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Indus Script: Grandma of Vedic Languages (?)

Is the language of the Indus inscriptions Pre-Vedic Sanskrit ?

Dr Madhusudan Mishra of Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan opines in his From Indus to Sanskrit that the language of the Indus inscriptions is the Grandmother of the Vedic language. He believes that the Indus language had passed through three stages – written at first with animal figures, then geometrical forms and finally numerical signs. But all the three phases are simultaneously present in the extant Indus texts. Mishra is of the opinion after studying the concordance of the Indus texts that each Indus sign represents a complete word and that stable pairs or triplets build up phrases or clauses.The ligatured signs represent compound words. Though he accepts the conventional view that Indus inscriptions are written from right to left, it argued that the Indus signs are loosely strung together into short sentences sans grammar.

He regards each Indus sign as an open syllable of the consonant-vowel (CV) type wherein the meaning of the word-sign is sought instead of the phonetic values. He picks out monosyllabic words (of CV type) from the Sanskrit lexicon that refer to any object(s) and seeks matching Indus signs which he deems as the reflecting the corresponding object(s). A sign that resembles an ant is identified with the monosyllable ‘ka’ and similarly a circular sign is identified with ‘ca’ meaning ‘moon’. His readings have yielded a list of monosyllabic words in the Indus-Sanskrit language with a profusion of meanings. Each monosyllable has multiple meanings: ‘ca’ has 12 meanings, ‘ta’ has 12 meanings, ‘sha’ has 21 meanings and ‘ha’ has 26 meanings, etc. Epigraphic scholar Irawatham Mahadevan has observed that “the monosyllables are made to yield hundreds of words in Sanskrit” in this way.

Dwelling on the method adopted by Dr Mishra, Irawatham explains that a text of three signs is read ta-na-sha and equated with the Vedic tanas – offspring – and not by combining the syllables but by combining the monosyllabic words ta (the womb of a woman). na (gem) and sha (produces) = ‘a gem produced from the womb of a woman’ = ‘offspring’. Mishra, who considers that the Indus inscriptions are only a rudimentary forms of what was elaborated in the Vedas and later samhitas, is of the opinion that the Indus inscriptions have been written in Gayatri and Anushtubh meters. Irawatham cites an example of the longest Indus text with 26 signs read in monosyllabic Sanskrit yielding this meaning: “(when the universe was to come into being) the unsteady star (sun) was bright (or produced light). (Firstly) the sky was born. It was (rather) conceived through meditation (that the sky has been born). Then the river flowed. The sun shone brightly. This is the truth to know. (Then the earthly) fire burnt(=came into being). Now, indeed, the hot sun is shining. Though Dr Mishra points out that these ideas are only of what is present in the Rig Veda as an hymn to creation, he asseses  his own intepretation thus: ““These sentences often appear ridiculous … but the absence of the real context makes them unbelievable”.

Admitting that Dr Mishra’s deciphering venture “comes closest to the structure of the Indus texts as determined by objective formal analysis”, Irawatham points out two reasons for what he calls as ‘unsuccessful’ decipherment – one procedural and the other historical/linguistic. Mishra falters – as pointed out by Irawatham – when facing with the ‘the inherent uncertainty in identifying the pictorial and geometric signs and in finding the unique phonetic or semantic values.” The JAR sign in the Indus script generally refers to a vessel. But for Mishra it refers to a ‘nipple’ for the corresponding Sanskrit monosyllable is ‘sha’ which is given 21 semantic values to choose from in reading a text! Moreover, is there a reason for why monosyllabic
words should only be in open syllables of the CV type and not VC or CVC types? “The
identification of the numerical signs with the Mahesvara-sutras in Panini’s grammar is arbitrary,” points out Irawatham Mahadevan.

Dr Mishra’s choice of a linguistic model to understand the structure of the Indus inscriptions with his arbitrary  theory of an isolating stage or an intermediate agglutinative stage preceding the inflectional Vedic language is not accepted by Sanskritologists. Harvard University’s Professor of Sanskrit Michael Witzel has dismissed Mishra’s evolutionary model of primitive-to-complex progression of Sanskrit as ‘linguistic Darwinism’. Besides, Mishra’s perspectives on the Dravidian languages lacks scientific grounding in historical and comparative linguistics when he avers that “rustic dialects of the Dravidian languages’ belong to the Indo-Aryan family! He deplores the reconstruction of Proto-Dravidian on the lines of the
reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European. He declarative assumption  that any attempt use Dravidian Etymological Dictionary to read the Indus texts is ‘abortive’ smacks of prematurity and bias. Irawatham Mahadevan has observed – in his paper Aryan or Dravidian or Neither? A Study of Recent Attempts to Decipher the Indus Script (1995-2000) – that Madhusudan Mishra had taken the first step in the right direction towards the decipherment of the Indus script and might have made further progress had he not been
prevented by nationalistic bias.

Dr Madhusudan Mishra should argue his points of contention in a professional open forum equally with the presence of Sanskritologists and Dravidologists (Indologists of International stature) and a ‘peer-review’ is only a norm of credibility for a bias-free access to the neutral audience around the globe interested in Indic studies.

Ref.Source: Aryan or Dravidian or Neither? A Study of Recent Attempts to Decipher the Indus Script (1995-2000), ELECTRONIC JOURNAL OF VEDIC STUDIES (EJVS) Vol. 8 (2002) issue 1 (March 8).

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