A Reading of the Brāhmī Letters on an Anthropomorphic Figure

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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 in [1] without any further analysis. Here we wish to provide further light on the reading. Although we revise the reading of the Manjuls 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][3][4].

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

Brāhmī vowels and diacritics are described here. As we can see from Figure 2, 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.

The second line could invoke different deities.

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

Conclusions

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

References:

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

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

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

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