Though the approximate dated periods are taken archaeologically, interpretation is given historically having bearing on the historical processes of India. Indian archaeological evidences themselves dated to different dates of various sites. But why they have different cultures with wide difference is not explained.
The earliest level Mehrgarh- IA c.7000-6000 BCE
The next major phase Mehrgarh- IIB-III c.5000-3600 BCE
The next phase Mehrgarh- IV-V c.3600-3200 BCE
Lower layers Mehrgarh- VI-VII

Nausharo I

Amri II

Kot Diji

c.3200-2600 BCE
Culture Approximate date If historical period starts with c.1200 BCE with the compilation of Rigveda, why then history of India starts with the invasion of Alexander? Therefore, the history of India should be written starting with 1200 BCE. Again another problem is the gap between the IVC and the Mauryan period. Therefore, the gap has to be filled up historically without mincing words.
Pottery neolithic c.6000-5000 BCE
Chalcolithic c.5000-3600 BCE
Early Harappan c.3600-2550
Mature Harappan c.2550-1900
Early Mature Harappan c.2550-2300 BCE
Intermediate Mature Harappan c.2300-1900 BCE
Late Harappan c.1900-1800/1400 BCE
Post Harappan c.1800/1400-110 BCE
Iron Age c.1000 BCE
Mauryan c.322-183 BCE

If one group of “Aryans’ called themselves “Dasas”, then, where is the question of the “conflicts” between them depicted as that of between “Aryans” and “Dasas/Dravidians” is to be analyzed here2.

  1. Early writing systems. The development of the alphabet is traced to different cultures and dated as follows:
Culture Type Period dated Remarks by the reviewer
Egyptian Hieroglyph c.1600 BCE How the dates have been determined is not given. The sources point to reliance placed on biblical and other Puranic type narratives. Not less than a great scientist like Sir Isaac Newton has questioned the chronology of the Egyptians and Greeks and pointed out that the chronology of the former had been expanded by 3000 years and the later by 300 years. Therefore, Indian scholars have to question the placing of Brahmi script in the bracketed period c.250 BCE and c.150 CE.
West Semitic


Canaan and Phonecian



Alphabet in the development stages

c.1600-1300 BCE

c.1300-900 BCE

c.900-600 BCE

c.600-300 BCE

Greek Alphabet c.600-500 BCE
Brahmi Alphabet c.250 BCE

c.150 CE

He traces Semitic origins to the Indian alphabet and the Brahmi script.

According to the existing hypotheses and theories “Aryans” came from Central Asia. If the Indus Civilization collapsed by c.1900 BCE before the composition of the hymns collected in the Rigveda Samhita, the oldest historical document in India, why they were not writing even upto c.250 BCE to 150 CE period? Were they waiting for the collapse and then to compose? Actually, how the hymns were compiled? Is any compilation possible without written documents? Moreover, scholars again and again confuse the concepts of language and script, though they are separate entities. That the Sanskrit is the oldest language of “Aryan languages” / “Indo-Europeans languages”/ “Indo-Aryan languages” etc., has been accepted. How then they should wait for writing in Sanskrit? The writing of a language is not a pre-requisite for composing hymns in that language. Good and natural poets do not write to produce poems like the modern ones but produce spontaneously oozing out of their minds and hearts in consonance with nature. Moreover, the recital of Vedic hymns is related to time keeping and reckoning. This aspect is appreciated by westerners one side and ignored at another side. For that matter, even we do not have the original mss written by the poets Paranar, Mangudi Marudhanar, Mosi Kiranar, Kapilar etc. Does it mean that they composed or sang poems without the knowledge of writing?

  1. Deciphering the unknown script. Discussing Egyptian / Hittite hieroglyph, cuneiform, etc, analyzing theories of decipherment and considering the peculiarities of the Indus script, he considers a scheme as follows:
Type Script Language Example(s)
1 unknown Known Egyptian hieroglyph
2 Known Unknown Etrusian
3 Unknown Unknown Linear B; Indus script

Whatever method is perceived, conceived, proposed and applied, the way is only to go from “known” to “unknown”, whether one openly agrees or not. As the people who wrote the Indus script are Indians, though it is now in Pakistan, as the scholars very fond of mentioning it in their writings, and they are in India, of course some may be in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and other middle-eastern countries, the background of Indians have to be considered for decipherment. How the Egyptian and other cultural backgrounds would exactly fit into Indus script is questionable. To what extent the thinking processes of Egyptians/Sumerians/Akkadians and Harappans could be equated or the subjective and objective symbolism match to produce similar signs/ideograms etc., so that they can be compared with each other. The thinking of Egyptians and the Indus people would not have been in the same way to produce symbols, signs, pictograms to represent their ideas exactly as has been imagined by the deciphers. That he perceives, conceives and reads the symbolas ‘fish’, whereas William Fairservis3 does it as a combination of a loom twist and a human sign, and form a honorific title pertaining to rulership proves the fact.

  1. Approaches to Indus script. The potter’s marks on the ceramics of Neolithic societies may be considered as forerunners of writing, but only in the sense that they trained people to incised or painted symbols may have been models for the signs of real writing system when such a system was devised.

The Indus people though incised and painted their pottery, they do not posses any historical record of their activities. Significantly, here he himself accepts the fact that had they written on the perishable palm leaf or cotton cloth, they would have been lost.

He acknowledges that some opposed the hypothesis of origin of Brahmi script from the Semites, however telling that Brahmins under Asoka might have invented it.

Drawing attention to maze-like closed pattern, called ‘Brahma’s knot’ and Indian folk custom of drawing auspicious designs (kolams) in courtyards, he gives a photo of Kurava woman drawing a kolam (23/19/17 dots) and traces the origin of knot to third-millenium Mesopatomia.

After discussing some attempts, he admits in summary, that none of the attempts at deciphering the Indus script made so far (including that of our Finnish team) has gained wide acceptance.

Then he explains the computer method of arranging the symbols and confirms that the way of writing is from right to left.

As the writings of Indus people could have been lost, so also that of “Aryans” who composed Rigvedic hymns just after c.1900 BCE. This places the writing of “Aryans” ahead of the Egyptians and that is why perhaps the westerners do not want to take cognizance of such a fact. In the Old Tamil literature, the vedas are referred to as “ezhudhak karpin” (Inguru.156.5) meaning that the vedas are not written, but can be learnt.

As for as the kolams is concerned, it is not that only folk people or Kurava women alone draw but all Indian women not only on auspicious occasion but everyday morning to do so4. In fact, if such auspicious kolams are not drawn in from of any house, it might be construed otherwise even today.

The fuss made about computer analysis is nothing fascinating or realistic, because, programmers

know very well that computer is going to arrange the symbols/signs input according to the pre-conditions incorporated in the program. That is why the so called “computer decipherment of script” also differs from scholar to scholar or group to group. Therefore, in computer analysis also, scholars should be free from professional bias, racial prejudice and linguistic exclusivism.

Jews and Arabs still write their scripts from right to left. Had the Tamils inherited their culture from the Harappans/Indus people, who spoke Dravidian language, from which Tamil originated around 300BCE to 400 CE, they should continue to write from right to left, but they do otherwise.

It is not necessary that Brahmins should invent everything always, others have also invented many scientific principles in Indian civilization.

  1. Internal evidence for the type of script used in the Indus valley. Single signs and multiple signs are arranged according to their similarities or commonness exhibited in the pictographs and their possible conveyance of meaning is analyzed.

Thus according to graphemic (pertaining to sign) / structural analysis of signs / symbols, he concludes that Indus script is a logo-syllabic script (word sign).

  1. Internal evidence for the structure of the Indus language. Structure of Indus language is analyzed to find out its consistent with grammatical rules. Taking combination of symbols or group symbols formation of words and expressions, phrases and sentences are studied.

The attempted examples themselves clearly show that the method has been highly speculative and no definite reading could be possible.

  1. External clues to the Indus script. The signs / symbols like palm squirrel, bull, and other animals and their association with the script and language are analyzed comparing with other civilizations.

The method is highly speculative.

  1. In search of Indus language. After discussing about the languages of the cultural areas surrounding Indus, he delves much on “The coming of Aryans” and “the horse argument”.

Horse has never depicted in the Harappan seals, amulets or statuettes and therefore, “Aryans” never came to Indus valley in the third millenium and therefore the rulers were “non-Aryans”.

Here, it may be noted that in search of Indus language only “Aryans” and “non-Aryans” are searched and researched.

Whether “Dravidians” used horses or not? If they did not use, why? Being courageous, chivalrous and adventurous, they should have used horses and chariots and hence Iron also, because the chariots had to run with iron axles. Why then “Dravidians” did not use?

If “Dasa-Aryans” and “non-Dasa Aryans” only were fighting with each other, why then Indian Dravidologists make hue and cry about “Aryans” driving away “Dravidians” from Indus valley down south to Tamizhahgam?

Recently, there has been a discussion about the “stirrup” being an old Indian invention. Actually, scholars are unwittingly arguing and fighting with each other about the horse in Indus seal and so on coolly, forgetting the stirrup, because, without stirrup, no horse could be controlled and driven properly. And funnily our great Alexander and other warriors were riding horses without stirrups winning battles all the way hanging their legs! Varieties of horseman’s equipment including stirrup have been found in Megalithic sites in South India. As Gordon and Haimendrof opined that people using iron came from the Mediterranean to South India between 1100 and 700 BCE, it is taken as historical truth and hypotheses and theories built on it.

It may be noted that “Dravidians” should be black and “Aryans” white based on racial interpretation. But, we find references in Old Tamil literature that Tamil ladies were with gold colour – Nat.10.2; Kurun.101.4, 319.6; Inguru.230.4; Agam.212.1-2 and at other places, they were depicted with the colour of tender mango leaves.

J. M. Konoyer5 notes that Harappans maintained no armies and this goes against the warlike nature of “Dravidians” as has been depicted in the Old Tamil literature.

  1. Dravidian languages and the Harappan culture. Considering the “Brahui” problem, it is said that as “Brahui” does not connect with central or south Dravidian languages, it might belong to north Dravidian languages.

His discussion aboutMeluhha” is interesting. Scholars identify meluhha = the Indo-Iranian and the Indus Civilization, because it is mentioned in the cuneiform sources dated to 2400-2200 BCE. Also in the Indian context, they say that “mleccha” in Sanskrit means non-Aryans. But, it means “people living in far lands”. Thus, “mleccha” might refer to Harappan people.

In his “South Dravidian and the archaeology of peninsular India” he gives his following conclusions:

The poems (Sangam literature) were composed and collected between about the first century BC and sixth century AD.

The Dravidian languages came to India from the west through Iran about 700 BCE with the carriers of the Megalithic culture, which is distributed all over South India including Tamilnadu and which persisted well into the first centuries of the Christian era.

The last phase of the Megalithic culture (c.300-100 BCE) does overlap the period of Old Tamil Culture (c.100 BCE – 600 CE), which in its militaristic idealization of warfare (including such elements as the horse and iron weapons) closely resembles the martial character of the Megalithic culture (in which weapons were regular grave goods).

The Dravidians could not have arrived in India as late as the Megalithic culture is clear from the fact that there is evidence in the Vedic texts for the presence of Dravidian languages in the Punjab already in the second millennium BCE.

It is indeed very probable that during, the last few centuries BC, the carriers of the Megalithic culture spoke Dravidian, at least in the extreme south.

But, this does not necessarily imply that the people who brought the Megalithic culture to South Asia also introduced the Dravidian languages there.

The earliest Iron Age in South India, c.1100-800 BC, is essentially a continuation of the preceding Chalcolithic culture.

The Indus script was probably of the logo-syllabic types and the Harappan language is most likely to have belonged to the Dravidian family.

He points out that Cuneiform owners and Aryans called Harappans / Dravidians as Meluhha / mleccha. Mullaippattu (65-66) mentions about “mlecchar” – whose bodies speak but not their tongues – act as bodyguards of Kings. Later, Tamil Nihantus compiled by Jains dub “Aryans” as mlecchar. Had the ancient Tamils considered “mlecchar” as in sense of “Ariyar”, they would not have appointed them as their bodyguards. Therefore, when Sangam literature do not consider “Ariyar” as “mlecchar” vice versa, how the nigandus dub so is subjected to research in the context.

He says that The Dravidian languages came to India from the west through Iran about 700 BCE with the carriers of the Megalithic culture, however in the context of Iron and chalcolithic cultures, he syas that the earliest Iron Age in South India, c.1100-800 BC, is essentially a continuation of the preceding Chalcolithic culture. How the Chalcolithic was native to South India?

Indian scholars should note these contradictions.

10.  The ‘fish’ signs of the Indus script. First he discusses about the word denoting fish I different languages. He suggests that fish is used as an emblem to denote Siva.

About fish symbol, I. Mahadevan comments6:

“Like all Dravidian scholars, I too began with Father Heras. Father Heras was a Spanish Jesuit priest who worked in India and was a celebrated Professor of History in Bombay. It was his brilliant idea that the fish sign in the Indus script represented the word for fish in all the Dravidian languages, which is “meen,” and he pointed out that the word “min” also represented a star or planet in all the Dravidian languages. He said that perhaps the Harappans used the fish sign to represent a star or a planet. This is really the starting point for decipherment for all the Dravidian scholars who followed him, the Russians, the Finnish and myself. Only Fairservis broke away from the tradition, but his identification of the fish sign as a loop or a knot in rope is very unconvincing. I have seen far too many seals and sealings with realistic, life-like fish symbols, there is no doubt at all that the sign represents the fish.

But another and more valid objection is, why wouldn’t they pictorialize the star as a star? Draw five or six lines and add an asterisk mark – that’s how the Sumerians, the Akkadians and the Chinese represented a star. The theory behind pictorial writing is that you use pictures to represent the sound of objects that are difficult to draw. In an example given by Parpola himself, “can” in the noun form is a container, in the verb, I “can” do it – that cannot be written as a picture. But in the case of a star it is much easier and it occupies much less space to draw the picture of a star than a fish. Parpola has given a reply to this, not perhaps wholly convincing, but I still think that the fish-meen-star homophony is a good one, although I readily admit that it has not been proved. That could only come if the word “meen” was written elsewhere syllabically or if you have a bilingual.

For example we have proved the direction of the Indus script. It is no longer open to debate. Those who read the Indus script from the left, their work is condemned to failure right at the beginning. The fish hypothesis is not that conclusively proved, but it still is a very attractive one.

There are some corroborative details. The numbers three, six and seven before the fish correspond to the well known asterisms, three-fish in the warrior constellation, six-fish for Pleades, seven-fish the Great Bear and so on, but then when you come to the diacritical marks over the fish symbol which Parpola reads as the names of several planets, it is much more open to question. Diacritical marks are very tiny little tick marks and they are not inherently pictorial so any hypothesis about them is only arbitrary”.

J. M. Kenoyer7 has also pointed out that these interpretations (of min) do not represent decipherment for the following reasons:

      1. Logosyllabic Indus script cannot be deciphered as an alphabetic or syllable script.
      2. At present no modern language can be directly traced back to the Indus script.
      3. Though there have been 25 Dravidian languages and these are spoken in the southern peninsular India and northern Sri Lanka, these parts were never part of Indus culture.
      4. Not all scholars agree with the Dravidian identification, as other languages may have been written using the Indus script.
      5. In fact, Walter A. Fairsevis, Jr and Franklin C. Southworth propose a mysterious language “X” from which the words that could be read in Indus script might belong.
      6. Suggesting that the language might be a Sumerian, Akkadian or Sanskrit, consequently if the writing on the seals does represent more than one language or dialect, we cannot decipher it until a bilingual text or a dictionary has been discovered.
      7. The rebus approach, as being used by Dravidologists, can only be usful when there is some way to check and confirm the meaning or the grammatical sequence of words.
      8. No longer texts to test all the aspects of script and language are available.

      Though he gives few literary evidences for “min”, he does not take all the words of “min” and its forms. Therefore, his study has been only selective and exclusive.

      11.  The astronomical and astrological background. According to the Vaikhanasa-Grhyasutra (4,13), written in Sanskrit influenced by Tamil in South India in the first centuries of the Christian era, the ‘propiation of the nine planets’ (navagraha santi) should precede all religious rites.

      Under astronomical and astrological background, he discusses about a Vedic naskshatra calendar dated to 2250 BCE

      Vaiguru min = the star appearing in the early morning (Agam.17.21, Natrinai.48.4, Perum.318).

      Then taking these examples, he concludes that there is substantial evidence to the effect that the Vedic nakshatra calendar was devised by the Harappans or even Early Harappans, and its original language was Dravidian.

      Here, perhaps the confusion of “Aryans” and “Dravidans” is open and complete. If the 4450 YBP nakshatra calendar Vedic, how it was devised by the Harappans or even Early Harappans, and that too in Dravidian language. Then, how that “Dravidian language” happens to be “Sanskrit” instead of “Tamil”. Had the Harappans / Dravidians have been well versed in astronomy, why then they could not produce any astronomer worth in South like Aryabhata?

      12.  The trefoil motif: further evidence for astral religion. Taking cue from the three rounds joined together (like baseless “club”), he identifies it with “bharani” star.

      What is intriguing is that he quotes much from Sanskrit literature, draw examples from Puranas uses all Vedic symbols, but finally tries to conclude that all these are from the Old Tamil literature. The chronological idiosyncrasy is that Vedas are dated by him to 1200 BCE and Tamil literature to “first century BC and sixth century AD”.

      13.  Evidence for Harappan worship of the god Muruku. Dravidian word muruku, which means both ‘bangle’ and ‘son, boy child’, and is also the proper name of the child-granting divinity and divine child. The symbol   ||         in sequence represents muruku in the Indus inscriptions.

      He refers to Naigamesa, the Goat head God, in connection with the worship of Muruka, but, it was pointed out by P. K. Agrawala. He has produced only part of the sculpture (J626) without mentioning Agrawala (he has listed his books). In fact, Agrawala, book contains three more sculptures with goat head god and goddess (Plate XII). Here too, he depends on Sanskrit literature to drive his point, without resorting to Sangam literature or Old Tamil literature (as he used to mention).

      For Muruku and bangles, I. Mahadevan comments as follows8:

      “Parpola has pointed out that the bangles are inscribed, and among the signs the sign of the interlocking circle or ovals are very common and they occur with greater frequency on these bangles. …….But when you try to give a phonetic value for it, it becomes very difficult. Parpola has chosen a word which means twisted wire bangle, or twisted wire amulet or a twisted wire earring or nose ring, where the operative word is twisting, the root there is murugu, which means in old Dravidian “to twist.” But the stoneware, the polished vitrified stoneware bangles have no twists on them, so that is very unlikely. There are other words for bangles but he doesn’t choose them because they are not homophonous with the word for Murukan that he is looking for”.

      However, taking clue from this, but interpreting a skeletal god / pey, he9 concludes that “muruku” descended from the “Harappan Sketal Deity”. He also mentions the survival of the basic Indus ideogram as a religious symbol in later times suggests that the cult of the Harappan deity spread to Eastern and Southern India along with the migration of the descendants of the Harappans to these regions after the demise of the Mature Harappan Civilization.

      Here, too, the crucial chronological aspect has been elegantly avoided. The Harappan i.e, the Mature Harappan Civilization disappeared by c.1900 BCE. Then, only these Harappans must have spread to India. But, Asko Parpola, Haimendrof, Gordon and otyhers have persistently asserted that the Dravidian languages came to India from the west through Iran about 700 BCE with the carriers of the Megalithic culture, which has been distributed all over South India. Parpola specifically says that the last phase of the Megalithic culture (c.300-100 BCE) overlaps the period of Old Tamil culture (c.100 BCE-600 CE). Then, how these “Dravidians” are different from the “Dravidians(Harappans)” as visualized by I. Mahadevan. Then, there must have been two “Dravidian migrations” like “Two Aryan ones”. In any case, the Sangam literature gives a different picture altogether about the issue, as has been discussed elsewhere.

      Scholars use the words “muruku” and “murugu” inbterchangeably, but in Sangam Tamil, they different and specific meanings. The word Murugu has the following meanings in the Sangam / Old Tamil literature:

      Murugu = disease / that one which inflicts / attacks (Inguru.245.3, 247.3, 249.2, 308.4;  Pari.8.65).

      Murugu = Murugan (Natri.34.11, 48.10, 82.4, 225.1; Kuru.362.2; Agam.118; Puram.56.14, 259.5 – here it might imply a goddess also).

      Pattuppattu has different meanings for “Murugu”:

      Murugu (v) = to worship (Tirumurugu.243)

      Murugu = Tirumurugatruppadai (Tirumurugu.244).

      Murugu = Godliness/divinity (Tirumurugu.273; Madurai.611)

      Murugu = produced of Murugu (Madurai.724)

      Murugu = smell (Pattina.37)

      Murugu = Velvi / yagna

      Muruku = munmurungai = mul murukka maram, erythrina indica.

      Can these meanings be read in such script?

      Moreover, the worship of Murugan in the Tamil context is the Kandu worship, which has been the most ancient form. Kandu is nothing but “Pillar form” and no evidence has been adduced from the Indus valley to that effect, by him.

      14.  Evidence Harappan worship of the Goddess. Just like Frazer, H. P. Blavatsky, bringing parallel symbolism from different civilizations, he tries to show the existence of Goddess worship in the Indus valley. Drawing attention to some seals / figurines, he argues that Indus women wore vermillion / kumkum on their forehead just like Tamil women.

      However, Old Tamil literature never gives any reference to this effect, but Sanskrit literature, specifically mentions about parting of hair by husband and application of kumkum at the time of marriage.

      In Old Tamil literature, there have been different goddesses mentioned – Anangu, Sur, Surara Magalir, Vanara Magalir, Kollippavai, Salini, Pazhaiyol, which are later equated with Murugu and then Murugan.

      All these Goddesses with their characteristics cannot be fit into the reading of Indus script or his interpretation.

      15.  Epilogue. He gives a table, where he reads+Min+min; ||| = mummin = Mrigashirisha;  = arumin = Pleidas; | = ezhumin = Saptarishi and so on.

      Thus, in part IV (Interpretations of Indus pictograms), some suggested readings of a few signs have been given.

      | orumin? || erumin?  ||| mummin?……………………..

      But all scholars have not accepted the “fish” reading. William Fairservis saw it as a combination of a loom twist and a human sign, and form a honorific title pertaining to rulership (Fairservis, 1983). I. Mahadevan too doubts his reading mentioning that it has not been proved. His reading of several planets from the symbols is also open to question, he adds. Moreover, here it may be noted that he could not read | + min, || + min, ||| + min, |||| + min etc. Therefore, such reading is only speculative and not confirmative to read all such sign combinations.

      Conclusion: Asko Parpola, in spite of the representation of hundreds of diagrams and seals on and connected with Indus script and civilization, gives most of the interpretation on the culture of the Indus people relating to “Dravidians”. Many times taking support and evidences from Vedas and other Sanskrit literature, he tries to connect everything to “Dravidian”. Though, he relies upon Old Tamil Literature, he dates it to “first century BC to fourth century AD”. He argues “Aryans” entered Indus valley twice separately. And Dravidians entered India around 700-600 BCE. Thus, if both “Aryans” and “Dravidians” are outsiders, who were the people of India since time immemorial is not ansdwered. Claiming repeatedly that they research about linguistic “Aryans” and “Dravidians” always end with racial ones perpetuating political dissension and controversies. As for as the the reading of the script, the ground realities involved are not dealt with, instead, he and other scholars proceed on a pre-determined premises and the script could only be read in a particular language.

      The issues / problems in the reading of the Indus script may be reviewed as follows:

      1. The odd 4000 signs cannot be assumed as alphabets, as they cannot be separated and identified as vowels and consonants.
      2. The signs are surrounding or grouped with the “animal symbols” and they are occupying the major portion of the seals. Therefore, ignoring such animals, only signs alone cannot be subjected to “reading” or “decipherment” with any language.
      3. No rosette / bilingual inscription is available and therefore, there cannot be any final decipherment.
      4. Structure, form and function of the signs read are explained.
      5. Though, repeatedly talked about a “Proto-Dravidian language”, no such language and its grammar has been compiled so far. The DED itself is not complete and it contains about 2000 Indo-Aryan words.
      6. Nearly 2000 seals / inscriptions have only one sign. The deciphers tactfully avoid the reading of them.
      7. About 50 to 60 seals, no signs are there. How to account for such seals?
      8. 50 to 60 seals have only one symbol “Swastika”. Deciphers tactfully avoid these seals also.
      9. O, a round with a dot at centre – this symbol is also not explained.

      10.  All fish symbols and their combinations are not deciphered or explained.

      11.  Repeated signs in the same seals are also not explained.

      Therefore, at least scholars here after proceed without any bias, preconceived notions about the factors of culture and tradition, science and technology, language and literature, then a reading with consensus could be arrived at acceptable to all.

      Notes and References

      1. Asko Parpola, Deciphering the Indus Script, Cambridge University Press, U.K, 2000.
      2. The entire “Aryan-Dravidian” hypothses and theories have been built upon the interpretation of the Rigvedic verses which describe the fight between the Indra and Dasas, Devas and Asuras and so on.
      3. Fish symbol Walter A. Fairservis, The Harappan Civilization and Its Writing: A Model for Decipherment of the Indus Script, New Delhi, 1992.
      4. Inclusion of such photograph is evidently shows the biased scholarship to confuse the readers.
      5. Jonathan Mark Konoyer, Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1998,
      6. The interview of I. Mahadevan from http://www.harappa.com/script/mahadevantext.html
      7. J. M. Konoyer, opt.cit, pp. 78-79.
      8. I. Mahadevan’s interview.
      9. Iravatham Mahadevan, “Murukan” in the Indus Script, The Journal of the Institute of Asian Studies, Madras, March, 1999. Also available in www.muruga.org

      The book review of Asko Parpola can be viewed under the following websites:



      Some of the recent attempts and the books / papers are as follows:

      Anand M. Sharan, On the Deciphering of the Indus Valley Script and the Solution of the Brahui Problem, http://www.engr.mun.ca/~asharan/bihar/indus/indus~3.htm

      Egbert Richer-Ushanas, Two Systems of Symbolic Writing – The Indus Script and the Rongorongo Script of Ester Island, http://alf.zfn.uni_bremen.de/~ushanas/

      William C. West, Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Scripts, McGraw Hill, USA, 2002.

      Tariq Rahman, Peoples and Languages in Pre-Islamic Indus Valley, at


      Natwar Jha, Vedic Glossary of Indus Seals, Varanasi, 1996.

      Banka Behari Chakravorthy, Indus Script – The Artistic Version of Brahmi, Calcutta, 1991.

      The Mediterranean connection

      June 26, 2010

      The Mediterranean connection by Sirpi Balasubramanian




      Theories abound on the origin and diffusion of the Dravidian race and its languages. Australian, African, Lemurian and Harappan origins have been widely discussed by anthropologists, historians and philologists again and again.

      In 1963, a scholarly work Dravidian origins and the west by Dr. N. Lahovary, translated from his original French work, was published in English and sadly it did not receive the attention it richly deserved. In the words of eminent historian K.A. Nilakanta Sastri, Lahovary seeks to demonstrate that just as the Indo-Aryan Languages of Northern India are related to the Indo-European languages of Northern and Eastern Europe, so also the Dravidian Languages of South India are more or less closely related to a near Eastern and Mediterranean agglutinative group of languages of Pre Indoa-European Times.

      Mr. Lahovary tries to establish a close relationship between the oldest elements in Basque – a Pre-Indo-European Language which still survives in the Pyrenness on the border land between France and Spain. Mr. Lahovary is of the opinion that the near east (comprising Syria, Palestine, Persia, Mesopotamia with its extension to India ) is the cradle of the first civilization from where the ancestors of the Dravidians fanned out to the West and East in successive migrations.

      The Worship of Mother Goddess, Aphonomenin, if Dravidians still survive in the sub-consciousness of the Mediterranean Christianity through the veneration paid to the ‘Black Virgin’s’ in Italy, Spain and France. The emblem of the Mother Goddess was fist and reminds us of Minakshi of Madurai. As mother of plants she is symbolised by the fig tree in Asia minor and in Mediterranean Europe. This symbolism finds and echo in the binding of peepul branches in the marriage court yards in Tamil country. The mother goddess is also connected with the serpent worship, in the Pre-Hellenic Mediterranean world and the worship of the serpent is still in existence in South India.

      It is also said that other ties between the Pre – Indo – European civilisations of the Mediterranean and the Pre- Aryan India is noticeable in the Megalithic structure in the Dravidian India and the Mediterranean Europe. As found in ancient Mesopotamia and parts of Mediterranean world the placing of the dead in terra-cota jars was frequent in ancient South India.

      Tamil or Dravida was probably Dramil or Dramiza in its oldest forms according to the author. The Lycians of Asia minor, a pre-Indo-European Mediterranean people called themselves Trimmili. Herodotus has noted that the Lucians, the Original inhabitants of Crete, were known by the name ‘Termilai.’ After devoting a chapter on the similarities of phonetic peculiarities in Basque and Dravidian languages. Lahovary concludes that they have the closest ties among all the languages of the peri-mediterranean family.

      When he deals with the structural and morphological parallels, the author is convinced of the essentially suffixial nature of basque and Dravidian which separates them from Western Hermitic. Dr. Lahovary sets apart half of the book giving example of etymological parallels. The reader will be surprised at the large number of common words in Basque and Dravidian languages.

      Some examples: Dravidian and Basque – AL (male), Ar (male); Odal (body), Odal (blood); Mukku (nose), moko (beak); Kella (thief), Kaldar (thief); Ubbu (swelling), Ug-atz (breast); Wisar (sweat), Izerdi (sweat); Kuru (small), Korro (small); Alal (crying), Aldia (lament).

      In spite of its short comings, Dr. Lahovary has unraveled the distant relationship between Dravidian languages and pre-Europen Languages especially Basque.When the book was published in 1963 in English, the author did not live to see the happy event.

      A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem!

      June 25, 2010

      A Dravidian solution to  the Indus script problem

      aruvar payanta … perum peyar muruka
      ninn ati y-ulli vantanen
      (Tirumurukârruppatai 255, 269, 279)
      The Indus Civilization and its forgotten script
      Stone seals inscribed with an unknown script were obtained from Harappa in the upper Indus Valley in the 1870s
      and 1880s. In the early 1920s, curiosity about their origin initiated excavations at Harappa and 750 km away at
      . ..
      Figure 1. Discovery sites of Indus seals and inscriptions. (After CISI 2: 448.)

      Mohenjo-daro in Sindh. Immediately more seals of the same kind were found. The publication of these discoveries
      turned attention to a few seals of the Harappan type that had come to light in Mesopotamia. They dated the newly
      found Harappan or Indus Civilization to the third millennium BCE. Radiocarbon dating has fixed the duration of the
      Mature Harappan phase, during which the Indus script was used, to 2600-1900 BCE. About 30 Harappan seals
      come from the Gulf and Mesopotamia, left there by sea-faring Indus merchants.
      Since the 1920s, ceaseless archaeological research has revealed some 1500 Harappan sites in Pakistan and
      western India. The Harappan realm in the Greater Indus Valley is one of the earliest cradles of civilization. Its urban
      culture is among the first four in the world to possess a script of its own. Some 5000 short Indus texts from more
      than 50 sites are known today, and much other data as well has accumulated. But the decipherment of the Indus
      script has remained the most intriguing problem pertaining to this impressive city culture that initiates Indian civilization.
      The Indus script vanished together with the Indus Civilization, which collapsed many centuries before hymns composed
      in Vedic Sanskrit begin the historical period in South Asia around 1000 BCE.
      The numerous unsuccessful attempts to understand the Indus script include a recent claim that it is not a writing
      system based on language, but consists of non-linguistic symbols. Similar misconceptions prevailed about the
      Mesopotamian cuneiform script
      and the Egyptian hieroglyphs
      before their decipherments.
      Extreme shortness of texts and
      their restriction to seals, small
      tablets and pottery graffiti have
      been adduced as proofs for this
      thesis, but all these features
      characterize also the Egyptian
      hieroglyphic script during the first
      600 years of its existence. Yet this
      early form of Egyptian script was
      real writing, and can be partially
      read on the basis of later texts.
      The high degree of sign
      standardization, the arrangementof texts into regular rows, and the presence of hundreds of recurring sign sequences from different sites all indicate
      that the Indus script is real writing.
      Most attempts to read the Indus script apply the unsuited method of comparing the Indus signs with similarlooking
      signs of other scripts and transferring their phonetic values to the Indus signs. This general error is often
      coupled with the mistake of deriving Brahmi from the Indus script, though it is based on the Semitic consonant
      Preparatory work
      How then can the Indus script be deciphered? We may turn to successful decipherments and to the history of writing
      for guidance. Most ancient scripts have been deciphered with the help of translations into known scripts and languages.
      But here no such help is available. Historical information of the kind that opened up the cuneiform script is virtually
      missing. Later Indian texts tell us nothing about the Indus Civilization. Contemporary cuneiform sources speak of the
      most distant land called Meluhha, widely understood to denote Greater Indus Valley, but they offer little further
      information. There is no related writing system to help with the phonetic values of the signs. Nor is there any fair
      certainty of the underlying language, which was a great advantage in unraveling the Ugaritic and Mayan scripts. All
      surviving texts are very short and probably not complete sentences but just noun phrases. This naturally hampers
      grammatical analysis, as does the absence of word dividers.
      In spite of all the difficulties, there are some positive circumstances. One is the relatively high number of preserved
      inscriptions. Collecting and publishing all available evidence reliably and legibly belongs to the fundamental preparatory
      tasks that have proved useful in all decipherments. This aim is being realized partly in the photographic Corpus of
      Indus Seals and Inscriptions; its third volume has just come out.
      Several versions of a standardized text edition in machine-readable form have been completed, and a thorough
      revision is again being done. Computerization has enabled the compilation of concordances that systematically
      record all occurrences of individual signs and their sequences, and various other indexes and statistics. Among the
      things to be standardized is the direction of writing, normally from right to left and in seal stamps carved in mirror
      image from left to right. Other routine tasks are location of word boundaries and search for possible grammatical
      markers. One way to segment longer texts is to see if their component parts occur elsewhere as complete texts.
      A crucial but difficult task is the compilation of a reliable sign list, which distinguishes between graphemes and
      allographs. The allographic variation constitutes one important basis for interpreting the pictorial meaning of the
      Indus signs. Signs may represent the same grapheme if their shapes are reasonably similar and they in addition occur

      in very similar contexts. Based on these criteria, my sign list has very nearly 400 graphemes.
      It is difficult to construct even parts of the Indus grammar on the basis of textual analysis. The positional sequences
      of signs can be exploited to analyse the Indus texts syntactically, to define textual junctures, and to classify the signs
      into phonetically or semantically similar groups. Such analyses have been carried out with automated methods. Data
      accumulated in this way will certainly be useful in decipherment once a decisive breakthrough has been achieved —
      in other words when the language has been identified and some signs have been read phonetically in a convincing
      manner. But such analyses alone are unlikely to provide that breakthrough.
      The language underlying the Indus script
      In the decipherment of any ancient script, there are two principal unknowns to be clarified, namely the underlying
      language or languages and the type of the script.
      The language problem is most crucial. If the language of the Indus script belonged to a language family not
      known from other sources, the Indus script can never be deciphered. This is clear from the case of Etruscan, an
      isolated language written in an easily read alphabetic script. Etruscan can be read phonetically, but in spite of this is
      not much understood beyond the texts covered by copious translations. But as the Harappan population numbered
      around one million, there is a fair chance that linguistic relatives have survived and that traces of the Harappan
      language can be found in the extensive Vedic texts composed in the Indus Valley less than a thousand years after the
      collapse of the Indus Civilization.
      While it is likely that various minority languages were spoken in the Greater Indus Valley, only one language was
      written. The sign sequences are namely uniform throughout South Asia. This argument is reinforced by the Indus
      seals found in the Near East. Some of them have native Harappan and some non-Harappan sign sequences.
      One would expect that the most frequently attested Indus sign would very often occur next to itself, but this is
      never the case in the Indus Valley. The combination is however attested on a round Gulf-type seal coming from the
      Near East. The seal contains five frequently occurring Indus signs but in unique sequences. This suggests that
      Harappan trade agents who resided in the Gulf and in Mesopotamia became bilingual and adopted local names, but
      wrote their foreign names in the Indus script for the Harappans to read. The cuneiform texts in fact speak not only of
      a distant country called Meluhha, but also of a village in southern Mesopotamia called Meluhha whose inhabitants
      had purely Sumerian names.
      According to its inscription, one Old Akkadian cylinder seal belonged to “Su-ilishu, interpreter of the Meluhhan

      language”. This implies that the Meluhhan language differed from the languages commonly spoken and understood
      in ancient Near East, above all Sumerian, Akkadian and Elamite. Near Eastern languages appear historically much
      less likely to have been spoken in the Indus Valley than languages known to have existed in South Asia.
      Because the origin of the Aryan languages is such a controversial issue, especially in India, it is necessary to trace
      these languages back to their source, the Proto-Indo-European. The location and dating of Proto-Indo-European
      too have been long debated, but a fair consensus concerning this problem is in sight. When the Proto-Indo-
      European-speaking community dispersed, its language had a dozen terms related to wheeled vehicles. Wheeled
      vehicles were invented shortly before 3500 BCE in south-eastern Europe, from where they quickly spread to areas
      where the principal Indo-European languages were later spoken.
      Greek and Armenian are the closest linguistic relatives of Indo-Iranian, and the protoforms of these languages
      are likely to have been spoken in the Pit Grave or Yamnaya cultures which between 3300 and 3000 BCE spread
      with ox carts from North Pontic steppes eastwards to the Ural mountains. The Eurasian steppes are the native

      habitat of the horse. It was there that the horse was first yoked to pull a light-wheeled chariot, at the end of the third
      millennium BCE. Early Aryan loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages spoken in north-eastern Europe locates Proto-
      Aryan to the Volga-Ural steppes.
      From the Volga-Ural steppes the horse-drawn chariot spread southwards to the Bronze Age culture in southern
      Central Asia, the “Bactria and Margiana Archaeological Complex” or BMAC, which flourished about 2300-1500
      BCE. BMAC people started moving to Iran and to the Indus Valley in the Late Harappan period, around 1900-
      1600 BCE. At the same time, the BMAC sites were surrounded by nomadic peoples from the Eurasian steppes,
      who probably spoke early forms of Indo-Iranian. On their way to Iran and India, these migrants took over the rule
      and culture of the BMAC. Alexander Lubotsky (2001) has listed all words shared by Iranian and Indo-Aryan
      which do not have an acceptable Indo-European origin. In structure, these words largely agree with the 383 foreign
      loanwords in the language of the Rigveda listed by Frans Kuiper (1991). Lubotsky has suggested that most words
      in both lists come from the language of the BMAC. This justified conclusion implies that these foreign words of an
      unknown language were borrowed by Rigvedic Aryans before they entered the Indus Valley, or from the language of
      the Daasas, an earlier come wave of Indo-Iranian speakers with a BMAC substratum. Hence these words do not
      represent the Harappan language. Their use for the decipherment of the Indus script would in any case not be
      feasible for the simple reason that the exact meaning of so many of them is unclear.
      Although Indo-Iranian languages have been spoken in the Indus Valley since the second millennium BCE, they
      were hardly spoken by Harappan people in the third millennium. The domesticated horse played an important role
      in the culture of the Indo-Iranian speakers, but according to faunal remains the horse came to South Asia only after
      2000 BCE and it is not depicted in Harappan art. The first appearance of the horse is in Swat, in the BMACderived
      Gandhara Grave culture; its characteristic “face urns” seem to be connected with the cult of Aoevins, the
      Vedic gods of chariotry.
      Burushaski spoken in northernmost Pakistan is a linguistic isolate, but possibly related with the Ketic languages
      of Siberia. There is little trace of Burushaski further south. Burushaski’s arrival from the north was probably preceded
      by the Himalayan group of Tibeto-Burman languages, which may be connected with the Northern Neolithic of the
      Swat Valley and Kashmir. The Northern Neolithic had some contact with the Early Harappans but only in its own
      northern area.
      In general the Sino-Tibetan languages always restricted to the Himalayan regions in South Asia are unlikely
      candidates for a genetic relationship with the Harappan language.
      The Austro-Asiatic languages known from Central and Eastern India, with linguistic relatives in South-East Asia

      and minor participation in the linguistic convergence in South Asia, are also unlikely to have descended from the
      Harappan language.
      The only remaining alternative among the well-known potential linguistic relatives of the Harappan language is
      the Dravidian language family. The 26 Dravidian languages are now mainly spoken in Central and South India.
      Figure 4. The Dravidian languages and their subgroups. (After Krishnamurti 2003: 18.)
      However, one Dravidian language, Brahui, has been spoken in Baluchistan in the northwest for at least a thousand
      years, as far as the historical sources go. In contrast to Burushaski, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic languages,
      which are very small minority languages in South Asia, the Dravidian speakers until recently constituted one fourth of
      India’s population.
      Loanwords from Dravidian have been identified from Indo-Aryan texts composed in northwestern India around
      1100-600 BCE. These six examples are from the earliest text, the Rigveda (the capital letters are retroflex consonants,

      which did not exist in Proto-Indo-Iranian):
      mukham ‘face, front, mouth’ < PD *mukam ‘id.’
      khalam ‘threshing floor’ < PD *kaLam ‘id.’
      phalam ‘fruit’ < PD *paZam ‘ripe fruit’
      kuNDam ‘pit’ < PD *kuNTam ‘pit’
      kaaNa- ‘blind in one eye’ < PD *kaaNa ‘not seeing’
      kiyaambu- ‘watery plant’ < PD *kiyampu ‘taro, aroid, Colocasia’.
      The retroflex consonants, a diagnostic feature of the South Asian linguistic area, can be divided into two main
      groups. One of them is distributed over the Indus Valley and the Dravidian-speaking areas.
      In addition to the retroflex consonants, Indo-Aryan has several other structural features that have long been
      interpreted as borrowings from Dravidian. Some of them exist at the earliest level. Historical linguistics thus suggests
      that the Harappans probably spoke a Dravidian language. With this conclusion we turn to the problem of script type.
      The type of writing system represented by the Indus script
      Recent American-Pakistani excavations at Harappa with meticulous stratigraphy have produced new evidence on
      the evolution of the Indus script. Pottery has scratched symbols since 3300 BCE. Some of these pot-marks became
      signs of the Indus script, which was created during the final phase of the Early Harappan period, between 2800-
      2500 BCE. It is possible and indeed even probable that the Early Harappans got the idea of writing through stimulus
      diffusion from the Proto-Elamites of the Iranian Plateau, but they did not copy the signs of the Proto-Elamite script.
      Only few specimens from this formative period are presently available. During the Mature Harappan period, the fully
      developed script was used without much change at all major sites. The script disappeared fairly soon after the
      collapse of the Indus Civilization.
      Archaic Sumerian, the oldest logo-syllabic writing, mainly consists of iconic word signs or logograms occasionally
      complemented with rebus-based syllabic signs which also initially expressed “words”. Grammatical markers were
      at first ignored in writing, but were gradually introduced with the growing familiarity with phonetic signs and better
      ability to analyze language.
      The logo-syllabic system demanded hundreds of signs. Devising the first syllabic scripts became possible around
      2300 BCE, when many syllabograms were already in use in the cuneiform script. Logograms could now largely be
      eliminated. The Egyptian variant of logo-syllabic writing, whose rebus puns ignore vowels altogether, enabled an
      even more drastic reduction of graphemes. Around 1600 BCE, Semitic scribes in Egyptian-occupied Levant started
      Asko Parpola
      writing their own language with just those phonograms of the Egyptian script that comprised a single consonant.
      Logo-syllabic scripts have hundreds of graphemes, syllabic scripts manage with less than 100 and most alphabetic
      scripts with less than 40.
      The number of known Indus signs is around 400, which agrees well with the logo-syllabic type but is too high for
      the script to be syllabic or alphabetic. Word divisions are not marked, but many inscriptions comprise only one, two
      or three signs, and longer texts can be segmented into comparable units. This is a typical word length in Sumeriantype
      logo-syllabic script, while in syllabic and alphabetic scripts many words require more signs. The Indus script
      was created before any syllabic or alphabetic script existed, so all main criteria agree in suggesting that the Indus
      script is a logo-syllabic writing system.
      Methodology: the basic decipherment formula and initial clues
      The prospects and methods of deciphering a logo-syllabic script without translations differ in some essential respects
      from those of syllabic and alphabetic scripts. The syllabaries and alphabets form closed systems that cover the entire
      phonology of the language, and can be decoded as a systemic whole. In logo-syllabic scripts, there are many more
      signs, and the phonetic bond between the signs is weaker. There is no chance of building such phonetic grids as in the
      decipherment of Linear B, and a complete decipherment of the Indus script is certainly not possible with presently
      available materials.
      Most signs of early logo-syllabic scripts were originally pictures denoting the objects or ideas they represented.
      But abstract concepts such as ‘life’ would be difficult to express pictorially. Therefore the meaning of a pictogram
      was extended from the word for the depicted object to comprise all its homophones. In the Sumerian script the
      drawing of an arrow meant ‘arrow’, but in addition ‘life’ and ‘rib’, because all three words were pronounced alike
      in the Sumerian language, namely ti. Homophony is usually language-specific, and rebuses thus enable language
      identification and phonetic decipherment.
      Individual signs of logo-syllabic scripts may be deciphered if four conditions can simultaneously be fulfilled: (1)
      the object depicted in a given pictogram can be recognized; (2) the said pictogram has been used as a rebus; (3) the
      intended rebus meaning can be deduced from the context(s); and (4) acceptably homophonous words corresponding
      to the pictorial and rebus meanings exist in a historically likely known language. (Method demands strictness with
      homophony; in the case of Proto-Dravidian, variation in the length of vowels and consonants is allowed, but not
      much else.)
      The iconic shape of the Indus signs thus constitutes one of the chief keys to their interpretation. Unfortunately the
      A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem
      pictorial meaning of most Indus signs is not clear. In some rare cases an iconographic motif added to an Indus
      inscription can suggest the intended meaning of a sign. The scene at the right end of one tablet from Mohenjo-daro
      (M-478) shows a human being who kneels in front of a tree and extends a V-shaped object towards it. The person
      apparently presents offerings to a sacred tree in what may be a pot shown in cross-section. If so, the intended and
      iconic meanings of the V-shaped sign in the text coincide, and it can be understood directly from the pictogram. We
      need not know what the Harappan word for the depicted object was.
      Figure 5. Pot of offerings in the text and iconography of the tablet M-478
      from Mohenjo-daro. (After CISI 1: 115.)
      Figure 6. (Offering of) “four pots of fish” on the tablet H-902 from Harappa. (After CISI 2: 339.)
      The plain ‘fish’ sign probably has the intended meaning ‘fish’ on Indus tablets such as H-902 B which seems to
      mention offering of four pots of fish. In Mesopotamia fish offerings were made in temples, in India fish and meat and
      strong drinks were offered to godlings inhabiting sacred trees. That the signs looking like a ‘fish’ really have this
      pictorial meaning is certified by the Indus iconography, in which it is placed in the mouth of a fish-eating crocodile.
      But if phonetic decipherment is possible only in cases where the rebus principle has been employed, how can we
      locate such cases, and how can we deduce the intended rebus meanings? These are certainly among the most
      difficult tasks. Contextual clues include the function of inscribed artifacts. The vast majority of Indus texts are seal
      stamps and seal impressions. As with iconographic clues, we can use for their interpretation parallels from elsewhere,
      Western Asia and historical South Asia being most relevant.
      A clay tag stamped with cloth impression on the reverse and with a square Indus seal on the obverse comes from
      Umma in Mesopotamia. The Harappans’ contact with the Near East makes it highly probable that the Indus seal
      Asko Parpola
      inscriptions chiefly contain proper names of persons with or without their occupational or official titles and descent,
      as do the contemporaneous Mesopotamian seal inscriptions.
      Starting point: the ‘fish’ signs of the Indus script
      In Mesopotamian and later Indian onomastics, names of gods are used to form personal names. We can expect to
      have theophoric components of proper names and of priestly titles in some fairly large and uniformly distributed
      group of signs in the Indus seals.
      Although Mesopotamian ECONOMIC texts often record rations of fish, fish is NEVER mentioned in
      Mesopotamian SEAL inscriptions. Yet the ‘fish’ sign, both plain and modified with various diacritic additions, occurs
      so frequently on Indus seals that almost every tenth sign belongs to this group. This suggests that at least in the Indus
      SEAL inscriptions, the ‘fish’ signs denote something else than ‘fish’ and are used as rebuses.
      The most commonly used word for ‘fish’ in Dravidian languages is miin, and has the homophone miin meaning
      ‘star’. Both words may be derivatives of the root min ‘to glitter’.
      Of course, one must check that the words in assumed readings are represented in more than one subgroup and
      can be reconstructed for Proto-Dravidian. In addition, the hypotheses must be checked against script-external
      evidence. Do the proposed interpretations make sense in the Harappan context, and with regard to the later South
      Asian tradition, and the Mesopotamian contacts?
      Figure 7. The fish-eating crocodilian ghariyal with the ‘fish’ sign of the Indus script on the seal M-410 from Mohenjo-daro. (After CISI 1: 98.)
      A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem
      There is some external evidence supporting the proposed Dravidian rebus reading of the ‘fish’ sign. The motifs
      fish and star co-occur on Mature Harappan painted pottery. Tamil speakers, who call these two things with the same
      word, have imagined the stars to be fish swimming in the ocean of night sky.
      Additional support for reading the ‘fish’ sign as a rebus for ‘star’ is the absence of a sign depicting ‘star’ from the
      Indus script, although the ‘star’ symbol is painted and incised on Early Harappan pottery. The omission of a ‘star’
      pictogram from the script is understandable as an economic measure, as the ‘fish’ sign covers the meaning ‘star’ as
      The rebus meaning ‘star’ suits the expected meaning ‘god’ as a component of proper names in seal inscriptions.
      Whenever a god or goddess is mentioned in cuneiform texts, the pictogram of ‘star’ is prefixed to the name as its
      determinative, to indicate that what follows is divine. In the Sumerian script, the ‘star’ pictogram means not only
      ‘god’ but also ‘sky’. ‘Star’ is thought to have originally been an attribute of the sky-god An. With An as the leading
      divinity of the Sumerian pantheon, his symbol would then have started to mean ‘god’ in general. Astronomy, including
      the use of a star calendar, played an important role in ancient Mesopotamia, and deeply influenced the religion: all the
      main gods were symbolized by particular stars or planets.
      In the Near East, the ‘star’ symbol
      distinguished divinities even in pictorial representations.
      Significantly, a seal from Mohenjo-daro depicts an Indus
      deity with a star on either side of his head in this Near
      Eastern fashion.
      The ‘fish’ signs could well have been
      parts of Harappan proper names, for ever since Vedic
      times people in India have had astral names derived
      from their birth stars. There are indications that this kind
      of name-giving is of non-Aryan origin.
      Methodology: Checking and verifying
      The hypotheses can and must be subjected to scriptinternal
      checking in the manner of cross-word puzzles.
      One cannot overemphasize the importance of this
      Figure 8. A seated deity with stars on either side of the head on the seal operation. If we apply exactly the same assumptions
      M-305 from Mohenjo-daro. (After CISI 1: 383.)
      Asko Parpola
      and methods of interpretation to signs associated with an interpreted sign in a compound sign or in a recurring sign
      sequence, do we get sensible results? If yes, these provisional results must be subjected to further external checking:
      Are the posited compound words actually attested in Dravidian languages and not mere imagination? Particularly
      important is Old Tamil literature, the only ancient Dravidian source not much contaminated by Indo-Aryan languages
      and traditions. Interlocking of consistent readings with each other and with external linguistic data and clues constitutes
      the essence of all decipherments.
      Compounds formed with ‘fish’ signs and Indian mythology
      The numerals belong to those few Indus signs whose function and meaning can be deduced with fair certainty, partly
      from the fact that they consist of groups of vertical strokes, which is the way numerals are represented in many
      ancient scripts, partly from their mutual interchangeability before specific signs, including the plain ‘fish’. Reading the
      sequence ‘6’ + ‘fish’ in Dravidian yields the Old Tamil name of the Pleiades, aru-miin, literally ‘6 stars’. Note that
      the numeral attribute precedes its headword in the Indus script as it did in Proto-Dravidian, but by no means in every
      language of the world.
      ‘7’ + ‘fish’ corresponds to the Old Tamil name of Ursa Major, eZu-miin. This sequence forms the entire
      inscription on one big seal from Harappa (H-9).
      In Mesopotamia big dedicatory seals were
      sometimes presented to divinities. The stars of Ursa
      Major have since Vedic times been identified with the
      ancient “Seven Sages”. These mythical ancestors of
      priestly clans play an important role in early Indian
      Because the Pleiades constitute the first
      constellation of the Vedic star calendar, its heliacal rise
      at the vernal equinox is thought to have marked the
      beginning of the New Year. This and the position of the
      marking stars in the sky dates the calendar to the twentythird
      century BCE and suggests its Harappan origin.
      The Vedic people did not inherit the calendar from the
      Indo-Iranian tradition but adopted it in India.
      Figure 9. The sequence of signs depicting ‘seven’ and ‘fish’; these
      two signs form the whole inscription of the large seal H-9 from
      Harappa. (After CISI 1: 166.)
      A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem
      Vedic texts prescribe the kindling of sacred fires under the Pleiades, because the Pleiades now have the Fire-
      God Agni as their mate. We are told that the Pleiades were the wives of the Seven Sages, but are now precluded
      from intercourse with their husbands, who divorced them. Therefore the Pleiades now rise in the east, while the
      Seven Sages (that is, the stars of Ursa Major) are in the north. The Fire God Agni mentioned as the mate of the
      Pleiades apparently represents the young vernal sun, whose conjunction with the Pleiades started the New Year.
      Later Sanskrit texts tell the myth in more detail and in several variant forms. According to them, the Fire God
      Agni (or the great ascetic god OEiva) seduced the Pleiades in the absence of their husbands, the Seven Sages. They
      were divorced. Only Arundhatii, the faithful wife of Sage VasiSTha, could not be seduced. She could remain as the
      star Alcor with her husband, the star Mizar of Ursa Major (see fig. 13).
      This is really one of the central myths of the Hindu religion. In a Puranic version, God OEiva seduced six of the
      wives of the absent Seven Sages in their Himalayan hermitage. The Sages cursed OEiva’s phallus to fall down. The
      phallus started to burn the world and stopped only when the Sages placed it on a vulva-shaped platform and
      worshipped it with cooling water-libations. This is how the cult of OEiva’s linga or phallus originated. OEiva, one of the
      greatest gods of Hinduism, has mostly the phallus as his cult icon since the earliest historical times. OEiva’s Vedic
      predecessor Rudra is thought to be of non-Aryan origin. In Vedic texts, Rudra is euphemistically called oeiva
      ‘benign’, and equated with the Fire god Agni as is OEiva in the Pleiades myth.
      Banyan fig and the pole star
      One recurring sign sequence with the plain ‘fish’ sign as its latter member begins with a sign whose iconic meaning
      seems to be ‘fig tree’. Can we here too have a Dravidian astral term?
      Figure 10. The seal M-414
      from Mohenjo-Daro. The normal
      direction of writing, from right to
      left, is that of the impression; in
      this original seal stamp, the text
      has been carved in mirror
      image. (After CISI 3.1: 409.)
      Asko Parpola
      The iconic interpretation as ’fig’ is based on a comparison with Harappan painted pottery. In the script, the fig
      tree is shown as three-branched, just as on the painted pottery, except when another sign is placed inside it; then the
      central ‘branch’ is omitted. In the combined sign, the branches end in fig leaves as they do on the painted pottery,
      but in the basic sign with less space the fig leaves are simplified, and one or two down-going lines are sometimes
      added beneath the leaves on either side; in some variants
      three or four such lines replace the leaves altogether.
      The ‘three-branched fig tree’ motif occurs on
      Harappan pottery from the Early through the Mature
      to the Late phase. In one variant from the time when
      the Indus script was created, four strokes are attached
      to either side of the middle stem. They are similar to the
      strokes of the Indus sign, except for their upward
      direction, which may be due to the direction of the two
      lower stems. The strokes seem to represent the airroots
      of the banyan fig.
      The rope-like air-roots are characteristic of the
      banyan fig, Ficus bengalensis or Ficus indica. This
      mighty tree is native to South Asia and does not grow
      in the parts where the Indo-Aryan speakers came from.
      A post-Vedic Sanskrit name for the banyan fig is vaTa.
      This is a Dravidian loanword, ultimately derived from
      Figure 11. Allographs of the Indus sign (no. 123) representing a three-branched ‘fig tree’ and of its ligature with the ‘crab’ sign (no. 124), where the
      middlemost branch has been omitted to accommodate the inserted ‘crab’ sign. (After Parpola 1994: 235.)
      Figure 12. A painted goblet with the ‘three-branched fig tree’ motif from
      Nausharo ID, transitional phase between the Early and Mature Harappan
      periods (c. 2600-2550 BCE). (After Samzun 1992: 250, fig. 29.4 no. 2.)

      Underlying language of Indus script, Proto-Dravidian: Asko Parpola

      June 25, 2010

      Underlying language of Indus script, Proto-Dravidian: Asko Parpola




      The underlying language of the Indus script was Proto-Dravidian, Asko Parpola, Professor-Emeritus of Indology, Institute of World Cultures, University of Helsinki, Finland, said on Friday.

      Declaring that “an opening to the secrets of the Indus script has been achieved,” Prof. Parpola said the results of his readings kept within narrow limits: fertility cult connected with fig trees, a central Hindu myth associated with astronomy and time-reckoning and chief deities of Hindu and Old Tamil religion.

      Delivering the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Research Endowment Lecture on “A Dravidian solution to the Indus script problem” at the World Classical Tamil Conference here, the Indologist said the readings were based on reasonable identifications of the signs’ pictorial shapes. The results made good sense in the framework of ancient Indian cultural history.

      “These readings have been achieved with strictly adhered methodology which is in full agreement with the history of writing, methods of decipherment and historical linguistics including the comparative study of Dravidian languages,” he told the audience that included Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.

      Displaying nearly two dozen illustrations of Indus seals and inscriptions, he dwelt upon the topic by explaining two broad aspects — underlying language and type of the script — that were essential in the decipherment of an ancient script. He also substantiated his thesis with an etymological analysis of certain Tamil words such as ‘muruku’ and ‘miin’.

      Hinting that Harappan language had a genetic relationship with the Dravidian language family, Prof. Parpola said 26 Dravidian languages were now mainly spoken in central and southern parts of India. However, one Dravidian language, Brahui, had been spoken in Baluchistan of Pakistan for at least one thousand years. In contrast to Burushashki, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic languages, very small minority languages in south Asia, the Dravidian speakers until recently constituted one-fourth of the population in India.

      Loanwords from the Dravidian family had been identified from Indo-Aryan texts composed in northwestern India around 1100-600 BCE. Besides, Indo-Aryan had several structural features that had long been interpreted as borrowings from Dravidian. “Historical linguistics thus suggests that the Harappans probably spoke a Dravidian language.”

      Referring to the type of writing system, Prof. Parpola said the number of known Indus signs was around 400 “which agrees well with the logo-syllabic type but is too high for the script to be syllabic or alphabetic”. Though word divisions were not marked, many inscriptions comprised one, two or three signs and longer texts could be segmented into comparable units. The Indus script was created before any syllabic or alphabetic script existed.

      Pointing out that the confirmed interpretations and their wider contexts provided a lot of clues for progress, he acknowledged there were still serious difficulties in the decipherment of the script. “One is the schematic shape of many signs which makes it difficult to recognise their pictorial meaning with certainty. Possibilities of proposing likely readings and their effective checking are severely limited by our defective knowledge of Proto-Dravidian vocabulary, compounds and phraseology.”

      The problem of the Indus script resembled to some extent that of the logo-syllabic Maya script, where advance was phenomenal after Mayan speakers were trained in the methods of decipherment.

      The Indologist said those who had good acquaintance with the realities of Indian culture and south Asian nature could make useful contributions in suggesting possible pictorial meanings for the Indus signs. For this, there was no need to be a Dravidian speaker.

      Iravatham Mahadevan, eminent archaeologist, presided over the event.

      Acceptance speech of Asko Parpola, recipient of the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award


      Your Excellency the President of India, Srimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil, Honourable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Thiru Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, distinguished dignitaries, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, Vanakkam!

      It is indeed a very great honour to receive the first Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award from the President of India. Yet I feel embarrassed, because my work is only partly related to Classical Tamil, while there are Classical Tamil specialists who really would have deserved this award. But as this is not the only time when the award is given, I humbly accept that this is my turn. I am most grateful for the very considerable support for my continued work in this field.

      The Government of India has rightly recognized Tamil as a classical language, a status that it fully deserves in view of its antiquity and its rich literature that in quality and extent matches many other classical traditions of the world. Yet, Tamil is not alone in possessing such a rich heritage in India, which is really a very exceptional country with so many languages having old and remarkable literatures, both written and oral. Sanskrit with its three thousand years old tradition has produced an unrivalled number of literary works.

      Sanskrit goes back to Proto-Indo-Aryan attested in a few names and words related to the Mitanni kingdom of Syria between 1500 and 1300 BCE, and to earlier forms of Indo-Iranian known only from a few loanwords in Finno-Ugric languages as spoken in central Russia around 2000 BCE. But none of these very earliest few traces is older than the roots of Tamil. Tamil goes back to Proto-Dravidian, which in my opinion can be identified as the language of the thousands of short texts in the Indus script, written in 2600-1700 BCE. There are, of course, different opinions, but many critical scholars agree that even the Rigveda, collected in the Indus Valley about 1000 BCE, has at least half a dozen Dravidian loanwords.

      Old Tamil texts constitute the only source of ancient Dravidian linguistic and cultural heritage not yet much contaminated by the Indo-Aryan tradition. Without it, it would be much more difficult if not impossible to penetrate into the secrets of the Indus script and to unravel the beginnings of India’s great civilization. In my opinion the Tamils are entitled to some pride for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Civilization. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that, though their language has shifted in the course of millennia, people of North India too are to a large extent descended from the Harappan people, and have also preserved cultural heritage of the same civilization.

      Nanri! Tamizh vaazka!

      The Indus script and the wild ass – Asko Parpola

      June 23, 2010

      Parpola brings out meaning of Old Tamil ‘taaL leg’

      “The Hindu” has come out immediately with the following brief, ignoring, the interactions that took place at Roja Muthaiah Library onn 28th evening, when he presented his paper on  “The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and  the Wild Ass” with ppt.

      After discussion and answering to crucial questions, Asko parpola clearly accepted that he did not read all the seals and his decipherment was not final.

      In fact, Iravatham Mahadevan accepted  that “multi-interpretations are possible”.

      Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

      Asko Parpola at RM 28-06-2010

      Noted Indologist Asko Parpola on Monday delivered the ‘Gift Siromoney Endowment Lecture Series”’organised by Roja Muthiah Research Library, trying to read the old Tamil ‘taaL leg’ in the context of the newly deciphered sign depicting “a hoofed animal hind leg.” He was talking on ‘The Indus Script, Harappan Dravidian and the Wild Ass.’

      He said “Old Tamil ‘taaL leg’ had a Toda cognate meaning ‘thigh of animal’s hind leg’ and denotes a star in PuRam 395.” The ‘hind leg’ sign once precedes a sign that depicts the wild ass. Besides pointing to various physiological features of the animal, which lived in the desert and could survive even after losing 30 per cent of the water of its body, he narrated many stories associated with the wild ass.

      Noted epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan said more young researchers should enter the field of epigraphy, continuing his work and that of Professor Parpola. He pointed out that he had already reached 81 and Parpola was only 10 years younger to him. Gift Siromoney was a professor at the Madras Christian College. Though a mathematics student, he had prepared many field reports, including the fauna of Tambaram area and Thirukkural written in different scripts of the last 2,000 years. Rani Siromoney, wife of Siromoney, also spoke.

      The Indus script and the wild ass

      Asko Parpola


      [Thanks to The Hindu for the photo and article. As “The Hindu” generally does not encourage the other view of any issue, we have no other way but reproduce it and circulate for discussion and debate]

      Image of a modern impression of the seal M-290 from Mohenjo-daro, where the sequence 'hind leg' + 'wild ass' (to be read from right to left) occurs. Courtesy: Asko Parpola

      Image of a modern impression of the seal M-290 from Mohenjo-daro, where the sequence ‘hind leg’ + ‘wild ass’ (to be read from right to left) occurs. Courtesy: Asko Parpola

      In a paper to be presented at the World Classical Tamil Conference, I am going to discuss recent developments in my study of the Indus script. In the book Deciphering the Indus Script (Cambridge 1994), I interpreted the ‘fish’ sign as Proto-Dravidian *miin ‘fish’ = *miin ‘star’, and its compounds with preceding signs as names of heavenly bodies attested in Old Tamil. One newly deciphered sign depicts “a hoofed animal’s hind leg.” It occurs once before the plain ‘fish’ sign. Old Tamil taaL ‘leg’ has a Toda cognate meaning “thigh of animal’s hind leg” and denotes a star in PuRam 395. The ‘hind leg’ sign once precedes a sign that depicts the wild ass. Is the reading taaL ‘(hind) leg’ meaningful in this context?

      Just one Indus seal has the wild ass as its iconographic motif; it was excavated in 2009 at Kanmer in the Kutch, next to the only wild ass sanctuary in South Asia. Bones of wild ass come from Harappan sites in Baluchistan, the Indus Valley and Gujarat; the salt deserts of this very area have always been the habitat of the wild ass. Bones or depictions of the domestic horse and the donkey are not found in South Asia before 1600 BCE.

      Tamil kaZutai or “donkey” has cognates in Malayalam, Kota, Toda, Kannada, Kodagu, Tulu, Telugu, Kolami, Naiki, Parji, Gondi and Kuwi. Bhadriraju Krishnamurti reconstructs *kaZ-ut-ay and asserts that Proto-Dravidian speakers knew of the donkey. More probably *kaZutay meant ‘wild ass’ in Harappan Dravidian, and the term was transferred to the similar-looking donkey when this newcomer came to South Asia from the west through the Indus Valley. Rigvedic gardabha – ‘donkey’ has no cognates in Iranian; it is a Dravidian loan word with the added Indo-Iranian animal name suffix –bha-. I explain *kaZutay as ‘kicker of the salt desert’, from *kaZ(i) / *kaLLar ‘saline soil’ and *utay ‘to kick’. The wild ass lives in the salt desert and is a vicious kicker.

      There is a Hindu myth explicitly associated with the wild ass, the Dhenukavadha of Harivamsa 57. Krishna and Balarama came to a palmyra forest occupied by the fierce ass demon Dhenuka and its herd. Wanting to drink the juice of ripe palm fruits, Balarama shook the trees. Hearing the sound of falling fruits, the enraged ass demon rushed to the spot. Seeing Balarama beneath a wine palm, as if holding the tree as his banner, the wicked ass bit Balarama and started kicking him hard with its hind legs. Balarama seized the ass by those hind legs and flung it to the top of a palm. The ass fell down with its neck and back broken and died. Dhenuka’s retinue met with the same fate, and the ground became covered with dead asses and fallen palm fruits. The palm forest, horrible when terrorised by the asses, impossible for humans to live in, difficult to cross, and with a great extent and salty soil (iriNa), now became a lovely place.

      The description of the palm forest as a salt desert confirms that wild asses are meant. The palm tree, Sanskrit taala from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ, is prominent in the myth and its earliest sculptural representations. The wine palm is associated with the wild ass, which inhabits the palm forest and finally falls down from the top of the palm like its ripe fruits. The wine palm is connected also with the ass’ killer (his successor as the god of its drink), Balarama, whose addiction to toddy is “an essential part of his character.”

      The myth also refers to the palm emblem on Balarama’s banner (tâla-dhvaja). In the Rigveda, Indra is invited to drink Soma like a thirsty wild ass (gaura) drinks in a pond of salty soil (iriNa). In Kutch today, such ponds are called taalaab. This Persian word comes from Indo-Aryan taala ‘pond’, from Proto-Dravidian *taaZ ‘low place, depression.’ Like the camel, the wild ass can quickly drink an enormous amount of water, becoming through homophony the prototypal toddy-drinker. Further homophones of taaZ connect the wild ass with the ebb of tide and its mythical cause, the mare-faced demon of the netherworld who drinks the whole ocean.

      Conclusion: taaL (from *taaZ, preserved in Old Kannada) ‘(hind) leg, stem of tree’ (whence taaZ ‘tree with a prominent stem’ > ‘wine palm’) is in many ways connected with the wild ass.

      (The author, who will be the first recipient of the Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award, is Professor Emeritus of Indology, Institute of World Cultures, University of Helsinki.)

      Questions posed to Iravatham mahadevan and Asko Parpola.

      June 21, 2010

      Questions posed to Iravatham mahadevan and Asko Parpola.

      Iravatham Mahadevan and Asko Parpola have to answer many questions without mincing words, which are pointed out as follows:

      1. The expression, “Vedic scholar-turned-Dravidianist” proves the change in ideology that is not good for any scholar of his stature. IM has already brought Michael Witzel, the Rig Vedic Pundit last year here in Chennai and he talked differently. Of course, IM prevented native Pundits to question and test his Sanskrit capabilities. He was struggling to repeat few words mentioned by one of the audience.

      2. That he has academic credentials “to prove that the Indus Civilisation was pre-Aryan and that its writing encoded a Dravidian language”, makes no credentials, as researchers have such qualifications and acumen in their steadfast work carried on for years. Scholars respect scholars till they are biased with other motives.

      3. “Even though the Indus script remains undeciphered, as Professor Parpola readily admits, his theoretical groundwork on the Dravidian character of the Indus Civilisation and the script, and the fact of Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation, have been accepted by most scholars in the world“. Acceptance or non-acceptance of any hypothesis, theory etc., cannot be a criteria for coming to any final conclusion in a research plan, particularly, where the script remains undeciphered.

      4. “When the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu’s award is given to me for a Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, this award will inevitably be interpreted by many people as politically motivated”. Definitely, because, he has been known for his extremist views, racist bias and linguistic fanaticism and all couched with anti-Hindu, anti-Sanskrit, anti-Hindi, anti-north, anti-Brahmin and so on. Moreover, award for Dravidian solution of the Indus enigma, reminds the the world war period, where the racists scholars used to be honoured in the same way by the racist regimes, because any other solution means no award!

      5. “Nevertheless, I am ready to fight for the truth, and in my opinion, the Tamils are entitled to some pride for having preserved so well the linguistic heritage of the Indus Civilisation”. Why some pride, they have “full / more” pride, whether they preserve or not the linguistic heritage of the Indus civilization. In fact, the queation is whether the Indus cicilization had any preserved linguistic heritage of the Tamils conclusively, instead of taking few seals and giving convenient interpretation.

      6. “At the same time, it must not be forgotten that though their language has shifted in the course of millennia, people of North India too are to a large extent descended from the Harappan people, and have also preserved cultural heritage of the same civilisation.” Had both people descended from the same lineage, where is the question of linguistic heritage preserved by one group of people and cultural heritage by other group? His theory that “Aryan immigration into India after the decline of the Indus Civilisation” shows after the decline of the Indus civilization, the Dravidians moved to north and then came down to south. Aryans came thereafter and moved in the same way.

      7. When Aryans immigrated after the decline of Indus-Dravidian civilization, there was no “Aryan invasion”. Karunanidhi would not accept such academic exercise.

      8 . The time gap between the two historical processes has to be specified and explained. The peak period of IVC has been c.2250-1950 BCE. The Sangam period starts from c.300 BCE. Why then, the “Dravidian speaking people” took nearly two millinea to shift from IVC to north and north to South?

      9. Why they should have taken such a long period to compose Sangam literature only at Tamizhagam insyead of IVC or north India? It is also surprising that they could not develop any script during those 2000 years!

      10. The earliest Tamil inscriptions date from the Mauryan Era. That Asoka should copy from the Persians and start indscribing on the stones so that Indians could read at different parts of India in the same language or in their languages! And the intelligent Dravidian speaking people / immigrant Tamils from the IVC should wait for Asoka and start copying his script to write in Tamil only from that particular period!

      11. As the IV Dravidian speakers had been the expert makers of the seals, why they should wait for 2000 years to copy script from Asoka? Does it make sound?

      12. Asoka and even Kharavela, whose territories were threatened with the “confederation of Dravidian kings” could write many lines, how is that the Dravidian speaking people could leave only few-line inscriptions, broken ones etc?