12. Calendar Theory and Fundamental symbols



                          Indus script remains undeciphered because the lengths of the words available in the seals are short and repetition of similar things and is not tallying with any known scripts. The view expressed in this book is that the origin of Indus civilization lies in Mesopotamia and not a local evolution. Because of the view that Sumeria was the source of IVC origin, the language of Indus valley also might have been similar to the language of that Sumeria. It is a difficult task to ascertain the nature of the language of Sumerian people because it is an extinct language and the Euphrates and Tigris valley had been invaded by various people at various times. Further, it is difficult to ascertain which period of Mesopotamian cultures coincides with that of Indus civilization. The only closest relative to the Indus language was that of Elamites (Southern Iran- Susa). Unfortunately, the proto- Elamite script (c.3100- 2900) is very poorly understood, and not many details are available.

Asko Parpola  

                              He is professor emiratus of Indology at Helsinki University, Finland. He is generally recognized as the world’s expert on the Indus script. Asko Parpola has been studying the Indus script for the past 30 years. A grand summary of Dr. Parpola’s work “deciphering the Indus script” was published in the year 1994, and it is the basic source for Indus script study and forms the basic foundation on which decipherment work of Indus script could be carried out. Even though the Indus scripts are not deciphered satisfactorily so far, his contribution to “Indic studies” are great and should be recognized by Government of India by honouring him with “Bharat Bhushan” or some other suitable award.

Iravatham Mahadevan

                       Mahadevan is another important person involved in the effort to decipher Indus symbols.  He is a retired officer from Indian Administrative Service and study of epigraphy is his hobby.  He published his monograph on the Tamil Brahmi script and it helped in proper decipherment of Tamil Inscriptions found in temples and caves of Tamilnadu.  In 1970, the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship was awarded to him and was asked to work on the problem of Indus Script. Full details about his ideas on Indus Scripts can be found in his interview published in Harappa.com. (1998 interview)

Steve Farmer  and others

                         The other group interested in deciphering Indus script consists of S.Farmer, (Director,The Cultural Modelling Research Group, Palo Alto, California); Richard Sproat and Michael Witzel (Professor, Harvard University).  In the 2003, S. Farmer and Witzel has come out with a joint statement that Indus scripts are something like religious symbols and does not carry any phonetic value and symbols did not evolve in linguistic direction even after in use for 600 years. They further suggested that the Indus symbols were used as non-linguistic symbol system that served key religious, political and social functions without encoding speech or serving as formal memory aids.

                              This opinion is in contrast to the opinion of Parpola and Mahadevan who believe that the script carries some alphabetic or phonetic value. One point should be clear that just because they used symbols, does not mean that they were barbarians. The symbols carried astronomical values, but might not have carried any phonetic value. It does not make modern day astronomer an illiterate person just because he uses some common symbols. In fact modern astronomers are still using same old constellation symbols to describe the star constellations. In few cases old symbols have been replaced and some new symbols have been  introduced over a period of time. Because of the said changes in symbols, it has become difficult for us to identify the star constellations being indicated in Indus seals. A comparative study of star symbols of old and new will solve this problem.

                              Even though the argument of Steve Farmer could be accepted to certain extent, there are still some exceptions to his conclusion. For example, the fish symbol and the ‘U’ symbol does carry some phonetic value as being discussed in the following paragraphs, which shows that there was some phonetic value to the Indus symbol and only problem is that it has not yet been deciphered properly.

Fish symbol           

                               This is the first symbol to be properly identified by Father Heras; he identified that “meen” in Tamil means ‘fish’ as well as ‘star’. Asko Parpola has shown the use of the fish as symbol for heavenly bodies. It is a symbolism that the stars swim in the heavenly ocean. So far various interpreters had identified this fish applicable both for stars as well as planet. However it looks like that Indus priests were very specific in usage of fish symbol applicable only to planets and not for star constellations.  The list of planets in Horoscope chart shows that only planets are symbolised with fish sign, whereas only one star constellation is depicted with fish sign. Fish sign with “bar” indicates month and fish sign with “eastern corner sign” (cap sign) indicates that it is sign of Venus.  For other variations in fish signs refer to the details under chapter ‘Navagraha’.  .

      "Mee" Symbol     

                       ----- This symbol means “month” in Tamil language.  (Omniglot.com)  But it is not a regular alphabet and is a specialized religious way of writing in wedding cards or other religious functions. This symbol is being used to depict “Month”. It looks like that in Indus period also the symbol     was used to depict a month. It should be noted here that the month symbol “ ” (mee) is the extended form of      ’ (Me).  “Maatham” means “month” in Tamil, logically the symbol for month should be simply ‘ ’ (maa) instead of that people are still writing ‘mee’.  This could be the effect of ‘meen’ symbol of Indus people. Even now this letter is in usage, it is a specialized form of alphabet. Its origin is the same as “ ” symbol of Indus civilisation and is being used even now. 

---Jar symbol (U---symbol)
                           In our quest for new interpretation of the Indus symbol, the key role is being played by this jar symbol. Many of the inscriptions on the seals are ending with this symbol, and this has been identified as jar, but it is not known, what for this jar was used by the Indus people. Wunderlich in his observation saw that the snake motif was occurring frequently in the pithoi found in Minoan palaces. He interpreted it as a symbol of protection of the mummies kept in those jars or funeral urns. There are many kinds of funeral urns some are big enough to keep the mummified body, some are medium sized urn to keep the bones after decomposition of the flesh of the body or remains of bones after burning of corpses, and much smaller ones are used to keep body entrails in case of mummification, as it was done in Egypt. (Wunderlich, 1974)

                               This jar model sketch is drawn after the vase depicted in the book “Myths and legends” by David Bellingham (David Bellingham, 1996) (page 132) in the narration no detail is given about the location of find, (or) where is it available now? The description says that the vase is decorated with animals that represent the 12 months of the year. Beyond that no details are available except that it is a part of Chinese mythology. In my opinion it looks like a funeral pot which could have been used in Chinese Turkmenistan, which was under the central Asian cultural influence during the Indus period days. It might have been used as a funeral urn depicting various animals as protection to the funeral remains inside the urn.  This theory may be a farfetched and imaginative one, but still this “urn” gives a visual idea to the nature of jars used in funeral complexes of Indus culture. These kinds of jars might have been used in the earliest part of Sumerian civilization at Mesopotamia, but by the time it entered into India only symbols were being used but actual pots with these designs were not in use. This problem is further compounded by the fact that the grave robbers used to break the pots to quickly grab the valuable things inside the pots.  Because of this reason, we do not get any full unbroken pot specimens.

                                Parpola suggested in his book that this symbol looks like the head of a cow. His observation seems to be logical, the identification of various body parts of Kalan shows that this  symbol indicates the head of Kalan, which is a head of a bull and not human head.  Now the contradiction is that there are two explanations for one symbol. This has to be reconciled. In ancient mythology or astrology all the events happening in earth are influenced by the similar events in heaven. For every allegorical expression, there were two events; one in heaven and one in earth. It looks like that the  symbol meant head of Kalan in heaven and meant “Death” in earth (or) burial of a dead body after putting into a Pithoi.  Now the relevance of seal correlates with the place of find. As said earlier the Indus culture centres were grave yards and the seals are tokens of identity of the dead persons.

                                  The funeral priests would have used those tokens as a kind of “label card” as a mark of identification to identify the mummified bodies at the burial chamber as well as to remember the month and date of death of the mummified person. These tokens would have helped the priests as well as family members to remind and remember the date of death of a person so that future anniversary memorial ceremonies could be conducted on the proper Nakshatra. It is the regular practice in Hindu custom even now that the dead person is remembered by way of annual ceremonies and the date is decided, based on the month and Nakshatra, the exact date is not required. One additional detail is required in modern time, to determine it is the waxing phase or waning phase of moon. This is necessary in modern calendar because it is a lunisolar calendar and interaction of moon calendar and solar calendar are interpolated all the time. But in the time of Indus culture period they were using only moon calendar, and there was no need to determine the waxing and waning phase. The movement of moon through 27 Nakshatra constellation decides the day (Thithi = moon day)

                              The third explanation for the symbol is that it equalizes the ‘ ’ (vu) symbol of Tamil. (Refer to the Tamil symbols in the web site Omniglot.com.) ‘ ’ symbol denotes ‘day’ in Tamil and even now it is in usage, but this symbol is not regularly used, it is being used only on the special occasions like marriage invitation or funeral card invitation or some important traditional documents. There is no pictorial connection between  symbol and ‘Vu’ (day), the connection is a phonetic value. The burial Pithoi is called as ‘vurai’ (vu-rai) in Tamil.  In fact there are many more words beginning with ‘Vu’ depicting a pot. (Vu-gai, Vun-dai, and Vun-dial) all of them starting with phonetic value ‘Vu’. In addition to that; the word ‘Vurai’ also meant ‘to live in’. It might have meant that the dead person was living inside the funeral pot. All these examples show that there was phonetic value for  symbol. Because of this said example the conclusion of Steve Farmer that is partially incorrect. It is likely that many more phonetic values will be decoded after proper deciphering of Indus scripts.

                                The plain “U” symbol without side attachment of snake motif (plain jar) means sacrificial jar in which blood of sacrificial victim was offered before god. This jar is different from the “funeral jar” mentioned above. The final conclusion is that the logos mentioned in the seal are pictogram and not a script. All the Indus inscriptions are ending with pictogram “ ” means “day” of death preceded by Nakshatra (day= Thithi) and month. Many a times the month names are also similar to the Nakshatra name, because some important and popular names of Nakshatra were being used as month name.  The Indus priest were in dilemma, how to differentiate between month and date? That problem was solved by putting “quotation” (“) mark over (or) adjacent to the month symbol. While reading the Indus seal, it should be always remembered that any symbol with quotation mark specify a month.

 spear symbol

                                   After the jar symbol that place was taken over by spear, because the funeral urn was not in use for long time, symbol followed what was currently in practice. Priests started using spear symbol to mean death instead of jar symbol. There is a possibility that it is the Greek influence after the invasion of Alexander into India, some modern looking symbols pertain to this period. Three parallel stripes of lines indicate the three foot prints of Vishnu in Aquila constellation (or) symbol of Perseus constellation; it is totally new symbol which had not been seen earlier. Asko Parpola has interpreted this as sign of ‘life’, but I feel that it meant exactly the opposite of it, and meant ‘Death’. The seals with spear symbols should be treated as later day seals, in the last phase of Indus Valley culture. Now it is important to state here that there was a change in funeral practice, along with that “U” symbol also disappears, because the corpses were not being interned in Pithoi but being cremated. Hence it did not make sense to use the “U” symbol; instead of that  spear symbols were used to depict death. Most probably, after burial of dead body of the grave was marked by planting a spear (sign of soldier). Most probably because of the cremation practices, the “U” symbol might have got displaced by spear symbol.

                                    The  second explanation for spear symbol is that, this symbol could have stood for Sumerian God "Marduk". Just like Tamil God "Muruga" is always identified with symbol of "Spear", it is possible that symbol of spear might have indicated "Marduk" , there by the phonetic sound of "Ma". In turn "Ma" sound might have been the abbreviation for "Maas" (Sanskrit word for --Month) ("Maatham" ---Tamil word for "Month") 

Indus symbols interpreted

Indus Inscriptions on seals interpreted