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


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

Vedaprakash

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 shoed 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
‘Destruction’.


“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:

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.

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.

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.

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
camel
Sheep Mesha
Goat Aja

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

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.

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 possibe! 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”.

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

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article481104.ece

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

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

http://expressbuzz.com/states/tamil-nadu/dravidians-headed-south-before-aryans-arrival/185399.html

3. பேராசிரியர் அஸ்கோ பர்போலா சொற்பொழிவு

http://www.dinakaran.com/tamilnadudetail.aspx?id=9283&id1=4

Vedaprakash

30-06-2010


[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.

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

  1. vedaprakash Says:

    The replies to “The Indus script and the wild ass – published on June 23, 2010” as appearing in the Hindu websote is reproduced for reference:
    http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article481104.ece

    I shall try to interpret the words taken by Asko Parpola strictly in the Sangam literature context where the purity of Tamil clould has been more. Parpola has been definitely confused with the Tamil words “தாள்” (புறம்.395.35) and “தாழ்” taking only one particular meaning according to his convenience.

    Actually, the word “தாள்” has more than a dozen meaning in the Sangam literature context itself – feet, effort, bottom portion of the tree, trunk or central portion of plant, soft stalk, star, bottom portion, a finger ornament, nail, pillar of Pandal, step, and so on.

    The word “தாழ்” has the meanings padlock, ring (noun), degrade, demean, fall etc.

    The word “தாலம்” has the meaning of palm trees, as matted leaves were used as seat (Silappatikaram.XVI.35). Though, it is a post-sangam literature, for academic interest I am giving this meaning.

    Coming to the word “கழுதை”, the word is found in the Sangam literature – Puram.15.1-3; Puram.392.8-10; Padait.25.4; Perumpaanat.78-80 etc, where it refers to donkey only, of course, it can be ass also.

    But Parpola has pained himself to show that the so-called Proto-Dravidian speakers know ass / donkey, implying that they did not know horse.

    Therefore, his whole exercise appears to be childish than academic considering his stature and scholarship. Probably, his “Dravidian” friends have not provided the Tamil inputsd properly in the context. As they have from “கழகம்” owhich has also the same root கழ் / கழ, where all come together, join together.
    from: K. V. Ramakrishna Rao
    Posted on: Jun 23, 2010 at 15:39 IST

  2. vedaprakash Says:

    This is the second reply appearing:

    Parpola’s efforts in deciphering the Indus script are comendable. However, inventing new words in this so called proto-dravidian language is not going to lead him to success in deciphering the script.
    from: skg
    Posted on: Jun 23, 2010 at 22:38 IST

  3. vedaprakash Says:

    This is the third reply appearing:

    Dear Mr KV Ramakrishna Rao, as a well read person with deep knowledge about Sangam Tamil should really be part of the Academic Workgroups part of the Classical Tamil Conference. Dr Asko Parpola is also presenting a paper there, so are innumerous Tamil scholars. A healthy debate with Dr Parpola can throw more light on the assumptions he has made for தாழ் and தாள் in Proto-Dravadian as opposed to Sangam Tamil. Pelase bear in mind that Parpola’s Proto-Dravidian of IVC predates Sangam Tamil by atleast 1700 years which is a huge time frame, a time gap between now and when Poompukar was a bustling International Port city…
    from: Rajasekaran Elangovan
    Posted on: Jun 24, 2010 at 01:03 IST

  4. vedaprakash Says:

    Today, 29-05-2013, I find that the comments there in “The Hindu” –
    http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article481104.ece
    – are missing!

    So, the comments as appeared there, I posted here remain as proof.

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