Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation: Asko Parpola

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.

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9 Responses to “Sanskrit has also contributed to Indus civilisation: Asko Parpola”

  1. Gyan Swarup Gupta Says:

    There is a necessity to study ancient ancient literature speacially ‘Nirukta – Yaska’. It is erronously believed that it contains etymology of ancient Sanskrit. If we give up this belief and look at it more closely we will find that it contains not the roots of words but the names of Indus Valley symbols. It also means that the Vedas were originally written in Indus script and Yaska only wanted to reach the then generation to read them. Many words specially names could be written by the combination of two or more symbols. These Yaska had clarified. For example ‘go’ means Sun or ‘seven’ means Sun could not be explained otherwise. Similarly he had given different combinations by which Indra could be written. He had clarified that the number three could take one across meaning that it means divine. The Indus seals contain just names both of Individuals as well as that of gods. Wherever the three lines are given in them it signifies that the name is of some god.

  2. Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

    The Dravidian and Vedic Indus theses are untenable. Detailed refutations will be published soon.

    Part 2 is particularly important. Part one is a high level overview
    > Mirror:
    Links to the journal
    Part one

    The IVC was multiligual. The harappans spoke languages which included remote ancestors of languages which much later came to be known as Prakrits. Prakrits and Sanskrit interacted with each other in the manner described in the paper – part two. Methods to reconstruct the languages of the Indus are also descibed with proof – part two

  3. Sujay Rao Man davilli Says:


    Please find my two papers below and circulate amongst the skeptics, particularly!

    To state the obvious, the Indus script was a logo-syllabic script and a lost corpus did exist.

    Published in the ICFAI journal of history and culture, January 2011

    Published in International journal of philosophy and journal sciences , November 2012

    I am also introducing logo-syllabic thesis B in this paper

    The paper is very self-explanatory! does anybody still beg to differ?

    Sujay Rao Mandavilli

  4. Sujay Rao Mandavilli Says:

    i am pleased to announce the publication of my fifth research paper in a peer-reviewed journal

    this deals with the origin of Brahmi . this is a logical and self-explanatory paper and is written using a multi-disciplinary approach. it is written in such a way that anybody can cross-verify the conclusions.

    sujay rao mandavilli

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    […] [8]… […]

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    […] [12]… […]

  7. Richard Dias Says:

    I thought it was Indus script which has contributed to the development of Brahmi lipi.

    • vedaprakash Says:

      Why then the Harvard group (particularly) Steve Farmer goes on telling that “illiterate Harappans” and so on!

      How “illiterates” write script and speak language?

      In other words, “the idea of development of Brahmi script” from IVC scripyt fails here!

      One cannot take different stands about the script, language and litearature.

  8. batterytrain Says:

    Sorry but there was no “Dravidian” race or distinct group or ethnicity and there was no “Aryan” one either. There was no migration of Indo-Aryans either, and they never “entered” South Asia, THEY CAME OUT OF SOUTH ASIA AND THEN SPREAD FROM SOUTH ASIA!

    People have to stop propagating idiotic pseudo scientific non sense that has already been debunked and refuted countless times already now!

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