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Can Indus Script be Deciphered?

Updated on September 3, 2007
A seal depicting a figure of a God and several animals around. This is generaly identified with the Hindu God "Pasupathi". "pasu" means "soul" or "animals", "pathi" means "god". Note the characters above.
A seal depicting a figure of a God and several animals around. This is generaly identified with the Hindu God "Pasupathi". "pasu" means "soul" or "animals", "pathi" means "god". Note the characters above.

Indus Valley Civilization, one of the ancient civilizations of the world, was Flourishing in the nothern part of Indian sub-continent aroung 3500 Bc - 1500 BC. Ruins of the Cities of this civilaization had been excavated. Remains of this civilization show that this had a heighly developed urban infrastructure. The extend of its spread and the similarity of the towns far apart shows a powerful central control. This would have required an efficient communication system. We all know the importance of written language in effective communication. Unlike other important civilizations of the world, only limited evidence of writing was found here.

Large number of seals, which are beleived as items connected to trade, contain various figures and symbols similar to writing have been found. These are only a few characters long. No seals or any other items have been found to contain bilingual inscriptions. Efforts of archaeologists for several decades, to decipher these writings have not met with success yet. However, according to some epigraphers involved in this effort, although the content in not known, several characteristics of the Language have been established. Following are some of them:

  • The writting is from right to left.
  • Text contain suffixes. Does not contain prefixes of infixes.
  • Indus script belongs to the logo-syllabic type, not to syllabic or alphabetic type.

Two Indus Seals characters similar to writing.
Two Indus Seals characters similar to writing.

Underlaying Language

For any successful attempt to decipher the texts it is important to find out the type of underlaying language. The Indus Valley experts have no agreement in this issue. There are at least four defferent theories put forward in this connection. According to them the Language is:

  1. Dravidian.
  2. Indo-Aryan
  3. Other

As a fourth option a recent theory says the symbols are not a writing system at all.

The experts are still optimistic in deciphering the script in future. They think new archaeological findings will through light on this.


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    • profile image

      Sujay Rao Mandavilli 

      5 years ago


      The Demise of the Dravidian, Vedic and Paramunda Indus myths

      I am publishing my sixth research paper directly online as it is an extension of my previous papers. Kindly read pages 4 to 18 as it contains a detailed discussion of the term ‘Aryan’. This paper shows why the Dravidian, Vedic and Paramunda Indus theories are not tenable.

      Methods to reconstruct the languages of the Harappans were presented in the present and previous papers. We hope other scholars take up the exercise of reconstructing the languages of the Indus Valley civilization!

      The older papers were written taking the assumptions of the 19th century school of Indology as a base and working backwards. These may appear to be outdated now (at the end of our very long journey). However, the fundamentals are still correct.

      Part one

      Part Two very,very important!

      (These comprise the complete and comprehensive solution to the Aryan problem)

      for those who have trouble reading part two in the above link use the link below:

      part two

      Literacy in pre-Buddhist India (before 600 BC)

      Literacy in pre-Buddhist India (before 600 BC)

      Please find my collection of papers on literacy in Pre-Buddhist India

      Before mature phase of Indus valley civilization (before 2600 BC)

      - There are some potters marks but none qualify as full writing

      Indus valley civilization (2600 BC to 1900 BC)

      1. The reconfirmation and reinforcement of the Indus script thesis (very logical and self explanatory paper)

      2. The reintroduction of the lost manuscript hypothesis (the case for this thesis has obviously become much stronger in the recent past)

      Post-Harappan India (1600 BC to 600 BC)

      1. Literacy in post-Harappan india (obviously literacy in post-Harappan India existed in certain pockets & were limited to very small sections of society- alphabetic scripts were brought from West Asia and the Indus script also continued – this a very logical and self-explanatory paper and anyone can cross-verify the conclusions)

      Sujay Rao Mandavilli

    • profile image

      Sujay Rao Mandavilli 

      5 years ago

      i am pleased to announce the publication of my fifth research paper in a peer-reviewed journal

      this deals with the origin of Brahmi . this is a logical and self-explanatory paper and is written using a multi-disciplinary approach. it is written in such a way that anybody can cross-verify the conclusions.

      sujay rao mandavilli

    • profile image

      sujay rao mandavilli 

      5 years ago

      sujayrao2000 (signed in using yahoo)


      Please find my two papers below and circulate amongst the skeptics, particularly!

      To state the obvious, the Indus script was a logo-syllabic script and a lost corpus did exist.

      Published in the ICFAI journal of history and culture, January 2011.

      Published in International journal of philosophy and journal sciences , November 2012.

      I am also introducing logo-syllabic thesis B in this paper.


      The paper is very self-explanatory!

      does anybody still beg to differ?

      Sujay Rao Mandavilli.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This gives us good knowledge about Indus valley civilization.

    • profile image

      Sujay Rao Mandavilli 

      7 years ago

      Few sensible scholars will be able to deny that the Indus script was a logo-syllabic script. Facts about the Dholavira signboard. However seals may have been non-linguistic. (a) It is one of the most famous of Harappan inscriptions. (b) It was very large in size. (c) It was located in Far from Mesopotamia Dholavira and in one of the furthest sites from Mesopotamia. (d) It hung over the citadel there. (e) It must have represented the name of the place and must have been closely tied to speech: note the sign repetition. (f) The sign which was used as a determinative was a very common Indus sign. (g) The sign used as a determinative appears to have been also similar to determinatives in other writing systems. (h) The Indus script was also related to Proto-Elamite which means it probably had a linguistic component. (i) The other signs with which the determinative was used were also common Indus signs. (j) Few sensible scholars will now dispute the fact that the Indus script was a logo-syllabic script on the basis of this evidence. (k) Few sensible scholars will deny the fact that speech encoding was one of the major functions of the Indus script and had this feature had reached a very precocious maturity. (l) This inscription was apparently more closely tied to speech than most proto-Elamite inscriptions. (m) Dholavira was not even the most important of sites. (n) The fact that it was hung over the citadel meant it was meant to be read by elites. (o) It was put to the most frivolous use. (p) Speech encoding would have been a prized possession: no one would have used it just for a decorative signboard at far-from-Mesopotamia Dholavira. Why would a man who had inscribed this, done so (a) if nobody else could read it (b) why would he have learnt to encode speech only to inscribe this signboard? This automatically implies the existence of longer texts. It also shows that the Indus elites used more complex forms of communication. (q) Even if we assume that speech-encoding was added in Mature Harappan 3B, this logic would still hold good. (r) This logic is already accepted by mainstream Indus archaeologists as a precursor to the existence of longer texts

      please refer to the book by English archaeologist Jane Macintosh (Mcintosh 2008 p 374) "The Harappans did not create monumental art or architecture on which such inscriptions may have been written. The nearest that the Harappans came to this is the Dholavira signboard which is quite possibly the tip of the iceberg of a now vanished public inscriptions.Farmers arguments fail to account convincingly for the structural regularities that analysis have revealed in the use of Harappan signs. These strongly seem to support the hypothesis that the Indus script represent a writing system"

    • profile image

      Sujay Rao Mandavilli 

      7 years ago

      Pleased to announce the publication of my paper ‘The reconfirmation and reinforcement of the Indus script’ . This shows why the Indus script was a logo-syllabic script and longer texts certainly existed in the Indus. This shows why Sproat’s smoking gun is wholly invalid. If Farmer chooses to disagree with me, he has to reply to me point by point. Back to square one

    • profile image

      Sujay Rao Mandavilli 

      8 years ago

      Please find the response by Steve farmer . He is happy that India is no longer represented in a new book. Then why do they have to be indologists? Let them resign. This is not an isolated instance. This happens with them all the time.

      re: [Indo-Eurasia] BOOKS: Visible Language

      This book is not actually out yet, but when it is, it will be available for sale

      as well as for download free of charge at:

      Some teasers from the exhibition installation are appearing on facebook at

      -Chuck Jones-

      ---- Original message ----

      Steve Farmer wrote:

      > New book out from the Oriental Institute, passed on

      > from the Agade List.


      > Note how the so-called "Indus script" -- which is

      > certainly not a "script" as linguists view that term -- is

      > slowly but surely disappearing from the world of international

      > scholarship. About time, and I'm happy with Michael and Richard

      > to have started that process.


      > Steve

    • profile image

      S. M. Sullivan 

      8 years ago

      Let me know what you think of this decipherment:

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I think some of your readers are a bit confused about the issue of decipherment. Several people have indeed claimed to have deciphered the Indus script, just as a good many have claimed to have deciphered the Phaistos Disk (a single clay disk found on the island of Crete).

      The thing is, no two people who have "deciphered" either script agree on what the symbols mean. Asko Parpola and Iravatham Mahadevan agree that the ancient Harappans were literate and spoke a Dravidian language, but even they don't agree on what the "spoked wheel" means or the "fish" or the little man carrying the eensy weensy pots. The "flying pot" symbol which is the common one is often declared to be a suffix by one so-called decipherer. Based on such evidence, the language underlying the script is said to agglutinative. But a suffix doesn't wander about by itself. It just isn't done. And our ever-so-popular "flying pot" does just that. It stands on a seal from Daimabad all on its lonesome. That's most odd for a suffix.

      The article above is very nice, but it's a bit too specific about such things. There are indeed "prefixes" in the same way that there are "suffixes," after all. That circled vee plus double quotation mark -- that's a prefix. The vee in the diamond plus the same double quotation mark -- that's another prefix. So much for no prefixes! And how would we know whether there were infixes or not? We would have to know first what the sounds of the symbols were, wouldn't we? That's how it works, you see. And the trouble is, we really don't know what sounds those symbols represent. In fact, we don't that any of the symbols really represented any sounds at all.

      Rao and his colleagues have used conditional entropy to demonstrate that there is order to the symbols. There is indeed order to them. That flying pot tends to come toward the end. The circled vee and double quotation tend to come at the beginning. That's why scholars labeled them suffix and prefix, respectively. But the trouble with that observation is that people tend to order a great many things besides linguistic elements. People lay out their silverware according to standardized orders that vary according to elaborate rules. Navaho sand paintings involve a great many ordered symbols, none of which are linguistic. Some of my neighbors hang elaborately symbolic objects over or on their doors to keep their homes safe. There is a great deal is symbol use that involves order that is not linguistic. My granny taught me a certain amount of this, including the rules concerning the proper positioning of lucky horseshoes so that the luck doesn't run out of them, what sorts of herbs and bugs to hang in little bags about one's baby's neck to fend off what sorts of ills, and so on. It's symbolic. But it's not linguistic. So the symbols on the seals and tablets of the Indus Valley would have had meaning. Their orders would have been meaningful as well. But they would not necessarily have been strictly linguistic.

      The proto-linguistic symbol systems of Elam and Sumer are good parallels, in my humble opinion. But we will see. I may be wrong just like everybody else!

    • profile image

      Byju Michael 

      8 years ago

      The Indis script was deciphered as early as 1985 by 'C.K. Raman' an 80 year old self taught anthropologist/archaelogits/historian. He had served in teh British army and was posted in waht is now Pakistan where whe was exposed to teh Indus script. Being a sourherner and alraedy an expert in southern ancient Dravidian scripts, he could immediatley 'see teh light' and spent teh next 40 years of his life to decipher teh script. He published a book in the late 80's and was largely ridiculed by all teh historians including teh great Mr. Rao himself.

      He hypothesised that teh history of India starts with 3 boats sailing from Mesopotamea and mooring on the river mouth of teh now extinct Saraswati river and teh Indus civilisation started there. He hypothesised that 'Mo- Anje-Daro' is Persian for 'Moo-Vanchi-Thurai' which means '3 boats moored at a port'. Moo means 3. Vanchi means boat. Thurai means port.

      He hypothesised that the Indus script is early Darvidian language from which from all the other Indian languages came. He hypothesised that there was never an Aryan invasion. 'Aryan' simply means noble and teh Arayns were priestly class who cultivated a language 'Sanskrit' which actually means refined (Samsriti) refining it out of the eraly dravidian language so that they could elevate themselves and give themselves an air of superiority over the ordinary. This was basically a Mesopotamean hangover the prosetly class being well versed in astronomy and astrology and therefore use this knowledge to subdue others and keep them under subjugation. Look into teh historu of Mesopotamea and one can fin\d how easily thgis copuld have been achioeved

    • profile image

      S. M. Sullivan 

      8 years ago

      Please let me know what you think of this article:

    • profile image

      Sujay Rao Mandavilli 

      8 years ago

      Even if a small linguistic component is added – rebus principle or punning (Witzel,Kyoto 2009 or Sproat in his presentations) or acriphony is used, it qualifies for full literacy. I assume some ’sound coding’ would have been useful to them. The longest seal is 17 characters non-analomous and 26 characters analomous. I have never said that what Farmer is saying is necessarily fully wrong, but even Parpola has been reading them mostly as logograms with a linguistic component. So how much of what Farmer is saying is new apart from the fact that he popularized the idea? These men have been saying almost the same thing and fighting with each other? Till 2900 BC Egypt and Mesopotamia were considered proto-literate even if their texts are shorter(not non-literate!!!!). The first full sentence in Egypt dates only to 2890 BC - even if

      they want to argue that there is a difference between the Proto-writing and symbol systems , one can argue that the Indus system was perhaps more expressive than Egyptian proto-literate- because conditional entropy, order of signs, combinations probably did play a major role in conveying meaning in the Indus script (Korvink). Can we then conclude that the Harappan system had more communication power than other symbol systems and some proto-writing ???? Vinca symols are much, much simpler- 85% of signs occur in isolation- even that is considered proto-writing. Terminologies pertaining to literacy cannot be changed unless all scholars agree – and any demands to change terminology must be met with suspicion, naturally. Only a very small portion of the IVC has been excavated, you know, 5% maybe! Even Farmer agrees “Judging from modern examples and research in the linguistic history of South Asia, the Indus Valley was probably intensely multi linguistic throughout its history. This may have provided the Indus emblem system with an advantage over ordinary writing as a means of providing the civilization with social cohesion. The fact that the majority of inscriptions rely on a surprisingly small core of symbols suggests that the meaning of Indus signs could have potentially been known by almost or all (ALL!!) of the population, resulting in a pervasive quasiliteracy far beyond that achieved in Mesopotamia or Egypt.” (b) No other civilization mass produced writing (c) Where else did they have public signboards then apart from the Indus? I can instead cite Farmer and declare it the most literate civilization on earth. And he and I could be saying the same thing. I say such terms must be avoided. if they had learned how to use the rebus principle, they would have used it whenever the need arose. Seal writing is always short. Sproat’s smoking gun cannot be used to test the stability or the complexity of the system. It has fundamental weaknesses. It cannot also be used to prove that the Indus script didn’t have a linguistic component. The Indus script debate - whether it is proto-writing or writing dates back to the 1920's, and many scholars are convinced it is potentially a full step above proto-writing. So how much of what they are saying is new? This team can at the barest minimum be accused of putting words first, and provoking people, without any apparent reason. If you want to say something, say it using the right words. That is most welcome, as fact-finding is the goal of all scientific endeavour. Making fun of ancient people (who couldn't have harmed him in any way) is absolutely disgraceful and in very poor taste. . it amounts to a lack of maturity, if nothing worse. Countries like India and Pakistan did not exist way back then. We are dealing with human history.. People are most welcome to indulge in this if they want to, but they have no right to call it science. Even discussants in debates don't use the words Witzel et al use. This is provoking and making fun of people and qualifies as prejudice. The very reasonable possibility that the Indus script qualifies for full writing does not conflict with any historical models at all. He has even published in Casa Minora ‘huimanistic journal’ –atleast the choice of words makes it anti-humanistic to the extreme. Sujay Rao Mandavilli

    • sacredcow profile image


      9 years ago from india

      mr ramanathan,

      we can decode the symbols through intuition.thats the only way when you dont have access to rossetta stone.when we heavily focus on any object,we can interact with the past,present and future of that thing or event.the more spirit strength u have the more yu can move deep into past or present and in the process,one may stumble upon truth.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thats fascinating!

    • profile image


      10 years ago


    • profile image


      10 years ago


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This is my best information I chould get . I am 9 years old .

    • Rudra profile image


      11 years ago

      Great article and information here. The script has allready been deciphered by NS Rajaram. Its a different issue if historians want to ignore that.

    • Rmnathan profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Sharjah

      Thanks for your comments VickeyK. I too am waiting anxiously to hear the news from archaeologists and epigraphers that they had decoded the mystery.

    • VickeyK profile image


      11 years ago

      This is really fascinating and I didn't know anything about it before. Maybe they will decipher it. It wasn't that long ago that archaeologists were arguing about whether Mayan pictographs could be considered writing--but now they've deciphered a lot of them and learned how incredibly complex the civiliazation was. The pictures you show definitely look like messages!


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