Home‎ > ‎

Agricultural signs- I.Mahadevan

Agricultural Signs in the Indus Script

Iravatham Mahadevan*
Reference ----Review of Agrarian Studies ----

*Iravatham Mahadevan (iravatham.jani@gmail.com) is a specialist in Indian epigraphy whose areas of specific study are the Indus script and the Brahmi writing system.

The Journal of the Foundation for Agrarian Studies ISSN 2248-9002, Vol. 2, No. 2, July-December 2012

Abstract: The Indus script pos­sessed a set of signs re­fer­ring to crop and share of the agri­cul­tural pro­duce (Chart I). Five hi­er­ar­chi­cal lev­els of levies on the pro­duce have been iden­ti­fied, namely, those due to god, state, city, land owner, and the ten­ant-farmer. Sur­vivals of the agri­cul­tural signs in the Indus script as pot­tery graf­fiti in later pe­ri­ods are il­lus­trated in Chart II. A list of signs of the Indus script de­pict­ing agri­cul­tural im­ple­ments is also in­cluded (Chart III).

Keywords: The Indus civ­i­liza­tion, the Indus script, agri­cul­tural signs in the Indus script, agri­cul­tural im­ple­ments in the Indus script.

Like all other contemporary river-valley civilisations of the Bronze Age, the Indus or Harappan Civilisation was based on agricultural surplus. The annual flooding in the Indus and the rivers of the Punjab brought down rich silt, making irrigated land very fertile. There must have existed an administrative machinery to collect the grain as taxes due to the State or as offerings to the temples. The grain would have been stored in large granaries for distribution as wages, especially to the army of workers employed in the construction of massive public works, such as the brick platform at Mohenjodaro, the fortifications at Harappa, city drainage systems, irrigation canals, and so on.

It would have been convenient to control the apportionment of grain right at the threshing floor. Sheaves of grain-stalks would have been bundled into lots and marked with clay-tags that were then impressed with seals to identify ownership before the grain was transported to granaries or taken away by landlords as their share, leaving the rest as the share of tenant-farmers or wages to the cultivators.

It is thus quite likely that Harappan seals and sealings would contain information on agricultural production and distribution. This probable scenario has led me to search for and identify a remarkable set of closely knit signs that appear to refer to crops and sharing of grain.

Doubts arising out of about the above said interpretation:

1) In share cropping only the final product ( the grain) is shared not the sheaf (Bundles of cut crop).
Calculating and sharing bundles is difficult exercise, only the final refined product is calculated and shared. 

2) The above said signs are part of a long inscription, partial reading of few signs will lead to misleading conclusions, entire inscription should be taken into consideration.

3) The full inscriptions is not readily available ---to be traced out .