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Indus Valley Seal

Indus Valley Seal


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Teaching ideas

The imagery on the seals is graphically very clear and makes them quite easy for students to start with.

Use the images of the three seals and then the five seal impressions in For the classroom and identify the animals, but do not reveal what the objects are. Ask the students what they think the other areas of the seal show notice the consistent layout of each seal and ask them whether they can find other things in common. Then ask what the students think the objects are. Ask how big they think they are and how this might change or confirm their initial thoughts. Show them the back view in For the classroom. What do they think the lump was for? Then reveal the size and discuss again and explain that archaeologists think they are seal stones. You may want to explain the difference between seal and impression.

From looking at these seals, what can the students guess about the civilisation that created them? Ask them to create a list, based on their discussion, of the aspects of the civilisation that arise from the seals and then find out more about them.

Do some map work looking at the places where examples of seals have been found. Find out about what exports might have been moving with the seals and why we may not be able to identify some of these so easily. This will involve discussion of the difference between manufactured goods and raw materials. The BBC Primary History website in For the classroom will be useful here.

How have seals been used through time? You could try a long-period enquiry from ancient seals, through the medieval period, the Tudors, the nineteenth century and to the present day. These resources include Object Files on a Mesopotamian cylinder seal and the seal of a English baron of the 13th century. A search of the Collection section of the British Museum website will generate many useful examples to start with, including some marine mammals.

Discuss the need to seal documents or packages and the need to identify the ownership or origin of goods. Can students think of the systems we have today? They might consider adhesive envelope flaps, computer passwords, trademarks, labels and logos.

Create a seal by carving a piece of clay or a bar of soap. Students could plan their design on squared paper at the same scale or larger so they have to decrease the values to get the seal the correct size. Try stamping the finished seals into other soft materials. Discuss the differences between how the seal looks and how its impression looks – the effects can be very different. You could explore with the students how the word seal is used in the English language and compare the different usages.

The following activities and enquiry focus on the script.

Ask the students to copy out some of the signs and to make guesses as to what they might mean. Compare their ideas with those in the Indus dictionary in For the classroom.

Show the students how to create their own code to represent a short message. Let them have a go at deciphering each other’s code. Reveal that experts around the world have been working for years trying to decipher the Indus Valley script. There is a challenging but informative game about this topic on this British Museum website about ancient India. Students could do an enquiry about the decipherment of other scripts such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, cuneiform, Linear B, Maya glyphs.

What was writing for? Use the Indus Valley seals and the examples of writing in A bigger picture to begin an investigation of other writing systems. Consider what cross-cultural similarities there are between uses of writing and what this tells us about the beginnings of civilisations. These resources also include Object Files about Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Roman writing.


Indus Valley Seal - History

The word 'Coin' is derived from the Latin word "cuneus" and it is believed that the first Recorded use of coins was in China and Greece /Lydia in around 700 BC and in India in the sixth century B.C.

Many historians argue that Indian coinage existed prior to 6th century B.C in the Indus valley civilization between 2500 BC and 1750 BC. There, however, is no consensus on whether the seals excavated from the sites were in fact coins.

To the ancient Indians, a coin was not a piece of inanimate metal with an official stamp, but a form(metallic) pulsating with symbols, names of kings, gods and goddesses portraying wealth and prosperity. Each dynasty and even each king contributed his own innovation to the coinage resulting in a bewildering variety of Indian coins. The Kings chose such symbols, forms of gods and goddesses and legends which were a part of, social consciousness that the users of the coins could easily understand and appreciate.

Coinage began, with the traders, a supposition deriving not only from the &ldquophilological relation of pana &mdash coin with pani, vanik = trader&rdquo, but from the entire process of the evolution of coinage of India, as Kosambi [1] saw it. The background was provided to him by several classes of silver pieces found in the DK area of Mohenjodaro. Although he was initially hesitant in considering them as precursors of latter day regular coinage, the remarkable similarity between the class IV of the Mohenjodaro pieces and later-day coins, and also the identity between the Mohenjodaro D-class weight (approximately 54 grains) and the weight system of the punch-marked coins gradually convince him of a connection between the two systems: &ldquoEven after the destruction of Mohenjodaro which is entirely a trade city as shown by its fine weights and poor weapons, the traders persisted, and continued to use the very accurate weight of that period. The first marks were traders&rsquo marks, such as are seen on Persian sigloi, and the reverse of the punch-marked coins of the pre-Mauryan age. This is shown clearly by one coin, (which) is blank on one side like our Mohenjodaro pieces, but the other contains no less than thirteen small marks, in type to those known as the later &lsquoreverse&rsquo marks&rdquo [1].

The Indus valley civilization of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa dates back between 2500 BC and 1750 BC. There, however, is no consensus on whether the seals excavated from the sites were in fact coins.

Issued initially by merchant Guilds and later by States, the coins (from 600 BC) represented a trade currency belonging to a period of intensive trade activity and urban development. They are broadly classified into two periods: the first period (attributed to the Janapada-s or small local states) and the second period (attributed to the Imperial Mauryan period). The motifs found on these coins were mostly drawn from nature like the sun, various animal motifs, trees, hills etc. and some were geometrical symbols.

Shatamana-s is the earliest coin during the Gandharan times and said to be possibly based on the Persian siglos coinage. Shatamana-s were said to have been circulated for a long period of time.

The first documented coinage is deemed to start with 'Punch Marked' coins issued between the 7th-6th century BC and 1st century AD. These coins are called 'punch-marked' coins because of their manufacturing technique. Mostly made of silver, these bear symbols, each of which was punched on the coin with a separate punch.



Purana
-s or Punch-Marked Coins
(circa 600 BC - circa 300 AD)

Purana-s are the earliest money coined in India. They were in circulation during the centuries long before the beginning of the Christian era. Sanskrit writers such as Manu and Panini, and the Buddhist Jataka stories have made mention of these coins.

An interesting feature of these coins is that they bear neither date nor any name of kings. We only find a number of symbols punched on the face of these coins. The symbols found on these coins are religious, mythological or astronomical in character. Among the marks commonly found are the sun, the elephant, cow, chariot, horse, bull, jackal, tree, tiger or lion and dharmachakra.

The punch-marked coins were in circulation in Northern India up to the beginning of the Christian era. In Southern India they continued to be in use for three centuries more.


Satamana Coin
(About 600 BC)
Silver

This is a rare type of the "Purana" coins. It is otherwise called as Punch-Marked coins. It is a long bent bar of silver weighing 560 grains. Satamana means one hundred mana, mana being the same of a weight which is equivalent to 5-6 grains.

This coin has on one side a sun symbol at each end. The other side is blank. Panini, the Sanskrit grammarian, has made mention of these coins in his work. Thus, first coins of Ancient India came into existence and were known as &ldquoPunch Marked Coins&rdquo. The Ashtadhyayi mentions that the metallic pieces were stamped with symbols. These were in circulation along with the unstamped variety of metallic coins which were referred to as the &lsquonishka&rsquo, &lsquosatamana&rsquo and &lsquopada&rsquo. There is also a mention of &lsquoshana&rsquo and &lsquokarshapana&rsquo, terms used for different monetary denominations.

In Gopatha Brahmana, Uddalak Aruna - a distinguished scholar of Kuru-Panchala, who was moving through the country carrying a banner to which a nishka was attached, had offered the same to one who could defeat him in a debate.

The Arthasastra of Kautilya contains references to silver coins (called pana, ardha-pana, pada and ashtabhaga) and copper coins (known as masaka, ardha-masaka, kakini and ardha-kakini).

In the Arhiya section of Ashtadhayayi (ca. 5thto 4th century BCE) Panini refers Karshapana or pana (32 ratis) and its various subdivisions like ardha-karshapana, pada-karshapana, dvimasa (1/8 Karshapana) and masa (1/16Karshapana). Panini also mentioned other denominations of coin viz. vimastika (40 ratis), trimastika (60 ratis), satamana (100 ratis) and sana (12.5 ratis).

Before the rise of Magadh-an Empire in 6th century BC the entire Indian sub-continent was divided into several Janapadas (small states) and Maha-Janapadas due to the absence of any imperial supremacy. A good number of Janapadas are narrated in ancient literature like Vedic literature (17 Janapada), Ashtadhayi (38 Janapadas), Ramayana (24 Janapadas), Jataka (14 Janapadas), The Mahabharata (88 Janapadas) and Bhuvanakosa Chapters of Puranas (175 Janapadas). Among these Janapadas, sixteen became prominent during the time of Buddha and according to Anguttara- nikayathey were known as &lsquoSodasa Mahajanapadas&rsquo. In fact, the coins of various Janapadas differed from one other in their execution fabric, weight, quality of metal and symbology.

The common symbols found on Indian punch-marked coins are sun, six-armed symbols (often called Sadaracakra), arched-gateway, arched-hill, arched-hill with crescent/dog/bull/peacock/tree on the top, elephant, bull, dog, deer, hare, camel, goat, peacock, frog, tortoise, fish, rhinoceros, snake, scorpion, tree-in-railing, bow-and-arrow, (with or without taurine), steelyard, water-wheel, arrow-tipped standard, elephant, goad, three standing human figure, taurine, caduceus, triangle-headed standard, lotus-bud, four-fingered hand print in a square, srivasta, zigzag line, star etc.

The weight of krishnala varies between 2.25 to 1.7 grains. So the weight of punch-marked coins was determined by several scholars in different ways. According to A. Cunningham and Prasad, krishnala weighed 1.8 grains in average and according to D.C.Sircar [5] and D.R.Bhandarkar [6] it was 1.83 grains. In view of these circumstances it is extremely difficult to ascertain the exact weight of punch-marked coins. That is why researchers fixed the weight of punched-marked coins in different standard i.e. 57.6 grains/3.732 gm, 58.56 grains/3.794 gm and 51-54 grains/3.3-3.5 gm for one karshapana.

The silver karshapanas had several denominations. In fact, 32 rattis is the standard and most popular denomination, although both higher and lower denominations are reported. These denominations are double (64 rattis), adhyardha (one and a half karshapana 48 rattis), three pada (three quarter karshapana 24 rattis), ardha (half karshapana 16 rattis) and pada (quarter karshapana 8 rattis).The tripada-karshapanas of 24 rattis were mainly in circulation in the Kosala and Kashi regions. The ardhakarshapanas of 16 rattis are found in a small number at Lotapur in Uttar Pradesh, Agartala in Tripura and Wari-Batashawar in Narsingdi district in Bangladesh. The Adhyardha Padika karshapanas of 12 rattis have been reported from Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Krishna in Andhra Pradesh and Sonapur in Orissa. Four distinct tiny punch-marked coin series are also known from the Avanti and Gandhara regions. They are 1-8 karshapana (four rattis), a mashaka (2 rattis), Kakini (1/2 ratti) and ardhakakini (¼ ratti). A Series sata (hundred) rattis silver coins i.e. the wheel &ndashmarked or bent bar series is also known. No ancient silver coins confirming to this weight standard is found except the bilingual silver coins of the Indo-Greeks.

Copper punch-marked coins which were of relatively of lower value are generally of irregular weight and rarely confirmed to any theoretical weight-standard. As a result, it is often difficult to settle their denominations.

The Indus civilization had a broad trade network, but their currency was traded goods. Instead of money, there was a swapping and bartering system. The Indus Valley Civilization had what was called soapstone seals and this is what they might have used for money later on in the civilization.

What did Indus Valley people trade?

Trade goods included terracotta pots, beads, gold and silver, coloured gem stones such as turquoise and lapis lazuli, metals, flints (for making stone tools), seashells and pearls. Minerals came from Iran and Afghanistan. Lead and copper came from India. Jade came from China and cedar tree wood was floated down the rivers from Kashmir and the Himalayas.

Indus Valley cities lived by trade. Farmers brought food into the cities. City workers made such things as pots, beads and cotton cloth. Traders brought the materials workers needed, and took away finished goods to trade in other cities.

Trade with Mesopotamia

At the time of Sargon of Akkad (2334 to 2279 BC), Indus seals have been found in Mesopotamia. Sargon's scribes kept written records of ships from other lands. So we learn that the Mesopotamians bought gold, copper and jewellery from 'Meluhha', which is now identified as Indus valley by the scholars. Two common trading points (at Bahrain and Kuwait) are located where Indus seals are discovered.

What were seals?

In 1872, archaeologist Alexander Cunningham [4] was puzzled by a flat piece of stone from Harappa which had writing on it. It was a seal. Another archaeologist, Rakhaldas Banerji found more seals in 1919.

Over 3,500 seals have now been found. Most are square or oblong, and small, about 25 mm across. They are made from steatite or faience, usually baked hard. Each seal has a picture and writing on it, carved with a copper tool.

Pressed into soft clay, a seal left an impression (a copy of the picture and writing). When the clay dried hard, it could be used as a tag which could then be tied to a pot or basket. Indus Valley traders probably used seals like labels, to show who owned the goods and the quantity.

Currency used in Egypt and Mesopotamia ( 2500 BC &ndash 1000 BC)

Before the advent of coinage around 700 BC, Egypt and Mesopotamia had developed pre-coin system as medium of exchange. Here we can have in brief their practices &ndash

Initially barter system was in practice everywhere, where goods were exchanged directly.

Barter system had limitations like seller might not in need of the item offered by the purchaser.

To solve this, food-grains were used as medium of exchange. But food-grains also had limitations to purchase expensive item as huge food-grains had to carry for small expensive items.

In 3rd stage metals came to fill up the need. Powell [7] finds &lsquosilver in Mesopotamia functioned like our money today. It is a mean of exchange&rsquo.

Though metal was introduced, food-grains were still in use for exchange in daily lives. Barley was used as cheap money and silver for more expensive items, though other substances were also used.

In Egypt also, food-grains, beer and metals were used as medium of exchange side by side of barter system. Non-coin forms of silver and gold currency, such as silver rings and gold pieces were used.

Powell [7] says, &lsquomoney was not in coin form, although words like mina-s and shekel-s that are used in connection with coinage were applied to the weights of the ancient Mesopotamian form of money. Silver rings were used in Mesopotamia and Egypt as currency 2000 years before 1st actual coin&rsquo.

For public use grain banks were established in Egypt. In lieu of coinage the cost of things was measured by &lsquodeben&rsquo. Deben was a piece of copper that weighed about 90 gm. Cost of 1 sack of wheat was 1 deben.

In both Mesopotamia and Egypt, gold, silver and copper were paid to foreign traders in exchange of purchased items.

Currency in Indus Valley Civilization (IVC)

We now know that IVC was the largest civilization, having more that 1 million sq. km area, in 3rd Millennium BC. It had the largest market with internal and external trade practices. Like others civilizations, in IVC people had barter system to exchange ordinary goods. To overcome the disadvantages of barter system a common commodity was fixed to serve as an intermediate in all transactions. To exchange bigger quantity agricultural products were used as medium of exchange. Probably granaries at Harappa and Mohenjodaro were used like modern bank or treasury. Seeds were also used as medium of exchange. From Vedic texts we have the knowledge of the use of cow as medium of exchange. But cow, seed and grains also had disadvantages. Non-perishable, small and handy item like small metal came to practice in all three great civilizations (Egypt, Mesopotamia and IVC) simultaneously. It is difficult to identify the inventor, but through foreign trades the system spread to other areas quickly and was accepted by others. Metals and metallurgy being in initial stage all metals, be it gold, silver or copper, were in demand everywhere and all traders were willing to accept metals in exchange of their goods. Indus traders used to bring precious metals like gold and silver from West Asia in exchange of their goods. Silver and copper ingots are found in Indus archaeological sites.

Metals being not easy to get at Indus period [copper mines were not situated at western part of Indian sub-continent and gold and silver are rare in India] copper tablets are found specially in Mohenjodaro, as they imported metals from west Asia and Easter part of India. We get several places by the name &lsquoAshurgarh&rsquo at Andhra Pradesh, Orissa [Kalahandi], Bengal [Midnapore] having exhausted copper mines at surrounding areas.

There is no doubt that coinage was not in vogue in 3rd Millennium BC though there was full-fledged international trade in practice among Egypt, Mesopotamia and India. From India, Harappan people exported precious items like gemstones, ornaments, spices and food grains and imported mainly precious metals. Simple barter system, which was in practice at local areas might not fulfill the need of exchange for international trade. We can speculate that Harappan seals were used beyond the sealing purposes. The striking similarities of Indus &lsquoroyal emblem&rsquo, wheel and &lsquoswastika&rsquo signs and uses of common animals as motif with punch-marked and other coins used in India from 600 BC push us to that idea. Without naming Harappan seals &lsquocoins&rsquo, we can identify them as &lsquosemi-coin&rsquo or &lsquoproto-coin&rsquo. Finding of Indus seals at various places of West Asia may indicate the idea, though some of the places are identified as &lsquocolonies&rsquo of Indus civilization.

In IVC, internal people used different local system to exchange goods. Cowry was another form of medium of exchange. Traders used to bring back metals, along with other foreign goods, from external business. Seals were mainly used for sealing the items traded. Names of the owners along with the quantity of items were marked by the seals for export. Like in Mesopotamia, where thousands of tablets belonging to public and private archives register the metal (silver) as a mean of payment, IVC tablets might have used for the same purpose. Same duplicate signs in several tablets may be the evidence of it.

In Mesopotamia, Shekel was used as a unit of weight and currency, first recorded c. 3000 BC referring to a specific weight of barley and equivalent amount of silver, bronze and copper.

Like way, Indus seals might have been used for more than one purpose. We have some questions in accepting them used as sealing purposes &ndash

In Ravi Phase (Mehrgarh, 3300 BC) no sample of sealing is found till fate.

Button seals have purported boss backside, to be worn or sewed with cloths. The necessity of carrying seals for sealing purpose is not at all justified, as goods are to be sealed at the exporting places. Seals are not to be carried by the persons carrying goods.

For sealing same repetitive seals (duplicate seals) should not be kept in a same place. This question may be answered if we consider them as proto-coin like the gold and/or silver proto-coins used in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Considering Indus seals, used for multipurpose reasons, we can discuss the readings to identify the names of the owners, quantity of the goods carried, and other volumetric units are inscribed on them. Sometimes magical and divine &lsquoakshara&rsquo (single letter/ varna) &ndash were written on them. In later historical period, many names were identified by the initials marked on punch-mark coins. At that time also the custom of placing a single initial on coins existed [1].


A flourishing commerce

At its peak, between 2600 and 1900 BC, the Indus Valley civilization extended over approximately 800,000 km², but its trade network extended far beyond. Harappan merchants did business in China, Southeast Asia, and Mesopotamia.

Harappan merchant ships left the Indus and explored seas and foreign lands. They exported all kinds of goods and agricultural products like cotton which was relatively easy to cultivate in an area so watered by the rains. The Harappans also made objects like pottery, ceramic, or terracotta crockery, often of good quality.


How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

Mechanization and standardization lead to quantization and digitization – standardization because it requires something to be this and not that, mechanization because “clicking is more easily mechanized than sliding” (Flusser, 1999). Encoding on the Indus seal is dual - a combination of digital and analogue. It bears a picture that represents a real or imaginary animal or scene, but in addition could also stand for a concept that the animal would symbolize. It also bears the script that goes from right to left. Attempts at 'interpretation' have been in vain. The script and the image may or may not provide a context for a meaningful reading of each other. The script may be phonographic or logographic. The number of symbols and if they occur in patterns is debatable (McIntosh, 2008). The same symbol could be written in different ways by different scribes – both ways being considered acceptable. Since the seals occur over thousands of years, the same symbol could change its meaning over time. What needs to considered is that the overall the system of inscription is in any case arbitrary – its meaning is agreed upon by those who use it to communicate, and beyond that it means nothing. The seals are almost-exclusive bearers of the Indus script, and therefore the meaning of the script is limited to its function. In that way, for us it is functional nonsense. Like the wavy horizontal lines drawn by the Brazilian native chief in his encounter with Levi Strauss (cited in Vissman, 2008). In a comment on the encounter, Lacan (ibid) explains that a symbol only points towards a “contract”. Its “function consists solely in delayed transfer” (Goody, 1986).


Four robust replicas
with intaglio carving & authentic perforated backs. See photos of original large, small "Unicorns" and Zebu from Harappa. Recreated by Harappa Archaeological Research Project

Children can speculate about these artefacts as 'mystery objects', then make superb relief impressions in clay, of images and script carved in steatite around four millenia ago.

Resin, clean with water & paintbrush for re-use.

With activities & teachers notes.
© HARP for educational use only,
more info, prices, terms & conditions
Prices - Seals Page 2

Teach Indus pages produced by History Education Consultancy for educational use only, may not be published elsewhere. Copyright and acknowledgements.


Indus Valley Seal - History

The Indus seals, also called Harappan seals depicting finely executed carvings, approximately dating as far back as 3500 years, are highly sophisticated heritage artifacts which mirror the religious, social and intellectual excellence of Indus valley civilization. The seals, many as tiny as 3cms / 3cms, and weighing nine to ten grams approximately were discovered in the vast expanse of Indus civilization sites of Harappa – Mohenjo-Daro and north western parts of India. The thousands of seals, unearthed in the Indus valley, depicted in most of them the picture of a bull with single horn and mysterious symbols inscribed. The existence of such an animal has not been found so far nor the symbols deciphered. These seals are the archaeological proof of the civilization that existed around 1500 B.C.

Depiction of the single horned bull in an Indus seal

This article deals with why the people of Indus civilization chose a single horned bull as a motif on seals over other animals like a tiger, cat, goat, a deer, or the most trusted dog. In Vedic period, cattle strength was the yardstick for the assessment of the prosperity of a king or a tribe. The nonexistence of single horned bull, commonly referred to as the unicorn has been a mystery. None of the seals have the representation of a cow. My research work started in locating a reference of the bull in ancient literary texts. The search lead me to Ṛgveda which has infinite references to Vrishabha – the Bull, comparing it to a priest who conducts yajna. Many stanzas have authenticated address, ‘Bull, you are the priest”. Carrying forward the concept of Ṛgveda, and visualizing the bull to be the priest, lead me to understand and deduce that the figure of a single horned bull, a male form is used metaphorically to symbolise the priest Purohita the most important person, the well-wisher of the society in Vedic period. The word Purohita is mentioned in the opening hymn of Ṛgveda. Agni is refered as Purohita, the celestial priest, who was conceived as a bridge between the humans and deities

Ṛgveda,mandala 1.1, starts with praise for Agni with the words:

‘Agnimile purohitam, Yajñasya devam rutvijam, Hotaram ratna dhatamam’

It means: I praise Agni who is the Purohita, the well-wisher of community, who is the celestial priest, Ritvija and Hotaram– The invoking priest, who summons and invokes gods to enjoy the offerings. As a mediator between earth and heaven, Agni announces to the Gods about the Yajna with the sound of crackling flames and brings them down to the place of sacrifice. However, the leader Agni has to be invoked and kindled afresh before every Yajña.

Intern, it is the ṚgVedic priest Hotṛ (one of the 4 principal priest )who chants the Mantras to invoke Agni. According to ṚgVeda, he is the Ṛtvij -the priest who officiate at a sacrifice.

The status of the chief human priest who invoked Agni was all-powerful like the bull in the heard as he invoked and installed the deity Agni during yajnas. Hotri priest is depicted as a sacred and powerful animal, the bull, as addressed in Vedas. The status of the chief human priest was all-powerful like the bull in the heard who invoked the deity.

Agni = Purohita = Priest. Priest = Bull or Vrishabha. Therefore, Agni = Bull. The ignitor of Agni = Hotri priest = Bull.

The bull is called Vṛṣabha in Sanskrit. Vṛṣabha or vrisha relates to many meanings like – strong, vigorous, manly, mighty, the most excellent, eminent, best one, and so on. (Griffith,1973:683) .

Ṛg Veda (3.27.15) compares Agni and the invoker of Agni -the human priest to Bull.

Vrishanam tva, vayam vrishan Vrishanaha , samidhimahi, agne didyatam brihat.

Meaning Agni,is kindled as a bull , we who are bulls ourselves, kindle thee as a bull. Oh, Bull shine mightily. ṚgVeda(1.31.5) quotes:

Tvamagne vrishabha pushtivardhanam, udyatasruche bhavasi Sharavayaha

It means: “Thou Agni, art a bull that makes our store increase, to be invoked by the hotri priest, who knows what to offer, who lifts the ladle up and gives the formula of mantra while making offering.” Many stanzas of ṚgVeda (1.142.8) also mention about these two priests, who invoke the gods to be present in the yajna.

May the two Priests Divine, and the sage, the sweet-voiced lovers of the hymn,
Complete this sacrifice of ours, effectual, reaching heaven to-day”.

There are many such quotes that support the logic in calling Agni. The igniter of Agni are the bulls, the priests, and hence have been symbolically carved in seals. Single horned bull is more a metaphor or symbolism, rather than a direct depiction of the domestic animal in art form.

Why does the motif of bull have a single horn?

The Indus seals with bull images are of three varieties: the single horned, double horned with bent head, and double horned with the big hump. Of the three types of bulls,only the single horned one shows the Kaṇḍūyanī.

Kaṇḍūyanī , also called Viṣāṇa:is the horn of the antelope with multiple folds, used by the initiated priest as a tool to scratch the body when required (as scratching with fingers or nails was not permitted after initiation. Kaṇḍū in Sanskrit means an itching sensation. Yana means moving. The priest gets satisfaction when he moves kandu horn on experiencing itching sensation).

Viṣāṇa and Kaṇḍūyanī are the terms which mean the horn of the antelope,one span in length, with three, five, or multiple folds called Trivṛt, Panchavṛt, etc., which is fastened to the sacrificer’s upper garment, by Adhvaryu priest at the time of Dīkṣā of Soma or other Yajña. The reason why Kaṇḍūyanī is shown in the forehead region of the bull is that with it the Dīkṣita priest, on entering the yajna shala, takes out the lump of earth from the Vedi and touches his forehead. After this, it is tied to the upper garment of the priest. Kaṇḍūyanī is the identification mark used by one who has taken initiation – Dīkṣā and his Pravaras (lineage of father and grandfather) are recited by the Adhvaryu priest. This is called Āvedana by which a declaration is made that the sacrificer or the priest has been consecrated.

A priest adorned with the sacred thread was eligible to invoke Agni after his Dikṣā initiation. With the horn of the antelope he stamps the earth of yajnashala on his fore head and later it was tied to his upper garment. This single horn of the bull in the seal is the accessory object used by the priest. Hence, it can be derived that the power of Purohita / also called a Hotṛ is represented as the sacred animal, a single horned bull of the seal, and depicted to be reciting the relevant Vedic stanzas of Yajña and therefore not the picture of any animal in particular.

Depiction of priest as a single horned bull in anthropomorphic form in temples

The concept of representing the head priest as a single horned bull, seems to have been in vogue even during the medieval architecture. The two pictures of the panels on the outer walls of the temples provided below depicts the sage Rishyashringa, who conducted the ‘Putra Kamesti Yajna’ for the king Dasharatha. The first picture shows Rishyashringa with the bull’s head and single horn of an antelope, offering the prasada to the three royal queens of Dasharatha. The second picture, also of Rishyashringa with the single horn on fore head, was the head priest offering oblations to Agni and conducting the yajna. Rishya shringa is a composit word of Rishi +shringa, where shringa variously means horn, summit,height of perfection, a crag -meaning the projecting part of hard surface. Horn is a symbol of self-reliance and strength.

Rishyashringa as the chief priest (with a single horn) conducting Yajna for Dasharatha and royal queens.

This is a conclusive proof to the fact that the head priest was symbolized as a bull with a single horn and Yajnopavita as a concept in Indus seals was later changed to anthpomorphic form of man with bull’s head and single horn.

The Vedic period, which witnessed the peak of poetic skills emerging as Vedas appear to be the inspiration for the making of seals because the theme of many Indus seals when analyzed appeared to reflect Vedic contents, more like the literary and archaeological data of the ancient civilization. In other words, the seals are a faithful representation of Vedas through symbols and nothing appears to be beyond the scope of Vedas. Single horned bull is more as a concept or symbolism, rather than a direct depiction of the animal in an art form. The comparative study of Vedas and seal inscriptions revealed that the theme of seals strictly adhered to the data of the four Vedas and nothing appears to be beyond the scope of Vedas. In other words, the seals are a faithful representation of Vedas through symbols.


The Indus Valley Seals

The excavation of the Indus Valley civilization has revealed many intriguing artifacts. The most interesting of these relics are seals used to stamp designs in soft clay. Anthropologists believe that these seals probably have some religious significance. When anthropologists say that something has religious significance what they really are saying is that they don’t know what these objects meant.

These seals were probably used to mark property in trade, but the importance of the design themselves is a matter of speculation. It is interesting to note that similar seals have been found as far away as Mesopotamia, suggesting perhaps a commercial connection between these great civilizations.

The Power of Sexuality

Most scholars who examine these seals think that the images depicted on them were related in some way to fertility rituals. The great majority of seals portray animals, almost exclusively male animals with horns and massive flanks and legs. The emphasis in the horns and flanks does suggest an intense interest in sexuality and reproductive functions.

This sort of concern with the power of sexuality is not at all uncommon and it is intimately connected with the experience of the sacred. Still, we are up to wonder why animals rather than humans are taken as representative of the males’ sexual powers.

I’d like to suggest that perhaps these depictions are associated with the human effort to appropriate animal powers. Throughout the world, early humans often sought to incorporate into themselves certain qualities that they admired in animals.

In the movie “Dances with Wolves”, the character played by Kevin Costner is directed to eat the warm heart of the first bison that he kills as a way of appropriating its courage, which is believed to reside in the heart.

The depiction of sexual energy in animals we find in the Indus Valley seals may suggest a similar effort to acquire powers that humans lacked or simply wanted in greater abundance.

Female Sexuality

Indus Valley’s culture fascination with sexuality is also evidenced with the discovery of numerous terracotta figurines depicting women with exaggerated hips and breasts. Similar representations have been unearthed in many parts of the world, leading scholars to theorize the existence of a mother goddess religion, long antedating the worship of male gods.

The details of that theory are debatable but is does seem evident, at least in the Indus Valley civilization, that the reproductive powers of women were revered and celebrated. Perhaps women themselves were regarded as sacred. It is clear that the worship of goddesses has a long and deeply rooted tradition in Hinduism, and may in fact derive from Indus Valley’s practices.

The Origin of Meditation?

There is a seal illustrating a man sitting down in what appears to be the lotus position, a fundamental pose in yoga and meditation. This seal rises the intriguing possibility that this early dwellers on the Indus were practitioners of meditation. If true, then India has had a contemplative spirit throughout its history.

The sited figure seems to have three faces looking in different directions. It is not clear what or who this image represents. Many scholars believe that this figure may be an early representation of the god who later came to be known as Shiva. Multiple faces are often used in Hindu iconography to suggest omniscience.

To compare the Indus Valley image with a modern Hindu image of Shiva helps substantiate the scholarly claim.

To round up this portrait of the religious dimension of the Indus Valley let me sum up what we know. Indus Valley religion seems intensely concerned with procreation and purity. It may have involved the worship of male animals as a way of incorporating their sexual powers. Female powers of reproduction were also regarded as sacred.

Purification practices, meditation and the well organized cities suggest that the Indus dwellers were very interested in order and restrain.

The Demise

After the Indus Valley was discovered in the 19th century, scholars were faced with having to explain the demise of this great civilization and its relationship with the Aryans, the people with whom Hinduism has long been associated.

The dominant theory suggested that the Indus civilization came to an end around 1500 B.C. when bands of lighter skinned Aryans verged into the Indian subcontinent and conquered the darker skinned Indus dwellers. Today, this invasion theory is in serious doubt. Scholars are revising their understanding of the cultures of early India, although many still hold to the idea of Aryan conquest.

We know that the Indus civilization was already in decline by 1500 B.C., when the Aryans supposedly subdued the region by military conquest. Between 1900 and 1600 B.C. the Indus river may have changed its course. Maybe the entire region desiccated. This has been confirmed by recent satellite photography.

Furthermore, there is no evidence archeological or otherwise to suggest such a massive conquest. Aryans’ own extensive writings don’t mention a migration of people from outside of India. In fact, there is evidence that the Aryans and the Indus may have coexisted in the same are for some time before the ultimate demise of the Indus Valley culture.


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Disappearance of the Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilization declined around 1800 BCE due to climate
change and migration.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the causes for the disappearance of the Indus Valley Civilization

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • One theory suggested that a nomadic, Indo-European tribe, called the Aryans, invaded and conquered the Indus Valley Civilization.
  • Many scholars now believe the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization was caused by climate change.
  • The eastward shift of monsoons may have reduced the water supply, forcing the Harappans of the Indus River Valley to migrate and establish smaller villages and isolated farms.
  • These small communities could not produce the agricultural surpluses needed to support cities, which where then abandoned.

Key Terms

  • Indo-Aryan Migration theory: A theory suggesting the Harappan culture of the Indus River Valley was assimilated during a migration of the Aryan people into northwest India.
  • monsoon: Seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation usually winds that bring heavy rain once a year.
  • Aryans: A nomadic, Indo-European tribe called the Aryans suddenly overwhelmed and conquered the Indus Valley Civilization.

The great Indus Valley Civilization, located in modern-day India and Pakistan, began to decline around 1800 BCE. The civilization eventually disappeared along with its two great cities, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. Harappa lends its name to the Indus Valley people because it was the civilization’s first city to be discovered by modern archaeologists.

Archaeological evidence indicates that trade with Mesopotamia, located largely in modern Iraq, seemed to have ended. The advanced drainage system and baths of the great cities were built over or blocked. Writing began to disappear and the standardized weights and measures used for trade and taxation fell out of use.

Scholars have put forth differing theories to explain the disappearance of the Harappans, including an Aryan Invasion and climate change marked by overwhelming monsoons.

The Aryan Invasion Theory (c. 1800-1500 BC)

The Indus Valley Civilization may have met its demise due to invasion. According to one theory by British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, a nomadic, Indo-European tribe, called the Aryans, suddenly overwhelmed and conquered the Indus River Valley.

Wheeler, who was Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1944 to 1948, posited that many unburied corpses found in the top levels of the Mohenjo-daro archaeological site were victims of war. The theory suggested that by using horses and more advanced weapons against the peaceful Harappan people, the Aryans may have easily defeated them.

Yet shortly after Wheeler proposed his theory, other scholars dismissed it by explaining that the skeletons were not victims of invasion massacres, but rather the remains of hasty burials. Wheeler himself eventually admitted that the theory could not be proven and the skeletons indicated only a final phase of human occupation, with the decay of the city structures likely a result of it becoming uninhabited.

Later opponents of the invasion theory went so far as to state that adherents to the idea put forth in the 1940s were subtly justifying the British government’s policy of intrusion into, and subsequent colonial rule over, India.

Various elements of the Indus Civilization are found in later cultures, suggesting the civilization did not disappear suddenly due to an invasion. Many scholars came to believe in an Indo-Aryan Migration theory stating that the Harappan culture was assimilated during a migration of the Aryan people into northwest India.

Aryans in India: An early 20th-century depiction of Aryan people settling in agricultural villages in India.

The Climate Change Theory (c. 1800-1500 BC)

Other scholarship suggests the collapse of Harappan society resulted from climate change. Some experts believe the drying of the Saraswati River, which began around 1900 BCE, was the main cause for climate change, while others conclude that a great flood struck the area.

Any major environmental change, such as deforestation, flooding or droughts due to a river changing course, could have had disastrous effects on Harappan society, such as crop failures, starvation, and disease. Skeletal evidence suggests many people died from malaria, which is most often spread by mosquitoes. This also would have caused a breakdown in the economy and civic order within the urban areas.

Another disastrous change in the Harappan climate might have been eastward-moving monsoons, or winds that bring heavy rains. Monsoons can be both helpful and detrimental to a climate, depending on whether they support or destroy vegetation and agriculture. The monsoons that came to the Indus River Valley aided the growth of agricultural surpluses, which supported the development of cities, such as Harappa. The population came to rely on seasonal monsoons rather than irrigation, and as the monsoons shifted eastward, the water supply would have dried up.

Ruins of the city of Lothal: Archaeological evidence shows that the site, which had been a major city before the downfall of the Indus Valley Civilization, continued to be inhabited by a much smaller population after the collapse. The few people who remained in Lothal did not repair the city, but lived in poorly-built houses and reed huts instead.

By 1800 BCE, the Indus Valley climate grew cooler and drier, and a tectonic event may have diverted the Ghaggar Hakra river system toward the Ganges Plain. The Harappans may have migrated toward the Ganges basin in the east, where they established villages and isolated farms.

These small communities could not produce the same agricultural surpluses to support large cities. With the reduced production of goods, there was a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia. By around 1700 BCE, most of the Indus Valley Civilization cities had been abandoned.


Watch the video: Ράκος 1986 - Λεωφόρος Αλεξάνδρας - Τάφος του Ινδού (July 2022).


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