Source: Andrea Fuls, 2009 Slide 21  

Sprachfamilien Südasiens Kartenvorlage für Staatsgrenzen: Verbreitungsgebiet nachgezeichnet nach der Karte Language families and branches, languages and dialects in A Historical Atlas of South Asia, Oxford University Press. New York 1992.

Bharatiya sprachbund or language union

“(Sprachbund or linguistic area is) an area which includes languages belonging to more than one family but showing traits in common which are found not to belong to the other members of (at least) one of the families.” (MB Emeneau, India as a Linguistic Area, Lg. 32:1.3-16 (1956); see p. 16, fn. 28) For Emeneau, it is a ‘multi-familial convergence (or diffusion) area’. 

(From Map 1.1: Indo-Aryan languages in the South Asian subcontinent in: Dhanesh Jain, George Cardona (eds.), 2003, The Indo-Aryan languages, Routledge, p.3)

Indianized mleccha-, arya-vaacas in polyglossia linguistic area

"Indo-Aryan languages have a long history of transmission, not only in the form of literary works and treatises dealing with logical, philosophical, and ritual matters but also in phonetic, phonological, and grammatical descriptions. The languages are divisible into three major stages: Old-, Middle- and New- (or Modern-) Indo-Aryan. The first is represented by an enormously rich literature stretching over millennia, including Vedic texts and later literary works of various genres. In addition, we are privileged to have knowledge of the details of Old Indo-Aryan of different eras and areas through extraordinarily perceptive descriptions of phonetics and phonology relative to traditions of Vedic recitation in prAtizAkhya works and PANini's ASTAdhyAyI, the brilliant set of rules describing the language current at around the fifth century BCE, with important dialectical observations and contrasts drawn between the then current speech and earlier Vedic usage. Moreover, observations by YAska (possibly antedating PANini) and Patanjali (second century BCE) inform us about some dialect features of Old Indo-Aryan in early times...Speakers of Sanskrit were aware from early on not only of differences between their current language and Vedic but also of areal differences at a given time. Well known examples stem from YAska and Patanjali, who speak of usages proper to the Kamboja, SaurASTra, the east and midlands, as well as of Arya speakers. It is noteworthy that zav is said to occur in Kamboja, a northwestern people whom in his commentary on Nirukta 2.2 Durga refers to as Mleccha (Bhadkamkar 1918: 166.5-6: gatyartho dhAtuh kambojeSv eva bhASyate mleccheSu prakRtyA prayujyata AkhyAtapadabhAvena): zyav, zav, ziyav 'go' are used in Avestan and Old Persian...Patanjali refers to the use of hamm 'go' in SauRASTra. Another feature of the speech of this area is noted in the metrical version of the PANinIyazikSA, which says that nasalized vowels as in arAm 'spokes' of RV 8.77.3b (khe arAm iva khedayA'(...pushed...down) like spokes in the wheel navel with an instrument for pressing together') are pronounced in the manner that a woman from SauRAStra pronounces takram 'buttermilk': takraM, with a fully nasalized final vosel (PS 26: yathA saurASTrikA nArI takrAm ity abhibhASate evam rangAh prayoktavyA khe arAM iva khedayA). Patanjali is well aware of the r/l alternation in particular lexical terms...Old Indo-Aryan was of course dialectically differentiated (See Emeneau 1966). The earliest distribution of dialect areas would have to stem from Vedic times, and the texts, right back to the Rgveda, show evidence of dialect differences, reflected, for example, in the use of forms of the type dakSi and dhakSi 'burn' (Cardona 1991)...There is a large variety of PrAkrits, traditionally named after regions and their inhabitants: MAhArASTrI, zaurasenI and so on. Thus, Bharata mentions (NZ 17.48: mAgadhy avantijA prAcyA zauraseny ardhamAgadhI bAhlikA dAkSiNatyA ca sapta bhASAh prakIrtitA) seven languages as being well known: MAgadhI, the language of Avanti, the language of the east, ZaurasenI, ArdhamAgadhI, BAhlIkA, and the language of the south. Theoreticians of poetics and grammarians of PrAkrits also enumerate and characterize different PrAkrits, among wich MAhArAStrI is given the highest status...The closest thing we have comparable to a dialect map of Middle Indo-Aryan is represented by Azoka's inscriptions of the third century BCE. As has been recognizedd (See Bloch 1950: 43-5, Azokan/PAli section 1.2), the major rock edicts show that east, nortwest and west constitute three major dialect areas...Arya has various meanings centering about the notion of noble, venerable, honorable, but this term was explicitly used with reference to a particular group of people, characterized by the way they spoke...Patanjali uses the phrases AryA bhASante 'Aryas say' and AryAh prayunjate 'Aryas use'. In the comparable passage of his Nirukta, YAska (Nir. 2.2 [161.11-13]) says zavatir gatikarmA kambojeSv eva bhASyate...vikAram asyAryeSu bhASante zava it 'zav meaning 'go' is used only in the Arya community one uses a derivate (vikAram 'modification) zava 'corpse' '. Here, YAska uses the locative plural AryeSu parallel to kambojeSu, both terms referring to communities in which particular usages prevail...The Indian subcontinent has long been home to speakers of languages belonging to different language failies, principally Indo-European (Indo-Aryan), Dravidian, and Austro-Asiatic (Munda). It is to be expected that speakers of these languages who were in contact with each other should have been subject to possible influence of other languages on their own. Scholars have long been aware of and remarked on the changes which the language reflected in the earliest Vedic underwent over time, gradually becoming more and more 'Indianized', so that one can speak of an Indian linguistic area (Emeneau 1956, 1971, 1974, 1980, Kuiper 1967). Scholars have also differed concerning the degree of influence exerted by Munda or Dravidian languages on Indo-Aryan at different stages and the manner in which such influence was made felt. It is proper to emphasize from the outset that Old Indo-Aryan should be viewed as encompassing a variety of regional and social dialects spoken natively, developing historically in the way any living language does, and whose speakers interacted in a society where diglossia and polyglossia were the norm. Sanskrit speakers show an awareness of these facts. Thus, it is not only historically true that early Vedic root aorists of the type akar, agan were gradually replaced by forms of the types akArSU, agamat but also that YAska and Patanjali were aware of such changes and brought the fact out in their paraphrases; see Mehendale 1968: 15-33. PANini accounted for major features of Vedic which differed from his current language. In addition, such early native speakers of Sanskrit give us evidence of attitudes towards different varieties of speech which should be taken into consideration...Patanjali recounts the dialogue: A certain grammarian (kazcid vaiyAkaraNah) says to a chariot driver, ko 'sya rathasya pravetA 'Who is the driver of this car?' The driver answers, AyuSmann aham prAjitA 'Sir, I am the driver', upon which the grammarian accuses him of using an incorrect speech form (apazabda). The driver retorts that the grammarian knows what should obtain by rule (prAptijnah) but not what is desired (iSTijnah): this term is desirable (iSyata etad rUpam), Patanjali doubtless reflects a historical change in the language between PANini's time and area and his. At the same time, he is clearly willing to countenance that usage could include terms which a strict grammarian might consider improper. And he puts this in terms of a contrast between a grammarian and a charioteer. Another famous MaHAbhASya passage concerns sages (RSi-) who were characterized by the way they pronounced the phrases yad vA nah and tad vA nah: yar vA nah, tar vA nah. Although these sages spoke with such vernacular features, they did not do so during ritual acts...On the contrary, both accepted forms and those considered incorrect served equally to convey meanings, and what distinguished corrrect speech was that one gaind merit from such usage accompanied by a knowledge of its grammatical formation. One must recognize also that the standard speech could include elements which originally were not part of the Sanskrit norm. Moreover, Zabara remarks (on JS [II.151]) that although authoity (pramANam) is granted to a learned elite (ziSTAh whose behaviour is authoritative with respect to what cannot be known directly (yat tu ziSTAcArah pramANam iti tat pratyakSAnavagate 'rthe) and who are experts (abhiyuktAh) as concerns the meanings of terms, nevertheless Mlecchas are more expert as concernss the care and binding of birds (yat tv abhiyuktAh zabdArtheSu ziSTA iti tatrocyate: abhiyuktatarAh pakSiNAm poSaNe bandhan ca mlecchAh). Consequently, when it comes to terms like pika- 'cuckcoo', which Aryas do not use in any meaning but which Mlecchas do (ZBh. [II.149]: atha yAN chamdAn AryA na kasmimzcid artha Acaranti mlecchAs tu kasmimzcit prayunjate yathA pika...), authority is granted to Mleccha usage...There is thus evidence to show that before the second century BCE and possibly before PANini's time Mlecchas who inhabited areas outside the bounds of AryAvartta could be absorbed into the prevalent social system and that terms from speech areas such as that of the Kambojas could be treated as Indo-Aryan...Arya brAhmaNas normally were not supposed to engage in discourse with Mlecchas, but they had to do so on occasion. In brief, the picture is that of a society in which an Arya group considered itself the carrier of a higher culture and strived to keep this culture and the language associated with it but at the same time had necessarily to interact with groups like Mlecchas, whose language and customs were considered lesser. The result of such interaction, both with other Indo-Aryans who spoke dalects with Middle Indo-Aryan features and with non-Indo-Aryans, was that Sanskrit was effected through adoption of lexical terms and grammatical features...There is no cogent reason to consider that such changes due to contact had not been carried out gradually over generations for a long time before. Modern views. Although scholars generally agree that Old Indo-Aryan was indeed affected by 'autochthonous' languages and that there is indeed a South Asia linguistic area (see, e.g., Emeneau 1956, 1980, Kuiper 1967, Masica 1976), there are disagreements concerning the possible degree to which such effects should be seen in early Vedic and whether the features at issue could reflect also developments from Indo-European sources. In addition to the extent and sources of lexical borrowings, the main points of contention concern four features commonly considered characteristic of a South Asian linguistic area: (1) a contrast between retroflex and dental consonants, (2) the use of quotative particle (Skt. iti), (3) the use of absolutives (Skt. -tvA, ya), (4) the general unmarked word subject-object-verb...As to what non-Indo-Aryan languages are concerned, obvious candidates are Dravidian and Munda languages. The number of such borrowings into early Indo-Aryan has been the topic of ongoing debate...It has also to be admitted that the archaeological evidence available does not serve to confirm Indo-Aryan migrations into the subcontinent. Moreover, there is no textual evidence in the early literary traditions unambiguously showing a trace of such migration...In an email message kindly conveyed to me by S. Kalyanaraman (11 April 1999)...BaudhAyanazrautasUtra passage...this text cannot serve to document an Indo-Aryan migration into the main part of the subcontinent... " (Dhanesh Jain, George Cardona (eds.), 2003, The Indo-Aryan languages, Routledge, pp.6-7,17-21, 26-28, 31-37)

Decoding three Indus sealings of Kanmer

-- Metal smithy guild workshop

·         bāranè ‘comb’ (Ka.); Rebus: bhoron = a mixture of brass and bell metal (Santali); baran, bharat (5 copper, 4 zinc and 1 tin)(P.B.) med. ‘body’; rebus: med. = iron (Santali) kod.a ‘one in arithmetic’ (Santali) Rebus: kod. = place where artisan’s work (Kur.) workshop (G.)

·         Pictographs complementing the epigraph of two signs: one-horned heifer in front of standard device. The identical Indus seal is stamped on one side of each seal impression and different lettered script is found on the reverse.

·         dama = heifer, young bull, steer (G.); Rebus: tambra = copper (Skt.) kod.e ‘heifer’; Rebus: kot.e ‘forge’. sangad.a ‘lathe, furnace’. Rebus: sam.gara ‘guild’ (lit. agreeing together).

Read on…  

Temple in Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization?

The use of the lexeme, dhatu (mineral, relic) in the context of stupa (temple) is mirrored in the mleccha lexeme which denotes both a smithy and a temple :

kol.el ‘smithy, temple in Kota village’ (Ko.) kolme smithy' (Ka.) kol ‘working in iron, blacksmith (Ta.)(DEDR 2133)

g. dhàṭṭu m. ʻ woman's headgear, kerchief ʼ, kc. dhau m. (also dhahu m. ʻ scarf ʼ, J. dhā(h)u m. Him.I 105);  dhaī -- f. ʻ old cloth, loincloth ʼ lex. [Drav., Kan. daṭṭi ʻ waistband ʼ etc., DED 2465] Ku. dhao ʻ piece of cloth ʼ, N. dharo, B. dhaā; Or. dhaā  rag, loincloth ʼ (CDIAL 6707).

Glyph to denote dhatu ‘mineral’. Read on...

30 Oct. 2009

Animal hieroglyphs of Indus script

ellāccollum poruḷ kuṛittanavē (Tol. Peya.1) "All words are semantic indicators."

pasaramu, pasalamu = an animal, a beast, a brute, quadruped (Te.lex.) Thus, the depiction of animals in epigraphs is related to, rebus: pasra = smithy (Santali)

pasra meed, pasāra meed = syn. of koe meed = forged iron, in contrast to dul meed, cast iron (Mundari.lex.) pasra = a smithy, a place where a blacksmith works; to do a blacksmith’s work; kamar pasrat.hene sen akantalea = our man has gone to the smithy; pasrao lagao (or ehop) akata = he (the blacksmith) has started his work (Santali)

Read on... 

paśú— m., páśu— n. ‘domestic or sacrificial animal’ RV. m. ‘goat’ lex. Pa. pasu—, °uka— m. ‘cattle’; Aś.shah. man. paśu—, gir. kāl. dh. jau. pasu— ‘beast’, NiDoc. paśu; Pk. pasu- m. ‘animal, horned quadruped, goat, sheep’, Ap. pasuva— m.; Kt. paċƏ—moč‘shepherd’; S. paha f. ‘goat’; A. pâha ‘animal of the deer class, any quadruped’; H. pas f. ‘buffalo—heifer’, pasū m. ‘animal (such as goat or sheep)’. paśutā—, *paśuvant—; paśupā́—, paśupāla—, paśu- rūpá—. Addenda: paśú—: S.kcch. paũ f. ‘she—goat’; WPah.poet.pɔśu m. ‘cattle, head of cattle, animal’ (Him.I 117 ← H.) (CDIAL 7984) Pasu [Vedic paśu, cp. Lat. pecu & pecunia, Gr. pe/kos fleece, Goth. vieh, E. fee] cattle M i.79; J v.105; Pv ii.1312 (˚yoni); Miln 100; PvA 166 (˚bhāva); n. pl. pasavo Si.69; Sn 858; gen. pl. pasūnaŋ Sn 311; Pv ii.25. -- dupasu bad cattle Th 1, 446. (Pali)

Metal forge, smithy guild of Bhirrana

If Chanhudaro was the Sheffield of ancient India ( ), many settlements of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization such as Bhirrana were settlements of smiths and artisans. If Mehrgarh was a 7th millennium BCE settlement, so was Bhirrana on Sarasvati river basin. Bhirrana finds mark a paradigm shift in ancient Hindu chronology.

A tribute to the late LS Rao

This is a tribute the memory of the late Lakshmikant S Rao, of ASI who did the excavation work at Bhirrana (colloquial pronunciation: bhiRDAnA). I fondly recollect his presentation made in the Vedic River Sarasvati and Hindu civilization conference held in India Intl. Centre, New Delhi in October 2008 (see references cited in the following paragraphs). A few months later, I got the information about his death. The memory of his extraordinary work lives on. He was privileged to unearth knowledge from Mother Earth and add to our knowledge of the roots of Hindu civilization.

Importance of Bhirrana Read on... 

Caravan glyphs of Indus script: scarf, heifer, standard (r. to l.) – mineral, metal (workshop), smithy guild

[Note: Possibly, there is a fourth (right-most) pennant glyph in the caravan as seen on m0490 tablet; the glyph is not legible on both tablets: m0490 and m0491]

 (Caravan with bearers carrying pennants with insignia: Scarf carried on a pendant, third from left – after pennant with standard device and pennant with one-horned heifer)

WPah. dhau m. (also dhahu) m. ‘scarf’ (CDIAL 6707) Rebus: Pa. dhātu ‘mineral’ [Scarf carried on a pennant is also shown worn on the pigtails of persons on many epigraphs of Indus script.]

Scarf on a pennant. Scarf on pigtail of persons.

dama ‘heifer’ (G.) Rebus: tam(b)ra ‘copper; kōe = young bull (G.) Rebus: ko  'artisan's workshop'.(Kuwi)

san:ghāo, saghaī  (G.) = firepan; saghaī, śaghai = a pot for holding fire (G.)[cula_ sagai_ portable hearth (G.)] ague = brazier (Tu.) san:gaa, ‘lathe, portable furnace’; Rebus: sā̃go m. ‘caravan’ (S.) sangath संगथ्  association, living together, partnership (Kashmiri); san:gara battle; janga iyo ‘military guard who accompanies treasure into the treasury’; san:ghāiyo, a worker on a lathe (G.) [The semantics of cognate mleccha lexemes, point to a smithy guild]

Read on… 

Ligaturing of glyphs on the Indus script is paralleled by sculpted ligatures of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization

Glyphs on Indus script: Ligatured human body, metal wheelwright

There are many variants of this human body glyph (Sign 1, Mahadevan Indus script corpus). There are many composite glyphs with many ligatures to this human body frame.

me ‘body’ (Santali) Rebus: me ‘iron (metal)’ (Ho.) koe meed = forged iron (Mu.) (cf. glyph: Ka. kōu horn)

Vikalpa: kāhī = body, person; kāhī the make of the body; the stature of a man (G.) Rebus: khātī  ‘wheelwright’ (H.)

eaka 'upraised arm' (Ta.); Ka.eake wing; rebus: eraka = copper (Ka.); eraka ‘metal infusion’ (Tu.)

Characteristic ligatures are:  scarf on hair-pigtail, armlets on arms, raised arm, seated (hidden, spy?) on a tree, ligatured to buttocks (back) of a bovine, horned (often with a twig betwixt horns).

All these orthographic glyptic elements can be explained rebus as mleccha smith guild token glyphs, all in the context of a smithy/forge/smithy guild. This decoding is consistent with rebus readings of other glyphs such as ligatured tiger + eagle, tiger+ wings, tiger+ human body.

Some of these ligaturing elements and glyphs can be decoded, read rebus in mleccha lexemes (appended). Read on...

27 Oct. 2009 

Heifer, standard, leaf, dotted circle glyphs decoded as smithy repertoire

The one-horned heifer and the standard device occur on over 1395 epigraphs of Indus script (Together they occur on 1159 of these epigraphs). Dotted circles (and variants) appear on over 65 epigraphs (including those ligatured to bottom bowl of the standard device). Leaf glyphs occur on about 100 epigraphs.

Decoded glyphs: Two heifers: (copper) metal casting/forging workshop. dol = likeness; dul m. = cast iron (Santali) koe = forge (Santali) Standard: sãghāɔ m. ‘lathe’ (G.); stone-cutter, jangaiyo military guard accompanying treasure. Leaf: loa = ficus glomerata (Santali) Rebus: loh ‘(copper) metal’ (Skt.) Smelting furnace: kan:gar ‘portable furnace’; kaṇḍ = altar, furnace; pasra ‘smithy’; kammarsāla 'pannier' (Telugu) karmāraśāla = workshop of blacksmith (Skt.) dama m. a steer (G.) ; tamb(r)a = copper (Skt.); tamba = copper (Santali) koiyum ‘heifer’ (G.); ko  ‘workshop’ (Kuwi) koe = forge (Santali)

kammarsāla 'pannier' (Telugu) karmāraśāla = workshop of blacksmith (Skt.) dama m. a steer (G.) ; tamb(r)a = copper (Skt.); tamba = copper (Santali) koiyum ‘heifer’ (G.); kōu = horns (Ta.) ko  ‘workshop’ (Kuwi) koe = forge (Santali)

dol = likeness, picture, form (Santali) [e.g., two tigers, two bulls, duplicated signs] me~he~t iron; ispat m. = steel; dul m. = cast iron (Santali)

iya, kōe = young bull (G.) Rebus: ko  ‘workshop’ (G.); ācāri koṭṭya ‘smithy’ (Tu.)

Glyph: pāslo = a nugget of gold or silver having the form of a die (G.) Rebus: pasra ‘smithy’ (Santali)

Glyph: sãghāɔ m. ‘lathe’; Rebus: san:ghāiyo, a worker on a lathe (G.) Rebus: jangaiyomilitary guard who accompanies treasure into the treasury’ (G.) san:gatarāśū = stone cutter (S.)

Glyph: kangha ‘comb’(K.) khan:ghar, ghan:ghar, ghan:ghar gon:ghor ‘full of holes’ (Santali) Rebus: kan:gar ‘portable furnace’ (K.)

loa = a species of fig tree, ficus glomerata, the fruit of ficus glomerata (Santali.lex.) Rebus: loh ‘(copper) metal’ (Skt.) lauha = made of copper or iron (Gr.S'r.); metal, iron (Skt.); lōhakāra = coppersmith, ironsmith (Pali); lōhāra = blacksmith (Pt.); lohal.a (Or.); lōha = metal, esp. copper or bronze (Pali); copper (VS.); loho, lō = metal, ore, iron (Si.)

kandi (pl. -l) beads, necklace (Pa.); kanti (pl. -l) bead, (pl.) necklace; kandit. bead (Ga.)(DEDR 1215). Rebus: kaṇḍ = altar, furnace (Santali) लोहकारकन्दुः f. a blacksmith's smelting furnace (Grierson Kashmiri lex.)

Vikalpa: kamakom = fig leaf (Santali.lex.) kamarmaā (Has.), kamakom (Nag.); the petiole or stalk of a leaf (Mundari.lex.) Rebus: kampaam coinage, coin (Ta.); kammaṭṭam, kammiṭṭam coinage, mint (Ma.); kammatia coiner (Ka.)(DEDR 1236) kammaa = coinage, mint (Ka.M.) kampaṭṭa-k-kūam mint; kampaṭṭa-k-kāran- coiner; kampaṭṭa- muai die, coining stamp (Ta.lex.) Read on... 

Crocodile glyph decoded as coppersmith

Tablet. Crocodile above. Peson kicking and spearing a bison, near a seated,horned (with twig) person.Harappa. Harappa Museum, H95-2486 Meadow and Kenoyer 1997

There are about 50 epigraphs depicting a crocodile (with or without a fish caught in its jaws). On some epigraphs, it is the dominant glyph accompanied with glyphs of fish and other animals such as elephant, rhinoceros, bull, tiger, tiger-looking-back.

All the glyphs have been decoded in the context of a smithy guild, thus decoding the epigraphs as mleccha smith guild tokens.

How is a crocodile to be read rebus, consistenly in all epigraphs where the crocodile glyph occurs, with other animals in particular? P. agar m. ‘cattle’; Ta. இடங்கர்¹ iakar, n. < இடக்கு. crocodile Rebus: N. āro blacksmith. Fish? ayo ‘fish’; ayo ‘metal’ (Skt.) (See Skt. Lexemes appended). An alternative rebus reading for the crocodile (sometimes glyptically comparable to a lizard) is: L. mult. sinsār, san°, (Ju.) sı̃sār m. ‘Gavialis gangeticus’; Rebus: Ash. (ċimƏkára blacksmith’) ċímä, ċimƏ ‘iron’ (See lexemes below).

Many homonyms read rebus decode the other animal glyphs:

elephant (ib, iron) and tiger (looking back, kol –pancaloha – krammara;

ibha ‘elephant’ (Skt.); rebus: ib ‘iron’ (Ko.)

kolo ‘jackal’ (Kon.); rebus: kol ‘furnace, forge’ (Kuwi) kol ‘alloy of five metals, pancaloha’ (Ta.) kolhe (iron-smelter; kolhuyo, jackal) kol, kollan-, kollar = blacksmith (Ta.lex.)kol ‘to kill’ (Ta.)sal bos gaurus’, bison; rebus: sal ‘workshop’ (Santali)kolsa = to kick the foot forward, the foot to come into contact with anything when walking or running; kolsa pasirkedan = I kicked it over (Santali.lex.)mēṛsa = v.a. toss, kick with the foot, hit with the tail (Santali.lex.) me~he~t iron; ispat m. = steel; dul m. = cast iron; kolhe m. iron manufactured by the Kolhes (Santali); meed (Mun.d.ari); me (Ho.)(Santali.lex.Bodding) kamaḍha ‘penance’; rebus: kampaṭṭam ‘mint’ (Ta.) kūtī = bunch of twigs (Skt.) kuṭhi 'smelting furnace' (Santali) •kamad.ha ‘penance’ (Pkt.); ‘mint’ (Ta.) kod. ‘horn’; kod. ‘workshop’ (G.) The bunch of twigs = kūdī, kūṭī (Skt.lex.) kuṭhi 'smelting furnace‘; koṭe ‘forged (metal) (Santali) 

adar angra ‘zebu’; rebus: aduru ‘native metal’ (Ka.); hangar ‘blacksmith’ (H.)

bahia = a castrated boar, a hog (Santali) bahi ‘a  caste who work both in iron and wood’ (Santali)

bail ‘ox’; bali ‘iron sand ore’ (Santali) Vikalpa: homa = bison (Pengo); rebus: hom = gold (Ka.); soma = electrum, gold-silver compound ore (RV)

dama = heifer, young bull, steer (G.); rebus: tambra = copper (Skt.)
ī (H.) dami, dambi = one eighth of a copper pice (Santali)

ko  = artisan’s workshop (Kuwi); ko ‘horn’ dama, koiyum ‘heifer’ (G.) rebus: tam(b)ra ‘copper’; ko  ‘workshop’ (G.); ācāri koṭṭya ‘smithy’ (Tu.)

bagalo = an Arabian merchant vessel (G.lex.) bagala = an Arab boat of a particular description (Ka.) Rebus:

1. bhāgala ‘gate in the wall of a town’ (G.)

2. ban:gala = kumpai = an:ga_ra śakaī = a chafing dish a portable stove a goldsmith’s portable furnace (Te.lex.)

Some examples of epigraphs where the crocodile glyphoccurs are cited below: (see pictures on linked docment).

berā ‘fence, enclosure’ (A.)(CDIAL 12130) vaāvu (vaāvi-) to surround (Ta.);  may be rebus for: வேள்² vē One belonging to the Vēir class; வேளிர்குலத்தான். தொன்முதிர் வேளிர் (புறநா. 24). Title given by ancient Tamil kings to Vēāas; பண்டைத் தமிழரசரால் வேளாளர் பெற்ற ஒரு சிறப் புரிமைப் பெயர். (தொல். பொ. 30.) செம்பியன் தமிழவேள் என்னுங் குலப்பெயரும் (S. I. I. iii, 221). 9. Illustrious or great man; hero; சிறந்த ஆண் மகன். (யாழ். அக.) பாப்பைவேளே (பெருந்தொ. 1766). 

A Weymouth research team finds than an octopus has only 6 arms and 2 legs (Aug. 2008)

By George McKay, Jenni Bruce, Fred Cooke (2004)(p.531) See picture of blind octopus, bottom register, second from l. 
showing 5 of 6 arms.

In the corpus of epigraphs of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization (Indus script corpus), there is one remarkable ligatured glyph: one-horned heifer ligatured to an octopus. This composite glyph occurs on a seal (Mohenjodaro) and also on a copper plate (tablet)(Harappa). This glyph is decoded as: smithy guild in a citadel (enclosure), with a warehouse (granary), be

m297a: Seal  h1018a: copper plate

A lexeme for a Gangetic/Indus river octopus is retained as a cultural memory only in Jatki (language of the Jats) of Punjab-Sindh region. The lexeme is vehā. A homonym closest to this is beā building with a courtyard (WPah.) There are many cognate lexemes in many languages of Bharat constituting a semantic cluster of the linguistic area (as detailed below). The rebus decoding of vehā (octopus); rebus: beā (building with a courtyard) is a reading consistent with (1) the decoding of the rest of the corpus of epigraphs as mleccha smith guild tokens; and (2) the archaeological evidence of buildings/workers’ platforms within an enclosed fortification on many sites of the civilization.

Many languages of Bharat, that is India, evolved from meluhha (mleccha) which is the lingua franca of the civilization. The language is mleccha vaacas contrasted with arya vaacas in Manusmruti (as spoken tongue contrasted with grammatically correct literary form, arya vaacas). The hypothesis on which decoding of Indus script is premised, is that lexemes of many Indian languages are evidence of the linguistic area of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization; the artefacts with the Indus script (such as metal tools/weapons, Dholavira signboard, copper plates, gold pendant, silver/copper seals/tablets etc.) are mleccha smith guild tokens -- a tradition which continues on mints issuing punch-marked coins from ca. 6th cent. BCE.

vehā  octopus, said to be found in the Indus (Jaki lexicon of A. Jukes, 1900)

L. veh, veh m.  fencing; Mth. be  granary; L. ve, vehā enclosure containing many houses; beā building with a courtyard (WPah.) (CDIAL 12130)

ko  = artisan’s workshop (Kuwi); ko ‘horn’ dama, koiyum ‘heifer’ (G.) rebus: tam(b)ra ‘copper’; ko  ‘workshop’ (G.); ācāri koṭṭya ‘smithy’ (Tu.)

ṣṭá— ‘enclosure’ lex., °aka- m. ‘fence’, Si. veya ‘enclosure’; — Pa. haka— ‘surrounding’; S. vehu m. ‘encircling’; L. veh, veh m. ‘fencing, enclosure in jungle with a hedge, (Ju.) blockade’, ve, vehā m. ‘courtyard, (Ju.) enclosure containing many houses’; P. ve, be° m. ‘enclosure, courtyard’; Ku. beo ‘circle or band (of people)’; A. ber‘wall of house, circumference of anything’; B. be ‘fence, enclosure’, beā ‘fence, hedge’; Or. beha ‘fence round young trees’, beā ‘wall of house’; Mth. be ‘hedge, wall’, begranary’; H. beh, be, be, beā m. ‘enclosure, cattle surrounded and carried off by force’; M.veh m. ‘circumference’; beɔ m. ‘palace’, J. beām. ‘id., esp. the female apartments’, kul. beā ‘building with a courtyard’; A. also berā ‘fence, enclosure’ (CDIAL 12130 ) वाडी [ vāī ] f (वाटी S) An enclosed piece of meaand keepers. dow-field or garden-ground; an enclosure, a close, a paddock, a pingle. 2 A cluster of huts of agriculturists, a hamlet. Hence (as the villages of the Konkan̤ are mostly composed of distinct clusters of houses) a distinct portion of a straggling village. 3 A division of the suburban portion of a city. वाडा [ vāā ] m (वाट or वाटी S) A stately or large edifice, a mansion, a palace. Also in comp. as राज- वाडा A royal edifice; सरकारवाडा Any large and public building. 2 A division of a town, a quarter, a ward. Also in comp. as देऊळवाडा, ब्राह्मण- वाडा, गौळीवाडा, चांभारवाडा, कुंभारवाडा. 3 A division (separate portion) of a मौजा or village. The वाडा, as well as the कोंड, paid revenue formerly, not to the सरकार but to the मौजेखोत. 4 An enclosed space; a yard, a compound. 5 A pen or fold; as गुरांचा वाडा, गौळवाडा or गवळीवाडा, धन- गरवाडा. The pen is whether an uncovered enclosure in a field or a hovel sheltering both beasts

Ta. vēli fence, hedge, wall. Ma. vēli hedge, fence. Ko. Vj fence. To. ps̱y stone wall of pen; ply fence; ? ps̱y ïr dry buffaloes, buffaloes that have gone wild. Ka. bēli fence, hedge.Ko. bli fence. Tu. bēli fence, hedge. Te. vel(u)gu id., enclosure. Kol. veleg (obl. velg-) fence. Go. (Pat.) velum fence; (M.) velūmfencing; (Y.) velum, elum, (Ch.) allum, (Ma.) velmi fence; (Tr.)waluh- tānā to fence; (Ph.) vallānā to be enclosed; caus.vallahtānā, valsahtānā; (Ma.) velˀ - to fence ( Voc. 3298). Kona velgu gōa com- pound wall. (DEDR 5538) Ta. varaippu limit, boundary, wall, enclosure; varaivu limit, measuring, discrimination. Ma. vara- mpu limit, bank in rice-fields; Ka. bara, bare, vari, vare compass, space, room, limit; up to, till. Tu. barabu boundary;baragayi id., limit, shore; barè mud wall round the premises. Te.varuju ridge or dam dividing fields; (inscr.) vrappi ridge; vaa limit; vaaku up to, until; (VPK; Telangana dial.) varam bund within or outside field. (DEDR 5261). Ta.  vaaical, vaaippuenclosure, courtyard; vaāvu (vaāvi-) to surround;  Ma. vaayuka to surround; vaek- ka to enclose;  vaaccal enclosing;  vaayal surrounding; vaappu enclosure of a house, compound; Ka. baasu to be surrounded, surround;n. act of surrounding or encom- passing, what surrounds, state of being circuitous, one round or turn (as of a rope, etc.); balepuni to enclose, surround, besiege. Te. balayu to surround, (K. also) besiege; (K.)(DEDR 5313).

S. Kalyanaraman 23 Oct. 2009

Royal Standard of Ur, c. 2700 BCE British Museum

Copper cart (chariot? comparable to the one shown on Royal Standard of Ur) model, Chanhudaro, the place called Sheffield of 
Ancient India by Ernest Mackay (1936 Illustrated News of London)

Indian Sprachbund (language union) to decode Indus script

Decoding of Indus script is premised on the hypothesis that lexemes of many Indian languages are evidence of the linguistic area of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization.

Languages of India evolved from meluhha (mleccha) which is the lingua franca of the civilization. The language is mleccha vaacas contrasted with arya vaacas in Manusmruti (as spoken tongue contrasted with grammatically correct literary form, arya vaacas).

Emeneau, Masica and Kuiper have shown that language and culture had fused for centuries on the Indian soil resulting in structural convergence of four language families: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Munda and Tibeto-Burman. This concept explains the essential semantic unity (or, Indian-ness) of underlying variegated cultural and linguistic patterns. (cf. Emeneau, Murray; Dil, Anwar (1980), Language and Linguistic Area: Essays by Murray B. Emeneau, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. Kuiper, FBJ, 1967, ‘The genesis of a linguistic area’ in: Indo-Iranian Journal 10: 81-102).

The artefacts with the Indus script (such as metal tools/weapons, dholavira signboard, copper plates, gold pendant, silver/copper seals/tablets etc.) are mleccha smith guild tokens -- a tradition which continues on mints issuing punch-marked coins from ca. 6th cent. BCE.

Metalsmiths of India speaking languages of India have retained the cultural memory of smithy evidenced over 5000 years ago in Indian civilization. This memory is reconstructed in a comparative Indian lexicon, which has over 8000 semantic clusters to help derive the lexemes of the linguistic area. From lexemes of Indian languages, Indus script glyphs are decoded using the rebus method matching the pictorials of the script with metalsmithy lexemes.

There is a map in Franklin Southworth’s book: Linguistic Archaeology of South Asia, 2005. The two problems with the book are: belief in Aryan invasion and vedic as a post-munda phenomenon. He shows the entire north India as munda speaking area ignoring the possibility that vedic (arya vaacas, i.e., grammatically correct speech) also co-existed with mleccha vaacas.

Since what Southworth calls ‘meluhhan’ was referred to as mleccha in the Indian linguistic area and since he omits ‘vedic’, I have added VEDIC & MLECCHA on the adapted map to hypothesise on the sprachbund (map) of Sarasvati civilization ca. 5thmillennium BCE, consistent with a Proto-Vedic continuity theory of Bharatiya languages.

Language X + Proto-Munda = Proto-mleccha (with borrowings in Sarasvati Linguistic Area).

All over India, in addition to Samskrtam, Prakrits which were popular dialects constituted arya vaacas and mleccha vaacas. Early Prakrit inscriptions date to 4th cent. BCE. Prakrita-Prakasa (5th cent.) of Vararuci, Prakrit grammar (12th cent.) of Hemachandra, Saptasati (17th cent.) of Hala outline the grammar of deshi (Prakrits, Apabhramsa dialects – Maharashtri, Sauraseni, Magadhi, Ardha-Magadhi, Paisaci). Paisaci Prakrit spoken in Vindhya region relates to Pali (which is also referred to as Magadhi Prakrit or Magadhi bhasa), exemplified in works such as: Tripitakas, Milindapanha, Petakopadesa, Visuddhimagga. See Sharadakancika, caturtha kinkiNi (i.e. gramyabhaashaa prayoga nibhandanamu) in Telugu by B Sri Vedham Venkatarayasastri (1934).

A lexicon of Prakrit is Mahakavi Dhanapala’s Paiyalachchhinamamala (lit. wealth of Prakrit language). This thesaurus, analogous to Amarakosha in Samskrtam, is also called Deshi (compiled in Dharanagiri, capital of Bhojaraja, 12th cent.). The tradition continues with Hemachandra’s Deshinamamala (also called Ratnavali) with 3978 entries of lexemes of non-Samskrtam, non-Prakrtam derivation. Hemachandra refers t earlier lexicographers: Abhimanachihna, Avantisundari, Gopala, Deshvaraja, Drona, Dhanapala, Padaliptacharya, Rahulaka, Satavahana and Shilanka. Vijayarajendra’s Abhidhanarajendra in 7 volumes (1913-1925) has about 10,000 lexemes. Comparable to Samskrtam Amarakosha of Amarasimha is Sinhala monk Moggallana’s Abhidhanappadipika, a Pali lexicon (published from Polonnaruva city, ca. 1153-1186). Monosllabic Pali words are entries in Bhikkhu Saddhammakitti’s Ekakkhara-kosha (15th cent.) Other works are: AS Telakara, Samskrta-Prakrta Shabdakosha and NA Godbole, Samskrta-Prakrta Kosha; RC Childers, Dictionary of the Pali language (1875); D. Anderson, Pali Glossary (1904-05); GP Malalasekera, Dictionary of Pali Proper Names (2 vols., 1937-38); AP Buddhadatta, English-Pali Dictionary (1957). More details of Indian language lexicons at:

A rich language studies tradition exists in India. Strengthening this tradition will result in delineation of the ancient sprachbund of Bharatam. Decoding the Indus script in mleccha vaacas is just a start.

Meluhhan (mleccha) speakers were all over India, and also established villages close to Guabba, seaport (not far from Tigris-Euphrates): “In order to form a comprehensive view of the Meluhhan remnants (in Mesopotamia) a variety of texts could be consulted, although they display a picture of a people that have been integrated into the Sumerian and Babylonian cultures much earlier than the Ur III period. ” [i. earlier than (2112-2004 BC)] (cf. PS Vermaak, 2008, Guabba, the Meluhhan village in Mesopotamia, Journal of Semitics, 17/2, pp. 553-570). It should be possible to identify mleccha (meluhha) substratum words in Sumerian/Akkadian. One substrate word is sanga 'priest' (Akkadian); cognate with sanghvi 'priest accompanying pilgrims' (Gujarati).

Oct. 20, 2009

Research Notes--The Middle Asian Interaction Sphere (Gregory Possehl, 2007, Expedition, Vol. 49, No. 1, Spring 2007)

The Copper Hoards of Northern India Paul Yule, 1997, Copper hoards of northern India, Expedition, Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 1997)

See Links.

5000 year old writing system of Sarasvati-Sindhu valleys has been decoded as smith guild tokens using mleccha language, an ancient language of India's linguistic area.

Indus script decoded: mleccha smith guild tokens 

Dholavira sign-board (1)
Inscribed metal weapons and tools, copper tablets (over 200)
Pictorial Motifs or Field Symbols on Seals and Tablets (c. 3000)
Smith guild tokens (writing system encoding speech)


Indus script is depicted with glyphs, using about 150 pictorial motifs and about 400 signs. The glyphs are decoded as hieroglyphs read rebus in mleccha. All the pictorial motifs relate to smith-guild repertoire of the bronze age. The smiths working with metals to experiment with alloys also invented the writing system using hieroglyphs.

• Glyptic semantic clusters decode the writing system using the simple rebus method -- occam’s razor (rebus: A representation of words in the form of pictures or symbols, often presented as a puzzle. From Latin rebus, ablative pl. of res, thing. – and relating them to one semantic category: early workings in mines, early workings with minerals and metals – an industrial revolution of those ancient times.

o Ur cylinder seal with tagaraka shrub; rebus: tagromi ‘tin alloy’ (Kuwi)

• “Rosetta stones” for the decoding are:

o Akkadian cylinder seal showing a Meluhhan (who needed an interpreter)
o Two pure tin ingots cast with Sarasvati hieroglyphs discovered in a pr ship-wreck
o Scores of inscriptions found on metal and on metallic celts, weapons (following slides)
o Continuity of tradition in devices punched by punch-marked/cast coin mints from Tak
aśila to Anuradhapura. (Sarasvati hieroglyphs continue to be used together with kharoshti/brahmi syllables)
o Sohgaura copper plate; Rampurva pillar copper bolt with Sarasvati hieroglyphs

• Most of the ca. 550 glyphs and glyptic elements have been identified with precision (without ambiguity) thanks to the brilliant work done by Mahadevan, Parpola and other scholars who have contributed to unraveling the orthography and structure of the writing system
• Each glyph is a potential resource for relating the glyph to glosses of Indian languages to identify mleccha glosses in the linguistic area
• Isoglosses will help reconstruct proto-mleccha and proto-vedic.

Invention of alloying necessitated invention of a writing system. The epigraphs relate to metal work/trade.

Read more…

Mirror sites for ebook (60mb pdf):  

Supporting documents: 1. ppt; 2. resources from ancient Indian epigraphs and texts:  ppt slides  pdf document

S. Kalyanaraman, Sarasvati Research Centre (October 20, 2009) 

Slide 142 Four-sided tablet. Professional calling card (Sept. 2009)

Glyphs of Indus script compared with glyphs on punch-marked coins

Many glyphs used on the coins of Maurya-Gupta period, are a legacy of Sarasvati hieroglyphs (glyphs used on the so-called Indus script epigraphs). Some examples may be cited, juxtaposed to the pictoial motifs and signs of the Indus script decoded in the context of a smithy (mleccha guild tokens).

 13 Sept. 2009

Evidence for punch-marked silver coinage (?) from Mohenjo-Daro

This is a picture of 12 silver pieces found at Mohenjodaro in 1926 and shown as a figure in: DD Kosambi, 1941, On the origin and development of silver coinage in India,
Current Science, No. 9, Sept. 1941, pp. 395-400. Mirror:

In this article of Current Science, Kosambi details the research done by him on a referral from the Director General of Archaeology in India to determine if these silver pieces were 'the predecessors of the later punch-marked silver coins.' Kosambi found some cuneiform marks on No. 9. Rao Bahadur KN Dikshit had reported earlier on this discovery:” the trench between sites B and C was discovered a silver vase (No. Dk. 1341) complete with lid containing jewellery, square and circular silver pieces. One of these is inscribed in cuneiform characters, thus connecting once for all, the period of the last city on this site roughly with the cuneiform world. As it is well known, the Babylonian had no regular coins but used lumps of silver and gold of definite standards known as Mana or Shekele. In the 8t Mandala of Rig Veda, Indra is asked to bring Manas of gold (Hiranya Mana) which conclusively proves the use of these forms of weight in India at the time when the Aryans came. The find of these rectangular and round silver piecees (the precursors of punch-markedd coins of later times) with cuneiform signs is therefore of the highest importance for settling the chronology of Indan history.” Kosambi finds it surprising that this report of Dikshit was not public and also adds that in the annual report for 1925-26 no mention has been made of the silver piece or of the marks on it in the imposing tomes of Marshall and Mackay.

Signs on the reverse ans obverse of Silver piece No. 9

(Piece no. 9) weighing 23.4010 was found “ have been cut off at both ends by chiselling and breaking off from a larger cast silver ingot. The process of cutting described above characterizes currency in the earliest times, and still survives in some parts of the world...Assyrian inscriptions mention 'sealed' minas and shekels from the time of Sennacherib onwards, and these are taken by archaeologists to be cast roundels...Our piece seems to be too light to be a mina, and is too heavy for any shekel within my knowledge...The inscription on the reverse is most probably to be read as
gam or gur (No. 206; No. 318; No. 344: J. Rosenberg, Assyrische Spachlehre u. Keilschriftkunde, 2nd ed.; GA Barton, The origin and development of Babylonian writing, Part II, Leipzig and Baltimore, 1913; G. Howardy, Clavis Cuncorum, London, Leipzig, Kopenhagen, 1933) taken horizontally, with less probability, it would be sign No. 2, hal. The meaning is not clear when the sign stands by itself, but here it might indicate 'to pour forth', perhaps the casting of the original ingot. The larger ideogram on the obverse would certainly have been taken as a mark of denomination or a numeral sign, but for the fact that three of the wedges are long...The nearest signs to it are the in of Elamite inscriptions at Behistun, and dugud (Barton 401); it I certainly neither of these. I hope expert Assyriologists will forgive my amateur efforts, as also the fact that I am unable to see anything special in the signs that might permit us to date the find. The 'cuneiform world' endured from at least 2500 BCE to the Persian Empie; and we know that Alexander's conquest and the supersession of the Empire by the Seleucids did not end the use of cuneiform, inasmuch as an inscription of Antiochus Soter (280 BCE) has been found in quite good Assyrian...The piece under discussion and other pieces of the find show us that we are, before the last city on the Mohenjo-Daro site, already at the beginning of a rough coinage system. A late Sanskrit word for such a cut and broken piece of silver or gold might be kanakabhangah, which is found in our lexica...”

Kosambi concludes that the silver piece was presumably imported from Mesopotamia in the way of trade.

The find of a silver square piece with a punch-mark is complemented by over 200 copper tablets and copper/bronze tools with incised epigraphs, apart from three silver seals. The survival of many glyphs of the Indus script on symbols found on later-day punch-marked coins of the region is a continuation of this practice of presenting messages on copper tablets.

The review of Kosambi's insights on the silver piece with cuneiform incisions is yet another confirmation of the thesis that the Indus script was used by mleccha metal guilds to report on the guild repertoire of the smithy and of mine workers, dealing with dhatu (ore) as repoted in a note on the copper works at Singhana near Khetri in the Shekhawati country. Mirror:

S. Kalyanaraman

Sarasvati Research Centre, 11 Sept. 2009

Decoding starting, ending signs of Indus script and related pictorial motifs (Sept. 2009)


Frequently-used signs of Indus script are decoded, with rebus reading of hieroglyphs. This monograph presents the decoded readings of selected epigraphs including frequently-used signs of Indus script. As argued in the context of hundreds of epigraphs decoded at this site, the entire corpus of inscriptions (consisting of both pictorial motifs and signs) are mleccha (meluhha) smith guild tokens read rebus, the repertoire of smiths and mine-workers.

At the outset, it is reiterated that 'mleccha' is not a reference to a dialect of Dravidian-speakers alone, but to the speakers of the entire Sindhu-Sarasvati linguistic area in a proto-vedic continuum with people who were mleccha vaacas and arya vaacas (mleccha speakers and arya speakers and both were dasyu, according to Manusmrti (10.45) : aarya vaacas mleccha vaacas te sarve dasyuvahsmrtaah [both aarya speakers and mleccha speakers were all dasyu] 

See map of the Indian linguistic area of circa 4th millennium BCE.

Artisan guild of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization

This note identifies an artisan guild of Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization, pattar 'guild of smiths'. bhaṭṭika = name of the mythical progenitor of copyists (son of Citra-gupta and grandson of Brahma) (Skt.lex.)

Guilds of artisans in ancient India (samghabhrtah)

Did guilds of smiths (artisans) exist during the days of Sarasvati civilization? An answer to this question is provided by the decoding of Indus script glyphs.

One remarkable glyph is a trough shown in front of animals such as a tiger, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, bull. 

badhia ‘castrated boar’ (Santali); bahi ‘a  caste who work both in iron and wood’ (Santali)

kol ‘tiger’; Vikalpa rebus: kolhe ‘smelters of iron’.

ran:gā ‘buffalo’; ran:ga ‘pewter or alloy of tin (ran:ku) sal ‘bos gaurus’ bison; sal ‘workshop’ (Santali)

ibha ‘elephant’ (Skt.); ib ‘iron’ (Santali)

bel [Hem. Des. ba-i-lī fr. Skt. balīvarda = a bull] a bull; a bullock; an ox (G.lex.)  Rebus: bali bica ‘iron sand ore’ (Mu.)

mēd ‘body’ (Kur.)(DEDR 5099); meḍ  ‘iron’ (Ho.) [Glyph of a standing person on a meditation seal--surrounded also by buffalo, rhino, tiger, elephant.]

The trough glyph is read rebus: pattar ‘trough’ (Ta.); rebus: pattar, battuDu ‘guild of goldsmiths’ (Ta.Te.) This semantic is based on the assumption that the lexemes pattar, battuDu had the meaning ‘guild of (gold)smiths’. In Telugu battuu refers to all classes of artisans:బత్తుడు battuu. n. A worshipper. భక్తుడు. The caste title of all the five castes of artificers as వడ్లబత్తుడు a carpenter. Cognates lexemes are: H. bhãsāl,°sār, bhansāl f. ‘storehouse, granary’; Si. baahala ‘pottery’. 2. Si. baahal, baālā goldsmith’, baal—väa ‘gold- smith's trade’. 3. Si. baahäl ‘potter’. (CDIAL 9441) Skt. lex.:

    [House I, HR-A area, Mohenjo-daro: Find spots of twelve seals together with many prestige objects, all from one house; Wheeler assumed that this was a temple; the house has rooms immediately adjacent to the exit, transit rooms having more than one door, terminal rooms with just one door; seals were found in all these rooms. After Jansen, Michael, 1986
    , Die Indus-Zivilisation: Wiederentdeckung einer fruhen Hochkultur, Cologne, 200f., fig. 125]

    Seals have been found in almost every exposed room excavated in Mohenjodaro. In room 85 in house IX of the HR-area in Mohenjodaro were found five unicorn selas. In this room ‘a mass of shell-lay was found…along with…many waste pieces of sea-shells’ indicating this to be a shell-cutter’s room (Mackay, 1931a: I, 195).

    This is a pointer to a close-knit artisan community which could have functioned as an artisan guild.

A remarkable legacy of Sarasvati hieroglyphs is indicated by Iravatham Mahadevan (1988). 

A clay seal from Vaishali has three glyphs which compare with the most frequently occurring triplet of ‘signs’ in Indus script corpus. In the context of the continuing tradition of mleccha smith guild tokens, the seal represents the artisan: furnace-blacksmith-scribe:

kolimi ‘furnace’; karaNaka ‘scribe’; baae ‘blacksmith’

Kalyanaraman 23 Aug. 2009

(Excerpts from: K.M.Saran, 1957, Labour in Ancient India, Bombay, Vora and Co. Publishers)

[quote] Though in the Rig- Vedic times we do not find any clear reference to the existence of guilds yet certain passages of the Veda give an idea of the existence of guilds as far back as 800 B. C. and even earlier (Rig-Veda V-53 ; X-34 ; Yajurveda XXIII-19.1). References are also found in the Brihadaranyak Upanishad (1.4-12). In the post-Vedic period, however, we find immense development of the guilds in the economic sector, particularly as the organizations of the merchants and artisans. We come to know from the Mugapakkha Jataka about the existence of 18 guilds ("Buddhist India"-Rhys David-Chapter VI)but a more comprehensive list of 27 guilds has been given by Prof. R. C. Mazumdar in his book "Corporate life in Ancient India." (pp.18-19) He found from various epigraphic sources and Jatakas etc., that in the post-Vedic period guilds of the persons engaged in the following occupations existed :

(1) "Workers in wood (Carpenters, including Cabinet makers, wheel-wrights, builders of houses, builders of ships and builders of vehicles of all sorts) (vad.d.haki);

(2) "Workers in metal, including gold and silver (kammaara) ;

(3) "Workers in stone (PaashaanakoTTaka) 

(4) "Leather workers (chammakara);

(5) "Ivory workers ;

(6) "Workers fabricating hydraulic engines Odayantrika) ;

(7) "Bamboo workers (Vasakara) ;

(8) "Braziers (Kasakara) ;

(9) "Jewellers;

(10) "Weavers (tantuvaaya);

(11) "Potters (kumbhakaara);

(12) "Oilmillers (Tilapishaka) ;

(13) "Rush workers and basket makers ;

(14) "Dyers (rangakaara);

(15) "Painters (chittakara);

(16) "Corn-dealers (dhamnika);

(17) "Cultivators ;

(18) "Fisher-folk;

(19) "Butchers ;

(20) "Barbers and shampooers (nahaapaka);

(21) "Garland makers and flower sellers ;

(22) "Mariners ;

(23) "Herdsmen;

(24) "Traders, including Caravan traders ;

(25) "Robbers and freebooters ;

(26) "Forest police who guarded the caravans ;

(27) "Money-lenders" 

To make the list still more comprehensive, we may also add the guilds of the soldiers to which we find references in Mahabharat (Vana-Parvan CCXLVIII-16 and Santi-Parvan LIV-20) and in the Ramayana (Ayodhya Kanda CXXIII).

It appears from various accounts that guilds were prominent institutions in ancient India, as early as the 6th and 7th centuries B. C. Dr. Richard Fick considered that in Buddha's times a clear distinction could be made between the guilds of the artisans and of the traders in as much as the traders organized themselves in a corporation headed by a Jetthaka (Alderman) which were not much developed, while the guilds of the artisans were marked with such characteristics as the heredity of the occupations and the localization of the different branches of industry. Localization of the industries and consequently of the artisans engaged in -different industries was a common feature. It was carried on to such an extent that streets and particular uarters in a town and even some villages were inhabited by the workers engaged in a particular branch of industry. Dr. Richards' contention is also confirmed by various Jatakas e. g. Samudda-Vanija Jataka.

We find ample evidence of the fact that guilds had gained autonomy and were fast developing during the 5th to 3rd centuries B. C. For example, we find, in Gautama Dharmasutra, laid down agriculturists, merchants, herdsmen, moneylenders and artisans may lay down rules for the guidance of their classes; in cases of disputes the ruler would give his decision only on ascertaining the exact position from the head of each class. (Gautam Dharamasutra-Ch. XI - 23-24)It, thus, appears from it that the guilds of artisans, traders etc. had perfect autonomy for they could lay down rules for their own guidance and observance ; it is also known that the guilds formed a part of the complex organization of the State whereby the King sought to secure and maintain those conditions of life and work which were essential for the progress of the individuals and the State.

Kautilya, who is considered to have belonged to the 3rd Century B. C. had laid down various rules, in his "Arthshastra" for the regulation of guilds. He stated that guilds of artisans or workers etc. were to be controlled and directed by boards consisting of three Pradeshtas and also referred to the entrance or membership fee which was to be deposited with the head or the senior members of the guild who were supposed to be trustworthy people. (Kautilya-" Arthshastra"-Pt. IV-Ch. I-Prakaran 73-1 and 2 ff.)…

Further evidence regarding guild organizations is available in Manusmriti. Manu, like his predecessors, desired the persons belonging to a guild ( or Gana ), to be loyal to their organiztaion. Failure to abide by the rules and the constitution (to which they had sweared) and failure to be sincere to work and honest in dealings were serious and punishable offences. Such defaulters could be imprisoned, fined and even out-lawed. (Manusmriti - Ch. VIII -219. 220)…

The works of Narad and Brahaspati also bear proof of the existence of guilds in ancient India. The guilds, according to these scriptures, had perfect autonomy and laid all the rules for their own conduct. The King approved of all such rules and regulations regarding the duty, behaviour and mode of living of the members of the guilds, unless these were opposed to the interests of the State, in which case the King had the authority of preventing the guilds from framing such rules and regulations… (Yajnavalkyasmriti-Vyavaharadhyaya-Prakaran 15-187-188; Mahabharat-Aahramvasika Parva-Chapter 7-7.8.9; Mahabharat - Shantiparva Ch. 36-19; Naradsmriti-Ch. X-3.4;Naradsmriti-Ch. X-5; loc.cit. K.M.Saran, 1957, Labour in Ancient India, Bombay, Vora and Co. Publishers, pp.87-95)

We find further references to guilds in the latter centuries as well. Various inscriptions for example, Indore Copper Plate Inscription of Skanda Gupta dated 465 A. D., Mandasor stone inscription of Kumaragupta and Bandhuvarman, inscription at the Vaillabhatta Svamin temple at Gwalior dated 877 A. D., Harsha stone inscription. Siyadoni Inscriptions and Karitalai Stone Inscription of Chedi Lakshmanraja of about the same period, go to prove the existence of guilds in the latter centuries. From whatever has been discussed above it, may be concluded that guilds were not only the village or political organisations but organizations of artisans and workmen as well. The members of theguilds were their own employers. They carried on production work and employed their own capital and labour. They were thus in the position of both the employers (ibid., pp.96-97) [unquote]

Early punch-marked coins of India were issues of guilds with the permission of the rulers. (VA Smith, Catalogue of coins in the Indian museum, p. 133; Rapson, Indian coins, p.3). In the days of Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Rupadarshaka was the royal examiner of minted coins to enforce royal standard. (Kaut. IV.1.44) and Lakshanaadhyaksha a superintendent of the mint house.  (Kaut. II.12.25). (Source: Prakash Chandra Prasad, 2003, Foreign trade and commerce in ancient India, pp. 168-177).

A Junnar Buddhist cave inscription refers to the guilds of vasakara and kasakara (bamboo-workers and braziers). Shrenivala were the soldiers maintained by the guilds according to Mahabharata. Kautilya refers to kamboja surashtra kshatriya srenyadayo vartta sastropajivinah (kshatriya guilds engaged in trade and war in Kamboja and Surashtra regions). A seal found at Vaishali referred to Prathamakulika, the President of the Guild of merchants.

Mugapakkha Jataka refers to the assembly by the king of four castes, 18 guilds and his army. References in Jatakas provide information about mahavaddhakigamo (dealers in wood) with 1000 families and same number of kammaragamo (smith’s huts). The terms used are: dantakara-vithi (Jat. I, p. 320; II, p. 197); rajaka-vithi (Jat. IV, p.81); odanikagharavithiyam (Jat. III, p.48); kammara jetthaka (Jat. III, p.281; V., p.282); vaddhaki-jetthaka (Jat. IV, p.161). (Source: RC Majumdar, 1922, Corporate life in ancient India, Poona, The Oriental Book Agency, p. 22)

Jules Bloch comments about Basarh seals/sealings: "The most numerous among the seal-inscriptions is that referring to the corporation or guild (nigama) of bankers (Sreshthin), traders (Sarthavaha), and merchants (Kulika). It is invariably combined with other seals giving the names of private individuals, only in one instance it is found together with the seal of the Chief of Prince's Ministers. The list of private names is fairly conspicuous. A great many of them are distinguished as merchants (Kulika). One person, TTnri by name, styles himself both Kulika and Prathama Kulika. Two persons are called bankers (Sreshthin), and one, Dodda by name, was a sarthavaaha or trader. Generally even more of the seals of private individuals are found in combination with each other or with the seal of the guild of bankers, etc., of which evidently most of them were members. It looks as if during those days, something like a modern Chamber of Commerce existed in upper India at some big trading centre, perhaps at Pataliputra." (Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey, 1903-4, pp. 101-120. cited in Majumdar, opcit., p.45) The reference to prathama kaayastha is to the chief scribe; ranabhandagaradhikarana, chief of the treasury of the war office.

Clay-seals of Basarh (ancient Vaisali) and Bhita (near Allahabad)legends sreni-kulikanigama and sreni-sarthavaha-kulika-nigama(Basarh); legend nigama (Bhita). Such documents are called sthitipatras or samvitpatras in the technical sense of the late Smritis (Ghosal, UN Economic Conditions. In the Classical Age, eds., Majumdar RC, AS Pusalker and AK Majumdar, 1997, Mumbai, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, pp. 603-5. Naigamas participated in Rama’s coronation ceremony. Manu enjoins a duty upon a king, to acquire knowledge of laws of the shrenis and other institutions while dealing with them. Words such as shreni, puga, gaNa, vrata in Vedic texts are relatable to early artisan guilds. Mauryan empire of c. 320 to 200 BCE maintained highways and provided for mobility of traders and people. A pre-Mauryan copper tablet is the Sohgaura copper plate with an inscription in Brahmi script, but with top line containing Sarasvati hieroglyphs. [Thaplyal, Kiran Kumar (2001)]. Guilds in Ancient India (Antiquity and various stages in the development of guilds upto AD 300. In Life thought and culture in India, ed. G. C. Pande, Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., pp. 995-1006. Gautama Dharmasutra (c. 5th cent. BCE) notes: “cultivators, traders, herdsmen, moneylenders and artisans have authority to lay down rules for their respective classes and the king was to consult their representatives while dealing with matters relating to them.” Yajnavalkya notes that a guild member who does not deposit in the joint fund money obtained from the guilt was to pay eleven times the sum by way of penalty.

Sohgaura copper plate (4th cent. BCE) refers to a pair of kos.t.ha_ga_ra (dva_ra kot.t.haka); the two storehouses described as tri-garbha (i.e. having three rooms) are illustrated on line 1. (Fleet, JRAS, 1907). The illustrations indicate that the three rooms are in three storeys, with supporting pillars clearly seen. The inscription refers to the junction of three highways named Manavati, in two villages called Dasilimita and Usagama. The storehouses were made at this junction for the goods of people using the highways, which are indicated in line 3 by mentioning the three places to and from which they led. One of the names give is recognized by Fleet as Chanchu. (Fleet, JRAS, 63, 1894 proceedings, 86, plate, IA 25. 262; cf. Sohgaura copper plate/B.M. Barua. The Indian Historical Quarterly, ed. Narendra Nath Law. Reprint. 41)

Rebus readings of Sohgaura copper plate Sarasvati hieroglyphs:

kaṇḍ kanka = rim of jar; rebus: kan- ‘copper’, kaṇḍ ‘furnace’ (Santali)

kui = tree; rebus: kuhi = smelting furnace; koṣṭhāgāra = storehouse; s'u_la = spear; a = kiln; bat.a = quail; rebus: baa ‘kiln’.

Mahadevan refers to a terracotta seal found at Vaishali. (Iravatham Mahadevan, 1998, Murukan in the Indus script, Intl. Conference Seminar on Skanda-Murukan, Chennai, Dec. 28-30, 1998) with three glyphs comparable to the recurring glyph-sequence in Indus script corpus. (but with Sign 47 in the lead in sign-sequence: 47-342-176). [quote] Fn.10: Sinha & Roy, p.121, Pl. XXX, No.24. A grey-coloured round terracotta seal with three Indus signs ( 47-342-176) to be read in the clock-wise direction starting from the 6 o’clock position (in the impression). This little-known seal was first identified as bearing a legend in the Indus Script by Chakraborty (p.88 & Pl. 3A). The excavators assign the seal to Period III (ca. 200 BC - 200 AD.). However it is difficult to believe that this seal (-bearing a text so similar to the Harappan that, had it been found at Harappa, it would not have attracted special attention-) can be so late. As the excavators point out, the site is a highly disturbed one, and PGW and NBP ware occur together "as the ware was re-deposited from the lower levels in the course of making the plinth of the Garh higher and erection of mud rampart" (Sinha & Roy, pp 7-8). Most probably the present seal came from the lowest level reached at this site (ca. 1100 BC) [unquote]. Sourc: Sinha B.P. & Sita Ram Roy 1969. Vaisali Excavations (1958-1962). Directorate of Archaeology and Museums. Patna.

For a figure of the Vaisali seal see Fig. 5 at


The three glyphs connote (from l. to r.): kolimi ‘furnace’; karaNaka ‘scribe’; baae ‘blacksmith’ [alternative: kang ‘comb’; rebus: kan:g = brazier, fireplace (K.)]
kōlemmu = the backbone (Te. Lex.) rebus: konimi = black- smith; Gowda); kolimi =a furnace; kolimi-titti =bellows used for a furnace (Te.lex.) kolime= furnace (Ka. kolime, kolume, kulame, kulime, kulume, kulme fire-pit, furnace (Ka. kolimi furnace (Te. pit (Te. kolame a very deep pit (Tu.) That this glyph connotes the ribs of the backbone is established in I. Mahadevan (Murukan in the Indus Script) Late Harappan Period at Kalibangan, the comparative glyph is a large-sized graffiti on pottery (See Fig.4 in the plate of Fig. 1-9).

kaNDa-kanka ‘rim of jar’; rebus: karaNika ‘scribe’ (Skt.) kaNDa = a pot of certain shape and size (Santali) Rebus: kaND = altar, furnace (Santali) = to oil and comb someone's hair (Santali); rebus: baae = blacksmith (Santali)

Vikalpa: Glyph, comb kangha (IL 1333) ka~ghera_ comb-maker (H.)
Rebus, substantive: kan:g = brazier, fireplace (K.)(IL 1332) Portable brazier; ka~_guru, ka~_gar (Ka.) whence, large brazier = kan:gar (K.)

Slide 207 Tablet with inscription. Twisted terra cotta tablet (H2000-4441/2102-464) with a mold-made inscription and narrative motif from the Trench 54 area. In the center is the depiction of what is possibly a deity with a horned headdress in so-called yogic position seated on a stool under an arch.

gumat.a, gumut.a, gumuri, gummat.a, gummut.a a copula or dome (Ka.); ghumat.a (M.); gummat.a, gummad a dome; a paper lantern; a fire-baloon (H.Te.); kummat.t.a arch, vault, arched roof, pinnacle of a pagoda; globe, lantern made of paper (Ta.)(Ka.lex.); gumma m. ‘dome’ (P.) CDIAL 4217 ebus: kumpat.i = ban:gala = an:ga_ra s’akat.i_ = a chafing dish, a portable stove, a goldsmith’s portable furnace (Te.lex.) kumpiu-caṭṭi chafing-dish, port- able furnace, potsherd in which fire is kept by goldsmiths; kumutam oven, stove; kummaṭṭi chafing-dish (Ta.). kuppaige, kuppae, kum- pae, kummaa, kummae id. (Ka.) kumpai id. (Te.) DEDR 1751. kummu smouldering ashes (Te.);kumpō smoke.(Go) DEDR 1752.

Slide 205 This unique mold-made faience tablet or standard (H2000-4483/2342-01) was found in the eroded levels west of the tablet workshop in Trench 54. On one side is a short inscription under a rectangular box filled with 24 dots. The reverse has a narrative scene with two bulls fighting under a thorny tree. 

பத்தர்² pattar , n. < T. battuu. A caste title of goldsmiths

paṭṭa— 1 m. ‘slab, tablet’ (CDIAL 7699)

pat leaf (Bshk.); pathar, patras (K.)(CDIAL 6455) h312


paṭṭar-ai community; guild as of workmen (Ta.); pattar merchants; perh. vartaka

This possible semantic link with vartaka is relatable to a Pali sentence:  ussavo hoti, yathābhataŋ lasuṇaŋ parikkhayaŋ agamāsi "the garlic diminished as soon as it was brought" Vin iv.258. Here ābhata stands in rel. to harāpeti(to have it fetched & brought) and is clearly pp. of ābharati. (Pali.lex.)

samna samni = face to face (Santali); rebus: samanom 'gold' (Santali)

bail ‘bull’; rebus: bali ‘iron sand ore’ (Santali)

kui ‘tree’; kuhi ‘smelter’ (Santali)

aaren ‘lid’; rebus: aduru ‘native metal’

ayo ‘fish’;  ayas ‘metal’

bharao ‘spine’; bharan ‘to spread or bring out from a kiln’ (P.) baran, bharat (5 copper, 4 zinc and 1 tin)(P.B.)

kaṇḍ kanka ‘rim of jar’; rebus: fire-altar miner (Santali)

kangha ‘comb’; kangar ‘portable furnace’ (K.)

 vikalpa: kolimi ‘furnace’; karaNaka ‘scribe’; baae ‘blacksmith’ 

Trough hieroglyph

பத்தர்² pattar , n. < T. battuu. A guild title of goldsmiths


பத்தர்² pattar , n. < T. battuu. A caste title of goldsmiths; தட்டார் பட்டப்பெயருள் ஒன்று.

பட்டடையார் paṭṭaaiyār 1. Master of a shop; கடையின் எசமானர்.

பட்டடை¹ paṭṭaai
, n. prob.
படு¹- + அடை¹-. 1. [T. paṭṭika, K. paṭṭae.] Anvil; அடைகல். (பிங்.) சீரிடங்காணி னெறிதற்குப் பட்ட டை (குறள், 821). 2. [K. paṭṭai.] Smithy, forge; கொல்லன் களரி
பத்தல் pattal , n. 1. A wooden bucket; மரத்தாலான நீரிறைக்குங் கருவி. தீம்பிழி யெந்திரம் பத்தல் வருந்த (பதிற்றுப். 19, 23). பத்தர்¹ pattar , n. 1. See பத்தல், 1, 4, 5. 2. Wooden trough for feeding animals; தொட்டி. பன்றிக் கூழ்ப்பத்தரில் (நாலடி, 257).


Ta. pātti bathing tub, watering trough or basin, spout, drain; pattal wooden bucket; pattar id., wooden trough for feeding animals. Ka. pāti basin for water round the foot of a tree. Tu. Pāti trough or bathing tub, spout, drain. Te. pādi, pādu basin for water round the foot of a tree. (DEDR 4079)

Ta. patalai large-mouthed pot. To. paQs̱ large, broad-mouthed clay pot. Go. (Mu.) patli cooking pot ( Voc. 2104).Malt. patli cooking-pot. (DEDR 3909)

pā́tra— n. ‘drinking vessel, dish’ RV., °aka— n., pātrı̄́- ‘vessel’ Gr̥ŚrS. [√ 1] Pa. patta— n. ‘bowl’, °aka— n. ‘little bowl’, pātī̆— f.; Pk. patta— n., °tī— f., amg. pāda—, pāya— n., pāī— f. ‘vessel’; Sh. păti̯ f. ‘large long dish’ ( Ind.?); K.pāthar, dat. °tras m. ‘vessel, dish’, pôturu m. ‘pan of a pair of scales’ (gahana—pāth, dat. pöċü f. ‘jewels and dishes as part of dowry’ Ind.) S. ri f. ‘large earth or wooden dish’, room. ‘wooden trough’; L. pātrī f. ‘earthen kneading dish’, parāt f. ‘large open vessel in which bread is kneaded’, awā. pātrī ‘plate’; P. pātar m. ‘vessel’, parāt f., parātā m. ‘large wooden kneading vessel’, og. pāttar m. ‘brass or wooden do.’; Ku.gng. pāi‘wooden pot’; B. pātil ‘earthern cooking pot’, °li ‘small do.’ Or.pātia, °tui ‘earthen pot’, (Sambhalpur) sil—pā ‘stone mortar and pestle’; Bi. patī̆ ‘earthen cooking vessel’, patlā ‘milking vessel’, pailā ‘small wooden dish for scraps’; H. patīlā m. ‘copper pot’, patukī f. ‘small pan’; G. pātrũ n. ‘wooden bowl’,pātelũ n. ‘brass cooking pot’, parāt f. ‘circular dish’ ( M.parāt f. ‘circular edged metal dish’) Addenda: pā́tra—: S.kcch. pātar f. ‘round shallow wooden vessel for kneading flour’; (kc.) pƏrāt f. (obl. — i ) ‘large plate for kneading dough’ (CDIAL 8055)

ar-ai community; guild as of workmen (Ta.); pattar merchants; perh. vartaka

పట్ర [ para ] para. [Tel.] n. A village, a hamlet. పల్లెపట్ర villages and hamlets. H. iv. 108

బత్తుడు battuu. n. A worshipper. భక్తుడు. The caste title of all the five castes of artificers as వడ్లబత్తుడు a carpenter.

పాత్రము [ pātramu ] pātramu. [Skt.] adj. Worthy, fit, adequate.  యోగ్యము.  పాత్రత pātrata. n. Fitness, worthiness. పాత్రుడు pātruu. n. One who is worthy, deserving or fit.  A king's counsellor or minister. మంత్రి. "కోటలో గజపతివారు తమతట్టునుండిన పాత్రసామంతులను కొందరు మన్నెపువారినిని ఠాణా ఉంచినారు." పాత్రసామంతులు means principal servants. A title assumed by the members of a particular caste of Sudras in Ganjam and Orissa, as భోగన్నపాత్రుడు, వీరన్న పాత్రు డు, &c.

bhāṇḍaśālā— f. ‘storehouse’ Śatr. 2. *bhāṇḍaśāla-‘having a store’. 3. *bhāṇḍaśālin—. [bhāṇḍa—1, śā́lā—] 1. OH. bhaasāra f. ‘cupboard for keeping food in’, H. bhãsāl,°sār, bhansāl f. ‘storehouse, granary’; Si. baahala ‘pottery’. 2. Si. baahal, baālā goldsmith’, baal—väa ‘gold- smith's trade’. 3. Si. baahäl ‘potter’. (CDIAL 9441)

Synonym: kammāra [Vedic karmāra] a smith, a worker in metals generally D ii.126, A v.263; a silversmith Sn 962= Dh 239; Ji.223; a goldsmith J iii.281; v.282. The smiths in old India do not seem to be divided into black -- , gold -- and silver -- smiths, but seem to have been able to work equally well in iron, gold, and silver, as can be seen e. g. from Jiii.282 and VvA 250, where the smith is the maker of a needle. They were constituted into a guild, and some of them were well -- to -- do as appears from what is said of Cunda at D ii.126; owing to their usefulness they were held in great esteem by the people and king alike J iii.281. (Pali.lex.) 

"the pattars, who are brahmins dwelling among and beyond the mountain range. their native countries are the districts round tuticorin, coromandel, madurai and their neighborhood. they held themselves higher than malabar brahmins and namboothiris, who they say sprang from fisherman elevated to brahminical dignity by parusuraman.   pattars build their own houses contiguously to one another in straight lines. they form themselves in to samoohams. these samooha-madams (body of pattars) have generally common funds replenished by the contributions made by the community.   the pattar is found in every walk of life and he makes his presence felt by his superior intelligence, application and industry. they are the sowcars of malabar."--extracts from sri k p padmanabha menon history of kerala-  appendix letters from malabar by vrischer  courtesy : kerala pattars.

bhaa— m. ‘hired soldier, servant’ MBh. [√bhr̥] 1. Ash. 3 sg. pret. bƏƏ, f. °ī ‘brought’, Kt. bŕå; Gaw. (LSI) boet ‘they begin’. 2. Pa. bhata— ‘supported, fed’, bhataka— m. ‘hired servant’,bhaa— m. ‘hireling, servant, soldier’; Aś.shah. man. kāl. bhaa— ‘hired servant’, kāl. bhaaka—, gir. bhata—, bhataka—; Pk. bhayaga— m. ‘servant’, bhaa— m. ‘soldier’, bhaaa— m. ‘member of a non—Aryan tribe’; Paš. buı̄́‘servant maid’ IIFL iii 3, 38; S. bhau ‘clever, proficient’, m. ‘an adept’; Ku. bha m. ‘hero, brave man’, gng. adj. ‘mighty’; B. bha ‘soldier, servant, nom. prop.’, bhail ‘servant, hero’; Bhoj. bhar‘name of a partic. low caste’; G. bha m. ‘warrior, hero, opulent person’, adj. ‘strong, opulent’, ubham. ‘landless worker’ (G. cmpd. with u—, ‘without’, i.e. ‘one without servants’?); Si. beē ‘soldier’ < *baaya, st. baa—; — Pk. bhuaga— m. ‘wor- shipper in a temple’, G. bhuvɔ m. (rather than <bhūdēva—). *bhārta—; abhr̥ta—; subhaa—. Addenda: bhr̥ta—: S.kcch. bha ‘brave’; Garh. (Śrīnagrī dial.) bhɔ, (Salānī dial.) bh e  ‘warrior’. (CDIAL 9588) 

भट्टी [ bhaṭṭī ] f ( H) A kiln, a furnace, an oven. 2 A smith's forge; a furnace or stove in general (as of a confectioner, aभडभुंज्या). The large चूल or fireplace for the सतेल of a washerman. 3 A spirit-still. 4 By metonymy. The matter prepared in a kiln or furnace; or the quantity prepared at once, the batch: also the art, knack, method, process of preparation: also, laxly, cast, make, mould, build, air, style, fashion, character. Ex. ही भट्टी चांगली उतरली ती भट्टी बिघडली; ह्या रसायणाची भट्टी त्या वैद्यास चांगली ठाऊक आहे; त्यास स्वयंपाकाची भट्टी ठाऊक आहे; शरीराची भट्टी, पागोट्याची भट्टी, मसल- तीची भट्टी. 4 Straw or grass so disposed as to form ripening beds (for plantains, betel-leaves &c.) भट्टी भाजणारा A grain-parcher: also a potter, brickmaker, tilemaker, any kiln-burner. (M.lex.)

bhráṣṭra n. ‘frying pan, gridiron ‘ MaitrS. [√bhrajj]Pk. bhaṭṭha -- m.n. ‘ gridiron ‘; K.  f. ‘ level surface by kitchen fireplace on which vessels are put when taken off fire ‘; S.bahu m. ‘ large pot in which grain is parched, large cooking fire ‘, ba f. ‘ distilling furnace ‘; L. bhaṭṭh m. ‘ grain -- parcher's oven ‘, bhaṭṭ f. ‘ kiln, distillery ‘, awā. bhah; P. bhaṭṭh m., ° f. ‘ furnace ‘, bhaṭṭ m. ‘ kiln ‘; N. bhāi ’ oven or vessel in which clothes are steamed for washing ‘; A. bhaā ’ brick -- or lime -- kiln ‘; B. bhāi ’ kiln ‘; Or. bhāi ’ brick -- kiln, distilling pot ‘; Mth. bha, bhaṭṭī ’ brick -- kiln, furnace, still ‘; Aw.lakh. bhā ’ kiln ‘; H. bhaṭṭ m. ‘ kiln ‘, bha f. ‘ kiln, oven, fireplace ‘; M. bhaṭṭā m. ‘ pot of fire ‘, bhaṭṭī f. ‘ forge ‘. -- X bhástrā -- q.v.bhrāṣṭra -- ; *bhraṣṭrapūra -- , *bhraṣṭrāgāra -- .Addenda: bhráṣṭra -- : S.kcch. bhaṭṭhī keī ’ distil (spirits) ‘ (CDIAL 9656)

*bhraṣṭrāgāra ’ grain parching house’. [bhráṣṭra -- , agāra -- ] P. bhahiār, °ālā m. ‘ grainparcher's shop’.BHRĀJ ’ shine ‘: bhrājatē, bhrājas –(CDIAL 9658)

*bhrāṣṭraśālikā ’ furnace house ‘. [bhrāṣṭra -- , śālā -- ]H. bharsārī f. ‘furnace, oven’ (CDIAL 9685)

bhrāṣṭra m. ‘ gridiron ‘ Nir., adj. ‘ cooked on a grid- iron ‘ Pā., °ka -- m. (n.?) ‘ frying pan ‘ Pañcat. [NIA. forms all < eastern MIA. *bhāha -- , but like Pk. none show medial aspirate except G. with --  -- poss. < -- h -- . -- bhráṣṭra -- , √bhrajj] Pk. bhāa -- n. ‘ oven for parching grain ‘; Phal. bha<-> ‘ to roast, fry ‘ (NOPhal 31 < bhr̥kta -- with ?); L. bhā ’ oven ‘; Ku. bhā ’ iron oven, fire, furnace ‘; Bi. Bhār (CDIAL 9684)

Marathi lex.:

पांढर [ pāṇḍhara ] f The whole community or body of a village; whether as assembled (as in matters of general concernment) or as considered collectively. 2 The tract or region of a village; the space occupied, circumscribed, or appertaining. Ex. ह्या पांढरीचें पाणी कोण्हास बाधणार नाहीं; ह्या पांढरींत पांखरूं देखील येत नाहीं. 3 The divinity, presiding genius, or tutelar spirit (of a village or of the village-soil). Ex. ही गोष्ट तू करतोस पांढरीस सोस- णार नाहीं; तुला पां0 पाहून घेईल; यंदा पांढरीनें हात दिल्हा; पांढरीनें पीक सोडलें. 4 Village-land appropriated; a village-farm or any villager's field. Ex. मी आपली पां0 ओसाड टाकीन; तुझें गुरूं माझ्या पांढरींत आलें तर. 5 Peopledness, peopled state or form; as disting. from Openness or unoccupied form of space. Ex. एथून पां0 उठली or ओसाड पडली; तेथें पां0 वसली. 6 (पांडुर S) White soil, 7 पांढर as contrad. from काळी (The black, i. e. arable, region) is Village-site. (this site being ordinarily on white earth). 8 A tract of white soil as occurring here and there in the usual काळी ground. 9 Duties on, or revenue arising from, commodities or chattels, excise.

पांढरकूळ [ pāṇḍharakūa ] n (पांढर & कूळ Tribe or family.) The village-community.

पांढरगण [ pāṇḍharagaa ] n The inhabitants of a village comprehensively or collectively.

पांढरगणा [ pāṇḍharagaā ] m The twelve village-officers termed बारा बलुते.

पांढरपट्टी [ pāṇḍharapaṭṭī ] f A cess upon the artisans, shopkeepers, and dealers (of a village)


The surname, panchal, denotes a particular Black Smith status. The Panchals are lohar, smiths. engaged in carpentry, blacksmithy and goldsmithy, are called as Viswakarmas or Viswabrahmins

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 4.15.17

daśa-candram asiḿ rudraḥ

śata-candraḿ tathāmbikā

somo 'mṛtamayān aśvāḿs

tvaṣṭā rūpāśrayaḿ ratham

Lord Śiva presented him with a sword within a sheath marked with ten moons, and his wife, the goddess Durgā, presented him with a shield marked with one hundred moons. The moon-demigod presented him with horses made of nectar, and the demigod Viśvakarmā presented him with a very beautiful chariot.

பஞ்சகம்மாளர் pañca-kammāar , n. < pañcantaṭṭā, kaṉṉā, cipa, tacca, kollaதட்டான், கன்னான், சிற்பன், தச்சன் கொல்லன் என்ற ஐவகைப் பட்ட கம்மாளர். (சங். அக.)

పంచాణము panchāṇamu. n. The united five castes of the carpenter, blacksmith, brazier, goldsmith, and stonecutter.

Excerpts from Wikipedia entry:

Vishwakarmas are a community or caste who have adopted engineering, art and architecture professions in India, and are followers of Lord Vishwakarma. They are found all over India. They comprise blacksmith, carpenter, metal craftsmen, stone-carver, goldsmith. Being largely descended from Brahmins, Hindu law permits them to wear the sacred thread, perform various priestly duties and accords them a position equal to that of Brahmins. Hence, they are also known as Vishwa Brahmin (विश्वब्राह्मण)

Brahminism basically divided in to two groups.

§                     ARSHEYA BRAHMANEYAM

§                     PARUSHEYA BRAHMANEYAM.

It is only Vishwakarmabrahmins belong to PARUSHEYA Sect.Rest of all brahmins sects fall under Arsheya sect.

Vishwabrahmin are also known as Vishwakarma Brahmin since they have their origin from LordVishwakarma. They are called Panchal which means specialized in five different works; they are identical to Kavi, Madhvi, Suhastasour and Narashansha castes in ancient Vedic reference. They were called as rathakar because they used to make the chariot for ancient kings. In Madras they are called Kammalar. Vishwakarma Brahmins / Vishwa brahmins are called with the following names.

In South India

§                     Achari, Acharya, Vishwakarma, Vishwabrahmin, Sharma, Kammari, Kamsali,Shilpi,Vadrangi,Kambara,Pathara,Badiger,Kancgara.Vishwakarma Manu Maya Brahmin

In North India:

§                     Panchal Brahmin, Dhiman Brahmin, Maithil Brahmin, Ramgarhia, Mistry, Sharma, Viswakarma,Tarkhan, Kalsi, Malik, Mahule, Sonar, Suthar, Swarnakar

In East India (Odisha)

§                     Moharana (this title used by all Viswakarmas), Mohapatra (only Mayas -Kastakars), Ojha (Only Manu -Lahuakars) Cricketier Pragyan Ojha Example,:Sutar (only Maya -Kastakars), Sahu (Maya -Kastakars & Viswanja -Swarnkars), Parida,(Maya -Kastakar and Manu -Lahuakars), Choudhry,(Only Maya -Kastakars), Karamkar,(Maya and Viswanja), Das, (Maya -Kastakars), Bindhani, (Maya -Kastakars), Badhei, (Maya -Kastakars), Mistry (Maya -Kastakars & Manu -Lahuakars),

§                     In West India Sutar, Mahtre, Pitroda, Gujjar, Jangid, Agnihotri, Dubey, Tiwari, Pathak

…Whilst many goldsmiths are descendants of Brahmin ancestry, people of the Kshatriya caste have also adopted the works of Vishwabrahmins, in particular, Goldsmith and Jewellery work. For example, in the Punjab region of North India, another group of Vishwakarmas/Goldsmiths exist, the Mair Rajputs, who have descended from the Rajput warriors of Rajasthan.

Consequently, Vishwabrahmins have surnames that are similar to those of the Brahmin or Kshatriya caste. For instance:

§                     Brahmin: Verma, Sharma, Rao, Rastogi, Acharya/Achari, Chari, Jha, Ranjan, Dixit, Dhiman, Panchal

§                     Kshatriya: Soni, Singh, Mair/Mayer/Mehr, Katta, Seth, Chauhan, Babbar, Rana, Sisodia, Gogna Shinh, Sehdev, Sudera, Kanda, Karwal

According to traditional belief, Vishwabrahmins are descended from five sons of lord Vishwakarma. They are Manu (blacksmith), Maya (carpenter), Thwastha (metal craftsman), Silpi (stone-carver)Vishvajnya (goldsmith). The community is spread widely throughout India and played a vital role in the village economy. Their socio-economic status varied from a very high level to the low level in different parts of India as they earned high wages in towns because of their factory employment and low in villages[1]. About Vishwabrahmins Anand K. Coomaraswamy says ‘the Kammalar (i.e.Panchal) were known as Vishwa or Dev Brahman or Dev Kammalar. They spread gradually towards the south and then reached Ceylon, Burma & Java. The Kammalar claim to have been the spiritual guides and priests and their position in the society survives in the saying The Kammalar is guru to the world. They still have their own priests & do not relay on Brahman. They also perform priestly rites in connection with consecration of images[2]. They both claim and possess various special privileges, which they always upheld with much vigour, in some cases they claim a rank equal to that of Brahmans.” He also mentions “throughout the rest of ceremony all priest officers had been performed by the craftsman themselves acting as Brahman priest” [2]. Dr. Krishna Rao says “The most highly organized & efficient of the industrial classes was Virpanchal comprising of Goldsmith, coiner blacksmith, carpenter and mason. In finest period of Indian art particularly between eighth and ninth century, they claimed and enjoyed a social status in the community, equal to Brahmans. The art of engraving & sculpture had attained a high stage of development. It was exclusively cultivated by Panchals who wore sacred thread & considered themselves as Vishwakarma Brahmans. The craftsman being deeply versed in national epic literature always figured in the history of India as missionaries of civilization, culture & religion. The intellectual influence being creative & not merely assimilative was at least as great as that of the priest and the author” [3].…

Ernest B. Havell says “The northern quarter of (Patliputra) was assigned to Brahmans & certain of the higher craftsman such as armor, ironsmiths & workers in precious stones. The association of skilled craftsmen with Brahmans & Kshatriya is additional evidence that craftsmanship did not hold inferior status in Indo Aryan society[4]. The Stapathy or master builder is described in the Shilpa Shastra as officiating at religious ceremonies which preceded the laying out of the Indo Aryan town or village and some of the metal worker& carpenter of the south of India still retains as their caste indication the name Acharya which denotes a teacher of religion”.

1.     Russell R.V. and Lai R.B.H., The tribes and castes of the Central Provinces of India, Asian Educational Services, 1995, ISBN 812060833X

2.     Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Indian Craftsman, Probsthain & co., 1909

3.     Krishna Rao M.V., Govardhana Rao M., Jeevanna Rao K., Glimpses of Karnataka, Reception Committee, 65th Session, Indian National Congress, 1960

4.     Ernest B. Havell, 1918, The history of Aryan rule in India, from the earliest times to the death of Akbar, K.M.N. Publishers; (distributors: Atma Ram, Delhi), 1972.

Chinmayacharya, K. (2002), Devudu Manavudu, East Godavari.: Ramesh Kumar, K.

áyas--kāṇḍa [p= 85,1] [L=14772] m. n. " a quantity of iron " or " excellent iron " , (g. kaskā*di q.v.) kaskādi = a gaa (Pa1n2. viii.3.48)

(H2) ayo [p= 85,1] [L=14807] (incomp. for ayas).

kaṇḥ णम् am : (page 62)

The centre, the middle. (Apte)


(H1) kā́ṇḍa[p= 269,2][L=47500]       mn. ([or ṇḍá TS. vii]) (ifc. f(ā or ī).) ([cf. khaṇḍa , with which in some of its senses ṇḍais confounded]) a single joint of the stalk or stem of a plant , such as a bamboo or reed or cane (i.e. the portion from one knot to another cf. tri-k°) , any part or portion , section , chapter , division of a work or book (cf. tri-k°) , any distinct portion or division of an action or of a sacrificial rite (as that belonging to the gods or to the manes) AV. TS. VS.

[L=47500.05]                              mfn. a separate department or subject (e.g. karma-kāṇḍa , the department of the veda treating of sacrificial rites Ka1s3. on Pa1n2. 4-2 , 51) AV. TS. S3Br. R.

[L=47500.10]                              mfn. a stalk , stem , branch , switch MBh. R. Mn. i , 46 , 48 Kaus3. Sus3r.

[L=47500.15]                              mfn. the part of the trunk of a tree whence the branches proceed W.

[L=47500.20]                              mfn. a cluster , bundle W.

[L=47500.25]                              mfn. a multitude , heap , quantity (ifc.) Pa1n2. 4-2 , 51 Ka1s3.

[L=47500.30]                              mfn. an arrow MBh. xiii , 265 Hit.

[L=47500.35]                              mfn. a bone of the arms or legs , long bone (cf. ṇḍa-bhagna and pucchakāṇḍá) Sus3r.

[L=47500.40]                              mfn. a rudder (?) R. ii , 89 , 19

[L=47500.45]                              mfn. a kind of square measure Pa1n2. 4-1 , 23 Vop. vii , 55

[L=47500.50]                              mfn. a cane , reed , Saccharum Sara (śara) L.

[L=47500.55]                              mfn. water L.

[L=47500.60]                              mfn. opportunity , occasion (cf. a-kāṇḍa) L.

[L=47500.65]                              mfn. a private place , privacy L.

[L=47500.70]                              mfn. praise , flattery L.

[L=47500.75]                              mfn. (ifc. implying depreciation) vile , low Pa1n2. 6-2 , 126

[L=47500.80]                              mfn. = ṇḍasyā*vayavo vikāro vā* g. bilvā*di

(H1B) kā́ṇḍī [L=47500.85]          f. a little stalk or stem Ra1jat. vii , 117.

(H1) khāṇḍa [p= 339,1][L=61760] n. (fr. khaṇḍa) , the state of having fractures or fissures or gaps g. pthv-ādi.

(H1) kaṇḍ [p= 246,1][L=42560]        cl.1 P. A1. kaṇḍati , -te , to be glad or wanton: cl.10 P. kaṇḍayati , to separate (the chaff from the grain) Dha1tup. (cf. ka.)

(H1) áyas [p= 85,1][L=14766]           n. iron , metal RV. &c

[L=14767]                               an iron weapon (as an axe , &c ) RV. vi , 3 ,5 and 47 , 10

[L=14768]                               gold Naigh.

[L=14769]                               steel L. ; ([cf. Lat. aes , aer-is for as-is ; Goth. ais , Thema aisa ; Old Germ. e7r , iron ;Goth. eisarn ; Mod. Germ. Eisen.])

(H1) ayā́s [p= 85,3][L=14875]           (2 , twice 3 [i.e. ai0ā́s] RV. i , 167 , 4 and , vi , 66 , 5) mfn. (fr. a + √ yas? ; » ayā́sya) , agile , dexterous , nimble RV.

(H1B) ayā́s[L=14875.1]          n. (ind.) fire Un2.

 [Source: Monier Williams dictionary]

कण्ठीलः kaṇṭhīlकण्ठीलः A camel.-लः,-ला A churning vessel (Apte).

अयस् ayasअयस् a. [इ-गतौ-असुन्] Going, moving; nimble. n. (-यः) 1 Iron (एति चलति अयस्कान्तसंनिकर्षं इति तथात्वम्; नायसोल्लिख्यते (Apte)

 Aryan-Indian ties debunked 

Kumar Chellappan (Deccan Chronicle, 27 Feb. 2009)

Indians were pioneer metallurgists and the Indo-Aryan-Dravidian-Munda division among languages is false, claims a Chennai-based Indologist, insisting that Indian culture did not owe it to the Aryan invasion.

“People speaking old versions of the languages in the country were living together and had evolved words to describe advanced metallurgy,” Dr S. Kalyanaraman, chairman, Saraswathi Research Foundation, told Deccan Chronicle.

The deciphering of the 4,000-year-old writing system prevalent during the Indus civilisation proved the close link between metallurgy and the writing system, he said.

“The sub-continent had its own indigenous writing and culture. Postulations that our culture is indebted to the Aryan invasion are wrong,” he said. Dr Kalyanaraman says he has deciphered the Indus writing system through research spanning three decades.

“These scripts were found on nearly 4,000 seals and objects with the first seal excavated by archaeologist Alexander Cunningham in 1875,” he said.

The anxiety to prove the existence of the great Saraswathi Civilisation made him to take voluntary retirement from the Asian Development Bank.

“I could track the course of Saraswathi river from Manasarovar through Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and beyond. A progressive civilisation existed along the Saraswathi’s banks and it was what historians termed as the Mohenjodaro-Harappan civilisation. The course of the Saraswathi was substantiated by satellite images from ISRO,” he said.

The inscriptions from the region had pictures and pictorial writings.

“A close study indicated that the ancestors of the present-day speakers of all Indian languages were living together in a linguistic area, where speakers of different dialects borrowed language features from one another and made them part of their own dialect,” he said.

According to Dr Kalyanaraman, this decoding had proved that more than 30 per cent of agricultural words and most of metallurgical words in Indian languages did not have any links with Indo-European languages.

A comment:

An all-Indian Indus script!

Dr S.Kalayanaraman is doing yeomen service to Bharatham and the world by bringing out the lost information on the world’s oldest civilization that thrived for many millennia in the Indian Sub-continent. His presentation yesterday in Chennai on the linguistic leads as revealed by the Sarasvati hieroglyphs turns out a new leaf in the understanding of languages in use in the 3rd millennium BC. The details can be read below.

In his own words, “A close study indicated that the ancestors of the present-day speakers of all Indian languages were living together in a linguistic area, where speakers of different dialects borrowed language features from one another and made them part of their own dialect,”

This finding makes me recall some instances from the past. One is from Valmiki Ramayana wherein Hanuman debates within himself on what language he could speak to Sita who was languishing in the Ashoka vana. Should I speak in the language of the learned persons (in Sanskrit) or speak in the language of common persons, Hanuman asked himself.

Sanskrit was the language of education and was used in discourses on intellectual stuff. This existed in written form. But the dialect spoken by people was different and it was not given a written form. We come to know from Megasthanes that transactions were done orally. There was no habit of recording or writing anything in trade. It was because people adhered to word of mouth and rarely indulged in cheating. Wherever writing was done it was done in Sanskrit. But the common dialect that people spoke was not given a written form.

This had existed till the times of onset of Jain and Buddha culture. The Jains were the forerunners in giving written form to spoken language of the commoner. In a scenario dominated by Sanskrit based Vedic religion, the Jains wanted to reach out to the common man. They could reach him easily only by speaking his language and making him read their views in the language they speak.

The earliest books written in language other than Sanskrit were by Jains. They were in Prakrith. The earliest Jain book of astrology is ‘Surya Pragnapti’ which was an adaptation of Lagadha’s Rig Jyothisha. This was in ‘Arthamagadhi Prakrith’. Lagadha’s Jyothisha was written when the sun entered Dhanishta in uttarayana. Jain’s Surya pragnapthi has the sun entering Abhijit in uttarayana!

That means this book of the Jains was written when Abhijith was still part of the sky. Abhijit is placed in between Utthradam and ThiruvONam (shravaNa). Abhijit was part of the sky until Mahabharatha times. Even if we want to discount the existence of abhijith for lack of evidence now astronomically, we can still enumerate the period of this book. This book was written when the sun entered uttarayana at a point left of Shravana star. Today the sun enters uttarayana in Moola star. The time gap can be ascertained and it is possible to find the time of Surya pragnapti from this. That time is when the spoken language of the people of most of Bharatham was given a written form.

From Prakrit, other Indian languages sprang with a written libi.

But Tamil was a case apart from all these.

When Mahabharatha war happened, Tamil was already there in written form supported by the sophistry of a well developed Grammar. A verse on the praise of the Cheran king who supplied food to the armies engaged in Mahabharatha war is found in PurananUru. Another verse is about the Pandyan king who lived in the now- submerged landmass, south of present day Kanyakumari. Tamil was referred to as “Agastheeyam” in one of Srivaishnava books (Acharya Hrudhayam) Agastheeyam is said to be a grammar work of Tamil done by sage Agasthya. This sage is also said to have given a written form to Tamil.

That means Tamil had once existed as a spoken language among the masses. There are however many Sanskrit terms in Tamil (eg daanam, thavam) as part and parcel of Tamil language itself. Unless Tamil had co-existed along with Sanskrit, this can not have happened. The aiding tool for this combination is Hindu dharma or Sanatana Dharma as it was the only dharma prevalent everywhere in those days. Since the Tamil lands were stretched far down the South and were part of a huge landmass connecting Africa and Australia, my guess is that Tamil was a spoken language in that part of the world.

Coming to the findings of Dr S.Kalyanaraman, he has pointed out an interesting similarity in the writing on metallurgy and of artisans of India in those days. The cast for making statues (utsava bhEra) recovered from Harappan sites (Saraswathy sites) are the same as what the Vishwakarmas settled near Swamimalai in Tamil nadu do today! It was because there was a single cult of Vishwakarma, a single cult of Maya followed by artisans all through the Ithihasic and Puranic times.

As such, these informations are not news to me! Without even going into research of this kind, we can say everything about the antiquity and unanimity of Bharatheeya culture just from our arm chairs with the help of Ithihasas, Puranas, Samhitas and a host of other texts given by Maharishis.

-Jayasree Saranathan


Decoding Indus Script

-- Mleccha, mlecchita vikalpa in Sarasvati hieroglyphs


Ppt slides


Lecture at Rojah Muthiah Library at 5 PM on 26 February 2009 by S. Kalyanaraman



Script is decoded as sarasvati hieroglyphs composed of all pictorial motifs -- over 100 -- and signs -- over 400 – and read rebus in mleccha vācas (as distinct from arya vācas -- Manu). The context is: miners' and smiths' repertoire (not unlike the viśwakarma working on utsava bera in Swamimalai following the cire perdue technique of Sarasvati civilization bronzes or asur/agaria working in iron ore smelters in Ganga basin of 18th century BCE).

Sarasvati hieroglyphs are in mleccha, mlecchita vikalpa (Vatsyayana). Hypothesis posited: Language X + Proto-Munda = Proto-mleccha (with borrowings in Sarasvati Linguistic Area).

Rebus readings of almost all glyphs (pictorial motifs as well as signs) relate to mine workers’ and metalsmiths’ repertoire. The writing system is a vikalpa (alternative representation) of their vernacular, mleccha, cognate: meluhha. Presented in 15 e-books at

In view of the essentially pictographic nature of the writing system, the presentation is made in three parts:

a. monograph on vernacular (deśī), the linguistic area and the continuity of proto-mleccha vernacular; structure and semantics of hieroglyphs of mlecchita vikalpa, the decoded writing system;

b. powerpoint slides with selected glyphs and readings; and

c. Epigraphica Sarasvati of about 4000 inscribed epigraphs on photo albums.

Two fundamental questions should be researched further:

1. the continuity of the civilization evidenced by cultural markers all over India and the neighbouring regions;

2. the formation and evolution of languages in a linguistic area of the Sarasvati civilization continuum in India, proved by the decoding of the Indus script (Sarasvati hieroglyphs).

Indus script epigraphs: mleccha smith guild tokens

Dholavira sign-board (1)

Inscribed metal weapons and tools, copper tablets (over 200)
Pictorial Motifs or Field Symbols on Seals and Tablets (c. 3000)

Smith guild tokens (writing system encoding mleccha speech)


Indus script is depicted with glyphs, using about 150 pictorial motifs and about 400 signs. The glyphs are decoded as hieroglyphs read rebus in mleccha. All the pictorial motifs relate to smith-guild repertoire of the bronze age. The smiths working with metals to experiment with alloys also invented the writing system using hieroglyphs.

 ·        Most of the ca. 550 glyphs and glyptic elements have been identified with precision (without ambiguity) thanks to the brilliant work done by Mahadevan, Parpola and other scholars who have contributed to unraveling the orthography and structure of the writing system

·        Each glyph is a potential resource for relating the glyph to glosses of Indian languages to identify mleccha glosses in the linguistic area

·        Isoglosses will help reconstruct proto-mleccha and proto-vedic.

·        Glyptic semantic clusters decode the writing system using the simple rebus method -- occam’s razor (rebus: A representation of words in the form of pictures or symbols, often presented as a puzzle. From Latinrebus, ablative pl. of res, thing. – and relating them to one semantic category: early workings in mines, early workings with minerals and metals – an industrial revolution of those ancient times.

·        “Rosetta stones” for the decoding are:

o       Akkadian cylinder seal showing a Meluhhan (who needed an interpreter)

o       Two pure tin ingots cast with Sarasvati hieroglyphs discovered in a pr ship-wreck

o       Scores of inscriptions found on metal and on metallic celts, weapons (following slides)

o       Continuity of tradition in devices punched by punch-marked/cast coin mints from Takaśila to Anuradhapura. (Sarasvati hieroglyphs continue to be used together with kharoshti/brahmi syllables)

o       Sohgaura copper plate; Rampurva pillar copper bolt with Sarasvati hieroglyphs

o       Ur cylinder seal with tagaraka shrub; rebus: tagromi ‘tin alloy’ (Kuwi)

Invention of alloying necessitated invention of a writing system. The epigraphs relate to metal work/trade.

Read more… 

Mirror sites for ebook (August 2009; 60mb pdf):

Supporting documents: 1. ppt; 2. resources from ancient Indian epigraphs and texts: ppt slides                                                                    pdf document                                                                                  

S. Kalyanaraman, Sarasvati Research Centre (August 6, 2009)


Indus script, a writing system used from c. 3rd millennium BCE on Sarasvatri-Sindhu river basins and later in many parts of Bharat, has defied decipherment for over 150 years.

This monographs presents India's metallurgical legacy as a continuum from the bronze age which saw the emergence of alloying and of a writing system on about 4000 epigraphs on a variety of objects including copper tablets, metal tools and weapons.

Recent discovery (March 2009) of a seal in Farmana depicting a water buffalo glyphs and 4 other glyphs (referred to as signs) provides a clear context of correlation between the seal and the presence of metal objects (copper bangles, metal ornaments on a skeleton). The writing system continued in mints during the historical periods from c. 5th century BCE using the comparable glyphs on punch-marked coins. It is hypothesised that the corporate entities called śrei or nigama (guilds) could also have existed in Sarasvati civilization producing the epigraphs to denote the metalsmiths' repertoire. This renders the epigraphs as guild tokens encoding speech related to this repertoire.

Summary of the argument

The underlying speech encoded on Indus inscriptions (Sarasvati hieroglyphs) is mleccha; the writing system is mlecchita vikalpa of the linguistic area during the third and second millennium BCE. The writing system was used on seals, faience tablets, copper tablets, metal tools and weapons during this period and on punch-marked coins, sculptural monuments (such as the torana of Sanchi), copper plates (e.g. Sohgaura copper plate)  in later periods. (See notes on early epigraphs and Sohgaura/Taxila copper plates appended.)

Both mleccha (cognate meluhha) and mlecchita vikalpa (crytography) are terms attested in ancient texts. The remarkable conclusion of decoding the script is that the inventors of alloying during bronze age also invented a hieroglyptic writing system using the rebus method. This decoding is consistent with the essential continuity of culture from the days of Sarasvati civilization in what is today called Bharat. The legacy of the civilization which is all around us is also evidenced in the hieroglyptic writing system used on guild tokens and also on punch-marked coins and sculptural monuments like the śrivatsa glyph on Sanchi torana.

Sarasvati writing system is decoded as sarasvati hieroglyphs composed of  all pictorial motifs -- over 100 -- and signs -- over 400 – and read rebus in mleccha vācas (as distinct from arya vācas -- Manu). The context is: miners' and smiths' repertoire (not unlike the viśwakarma working on utsava bera in Swamimalai following the cire perdue technique of Sarasvati civilization bronzes or asur/agaria working in iron ore smelters in Ganga basin of 18th century BCE).

Sarasvati hieroglyphs are in mleccha, mlecchita vikalpa (Vatsyayana). Hypothesis posited: Language X + Proto-Munda = Proto-mleccha (with borrowings in Sarasvati Linguistic Area).

Rebus readings of almost all glyphs (pictorial motifs as well as signs) relate to mine workers’ and metalsmiths’ repertoire. The writing system is a vikalpa (alternative representation) of their vernacular, mleccha, cognate: meluhha.

Cultural continuity of Sarasvati Civilization in India

Since there is cultural continuity in India from the days of Sarasvati civilization, it is possible to reconstruct Language X by identifying isoglosses in the linguistic area.

Continued use of shankha (turbinella pyrum) bangles which tradition began 6500 BCE at Nausharo;

Continued wearing of sindhur at the parting of the hair by married ladies as evidenced by two terracotta toys painted black on the hair, painted golden on the jewelry and painted red to show sindhur at the parting of the hair;

Finds of shivalinga in situ in a worshipful state in Harappa (a metaphor of Mt. Kailas summit where Maheśvara is in tapas, according to Hindu tradition);

Terracotta toys of Harappa and Mohenjodaro showing Namaste postures and yogasana postures;

Three-ring ear-cleaning device

Language and culture as intertwined, continuing legacies

Legacy of architectural forms

Legacy of pukarii in front of mandirams; as in front of Mohenjodaro stupa  

Legacy of metallurgy and the writing system on punch-marked coins

Legacy of continued use of cire perdue technique for making utsava bera (bronze murti)

Legacy of the writing system on Sohgaura copper plate

Legacy of glyphs continuing on aṣṭamangalahāra

Legacy of the writing system on Bharhut ligatures

Legacy: śrivatsa glyph metaphor; śrivatsa and śrisuktam

Legacy: Engraved celt tool of Sembiyan-kandiyur with Sarasvati hieroglyphs: calling-card of an artisan

Legacy of acharya wearing uttariyam leaving right-shoulder bare

Form of addressing a person respectfully as: arya, ayya (Ravana is also referred to as arya in the Great Epic Ramayana)

Gautama the Buddha refers to ea dhammo sanantano; Mahavira refers to ‘ariya’ dhamma (arya meaning ‘right conduct, respectful’)

Cultural continuum justifies search for mleccha glosses from ancient forms of words of the linguistic area.


Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, Sarasvati Research Centre (31 July 2009)             

Skeleton samples from Farmana to undergo DNA tests

Shashwat Gupta Ray

Monday, May 11th, 2009 AT 12:05 PM 

PRECIOUS FIND: A grave excavated at Farmana site by Deccan College archaeologists. Courtesy: Deccan College

PUNE: The Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute has sent samples of skeletons found in the Farmana site in Haryana recently to laboratories in Hyderabad and Kyoto, Japan for DNA analysis.

This is first time the institute is using the DNA analysis route to study ancient civilization in South Asia. A team of archaeologists from the Deccan College discovered 70 Harappan graves at a site in Farmana. It is being claimed as the largest burial site of this civilisation in India so far.

“The skeleton samples have been sent to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad and Research Institute for Humanitarian Nature, Kyoto in Japan. The scientists in Japan believe that these skeletons could have DNA samples in them, which can be researched to find out more about the people of Harappan civilization. It could help give more information about them,” joint director of Deccan College and project director, Vasant Shinde told Sakal Times. It would take at least six months to extract the DNA samples. It would take the scientists another three months to study them.

The study so far reveals that the history of Harappan civilization actually starts 1,000 years before the official date. “From our series of excavations in a number of sites, including Farmana, it has been revealed that the Harappan civilization had its origin way back in 3,500 BC and not 2,500 BC as known officially. The Farmana site will be able to help study the origin in phases,” Shinde said.

“Till now we have read about the cities. But majority lived in villages like they are today. So we want to know about the villages and their gradual transformation to well-planned cities,” he said.

The clues about this were found in the Farmana site, which was a small village in 3,500 BC and got transformed into a town by 2,500 BC. Initially the people lived in circular huts. These then became rectangular mud structures. By the beginning of 2,500 BC brick structures began to get constructed and the city turned into a well-planned settlement.

“We are also studying the pottery technique. Earlier the finish was coarse and hand-made. Gradually, it became fine by 2,500 BC and became the classical Harappan pottery,” he said.

The excavation is now listed for World Heritage status conferred by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Indus seal from Farmana: metal casting workshop

Decoding Sarasvati hieroglyphs on the seal

sal ‘bos gaurus’ bison; Rebus: sāla = workshop (B.) sal ‘workshop’ (Santali) sal sakwa ‘horns of indian gaur’. saili, sakil (Mun.d.ari)(Santali.lex.Bodding) sail = the Indian Gaur of bison, Gavaeus Gaurus (Mundari). sal = v. open a smithy, work a smithy; open a beer-shop, a sugar-cane press; ale manjhi tolare kamarko sal akata = the blacksmiths have a smithy in that part of the village where our headman has his house; teken kamarko sal akata = the blacksmiths are working to-day (have started their forge)(Santali.lex.Bodding)’a_la_ mint (Skt.); t.aksa_l, t.aksa_r (N.); t.a~ksa_l, t.a~_ks_l. t.eksa_l (B.); t.aksa_r (Bhoj.); t.aksa_l, t.aksa_r (H.); t.a~ksa_l. (G.); t.a~_ksa_l (M.); t.aksa_l.i_ mint-master (G.);  t.a_ksa_lya_ (M.)(CDIAL 5434). pan.ya article for sale (S'Br.); pan.iya to be sold or bought (Pali); article for trade (Pali); pan.n.a, pan.ia (Pkt.); pan.yas'a_la_ shop (Skt.Pkt.)(CDIAL 7719-7720).

kat.ra_, kat.r.a_ = piece of ground enclosed and inhabited, market town, market, suburb (H.); Rebus:, kad.ru_ buffalo calf (male or female)(Kur.); kat.a_ male of sheep or goat, he-buffalo (Ta.); male of cattle, young and vigorous; child, young person (Ma.)(DEDR 1123). kat.a_ri = young, plump bull, heifer (Ta.); kat.r.a_ = young buffalo (Ku.); kat.iya_ = buffalo heifer (H.); young buffalo bull (H.)

kaṇḍa ‘arrow’; rebus: ayaskāṇḍa; ayaskāṇḍa a quantity of iron, excellent iron (Pā.ga)

dul = pair (synonym: two strokes)(Mu.): rebus: dul (cast) bea ‘fish’; bea ‘hearth’

ko  = place where artisans work (G.lex.) koiyum = a wooden circle put round the neck of an animal; ko = neck (G.lex.) kōu = horns (Ta.)

The seal thus denotes: iron cast workshop with a hearth for casting

Language: mleccha; script in hieroglyphs: mlecchita vikalpa



Report excerpts:

Environmental Change and the Indus Civilization:Indus Project, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan

Our project has conducted archaeological excavations at Kanmer in Gujarat and, Girawad, Farmana and Mitathal in Haryana so far. Excavations is also planned to be made at Ganweriwala in Punjab, Pakistan.

These excavations have revealed that the Indus Civilization was a society based on the utilization of diverse natural environment and diversity of societies/cultures. Further analysis on the excavated materials such as artefacts, and animal and plant remains from these sites, will contribute to our understanding on the social mechanism of the Indus Civilization and the relations between the diverse natural environment and human society.

The Palaeo-Environmental Research Group has started survey in the Saurashtra peninsula and on the dry-bed of the Ghaggar River in Haryana and Rajasthan. The Subsistence System Research Group conducted botanical and antholopological survey on the utilization of emmer wheat in south India, as well as the analysis of excavated plant remains from the sites. The Inherited Culture Research Group is preparing language maps of South Asia, as well as studying the Vedic texts.

By integrating the results from the four research groups, this project aims at investigating into the relations between the Indus Civilization and natural environment and at revealing its social structure and features.

Figure 2 Distribution of Sites of the Indus Civilization

By using the GIS, various data are being integrated into a spatial platform.

Photo 1 Stone-built Perimeter Wall at Kanmer

Excavation at Kanmer revealed that the site was enclosed by massive stone-built perimeter walls. Photo 2 Mud-brick structure at Farmana

Mud-brick structures during the Indus Civilization were discovered at Farmana.


Photo 3   Indus Seal from Farmana     The Indus seals which depict various animals show a part of the relations between the human society and natural environment.

Figure 3 Bird’s eye view of the ancient mound at Kanmer

A topographical map made by the GPS and the total station provides the basis for the analysis of the site structure by GIS.

Mleccha, Meluhha – language, writing, people


Mleccha -- language (indistinct speech)


Manusmruti provides evidence for mleccha as one of two dialects in ancient India. (10.43 mukhabāahurūpajjānaam yā loke jātayo bahih mlecchavācaś cāryavācas te sarve dasyuvah smtāh ‘Those born in the world, those who employ arya speech and those who employ mleccha speech – both are remembered as dasyu’), languages are classified as Mleccha vācas and Arya vācas ( that is, lingua franca and literary Sanskrit). Monier Williams dictionary notes: mleccha vāc (opp. To ārya vāc);mlecchaakhya ‘called mleccha’, copper; mlecchana ‘the act of speaking confusedly or barbarously, Dhaatup.; mlecchita = mlishta (Paan. 7.2.18); mlecchitaka ‘speaking in a foreign jargon (unintelligible to others). 

Mleccha languages were viewed by Patanjali as apaśabdas which could not be employed during ādhyātmika duties. Apaśabda use on other occasions was acceptable in the linguistic world of Patanjali. (Madhav Deshpande, 1993, Sandkrit and Prakrit, p. 32). For Patanjali, mleccha is apaśabda, ‘corrupt speech’, maybe a reference to the use of Prakrits or of prakritised Sanskrit. Correct use of words was emphasized – by using eteshām for performing shraddha ceremony for pittrayi (father, grandfather and great-grandfather, male line); but the feminine form etāsām when performing the shraddha ceremony for māttrayi (mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, female line).

In Jaina records, mleccha are Dasyu. In Jaina geography, karmabhumi has six parts: one khanda was peopled by noble, meritorious good people; the other five were mleccha khandas, peopled by the rest of the inhabitants of the karmabhumi. 

Of course, Vidura speaks to Yudhishthira in mleccha language (mleccha vaacaa, 1.135.6b). 

In Mudrarakshasa, Chandragupta’s foil is Malayaketu, a mleccha. The arya-mleccha opposition is insignificant in the play and virtually nonexistent in the rest of the Indian tradition on Chandragupta (Robert E. Goodwin, 1998, The playworld of Sanskrit drama, p.114) 

Kumarila Bhatta (6th cent.), in his commentary, Tantra Vaarttika, clearly notes Arya, mleccha and Dravida usages, refers to ‘the countries inhabited by the Mlecchas being innumerable’, (TV, 1.111.6). loc. cit. Kapil Kapoor, Language, linguistics and literature, the Indian perspective, p. 51 

Mleccha – people 

Mlecchas were present everywhere; Aryans and mlecchas alike drink water from the various rivers of Bharatavarsha (6.10.12). 

Mahabharata notes: From Yadu were born the Yadavas, TurvasuS sons are the Yavanas, Druhyu’s sons are the Bhojas, Anu’s are the mleccha jaatis. (1.80.26-27). Mleccha teachers are mentioned (Mlecchaacaaryaah, 12.4.8c. Yudhishthira notes that mlecchas also engage in fasting (13.109.1b). [In Tamil texts Mullaippaattu, 41-46. pp. 214-18; 'Silappadhikaram V. pp, 9 12, the term Yavana is rendered Sonagar by the earlier and mleccha by the later Commentator.

Samudragupta conquered Kashmir and Afghanistan which were mleccha countries at that time and enlarged his empire (VR Ramachandra Dikshitar, 1993, The Gupta polity, p.199) 

People born from the tail of the celestial cow Nandini, kept by Vasishtha. Mahabharata: 

1.      Mlecchas sent Vishvamitra flying in terror

2.      Bhimasena defeated the mlecchas living in the coastal regions and took several valuable diamonds as tax

3.      Mlecchas living in the coastal area were once defeated by Sahadeva of Pandavas

4.      Nakula also once defeated the mlecchas

5.      Bhagadatta was the king of mlecchas

6.      Bhagadatta accompanied by mlecchas living on the coasts attended the Rajasuya of Yudhishthira

7.      Mlecchas will be born on earth at the beginning of Pralaya

8.      Kalki, incarnation of Vishnu will destroy the mlecchas

9.      Karna during his campaign conquered many mleccha countries

10.  A place of habitation in Bharat is called mleccha

11.  Anga, a mleccha warrior was killed in battle by Bhimasena

12.  Once mlecchas attacked Arjuna with arrows. Arjuna killed the hairy soldiers

13.  Satyaki killed many mleccha soldiers in the great war

14.  Nakula killed Anga, a mleccha king

15.  Arjuna had to face a great army of mlecchas to protect the yaagaashva

16.  The wealth that remained in the Yaagashaalaa of Yudhishthira after the distribution of gifts to Brahmins was taken away by the mlecchas

17.  Mlecchas droved angered elephants on to the army of the Pandavas.


Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puranas, 2001, by Parmeshwaranand

[quote] Exploring Identity and the Other in Ancient India

Mleccha (and its equivalent milakkha) are usually translated as foreigner or barbarian. A translation which is inadequate in so many ways but not least because it implies that it was a word used by Indians to describe non-Indians. In fact it is a term used by some writers who lived in certain parts of India to describe people native to what we think of as India but who lacked some important criteria the writer felt defined his cultural identity (language, religion, geographical location, ancestry etc.). Most often it was used by Brahmanical writers to describe those outside of the aryavarta… Parsher begins with a discussion of the etymology of Mleccha. As the earliest reference occurs in the Satapatha Brahmana, which is part of an oral tradition dating to before 500 BC, scholars have usually looked for various origins in the bronze age societies of the first and second millennium BCE... 

In fact in early texts it is clear that mleccha status was defined largely in terms of language (either the inability to use Sanskrit, or the inability to use it correctly). Language was central to identity in ancient India, as evidence by the process of Sanskritization in the early centuries AD, the importance of the Grammarians from Panini onwards. Readers interested in this aspect should also consult the very good collection of essays by Madhav M Deshpande, Sanskrit & Prakrit: Sociolinguistic Issues (Mohilal Banarsidass, 1993)…

Arthasastra suggests that mleccha would make valuable mercenaries, in fact it prescribes their use for a number of activities (assassination, espionage, poisoning) which might be considered beneath arya. This is a not entirely positive view, but it is a pragmatic one. The epics, which Parsher takes as generally later in tone, also portray the mleccha as valuable mercenaries. On the other hand, the Dharmasastra literature generally takes a theoretical (but not consistent) view of non-contact with the mleccha, and the Mudraraksasa a similar position, portraying Malayaketu as depending on mleccha mercenaries in contrast to Chandragupta. If the sources are taken in this order, they suggest a shift towards a rhetoric (if not reality) of mleccha exclusion… The assertion that 'aboriginals were apparently ostracized because of their backwardness and repulsive habits'… Parasher vacilitates '... they were all listed together as mlecchas. This is not difficult to understand and can be explained by the fact that to the brahmin writers these people were all outside the varnasramadharma' (p. 214). [unquote] Source: About: Aloka Parasher,1991, Mlecchas in Early India Munishiram Manorharlal.

A milakkhu (Pali) is disconnected from vāc and does not speak Vedic; he spoke Prakrt. " na āryā  mlecchanti bhāā bhir māyayā na caranty uta: aryas do not speak with crude dialects like mlecchas, nor do they behave with duplicity (MBh. 2.53.8). a dear friend of Vidura who was a professional excavator is sent by Vidura to help the Pāṇḍavas in confinement; this friend of Vidura has a conversation with Yudhisthira, the eldest Pāṇḍava: "kṛṣṇapake caturdasyām tāv asya purocanah, bhavanasya tava dvāri pradāsyati hutāsanam, mātrā saha pradagdhavyāh Pāṇḍavāh puru arabhāh, iti vyavasitam pārtha dhārtaā ṣṭrsya me śrutam, kiñcic ca vidurenkoto mleccha-vācāsi Pāṇḍava, tyayā ca tat tathety uktam etad visvāsa kāraam: on the fourteenth evening of the dark fortnight, Purocana will put fire in the door of your house. ‘The Pandavas are leaders of the people, and they are to be burned to death with their mother.’ This, Pārtha (Yudhiṣṭ ira), is the determined plan of Dhtarāṣṭra’s son, as I have heard it. When you were leaving the city, Vidura spoke a few words to you in the dialect of the mlecchas, and you replied to him, ‘So be it’. I say this to gain your trust.(MBh. 1.135.4-6). This passage shows that there were two Aryans distinguished by language and ethnicity, Yudhis.t.ra and Vidura. Both are aryas, who could speak mlecchas’ language; Dhr.tara_s.t.ra and his people are NOT aryas only because of their behaviour.

Melakkha, island-dwellers

According to the great epic, Mlecchas lived on islands: "sa sarvān mleccha npatin sāgara dvīpa vāsinah, aram āhāryām āsa ratnāni vividhāni ca, andana aguru vastrāi mai muktam anuttamam, kāñcanam rajatam vajram vidrumam ca ma dhanam: (Bhima) arranged for all the mleccha kings, who dwell on the ocean islands, to bring varieties of gems, sandalwood, aloe, garments, and incomparable jewels and pearls, gold, silver, diamonds, and extremely valuable coral… great wealth." (MBh. 2.27.25-26).

A series of articles and counters had appeared in the Journal of the Economic and social history of the Orient, Vol.XXI, Pt.II, Elizabeth C.L. During Caspers and A. Govindankutty countering R.Thapar's dravidian hypothesis for the locations of Meluhha, Dilmun and Makan; Thapar's A Possible identification of Meluhha, Dilmun, and Makan appeared in the journal Vol. XVIII, Part I locating these on India's west coast. Bh. Krishnamurthy defended Thapar on linguistic grounds in Vol. XXVI, Pt. II: *mel-u-kku =3D highland, west; *teLmaN (=3D pure earth) ~ dilmun; *makant =3D male child (Skt. vi_ra =3D male offspring. [cf. K. Karttunen (1989). India in Early Greek Literature. Helsinki, Finnish Oriental Society. Studia Orientalia. Vol. 65. 293 pages. ISBN 951-9380-10-8, pp. 11 ff et passim. Asko Parpola (1975a). Isolation and tentative interpretation of a toponym in the Harappan inscriptions. Le dechiffrement des ecritures et des langues. Colloque du XXXIXe congres des orientalistes, Paris Juillet 1973. Paris, Le dechiffrement des ecritures et des langues. Colloque du XXXIXe congres des orientalistes, Paris Juillet 1973. 121-143 and Asko Parpola (1975b). "India's Name in Early Foreign Sources." Sri Venkateswara University Oriental Journal, Tirupati, 18: 9-19.]

Meluhha trade was first mentioned by Sargon of Akkad (Mesopotamia 2370 B.C.) who stated that boats from Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha came to the quay of Akkad (Hirsch, H., 1963, Die Inschriften der Konige Von Agade, Afo, 20, pp. 37-38; Leemans, W.F., 1960,Foreign Trade in the Old Babylonian Period, p. 164; Oppenheim, A.L., 1954, The seafaring merchants of Ur, JAOS, 74, pp. 6-17). The Mesopotamian imports from Meluhha were: woods, copper (ayas), gold, silver, carnelian, cotton. Gudea sent expeditions in 2200 B.C. to Makkan and Meluhha in search of hard wood. Seal impression with the cotton cloth from Umma (Scheil, V., 1925, Un Nouvea Sceau Hindou Pseudo-Sumerian, RA, 22/3, pp. 55-56) and cotton cloth piece stuck to the base of a silver vase from Mohenjodaro (Wheeler, R.E.M., 1965, Indus Civilization) are indicative evidence. Babylonian and Greek names for cotton were: sind, sindon. This is an apparent reference to the cotton produced in the black cotton soils of Sind and Gujarat.

Milakku, Meluhha and copper 

Copper-smelting had to occur on the outskirts of a village. Hence, the semantic equivalence of milakkha as copper. Mleccha in Pali is milakkha or milakkhu to describe those who dwell on the outskirts of a village. (Shendge, Malati, 1977, The civilized demons: the Harappans in Rigveda, Rigveda, Abhinav Publications).

"Gordon Childe refers to the 'relatively large amount of social labour' expended in the extraction and distribution of copper and tin', the possession of which, in the form of bronze weaponry, 'consolidated the positions of war-chiefs and conquering aristocracies' (Childe 1941: 133)... With the publication of J.D. Muhly's monumental Copper and Tin in 1973 (Muhly 1973: 155-535; cf. 1976: 77-136) an enormous amount of data on copper previously scattered throughout the scholarly literature became easily accessible... cuneiform texts consistently distinguish refined (urudu-luh-ha) [cf. loha = red, later metal (Skt.)] from unrefined copper (urudu) strongly suggests that it was matte (impure mixture of copper and copper sulphide) and not refined copper that was often imported into the country. Old Assyrian texts concerned with the import of copper from Anatolia distinguish urudu from urudu-sig, the latter term appearing when written phonetically as dammuqum, 'fine, good' (CAD D: 180, s.v. dummuqu), and this suggests that it is not just 'fine quality' but actually 'refined' copper that is in question... TIN. In antiquity tin (Sum. nagga/[AN.NA], Akk.annaku) was important, not in its own right, but as an additive to copper in the production of the alloy bronze (Sum. sabar, Akk. siparru) (Joannes 1993: 97-8)... In some cases, ancient recipes call for a ratio of tin to copper as high as 1: 6 or 16.6 per cent, while other texts speak of a 1:8 ratio or 12.5 per cent (Joannes 1993: 104)... 'there is little or no tin bronze' in Western Asia before c. 3000 B.C. (Muhly 1977: 76; cf. Muhly 1983:9). The presence of at least four tin-bronzes in the Early Dynastic I period... Y-Cemetery at Kish signals the first appearance of tin-bronze in southern Mesopotamia... arsenical copper continued in use at sites like Tepe Gawra, Fara, Kheit Qasim and Ur (Muhly 1993: 129). By the time of the Royal Cemetery at Ur (Early Dynastic IIIa), according to M.Muller-Karpe, 'tin-bronze had become the dominant alloy' (Muller-Karpe 1991: 111) in Southern Mesopotamia... Gudea of Lagash says he received tin from Meluhha... and in the Old Babylonian period it was imported to Mari from Elam...      

Abhidhāna Cintāmai of Hemachandra states that mleccha and mleccha-mukha are two of the twelve names forcopper: tāmram (IV.105-6: tāmram mlecchamukham śulvam raktam dvaṣṭamudumbaram; mlecchaśāvarabhedākhyam markatāsyam kanīyasam; brahmavarddhanam variṣṭham sīsantu sīsapatrakam). Theragāthā in Pali refers to a banner which was dyed the colour of copper: milakkhurajanam (The Thera and Theragāthā PTS, verse 965: milakkhurajanam rattam garahantā sakam dhajam; tithiyānam dhajam keci dhāressanty avadātakam; K.R.Norman, tr., Theragāthā : Finding fault with their own banner which is dyed the colour of copper, some will wear the white banner of sectarians).[cf. Asko and Simo Parpola, On the relationship of the Sumerian Toponym Meluhha and Sanskrit Mleccha, Studia Orientalia, vol. 46, 1975, pp. 205-38). 

An excellent introduction to the introduction of writing system by Meluhha traders is provided by Massimo Vidale: 

[quote] In Mesopotamia and in the Gulf, the immigrant Indus families maintained and trasmitted their language, the writing system and system of weights of the motherland (known in Mesopotamia as the “Dilmunite” standard) as strategic tools of trade. Their official symbol of the gaur might have stressed, together with the condition of living in a foreign world, an ideal connection with the motherland. Nonetheless, they gradually adopted the use of foreign languages and introduced minor changes in the writing system for tackling with new, rapidy evolving linguistic needs. [unquote] Massimo Vidale, 2004, “Growing in a Foreign World. For a History of the “Meluhha Villages” in Mesopotamia in the 3rd Millennium BC”  

Two great inventions of 4th millennium BCE: alloying and writing 

The artisans of the bronze age not only mined for precious minerals but also experimented with alloying of minerals to attain hard metals for tools and weapons. Matching this invention of alloying was the invention of the writing system known as ’Indus script’ during ca. 4th millennium BCE. 

The writing system of smiths and mine-workers reported on their repertoire of minerals and furnaces used to create surplus goods for long-distance trade between Meluhha and Mesopotamia. 

The writing system is called, ‘mlecchita vikalpa’ that is, cryptography, an alternative mode of representing mleccha language words. The phrase ‘mlecchita vikalpa’ is used as one of the 64 arts to be learnt by youth in Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra. The technique used is hieroglyphs, read rebus. Hence, the appearance of many pictorial motifs in over 400 glyptic signs and over 100 pictorial motifs in the corpus of inscriptions. 

S. Kalyanaraman

12 July 2009

Shu-ilishu's cylinder seal (Gregory L. Possehl)

Meluhhan (mleccha) villages, mleccha speakers, metalsmiths, miners, inventors of Sarasvati hieroglyphs

 Massimo Vidale (“The collapse melts down”, East and West 2007) notes: “Should we be surprised by this announced ‘collapse’? From the first noun in the title of their paper, Farmer, Sproat and Witzel are eager to communicate to us that previous and current views on the Indus script are naïve and completely wrong, and that after 130 years of illusion, through their paper, we may finally see the truth behind the dark curtains of a dangerous scientific myth.”

Vidale identifies Meluhhan villages in Mesopotamia.

These Meluhhans were the speakers of mleccha vaacas who used mlecchita vikalpa, the Indus script with hieroglyphs as devices – devices which continue into the historical periods on punch-marked coins produced in mints from Gandhara to Karur in Sarasvati civilization area.

“Growing in a Foreign World. For a History of the “Meluhha Villages” in Mesopotamia in the 3rd Millennium BC” 



Published in Melammu Symposia 4: A. Panaino and A. Piras (eds.), Schools of Oriental Studies and the Development of Modern Historiography. Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Symposium of the Assyrian and Babylonian Intellectual Heritage Project. Held in Ravenna, Italy, October 13-17, 2001 (Milan: Università di Bologna & IsIao 2004), pp. 261-80. Publisher:

 1. Separating facts from conjectures 

The presence of individuals or groups immigrated from the IndoPakistani Subcontinent in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BC was recognized since the discovery of the Indus Civilization at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the early ‘20ies, because in a few cases Indus-like seals were found in stratified contexts in some of the most important Sumerian cities. In 1932, C.J. Gadd opened a new line of archaeological research, collecting and publishing in a fortunate paper a series of seals from Mesopotamia (found during digs or acquired on the antiquarian market) sharing what he regarded as an “Indian style.” Gadd’s interpretation was fundamentally correct, although the series of seals he published included also specimens of what we presently identify as Dilmunite seals coming from the Gulf islands of Faylaka and Bahrein. The great seasons of extensive excavations at MohenjoDaro (Sindh, presently in Pakistan) were over, and the final report by J. Marshall (1931) had been published. Both the inscriptions and the animal icones on the major group of western seals had obvious similarities with the steatite seals unearthed by thousands in the major cities of the Indus civilization. It was on the basis of these finds, at least in a first stage, that the Indus valley civilization was dated to the middle Bronze age. Since then, two generations of archaeologists and philologists have attempted to investigate the problem of the Indian communities that settled in Mesopotamia in the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. As the identification of the land of Meluhha with the coastal areas controlled by the Indus Civilization is almost universally accepted, the textual evidence dealing with individuals qualified as “men” or “sons” of Meluhha or called with the ethnonym Meluhha, living in Mesopotamia and of a “Meluhha village” established at Lagash (and presumably at other major cities as well) unexcapably points to the existence of enclaves settled by Indian immigrants (see Parpola et al. 1977; Possehl 1984: 185; for the original debate Lamberg-Karlovsky 1972). On the other hand, it soon became clear that no Mesopotamian article – for example, not a single Sumerian cylinder seal – had been recovered at MohenjoDaro (nor would have been found in later excavations at other Indus sites). As the elevated compound of Mohenjo-Daro has been excavated for about 350 houses and buildings, accounting for about 10% of the total built mounded surface, it is hardly possible that such absence is casual. On the basis of the present evidence, it is more likely that, although we have ascertained that Indian groups travelled, traded and settled in the west, Sumerians did not travel directly to the coasts and plains of the Indus, nor they settled – at least in substantial groups – in the Indus cities. Another possible interpretation is that an ideological attitude prevented Indus traders and travellers from importing objects produced abroad and using them at home. The temptation, at this point, is to refer to the historical and contemporary brahmanical attitude according to which the outer world is considered impure and potentially polluting at a socio-ritual level. Perhaps similar ideas were at play 5000 years ago as well. But although this might appear a reasonable assumption, as you see we have shifted (almost inadvertently) from facts to a conjecture. As this attitude is a major, recurrent fault of archaeological research in the archaeology of the Indus valley, in this paper – aimed at summarizing part of the information piled since Gadd’s paper, and presently available on the question of the Meluhhan communities in Mesopotamia – I try to list under two separate headings (paragraphs 3. and 4.) what we may accept as facts and what, for the moment being, are no more than interpretations, hypotheses and conjectures. Separating facts from interpretations is not easy, because each scholar – the present writer included – is tempted to include what he or she deems as “very likely interpretations” to some fundamental facts. Even in the title I arbitrarily assume that the Indus enclaves in Mesopotamia were identified as “Meluhha villages,” whereas the only positive evidence of this entity comes from Lagash (I did it because thus the title sounds much better). But interpretations (including what might appear to many as “wild” conjectures) might turn out important, presently or in the future, both because they may stimulate curiosity and further research, and because, if they are expressed in the proper way, they might become work hypotheses (i.e., historical interpretations capable to be scientifically tested). Actually, whenever possible, I made the effort of suggesting how these hypotheses might be tested on the field or in the archaeological materials.

 2. Textual and archaeological evidence

After Gadd’s paper, the second important contribution on the Indus communities in Mesopotamia was a paper by Parpola et al. (1977). This review of the texts then available containing references to Meluhha and Meluhhans was focused on 9 texts dating to Ur III times, but also included references to Sargonic texts. The general picture in this paper is the following. The maximum archaeological evidence of Indian imports and Indusrelated artefacts in Mesopotamia may be dated to latest phases of ED III (at the Royal Cemetery of Ur) and immediately later to the Akkadian period, when, as widely reported, Sargon claimed with pride that under his power Meluhhan ships docked at his capital, and at least one tablet mentions a person with an Akkadian name qualified as a “the holder of a Meluhha ship.” The reconstruction of the nature of the Indo-Mesopotamian trade is a very complex and demanding issue. Presently I have not the space, nor probably the full competence to review and update the general evidence, but it is widely known that, according to the literary sources, between the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC Meluhhan ships exported to Mesopotamia precious goods among which exotic animals, such as dogs, perhaps peacocks, cocks, bovids, elephants (? Collon 1977) precious woods and royal furniture, precious stones such as carnelian, agate and lapislazuli, and metals like gold, silver and tin (among others Pettinato 1972; During Caspers 1971; Chakrabarti 1982, 1990; Tosi 1991; see also Lahiri 1992 and Potts 1994). In his famous inscriptions, Gudea, in the second half of the 22nd century BC, states that Meluhhans came with wood and other raw materials for the construction of the main temple in Lagash (see Parpola et al. 1977: 131 for references). Archaeologically, the most evident raw materials imported from India are marine shell, used for costly containers and lamps, inlay works and cylinder seals; agate, carnelian and quite possibly ivory. Hard green stones, including garnets and abrasives might also have been imported from the Subcontinent and eastern Iran (Vidale & Bianchetti 1997, 1998-1999; Heimpel et al. 1988; Vidale 2002; see also Collon 1990, Tallon 1995 and Sax 1991). Carnelian could have been imported in form of raw nodules of large size (as implied by some texts) to be transformed into long beads, or as finished products. As we shall see, recent studies would better suggest that the Indus families in Mesopotamia imported raw materials rather than finished beads (Kenoyer 1997; Kenoyer & Vidale 1992; Inizan 2000), and expediently adapted their production to the changing needs of the Mesopotamian demand and markets. To the same period is ascribed a famous cylinder seal owned by a certain Su-ilisu, “Meluhha interpreter” (Sollberger 1970; Tosi 1991). Another Akkadian text records that Lu-sunzida “a man of Meluhha” paid to the servant Urur, son of Amarlu KU 10 shekels of silver as a payment for a tooth broken in a clash. The name Lu-sunzida literally means “Man of the just buffalo cow,” a name that, although rendered in Sumerian, according to the authors does not make sense in the Mesopotamian cultural sphere, and must be a translation of an Indian name; I will return later to this important point. By Ur III times, this intense trade had definitely promoted the formation of local enclaves of Indus origin. Although no written evidence suggests a direct involvement of the Lagash settlement with trade and craft production, Parpola et al. (1977: 145) think that the ethnic name points to a settlement originally founded as a trade enclave by foreign merchants. The texts indicate that Meluhhans were perceived as distinct ethnic group, living in a separate settlement but largely integrated in the contemporary Sumerian society, owning or renting land and accumulating and variously distributing their agricultural products (see below). The authors explain the absence of reference to craft production in the Ur III times hypothesizing that the Indus communities in Mesopotamia had been largely integrated in Sumerian society and had fully adopted a subsistence based upon agriculture, while a state of crisis in the motherland had disconnected the traditional longdistance trade routes and craft organizations.

 3. Other relevant facts

I will try now to report a series of archaeological observations, that, depending (in part) on subsequent finds, may help us to discuss and complete this historical picture. The possible interpretations and conjectures I deem as interesting for discussion and perhaps future testing are reported in a parallel series of points in the following section. 3.1 Round seals with inscriptions in Indus signs and animal figures in Indus style are reported from Mesopotamia, Failaka and Bahrein (for a recent and complete review see Peyronel 2000) (Fig. 1, 1-3). These seals are dated, on the whole and on the basis of stratigraphical considerations, within the 2 latter centuries of the 3rd millennium BC and to immediatey later times. So far, we know 2 seals with Indus bulls having cuneiform inscriptions. For Mesopotamia, the earliest known seal has a pre-Akkadian or early Akkadian inscription (hard to read and controversial: see in order Gadd 1932, Parpola et al. 1977, Peyronel 2000 with further references) (Fig. 1, 6). In contrast with the later round seals, it has a square contour with rounded corners. Reportedly, it was found on the surface of Diqdiqqah, a suburban portual settlement of Ur. Another important seal with an Indus bull and cuneiform inscription, presently at the Cabinet des Medailles of Paris, is still unpublished (and is commented below). Note also that some of the seals from Bahrein come from graves, and seals are distinctively absent from the few contemporary Indus graves excavated in the Subcontinent. A round seal in a private collection, reportedly from Iran, shows an Indus bull surmounted by a protoelamite inscription (Winkelmann 1999: Fig. 1, 5). From a looted grave in Bactria comes a round chlorite seal coated with a gold foil, with a Indus bull on one side and a mythological Bactrian creature on the opposite face, without inscription (Ligabue & Salvatori nd; Fig. 1, 4). Finally, from Bactria comes also another (and anomalous) cylinder seal in lapislazuli, presently in the Schoyen collection and still unpublished, where a boar-hunting scene is accompanied by a well-carved Indus inscription. 1 All of the round seals found in the west (Mesopotamia, the Gulf, Bactria, Iran: Fig. 2) show exclusively one animal icone, a powerful bull with lowered head and short horns, with a raised muscolar mass on the shoulder often marked by series of parallel grooves. This strict selection contrasts with the standard series of square steatite seals from the Indus valley sites, which employs a series of not less than 10 different animal icones. The unicorn, accounting to about 60-70% of the total in Pakistan and India, never appears in the western round seals. In the Indus valley, the bull with lowered head and short horns comes second in frequency after the unicorn, with a percentage of about 6% of the total (Possehl 2002: 128 ff.; Franke Vogt 1991, 1992; Shah & Parpola 1991; Joshi & Parpola 1987). 3.2 This seal is visible at the site <>. The other seal with a cuneiform inscription (at the Cabinet des Medailles of Paris) bears an Indus bull with a lowered head, and has been preliminarily read by J.-J. Glassner (2002) as Ur. d Ninildum dumu 7 , an expression that might be preliminarily interpreted something like “Dog” – or “slave” – of Ninildum, son of “Big Dog” or “Mastiff” – or, perhaps alternatively “in charge of the mastiffs” – F. D’Agostino, personal communication). Ninildum is a secondary Mesopotamian divinity that appears in the famous “Curse of Akkad” (perhaps composed at Nippur, and dated by some authors at the times of Naram-Sin, while others in contrast suggest a Ur III dating) and in few other later texts 2 (Vidale, in print). What is clear is that Ninildum a goddess of carpentry and timber, called in later Babylonian texts “great heavenly carpenter” and “bearer of the shiny hatchet.” The identity and some possible implications of the term “Dogs” are briefly commented below (see 4.2). 3.3 A part of the signs visible on the round Indus seals found in the west are anomalous (Gadd 1932; Parpola 1994). They have no match in the lists of signs commonly recorded in Pakistan and India. It is also well known that part of the sequences of Indus signs in the round steatite seals with Indus inscriptions from Mesopotamia and the Gulf are unparalleled in Punjab and Sindh. Some of the signs (particularly the so-called “man” sign) appear in the western inscriptions with evidently anomalous frequencies. Most likely, such inscriptions report names and attributions in foreign languages. 3.4 In some Sumerian cities, such as Ur, so far excavation brought to light only such round seals with Indus inscriptions, while at Kish and Umma circulated standard square Indus seals and their sealings (see Gadd 1932, Chakrabarti 1990 and Parpola 1984 for reviews). 3.5 The last decades of research suggest that it is impossible to discuss the role of the Indus communities in the west without considering in detail some aspects of the international trade in semiprecious materials and beads. In contemporary Gujarat, carnelian, a form of agate that in nature has a distinctive dull olive-brown colour, is turned red artificially in special ceramic containers and kilns. The most important mines are still exploited in Gujarat, and the production of high quality carnelian remained for 5000 years a craft specialization of the Subcontinent, particularly in the north-western regions of Gujarat and Sindh (Kenoyer et al. 1991, 1994). There is little wonder that carnelian is quoted by the ancient texts as an important article of IndoMesopotamian trade of the 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC. Many of the carnelian beads found in the graves of the main Sumerian cities or at Susa in the second half of the 3rd millennium BC are presently interpreted as made locally by Indus craftpersons or artisans trained in an Indus technical tradition but producing shapes and decorations after the specific local demand. The local production of etched carnelian beads in Mesopotamia with Indus techniques had already been proposed in the past by J. Reade (1979: 25) who noted, among other non-Indian patterns, the presence an etched bead bearing the Mesopotamian symbol of Shamash, the sun-god (ibidem: Fig. 1, F1y. In this paper, Fig. 3, F1y). Babylonian text mentioning the goddess, see the myth of Erra and Ishum in Foster 1995, and the site <>

For “The Curse of Akkad” see Pezzoli-Olgiati 2000 (at the site < 2000papers/Daria.html>, with bibliography.

A recent study of the collections of beads from Lagash and Susa confirms that long barrel-cylinder carnelian beads and other types of carnelian beads of a quality much superior to that distinguishing local products might well have been manufactured in the Indus valley (Inizan 2000; Roux & Matarasso 2000); on the other hand, the collection from Susa includes a highly sophisticated double long barrel-cylinder carnelian bead, a type unknown in the Indus valley, for which we would better hypothesize a manufacture in Susa by resident Indian beadmakers (Inizan 2000: Fig. 6). As excavations at Susa brought to light examples of cylinder-like steatite seals with Indus features (Gadd 1932; Kenoyer 1998: Fig. 1.15), long barrelcylinder seals and etched carnelian beads, these indicators strongly point to the presence of a Meluhhan “craft village” in one of the capitals of ancient Elam. J.M. Kenoyer, who has an intimate knowledge of the Indus bead technologies, after having examined samples of various types of carnelian beads from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, reports that even some bead types unknown in the Indus valley might have been manufactured by Indian craftpersons, most probably living and working at Ur: “...These clues suggest that merchants and entrepreneurs from the Indus Valley may have set up shops in cities such as Ur to market their goods and also produce objects in local designs.... It would be the earliest evidence for a pattern that came to be a norm in later historical times, when craftsmen and merchants from the Subcontinent extended their trade networks throughout West Asia as well as Southeast Asia” (Kenoyer 1998: 97; see also 1997: 272). On the whole this paleotechnological evidence is a strong argument for supporting the hypothesis that the Meluhhan communities in the west continued their original close involvement with trade, processing and selling of semiprecious stones at least from late ED III to the Akkadian period.

But it is impossible to tackle with the issue of the carnelian trade if we do not distinguish clearly between two quite different types of beads, namely the long barrel-cylinder carnelian beads with a light central swelling found by the hundreds in the “royal” graves excavated at Ur and the so-called etched carnelian beads. The first type is probably the most exclusive and refined type of bead ever produced in the Near East and South Asia. In the Indus Valley, the best specimens of these beads (Fig. 5, above) are distinguished by a deep and perfect red hue, by a perfect translucency, by the absence of transparent or white bands and by a perfectly axial perforation. The longest specimen reached a length of about 13 cm. At the major centers of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, but also in minor settlements such as Allahdino, the beautiful long barrel-cylinder beads were found hoarded in buried copper vessels, arranged in gorgeous necklaces of perhaps belts with copper fittings (J.M. Kenoyer, personal communication). The idea that the beautiful long barrelcylinder carnelian beads with a distinctive central swelling found in Mesopotamia were Indian products had been originally proposed by E.J.H. Mackay (in Marshall 1931: 511 ff.). In Mesopotamia, these beads come mainly from Kish, from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, and Lagash (Inizan 2000). The spectacular finds of Ur suggest that such exclusive, costly products were monopolized and obtained by the great houses of the Sumerian cities from Indian traders and beadmakers since relatively early times, displayed and destroyed by burial in great amounts as an element of ostentation in public funerals aimed at assessing the claim of the Sumerian lords to a royal status. The bulk of long barrel-cylinder carnelian beads found in Mesopotamia may be confidently dated to pre-Akkadic times (i.e., to Early Dinastic III), although some beads of this type circulated and were apparently found – as one would normally expect – even in much later contexts. Other beads of the same type are reported from Iran, at Susa and Jalalabad. In the Iranian sites, long barrelcylinder carnelian beads and etched carnelian beads may be found together (see for a general discussion Chakrabarti 1982; 1990: 31-33). Long barrel-cylinder carnelian beads had been also buried in the looted graves of Bactria; the value of their base material is also indicated by the fact that fragments of these beads were also recycled for making preciously inlaid jewels (Ligabue & Salvatori n.d.: Figs. 62, 71, 45). On the whole, long barrel-cylinder carnelian beads around the late Early Dinastic III Period (in terms of the traditional Mesopotamian “high” chronology, around 2400-2350 BC) depended upon an intensive production of carnelian originating in the Indus valley. Further research is needed to ascertain when, how and to which extent the traditional Indus technology of carnelian beads was transplanted from Gujarat and Sindh to the hypothesized workshops of the Meluhhan communities in Mesopotamia and Iran. The second type of carnelian bead is commonly defined “etched carnelian beads” (Beck 1933; Dikshit 1949; During Caspers 1971, 1982; Reade 1979; Lombardo 1988) (Figs. 3, 4; Fig. 5, below). They are much smaller beads, manufactured with quite simpler techniques, but embellished by white designs (more rarely black or purple) traced on their surface. Such designs were chemically carved on the beads’ surfaces by a pyrotechnological process involving the use of alcaline juices and further cycles of high temperature heating (Mackay 1933, 1937; Bhan et al. 1994; Vidale 2000). Their cost for unit of product should have been incomparably much less than the former type. Out of the etched carnelian beads found at Ur with a reliable context, more than 40% are dated from Early Dinastic III to Early Akkadic times, the same percentage to Middle to Late Akkadic times, while only 2 finds are confidently datable to Ur III times. Thus, in terms of the traditional absolute chronology, these latter Indian imports would fall between 2450 and 2200 BC. For what the beads from Kish (the second group for its size) are concerned, they come from Early Akkadic graves, dated (always following the same traditional scheme) from 2400-2350 to 2300 BC. In other words, they are slightly later than the long barrel-cylinder carnelian beads and they evidently became popular in the Akkadian period, a circumstance that requires a proper historical explanation.  

4. More interpretations and conjectures

4.1 Adopting an obvious evolutionary scheme, one is tempted to assume that the first seals to circulate in Mesopotamia (let us say between 2500-2300 BC) were the standard squarish steatite seals with Indus inscriptions and iconography; later might have been adopted seals like the one at the British Museum, where the corners were rounded, and the titles or names possibly translated in cuneiform inscriptions and in other languages; finally, between 2200-2000, the Indus communities adopted a standard round seal where Indus signs were used to express similar titles, names or formulas in foreign languages. The presence at Bahrein of a round seal bearing only the inscription and no bull is probably paralleled by the disappearance in the motherland of the animal icones, and by the adoption (in the Harappa sequence, in period 3C) of rectangular steatite bearing analogous simple inscriptions. The fact that the British Museum seal with the bull and cuneiform inscription comes from Diqdiqqah might be quite significant, because the settlement, although badly ransacked at the times of the excavations at Ur, was rich in in residues of craft activities. As a fluvial port and a craft centre, it might well have been a Meluhhan enclave. (I believe that if the site is still accessible and somehow preserved, in spite of the old disturbances, an archaelogist with practical experience of Indus materials and artifacts might find on surface important evidence). The recurrent and exclusive presence of the short-horned bull with lowered head in the round seals from Mesopotamia, the Gulf, Bactria and possibly the western Iranian plateau (Fig. 1), in front of the different and variable animale icones used in the normal Indus valley seals in my opinion leads to the unexcapable conclusion that this bovid had a precise meaning for the Indus communities migrating, settling and trading in the west. The unpublished cylinder lapis lazuli seal from Bactria with a hunting scene might have been a royal or anyhow aristocratic possession, rather than a standard trading tool, and this might well explain its completely different symbolic and iconographic message. There is an almost general consensus that this big bull visible in the round western seals is the Indian gaur (Bos gaurus gaurus), a powerful, wild or haftemed bovid, nearly extinguished in wide regions of the Subcontinent, but the reasons why these western group identified themselves with this particular animal are quite unclear (for details on the gaur in South Asia and some highly conjectural interpretation see Vidale, in print). Presenty, the north-eastern Indian semidomesticated gaur or mithan in the Assam region and in the local Naga cultures is at the centre of complex ideological projections and ritual cycles, and it is possible that similar values were at play also in the Indus valley culture as well (Simoons 1968). Because the gaur icones in the motherland are constantly lowering their head on some kind of container or manger, and those in the western round seals often are not, I have also suggested that this absence might symbolically transform the animal’s lowered head from peaceful (eating) to aggressive (charging), and that this latter transformation would fit with the Indians’ perception of living in a foreign, potentially enemy and disruptive world. This regular association (round seals with Indus signs to the gaur icone) obviously recalls the Sumerian name Lusunzida and its meaning “Man of the just buffalo cow.” It may hardly be a case that the Indus seals in the west always show a bovid, and that the only Indian proper “name” we may confidently reconstruct for an Indus trader in Mesopotamia ascribes in positive terms this individual to a bovid. Parpola et al. interpret the expression as a proper name incorporating a reference to a traditional Indian bovine female deity unknown in Mesopotamia. While this is entirely possible, I rather wonder if Lu-sunzida does not simply refer to the symbolic icone “institutionally” adopted by the western Indus communities. True, the bovid on the seals is always male, while the name Lusunzida clearly contemplates a female-centered descent. But there is at least one seal (Gadd’s nr. 18) where the gaur is substituted by two copulating bulls, thus involving sexuality and the female sex in the same semantic sphere. At any rate, after considering the name Lu-sunzida I would venture to guess that the Indus settled communities – such as those living in the Meluhha village of Lagash – might have referred to themselves as to “The people of the just gaur,” or something similar. Naturally, the association round western seals-gaur would also imply that also in the motherland the different animals visible in the standard seals referred, at least originally, to different roles and status positions within the urban social contexts. This problem is completely out of my present scope, but the implications of such evidence might be obviously important and manifold for the understanding of the Indus society per se. 4.2 The inscription in the Paris seal would confirm that Indus settlers in Mesopotamia intelligently established critical connections with local cults and temples. Besides temple oveerseers in charge of scribes and craftpersons, keepers and financers of sacred gardens, traders transporting cereals for the temples, we might have in the Paris seal a “slave” or a “dog” of Ninildum, the goddess of timber and carpentry. Wood, timber for construction, ships and wooden furniture are consistently mentioned as coming from Meluhha, and both the trade in timber and the overall industry had a strategic economic role in 3rd and early 2nd millennium economies. The find of seals in the Bahrein graves might reflect the adoption of local rituals by families of naturalized immigrants (possibly, people speaking and writing both Indian and local languages): as already stated, this practice is unknown in the few contemporary Indus graveyards so far excavated in Pakistan and India. The reference to Ninildum might have another important implication: as this seal was bought in the antiquarian market in Beirut (J.-F. Jarrige, personal communication), if it actually came from the Lebanese region – a circumstance that presently cannot be demonstrated – one might suppose that the bearer had his or her interests in the trade of the timber of the famous cedars, so actively searched for in Mesopotamia, i.e. in one of the strategic knots that tied the Mesopotamian markets with the Mediterranean coasts. If the hypothesis that seals with cuneiform inscriptions are earlier than those bearing Indus signs, this might place the Paris seal in the chronological frame of the Akkadian period, when the political and military pressure towards the “upper sea” was at its strongest peak. This is a pure conjecture, but it is fascinating, as it would widen the range and goals of the economic activities of the Indus traders to the Mediterranean coast. Incidentally, one may observe that both Ninildum and Ninmar, the two divinities worshipped or served by individuals with probable Meluhhan connections, are female goddesses. The mention of the name or title “Dog” in the Paris seal is quite unclear, but at present it might be referred to the presence of “dogs” receiveing rations of bread and beer in exchange for their services at the statal dockyards of Lagash, in late Ur III times (Zarins 2002, 2003). If the “Dogs” drinking beer and eating bread at ther royal yards are not animals, as literal translations would imply, I would seriously consider the possibility that the title identified a corp of professional guards (perhaps mercenaries, and perhaps – on the basis of the Paris seal – of Meluhhan affiliation) appointed by the state to the dockyards; but the question needs to wait for a proper publication of the Paris seal, and to be addressed to an interested assiriologist. 4.3 While in Mesopotamia writing was cared for and taught in professional schools maintained in palaces and temples, and the relative record has been reconstructed in great detail, nothing similar was observed in the Indus valley (one might say, this is because temples and palaces have not been identified for the Indus; but, at least for the palaces, I would disagree: my ongoing research). Here – at least in the larger cities – writing seems to have been a reatively widespread function, possibly performed by consistent groups of urban scribes employed by several large, partially independent corporate groups, families or great houses. This is suggested by the find in the most important excavations of several small-scale dumps and/or activity areas with unfinished and partially inscribed steatite seals. The production of this key admistrative tool, in fact, does not appear to have been centralized by a state or urban authority, but performed at different places and houses at the same time. At home, such dispersed pattern might account for the high number of rare or isolated signs recorded for the whole writing system, as well as by the absolute lack of standardization in the seal-making technical sequences (Vidale, ongoing research). Moreover, the fact that part of the signs in the western round seals have no match in the corpora recorded in Pakistan and India might suggest local elaboration, invention, and probably contexts of growing uncertainty in the use and trasmission of this specialized information technology by the western immigrated communities. The invention of new signs or the modification of traditional ones might have been a result of a growing effort at adapting the original writing system to the expression of foreign and quite different languages. This elaboration might well have been a part of the advanced process of acculturation described in detail in Parpola et al. 1977. But which languages, precisely, did express the “non-Indus” sequences in the western round seals in Mesopotamia or in the Gulf? Among the possibilities in Mesopotamia range semitic languages such as Akkadian or Amorrite, or Sumerian (as one would expect in the case of partially naturalized immigrants: Parpola 1986: 411). For the Gulf, Glassner (2002) found that the majority of the proper names in the inscriptions ascribed to the Dilmun and Magan have Amorrite affinities. While such Amorrite names in the Gulf in the late 3rd millennium BC would constitute an interesting historical question, I think that another possible candidate language for the Gulf inscriptions in Indus characters would be some form of protohistoric south-eastern semitic language (why not, in simpler words, a form of proto-Arabic?). 3 After all, the Dilmun civilization of the late 3rd millennium BC, with its emphasis on long-distance trade and navigation, the

It may also be observed that the more the western inscriptions diverge from the sign sequences normally observed in Punjab and Sindh, the more frequently they contain a sign representing a schematic human figure (Vidale, in print). Actually, according to my preliminary evaluations, the “man” sign with its variants appears in the western inscriptions corpus with frequencies absolutely anomalous when compared with the rarity of the same signs group at Mohenjo-Daro. A possible explanation is that the “man” signs and its variants were used as logograms for expressing a patronimic identity. Direct descent might have been adopted as a social convention of identity in the western acculturated contexts, whereas we have nothing similar in the motherland (where, on the contrary, the most important element of affiliation might have been the social identity directly signalled by the animal icone).

 managing of intercultural cults, and its overall non-farming subsistence, represents an early successful adaptation to the ecological and geopolitical setting of the Arabian peninsula. The social and economical evolution of the historic Arab tribes and nations would have followed for millennia similar strategies. 4.4 The fact that at Ur, so far at least, we have only round seals with Indus inscriptions, while at Kish and Umma circulated standard square Indus seals and their sealings, might imply that Sumerian cities might have had different economical attitudes and policies (in different times) towards the Indus immigrating communities. Most probably, in the complex political history of Mesopotamian states during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC, each group, community or “Meluhha village” had its own history. Trade by the means of settled enclaves at the source of the potential flow of revenue and commodities would conform to a traditional commercial patterns of later Indian trading communities; at the same time, being based upon traditional alliances and personal acquaintances between families of traders and élites of consumers of precious, exotic items, this trade would have been closely dependent upon the vagaries of local politics, and might have easily fallen as soon as such a specialized demand was dismissed, or the political fortune of an urban élite suddenly failed. 4.5 There might have been an economic and ideological opposition between long barrel-cylinder carnelian beads, requiring a careful monitoring of the production cycle, based upon the procurement of the largest carnelian nodules, the access to the peculiar stone used for Indus drill-heads (see below) and the skilled work of the best chippers and drillers, and etched carnelian beads, more common ornaments that could be made sophisticated by the means of the application of common alcaline substances and pyrotechnology (Fig. 5). Just to give an impression of the possible cost of an Indus necklace or belt made of long barrel-cylinder carnelian beads, on the basis of experimental replications we calculated that the production of one of these ornaments roughly amounts to 480 days of work by an highly skilled artisan (Kenoyer 1998: 138, 161; see also Kenoyer et al. 1991, 1994; Kenoyer & Vidale 1992). No wonder that such precious beads were actively sought for and monopolized by the Sumerian élites competing for kingship at the times of the dinastic lords buried in the Royal Cemetery of Ur (late 25th-24th century BC?). In contrast, the cheaper but quite showy etched carnelian beads became popular after the conquest of Sargon. Actually, these beads are reliable indicators of the activities of the Meluhhan traders in Mesopotamia in the last centuries of the 3rd millennium BC (Figs. 2, 4). If, following the partial lists provided by D.K Chakrabarti (1990: 20 ff.), we plot the number of western steatite seals with Indus features found in the various Mesopotamian centers with the frequency of etched carnelian beads found in the same urban contexts (Tab. 1) we easily see a clear pattern. This Table is obviously partial, and does not claim to provide any representative sample, but nonetheless it suggests a positive correlation between the circulation in Mesopotamia of seals with Indus inscriptions and symbols the spreading adoption of etched beads. It seems that long barrel-cylinder carnelian beads were symbolically connected with the preAkkadian Sumerian houses competing for kingship. In contrast, the cheaper and quite showy etched carnelian beads, after the political unification of the country, became available to a wide, less exclusive demand, as one would expect in the City Ur Kish Lagash Eshnunna Nippur case of the expanding urban burocracies promoted by the expansion of the Akkadian centralized state.

Etched carnelian beads* 55 13 ? 7 2

Seals with Indus inscriptions or Indus iconographies 11 3 2 2 1

Table 1. Correlation between the number of seals with Indus icones and Indus signs in Mesopotamia and reported finds of etched carnelian beads. After Chakrabarti 1990. * The number refers to both isolated beads and groups. Most of these beads come from graves.

5. Towards a new historical picture

In summary, I believe that it will be only by integrating the textual evidence on the Meluhhan communities in Mesopotamia with a fast-growing body of new archaeological evidence that we may move to a more detailed historical reconstruction. Long-distance trade by navigation between the two poles of the Gulf was already established by late-Neolithic and early Chalcolithic times (Carter 2002a, 2002b). It was the the beads and shell trade that, in Mesopotamia, in the Gulf, most probably at Susa and possibly even in Bactria, gradually promoted the local settlement of families of specialized merchants and craftpersons from the Indus valley, who channeled along their tracks the supply of raw materials and, in general, the complex know-how of the Indus crafts. Archaeological evidence pushes back the beginning of this process at east to the end of the 4th millennium BC, when Late Uruk Sumerian engravers frequently employed the colummella of the Indian shank shell (Turbinella pyrum) for their cylinder seals (Kenoyer, in print). While these early imports might have been due to indirect or occasional trade, by Early Dinastic II-III times, Indian traders and craftpersons were asked to provide more and more substantial amounts of highly prestigious and costly products such as shell ornaments and lamps, inlay pieces, and high quality carnelian strictly reserved to the courts of the lords of the Sumerian city-states. If we have to believe to the cuneiform texts that insistently ascribe to Meluhha the lapis lazuli trade, Meluhhan traders would also have been promoted the flowing, in a relatively short time, of incredible amounts of the blue stone at the courts of Ur (in the estimates of Casanova 1997, about 95% of the entire inventory of the lapis lazuli ever found in the Near East and South Asia comes from the graves excavated by Leonard Woolley in the Royal Cemetery). The precise role of the Indus valley civilization in the lapis lazuli long-distance trade is still a major open question in the protohistory of South Asia and the ancient Near East. If the Indus traders were actually directly involved in such a large-scale business, it is hard to believe that they did not organize their agencies, store-rooms and credit institutions at the Sumerian courts and temples; but as we have seen the textual references so far recorded do not directly support this archaeological hypotheses (on the other hand, it is well known that texts are mute on the whole question of the aristocratic families buried in the Royal cemetery of Ur and their impressive and costly funerary rituals). The sargonic conquest put a sudden end to the competion for kingship among the Sumerian lords. The precise dating of the conquest is an old-debated, difficult question in Near Eastern archaeology, and the traditional “high” dating of 2350 BC has been questioned by various authors. In 1977, for example, Parpola et al. (1977: 130) accepted a date around 2300 BC. Recently, a re-visitation of Mesopotamian chronology by J. Reade (2001) placed the conquest of Sargon at the beginning of the 22nd century BC. For the history of Mesopotamia, obviously enough, the consequences of this date would be far-reaching. Considering this important problem from the eastern margins, here it will be enough to say that such a dating is probably slightly too low, but there is the actual possibility that a dating between 2300 and 2250 BC might better fit with the 14C datings from sites such as Shahr-i Sokhta as well as the available general framework of typological and stylistic comparisons established from central Asia to India (S. Salvatori, personal communication). The conquest might have badly damaged the Indus traders, who might have based part of their fortune and projects upon alliances and close personal relationships with the defeated and deposed élites, and, indirectly, the Indus craft groups. If the great Sumerian houses used to obtain their sumptuary goods on credit, the loss for the Indian traders would have been a true disaster. In another paper (Vidale 2002) I suggested that the sudden, unexpected fall of the Sumerian demand might have caused in the specialized manufacturing settlements of the Indus valley a ruinous collapse of beads’ production, followed by a general crisis of the local craft organization. The collapse might be evident in the crisis of the carnelian bead “workshops” of Chanhu-Daro (Sindh, Pakistan), where in a single stratigraphic horizon hundreds of semi-finished long-barrel carnelian beads were suddenly abandoned and dumped for a mysterious reason (Mackay 1937, 1943; Vidale 2002). Whatever the cause, this evidence should have depended, besides the fall of the demand, upon a major, sudden disruption of the contextual relationships of production. These levels at Chanhu-Daro are preliminarily datable, on the basis of ceramic evidence alone, within the period labelled at Harappa 3B (about 2400-2200 BC), a range including all the various dates so far proposed for Sargon’s conquest. This is also the moment of the maximum diffusion of Indus ceramics along the coasts of the Gulf, matching with the times of the occupation phase of the settlement of Ras al-Jinz in Oman, showing the most intensive interaction of the local communities with the Indus traders (Cleuziou & Tosi 2000). Were the Chanhu-Daro “workshops” abandoned because of Sargon’s advent? It is a concrete possibilty that could be investigated re-opening the trenches excavated by E.J.H. Mackay in this site and obtaining new absolute datings; and such a synchronicity, if consistently ascertained, would be an important correlation for the whole chronology of protohistoric South Asia.

 Parpola and his collegues (1977: 150) remarked that “Textual references to Meluhha and Meluhhans prior to the Ur III dinasty (relegated) that country and its inhabitants to a non-Mesopotamian, foreign status. Goods and materials were exotic to Mesopotamia and came from a distant Meluhha...” The authors convicingly argue that in the Akkadian period Meluhha was referred to as foreign, remote land, providing exotic goods under the control of ship-owners and longdistance commercial enterprises, and requiring the help of professional translators. In the light of the probable involvment of Meluhhan traders and craftpersons with the ED III Sumerian courts, I would rather suggest that such a distance was mainly a political one. The Akkadian rulers after the conquest had no direct political ties with the Indian traders, and Sargon’s famous statement resounds of the pride of having re-established a fruitful economic and political relationship with the eastern prestigious partner. The Meluhhan trading communities could not have asked for a more favourable solution. The prompt mass production of etched carnelian beads after the conquest is a perfect example of the intelligent, creative and highly opportunistic behaviour exhibited by Indian craft communities across the world’s history. If it is true that we do not have for the period textual evidence with detailed economical information, the production of beads etched with the symbol of Shamash archaeologically shows the same attitude revealed by the later Ur III texts: Indian beadmakers and traders immediately adapted to the changing ideological environment and soon came terms with new cults, tastes and ritual habits, inventing new, ad hoc types of ornaments. According to a fascinating hypothesis, as we have seen, they might even have followed the northward expansion of the Akkadian kingdom and attempted to take advantage in the timber trade with the Lebanese region (obviously, if on the contrary the Paris seal was brought to Beirut by a dealer, this would not be true). The presence of etched carnelian beads at Ugarit and Tell Brak, at any rate, might indirectly support this possibility. At the beginning of the Akkadian period (and possibly before), the Indus families living in the western commercial enclaves already recognized the gaur, one of the standard animal figures of the standard seals in the motherland, as their symbol. While the choice of a standard round form would somehow connect these seals with those of the Gulf cultures, the image of this wild or semidomesticated creature, represented also in round or square seals in contemporary the Indus valley as well, might be the expression of a real or ideal claimed link with the motherland. These seals were used, although with some transformation, from 2300-2200 to about 2000-1900 BC. At the end of the 3rd millennium BC, the Ur III record from Lagash shows a community maintaining its original ethnic affiliation but successfully integrated with the Sumerian society, particularly in contexts suggesting economic and ideological interaction with temples and local cults. Meluhhans bear Sumerian names or are identified by their ethnical or professional identity. They live in a separate rural settlement identified as a “Meluhha village” somewhere in the province of Lagash; the community owns or rents its cultivated land and manages a central granary, that delivers rations or payments in barley to craft specialists. They appear variously involved with the management of temples and other religious institutions: one is perhaps an “inspector” of a temple, another a skipper trasporting grain for a temple’s mill, another one receives a substantial payment in barley for the temple of Ninmar. To the same goddess is sacred a “Meluhha garden,” possibly a precinct where fruits and flowers imported from India are cultivated. As we have seen, there is the possibility that “Dogs” of Meluhhan affiliation were employed by the Lagash lords as organized guards for controlling the state dockyards. What is doubtless surprising in the Ur III references from Lagash is the total lack of written information on the expected involvement of the Indus or Meluhha village in craft production and trade of precious commodities. The hypothesis that this apparent crisis of the traditional long-distance trade activities could have been due to the incipient crisis of the urban organizations in the Indus valley around 2000 BC, advanced by the authors, is presently denied by the evidence that Harappa flourished till about 1800 BC, and that Harappa period 3C (about 2200-1900 BC) was not at all a time of decline (Meadow et al. 1999, 2001; Meadow & Kenoyer 2000). Another possibility is that the bead and semiprecious trade probably controlled by the Indus communities was not recorded in the same contexts and with the same administrative media used for recording payments, rations and deliveries of the agricultural product. We may also think, as suggested by Parpola et al. (1977), that by the 21st century BC the descendants of the original immigrated Meluhhans had little direct connections with the motherland (i.e., that longdistance trade had been monopolized by the Dilmun sailors and traders). The competition with the Dilmun traders at Faylaka, Tarut and Bahrein must have been hard. The presence of Dilmun seals both from the cities of Sumer up to the Diyala Valley, as well as in the Iranian Plateau (Susa and Tepe Yahya) and in Indus centers such as Lothal (Rao 1973, 1979, 1985) points to a very active role of these merchants. In time, they probably attempted to establish their own trade outposts at both poles of the Gulf trade, perhaps trying to intercept the flow of exchanged commodities before their ultimate loading. If this was their strategy, on the long run they shoud have been very successful, given the disappearance of Meluhha as a trading partner from the cuneiform records in the first 2 centuries of the 2nd millennium BC and the correspondent rise in its place of Magan for copper, and later of Dilmun alone (Mery 2000: 276 ss., Fig. 176; Tosi 1991: 121; During Caspers 1982). The search for ancient seaports on the northern coasts of the Gulf, and the very limited excavations so far carried out in a few sites, has not significantly contributed, so far, to the solution of these particular questions.

6. Conclusions

As well remarked by M. Tosi “...the lack of Mesopotamian imports in the Indus Valley reveals the lesser significance of these connections for the eastern pole. Very much like the Roman trade with India and Arabia, as described in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea in the 1st century AD, the flow of goods towards the head of the Gulf in the later 3rd millennium BC was determined more by the Mesopotamian demand than by economic integration with the distant lands that supplied these goods from the shores of the Indian Ocean.” (1991: 119). Sumerians and Akkadian interacted more with Dilmun sailors and traders, Indian immigrants and largely acculturated social groups than with the remote “Black Country” of Meluhha. In Mesopotamia and in the Gulf, the immigrant Indus families maintained and trasmitted their language, the writing system and system of weights of the motherland (known in Mesopotamia as the “Dilmunite” standard) as strategic tools of trade. Their official symbol of the gaur might have stressed, together with the condition of living in a foreign world, an ideal connection with the motherland. Nonetheless, they gradually adopted the use of foreign languages and introduced minor changes in the writing system for tackling with new, rapidy evolving linguistic needs. The Indus communities in Mesopotamia developed thanks to an intimate understanding of Mesopotamian culture and markets, and to a very opportunistic behaviour. They promptly adapted their products and trade to the fast-changing political and ideological environments of the local social and cultural evolution. Their success in Mesopotamia is easily measured by their efficient adaptation, in order of time, to the frantic politics and fights of the ED III city-states, to the Akkadian centralized bureaucracy and to the even more centralized empire established by Ur-nammu. By 2000 BC, their integration with Mesopotamian social and economic reality seems to be total. The acculturation process involved collaboration with local religious institutions, worship of foreign divinities, production of ornaments with foreign religious symbols, adoption of “impure” foreign rituals in life and death and (it would be easy to imagine) at the eyes of their compatriots at home “eating impure food.” The price of the success might have been their apparent “contamination” with Mesopotamian habits, creeds and ritual practices, a circumstance that – we may be sure – did not escape the attention of the traditional élites in the Indus valley.


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Vidale M. (in print) “The Short-Horned Bull on the Indus Seals: a Symbol of the Families in the Western Trade?” Forthcoming in South Asian Archaeology 2002, Bonn. Vidale M. & P. Bianchetti (1997) “Mineralogical Identification of Green Semiprecious Stones from Pakistan.” In R. Allchin & B. Allchin (eds.) South Asian Archaeology, 1995. New Delhi, Vol. 2, 947-953. Vidale M. & P. Bianchetti (1998-1999) “Identification of grossular (garnet) as a possible item of long-distance trade from the Indus Valley to Mesopotamia in the Third millennium BC.” Ancient Sindh, 5, 39-43. Winkelmann S. (1999) “Ein Stempelsiegel mit alt-elamischer Strichschsrift.” Archäologischen Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan, 31, pp. 23-32. Zarins J. (2002) “Magan Ship Builders at the Ur-III Lagash Dockyards.” Paper presented at the International Congress “Early Navigation and Trade in the Indian Ocean,” Ravenna, 5 June 2002. Zarins Y. (2003) “Magan Shipbuilders at the Ur III Lagash State Dockyards (20622025 BC).” In E. Olijdam & R.H. Spoor (eds.) Intercultural Relations Between South and Southwest Asia. Studies in Commemoration of E.C.L. During Caspers (19341996). Bar International Series, pp. 66-85.


1.      Steatite seals with the image of the short-horned bulls with lowered head from Failaka (1), Bahrein (2-3), Bactria (4), the Iranian Plateau (5). Nr. 6 comes from the surface of the site of Diqdiqqah, near Ur. Not in scale. 2. Distribution of inscribed finds with Indus signs in Mesopotamia, in the Iranian Plateau and in the Gulf (from Parpola 1994). 3. Etched Carnelian Beads found in Mesopotamia and the Iranian Plateau. F1y, second row from below, right, bears the symbol of the Akkadian sun-god Shamash: it was evidenty manufactured by a Meluhhan beadmaker for a local Mesopotamian market or demand (from Reade 1979). 4. Distribution of etched carnelian beads from the Indus valley to the Mediterranean coast (from Reade 1979). 5. Long barrel-shaped carnelian beads from Chanhu-Daro and Mohenjo-Daro (Sindh, Pakistan) (upper row, left) and reconstruction of the drilling technique, with lithic drill-heads (upper row, right: from Mackay 1938, 1943 and Kenoyer 1997). Similar beads were manufactured and traded in late ED III Mesopotamia. The longest examples of these highly refined beads reach 13 cm. Lower row: examples of etched carnelian beads found in the Indus valley, to be compared with those found in Mesopotamia, common in early and middle Akkadian times. Meluhhan village

Conditional entropy falls flat: the Indus script

Diana Gainer, June 16, 8:17 AM · 

In their recent article on conditional entropy and the Indus script, Rao et al ("Entropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the Indus Script" in Science, Vol 324, No. 5931, May 19, 2009: 1165; doi: 10.1126/science.1170391) claim that the sequence of symbols representing deities never varies on boundary stones found in ancient Mesopotamia, symbols on objects called kudurrus. Thus, these authors assume that they need not look at any actual stones, nor any actual symbols, to collect their data set with which to compare the symbols that appear on Indus seal stones. These last symbols are the ones they're really interested in.  They created their own data set of kudurru symbols instead, which they admit (but only in their online supplement) comprised of ersatz sequences arranged in only one perfectly rigid and unvarying order. They show this as a line on their graph, indicating 100% rigidity of positioning. I find this conclusion slightly odd since I have read one or two passages in Sumerian and Hittite in my time, languages written in locations in the real (not ersatz) Near East, once upon a time, though not necessarily on kudurrus, and nothing was ever especially tidy that I recall. I looked up kudurru on the internet, just to see what these looked like. I saw only three, at the following websites:
Briefly, the first stone has a snake (Tiamat, the sea) on the top, the second has her on the bottom, and she is missing from the third. Ishtar (represented by the eight-pointed star) appears on the upper left of the top register beneath the snake on the first stone. On that same rock, her dad, the moon god, is shown as the lazy crescent to her right, followed by her brother, the sun disk, with his rays. On the second stone, we have the moon on the far left, followed by the star in the middle, with the sun disk on the right. On the third stone, there is no eight-pointed star, no crescent moon, and no sun disk whatsoever. I would say that’s slightly less than 100% invariable order right there.
In the second register on the first two stones, on the far left, we have two horned headdresses, representing the older, deposed kings of heaven, Anu and Enlil, Mr. Sky and Mr. Air. In the first rock picture, there are 10 and 8 horns, while in the second stone picture, there are 7 horns apiece, but perhaps that minor detail doesn’t matter. The third stone lacks those horned crowns altogether. Maybe these and the astral deities are on the back of this frontier rock, so we just don’t see them. On the first stone, there’s a turtle next to these two royal hats. The turtle represents Ea, the wise god of the watery deep (unless it’s his wife – but we don’t want to get into that). In the second case, we have Ea again, but he’s in his incarnation as the goat-fish this time, ancestor of our modern Capricorn. On the third kudurru, we have a goat-fish again, but this time he’s climbing a ram head that’s sitting on a shrine. Is the ram head a representative of one of those missing astral deities? Or is he a replacement, with his curly horns, for one of those missing horned headdresses? We could go on, but it doesn’t get any better. There is a double curlicue in the row near the top, certainly an avatar of Miss Ishtar, previously seen as the eight-pointed star – unless, of course it’s her sons – but in that case, why aren’t there seven?  No, it certainly doesn't get better.  It gets much, much worse, the farther we go!
The situation is similar when looking at Vincha figurines (Rao et al’s other ersatz set of data, which is said to vary with absolute and total freedom, and so it was judged unnecessary for these authors to examine any real symbols or real data sets, with the consequence that they made up this set also).  I happen to have Marija Gimbutas’ book on what she called Old Europe, showing many pictures of figurines discovered in southeastern Europe with these Vincha symbols etched on them. On casually leafing through this book, I notice that on several of these figurines with knobs in the chest region, there is a certain prickly triangle, with the apex downward, between the legs. That’s not a linguistic symbol, I will admit. But that’s not exactly random placement, either. However, Rao et al did not look at any real data for their second nonlinguistic data set, choosing instead to make up this set so as to demonstrate that absolute freedom of movement.  Thus, they put that other line on their graph showing nearly 0%, perhaps 0.1%. Surely they aren't suggesting we could put a pubic triangle smack dab in the middle of a figurine’s forehead, between those little, beady eyes? I don’t think so!
Now, I’ve studied real Egyptian hieroglyphs and they are anything but tidy. They are extremely messy, in fact. A scribe sometimes writes a particular word with a single symbol (say, a triliteral, a symbol encoding three consonants). At other times, the same scribe writes that same word with two or even three biliterals (symbols that encode two consonant sounds). At yet other times, he writes exactly the same word with alphabetic symbols (symbols that encode a single consonant sound). If he wishes, he may add a determinative (a symbol that represents no sound at all, but only the category from which the word is drawn), something like a great game of charades. He writes from right to left, from left to right, and from top to bottom too, all in the same document. But none of this great variety shows up in a transliteration. The Egyptologist knows it’s all there, just the same.
Despite this fact, Rao et al did not look at any actual Sumerian cuneiform, which is every bit as messy as hieroglyphs. They only looked at tidy transliterations, when obtaining data sets for their linguistic comparisons. They also looked at transliterations of Old Tamil. They even looked at a concordance of Indus symbols, not real symbols, a concordance which another group of authors (Farmer et al) suggest includes symbols improperly regularized, thus removing a lot of the existing irregularities in the real Indus symbols. 
So what has this statistical study by Rao et al really shown? This study compares no real data to any real data, it seems to me.  It only compares various sets of ersatz data. Therefore it only serves to demonstrate that the authors think that the Indus script really is a script. But it so happens that certain other authors disagree, namely Farmer et al.  And in their paper, which purported to refute the previously established "fact" that Indus "script" is in fact a script, they showed actual photographs.  Oh dear!
I want a do-over. Let’s compare apples and oranges, not apples and barrels of monkeys! Compare Indus script (what’s really on the seals and whatnot) with what’s on Chinese oracle bones.  Compare Indus symbols with what’s on Linear A and B tablets (take that, Farmer et al, who claim that nobody else ever wrote only short inscriptions), what’s on the earliest Sumerian clay tablets before it turned into cuneiform, and so on. Don’t make up data. Don't use transcriptions.  Don't use a concordance. Then let’s see what the real data show. If the Indus symbols really comprise a script, then maybe somebody can decipher them. If this is not a script, then maybe somebody can figure out what it does symbolize.  But we won't get anywhere making things up.  My teachers used to frown on that sort of thing anyway. 

Indus script recognized as a language: Richard Solomon


History with a side of mystery

By Brian Byrnes
June 2, 2009

The deciphering of the mysterious scripts and symbols used by the long-lost Indus civilization has eluded scholars since the scripts were first discovered a century-and-a-half ago.

In his new study, published in the May 2009 issue of Science, Rao said he and his collaborators have found that the ancient Indus symbols may be more than simple drawings. Instead, Rao’s study suggests that the symbols meet the criteria of a highly structured language.

“The history of decipherment efforts has been a mishmash of crazy ideas,” said Rajesh Rao, a professor of computer science and engineering at the UW. “There have been all kinds of theories and speculations regarding what these Indus scripts mean.”

Scholars are eager and motivated to unlock the possible meaning of the script because understanding a civilization’s language can lead to an understanding of its culture. However, a key to unlocking and deciphering the language has not yet been discovered, so scholars and academics worldwide face a tremendous challenge when trying to apply meaning to these symbols.

“The way ancient and unknown scripts are usually deciphered is through some sort of external clue — that is, some sort of applicable knowledge,” said Richard Solomon, professor of ancient language and literature at the UW. “That is how the Mesopotamian scripts were deciphered.”

Solomon said his inclination is that the scripts are a language, as Rao has found.

“I look at the [scripts] and think of thousands and thousands of other [scripts] from the ancient world that have since been recognized as languages,” Solomon said.

Solomon, however, also acknowledged the prevalence and newfound popularity of another theory causing a stir in academia: that the symbols found on the scripts are not a language and have no meaning other than aesthetics.

Rao set out to verify the hypothesis that the script encodes a language through a combination of statistical analysis and computer algorithms.

He first learned of the Indus symbols during high school in India. From then on, Rao was intrigued by the mystery surrounding their meaning. While on a sabbatical to India in 2007, Rao teamed up with a group at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, which was already working toward determining the language value of the script.

“Since we don’t know how to decipher the script, we can start at a level to see what the statistical patterns are,” Rao said. “Which symbols can follow other symbols?”

Rao employed his computer-science expertise and worked with his team to compute the “conditional entropy” of the language.

Conditional entropy is a complex concept that measures how much flexibility is allowed within a series or language.

Most modern languages have conditional entropy that falls in the middle of the spectrum — that is, neither completely structured, nor completely lacking in structure.

Rao’s study shows that the Indus script’s conditional entropy does fall in the middle of the spectrum, which supports the hypothesis that the script is a language.

The innovative study has rejuvenated interest and the controversy surrounding the Indus script. After being published in Science, the findings were covered by the science media worldwide, including Wired magazine and the BBC.

For now, Rao and his team in India hope to continue their work with the Indus scripts.

One of the hopes for decipherment, said Solomon, is that a bilingual document like the Rosetta Stone will be uncovered, with a common text written out in a known language as well as the unknown one. An artifact like this would act as a key to unlocking the mysterious meaning of the Indus scripts.

“I have this thought that [the key or bilingual document] may be in a back drawer in the storage of a Baghdad museum,” Solomon said. “Things get shoved into corners. Sometimes great discoveries are made in the back rooms. I have a feeling it may be somewhere.”

Reach contributing writer Brian Byrnes at  Associate professor Rajesh Rao applies his computer science knowledge and research to other fields, including archeology, language and neurology.  Professor Rao displays his artifacts, excavated from the border of India and Pakistan.  Professor Rao explains the significance of one of his artifacts in his office.

Indus Script encodes language:

 Response of Rajesh PN Rao et al to Internet Discussions about their Work which appeared in Science magazine-- Entropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the Indus Script (21 May 2009)

 In a 2004 paper, Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel claimed that the Indus civilization was illiterate and that Indus writing was a collection of nonlinguistic symbols. The publication of our paper in Science elicited hostile reactions from them, ranging from off-the-cuff dismissive remarks such as “garbage in, garbage out” (Witzel) to ad-hominem attacks and saturation of internet discussion groups with attempts to discredit our work by calling two artificial control datasets in our study “invented data sets” (Farmer). Sproat and others in the meantime sought to construct counterexamples to our result.

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

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

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

(3) The absence of writing material and long texts is “proof” that the Indus people were illiterate, despite their cultural sophistication.

 We view these arguments, especially (1) and (2), as arising from a misunderstanding of our work. Our responses to the above arguments are as follows:

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

 (2) Counter examples matter only if we claim that conditional entropy by itself is a sufficient criterion to distinguish between language and non-language. We do not make this claim in our paper. Rather, our results provide evidence which, given the rich syntactic structure in the script, increase the probability that the script represents language. The methodology, which is Bayesian in nature, can be summarized as follows: we examine languages to find out what is common between them, thus defining the necessary conditions for language. We find these to be Zipfian frequency distributions, syntactic structure such as the clear presence of beginners and enders, preferences of symbol clusters for particular positions within texts etc. (see References), and finally, similarities in conditional entropy given this pre-existing syntactic structure. Additional necessary conditions may also be present (e.g., similarities in perplexity and higher-order block entropies). We find that the Indus script also satisfies these necessary conditions for language.

 Thus, we claim that this provides evidence in favor of the linguistic hypothesis, not against it.

 The counter examples provided by Sproat and others on a blog have no correlations between symbols. Thus, the conditional and unconditional entropies are identical. In the Indus script, there is a large difference between these two quantities (cf. Figs. 1 and S1 in our Science paper). To produce a counter example in which conditional and unconditional entropies differ, would require, as Sproat admits in a blog, tweaking of several parameters. This exercise gets even more difficult and convoluted when one considers higher-order entropies. Clearly, the parsimonious explanation is that the Indus script represents language.

 (3) With regard to the length of texts, several West Asian writing systems such as Proto-Cuneiform, Proto-Sumerian, and the Uruk script have statistical regularities in sign frequencies and text lengths which are remarkably similar to the Indus script (Details can be found in These writing systems are by all accounts linguistic. Furthermore, the lack of archaeological evidence for long texts in the Indus civilization does not automatically imply that they did not exist (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence). There is a long history of writing on perishable materials like cotton, palm leaves, and bark in the Indian subcontinent using equally perishable writing implements (see Parpola’s paper below). Writing on such material is unlikely to have survived the hostile environment of the Indus valley. Thus, long texts may have been written, but no archaeological remains are to be found. As regards the cultural sophistication of the Indus people and literacy, we believe Iravatham Mahadevan has addressed this adequately in his op-ed piece:

 A paper containing a more detailed and comprehensive response is currently under preparation. Other papers providing further evidence for linguistic structure in the Indus script are under consideration for publication in peer-reviewed journals.


Final version of the Science paper:


Parpola’s point-by-point rebuttal of the nonlinguistic claim:

o Parpola A (2008) Is the Indus script indeed not a writing system? in Airavati: Felicitation

volume in honor of Iravatham Mahadevan ( publishers, Chennai, India)

pp. 111-131.

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

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

& 6.

o Yadav N, Vahia MN, Mahadevan I, Joglekar H (2008) A statistical approach for pattern

search in Indus writing. International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics 37(1):39-52.

o Yadav N, Vahia MN, Mahadevan I, Joglekar H (2008) Segmentation of Indus texts.

International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics 37(1):53-72.

Panini to the rescue for a computational grammarian

Research team turns to the “world’s first computational grammarian!”.

K.V. Kurmanath

Panini, the legendary Sanskrit grammarian of 5th century BC, is the world’s first computational grammarian! Panini’s work, Ashtadhyayi (the Eight-Chaptered book), is considered to be the most comprehensive scientific grammar ever written for any language.

According to Prof Rajeev Sangal, Director of IIIT (Hyderabad) and an expert on language computation, Panini’s epic treatise on grammar came to the rescue of language experts in making English unambiguous. English is more difficult (as far as machine translations are concerned) with a high degree of ambiguity.

Some words have different meanings, making the analysis (to facilitate translations) a difficult process. Making it disambiguous is quite a task, where Panini’s principles might be of use.

Ashtadhyayi, the earlier work on descriptive linguistics, consists of 3,959 sutras (or principles). These highly systemised and technical principles, some say, marked the rise of classical Sanskrit.

Sampark, the multi-institute effort launched to produce a translation engine, enabling users to translate tests from English to various languages, will use some of the technical aspects enunciated by Panini. “We looked at alternatives before choosing Panini,” Prof Sangal says.

Incidentally, Prof Sangal co-authored a book, Natural Language Processing – A Panini Perspective, a few years ago.

Besides the technical side, Panini would be of great help to researchers on the translation engine on the language side too.

A good number of words in almost all the Indian languages originate from Sanskrit. “That is great because Indian languages are related to each other,” Prof Sangal points out.

Break the language barrier

Word for word: More on the Sampark initiative to enrich translation..

Look at the sentence — The Chair chairs the meeting. How will a machine understand this?

K.V. Kurmanath

Telugus, Kannadigas and Malayalis can read Subrahmanya Bharati, the legendary Tamil poet, and relish the sweetness in his poetry. Similarly, Premchand, Tagore, M T Vasudeva Nair, and U R Ananthamurthy too could be read and understood by readers in other languages.

All this will soon be a reality, thanks to a project initiated by IIIT (Hyderabad) and eight other universities and institutes. To be precise, the beta translation solutions of a few languages will go live next month (June 2009).

The project, whose public Internet interface will be known as Sampark, will let users translate texts among various Indian languages. All one needs to do is copy-paste the text in an appointed box and press ‘enter’, and get the translated version in another box beside it. Not just text, you can translate the whole of a Web page. Copy the URL (a site’s Web address) and paste it in the relevant box in Sampark’s Web site. “You will get the translated page, with photos and other images intact,” says Prof Rajeev Sangal, Director of IIIT (Hyderabad), who is leading the team.

The nine institutions have roped in over 120 experts in computer engineering, language, and translators to take up the ‘machine translation’ programme, which is aimed at breaking the language barrier.

The project is broadly divided into two areas. Translation of the four Southern languages into Hindi (vice versa too) and translation of Bangla, Punjabi, Marathi and Urdu into Hindi (and back). Simultanesouly, the consortium is working on direct translations among Telugu-Tamil, Malayalam-Tamil. To begin with, the consortium has put two ‘systems’ Punjabi-Hindi and Urdu-Hindi beta versions live. “By June 2009 end, we will be adding Tamil-Hindi, Marathi-Hindi and Telugu-Hindi to the project,” Prof Sangal says.

How it works

Broadly, the machine translation happens in three phases — the source side, transfer aspects and the target side action. The two important factors in translation are grammar and dictionary. “Languages have many exceptions and idiosynchrosies. These will be addressed effectively,” Prof Sangal says.

On the source side (the text you want to translate), the machine analyses the text sentence by sentence and keeps a representation of the text. The analysis will include morphological analysis, how words are formed. It will check whether the text carries any local phrases. It will search for nouns and parts of speech before going for sentence analysis.

In the second phase (transfer phase), the machine does lexical and grammar transfer. “The grammars of source and target languages may not be similar. This phase would see change of grammatical structure. The later phase would involve target language generation.”

common architecture

The step-by-step process is done on a common architecture. This allows for addition of a new language to the project quite easily. “If you want to add Kashmiri, you need to develop an analyser, generator and add a Kashmiri-Hindi dictionary. These, in fact, are parallel dictionaries,” Prof Sangal says.

“The project, unlike earlier projects, hinges on dictionaries that give meanings based on concepts rather than just meanings,” Prof Uma Maheshwar Rao, who is working on the Telugu-Hindi aspect of the project, says.

Formed by the Union Ministry of Information Technology in 2006, the consortium comprises IITs (Kharagpur and Bombay), Anna University, C-DAC, University of Hyderabad, Tamil University Jadhavpur University, IISC (Bangalore) and IIIT (Allahabad).

Prof Rao, who works at the Centre of Applied Linguistics and Translation Studies at University of Hyderabad, says the Sampark project is more advanced than earlier attempts that sought to offer translation solutions.

The earlier efforts failed to take the meanings of the words contextually. Citing the example of the word ‘bank’, he points out that the earlier efforts would not make out whether it was a bank used in the expression river bank, or a bank that deals with money.

“In the present project, we cross-link words with all the synonyms in the other language. This will help resolve the ambiguity problem, the knottiest one in the translation process,” he explains.

The immediate task of the consortium is to add more servers and more engineering to make the machine faster.

“We are going to add three languages to the system every two months till November,” Prof Sangal says.

He, however, admits that it is not a complete translator. But the beta versions will definitely give a flavour of the meaning in the source language. You can see improvements constantly, he adds.

Machines learn!

Prof Sangal says the machine can learn based on the data you give it. Look at the sentence — The Chair chairs the meeting. How will a machine understand this sentence? The one developed by the consortium, thanks to the conceptual dictionary, would look at the context and tell apart the meaning of the two chairs in the sentence. “Earlier, we used to give rules to the machine to follow. Now, we have algorithms to let the machines learn from this. We have combined artificial intelligence approach with the linguistic process,” he explains.

More to come

Busy finalising modules, the team members continue to set their eyes on long-term goals. “We will continue the long-term research independently and collaboratively. The next stage is to build more robust sentence analysers. They will be able to do translations more correctly. The quality of the output will go up,” he says. Prof Sangal, who has been working on machine translation for the last 25 years, says it is team work that helped the group to give a shape to the machine. “We discussed several issues physically and through mailing groups. We have set up sub groups to address specific issues.”

English to Indian languages

Simultaneously, a different consortium, in which IIIT-H is also a member, is working on translations from English to several Indian languages and back. C-DAC (Pune) is leading the consortium. The researchers take a different approach.

Unlike popular belief, English is a difficult language for the machine to understand. “Unlike Indian languages, there is a high degree of ambiguity. When a machine analyses, it has to do disambiguation, which is a difficult process,” Prof Sangal says. The research team is almost ready with the English-Hindi version, which is in test mode. At a later stage, these two different projects could technically work in tandem and offer users a better translation experience.

The Indus ‘non-script’ is a non-issue

IRAVATHAM MAHADEVAN (The Hindu 3 May 2009)

There is solid archaeological and linguistic evidence to show that the Indus script is a writing system encoding the language of the region (most probably Dravidian). To deny the very existence of the script is not the way towards further progress.

The Indus script appears to consist mostly of word-signs. Such a script will necessarily have a lesser number of characters and repetitions than a syllabic script.

A Riddle still: Indus seals with long inscriptions.


Is the Indus Script ‘writing’?


“There is zero chance that the Indus valley is literate. Zero,” says Steve Farmer, an independent scholar in Palo Alto, California. “As they say, garbage in, garbage out,” says Michael Witzel of the Harvard University. These quotations from an online news item (New Scientist, April 23, 2009) are representative of what passes for academic debate in sections of the Western media over a serious research paper by Indian scientists published recently in the USA (Science, April 24, 2009).


The Indian teams are from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and the Indus Research Centre of the Roja Muthiah Research Library (both at Chennai), and backed by a team from the University of Washington at Seattle. They have proposed in their paper, resulting from more than two years of sustained research, that there is credible scientific evidence to show that the Indus script is a system of writing which encodes a language (as briefly reported in The Hindu, April 27, 2009).


This is a sober and understated conclusion presented in a refereed article published by an important scientific journal. The provocative comments by Farmer and Witzel will surprise only those not familiar with the consistently aggressive style adopted by them on this question, especially by Farmer. Their first paper, written jointly with Richard Sproat of Oregon Health and Sciences University, Portland, has the sensational title, “The collapse of the Indus script thesis: the myth of a literate Harappan civilization” (Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 11: 2, 2004).


The “collapse of the Indus script thesis” has already drawn many responses, including the well-argued and measured rebuttal by the eminent Indus script expert, Asko Parpola, “Is the Indus script indeed not a writing system?” (Airavati 2008), and a hilarious and intentionally sarcastic rejoinder (mimicking the style of the “collapse” paper) by Massimo Vidale (“The collapse melts down”, East and West 2007). Here is a sampling from the latter: “Should we be surprised by this announced ‘collapse’? From the first noun in the title of their paper, Farmer, Sproat and Witzel are eager to communicate to us that previous and current views on the Indus script are naïve and completely wrong, and that after 130 years of illusion, through their paper, we may finally see the truth behind the dark curtains of a dangerous scientific myth.”


I am one of the co-authors of the Science paper. But my contribution is limited to making available to my colleagues the electronic database file compiled by me in collaboration with the computer scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and partly published in my book The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables (1977). I have no background in computational linguistics. However, I have closely studied the Indus script for over four decades and I am quite familiar with its structure. The following comments are based on my personal research and may not necessarily reflect the views of the other co-authors of the Science paper.


In a nutshell, my view is that there is solid archaeological and linguistic evidence to show that the Indus script is a writing system encoding the language of the region (most probably Dravidian).


Archaeological evidence

Path-breaking work: Iravatham Mahadevan.


The strongest argument against the new-fangled theory that the Indus script is not writing is provided by the sheer size and sophistication of the Indus civilisation. Consider these facts:


• The Indus was by far the largest civilisation of the ancient world during the Bronze Age (roughly 3000 – 1500 BCE). It extended all the way from Shortugai in North Afghanistan to Daimabad in South India, and from Sutkagen Dor on the Pak-Iran border to Hulas in Uttar Pradesh — altogether more than a million sq km in area, very much larger than the contemporary West Asian and Egyptian civilisations put together.


• The Indus civilisation was mainly urban, with many large and well-built cities sustained by the surplus agricultural production of the surrounding countryside. The Indus cities were not only well-built but also very well administered with enviable arrangements for water supply and sanitation (lacking even now in many Indian towns).


• There was extensive and well-regulated trade employing precisely shaped and remarkably accurate weights. The beautifully carved seals were in use (as in all other literate societies) for personal identification, administrative purposes, and trading. Scores of burnt clay sealings with seal-impressions were found in the port city of Lothal in Gujarat attesting to the use of seals to mark the goods exported from there. Indus seals and clay-tag sealings have been found in North and West Asian sites, where they must have reached in the course of trading.

This archaeological evidence makes it inconceivable that such a large, well-administered, and sophisticated trading society could have functioned without effective long-distance communication, which could have been provided only by writing. And there is absolutely no reason to presume otherwise, considering that thousands of objects, including seals, sealings, copper tablets, and pottery bear inscriptions in the same script throughout the Indus region. The script may not have been deciphered; but that is no valid reason to deny its very existence, ignoring the archaeological evidence.


Another important pointer to the literacy of the Indus civilisation is that it was in close trading and cultural contacts with other contemporary literate societies like the Proto-Elamite to the North and the Sumerian-Akkadian city states (and probably the Egyptian kingdom) to the West. It is again inconceivable that a civilisation as urban and well-organised as the Indus could not have been alive to the importance of writing practised in the neighbouring literate cultures and was content with “non-linguistic” symbols of very limited utility like those employed by pre-historic hunter-gathering or tribal societies.


Linguistic evidence


While denying the status of a writing system to the Indus script, Farmer, Sproat and Witzel point to the extreme brevity of the texts (averaging less than five signs) and the presence of numerous “singletons” (signs with only one occurrence). Seal-texts tend to be short universally. Further, the Indus script appears to consist mostly of word-signs. Such a script will necessarily have a lesser number of characters and repetitions than a syllabic script. Thus the proper comparison should be with the number of words in later Indian seals or cave inscriptions. The average number of words in these cases matches the average number of signs in an Indus text. There are, however, many seal-texts that are much longer than the average. (See illustrations of longer Indus texts). As for singletons, they appear to be mostly composite or modified signs derived from basic signs, apparently meant only for restricted or special usage. An apt parallel would be the difference in frequencies between basic and conjunct consonants in the Brahmi script.

The concordances

A file photo of The Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro.


Three major concordances of the Indus texts have been published: a manually compiled edition by Hunter (1934), and two computer-made editions, one by the Finnish team led by Asko Parpola (1973, 1982) and the other by the Indian scholar, Iravatham Mahadevan (1977). All the three concordances provide definitive editions of the texts, sign lists, and lists of sign variants. The Mahadevan Concordance also provides in addition various statistical tabulations for textual analysis as well as for relating the texts to their archaeological context (sites, types of inscribed objects, and pictorial motifs accompanying the inscriptions).


The concordance is a basic and indispensable tool for research in the Indus script. It is a complete index of sign occurrences in the texts. It also sets out the full textual context of each sign occurrence. The frequency and positional distribution of each sign and sign combination can be readily ascertained from the concordance. A study of near-identical sequences leads to segmentation of texts into words and phrases. Doubtful signs can be read with a fair amount of confidence by a comparative study of identical sequences. Sign variants can be recognised to a large extent by studying the textual environment.


It is the concordance which conclusively established the direction of the Indus script to be from right to left on seal-impressions and direct writing (naturally reversed on the seals). The concordance also reveals the broad syntactical features of the texts, like the most frequent opening and terminal signs, as well as pairs and triplets of signs in the middle representing important names, titles etc. Numerals have been identified. As they precede the enumerated objects, we know that adjectives precede the nouns they qualify. This is an important result ruling out, for example, Sumerian or Akkadian as candidate languages. According to competent and objective scholars like Kamil Zvelebil and Gregory Possehl, the concordances are the most tangible outcome of the prolonged research on the Indus script.


The concordances have been criticised for employing “normalised” signs that are sometimes different from what are actually found in individual inscriptions. The differences are as between a handwritten manuscript and the printed book. All the three concordances employ normalised signs, as there is no other possible way of presenting hundreds of inscriptions and thousands of sign-occurrences in a compact and logical arrangement for analytical study. The concordances have also been faulted for differences in readings. The criticism overlooks the fact that the Indus script is still undeciphered and such differences are unavoidable, especially in reading badly preserved texts or in deciding which are independent signs and which are mere graphic variants.


The serious student of the Indus script will consult the concordances, but refer to the sources for confirmation. Statistically speaking, differences (or even errors in coding) in the concordances are marginal and have not affected the interpretation of the main features of the texts.


This was confirmed by an interesting study published recently by Mayank Vahia et al of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, 37:1, 2008). They removed all the doubtfully read signs (marked by asterisks) and multiple lines (with indeterminate order) from the Mahadevan Concordance and analysed the rest, a little less than half of the total sign-occurrences. They found that the statistically established percentages of frequencies and distribution of signs and segmentations of texts remained constant, attesting to the essential correctness of compilation of the full concordance.


The Dravidian hypothesis


There is archaeological and linguistic evidence to support the view that the Indus civilisation is non-Aryan and pre-Aryan:


• The Indus civilisation was urban, while the Vedic was rural and pastoral.

• The Indus seals depict many animals, but not the horse. The chariot with the spoked wheels is also not depicted. The horse and chariot with the spoked wheels are the main features of Aryan-speaking societies. (For the best and most recent account, refer to David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel and Language, Princeton, 2007).

• The Indus religion as revealed in the pictorial depictions on the seals included worship of buffalo-horned male gods, mother-goddesses, the pipal tree, the serpent, and probably the phallic symbol. Such modes of worship are alien to the religion of theRigveda.


Ruling out Aryan authorship of the Indus civilisation does not automatically make it Dravidian. However, there is substantial linguistic evidence favouring the Dravidian theory:


• The survival of Brahui, a Dravidian language in the Indus region.

• The presence of Dravidian loanwords in the Rigveda.

• The substratum influence of Dravidian on the Prakrit dialects.

• Computer analysis of the Indus texts revealing that the language had only suffixes (like Dravidian), and no prefixes (as in Indo-Aryan) or infixes (as in Munda).


It is significant that all the three concordance-makers (Hunter, Parpola, and Mahadevan) point to Dravidian as the most likely language of the Indus texts. The Dravidian hypothesis has also been supported by other scholars like the Russian team headed by Yuri Valentinovich Knorozov and by the American archaeologist, Walter Fairservis, all of whom have utilised the information available from the concordances. However, as the Dravidian models of decipherment have still little in common except the basic features summarised above, it is obvious that much more work remains to be done before a generally acceptable solution emerges.


I am hopeful that with an increasing number of Indus texts, and better and more sophisticated archaeological and linguistic methods, the riddle of the Indus script will be solved one day. What is required is perseverance, recognising the advances already made, and proceeding further. To deny the very existence of the Indus script is not the way towards further progress.


Iravatham Mahadevan is a well-known authority on the Indus and Brahmi scripts. He is the author of The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables (1977) and Early Tamil Epigraphy (2003).

Indus script encodes speech

28 april 2009, 1 May 2009

As someone who has toiled for over 20 years compiling an indian lexicon for over 25 ancient languages, let me say this. Language is an imaging system, using images as attractors to reinforce spoken and heard sounds. Imaging is a biological characteristic. Attraction of image to sound results in language expression as a unique human biological characteristic.

This is the reason why most early writing systems are hieroglyphic as image-sound attractors. So is indus script. You may like to read more on this specific example of a writing system at

There is nothing illogical in Rao et al using images and words to see patterns of such attractors.I find Rao et al have made a good beginning and will have to be supported with the use of enormous datasets from ancient indian languages, available to derive iterated functions.

Simply, indus script encodes speech of mine workers and metal-smiths working with their metallurgical repertoire and trading minerals, metals and alloys. So were the later-day mints which produced punch-marked coins with indus script glyphs (sarasvati hieroglyphs). Mere syllabic-alphabetic systems are not the only writing systems. Glyphs on punch-marked coins were also a writing system as the glyphs encoded speech -- mleccha.

Vākyapadīya ("About Words and Sentences") is a work of  Bharthari on grammar, semantics and philosophy which looks at speech in 3 stages:.

1.     Conceptualization by the speaker (Paśyantī "idea")

2.     Performance of speaking (Madhyamā "medium)

3.     Comprehension by the interpreter (Vaikharī "complete utterance"). 

Surely the meaning of shabda (spoken word) is understood in the context of a sentence. A sentence does not have to have a string of words. When a child says, ‘cow’, the meaning is complete in the context of the child’s reference to milk.  

Context is the key. So is sphoa the meaning-unit of a sentence recognized by a hearer’s anticipation.

When I constructed the Indian lexicon, as a comparison of over 8000 semantic clusters in over 25 ancient languages of India, I was struck by a fact that many words had multiple meanings (many were clearly homonyms). As civilization progressed reognizing new phenomena and the way people reacted to these phenomena, the repertoire of sound-strings available as words were drawn upon to agree, in a social contract, on new meanings. 

Let me cite an example. Kol is a Tamil word meaning “pancaloha, alloy of five metals.” Kola is a Santali word meaning ‘tiger’. Kola is a Nahali word meaning ‘woman’.So, what do the inventors of a writing system in a linguistic area do? They show a tiger ligatured to a woman to connote the word kol ’five metal alloy’. As a logical extension, the word kollan is invented to connote a ‘smith.’ 

This explains why many images are chosen in Indus script: tiger looking back, a person sitting on a branch of a tree, crocodile holding a fish in its jaws, a bovine with 3 heads of one-horned heifer, antelope, short-horned bull (each connoting a metal). A person sits in penance ‘(kamaha); used to connote rebus kampa am mint. Ligatured glyphs is a unique method to conserve space with as many glyphs as possible to send out an unambiguous message related to metallurgical inventions. 

Thus it is that a metallurgical invention of alloying gets matched with a writing system using ligatured glyphs. 

My Indian lexicon has semantic cluster headers showing ímagewords andthought words, many of which are cultural social contract words.The writing system results in much more than mere mint marks; the system is used to connote the product and process while indicating the professional competence of the creator of the epigraph and the related metal artifact. 

When a symbol system gains the status of a social contract with people in an extensive area using the system, private language ceases and becomes public. A new metaphor is born.


Is the indus script indeed not a writing system? -- Asko Parpola(August 2008)

Scientists say Indus Valley Civilization was

The report by scientists in Science magazine is an important contribution to language studies. It provides for an analysis of structural patterns which are the characteristic of languages. 

A very important characteristic of languages is the semantic structure, that is, the underlying meanings of spoken words of languages. It is the 'meaning' which provides a structure even for short sequences of, say, an average of five symbols used on Indus script.

A major lapse in the script studies so far is the arbitrary distinction made between so-called 'pictorial motifs' and 'signs'. As in Egyptian hieroglyphs, it is possible that the entire corpus of Indus script is composed of glyphs -- such as a rim of a narrow-necked jar, rimless pot, fish, svastika, antelope, elephant, tiger looking back, crocodile, ligatured animal body with three heads of one-horned heifer, short-horned bull, antelope, person seated in penance.

Unless all the glyphs are decoded in a logical cluster, taking into account the media used for inscriptions (such as terracotta bangles, copper plates, metallic weapons, tablets, seals), the decoding will not be complete.

The error made by Sproat et al is in assuming that a script has to be syllabic or alphabetic and in not evaluating the possibility of the glyphs representing words, spoken rebus (use of similar sounding words to connote substantive messages).

This website presents two pure tin ingots with inscriptions and proving them to be rosetta stones representing tin metal. Who else but metallurgists could have had the competence to inscribe on metallic weapons and on copper plates? This website also underscores the fact that during historical periods, early punch-marked coins from mints used the same corpus of glyphs pointing to a continuum in culture in ancient India.The conclusions drawn are that the glyphs get encoded within one semantic category -- repertoire of mints and of mine workers, pointing to the link between two great inventions: invention of writing and invention of metal alloying.

These conclusions have to be evaluated by any further scientific studies within the context of the continuum of language evolution as a cultural marker of an extensive civilization.

Kalyanaraman 27 April 2009

Indus script does encode a language

A. Srivathsan & T.S. Subramanian

Chennai (The Hindu, 27 April 2009): Computation science, information theory, and machine learning have now come to the vindication of Indus Valley scholars – providing a new type of “quantitative evidence for the existence of linguistic structure in the Indus script, complementing other arguments that have been made explicitly or implicitly in favour of the linguistic hypothesis.” This quantitative evidence comes from the results of a statistical study published online recently in the journal  Science  (

Drawing from multiple disciplines, using rigorous equations, and through scientific number crunching, a team of scientists — including the well-known Indus script scholar, Iravatham Mahadevan — have demonstrated that the Indus script encodes a language and is not a mere “chain of symbols,” as an article published in 2004 claimed.

The seals and tablets of the Indus civilisation that flourished between 2500 and 1900 B.C carry examples of what has long been understood to be writing in an unknown language. Despite many attempts, the script, known for 130 years, has not been deciphered. The 2004 article, published in the Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, challenged the idea that the Indus script encoded language and suggested that it might have been a non-linguistic symbol system like the Vinca inscriptions of southeastern Europe and the Near Eastern emblem systems.

The new statistical study compared the pattern of symbols found on Indus Valley artifacts to five types of natural linguistic systems (the Sumerian logo-syllabic system, the Old Tamil alpha-syllabic system, the Rig Vedic Sanskrit alpha-syllabic system, English words, and English characters), four types of non-linguistic systems (including human DNA sequences and bacterial protein sequences), and the artificially created computer programming language, Fortran.

The decisive finding was that “the conditional entropy of Indus inscriptions closely matches those of linguistic systems and remains far from non-linguistic systems…The similarity in conditional entropy to Old Tamil, a Dravidian language, is especially interesting in light of the fact that many of the prominent decipherment efforts to date…have converged upon a proto-Dravidian hypothesis for the Indus script.”

The study is the collaborative work of Rajesh P.N. Rao, a University of Washington computer scientist; Nisha Yadav and Mayank N. Vahia of the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai; Hrishikesh Joglekar, a software engineer from Mumbai; Ronojoy Adhikari, Faculty Fellow at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai; and Mr. Mahadevan at the Indus Research Centre, Chennai.

Dr. Adhikari, who specialises in Novel Applications of Statistical Mechanics, has no doubt that that the Indus script was part of a structured language. Opening his Nokia mobile phone, he types the alphabets H and A one after the other. The messaging service automatically fills the next two slots with V and E. “This,” he says, “is a simple algorithm the mobile phone uses to help you complete a word quickly. It works on the principle of correlation. In English, when you use the alphabet Q, the next one that follows is often U. Every language has a probability or flexibility of what token would come after another. A token could be an alphabet or punctuation or any component of the linguistic system. We have used the idea of entropy to measure the non-randomness in a linguistic system including the Indus script.”

When Dr. Adhikari and his collaborators compared the conditional entropy of the Indus script with the conditional entropies of the various linguistic and non-linguistic systems, the results provided “quantitative evidence for the existence of linguistic structure in the Indus script.” “The Indus script,” he explains, “comes close to the entropy value of Old Tamil and lends credence to the debate that the Indus script is connected with the Dravidian language.”

The use of statistical methods is not new to research on the Indus script. The point of departure in the new study is the use of rigorous correlation techniques, a significant methodological advance.

Work on the Indus script continues. The temporal and spatial analysis of the script has been completed and awaits publication. There is scope to compare the Indus script with systems like the Chinese pictograms and the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Dr. Adhikari believes that all these efforts “are taking us closer to understanding the Indus script.”

Language evidence in Indus script 

G.S. MUDUR (kolkata telegraph, april 24, 2009)

New Delhi, April 23: Scientists have obtained what may be the first mathematical evidence to support the idea that the 4500-year-old inscriptions from the Indus civilisation were graphic representations of a language.

A research team from India and the US has found that certain statistical features observed in the Indus inscriptions are similar to those in several other natural languages — ancient and modern.

The scientists from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and other institutions have shown that the Indus script had patterns of flexibility also found in Sumerian, Old Tamil, English, and Sanskrit. Their research shows that this flexibility is absent in sequences of non-linguistic systems such as human DNA, proteins, or the artificially-created computer language, FORTRAN.

“We can now say with more confidence than ever before that the Indus writings encoded a language — even though we still don’t know what that language might be,” Ronojoy Adhikari, a team member and physicist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, said.

The new findings will appear in the US journal Science tomorrow.

The Indus script is etched on small seals, tablets, and amulets found over the past several decades at sites across northwestern India and eastern Pakistan where the Indus civilisation flourished from around 2500 BC to 1900 BC.

The script uses only 417 symbols or signs, and inscriptions are short with only 4 or 5 signs. But the script has defied all attempts at decipherment. The new research used computer science techniques to track statistical features shared by languages.

“This is the first quantitative evidence to show that the Indus script represents a language, thereby implying that the Indus civilisation was literate,” said Rajesh Rao, associate professor of computer sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, and lead author of the study.

A leading historian said the new work used a novel technique to bolster an old idea.

“This work uses a different method to strengthen a well-accepted idea that the Indus script encoded a language,” said Nayanjot Lahiri, professor of history at the University of Delhi, and an authority on the Indus civilisation.

“Almost everyone has worked with the assumption that it is a language. The issue has been which language — and that remains unsolved,” Lahiri told The Telegraph.

The scientists worked with the principle that symbols in spoken languages do not occur at random after each other, nor is there a rigid ordering of symbols.

There is some amount of flexibility in choosing the next symbol or letter. For instance, in English, the letter “t” may be followed by vowels such as “a” or “e” or “i” and some consonants such as “r”, but typically not by “d” or “f” or “x”.

In a project supported by the Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust and the US-based Packard Foundation, the researchers computed this flexibility in the Indus script, and in languages as well as in non-linguistic sequences — DNA, proteins, and FORTRAN.

“The Indus inscriptions fell right in the middle of the spoken languages,” said Mayank Vahia, an astronomer at the TIFR, Mumbai, and principal investigator of the project initiated about three years ago.

The scientists said they now planned to focus on the structure of the script.

“We’d like to determine the grammatical rules the script followed, and compare the structure of this script with other writing systems to gain more insights about the content,” said Nisha Yadav at the TIFR.

But the new research has also drawn sharp criticism from three experts who have argued that the Indus script had no linguistic basis but was merely a collection of symbols and pictograms to depict religious or political symbols.

In a controversial paper five years ago — titled “The Collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis: The Myth of a Literate Harappan Civilisation” — Michael Witzel, professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University and two others — Steve Farmer and Richard Sproat — had put forward several powerful arguments to claim that the Indus civilisation lacked a true script and may have even rejected writing.

Witzel and his colleagues point out that the Indus inscriptions are too short to encode messages. The average size is 4 or 5 symbols, the longest has 17. They have questioned the methodology used in the new study. 

Scientists inch closer to cracking Indus Valley script

The new study statistically strengthens the assumption that the Indus script represents a language

Seema Singh (livemint, Posted: Fri, Apr 24 2009. 12:31 AM IST)

Bangalore: Scientists may have moved a step closer to deciphering one of the three oldest languages in the world, that of the Indus Valley civilization by, interestingly enough, making a case that the markings found on artefacts from that era do indeed represent an underlying language and are not random marks.


The language was spoken at least 4,000 years ago in what is now north-west India and the eastern part of Pakistan, and 130 years after the first details of this script came to light and at least 100 failed attempts to decode it, the Indus script remains undeciphered.

Deciphering: Examples of the 4,000-year-old Indus script on seals and tablets. A team of Indian scientists has found out that the Indus script has a structured sign system showing features of a formal language. JM Kenoyer /


There have even been studies that claimed it isn’t a script and doesn’t represent a language.


Now, a team of Indian scientists reports in Friday’s issue of Science journal that the Indus script has a structured sign system showing features of a formal language. Using mathematical and computational tools, researchers show that the script has well-defined signs, which begin and end texts, with strong correlations in the order in which the signs appear.


This is the first evidence supporting the hypothesis that the script represents an as-yet-unknown language, say co-authors Nisha Yadav and Mayank N. Vahia from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences in Mumbai.

Other co-authors of the study are Rajesh P.N. Rao, computer scientist from the University of Washington; Hrishikesh Joglekar, a software engineer in Oracle India, Mumbai; R. Adhikari, faculty of the physics department at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai; and I. Mahadevan, researcher at the Indus Research Centre, Chennai.


Several artefacts dating to the 2500-1900 BC Indus civilization have been found to contain symbols, but the question hasn’t been definitively answered whether they are just pictograms or have any relation to a spoken language. This time around, the researchers applied techniques of computer science, machine learning in particular, to compare the Indus script patterns to known linguistic scripts as well as to non-linguistic systems such as the human DNA and protein sequences. An artificially created linguistic system such as Fortran, a computer language, was also used for reference.


Among the linguistic scripts, texts of English, Old Tamil, Rig Vedic Sanskrit and of the Sumerian language spoken in Mesopotamia, another civilization that thrived around 4,000 years ago, were used for comparison. What was compared was the permissible randomness in choosing a sequence. It is this randomness, which allows flexibility in composing words or sentences. But even within this randomness, there is always a clear pattern in a script that represents a language. In contrast, DNA sequences are completely random.


The results show that the Indus inscriptions were different from any of the non-linguistic systems, says Rao of the University of Washington. The finding of the study marks a considerable leap from a provocative 2004 paper titled The Collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis that claimed the short inscriptions had no linguistic content, somewhat implying that the literacy of the Harappan civilization was a myth. Its lead author offered a $10,000 (Rs5 lakh) reward to whoever produced an Indus artefact that contained more than 50 symbols.


The new study, indeed, statistically strengthens the assumption that the Indus script represents a language, says Nayanjot Lahiri, professor of ancient history at Delhi university. “The major problem, though, still remains: which language or languages? The script still remains undeciphered, notwithstanding the decades of scholarship that have been invested in trying to find the key to it.”


The biggest impediment in the decipherment, according to another historian from Delhi university, K.M. Shrimali, is the fact that no bilingual text has been discovered from that period, which would help calibrate the Indus script. “Unless something comparable to the Rosetta Stone (the bilingual text that helped decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphics) is found, it’s difficult to decipher the Indus script,” he says.


Lack of bilingual text certainly makes the problem more challenging, say Yadav and Vahia, but there have been examples in history where scripts have been deciphered without this aid. “While we all hope to find an Indus Rosetta Stone one day, its absence should not prevent us from exploring other means to understand the script.”


The present study has been funded by Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust and the Packard Foundation, set up by Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard. However, lot more work needs to be done before researchers can convincingly say what the content of the script is and what each sign represents, though the statistical analysis shows a small number of signs account for the majority of the usage.


The team’s work, though, is cut out: to analyse the structure and syntax of the script and deduce its grammatical rules. “We are trying to write the ‘script’ before we can begin reading it,” says Yadav.

Indus Seals and the Indus Civilization Script

By K. Kris Hirst

Does the Indus Civilization Script Represent a Language?


The Indus Civilization—also called the Indus Valley Civilization, Harappan, Indus-Sarasvati or Hakra Civilization—was based in an area of some 1.6 million square kilometers in what is today eastern Pakistan and northeastern India between about 2500-1900 BC. There are 2,600 known Indus sites, from enormous urban cities like Mohenjo Daro and Mehrgarh to small villages like Nausharo.

Although much archaeological data have been collected, we know almost nothing about the history of this massive civilization, because we haven't deciphered the language yet. About 6,000 representations of glyph strings have been discovered at Indus sites, mostly on square or rectangular seals like the ones in this photo essay. Some scholars—notablySteve Farmer and associates in 2004—argue that the glyphs don't really represent a full language, but rather simply a non-structured symbol system.

An article written by Rajesh P.N. Rao (a computer scientist at the University of Washington) and colleagues in Mumbai and Chennai and published in Science on April 23, 2009, provides evidence that the glyphs really do represent a language. This photo essay will provide some context of that argument, as well as an excuse to look at pretty pictures of Indus seals, provided to Science and us by researcher J.N. Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin and


The script writing of the Indus civilization has been found on stamp seals, pottery, tablets, tools, and weapons. Of all these types of inscriptions, stamp seals are the most numerous, and they are the focus of this photo essay.

A stamp seal is something used by the—well you absolutely have to call it the international trade network of the Bronze age Mediterranean societies, including Mesopotamia and pretty much anybody who traded with them. In Mesopotamia, carved pieces of stone were pressed into the clay used to seal packages of trade goods. The impressions on the seals often listed the contents, or the origin, or the destination, or the amount of goods in the package, or all of the above.

The Mesopotamian stamp seal network is widely considered the first language in the world, developed because of the need for accountants to track whatever was being traded. CPAS of the world, take a bow!

Indus civilization stamp seals are usually square to rectangular, and about 2-3 centimeters on a side, although there are larger and smaller ones. They were carved using bronze or flint tools, and they generally include an animal representation and a handful of glyphs.

Animals represented on the seals are mostly, interestingly enough, unicorns—basically, a bull with one horn, whether they're "unicorns" in the mythical sense or not is vigorously debated. There are also (in descending order of frequency) short-horned bulls, zebus, rhinoceroses, goat-antelope mixtures, bull-antelope mixtures, tigers, buffaloes, hares, elephants and goats.

Some question has arisen about whether these were seals at all—there are very few sealings (the impressed clay) which have been discovered. That's definitely different from the Mesopotamian model, where the seals were clearly used as accounting devices: archaeologists have found rooms with hundreds of clay sealings all stacked and ready for counting. Further, the Indus seals don't show a lot of use-wear, compared to Mesopotamian versions. That may mean that it wasn't the seal's impression in clay that was important, but rather the seal itself that was meaningful.

So if the seals weren't necessarily stamps, then they don't necessarily have to include information about the contents of a jar or package being sent to a far away land. Which is really too bad for us—decipherment would somewhat easier if we know or could guess that the glyphs represent something that might be shipped in a jar (Harappans grew wheat,barley, and rice, among other things) or that part of the glyphs might be numbers or place names.

Since the seals aren't necessarily stamp seals, do the glyphs have to represent language at all? Well, the glyphs do recur. There's a fish-like glyph and a grid and a diamond shape and a u-shape thing with wings sometimes called a double-reed that are all found repeatedly in Indus scripts, whether on seals or on pottery sherds.

What Rao and his associates did was try to find out if the number and occurrence pattern of glyphs was repetitive, but not too repetitive. You see, language is structured, but not rigidly so. Some other cultures have glyphic representations that are considered not language, because they appear randomly, like the Vinč inscriptions of southeastern Europe. Others are rigidly patterned, like a Near Eastern pantheon list, with always the head god listed first, followed by the second in command, down to the least important. Not a sentence so much as a list.

So Rao, a computer scientist, looked at the way the various symbols are structured on the seals, to see if he could spot a non-random but recurring pattern.

What Rao and his associates did was compare the relative disorder of the glyph positions to that of five types of known natural languages (Sumerian, Old Tamil, Rig Vedic Sanskrit, and English); four types of non-languages (Vinča inscriptions and Near Eastern deity lists, human DNA sequences and bacterial protein sequences); and an artificially-created language (Fortran).

They found that, indeed, the occurrence of glyphs is both non-random and patterned, but not rigidly so, and the characteristic of that language falls within the same non-randomness and lack of rigidity as recognized languages.

It may be that we will never crack the code of the ancient Indus. The reason we could crack Egyptian hieroglyphs and Akkadian rests primarily on the availability of the multi-language texts of the Rosetta Stone and the Behistun Inscription. The Mycenaean Linear B was cracked using tens of thousands of inscriptions. But, what Rao has done gives us hope that one day, maybe somebody like Asko Parpola may crack the Indus script.

Sources and Further Information

Rao, Rajesh P. N., et al. 2009 Entropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the Indus Script.Science Express 23 April 2009


Indus script encodes language, reveals new study of ancient symbols

April 23rd, 2009


( -- The Rosetta Stone allowed 19th century scholars to translate symbols left by an ancient civilization and thus decipher the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics.


But the symbols found on many other ancient artifacts remain a mystery, including those of a people that inhabited the Indus valley on the present-day border between Pakistan and India. Some experts question whether the symbols represent a language at all, or are merely pictograms that bear no relation to the language spoken by their creators.

A University of Washington computer scientist has led a statistical study of the Indus script, comparing the pattern of symbols to various linguistic scripts and nonlinguistic systems, including DNA and a computer programming language. The results, published online Thursday by the journal Science, found the Indus script's pattern is closer to that of spoken words, supporting the hypothesis that it codes for an as-yet-unknown language.

"We applied techniques of computer science, specifically machine learning, to an ancient problem," said Rajesh Rao, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering and lead author of the study. "At this point we can say that the Indus script seems to have statistical regularities that are in line with natural languages."

Co-authors are Nisha Yadav and Mayank Vahia at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India; Hrishikesh Joglekar, a software engineer from Mumbai; R. Adhikari at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai, India; and Iravatham Mahadevan at the Indus Research Center in Chennai. The research was supported by the Packard Foundation and the Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust.

The Indus people were contemporaries of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, inhabiting the Indus river valley in present-day eastern Pakistan and northwestern India from about 2600 to 1900 B.C. This was an advanced, urbanized civilization that left written symbols on tiny stamp seals, amulets, ceramic objects and small tablets.

"The Indus script has been known for almost 130 years," said Rao, an Indian native with a longtime personal interest in the subject. "Despite more than 100 attempts, it has not yet been deciphered. The underlying assumption has always been that the script encodes language." 


In 2004 a provocative paper titled The Collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis claimed that the short inscriptions have no linguistic content and are merely brief pictograms depicting religious or political symbols. That paper's lead author offered a $10,000 reward to anybody who could produce an Indus artifact with more than 50 symbols.

Taking a scientific approach, the U.S.-Indian team of computer scientists and mathematicians looked at the statistical patterns in sequences of Indus symbols. They calculated the amount of randomness allowed in choosing the next symbol in a sequence. Some nonlinguistic systems display a random pattern, while others, such as pictures that represent deities, follow a strict order that reflects some underlying hierarchy. Spoken languages tend to fall between the two extremes, incorporating some order as well as some flexibility.

The new study compared a well-known compilation of Indus texts with linguistic and nonlinguistic samples. The researchers performed calculations on present-day texts of English; texts of the Sumerian language spoken in Mesopotamia during the time of the Indus civilization; texts in Old Tamil, a Dravidian language originating in southern India that some scholars have hypothesized is related to the Indus script; and ancient Sanskrit, one of the earliest members of the Indo-European language family. In each case the authors calculated the conditional entropy, or randomness, of the symbols' order.

They then repeated the calculations for samples of symbols that are not spoken languages: one in which the placement of symbols was completely random; another in which the placement of symbols followed a strict hierarchy; DNA sequences from the human genome; bacterial protein sequences; and an artificially created linguistic system, the computer programming language Fortran.

Results showed that the Indus inscriptions fell in the middle of the spoken languages and differed from any of the nonlinguistic systems. 
If the
Indus symbols are a spoken language, then deciphering them would open a window onto a civilization that lived more than 4,000 years ago. The researchers hope to continue their international collaboration, using a mathematical approach to delve further into the Indus script.

"We would like to make as much headway as possible and ideally, yes, we'd like to crack the code," Rao said. "For now we want to analyze the structure and syntax of the script and infer its grammatical rules. Someday we could leverage this information to get to a decipherment, if, for example, an Indus equivalent of the Rosetta Stone is unearthed in the future."

Provided by University of Washington

'Indus Valley civilization was literate' 

4 Apr 2009, 0006 hrs IST, PTI 

NEW YORK: The 4,000-year-old Indus Valley civilization that thrived on the Indo-Pak border might have been a literate society which used a script close to present day languages like Tamil, Sanskrit and English, reveals a new finding announced on Thursday. 

A group of Indian scientists have conducted a statistical study of the symbols found in the Indus Valley remains and compared them with various linguistic scripts and non-linguistic systems like DNA and computer programming. They found that the inscriptions closely matched those of spoken languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit and English. The results published in the journal Science show that the Indus script could be “as-yet-unknown language”. 

An article in 2004 claimed that the Indus script does not represent language at all, but just represented religious or political symbols. The claim was made that the Indus civilization was not a literate civilisation,” Rajesh Rao, lead author at the Washington University said. “At this point we can say that the Indus script seems to have statistical regularities that are in line with natural languages,” he added. 

The scientists from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the Indus Research Center in Chennai collaborated with Rao to develop models which helped comparing the symbols with present day languages. According to scientists, symbols in any language neither follow a random order nor a rigid one but have some amount of flexibility in choosing next letter or word. This flexibility also known as conditional entropy helps in analysis of a language structure. 

“For example, the letter “t” can be followed by vowels like “a”, “e”, and some consonants like “r” but typically not by “b”, “d” etc. We measured this f lexibility in the choice of the next symbol in a sequence using the mathematical concept of conditional entropy,” Rao explained. 

“This is the first quantitative evidence that the Indus script likely encoded natural language rather than just religious or political symbols, suggesting the Harappans were likely a literate civilization after all,” Rao said.,prtpage-1.cms

Scientists claim to have found language of ancient Indus civilisation

If true, deciphering the words may unlock the secrets of one of the most mysterious civilisations known Example of the 4,500-year-old Indus script on a tablet. Photograph: JM Kenoyer/

Elaborate symbols drawn on to amulets and tablets by an ancient civilisation belong to an unknown language, according to a new analysis by researchers.

The controversial claim raises the prospect of deciphering the written words of one of the most mysterious civilisations known, and so opening a window onto the ancient culture.

The Indus civilisation flourished in isolation 4,500 years ago along the border of what is now eastern Pakistan, but almost no historical information exists about the people and their long-lost community.

Archaeologists working in the region have unearthed a rich hoard of artifacts, including amulets, seals and ceramic tablets, many of which are embellished with the unusual symbols.

The discovery of ancient objects belonging to the Indus has split the scholarly community, with some claiming the symbols form a primitive language and others arguing they are simply pictograms.

More than 500 distinct Indus symbols have so far been identified, which include what appear to be representations of fish, rings, men and cowheads. In 2004 one researcher offered $10,000 to anyone who could find a single Indus artifact adorned with more than 50 of the symbols.  Photograph: JM Kenoyer/

Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai decided to undertake an analysis of the symbols in the hope of settling the dispute over the Indus scripts once and for all.

Using a computer programme, the team compared patterns of Indus symbols with those found in known languages and other information systems, such as DNA and computer languages.

In some information systems a sequence of symbols can seem to be random, while in others, such as pictograms that represent deities and other concepts, there is usually a strict hierarchy that influences the order in which symbols appear. Spoken languages tend to fall somewhere between these two extremes, incorporating order as well as flexibility.  Photograph: JM Kenoyer/

When the researchers ran the analysis on a compilation of Indus texts, they found that the patterns of symbols were strikingly similar to those in spoken languages. The study, which appears in the journal Science, likens the Indus script to the ancient languages of Sumerian from Mesopotamia and Old Tamil from the Indian subcontinent.

"At this point, we can say that the Indus script seems to have statistical regularities that are in line with natural languages," said Rajesh Rao, a scientist at the University of Washington who led the study.

The team is now examining more Indus scripts in the hope of understanding its syntax and grammatical rules.

Asko Parpola, emeritus professor of indology at Helsinki University said he was optimistic the language could be deciphered.  Photograph: JM Kenoyer/

"Language is one of the hallmarks of a literate civilisation. If it's real writing, we have a chance to know their language and to get to know more about their religion and other aspects of their culture. We don't have any literature from the region that can be understood," Parpola said.

Scholars of the 19th century were only able to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics after discovering the Rosetta Stone, which was inscribed with Egyptian scripts translated into ancient Greek. To decipher the Indus language, scholars may need a similar discovery.

“Indus Script Encodes Language, Reveals New Study of Anxious Symbols”

Articles in University of Washington News and other periodicals look at the work of University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering professor Raj Rao, who is using machine learning techniques to support the hypothesis that the Indus Script is a written language.

According to the UW News article, “While the Rosetta Stone enabled scholars to translate symbols left by ancient civilizations which helped decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics,  symbols left on other ancient artifacts have remained a mystery.  The mystery remains around an as yet undeciphered script found on relics from the Indus valley.  The Indus script, used between 2,600 and 1,900 B.C. in what is now eastern Pakistan and northwest India, belonged to a civilization as sophisticated as its Mesopotamian and Egyptian contemporaries. However, it left fewer linguistic remains.

“‘We applied techniques of computer science, specifically machine learning, to an ancient problem.  … At this point we can say that the Indus script seems to have statistical regularities that are in line with natural languages’ said Rao.”

UWeek article here.

The Guardian article here.

The New Scientist article here.

Wired Science article here.

April 23, 2009

Indus script encodes language, reveals new study of ancient symbols

Science Centric
23 April 2009 18:00 GMT

The Rosetta Stone allowed 19th century scholars to translate symbols left by an ancient civilisation and thus decipher the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics.


But the symbols found on many other ancient artefacts remain a mystery, including those of a people that inhabited the Indus valley on the present-day border between Pakistan and India.


Some experts question whether the symbols represent a language at all, or are merely pictograms that bear no relation to the language spoken by their creators.


A University of Washington computer scientist has led a statistical study of the Indus script, comparing the pattern of symbols to various linguistic scripts and non-linguistic systems, including DNA and a computer programming language. The results, published online Thursday by the journal Science, found the Indus script's pattern is closer to that of spoken words, supporting the hypothesis that it codes for an as-yet-unknown language.


'We applied techniques of computer science, specifically machine learning, to an ancient problem,' said Rajesh Rao, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering and lead author of the study. 'At this point we can say that the Indus script seems to have statistical regularities that are in line with natural languages.'


Co-authors are Nisha Yadav and Mayank Vahia at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India; Hrishikesh Joglekar, a software engineer from Mumbai; R. Adhikari at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai, India; and Iravatham Mahadevan at the Indus Research Centre in Chennai. The research was supported by the Packard Foundation and the Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust.


The Indus people were contemporaries of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations, inhabiting the Indus river valley in present-day eastern Pakistan and northwestern India from about 2600 to 1900 B.C. This was an advanced, urbanised civilisation that left written symbols on tiny stamp seals, amulets, ceramic objects and small tablets.


'The Indus script has been known for almost 130 years,' said Rao, an Indian native with a longtime personal interest in the subject. 'Despite more than 100 attempts, it has not yet been deciphered. The underlying assumption has always been that the script encodes language.'


In 2004 a provocative paper titled The Collapse of the Indus-Script Thesis claimed that the short inscriptions have no linguistic content and are merely brief pictograms depicting religious or political symbols. That paper's lead author offered a $10,000 reward to anybody who could produce an Indus artefact with more than 50 symbols.


Taking a scientific approach, the U.S.-Indian team of computer scientists and mathematicians looked at the statistical patterns in sequences of Indus symbols. They calculated the amount of randomness allowed in choosing the next symbol in a sequence. Some non-linguistic systems display a random pattern, while others, such as pictures that represent deities, follow a strict order that reflects some underlying hierarchy. Spoken languages tend to fall between the two extremes, incorporating some order as well as some flexibility.


The new study compared a well-known compilation of Indus texts with linguistic and non-linguistic samples. The researchers performed calculations on present-day texts of English; texts of the Sumerian language spoken in Mesopotamia during the time of the Indus civilisation; texts in Old Tamil, a Dravidian language originating in southern India that some scholars have hypothesised is related to the Indus script; and ancient Sanskrit, one of the earliest members of the Indo-European language family. In each case the authors calculated the conditional entropy, or randomness, of the symbols' order.


They then repeated the calculations for samples of symbols that are not spoken languages: one in which the placement of symbols was completely random; another in which the placement of symbols followed a strict hierarchy; DNA sequences from the human genome; bacterial protein sequences; and an artificially created linguistic system, the computer programming language Fortran.


Results showed that the Indus inscriptions fell in the middle of the spoken languages and differed from any of the non-linguistic systems.


If the Indus symbols are a spoken language, then deciphering them would open a window onto a civilisation that lived more than 4,000 years ago. The researchers hope to continue their international collaboration, using a mathematical approach to delve further into the Indus script.


'We would like to make as much headway as possible and ideally, yes, we'd like to crack the code,' Rao said. 'For now we want to analyse the structure and syntax of the script and infer its grammatical rules. Someday we could leverage this information to get to a decipherment, if, for example, an Indus equivalent of the Rosetta Stone is unearthed in the future.'

Story from Science Centric | News


A Drone Amidst the Ruins

Geoff Manaugh on 23 Apr 2009

Wired Science today reports that Artificially Intelligent computers have at least partially cracked an otherwise unreadable, 4,000-year old language from the Indus Valley – which has at least me wondering if we haven't already entered into the world of Philip K. Dick: our archaeologists are actually software programs bringing dead languages back to life.

But something about the story also reminds me of Nina Burleigh's book Mirage, which I posted about last month, in which we read about Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. 

Accompanying Napoleon's expeditionary force was a kind of secondary army of "savants": scientists, researchers, archaeologists, linguists, and other scholars who were there, ostensibly, to produce a scientific record of Nile civilization, but who, conveniently for Napoleon, also "offered moral cover for the invasion."

From Burleigh's introduction:


When they first got to Egypt, the scientists tried to approach the land, people, animals, and relics not as tourists or literary travelers, or even colonizers, but from within their fields of scholarship. They categorized, measured, and collected, kept journals, and wrote reports that they read to one another at formal meetings in a recently vacated harem room. Set down and then abandoned in what was mostly a vast, uncharted desert, atheists surrounded by devout practitioners of a barely understood religion, encountering ruins that mutely testified to another equally unknown culture, they did not trust sense perception alone. They looked at and tried to explain what they saw by mathematically defining and classifying it.

To make a long story short, Napoleon's scientists produced a massive and heavily illustrated catalog of Egyptian culture – you can actually buy an abridged version of it from Taschen – focusing on Pharaonic monuments and sand-covered ruins. However, the invasion also led to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone – and thus to the translation of ancient hieroglyphs. 

In any case, what would the 21st-century equivalent of these savants be?

How interesting, I'd suggest, to imagine an army of Artificially Intelligent, wireless translation drones sent into the ruins of ancient temple complexes; they descend through otherwise inaccessible partly collapsed passages and domed vaults beneath hillsides in order to interpret the walls around them, narrating for the first time a vast and unfolding dream of gods and ancient earthquakes, their LEDs reflecting in colored glass mosaics on the floor. 

Maybe they'd even use Twitter.

Think of it as WALL-E meets Champollion: a lonely machine installed somewhere in the darkness beneath the ruins of ancient India, hanging out with itself and telling myths of the birth of the universe, its feed syndicated live on blogs around the world. 

It does an exclusive interview with Gizmodo – and proposals of marriage begin to pour in...

Scientist Smackdown: Ancient Indian Hieroglyphs, or Just Pretty Pictures?

By Eliza Strickland 


A computer analysis of symbols inscribed on stone tablets and artifacts more than 4,000 years ago has prompted a new debate on a fiercely contested question: Did the people of the Indus Valley civilization have a writtenlanguage? According to the researchers who conducted the latest analysis, the answer is yes, and the next step is to search for the grammatical rules governing the language. But other researchers have harsh words for the methods used in the study. “As they say: garbage in, garbage out,” [New Scientist], one critic says.


The Indus civilisation flourished in isolation 4,500 years ago along the border of what is now eastern Pakistan, but almost no historical information exists about the people and their long-lost community. Archaeologists working in the region have unearthed a rich hoard of artifacts, including amulets, seals and ceramic tablets, many of which are embellished with the unusual symbols [The Guardian]. But some researchers contend that the symbols are simply religious or political imagery, and that they don’t add up to a language. They note that most of the inscriptions are extremely short (averaging only four or five symbols), and that few symbols are used repeatedly.


For the new study, which will be published in Science, computer scientist Rajesh Rao used pattern-analyzing software to first analyze a collection of languages, including Sanskrit, ancient Sumerian, and modern English. They then examined other information systems, including a computer programming language and the sequence of DNA. The analysis used what is called “conditional entropy”. When aimed at language, this statistical technique comes up with a measure for the “orderedness” of words, letters or characters – from totally ordered to utterly random [New Scientist]. Rao’s team found that the computer programming language was highly ordered (to avoid ambiguity in commands), the DNA sequence was very random, and that spoken languages fell in the middle.


When they next seeded the program with fragments of Indus script, it returned with grammatical rules based on patterns of symbol arrangement. These proved to be moderately ordered, just like spoken languages…. [A]ccording to Rao, this early analysis provides a foundation for a more comprehensive understanding of Indus script grammar, and ultimately its meaning. “The next step is to create a grammar from the data that we have” [Wired], he says.


But researchers on the other side of the argument say that comparing the inscriptions on the Indus tablet to a small handful of languages and other information systems doesn’t provide nearly enough information to reach an informed conclusion, and argue that Rao’s team has just impressed its audience with a fancy computer trick. “There’s zero chance the Indus valley is literate. Zero,” says Steve Farmer, … who authored a 2004 paper with two academics with the goading title “The Collapse of the Indus Script Thesis: The myth of a literate Harappan civilization” [New Scientist].


Indus Script Probably Is Based on a Language

Thursday April 23, 2009


Eureka Alerts announced its press release Indus script encodes language, reveals new study of ancient symbols. The release says computer scientists have demonstrated that it is very likely that the people of the ancient Indus Valley 4000 years ago did indeed use writing on their seals (see the rhinoceros seal to the left). What else could the ancient symbols be? They could be pictures or religious/political symbols, but the chances are that they are representations for spoken language. While people have assumed the symbols on seals were writing, a 2004 article challenged this.


Archaeology Guide Kris Hirst has put together a photo essay on the topic: What Are the Seals of the Indus Civilization Like?


The ancient Indus Valley Civilization probably did not speak an Indo-European language, but Vedic writing (later than the seals and without question a language-based script) probably was based on Indo-European speech. Find out more about one theory of the spread into the Indus Valley area of the Indic languages: Formation of Indo-European Languages.

Scholars at odds over mysterious Indus script

·                                 19:00 23 April 2009 by Ewen Callaway Tablets and scrolls containing 4500-year-old Indus script were first discovered in the late 19th century, though no one has successfully translated the script (Image: J M Kenoyer/ Most inscriptions are just a handful of characters long, leading some researchers to propose that the script was used for religious or political imagery, not a written language (Image: J M Kenoyer/ The new study contends that ordering of the symbols in Indus script suggests that it is a genuine language (Image: J M Kenoyer/

An as yet undeciphered script found on relics from the Indus valley constitutes a genuine written language, a new mathematical analysis suggests.

The finding is the latest chapter in a bitter dispute over the interpretation of "Indus script". This is the name given to a collection of symbols found on artefacts from the Indus valley civilisation, which flourished in what is now eastern Pakistan and western India between 2500 and 1900 BC.

In 2002, a team of linguists and historians argued that the script did not represent language at all, but religious or political imagery.

Ordered or random?

From an analysis of the frequency and distribution of the script's characters, the team concluded that it showed few of the hallmarks of language. Most of the inscriptions contain fewer than five characters, few of the characters repeat, and many of the symbols occur very infrequently.

The new analysis by computer scientist Rajesh Rao and his team at the University of Washington in Seattle comes to the opposite conclusion.


Rao's team assessed the script samples using what is called "conditional entropy". When aimed at language, this statistical technique comes up with a measure for the "orderedness" of words, letters or characters – from totally ordered to utterly random.

"If you look at strings that contain words, then you should see that for any particular word in the string there is going to be some amount of flexibility in choosing the next word, but they're not randomly ordered," Rao says.

Which word next?

For instance, in English text, if you find the fragment "The boy went to the", there is some flexibility in what follows. Nouns like "park" and "circus" make sense, but a verb such as "eat" does not.

Rao's team applied this analysis to Indus script, Sanskrit, an ancient south Indian language called Old Tamil, and English. They also tested the conditional entropy of the Fortran computer programming language and non-languages, including DNA and protein sequences.

Indus script characters turned out to be about as randomly ordered as the other languages. Unsurprisingly, they proved less random than DNA or protein sequences and more random than the computer language, where unambiguity is essential.

Grammatical structure

"Now we can say, based on this evidence, that they probably were literate, so the big question becomes: Can you get at the underlying grammar?" Rao says. He hopes to refine his team's technique to determine the grammatical structure of Indus script and, potentially, the language family it belongs to.

"I think we are going to need more archival data, and if we are lucky enough we might stumble on a Rosetta Stone-like artefact," Rao says.

Rao's paper has already drawn a strong response from the researchers who proposed that Indus script represents religious and political symbols, not language.

"There's zero chance the Indus valley is literate. Zero," says Steve Farmer, an independent scholar in Palo Alto, California who authored a 2004 paper with two academics with the goading title "The Collapse of the Indus Script Thesis: The myth of a literate Harappan civilization."


Simulated language

As well as comparing the conditional entropy of Indus script to that of known languages, they compared it with two simulated character sets – one totally random, one totally ordered.

Farmer and colleagues Michael Witzel of Harvard University and Richard Sproat of Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland contend that the comparison with artificially created data sets is meaningless, as are the resulting conclusions. "As they say: garbage in, garbage out," Witzel says.


Unlocking history

Farmer says that the debate over Indus script is more than academic chest thumping. If Indus script is not a language, a close analysis of its symbols could offer unique insight into the Indus Valley civilisation. Some symbols are more common in some geographical locations than others, and symbol usage seems to have changed over time.

"You suddenly have a new key for unlocking how that civilisation functioned and what its history was like," he says.

J. Mark Kenoyer, a linguist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says Rao's paper is worth publishing, but time will tell if the technique sheds light on the nature of Indus script.

"At present they are lumping more than 700 years of writing into one data set," he says. "I am actually going to be working with them on the revised analysis, and we will see how similar or different it is from the current results."

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1170391 (in press)


Analysis of the 4500-year-old Indus Script
Despite a large number of attempts, the script of the Indus civilization (circa 2500-1900 BC) remains undeciphered. The absence of a multilingual "Rosetta stone" as well as our lack of knowledge of the underlying language have stymied decipherment efforts. Rather than attempting to ascribe meaning to the inscriptions, we are applying statistical techniques from the fields of machine learning, information theory, and computational linguistics to first gain an understanding of the sequential structure of the script. The goal is to discover the grammatical rules that govern the sequencing of signs in the script, with the hope that such rules will aid future decipherment efforts.


Rajesh PN Rao Faculty Member, Neurobiology & Behavior Program, University of Washington e-mail: rao[at]cs[dot]washington[dot]edu 

A possible resolution of the problem lies in thinking out of the box. Many attempts at decipherment have assumed that the signs have to represent alphabets or syllables and many have ignored the reading of pictorial motifs which are very unambiguous. A simple solution is that both signs and pictorial motifs represent words of spoken language. The whole code unravels as related to the repertoire of mine workers, smiths, metal workers, minerals, metals, alloys, furnace/smelter types. See details at presented in 15 volumes. There are rosetta stones such as the tin ingots with glyphs of the writing system. The fact is  that many inscriptions of the Indus script also occur on copper plates, metal objects, pointing to the link of invention of the writing system with the invention of alloying to create new metal artefacts during early bronze age.



Entropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the Indus Script

Rajesh P. N. Rao, Nisha Yadav, Mayank N. Vahia, Hrishikesh Joglekar, R. Adhikari, and Iravatham Mahadevan
Published online 23 April 2009 [DOI: 10.1126/science.
1170391] (in Science Express Brevia) 

Published Online April 23, 2009
Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1170391

Science Express Index


Submitted on December 30, 2008
Accepted on April 14, 2009

Entropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the Indus Script

Rajesh P. N. Rao 1*, Nisha Yadav 2, Mayank N. Vahia 2, Hrishikesh Joglekar 3, R. Adhikari 4,Iravatham Mahadevan 5

1 Department of Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
2 Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai 400005, India.; Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences, Mumbai 400098, India.
3 14, Dhus Wadi, Laxminiketan, Thakurdwar, Mumbai 400002, India.
4 The Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai 600113, India.
5 Indus Research Centre, Roja Muthiah Research Library, Chennai 600113, India.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.
Rajesh P. N. Rao , E-mail:

The script of the ancient Indus civilization remains undeciphered. The hypothesis that the script encodes language has recently been questioned. Here, we present evidence for the linguistic hypothesis by showing that the script’s conditional entropy is closer to those of natural languages than various types of nonlinguistic systems.

 Full text of the Science article is at

Supporting Online Material for

Entropic Evidence for Linguistic Structure in the Indus Script


Included in

Epigraphica Sarasvati (Indus script epigraphs as mlecchita vikalpa)

Proto-vedic continuity of Bharatiya (Indian) languages by S. Kalyanaraman and Mayuresh Kelkar (October 2005)

Munda lexemes in Sanskrit by FBJ Kuiper (1948)

"...a very considerable amount (say some 40%) of the New Indo-Aryan vocabulary is borrowed from Munda, either via Sanskrit (and Prakrit), or via Prakrit alone, or directly from Munda; wide-branched and seemingly native, word-families of South Dravidian are of Proto-Munda origin; in Vedic and later Sanskrit, the words adopted have often been Aryanized, resp. Sanskritized. "In view of the intensive interrelations between Dravidian, Munda and Aryan dating from pre-Vedic times even individual etymological questions will often have to be approached from a Pan-Indic point of view if their study is to be fruitful. It is hoped that this work may be helpful to arrive at this all-embracing view of the Indian languages, which is the final goal of these studies." (p. 9)

Mleccha linguistic area

Map of Pre-Indo-Aryan substratum languages (After F. Southworth, 2005, Linguistic Archaeology of South Asia, New York, RoutledgeCurzon, p. 65).

Allchin, FR, 1959, Upon the contextual significance of certain groups of ancient Indian signs. (BSOAS, London, VOl. XXII, Part 3, pp. 548-555 

Continuity of Sarasvati hieroglyph tradition from ca. 1000 BCE into historical periods of Hindustan (29 Jan. 2009)

Western Asia showing Mesopotamia, Turan, Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha. See Steinkeller 1984, 265 (Fig. 2)

Hermeneutics is the science of discovering new meanings and interpretations in ‘all those situations in which we encounter meanings that are not immediately understandable but require interpretive effort’ (Gadamer 1976: xii). Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1976, Philosophical Hermeneutics, ed. and trans. by David E. Linge, Berkeley: University of California Press. Such an interpretive effort has led to the decoding of Sarasvati hieroglyphs as the repertoire of miners and metalsmiths of the civilization in a linguistic area. The ancient words read rebus can be traced in many Bharatiya languages as borrowings from mleccha (Language X + proto-Munda).

Validity of mleccha usage

Paramalaghumanju_s.a_ by K. Kunjunni Raja (pp. 324-325)

E references are to the edition by Kalika Prasad Sukla (with the editor’s Jyotsna_ commentary), published at Baroda in 1961.

Significative Power (S’akti)

(E1-13). Sphot.a can be classified into eight varieties: varn.asphot.a, padasphot.a, va_kyasphot.a (each divided into the universal or the particular), akhan.d.a padasphot.a, and akhan.d.a va_kyasphot.a Of these types the va_kyasphot.a is the most important, for the sentence is the unit of speech in worldly usage. The division of the sentence into words, and further into the stems and suffixes, is only a grammatical device for analysis and has no reality…

(E37). Meaning (vr.tti) is of three kinds, primary significative power (s’akti), secondary meaning (, and suggestion (vyanjana_)…

(E43). The identity and the superimposition of word and meaning are in the mind. Strictly speaking, the existence of the meaning, as well as that of the word, is only in the mind. The word is the integral sphot.a. The meaning is a vikalpa, a mental construct that comes along with the knowledge of the word and has nothing to do with the actual existence…

One cannot say that meaning is got from corrupt words through an erroneous notion of the meaningfulness. Meaning is known without any doubt (from corrupt words), hence no confusion is to be assumed. That is why women, uneducated people, and children have to be told the corrupt words, when they have doubts on hearing the correct words. The Maha_bha_s.ya passage, ‘although meaning is known from correct as well as corrupt words, grammar gives the rules about meritorious usage’, and Bhartr.hari’s line ‘Although there is no difference in meaningfulness, the grammatical rules are for merit and demerit in usage,’ are in favor of this view. The discussion regarding the A_ryan and Mleccha usages in Mi_ma_msa_ also shows this view. This discussion itself shows that both the A_ryan and the Mleccha usages are valid; the A_ryan usage is preferred as far as the Vedic terms are concerned. (Karl H. Potter, Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, 1990, Encyclopaedia of Indian philosophies: the philosophy of the Grammarians, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publ.)

Sarasvati hieroglyphs comprise of over 100 pictorial motifs and over 400 signs. Almost all glyphs are remarkably precise including those glyphs which are referred to as geometric designs or dotted circles or svastika or ligatured composite animals or ligatured signs. This monograph explores the continuity of this hieroglyph tradition into the historical periods in India consistent with other cultural markers which continue in Hindu civilization traditions (markers such as worship of shivalinga, wearing of shankha bangles, wearing of sindhur in the parting of the hair, continued use of cire perdue technique for casting bronze murti-s, wearing of uttariyam comparable to the garment worn by the ‘priest’, yogic postures, postures of sitting in penance).

The hieroglyph tradition continues most pronouncedly in the tradition of punch-marked and cast coins from circa 1000 BCE. Some glyptic styles are also evident in Begram ivories and on the sculptures of Bharhut and Sanchi stupas and other architectural monuments. Ref.

This continuity established in the arrays of evidence adduced in this monograph lead to one hint – that the words associated with the glyphs (and meanings assigned to homonyms in the context of metalsmiths’ and miners’ repertoire) in desa bhaashaa are a continuum of the mleccha (meluhha) – the spoken, ungrammatical vernaculars as distinct from arya bhaashaa which was a literary tongue with strict adherence to grammatical rules.

The continuity of the Sarasvati civilization into the historical periods has profound implications with particular reference to language evolution. The mleccha words are likely to have been borrowed into the languages and dialects spoken in the interaction areas of the civilization which extended fully along the Vedic River Sarasvati basin. There are indications that Munda-speakers moved towards the Ganga river basin as the smelting of iron ore begain circa 18th century BCE. The area of Munda-speakers is virtually coterminus with the bronze age civilization sites.

Continuity of mleccha language-community and Sarasvati hieroglyphs (19 Jan. 2009)

Decoding the most frequently-occurring Sarasvati hieroglyphs in mlecchitavikalpa:

1.rim of jar and 2.pannier on one-horned heifer

Two glyphs of most frequent occurrence are: rim of jar and pannier on one-horned heifer. The rim (kanka) of jar connotes the fire-altar of a miner (khanaka). The pannier (kamarsaala) connotes the workshop of a smith (karmaarashaala). The heifer connotes tam(b)ra ‘copper’; hence, the composite glyph connotes coppersmith’s workshop.

Richard Burton translates 'mlecchita vikalpa' as one of the 64 arts mentioned in Vatsyayana's Kamasutra as follows: "the art of understanding writing in cypher, and the writing of words in a peculiar way." Writing in cypher. Vikalpa is an alternative representation of language, in this case, spoken words expressed in writing (cypher). Two other language-related arts listed by Vatsyanana are: deshabhaashaa jnaanam and akshara mushtika kathanam (that is: knowledge of dialects of the land and story-telling using fingers and wrists, that is, hand-gestures and finger-gestures forming mudra-s). In this triad, it is logical to interpret mlecchita vikalpa as cypher writing made by mleccha.

"In his commentary on the Kama-sutra, Yashodhara describes two kinds of mlecchita-vikalpa. One is called kautilyam in which the letter substitutions are based upon phonetic relations -- the vowels become consonants, for example. A simplification of this form is called durbodha. Another kind of secret writing is muladeviya. Its cipher alphabet consists merely of the reciprocal one with all other letters remaining unchanged. Muladeviya existed in both a spoken form -- as such it figures in Indian literature and is used by traders, with geographical variations -- and a written form, in which case it is called gudhalekhya." (David Kahn, _The Code-Breakers: The Story of Secret Writing_,New York, Macmillan, 1967, pp. 74-75)

Bronze age trade and writing system of Meluhha (Mleccha) evidenced by tin ingots from the near vicinity of Haifa (For Bronze Age Trade Workshop in 5 ICAANE, April 5, 2006) including Appendix B Mahabharata reference to mleccha (with devanagari text and translation in English)

1 khanaka m. one who digs , digger , excavator MBh. iii , 640 R. ; a miner L. ; a house-breaker , thief L. ; a rat L. ; N. of a friend of Vidura MBh. i , 5798 f. ; (%{I}) f. a female digger or excavator Pa1n2. 3-1 , 145 Pat. ; iv , 1 , 41 Ka1s3.
2 khAnaka mfn. ifc. one who digs or digs out Mn. viii , 260 (cf. %{kUpa-}) ; m. a house-breaker , thief VarBr2S. lxxxix , 9 ; (%{ikA}) f. a ditch Gal.

கனி&sup5; kaṉi

, n. < khani. Mine; பொன்முத லியன எடுக்கும் சுரங்கம். கரைகனிப் பொருளும் (திருக்காளத். பு. 11, 22).P 838 Tamil lexicon

CDIAL 3810 khaná— ‘digging’ AV. [√khan] K. khan m. ‘hole, hollow made in grain, breach in a river bank’; Ku. gng. khaṇ m. ‘digging’; N. khan—jot ‘tillage’.
CDIAL 3811 khánati ‘digs’ RV. 2. khānayati ‘causes to dig’ ŚāṅkhŚr. [√khan] 1. Pa. khanati, Pk. khaṇaï; Paš. lauṛ. khan—, ar. weg. xan— ‘to pull out or off, flay’, weg. also ‘to dig’; K. khanun, ‘to dig’, S. khaṇaṇu, Ku. khaṇṇo, N. khannu, B. khanā; H. khan ‘to dig, scrape’; G. khaṇvũkhaṇṇẽ, Ko. khaṇūka. — Deriv. Pa. khanāpēti ‘causes to be dug’, N. khanāunu. — X kṣuráti: P. khuṇṇā ‘to dig, carve, cut’; — X *kōtr— q.v. 2. Pa. khānēti ‘causes to be dug’, Pk. khāṇia—; Kho. (Lor.) kh e neik, kan° ‘to dig’, A. khāniba, M. khāṇṇẽ, Si. kaninavā, pret. kännā. — Deriv. Aś. shah. man. khanapita—, gir. kāl. khānāpita—, NiDoc. khaṇavide, A. khanāiba, OSi. absol. kaṇavaya. — Gy. pal. kánărḳắnăr ‘strips’, eur. hung. xan—, gr. xand- (pret. xanló < khānita—) ‘to dig’ rather than < kháṇḍ- atē. — M. khā̃dṇẽ ‘to dig’ X *khōdd—? Addenda: khánati. 1. Garh. khaṇnu ‘to dig’; Md. konnanīkhānayati: A. also khāndiba ‘to dig’ (X *khōdd—?). ‘to dig’, M. ‘plucks, tears’, ‘digs’. 2.
CDIAL 3812 khanana— n. ‘act of digging’ Bhartr̥. [√khan] Pa. khaṇana— n., Pk. khaṇaṇa— n., OSi. kaṇanu; - deriv. K. khananāwun ‘to cause to be dug’.
CDIAL 3813 khaní— ‘digging up’ AV., f. ‘mine’ VarBr̥S. 2. X gúhā—1. [√khan] 1. Pk. khaṇi— f. ‘mine’; NiDoc. kheni ‘pit’; A. khani ‘mine’; Or. khaṇi ‘large pit for storing paddy’, khaṇā ‘large and deep pit, trench’; H. khan m. ‘mine’, khanī f. ‘pit in which husked rice or other grain is kept’; M. khaṇ f. ‘mine, quarry’. 2. Sh. (Lor.) khōh, kho ‘cave, shelter of overhanging cliff’; P. khoh f. ‘hole, cavern, pit’; OAw. khoha ‘cave’; H. khoh, kho, khau f. ‘hole, pit, cave’; G. kho f. ‘cave’. *kūpakhani—.
CDIAL 3814 khanítra— n. ‘digging tool’ RV., °trā— f. R., °trikā— f. lex., °traka— n. ‘small do.’ Pañcat. [√khan] Pa. khanittī— f., Pk. khaṇitta— n.; N. khanti ‘spud’, A. khanti; B. khan ‘long—handled spade’, khuntikhurpā < kṣurapra—); Or. khaṇatā, °tī, khaṇantā, °tī ‘narrow spade’; Bi. khan ‘pointed iron instrument for tapping well—spring’; Mth. khanatī ‘hoe’; Bhoj. khan ‘digging instrument’; H. khan f. ‘spud’; M. khaṇtẽ n. ‘instrument for digging holes’. ‘long- handled spud’
CDIAL 3873 khāni—, °nī— f. ‘*digging instrument’. 2. ‘mine’ lex. [For twofold meaning ‘digging and result of digging’ cf. khaní— and khātra—. — √khan] 1. Kho. khen ‘mattock, hoe’. 2. Pk. khāṇī̆— f. ‘mine’; Gy. as. xani, eur. sp. xaní f., boh. xaníg f., gr. xaníng f. ‘well’; K. khān f. ‘mine’; S. khāṇi f. ‘mine, quarry, water in a pit’; L. khāṇ f. ‘mine’, P. khāṇī f., Ku. khāṇ, N. khāni; A. khāni ‘quantity’; B. khānī ‘mine’; Bi. khān ‘cavity in oil or sugar mill’, maṭi—khān ‘clay pit’; Bhoj. Aw. lakh. khāni ‘mine’; H. khān f. ‘mine, quarry, abundance’; G. khāṇi , °ṇī f. ‘mine, source’, M. khāṇ, °ṇī f.; OSi. kani ‘cave, cell’, Si. käna ‘bunch (of fruit), multitude’. — Kho. ken ‘cave, hollow in cliff’, Phal. kēṇ ← Ir.?
CDIAL 3874 khānya— ‘anything being dug out’ Pāṇ. [Cf. khánya- ‘coming from excavations’ TS. — √khan] Pk. khaṇṇa— ‘fit for digging’, n. ‘ditch’; B. khānā ‘pit, pond, ravine’.

The rim of a jar is kan.d. kan-ka (Santali). kan.d. is pot; kan-ka in Sanskrit is karn.aka 'ear or rim of jar'. Kan.d. also means 'fire-altar'. 

kanka = rim of pot (Santali)

kan:ka = a metal (Pali); kan- = copper (Ta.) kanaka = gold; kanaka_dhyaks.a = superintendent of gold, treasurer (Skt.) kan-n-a_r, blacksmiths, coppersmiths (Ta.)


kan.d.a = a pot of certain shape and size (Santali) Rebus: kan.d. = altar, furnace (Santali) khan.d.a = instrument, implement, weapon; khan.d.a puruskedae, he stretched his arm grasping the sword as high as he could; khan.d.a bhan.d.a = implements of all kinds, arms of all sorts (Santali.lex.)  khan.d.a puruskedae, he stretched his arm grasping the sword as high as he could (Santali.lex.)

Fig. Daimabad seal showing rim of jar. This is glyph Sign No. 342 (Mahadevan corpus) -- the most frequently occurring glyph in the entire corpus of Sarasvati hieroglyphs.

The most freuqently occurring glyph among Sarasvati hieroglyphs is kan.d. kan-ka 'rim of jar' (the emphasis is on the rim). This denotes rebus: the fire-altar of a miner, mine-worker (khanaka). This becomes the only glyph on a Daimabad seal dated circa 14th century BCE.

The next most freuquently-occurring glyph is the one-horned heifer (seen on 1159 epigraphs). The identifying feature of this glyph is the pannier which adorns it. See m1656 On this petoral, the pannier is vividly displayed. The orthographic accent is on the waist-zone, the pannier. This is an orthographic feature unique to the one-horned heifer. It is a phonetic rebus determinative of the artisan’s workhop: kammarsaala 'pannier' (Telugu); rebus: karmaarashaala 'workshop of smith' (Skt.)

karma_ras’a_la = workshop of blacksmith (Skt.) kamar a semi-hinduised caste of blacksmiths; kamari the work of a blacksmith, the money paid for blacksmith work; nunak ato reak in kamarieda I do the blacksmith work for so many villages (Santali) ka_rma_ra = metalsmith who makes arrows etc. of metal (RV. 9.112.2: jarati_bhih os.adhi_bhih parn.ebhih s'akuna_na_m ka_rma_ro as'mabhih dyubhih hiran.yavantam icchati_) kammar a, kamma_ra, kammaga_ra, karma_ra, karmaka_ra, kammaga_ra, kamba_ra = one who does any business; an artisan, a mechanic; a blacksmith (Ka.) kamma_l.a = an artisan, an artificer: a blacksmith, a goldsmith (Ta.Ka.); a goldsmith (Ka.) kammara = the blacksmith or ironsmith caste; kammaramu = the blacksmith’s work, working in iron, smithery; kammarava_d.u, kammari, kammari_d.u = a blacksmith, ironsmith; kammarikamu = a collective name for the people of the kamma caste (Te.) karma_ras’a_la = workshop of blacksmith (Skt.) kamma_r-asa_le = the workshop of a blacksmith (Ka.); kamasa_lava_d.u = a blacksmith (Te.) kamarsa_ri_ smithy (Mth.) kamba_r-ike, kamma_r-ike = a blacksmith’s business (Ka.Ma.)(Ka.lex.)(DEDR 1236). karmaka_ra = labourer (Pa_n.ini's As.t.a_dhya_yi: ka_rukarma = artisan's work (Arthas'a_stra : 2.14.17); karma_nta = a workshop or factory (Arthas'a_stra : 2.12.18, 23 and 27, 2.17.17, 2.19.1, 2.23.10). kamaru to be singed, burnt or scorched (by the sun, by fire)(Ka.); kamaru, kamuru, kamalu (Te.); kamarike, kamarige = the state of being singed etc.; kamaru, kanaru, kamara, kamut.u, kavut.u, kavuru, gavulu = id. (Ka.) (Ka.lex.) kamar = a blacksmith; rana kamar, the ordinary blacksmith in the country (rana is their caste or tribal name); saloi kamar, a kind of blacksmith. Kamar kami mit bar hor.ko cet akata = a few Santals have learnt blacksmith work (Santali. Bodding). Kambru = a blacksmith; ale t.hen bar or.ak kambru menakkoa = two families of blacksmiths live with us; kambru t.hene sen akana = he has gone to the blacksmith (Santali.Bodding). karuman-, karumakan- blacksmith (Ta.lex.) kammam = kammiyar (i.e. work of kammiyar or kan-n-a_r, kollar, cir-par, taccar, tat.t.a_r); kammiyanu_l = cir-panu_l, i.e. book of sculpture (Ta.lex.) kammara = the blacksmith or ironsmith caste; kammaramu = the blacksmith’s work, working in iron, smithery; kammarava_d.u, kammari, kammari_d.u = a blacksmith, ironsmith (Te.lex.) kammar-a, kammaga_r-a = blacksmith (Ka.lex.); kamma_l.a = an artisan, an artificer; a blacksmith, a goldsmith (Ka.Ta.Ma.); a goldsmith (Ka.lex.)  kammara = the blacksmith or ironsmith caste; kammaramu = the blacksmith’s work, working in iron, smithery; kammarava_d.u, kammari, kammari_d.u = a blacksmith, ironsmith (Te.lex.) kamba_r-a = blacksmith; kamba_r-ike, kamma_r-ike = a blacksmith’s business (Ka.lex.) kama_r (Or. kamha_r, toil) syn. of, blacksmith. This term seems to be applied especially to the blacksmiths of Gangpur, who, though of Mund.ari race like the lohars of Biru, Barway and other Oraon parts, are considered outcasts by the latter because they use tanned hides for their bellows. (Mundari.lex.) kambru = a blacksmith. Ale t.hen bar or.ak kambru menakkoa = two families of blacksmiths live with us; kambru t.hene sen akana = he has gone to the blacksmith (Santali.lex.Bodding) kambru guru = the reputed original teacher of the ojhas, a  mythical teacher of charms and incantations, as also of medicine. Acc. To one form of the Santal traditions the person who taught the women witchcraft was Kambru; acc. To another, it was Maran buru. It is not possible to decide whether there has been an old sage of this name; or whether it should be understood as a person from Kamrup; the Santal traditions may be understood both ways (Santali.lex.Bodding). kamar = a blacksmith, a semi-hinduized caste; kolhe kamar, a Kolhe blacksmith and iron-smelter; lohar kamar, a caste of blacksmiths that live more in conformity with Hindu caste rules (do not eat meat, do not drink beer; rare in the Santal country); rana kamar, the ordinary blacksmiths in the country (rana is their caste or tribal name); saloi kamar, a kind of blacksmith. Kamar kami mit bar hor.ko cet akata = a few Santals have learnt blacksmith work. The rule among the Santals is that a village (or several villages) keep a blacksmith who does all repairs to agricultural implements free of charge, but receives twenty seers of paddy and one winnowing-fan full of Indian corn cobs and two sheaves of pady for each plough; to make a ploughshare he is paid for the iron; to put teeth on a sickle he gets two seers of paddy, and he is also paid half a seer of rice from each house at the Sohrae. He is paid for whatever else he makes new; kara era, the wife of a blacksmith (Desi kamar; H. karmka_r; B. ka_ma_r); kamari = the work of a blacksmith, pay for such work (Santali.lex.) karma_rud.u a blacksmith, an artisan (Te.lex.) kamarsa_ri_ smithy (Mth.); kamarsak_yar (Bi.)(CDIAL 2899). 2104.Workshop: kamhala workshop (Si.); kammala smithy (Si.); kammasa_la_ (Pkt.); karmas'a_la_ workshop (MBh.)(CDIAL 2896). cf. karuman-, karumakan- blacksmith (Ta.lex.) Blacksmith; labourer: kamarsa_ri_ smithy (Mth.); kamarsa_yar id. (Bi.)(CDIAL 2899). karuman- blacksmith (Ta.); karu-makan- id. (Kampara_. Pampa_.37)(Ta.lex.) karma_ra blacksmith (RV.); kamma_ra worker in metal (Pali); kamma_ra, kamma_raya blacksmith (Pkt.); kama_r (A.); ka_ma_r (B.); kama_ra blacksmith, caste of non-Aryans, caste of fishermen (Or.); kama_r blacksmith (Mth.); kam.bura_ (Si.)(CDIAL 2898). karmakr.t performing work, skilful in work (AV.); one who has done any work (Pa_n..); workman (Skt.); kam.bul.a doing menial work (Si.)(CDIAL 2891). karmaka_ra doing work without wages (Ka_s'.); karmaka_raka one who does any work (Pa_n..); kammaka_ra hired labourer, workman (Pali); kammaga_ra servant (Pkt.); kamma_riya_ female servant or slave (Pkt.); ka_mar slave (Sv.); kama_ra_ servant (L.); kama_ro slave (Ku.N.)(CDIAL 2888). karmakara workman, hired labourer (MBh.); kammakara (Pali); kammayara servant (Pkt.); kamera_ hired labourer (H.); kam.buranava_ to serve as a menial or slave (Si.)(CDIAL 2887). karmaka_ra_payati causes to work as a servant (Skt.); kama_ra_in.u to cause to work (S.)(CDIAL 2889). ka_rma active, laborious (Pa_n..); kamma connected with work (Pkt.); ka_mu, ka_mo slave (K.); ka_mma~_, ka_ma_ farm servant (P.); ka_ma_, ka_mo servant (WPah.)(CDIAL 3074). ka_rmika engaged in action, name of a partic. Buddhist sect (Ya_j.); Public officer: ka_mi_ public officer (S.); servant (WPah.)(CDIAL 3076). Work: karman act, work (RV.); kamma (Pali); kramam., kramane, (As'.); kama (NiDoc.Si.); kamman, kamma, kamma_ (Pkt.); kam work, esp. smith's work (Gypsy); ga_m (Shum.Gaw.Bshk.); kam (Wot..K.); krum (Kal.); korum (obl. kormo)(Kho.); kam work, thing, booty (Gypsy); ka_m (Mai.Tor.Ku.); id. (N.A.B.Mth.Bhoj. H.Marw.G.M.); keram (Sv.); krom (Sh.D..); kom (Sh.); komu (K.); kamu (S.); kamm (L.P.WPah.); ka_ma (Or.Konkan.i); ka_mu (Aw.); ka_mu~ an office, administration (G.); krem, kam, klem (Ash.); s.lam (Ash.Wg.); kram (Dm.Tir.Phal.); la_m,, kur.u_m, ga_m, plo_m (Pas'.)(CDIAL 2892). Fatigue: s'rama labour (RV.); fatigue (S'Br.AV.); sama fatigue (Pali); samam. energy (As'.); sama fatigue, effort (Pkt.); seu~ worry (WPah.); mehe-ya, me_-ya work, service (Si.)(CDIAL 12683). sammati is weary (Pali); s'ramyati is tired (RV.); sammai (Pkt.); s'amu_na to become tired (D..); s.omoiki, s.omo_nu (Sh.)(CDIAL 12693). santa tired (Pali); s'ranta wearied (RV.); sam.ta (Pkt.); s'a_ndn.u to tire (WPah.)(CDIAL 12692). Labourer: ka_mat.h, ka_mi_t. busy, diligent (M.); karmis.t.ha very active (Skt.)(CDIAL 2901). kama_t.hi_, kamet.hi_ beating (P.)(CDIAL 2890). ka_ma_t.t.i labourer, one who works with a hoe, digger of earth (Ta.Ma.); ka_ma_t.i (Te.Ka.); ka_ma_t.e (Tu.); ka_ma_t.hi (M.)(Ta.lex.) kamaveti causes to work, works (NiDoc.); kamma_ve_i earns, works (Pkt.); kama~_wun to work, earn, smelt (metal)(K.); kama_in.u to work, earn, slaughter (S.); kama_van. to work, earn (L.); kama_un.a_ (P.); kuma_n.a_ (WPah.); kamu_n.o to work, cultivate (Ku.); kama_unu (N.); ka_ma_na to earn, shave (B.)[cf. kammai does barber's work (Pkt.); kramoi_ki to use, employ, spend (Sh.)(CDIAL 2894)]; kama_iba to work, earn (Or.); kama_eb to serve, weed (a field)(Mth.); kama_vai earns (OAw.); kama_na_ (H.); kama_vvu~ to help to earn (G.); kama_vu~ to earn (G.); kama_vin.e~ (M.)(CDIAL 2897). kramo_nu hardworking; labourer, farmer (Sh.); kamun.a artisan (Si.)(CDIAL 2893). kra_mi_n low-caste labourer such as a (Sh.); karmi_n.a competent (S'Br.); kami_n. labourer (man or woman)(WPah.); ka_min.a_ labourer (MB.)(CDIAL 2902). kammika overseer (Pali) kammi, kammia industrious; evildoer (Pkt.); ki_yema blacksmith (Pr.); ki_ma slave (Pr.); kami_ labourer (S.); kammi_ village labourer, menial (L.P.); ka_mi blacksmith (N.); ka_mi_ day labourer (Or.); industrious (H.M.); ka_mia_ servant who works in repayment of interes on money borrowed by his master (Or.); kamiya~_ agricultural labourer who works on advances (Bi.); ka_miya_ labourer (H.); kami artificer (OSi.); kamiya_ worker (Si.); ka_min.i female labourer (Or.); kamyulu farm labourer who lives in (K.); kamilo ant (N.); kamila_ useful (A.)(CDIAL 2900). ka_ma_t.i_ a caste of Hindus who are generally labourers and palanquin bearers (G.); komat.i_ (M.)(G.lex.) ka_ma_t.a = labour or work (for wages)(Ka.); ka_ma_t.i, ka_ma_t.a = a day-labourer (Ka.M.Te.Ma.Ta.); a house-servant (M.)


kamarasa_la = waist-zone, waist-band, belt (Te.) kammaru = the loins, the waist (Ka.Te.M.); kamara (H.); kammarubanda = a leather waist band, belt (Ka.H.) kammaru = a waistband, belt (Te.) kammarincu = to cover (Te.) kamari = a woman’s girdle (Te.) komor = the loins; komor kat.hi = an ornament made of shells, resembling the tail of a tortoise, tied round the waist and sticking out behind worn by men sometimes when dancing (Santali) kambra = a blanket (Santali) [Note the pannier tied as a waist band to the one-horned heifer.][ notes that the English word 'shawl' meaning 'a square or oblong piece of cloth worn as a covering for the head, neck, and shoulders' has th eymology: Persian shl, ultimately from Sanskrit , cloth, sari. Hence, kamarsaala in Telugu to refer to the pannier taken through the kamar 'loins'. ]

damr.a m. a steer; a heifer; damkom = a bull calf (Santali)

Rebus: damr.i = copper; tamb(r)a = copper (Skt.); tamba = copper (Santali) damr.i, dambr.i, damt.i ‘one-eighth of a pice (copper)’; dammid.i id. (Telugu) damr.i, dambr.i one eighth of a pice (Santali) damd.i_, damd.o lowest copper coin (G.) ta_mbad.a copper plate; ta_mbad.i_, ta_mbad.o a copper pot; ta_mbum copper (G.)

The imagery on the pectoral m1656 shows overflowing (liquid) from the rim of the jar. The words which evoke this imagery are: er-e = to pour any liquids; to pour (Ka.); ir-u (Ta.Ma.); ira- i_i (Ta.); er-e = to cast, as metal; to overflow, to cover with water, to bathe (Ka.); er-e, ele = pouring; fitness for being poured(Ka.lex.) erako molten cast (Tu.lex.)


Rebus: eraka, er-aka = any metal infusion (Ka.Tu.); urukku (Ta.); urukka melting; urukku what is melted; fused metal (Ma.); urukku (Ta.Ma.); eragu = to melt; molten state, fusion; erakaddu = any cast thng; erake hoyi = to pour meltted metal into a mould, to cast (Ka.)

The owner of the pectoral is a coppersmith with a workshop and professional in working with metal infusion or fused metal or cast metal.

Rings on neck of one-horned heifer. One horn is kod. Rings on neck are: kot.iyum.

Rebus: kot. 'artisan's workshop'.(Kuwi)

ku_t.a 'horn'; rebus: 'workshop' (Ta.) is also connoted by a glyph: a 'summit of a mountain'.

kot.iyum [kot., kot.i_ neck] a wooden circle put round the neck of an animal (G.) [cf. the orthography of rings on the neck of one-horned young bull]. ko_d.iya, ko_d.e = young bull; ko_d.elu = plump young bull; ko_d.e = a. male as in: ko_d.e du_d.a = bull calf; young, youthful (Te.lex.)  ko_d.iya, ko_d.e young bull; adj. male (e.g., ko_d.e du_d.a bull calf), young, youthful; ko_d.eka~_d.u a young man (Te.); ko_d.e_ bull (Kol.); khor.e male calf (Nk.); ko_d.i cow; ko_r.e young bullock (Kond.a); ko_d.i cow (Pe.); ku_d.i id. (Mand.); ko_d.i id., ox (Kui); ko_di cow (Kuwi); kajja ko_d.i bull; ko_d.i cow (Kuwi)(DEDR 2199). kor.a a boy, a young man (Santali) go_nde bull, ox (Ka.); go_da ox (Te.); konda_ bull (Kol.); ko_nda bullock (Kol.Nk.); bison (Pa.); ko_nde cow (Ga.); ko_nde_ bullock (Ga.); ko_nda_, ko_nda bullock, ox (Go.)(DEDR 2216).

a_ca_ri kot.t.ya = forge, kamma_rasa_le (Tu.) kod. = place where artisans work (G.) kot.d.i_ a room (G.)

kod. = place where artisans work (G.lex.) kod. = a cow-pen; a cattlepen; a byre (G.lex.) gor.a = a cow-shed; a cattleshed; gor.a orak = byre (Santali.lex.) got.ho [Skt. kos.t.ha the inner part] a warehouse; an earthen vessel in wich indigo is stored (G.lex.) kot.t.amu = a stable (Te.lex.)

kod. = artisan’s workshop (Kuwi)

ko_d. (pl. ko_d.ul) horn (Pa.); ko_t.u (in cmpds. ko_t.t.u-) horn (Ta.); ko.r. (obl. ko.t.-) horns (one horn is kob), half of hair on each side of parting, side in game, line marked out (Ko.); kwi.r. (obl. kwi.t.-) horn (To.); ko_d.u horn (Ka.); ko_r.. horn (Ka.); ko_d.u horn (Tu.); ko_d.u rivulet (Te.); ko_r (pl. ko_rgul) id. (Ga.); ko_r (obl. ko_t-, pl. ko_hk) horn of cattle or wild animals (Go.); ko_r (pl. ko_hk), ko_r.u (pl. ko_hku) horn (Go.); kogoo a horn (Go.); ko_ju (pl. ko_ska) horn, antler (Kui)(DEDR 2200). Tailless he-buffalo; ox with blunt horns: that which is short; dwarf snake, calamaridae;, tailless he-buffalo (Ta.)(DEDR 1914). 1787.Image: horn: ku_t.a any prominence: a horn (Ka.); ko_d.u, ko_r.. a horn of animals; a tusk (Ka.)(Ka.lex.) ko_r.., ko_d.u a horn;, ko_r..kil.,, id. (Ka.); ko_d.u kut.t.u to strike or gore with the horn or with the tusk (Ka.); ko_d.u a horn of animals; a tusk (Ka.); ko_d.u-vi_sa the allowance of a vis of corn etc. for every bullock-load that comes into town etc.; kud.u the state of being crooked, bent (Ka.); kod.u (Ma.)(Ka.lex.) ku_t.a horn, bone of the forehead, prominence (Vedic); prominence, top (Pali.lex.) ku_t.a a horn; an ox whose horns are broken; ku_n.ika_ the horn of any animal (Skt.lex.) sin:ghin horn projecting in front (Santali.lex.) ku_n.ika_ the horn of any animal; ku_t.a bone of the forehead with its projections, the crown of the head; end, corner (Skt.lex.)

ku_t.a = horn (RV 10.102.4; AV 8.8.16; AitBr. 6.24; S'Br.; JBr.1.49.9; 50.1 (JAOS, 19, 114).

The glyph ‘horns’ also represents ‘hammer’ and suffixed to a_ra- the metal, a_raku_t.a ‘brass’:

ku_t.amu = the summit of a mountain (Te.lex.) blacksmith's workshop, smithy (Ta.lex.) kol-l-ulai blacksmith's forge (kollulaik ku_t.attin-a_l : Kumara. Pira. Ni_tiner-i. 14)(Ta.lex.) mint (Ta.)

ku_t.amu = summit of a mountain (Te.lex.) Rebus: ku_t.akamu = mixture (Te.lex.) = workshop (Ta.)

a_raku_t.a = brass (Skt.) a_raku_t.a = arsenical copper [Arthas’a_stra].

a_ra brass (Ka.) a_raku_t.a (Skt.) ku_t.akamu = mixture (Te.lex.)

[a_r-a, ar_a = suffix to denote one who makes things: kamma_r-a, uppa_r-a = smith, salt-maker (Ka.); a_r-r-u = to do, make (Ta.); a_re, a_reka_r-a, a_reya = a Mahratta man (Ka.Te.)] = a room (Ta.lex.)

Kuiper cites from Southworth the following examples of glosses, testifying to a ‘strong foreign impact’: ku_t.a, ‘house’; kun.d.a, ‘pot, vessel’; u_rdara, ‘a measure for holding grain’; apu_pa, ‘cake’; odana, ‘rice dish’; karambha, ‘a kind of gruel’; pin.d.a, ‘a lump of flesh’; ulu_khala, ‘mortar’; ka_rotara, ‘sieve, drainer’; camris., ‘ladle’; kos’a, ‘cask, bucket’; kr.s’ana, ‘pearl’; ki_na_s’a, ki_na_ra, ‘ploughman’; khilya, ‘waste piece of land’; la_n:gala, ‘plough’; si_ra, ‘plough’; pha_la, ‘ploughshare’; tilvila, ‘fertile, rich’; bi_ja, ‘seed’; pippala, ‘berry of the ficus religiosa’; mu_la, ‘root’; khala, ‘threshing floor’; r.bi_sa, ‘volcanic cleft’; kevat.a, ‘cave, pit’; kr.pi_t.a, ‘thick or firewood’; s’akat.i_, ‘cart’; a_n.i, ‘linch-pin’; va_n.i, ‘swingle tree’; kulis’a, ‘axe’; ku_t.a, ‘mallet’.(cf. Southworth, F.C., 1979, Lexical evidence for early contacts between Indo-Aryan and Dravidian, in: M.M. Deshpande and P.E. Hook, eds., Aryan and Non-Aryan in India, Ann arbor, pp.191-233).

ku_t.a, ‘chief’ ku_t.a a house, dwelling (Skt.lex.) kaut.a living in one's own house, hence, independent, free; kaut.ika-taks.a (opp. to gra_ma-taks.a) an independent carpenter, one who works at home on his own account and not for the village (Skt.lex.) gra_ma-ku_t.a = village chief (Skt.lex.) ku_t.ud.u = a stone cutter (Te.lex.)

Thus, the hieroglyph of a one-horned heifer, with a pannier, with rings on neck clearly connotes an artisan's workshop kod. -- in this case, the coppersmith's karmaarashaala. The artisan could also be a village chief 'ku_t.a'.

Standard device (Orthography and rebus reading of this glyph are presented in a separate page).

The other glyph which occurs as frequently as the one-horned heifer is the 'standard device' in front of the heifer. The standard device is also a hieroglyph, san:gad.a 'lathe'; rebus: furnace. The word san:gad.a can also be denoted by a glyph of combined animals. The bottom portion of the 'standard device' is sometimes depicted with 'dotted circles'. khangar ghongor 'full of holes'; (Santali) rebus: kangar 'portable furnace' (Kashmiri). This device also occurs by itself and as variants on 19 additional epigraphs, in one case held aloft like a banner in a procession which also includes the glyph of the one-horned heifer as one of the banners carried.

Evidence for mleccha spoken in India, prior to 8th century BCE

If mlecchita vikalpa occurred in Kamashastra, Mleccha could have been lingua franca prior to 8th century BCE, when Nandi transcribed the work (The work of Vatsyayana uses the term, mlecchita vikalpa, to denote cipher writing of mleccha, lingua franca).

 An early version of Kamashastra is pre-dates eighth century BCE. As Alain Danielou notes: “The predecessors of Vatsyayana. The first formulation of the Kamashastra, or rules of love, is attributed to Nandi, Shiva’s companion. During the eighth century BCE, Shvetaketu, son of Uddalaka, undertook the summary of Nandi’s work.The date is known, since Uddalaki and Shvetaketu are the protagonists of the Brihat Aranyaka Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad, which are usually dated to this period and contain important passages connected with erotic science. A man of letters called Babhru, together with his sons or disciples, known as the Babhravya, made an important written work, summarizing the too-vast work of Shvetaketu. The Babhravya came originally from Panchala, a region located between the Ganges and the Yamuna, to the south of present-day Delhi, but most probably lived in the city of Pataliputra, the great center of the kingdom of Chandragupta, which resisted Alexander’s invasion in the fourth century and became the seat of the Ashoka empire a century later…The text of Suvarnanabha must date from the first century BCE, since it mentions a king of Kuntala (to the south of Pataliputra), named Shatakarni Shatavahana who reigned at this time and who killed his wife accidentally in the course of sadistic practices. On the other hand, Yashodhara, at the beginning of his commentary, attributes the origin of erotic science to Mallanaga, the ‘prophet of the Asuras’ (the ancient gods), meaning to prehistoric times. Nandi, Shiva’s companion, is then said to have transcribed it for manking today. The attribution of the first name Mallanaga to Vatsyayana is due to the confusion of his role as editor of the Kama Sutra with that of the mythical creator of erotic science.” (Alain Danielou, 1994, The complete Kama Sutra, Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, pp.3-4).

Tamilla as a synonym of Milangka, Wilangka (Milakkha, mleccha, Pali)

“This is something about Pali on the northern Thai fringe, or about Sri Lanka in the Chiangmai valley: The term Lawa was used in reference to highland outsiders in Lanna and Shan States. Its longer form is Damilawa , and is said to derive from the Sanskrit Damila, the same term as informed the Buddhist Sri Lankan ethnic term Tamil for their non-Buddhist Others. The root of the term lay in Sinhalese chronicle accounts of the state and its dark-skinned enemies. Thus, along with the localization of Buddhism in mainland Southeast Asia came certain aspects of ethnic ranking and prejudice that contributed to rulers’ ability to contextualize in universalistic terms their rule and the peoples that it excluded. Many Chiangmai chronicles used the term Tamilla for Lawa. Some used the term Milangka. Wilangka, a variant on that term, was used among Lawa in reference to their chief who lost out to the lowland forces. Milangka is derived from Milakkha, the Pali language equivalent to the Sankrit Mleccha (“savages”).Leif Jonsson // Oct 17, 2008

Mlecchitavikalpa is a term which occurs in Vatsyayana's vidyaasamuddes'a (objectives of learning) s'loka listing 64 arts: three of these arts related to language are: des'abhaashaa jnaana; akshara mushtika kathana; mlecchita vikalpa [trans. learning dialects of the linguistic area (des'a); messaging through use of fingers and wrists; cryptography (writing system)].

Mlecchitavikalpa means: alternative representation of language through writing. Mlecchita means 'made by mleccha'. Mleccha means 'copper workers'.

Thus, mlecchitavikalpa relates to the writing system invented by early metal-workers, mleccha (meluhha) of the Sarasvati linguistic area.

Notes on mleccha (persons living by agriculture or making weapons), mlecchita vikalpa
Vidyaasamuddes'a is a s'loka by Vatsyayana listing 64 arts as the objective of learning or acquiring knowledge, jnaana (one of these is mlecchitavikalpa, writing system)

64 arts to be studies as listed by Vatsyayana

Epigraphica SarasvatiSlide show of 3660 images/objects with Sarasvati hieroglyphs (so-called Corpus of Indus script inscriptions) decoded, read rebus as mlecchita vikalpa: Repertoire of smithy/mint -- minerals, metals, alloys, furnaces

Writing system and metallurgical traditions

In an amazing example of abiding continuity of hieroglyph of an antelope looking backward [(krammara 'looking back' (Telugu); rebus: kamar 'smith' (Santali); ranku 'antelope'; rebus: ranku 'tin' (Santali)] tin ingots found in a shipwreck near St. IVes in Cornwall showed this hieroglyph.

Gadd seals -- S. Kalyanaraman (2008) [Sarasvati hieroglyph collection samples outside India and Pakistan]


1. Sarasvati > Hravat > Kravat > Croat
2. Sarasvati riverine, maritime, cultural profiles
3. Epigraphica Sarasvati;; Mlecchita vikalpa (aka Indus script) corpus
4. Epigraphica Sarasvati -- another select scan
5. Epigraphica Sarasvati -- Discovery sites map

Sarasvati > Hravat > Kravat > Croat

Cultural profiles: Sarasvati

Epigraphic Sarasvati: Corpus

Epigraphica Sarasvati: Select scan

Epigraphica Sarasvati -- Discovery sites map Cf. Source map

Indus script encodes mleccha speech 5 volumes (2008)

Continued on webpage: Indus Writing