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HVK Archives: Script on excavated terracotta seals from Harappa deciphered

Script on excavated terracotta seals from Harappa deciphered - The Times of India

Posted By Krishnakant Udavant (kkant@bom2.vsnl.net.in)
4 November 1997

Title: Script on excavated terracotta seals from Harappa deciphered
Author:
Publication: The Times of India
Date: November 4, 1997

The unidentified script on the terracotta seals excavated from the
archaeological sites of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro can now be read with 90
per cent accuracy, following a breakthrough achieved by Indian researchers.

Paleographist and Vedic scholar Natwar Jha developed the methodology for
reading the script and has written a monograph "Vedic glossary on Indus
seals" while linguist, mathematician and computer scientist N S Rajaram
verified the work.

According to Mr Jha, the script, known as the Indus Valley script, like the
other ancient scripts, is syllabic that is no vowels are written. If such
a system is adapted in English, lamp would become "lmp", table would be
"tbl" and automobile would be "tmbl".

Semitic languages like Aramic and Phoenician and modern ones like Arabic
also use the syllabic system. Since no word in these languages begin with a
vowel, the writing does not create any problems in comprehension.
Newspapers in Hebrew and Arabic use this system and one familiar with the
spoken language faces no difficulty in reading the papers.

But the Indus Valley script creates a problem as Sanskrit has plenty of
words beginning with vowels and does not lend itself easily to syllabic
format.

However, Mr Jha has been able to overcome this difficulty and claims to
have deciphered about 3,50Q seals.

Mr Rajaram, in an interview at his Bangalore residence, explains "what
caught my eye was the remark by a reviewer of Mr Jha's monograph that the
author had found on the Indus seals mathematical formulas from the
Sulbasastra, Sanskrit texts on preparation of altars for Vedic rituals".

Mr Rajaram is also a computer scientist who was the first to develop and
apply artificial intelligence methods to solve some problems encountered by
the NASA space control mission in the United States.

He said 12 inscriptions of trignometric expressions have been identified by
Birendra Kumar Jha, who has written the forward to the monograph.

Mr Jha's findings help settle the question of the relationship between the
Harappan and the Vedic civilizations, he said. The seals are from an age
that tried to preserve the Vedic knowledge - particularly the Rig Veda -
that was already becoming unintelligble.

The messages on the seals have a great deal in common with the "nighantu"
(glossary) and the "nirukta" (etymology) of Yaska. They also contain terms
and expressions found in the "sulbasutra", the mathematical texts appended
to the "srautasutras".

As to his role in deciphering the script, Mr Rajaram said he had
consolidated the overall historical and linguistic picture. "I can say that
I clarified the central idea in Mr Jha's decipherment by placing it in the
context of the evolution of writing. But the key breakthrough was made by
Mr Jha," he added.

Mr Rajaram showers fulsome praise on Mr Jha saying, "One is left in awe of
the magnitude of his achievement - the thoroughness o(his search and
mastery of palaeography and Vedic sources. Compared to his research, most
previous efforts, including mine, seem narrow and superficial - consisting
of little more than ingenious speculation."

He says he managed to read only about 100 seals as compared to Mr Jha's
count of more than 3,500.

The Indus script, according to Mr Rajaram, is both pictorial and
alphabetical. In the later periods, the scribes seem to favour alphabets
and the pictures become scarce. Composite letters, a striking feature of
Indian scripts, appear in profusion, more than in modern Indian writing.

There is some variability and the script was yet to evolve into the
scientific system found in modern Indian languages. But the seeds are
already there and it is easy to trace the lineage of not only ancient
scripts like Brahmi, but also several modern scripts to Harappan writing.
The close connections between Brahmi and the Indus script is undeniable, he
adds. (UNI)


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