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
Fortunately, even the silent language of the seals
and other materials unearthed, enable us to draw
fairly accurate picture of the social and
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
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,
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
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
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
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.