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From Indus Valley to coastal Tamil Nadu

T.S. Subramanian

Strong resemblances between graffiti symbols in Tamil Nadu and the Indus script

— Photo: M. Srinath

Continuity of tradition: Megalithic pots with arrow-work graffiti found at Sembiankandiyur village in Nagapattinam district.

CHENNAI: In recent excavations in Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu, megalithic pottery with graffiti symbols that have a strong resemblance to a sign in the Indus script have been found. Indus script expert Iravatham Mahadevan says that what is striking about the arrow-mark graffiti on the megalithic pottery found at Sembiyankandiyur and Melaperumpallam villages is that they are always incised twice and together, just as they are in the Indus script.

The Hindu published on April 27 a report (“Megalithic period pottery found”) on megalithic pottery and urns found at Sembiyankandiyur, along with [in most of the editions] a photograph of three pots with arrow-like graffiti symbols on each pot.

In all the three pots, the arrow-like symbol appeared two times each and next to each other.

The Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department found these pots during excavations at Sembiyankandiyur between February and April 2008 after a school teacher, V. Shanmuganathan, unearthed a polished neolithic axe from the garden of his house at Sembiyankandiyur in 2006. The axe had engravings that resembled the Indus script.

In May 2007, the Department found several pots at Melaperumpallam near Poompuhar during a trial excavation. Some of these had the same arrow-like symbol occurring twice on them, and always adjacent to each other.

According to Mr. Mahadevan, seals unearthed at Mohenjodaro (now in Pakistan) in the 1920s have similar arrow-like signs that also occur twice and always together. There are several seals with the Indus script and engravings of a bull or a unicorn where the arrow-like sign always occurs in pairs.

While the megalithic/Iron Age pottery in Tamil Nadu is datable between the third century B.C. and third century A.D., the Indus script belongs to the period 2600 B.C. to 1900 B.C. of the mature Harappan period.

“In spite of the enormous gap in time and space between the Indus civilisation sites and [the] Tamil Nadu [sites], it appears that the megalithic graffiti of Tamil Nadu have continued the tradition of the Indus script,” Mr. Mahadevan said.

“Despite a slight difference in the graphic of the arrow-like symbol found on the megalithic pottery of Tamil Nadu and the sign in the Indus script, the fact is that they always occur in double and together. So this requires further study and investigation.”

In 1960, B.B. Lal, former Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), wrote a paper in the publication Ancient India brought out by the ASI, with a photographic catalogue of the megalithic and chalcolithic pottery with graffiti marks and comparing them with the signs of the Indus script. “Since then, many more examples of pottery with graffiti marks that have a strong resemblance to the Indus signs have been found at Sanur near Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu and Musiri (Pattanam) in Kerala,” Mr. Mahadevan said.

Particularly significant was a large megalithic terracotta plate found at Sulur near Coimbatore, with symbols closely resembling an inscription on a tablet found at Harappa, which is also in Pakistan now. Hence, “there is distinct possibility that the megalithic symbols and the corresponding signs of the Indus script have the same significance and meaning,” he said. (The terracotta plate from Sulur is on display at the British Museum in London).

In his paper, “A megalithic pottery inscription and a Harappa tablet: a case of extraordinary resemblance,” published in the Journal of Tamil Studies, Volume No.71, June 2007, Mr. Mahadevan said: “I suggest that close resemblances are possible only if the south Indian megalithic script is related to the Indus script. Further, the common sequence found on the Sulur dish and the Harappa tablet may indicate that the languages of the two inscriptions are related to each other.”

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