A Review of “Deciphering Indus Script” by Asko Parpola


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dated to c.2550-1900 BCE, collapsed before the composition of the hymns collected in the Rigveda Samhita, the oldest historical document in India.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

Sinai

Canaan and Phonecian

Hieroglyph

Hieroglyph

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:

      http://books.cambridge.org/0521430798.htm

      http://www.ancientscripts.com/indus.html

      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

      http://asnic.utexas.edu/asnic/subject/peoplesandlanguages.html/

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

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

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      12 Responses to “A Review of “Deciphering Indus Script” by Asko Parpola”

      1. программа которая читает текст « Эхо блогосферы Says:

        […] vedaprakash пишет: 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. …. 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. … […]

      2. Dipanjan Majumdar Says:

        Every script changes with time, and evolves to a newer one. At the ancient time, there was not numerous scripts as we find today. Now how it changes? there may be different pathways, but analyzing all the pathways of the present scrips all over the world, should give a definite pattern of change and computer modelling may help in doing so. The model may then give us back calculation to pinpoint which present script or scripts may have evolved from indus script. I am taking it into account that the indus script has not washed away, but evolved to something. If that hypotheses is correct, the modelling will give definite answer. However, the calculation and modelling is an herculean task.

      3. Dipanjan Majumdar Says:

        dravidian people had entered our country, through north India, is hard to digest. Why they have gone to such comparative arid land leaving aside the fertile north India. If monsoon had plummeted, then it would cause the southern river to shrink even more. So Dravidian people were pushed to that extremity for some reason, or they were truly Indian in origin, never came from outside.

        • Muthu Palaniappan Says:

          Dipanjan Majumdar
          your prefix Dip sounds Deepa which is originally Thee for fire.thee is Dravidian/Tamil This is similar to Agni/Sanskrit which is a Latin cognate ignite fire.Sanskrit and Latin are sister languages,as you may know.
          this is besides the point Dipanian
          You raised the point that the Dravidians came through NorthIndia .this has been raised by many others.Good question.Either they came through North or from Sumeria or were settled there forever.This I doubt.The word Dravidian is more a language connexion rather a race.the creators of this civilization probably left the Indus valley and moved South.Dravidians wanted a safer haven to practise their culture rituals and develop further.Dry south India was a definetly a safe,peaceful dry haven.It is possible that they became weaker,less powerful to greater barbarians and pushed to drier lands.Because the powerful took the best parts of India.this is true till this day.The culture and language was a greater priority for the Dravidians,rather than richer lands,and also knowing that there were going to be newer and newer people coming into India and floods and monsoons of Indus rivers.

          • S. M. Sullivan Says:

            Since the DNA evidence suggests that the Ancient South Indians have been there since 60,000 BC, and there are populations speaking languages similar to those of South India in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, I think that the ancestors of the Dravidians probably came to India from Southeast Asia by boat.
            Boats were certainly used by people that long ago; indeed, Australia was settled around the same time, by people who used boats to get there.

      4. Merrill Davin Says:

        Practically nothing better than a fishing joke. My grandpa just shared this joke with me: Fishing rules:Fishing rule #1: The least experienced fisherman always catches the biggest fish. Fishing rule #2: The worse your line is tangled, the better is the fishing around you. Fishing rule #3: Fishing will do a lot for a man but it won’t make him truthful.

      5. S. M. Sullivan Says:

        Ancestors of the Dravidian people have been living in South India since 60,000 BC, and they gave rise to the north Indian population as well.
        So says the most recent DNA evidence.

        As for Indus script, here is my take on it:

        http://harappanwriting.piczo.com

        • Muthu Palaniappan Says:

          S M sullivan
          I saw your link harrappan writing.It was interesting intriguing and wonderful that the interpretation of these scripts.freely is the use of sanskrit and a few words of Tamil.The main criticism of this harrappan script is that it is unlikely to be sanskrit as the time gap is too long.the Aryans/sanskrit came far later.the present powerbrokers of ruling india can not cannot accept that it is not sanskrit.It is too much for their ego hurting,painful and unbelievable.The present powers of North India will accept that it is Dravidian after another ?100years.it is too much to take and embarrasing the ruling India.The whole world,foreign indologists,linguists etymologists would prove beyond doubt that it is dravidian.Also another creeping thing about sanskritists is that anything good in India belongs to them.they discovered it though plagarised from the natives.anything bad belongs to other inferior mllecha Dravidan or Munda races.this is the unfortunate history of India over the five thousand years.It is very sad story of India.the whole history of India has to be rewritten.

      6. S. M. Sullivan Says:

        Muthu,

        Your assessment of the political situation in India appears to be correct to me.

        I have sent links to my website to ASI officials, and only one of them ever responded. He simply commented that Indus script was not his area of expertise.

        So I expect that India’s government officials will continue to ignore my work, as long as they remain in office.

      7. Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

        Few sensible scholars will be able to deny that the Indus script was a logo-syllabic script. Facts about the Dholavira signboard. However seals may have been non-linguistic.

        (a) It is one of the most famous of Harappan inscriptions.

        (b) It was very large in size.

        (c) It was located in Far from Mesopotamia Dholavira and in one of the furthest sites from Mesopotamia.

        (d) It hung over the citadel there.

        (e) It must have represented the name of the place and must have been closely tied to speech: note the sign repetition.

        (f) The sign which was used as a determinative was a very common Indus sign.

        (g) The sign used as a determinative appears to have been also similar to determinatives in other writing systems.

        (h) The Indus script was also related to Proto-Elamite which means it probably had a linguistic component.

        (i) The other signs with which the determinative was used were also common Indus signs.

        (j) Few sensible scholars will now dispute the fact that the Indus script was a logo-syllabic script on the basis of this evidence.

        (k) Few sensible scholars will deny the fact that speech encoding was one of the major functions of the Indus script and had this feature had reached a very precocious maturity.

        (l) This inscription was apparently more closely tied to speech than most proto-Elamite inscriptions.

        (m) Dholavira was not even the most important of sites.

        (n) The fact that it was hung over the citadel meant it was meant to be read by elites.

        (o) It was put to the most frivolous use.

        (p) Speech encoding would have been a prized possession: no one would have used it just for a decorative signboard at far-from-Mesopotamia Dholavira. Why would a man who had inscribed this, done so (a) if nobody else could read it (b) why would he have learnt to encode speech only to inscribe this signboard? This automatically implies the existence of longer texts. It also shows that the Indus elites used more complex forms of communication.

        (q) Even if we assume that speech-encoding was added in Mature Harappan 3B, this logic would still hold good.

        (r) This logic is already accepted by mainstream Indus archaeologists as a precursor to the existence of longer texts

        please refer to the book by Jane Macintosh (Mcintosh 2008 p 374) “The Harappans did not create monumental art or architecture on which such inscriptions may have been written. The nearest that the Harappans came to this is the Dholavira signboard which is quite possibly the tip of the iceberg of a now vanished public inscriptions.Farmers arguments fail to account convincingly for the structural regularities that analysis have revealed in the use of Harappan signs. These strongly seem to support the hypothesis that the Indus script represent a writing system”

        This also proves that much longer texts existed

      8. arun Says:

        vedas alledged to be c.1200 BCE is very far away from harappan times but tamil dated c.500 BCE is very near the harappan times. What a great logic. Arent scholars foolish! atleast one should use common sense than prejudice.

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