Indus script

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The Indus script (also known as the Harappan script) is a corpus of symbols produced by the Indus Valley Civilization.


  • “The Indus writing is a mixed one in the sense that pictures of birds, scorpion, dog, goat, pipal leaf, grassy plant, bee, ant, three-peaked hill, horn of animal and a few schematized pictures like ‘man’, ‘fish’, ‘hand’ and ‘fence’ appear side by side with cursive signs, some of which bear resemblance to Brâhmî and Roman characters. Besides true pictures and cursive signs, there are some linear signs and ‘pseudo-pictures’. The latter look like pictures but are, in reality, compound signs formed by joining two or more cursive signs. Quite often, short lines (diacritics) are attached to pseudo-pictures and sometimes two identical basic cursive signs are joined to form a compound sign. These and other pseudo-pictures are often mistaken by decipherers for pictures of ‘archer’, ‘bowman’, ‘soldier holding shield’, ‘coolie carrying load’ or ‘praying man’, but they are compound signs. When analyzed, the components are found to be basic signs which appear independently in other inscriptions. Two or three basic signs are intelligently joined to form picture-like samyukta aksara-s (conjunct consonants) and syllables. When phonetic value is given, the words formed by them are meaningful.”
    • (S.R. Rao: “Writing, Language and Religion of the Harappans and Indo-Aryans”, in B.U. Nayak & N.C. Ghosh: New Trends, pp.201-237, specifically p.201) quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2007). Asterisk in bharopiyasthan: Minor writings on the Aryan invasion debate.
  • [the Indus script is] “the artistic version of Brahmi”.
    • Prof. Banka Behari Chakravorty(B.B. Chakravorty: Indus Script -- the Artistic Version of Brahmi, Calcutta 1991).quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2007). Asterisk in bharopiyasthan: Minor writings on the Aryan invasion debate.
  • [N.K. Verma's] “discovery of Indus Valley script amongst the Santhals of Bihar-Bengal border, after an uninterrupted gap of three thousand and five hundred years time span and at a geographical distance of 2500 miles. (...) He solved this riddle by learning the unique symbols with sound-value which are used by the Santhals of Sahibganj area during their religious rites. (...) Controversy may arise on the point of accuracy or correctness of what Verma has deciphered in the symbols that have been used by the Santhals of Sahibganj. But none is to controvert the fact that the Santhals of the 20th century AD have been scrupulously using the scripts of the 16th century BC independently.”
    • S.K. Biswas: Autochthon of India and the Aryan Invasion, Delhi 1995
  • In the Harappan cities some 4200 seals, many of them duplicates, have been found which carry short inscriptions in an otherwise unknown script. There is not the slightest doubt that this harvest of Harappan writings is but the tip of an iceberg, in this sense that the Harappan culture must have produced much more copious writings, but that most of them disappeared because the writing materials were not resistant to the ravages of time, particularly in the Indian climate. This fatality can still be seen today, when the libraries of many impoverished maharajas' castles are full of manuscripts which are decaying under our very eyes, turning large chunks of India's national memory and heritage into dust. Even of the oldest and most popular texts, the extant manuscripts are seldom older than a few centuries, copies made as the only guarantee to save the texts from the ravages of time which were destroying the earlier copies. It is fair to assume that a text corpus proportionate in size to the enormous extent of the Harappan cultural space, has gone the same way into oblivion.
    • Elst, Koenraad (2007). Asterisk in bharopiyasthan: Minor writings on the Aryan invasion debate.
  • “My analysis of Indus and Brahmi based on computer-created concordances, revealed obvious connections between the two scripts that could not be explained as arising out of chance. Such an analysis is possible since letters in a script occur with different probabilities. (...) My analysis showed that the most frequent letters of Indus and Brahmi looked almost identical, and besides they were in the same order of frequency.(...) Briefly the connections between Indus and Brahmi scripts are as follows. Both scripts use conjuncts where signs are combined to represent compound vowels. The core set of most frequent Indus signs seems to have survived without much change in shape into Brahmi where it corresponds to the most frequent sounds of Sanskrit. The writing of numerals in Indus, especially the signs for 5 and 10, appears to have carried over to Brahmi.”
    • S. Kak: “The Indus Mandala and the Indo-Aryans”, Nayak & Ghosh: New Trends, p.141-156, specifically p.149-150., quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2007). Asterisk in bharopiyasthan: Minor writings on the Aryan invasion debate.
  • [it would be] “unwise to exclude the possibility of a form of ‘Proto-Indoaryan’ language as being enciphered in the Indus inscriptions”... [earlier scholars had] “advocated a continuity between the Indus and Brahmi scripts”... “many of the Indus signs are very closely similar to Brahmi signs”...[Surveying Prof. B.B. Lal’s study of inscriptions on pottery and megaliths] “89% of the Megalithic signs and symbols which appear on pottery down to the 9th century BC or thereabouts may be traced to Harappan and post-Harappan signs and symbols”. Since “the period dealt with spans virtually the entire millennium between the downfall of the Indus Civilization (c. 19th century BC) and the rise of the later Gangetic civilization (c.9th century BC)”, a “direct continuity between the two is thereby implied; and this is suggested also by the many signs and symbols which recur between the Indus seals and the later punch-marked coinage”. .... [Several other findings confirm this continuity. As Mitchiner notes, it had been observed soon after the discovery of the Indus cities that the signs on the Indus seals] “show virtually no evolution whatever throughout the centuries of their usage in the Indus civilization”, while “from the inception of the punch-marked coinage around 600 BC down to its later form around AD 300 -- nearly a millennium later -- there is a remarkable lack of evolution or change” [(that fabled or notorious conservative trait in the Hindu character), so that] “it would seem reasonably likely that these signs and symbols which recur between the Indus and later Indian civilizations demonstrate a further continuity of culture between the two”. [Moreover, Indian seals from around the turn of the Christian era, bearing inscriptions in Brahmi script, present the same types and visual make-up as those from the Harappan period:] “Such later seals frequently portray an animal-figure, above which appears the inscriptional legend -- just as in the case of the Indus seals. Two main types of seal- impressions may be found: one was attached to parcels and letters, and shows stringmarks at the back; while the other was used more as a kind of token, and generally has a hole at the back by which it may be suspended. Once again, precisely the same two types are to be found among Indus seals.”. ... [From various angles, Mitchiner tries to decipher specific items in the Harappan seal corpus. His conclusion:] “We have now reached a stage where it is possible to conclude that the language of the Indus inscriptions may very well be an early form of Indo-Aryan. In this event, it can be seen [from our analysis of sign-groups] that certain forms of this language have been preserved only in the Prakrit branch of Indo-Aryan -- notably those which predominate in the inscriptions at Mohenjo Daro; while certain other forms have been preserved only in the Sanskrit branch of Indo-Aryan -- notably those which predominate in the inscriptions at Harappa.(...) In the first place, we have concluded that the inscriptions contain the names of towns and regions, both within and beyond the Indus Valley: such names denoting the places from which and to which certain items of merchandise are being conveyed. In the second place, we have concluded that the language used in the inscriptions is an early form of Indo-Aryan.”
    • J.E. Mitchiner: Studies in the Indus Valley Inscriptions , quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2007). Asterisk in bharopiyasthan: Minor writings on the Aryan invasion debate.

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