Seals and Figurines

Indus Valley Civilization


Indus Valley Civilization offers both challenge an opportunity for deciphering the language of seals. Unlike written material recovered from the river Valley civilization of Egypt and Mesopotamia, including papyrus scrolls found in tombs, and long inscriptions on stone edifices, seals of Indus civilization have defied adequate and satisfactory decipherment.

Fortunately, even the silent language of the seals and other materials unearthed, enable us to draw fairly accurate picture of the social and religious of
Indus Valley Civilization, which developed almost simultaneously with those of Nile and Euphrates in the earlier part of 3rd millennium.

Take, for instance, the horned god of seals. Perhaps, the most striking deity of Harappan Culture, he is depicted on three different specimens. In one of these, he is seated on the ground. In the other two, he is perched on small stool or dais. His posture in all three specimens is very similar to holy aesthetes of later times, legs are drawn up close to the body with two heels touching.

Although depicted as nude, god wears many bangles and necklaces. His headgear apparently consists of a pair of horns with plant-like object between them. On the largest specimen, he is shown surrounded by four wild animals, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo and tiger. Beneath the small dais, two deer rest, rather similar to the representations of Buddha, preaching his very first sermon in Deer-Park at Benares (Varanasi). The depiction of animals, the plant-like growth from his head and the fact that he is ithyphallic, suggest that this horned god was in fact fertility symbol or deity, maybe proto-Shiva.

Undoubtedly, this horned god has much in common with Shiva of later Vedic times. Shiva is sometimes referred to as Pasupati (which means Lord of Beasts) in his most important aspect, which is that of fertility deity and is often depicted with three faces.

Several horned goddesses were also portrayed on such seals. One interesting seal shows a horned goddess in pipal tree, being worshipped by yet another horned figure. This scene is witnessed by human -headed goat and a row of pigtailed women, probably priestesses in attendance.

Certain trees were also considered sacred, just as in later day Hinduism. The pipal in particular was much revered and often appears in seals, thus establishing a link with Buddhism, in which the pipal held great significance, since it was under pipal tree that Buddha found enlightenment.

Animals, too, appear to have played significant part in religion. Bull, particularly, often occurs in contexts, which appear to prove his sacred position. On many seals, he stands before what is apparently "cult object", closely resembling table. Close study to seals reveals small lines emerging from the table, which may represent growing corn, no doubt eaten by sacred bull, as part of fertility rite.

This sacred bull is often shown with only one horn, which has led some people to assume that the representation is of a unicorn. In fact, the image is that of a bull, whose second horn is hidden by the first. Although, many different animals are to be seen on the seals, surprisingly the cow so revered in later Hinduism in nowhere depicted.

Phallic worship also appears to have been important element in religious life. The many large cone-shaped objects have been identified as representations of the phallus and sizeable ring-type objects as representations of female generative organs. This pagan form of worship was also popular in the later Vedic age, as it still is in South India.

Non-Indian influences on religion are also revealed by the seals. A few traces of Sumerian contact are to be found in the seal depicting a hero grappling with two tigers, variant of famous Mesopotamian motif. The countenance and the peculiar hair suggest that he represented the sun and tigers the powers of darkness.

Equally eloquent is the language of figurines excavated from Moenjodaro. Along with the seals, they provide the main clues about the religious views and practices of these people of
Indus Valley.

Houses of laborers appear to differ greatly from house of the affluent in size, plan and location. The concentration of workers' houses in one part of the city suggests tendency toward social discrimination; and this could well have resulted eventually in the rigid, class-conscious, tradition-bound "Caste System".

The unearthing of rough terra-cotta statuettes of women with little or not clothing indicates yet another link with the later Vedic age. The elaborate head-dresses, with which these figures are adorned suggest that may have been icons of Mother Goddess. It may be noted here that the early Vedic Aryans did not worship any female deity.

Female goddess, Mitra, reappeared only after thousand years and was greatly revered. The female goddess seems to have been very popular among Harappans. Numerous statuettes have been found, enough in fact to be kept in nearly every home! Their crude shape suggests that the goddess was not favored by the upper classes, who naturally commanded the services of the best craftsmen, but that her effigies were mass-produced by humble potters to meet popular demand.

Some of the mail figurines are equally interesting. The red sand-stone torso of male is particularly outstanding for its realism. The modeling of the rather heavy abdomen appears to belong to later style of sculpture. This seems to suggest that the figurine was produced later but some accident found its way to the lower stratum. However, figurine has certain features, notably the strange indentations on the shoulders.

The discovery of such figures in the more affluent areas of the cities and the high quality of their sculpture indicate that well-to-do Harappans preferred male gods. This view has been reinforced by the discovery of many more male figurines, all of whom may have represented divinities.

These figurines are made of terra-cotta and depict bearded nude men with coiled hair; their posture is rigidly upright, with the legs slightly apart and arms held parallel to, but not touching the size of the body, thus closely resembling the stance, called by Jainas "Kayot Sarga". Meditating teachers were often portrayed, thus in later Vedic times, and the repetition of this figure would suggest that he, too, was god.

Buildings and other structures, too, reveal some interesting information, Great Bath, for instance, with its central tank surrounded by cloister of small for priests. It also indicates that, like later Hindus, Harappans had strong belief in pacificator effects of water.

The total area spanned by Indus Valley center is almost 950 miles from North to South and two major cultural centers are Harappa and Moenjodaro. In spite of vast extent of its influence, pattern of its civilization was so uniform that even the bricks used in many structures were usually the same shape and size.

There, also, exists sufficient evidence to indicate that
Indus Civilization had much in common with the later Vedic age, particularly in the religious sphere.

In this sense, it can be claimed that the civilization was never completely destroyed, but, like the proverbial phoenix, rose from its ashes after thousand years! Its religious beliefs and practices took route in the imagination of people of this subcontinent and are still reverently adhered by Hindus today.



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