The Indus Script and the Rgveda

The Indus Script and the Rgveda

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Item Code: NAC698
Author: Egbert Rihter-Ushanas
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 8120814053
Pages: 326
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.8 Inch X 5.8 Inch
Weight 470 gm
From the Jacket

Since the publication of the concordances of the inscriptions of the Indus seals many people have been working on the solution of the riddle presented by the 5000 years old script of the Indus valley. At first sight the task does not appear too difficult, as there are pictograms that can easily be recognized as man, bird, fish, dog or plant or a part of them. A lot of signs are geometric, but this does not seem to be an insurmountable obstacle either, since some of them resemble or are identical to the majuscules of the Greek and the Latin alphabet or found in the mudras of Indian dance and in the patterns of symbolic Indian art. The decipherments that were based on these similarities resulted, however, only in the reading of some inscriptions as more or less obscure names, sometimes not even a phonetic value could be given. Nevertheless they are often presented as complete decipherments to the public. On this account, the pretension that the Indus script is deciphered meets with increasing suspicion and is exposed to ridicule even. Many scholars working in this field are nowadays of the opinion that the Indus script is altogether indecipherable, if not a bilingual of considerable size turns up.

The approach to a decipherment presented in this volume makes avail of a bilingual, too, but its master key is the discovering of the symbolic and linguistic connection of the Indus signs with the Rg-Veda. More than 200 inscriptions, among them the longest and those with the most interesting motifs, have been decoded here by setting them word after word in relation to g-Vedic verses. The results that were gained by this method of comparison for the pictographic and phonetic values of the Indus signs are surprising and far beyond the most daring phantasy. They have been summarised now in a complete sign- dictionary containing over 150 further inscriptions. At the same time many problems of the g-Veda could be solved and new insights be won, for example in the issue of the age of the Rg-Veda and the origin of the Vedic poets or the nature of the Soma plant.

Egbert Richter-Ushanas has studied Indian and Western philosophy, science of religion and ancient and modern Oriental and Indian languages for more than 40 years. He has published translations of the Bhagavadgita, several Upanisads, the Yoga sutras and other works of Indian philosophy. And a monography on Vedic cosmosophy. He travelled through India several times. In the last four years he has worked on the decipherment of the Easter Island script ( —ushanas). At present he lives in his hometown in Bremen/ Germany as a free-lanced writer.


Upwards the root, downwards the twigs, thus the eternal asvattha tree is said to be, whose leaves are the Vedic hymns; who knows it, is a knower of the Veda.
- Bhagavadgita 15.1

This book has not come into being in one step. Chapter II, IV, V, VII, VIII and IX were originally written in English as separate articles and then published in German in Der Komische Mensch und die Indus-Kultur together with other articles. Two years later they were printed in their original language in The Cosmic Man and the Tree of Language, enlarged by the chapters 1, III, VI and X. This collection was published in revised form in Delhi in 1997 under the title of the first chapter. Now they appear in the second revised edition together with a chapter on the swastika.

The nucleus of the second chapter was presented in a lecture at the Conference of the Association of South Asian Archaeologists held in Berlin in 1991. The original version of the Xth chapter was published in Ancient Science of Life XII.3-4, 1990, p. 320-326. The last chapter is based on a lecture held at the 3 World Archaeological Congress at Delhi in 1994. It has been placed at the end, because the swastika is not only found throughout Indian history, but also in the West. It even occurs in the form of a bird in the Easter Island script.’

One of the aims of the former books and lectures was to show that there is a cultural relation between the lndus civilization and the Indian tradition already in the time of the Rg-Veda. In the course of the printing of the German edition, [discovered phonetic values for an obviously bilingual seal from Failaka. The discovering demonstrated that the Indus inscriptions are not only symbolically related to the 1g-Veda, as I had demonstrated in Der Finale Veda/The Fifth Veda in 1992, but that the Veda also offers a phonetic reading of a great number of seals.

The disadvantage of the previous editions was that the phonetic and the logographic reading of the inscriptions often pertained to different hymns. This unfavorable state of affairs has been removed now, because the inscriptions including that of the Failaka seal are not read syllabically, but llogophonetically. In this way, a greater part of the Vedic hymn, sometimes a whole verse even, is preserved. The progress is mainly due to the study of the Easter Island script I was engaged in the last four years, because it destroyed the prejudice I had against the practicability of word scripts.

The basic rules of the reading of the Indus script have to be modified according to these improvements: I. The language of the script is an early type of Vedic Sanskrit, which we may call Gandharvic. At that time prefixes and suffixes were still treated as separate words as in isolating or agglutinative languages. Many words are non-Aryan, but of Sumerian or Austrian provenance. The word-divisions are often made in a similar way as in the later Vedic etymology. Homophony and synonymy are largely made use of. The copula is not written. 2. All signs, including the number-signs, are originally names or attributes of gods, whose totality is represented by the most frequent sign U which I call cup-sign (of chapter 1.1). It often indicates a finite verb, On account of its multivalence it can be used like a joker.

3. The direction of the script is normally from right to left. The few exceptions are correctly indicated in the Indian concordance.2 Sometimes an inscription can be read from both sides. In longer inscriptions consisting of two or three lines the reading generally starts from the bottom and may also be boustrophedon. On tablets with two, three or four sides the inscription can start on any of the sides.

4, The script is logographic. Compound signs can refer to several words or a sentence. The motif of a seal or tablet can also be treated as a logogram. May signs have diacritic strokes that can form a new sign with the corpus of the basic sign. Geometric signs have a concrete meaning, too. Many signs have several meanings in correspondence to the different possibilities of their pictographic interpretation. There are no determinatives as in the Sumerian and Akkadian writing.

5. The man-sign t is used for males, the teeth-sign E that was explained as a comb by A. Parpola is used for females.3 6. To make larger use of homophony long and short vowels are often treated alike, nasals and semi-vowels may be dropped or added. Cerebrals can be represented by dentals and vice versa, aspirates by non-aspirates. This is due to Prakrit influence 7. There are several pictograms with the same or nearly the same value as is obvious from the concordances. Vice versa different words can be written by the same sign. This phenomenon is known from the Sumerian pictographic and the Akkadian cuneiform writing. It is quite normal for a symbolic script. The second rule has economic; the first may also have local and historical reasons. On account of this rule, the same Vedic verse can be written by different pictograms and different verses by the same pictograms. Nevertheless, the phonetic value of a pictogram is constant in the frame of its pictographic possibilities of interpretation. The multivalence is necessary. as otherwise the number of signs would increase too much, but it makes it often very difficult to-day to find the most appropriate Vedic verse. Of great help for the deciphering are identical bigrams and sequences, even though they do not always lead to the same translation.

8. Number-signs and similar geometric signs can be used as simple or combined numbers or they can have pictographic values. The long stroke can represent the wind or the earth, for instance (cf Sign- dictionary). Generally the number-sign precedes the sign it belongs to The single stroke can also be read as ten or any multivalence with zero at the end. In the same way two strokes can be read as twenty, three strokes as thirty and so on. Ten, hundred and thousand is sometimes written by the woman-sign and its derivatives, the two banner-signs. Thousand can also be written by the number-sign for twelve. In relation to counting, that was regarded as an art like the game of chess and of dice (cf. chapter IX), long strokes denote the fingers, short strokes the teeth. 9. Pronouns are written by the equivalence of the word they refer to or by a number-sign. For this purpose only the short strokes are used. 10. Every sign can be a noun, a verb or an adjective. Abstract nouns are written by a concrete homophone. There are no special signs for the plural or the dual except repetition of a sign or the use of a stroke-sign 11. The main motifs of the seals refer to the caste the owner belongs to (cf. chapter II) and to the god that is addressed in the inscription. The unicorn indicates a brahmin and the gods Agni and Soma, the elephant, tiger and zebu indicates a king or Indra, Rudra, Mitra and Varuça, the rhino and the crocodile a landlord or Visnu and the Dawn, the water- buffalo a servant or a minor god.

12. If no corresponding verse can be found in the Rg-Veda, only an approximate translation can be given. The reason lies in the symbolic value of the signs. Like in other symbolic writings, the actual meaning depends on the context, but often the inscriptions are too short to discover it. Therefore the deciphering of the Indus script will never come to an end, Everybody working in this field can only turn lip fractions of the whole. Like the hymns of the Veda, the signs of the Indus script can be compared to the leaves of an avattha tree. The tree as a whole is equal to the language of Sanskrit, hence all its leaves are Sanskrit words, though they are related to different roots and stems and branches. The avattha can also make other trees his host. Then Sanskrit or other words are found on such a tree, though they do not belong to it originally.

The tree of language and the signs of the Indus script are identical to the body of the cosmic man. Of language the seer says in 13V 1.164.45:

Language is divided into four parts,
they are known to the enlightened brahmins;
three parts are deeply secret, nobody stirs them up,
the fourth part of language is spoken by men.
Similarly we hear of the cosmic man in 3V X.90.3cd:
One part of him are all beings,
three parts are the immortality in heaven.

That means that the Indus script is based for a great deal on intuition and that the same quality is required for reading it. The process of deciphering an inscription or a motif can be compared to contemplation and meditation. It takes much time often, until the deeper layers are revealed or reveal themselves. Even when the deepest layer is reached some secret may be left that is inexpressible. The Indus writers who are identical to the first Vedic seers and priests could also have developed a letter script, but they preferred to use a logographic writing, because the word is a better vehicle for expressing their ideas.

Needless to say that for driving the vehicle of this language a lot of philological equipment is necessary, too. No car can be driven by intuition alone, but it is not necessary for the reader to be conversant with Sanskrit. On account of their pictographic value many signs of the Indus script can even be understood by an illiterate, if he is conversant with the tradition of the Vedic seers, I am myself not an expert of Sanskrit, but have studied this language for the purpose of reading philosophical and poetical works in the original. With the help of the ability gained from the study of Sanskrit I studied Sumerian, Akkadian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabian, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil and other languages in the course of time.

In the beginning of the year 1994 1 was in India for two months and discussed the issue of this reading of the Indus signs with scholars of Sanskrit and other persons working on the same field. Notably, I have to thank I. Mahadevan, the compilator of the Indian concordance of the Indus script, and SR. Rao, the excavator of Lothal and other Indian sites, for spending a couple of hours with me in discussing some of the main problems of my proposal. In addition, I am obliged to SR. Rao for pointing out to me a lot of new material, which I probably would have overlooked otherwise. Of course, this approach to the deciphering of the Indus script would not have been possible without the Indian and the Finnish concordances.

The conception of the cosmic man cannot be confined to any scientific method, though I have almost only quoted scientific literature. For modem science stands rather helpless in front of the associative way of thought of ancient societies that we cannot avoid to become acquainted with, when we study their writing systems. I have mentioned this to save the reader from too quick a conclusion regarding the compatibility of modem and ancient philosophy. On the other hand, somebody who is not ready to accept the hypothesis of a relation between the Indus civilization and the Rg-Veda, with which I started my investigation more than ten years ago, cannot make modem science responsible for it.

Mother field that could lead to dissension, is the role of women and of virginity in particular in the Indus civilization. It is obvious from the motifs of the seals and tablets that the Indus people venerated a high goddess like the Sumerians and that they had priestesses, too. Moreover, there are many signs with female character in the Indus script. Certainly, women had much more religious and social freedom at that time than in the later Aryan society. This may not please some people in India. On the other hand, women had to play their part in a sacred order including the sacred prostitution that is known form Mesopotamia. This will not suit the moral codex of many people in India and the West as well. But whatever our standards are, we should at least be ready to accept that the way of life of such a remote society in comparison to our own must be different, and that this society should not be held responsible for our deficiencies.


Preface 7
I. The Indus script and the Rg-Veda 13
1. The historical background 13
2. The evidence of a bilingual 31
3. Short inscriptions (one to six signs) 37
4. Narrative motifs 46
5. Long inscriptions 49
6. Inscriptions of the Late Harappa phase54
7. The unicorn-standard and the Soma-plant 60
II. The lord of the beasts and the deity in the tree 73
III. Seals and tablets with anthropomorphic motifs 93
1. Compound motifs 93
2. The centaur 101
3. Standing horned person+- arch 105
4. Man in yoga-posture+- snakes or crocodiles 108
5. Deity between two tigers 111
6. The tiger and the goddess in a kino tree 113
7. The sacred marriage 115
IV. Seals and tablets with composite animals 123
V. The bull upon the woman and the asvamedha 139
VI. Pururavas and Urvasi 157
VII. Gilgames and ancient India 177
1. The jewel-tree and the ale-wife Siduri 177
2. The ship and the Great Flood 185
3. Gilgames and Istar 197
VIII. The cosmic man in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 209
IX. Chess as a cosmic diagram 221
X. The development of the Brahmi and the Tamil script 233
XI. The swastika 243
Bibliography 253
Seal index with Vedic reference 263
Sign dictionary with examples 267
General index 309
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