Archive for the ‘Indo-European-speaking invaders’ Category

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


[8] Ironically, the entire thing was already published in “The Hindu” and there have been three responses also: see at

[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
      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

      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,

      Egbert Richer-Ushanas, Two Systems of Symbolic Writing – The Indus Script and the Rongorongo Script of Ester Island,

      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.