A Reading of the Brāhmī Letters on an Anthropomorphic Figure

Subhash Kak
Jun 14, 2018 · 6 min read
harappa.com

Just over a decade ago, Sanjay Kumar Munjal and Arvin Munjal published in Prāgdhārā the image of a copper anthropomorphic figure of Varāha (boar) that was found in the foundation of a house in a village called Kheri Gujar in Sonepat District in Haryana. The house itself rests on an ancient mound that has been variously dated to Late Harappan. The object is about 2 kg. and has dimensions of 30×28.5 cm.

The object is a significant find since it has the image of the Harappan unicorn inscribed on it as well as Brāhmī letters and, therefore, it represents a bridge between these two phases of Indian culture. The idea of the unicorn (ekaśṛṅga, एकशृङ्ग) appears in the Purāṇas, and in the Śānti-Parva (chapter 343) of the Mahābhārata, it is the one-tusked boar (Varāha) who saves the earth as Viṣṇu’s incarnation.

Figure 1. The copper object and the text together with the reading in [1]

The Brāhmī letters on the copper object were read by the Manjuls in [1] without any further analysis. Here we wish to provide further light on the reading. Although we revise the earlier reading s for just 3 letters, the revision opens up the possbility of further understanding of the object as the text appears to be formulaic in a standard manner.

The text on the object:

The reading of the Munjals is reproduced below:

Sa Thi Ga

Ki Ma Jhi Tha

Sha (?) Da Ya

The letters are standard Brāhmī letters with 3 exceptions. For background information on this script and its possible connections with the so-called Indus (also called Sarasvatī) script, see [2]. In my view, the strongest argument in favor of Indus-Brāhmī continuity is that the 10 most likely letters in the two scripts are virtully unchanged while maintaining their rank order [3], the numerals for 5 and 10 look similar, and the text endings have a form that is consistent with Sanskrit grammar [4],[5].

Figure 2. Close ups of the unicorn figure and the Brāhmī letters.

Brāhmī vowels and diacritics are described here and see below for variants.

Brahmi letters with variants

As we can see from Figure 2 and the above figure, most of the letters on the figure are clear, but there is a little ambiguity about the second letter in the first row and the first letter in the third row.

The Munjals read the very first letter as “sa” but that is incorrect, even though the letter is quite clear. The first letter is the upward pointing arrow, together with a dot on the right, which represents “śam” or शं. This is significant since शं is the beginning of several invocatory Vedic formulas.

The second letter in the first row has breadth at the top and a line to the bottom. The only letter that could conceivably satisfy this property is “ña” and so I propose this reading instead of “thi”. The smearing of the text at the top could be later damage or an scribal error. The third letter in the first row is an unambiguous “ga”.

In the second row, the third letter may not be “jhi” as its second hook to the right is bigger than what is appropriate for the diacritic for “i”. Could it be an erroneously inscribed “gha”? We can’t tell and so I shall stick with the “jhi”.

The first letter in the third row is nowhere “sha” and indeed it is closest to “ta”.

We now read the letters as:

śam ña ga

kī ma jhi tha

ta ḍa ya

that is

शं ञ ग
की म झि थ
त ड य

The beginning appears to be similar to the invocation in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad.

om śam no mitraḥ śam varuṇaḥ

śam no bhavatvaryamā

śam no indro bṛhaspatiḥ

śam no viṣṇu rurukramaḥ

ॐ शं नो मित्रः शं वरुणः ।
शं नो भवत्वर्यमा ।
शं नो इन्द्रो बृहस्पतिः ।
शं नो विष्णुरुरुक्रमः ।

Further interpretation:

The “ga” of the first line could stand for Gaṇapati, a post-Vedic deity. If it is so, this is consistent with the identification of the Harappan period to be identical to early Vedic.

The second line could invoke different deities.

The taḍaya of the third line may suggest punishment to inimical agents.

Conclusions

The occurrence of शं as the first letter is significant for it connects the text to post-Vedic period. It is also significant that the letters are written from left to right, which is the standard way for Sanskrit. The reading indirectly favors the view that Brahmi is derived from the Indus script, which is something I have argued in several papers. The figure below (from [5], where I use the name Sarasvati for Indus) shows how the 10 most frequently occuring signs of Indus and Brahmi have surprising similarity.

I am hoping that there will be other attempts at reading the inscription that will improve our understanding of the text and the object.

There are some who will be surprised at this evidence of Indus-Brahmi continuity for it goes against the 19th century theory that Brahmi was devised during the time of King Aśoka (Brahmi: 𑀅𑀲𑁄𑀓; ruled 268–232 BCE) based on influences from the West that came in with the Achaemenid empire. But they need not be so surprised, for the old theory, repeated mindlessly in schoolbooks, was disproven over twenty years ago with the discovery of Brahmi writing in Sri Lanka that has been dated to as early as 450 BCE [6].

The old theory was motivated by colonialism, Eurocentrism, and perhaps plain racism and it is no wonder that to keep the theory alive some have gone as far as to fabricate evidence [7].

References:

[1] Munjal, S.K. and Munjal, A. (2007). Composite anthropomorphic figure from Haryana: a solitary example of copper hoard. Prāgdhārā (Number 17).

[2] Patel, P., Pandey, P., Rajgor, D. (2007). The Indic Scripts: Palaeographic and Linguistic Perspectives. D.K. Printworld.

[3] Kak, S. (1988). A frequency analysis of the Indus script. Cryptologia 12, 129–143.

[4] Kak, S. (1990). Indus and Brahmi: further connections. Cryptologia 14, 169–183.

[5] Kak, S. (1994). Evolution of early writing in India. Indian Journal of History of Science, 28, 375–388.

[6]Coningham, R., Allchin, F., Batt, C., & Lucy, D. (1996). Passage to India? Anuradhapura and the Early Use of the Brahmi Script. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 6(1), 73–97. doi:10.1017/S0959774300001608

[7] Danino, M. 2019. Fabricating Evidence in Support of the Aryan Invasion / Migration Theory.

Subhash Kak

Written by

सुभाष काक. Author, scientist. Quantum information, AI, history of science. https://subhask.okstate.edu/sites/default/files/HistoryVedaArt_SubhashKak.pdf

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade