The Deciphered Indus Script
For recent articles by Steve Farmer available online, go to Article Downloads.
Those articles including the scathing review (“Horseplay in Harappa“) in Frontline of the following book by Rajaram and Jha.
The Deciphered Indus Script : Methodology, Readings, Interpretations /
Natwar Jha and N. S. Rajaram. 1st ed. Delhi, Aditya Prakashan. 2000.
xxviii, 269 p. ills. 29 cm.
List Price: $ 63.30 Your Price: $ 57
ISBN: 8177420151 KK-10943
The Indus Valley Civilization, known also as the Harappan, is one of the most important civilizations of antiquity. Ever since its discovery by Indian and British archaeologists beginning in 1921, this civilization has been extensively studied by archaeologists, historians, anthropologists and of course, Indologist. Of particular interest are several thousand seals found at these sites containing both writing and images on them. These have
been objects of intensive study for over seventy years. In spite of this, the script has remained undeciphered, and the writing unread. This is a major gap in our knowledge of the past though there is no shortage of theories that purport to explain the civilization.
The deadlock has been created by the theory of an Aryan invasion of India in the early second millenium BC: the achievements of the Harappan Civilization have been attributed to a people called Proto Dravidians who never existed, speaking a language that also never existed. The writings that they left behind have been sought to be read by imposing this non-existent language on these imaginary people inhabiting this very real civilization. In the process, the immense body of literature left behind by the ancient Indians is sought to be totally divorced from the writings.
The present volume is devoted to the study of the Indus script and its decipherment. It offers a methodology for reading the Indus script by combining paleography with ancient literary accounts and Vedic grammar. These illustrate the methodology and also help shed new light on the Harappans and their connections with the Vedic Civilization. The language of the seals is Vedic Sanskrit, with a significant number of them containing words and phrases traceable to the ancient Vedic glossary Nighantu, compiled from still earlier sources by Yaska. The language is less archaic than that of the Rigveda, and corresponds closely to that of the later Vedic works like the Sutras and the Upanishads.
The scope of the work is somewhat broader than what the title may suggest, and extends to placing the Harappans in their proper historical context.The Harappans, who until now had remained a silent enigma, speak to us again, and speak to us in a language and idiom that we can all comprehend– the Vedic. The converse is also true: we now have an archaeological and geographic context for the Vedic Aryans. The Harappans belong to the laterVedic Age.
The implications of these findings go beyond the borders of India –leading to a possible change in our viewpoint on the origin of civilization itself. Since Dholavira, according to Bisht, has shown planned cities dating to the fourth millennium, the Vedic Civilization of the Sarasvati heartland must go back at least to the fifth. Thus, the idea of the birth of Civilization in the river valleys of Mesopotamia is no longer tenable.The cradle of civilization — assuming there was such a thing — can now be claimed for the Sarasvati Valley.
The decipherment and its significance
Contents of the seals: writings and images
Scope of the work
Decipherment and the readings
Methodology and program
Steps Towards Decipherment
1. The Changed Historical Context
Harappan Civilization and the Indus seals
Problem of the ‘Aryan Invasion’
Harappan Civilization and linguistic arguments
New direction I: re-examination of the foundations
New direction II: reading must come before interpretation
First misconception: Vedic Aryans as nomadic invaders
Second misconception: ‘petty conjectural pseudo-science’ as a scientific tool
Third misconception: ancient dates based on objective research
Fourth misconception: Harappan Civilization unconnected with the Vedic
Ancient Indian chronology
Two basic errors in methodology
Focus on primary sources: seals and ancient literature
Indology: past is prologue
Indus script: the challenge
2. Language of the Indus Seals
Indus seals and the Vedic literature
What do we mean by ‘decipherment’?
Language of the Indus seals
Harappan language I: Sethna’s discovery
Harappan language II: evidence of the Sulbasutras
3. The Indus Script and Ancient Writing
Indus writing is governed by rules of Vedic grammar
Pictograms, logosyllables, syllabaries and alphabets
The Indus script I: a primordial mix
The Indus script II: the ‘missing link’ between primitive and modern writing
4. Indus Seals and the Vedic Literature
A new approach to the study of the Indus seals
Methodology: combining the ancient and modern
The Vedic tradition
Yaska and the Mahabharata
Activities of the period: preservation of Vedic learning
Description of the seals in the Mahabharata
A historical context for the Harappans
Summary of the Mahabharata account
Indus script and the Vedic glossary
Animal and plant motifs in the study of the language
Letters and numerals originate in each other
Some technical features of the Indus script
Some unusual features of the Indus script
Notable features of the script
Summary of the Indus language and writing
Summary of previous efforts
The Deciphered Indus Script
5. Decipherment I: Basics and Methodology
Preliminaries and prerequisites
Homophones and polyphones
Writing with consonants
Reading with consonants and the generic vowel symbol
Terminal signs: subanta and tiganta
Reading with composite letters
Pictorial symbols and their values
Numeric symbols and their use
Direction of writing
Grammar rules I: sandhi, vibhakti
Grammar rules II: Shaunaka’s rule and ‘doubled consonants’
Use of strokes
Conclusion: evolution of the Indus script
Supplement to the decipherment: tables of composite signs
6. Decipherment II: Steps towards Interpretation
Introduction: patterns and references
Readings: structure and references
Seals of technical interest: grammar and Sulbas
Seals of historical interest: proper names
Seals of philosophic interest: towards interpretation
7. Meanings and Symbolisms
Subject matter: ‘sutras’ and indexes
The ‘Horse Seal’ and the Yajurveda
The ‘Onkara Mudra’
The seal of the ‘Seven Goddesses’
‘Tiger seals’ and their symbolism
Reference to Ghora Angirasa
Conclusions: decipherment of a decipherment?
8. Readings and References
Background to the readings
The first set of readings
9. Readings and Explanations
The Mahadevan Concordance
Readings and explanations
10. Comparison with other Ancient Scripts
Background: not an isolated development
Indus and Brahmi scripts
Indus and West Asian scripts
Comparison of scripts
Appendix 1: Example of Pre-Harappan Writing?
Appendix 2: Corrections
Dr. Natwar Jha studied Vedic literature at Shyama Vidyapeeth, Mandar Ashram in Bounsi, Bhagalpur, Bihar. He continued his higher studies in Sanskrit
literature at Darbhanga University, and obtained a Ph.D. from Bihar University at Muzaffarpur.
He is one of the world’s foremost Vedic scholars and palaeographers who has deciphered the 5000 year-old Indus (Harappan) script, thereby solving what is widely regarded as the most significant technical problem in historical research in our time.
Dr. N. S. Rajaram was born in Mysore, India in September 1943. He holds a B.E. degree in Electrical Engineering from B.M.S. College in Bangalore and
Ph.D. in Mathematical Sciences from Indiana University in Bloomington, U.S.A.
Feb 2023 format changes from web server migration.