Horseplay in Harappa

Published : Oct 28, 2000 00:00 IST

I profoundly appreciate the Cover Story articles "Horseplay in Harappa" and "Hindutva and history" (October 13). It is indeed deplorable that N.S. Rajaram and Dr. Natwar Jha have attempted to befuddle archaeological findings and make false claims (we awa it these authors' defence statements). I hope these wild claims do not form part of textbooks meant for our youth. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that settled facts with due balance alone find place in the textbooks for the young mi nds of our nation.

Frontline will be doing an even greater service if it sends reprints of the article to the Prime Minister, the Chief Ministers and the Education Ministers of our vast and great country. I thank you for your policy of publishing articles like the a bove ones so that false scholarship and attempts to perpetuate falsehood are brought to a halt.

Dr. M. Paul Korath, M.D. Chennai* * *

Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer have completely demolished the claims of the two tricksters to having deciphered the Harappan script. They were equally successful in exposing the designs behind the fraudulent attempt to connect the Indus script with "Late Vedic" Sanskrit.

It is disgusting that these reactionary elements are willing to resort to all kinds of tricks to prove their point of view. Another cause for distress is that even highly educated persons, including engineers and scientists, are propagating unscientific views. Probably they studied science merely to grab well-paid jobs and have little faith in scientific methods. Their minds were so deeply imprinted with faulty ideas in the early part of their lives that no amount of education was able to repair the dam age. Here lies the biggest danger to Indian society.

India is now at a critical point of time because it is in the hands of dangerous reactionary forces who came to power by spreading hatred and with the promise of correcting certain alleged historical wrongs. If not countered in time, there is a great haz ard of these forces spreading their tentacles further and providing training in bigotry through school textbooks. The first step in this direction is to twist history so that it is in agreement with or aids their fanatical ideology.

If a concerted effort is not made by all progressive-minded Indians to stem the rot, then the day is not far when an even worse curriculum will be forced on schools and colleges. Our educational institutions will be transformed into factories producing t horoughly indoctrinated bigots. Nothing else can be more disastrous for any country.

Frontline is playing a laudable role in countering the reactionary forces by questioning their faulty ideology and by exposing their designs. Keep it up.

Pramod Kumar Lucknow* * *

You have done a good job by publishing the article. Although the propagandists of Hindutva would dislike it, people like us will support the publication of more and more articles of this kind.

Amith Kumar Received on e-mail* * *

It is gratifying that Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer have refuted the claims of Rajaram and Jha. The very fundamental point about the Rigveda is that it is called Sruti and obviously there were no written records or clay seals during the Rigvedic period . Only during the post-Vedic period were the available hymns of the Rigveda collected and handed down to posterity.

N. Ramakrishnan Kodumudi, Tamil Nadu* * *

It was a thought-provoking story. Frontline has been one of the pioneers in highlighting such issues. Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer have done yeoman service to the people of India by exposing the hoax by Jha and Rajaram.

Uttam Sonawane Ulhasnagar, Maharashtra* * *

Rajaram's work with the 'horse-seal' to find the roots of Hinduism in the Indus Valley civilisation is something like the endeavour to trace the flight of a bird through the air. Even if horse was known to the Indus people, their knowledge of the domesti cation of this animal could not have been a matter of social possession.

If Rajaram's aim is to discover the similarities between the Indus Valley civilisation and the Later Vedic period, there are several such similarities. The Indus religion contributed to the emergence of iconic or image worship in Indian religions. Simila rly, the worship of gods in the form of symbols such as linga and yoni, so common in Hinduism, was also a contribution of the Indus religion. The Indus religion contributed the concept of the Great God, who convincingly shares many traits of the later Si va. The evolution of the Rudra-Siva and Mother Goddess concepts in the Later Vedic age was largely the result of the impact of the Indus religion. Many other religious ideas of Hinduism - tree (especially pipal) worship, trees as abodes of spirits, zoola try in its various forms, and so on - may be traced to the Indus religion. The Indus people obviously believed in the purifying power of water, and the Great Bath of Mohenjadoro reminds one of the Pushkarani of Vaisali of the early historical period. The se are some of the traits of the Indus religion which reappeared in the religion of Later Vedic times and in the Hinduism of subsequent epochs.

But all these similarities are not going to prove that the Aryans were indigenous people. They point to the conclusion that the Indus Valley civilisation transmitted to its successors a metaphysics that endured while it failed to transmit its physical as pects. Civilisations have intermissions, but religion has not.

C. Ramesh Keeramangalam, Tamil Nadu* * *

There is a tendency among Indian scholars not to let anything go beyond Sanskrit because to them it is the most ancient language. On the other hand, Western scholars try to put even the oldest event in Indian history around the period of Alexander's inva sion of India.

If Sanskrit is an inflexional language, it should have been preceded by its agglutinative stage, which itself is development from an isolating stage. The modern languages of the world are at the agglutinative stage, having transited sometime ago from the isolating stage. Because most of them have come through the various phases of the inflexional ancestors, they have also some amount of inflexion. North Indian languages are isolating, also agglutinative, and partly inflexional at the same time, but Sout h Indian languages are isolating, also partly agglutinative, because their ancestor did not go to the inflexional stage.

A look at the texts of the Indus inscription shows that it represents a language of the typically isolating type, hardly one or two elements loosely glued to some basic element. Its reduced form is found in the Vedic language. For example, a text TA NA S HA (2659 Mahadevan) appears as ta'nas in Vedic language. Thus the Indus language is two stations before the Vedic language. If the Vedic language is the granddaughter, the Indus language is the grandmother. To read Vedic words in the Indus texts, they ha ve to be expanded to the Indus size (ta'nas: TA NA SHA). Then the time of the Indus inscriptions has to be carried much farther back, because the agglutinative stage is conspicuously missing. The Indus language is two generations apart from the Vedic lan guage. Then where is the question of Sanskrit coming from outside as an invader? It is native to India.

North Indian languages differ from South Indian languages (including Santhal, Munda) to the extent that even if both are at present at the isolating-agglutinative stage, South Indian languages have no inflexion worthy of name but the North Indian languag es have them conspicuously. Because their ancestors severed from one another at their very childhood and one reached the inflexional stage while the other limped at the same stage, on their climbdown both appeared with different look. This resulted in so me sort of reaction, South Indian languages adopting more and more Sanskrit words and the North Indian languages succumbing to foreign influence. However, the North Indian and South Indian languages are cousins and they quarrel with the same spirit.

Madhusudan Mishra Patpadganj, Uttar Pradesh* * *

The story bespeaks your great concern for truth. It exposes the Hindutva forces' aim to transform the grey areas of history into spurious certainties that can boost their agenda of cultural nationalism (or majoritarianism).

A. Machado Dharwar, Karnataka* * *

Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer have tried to laugh at the idea of the Harappan writings about horses. I have not yet gone through the controversial book. But, for the past several months I have been studying the Harappan script independently and I am ce nt per cent sure that some of the inscriptions pertain to horses (in relation to solar worship). The evidence is there in the tablets themselves. The absence of horse fossils does not necessarily preclude knowledge about horses. How many fossils of three -headed animals, elephants and camels have been dug up at Harappa, for that matter? The terms used by the ancients might not have the same meaning we ascribe to them today. Ustra (ushtra - a camel) could denote a bull then. The horse was not the m odern horse (kuthira) but the mythical horse of the sun god. The seals were used mainly as tools (amulets) to worship the sun god and ward off evil (darkness). This custom had its origin probably in ancient Egypt or South India.

The script on the seals are pictographic and phonetic and the writing is usually from the right to the left. I cannot say at present by what name the language was known then, but it definitely had some 'Sanskrit' flavour. There is nothing wrong in rewrit ing history if the new evidence is convincing.

P.C. Joseph Coimbatore* * *

For all their verbiage and vituperation, the establishment scholars have no more credibility than Rajaram's horse. They refuse to consider the evidence in the Rigveda itself, which has not a whisper of a suggestion of an Aryan homeland outside of India.

Swami Devananda Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu* * *

As an Indian engineer who maintains an interest in Indian history and as a member of the Indology mailing list (, where a lot of the background e-mail conversation about this problem took place, let me sha re a thought with your readers on this issue.

After all is said and done, the reaction of the authors to N.S. Rajaram's claimed decipherment of the Indus signs appears to be much ado about precious little. After a century of research with Indus seals, nobody in the world knows what these signs say. Rajaram's claimed decipherment merits simply a brief mention as the latest addition to a long record of spectacular failures. As for the now-infamous broken seal and its impression, Rajaram wanted to see a horse in an Indus seal so badly that he saw one. Beyond the basic documentation of his faulty methods and theory, the article is a classic instance of overkill. The world is full of people who make mistakes.

Witzel and Farmer clearly state that Rajaram is prone to hyperbole and that they are very sceptical about most of his bio-data. I find it all the more surprising, therefore, that they should take it literally when it is claimed that Rajaram's books reach "millions of Indian readers," or that the "Indian government has advised the National Book Trust to publish" one of them in India. Why do Witzel and Farmer credit Rajaram with a high degree of political influence, while simultaneously holding that he su ffers from delusions of grandeur, leading him to vastly overestimating his own importance? Has Rajaram already achieved a position of influence, or is an inflated sense of political influence being thrust upon him by the authors?

Vidyasankar Sundaresan Received on e-mailIndia and the Bomb

Frontline has done signal service to its readers by publishing the essay "India and the Bomb" (September 29), which is an adaptation of Amartya Sen's Dorothy Hodgkin lecture. A disinterested reading of the essay creates a disturbing impact and one is led to feel that Sen has fitted facts and logic to arrive at a prefabricated conclusion.

One would like to ask Sen whether the United States would have ever dared to drop the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had Japan had at its disposal a modest stockpile of nuclear arms. It was the U.S. position as a monopoly nuclear power in the ea rly 1940s that enabled it to strike the way it did.

It is a fact that both India and Pakistan had developed nuclear strike power for two decades, mostly on the sly, with the alibi of 'peaceful purposes'. This was irrespective of the ideological affiliations of the people in power in New Delhi and Islamaba d. The fact that within weeks of coming to power the BJP government gave the green signal for a nuclear test and that Pakistan responded close on the heels of Pokhran-II proves the point that the two countries had only been keeping the powder dry. Knowle dge regarding each other's nuclear-strike potential and capability continued to act as a deterrent on Pakistan and India. It needs to be reckoned that Pakistan's spokespersons have been repeating parrot-like that their country cannot commit itself to a p osition of not taking recourse to the first nuclear strike. One should not lose sight of the fact that Pakistan lost its eastern territory (today's Bangladesh) only because it did not then have the nuclear strike power. Amartya Sen seems to have set asid e this fact although he states that "Bangladesh is now probably the safest country in the subcontinent to live in."

Would it be sage advice that India should remain nuclear-abstinent when its immediate neighbours Pakistan and China maintain the nuclear strike power? Rabindranath Tagore's pacifist professions serve only to lull one into misplaced complacency.

John Mammen ThiruvananthapuramThe Laxman line

It was amusing to note Bangaru Laxman's appeal to Muslims and other minorities ("The Laxman line", September 29). No doubt the Bharatiya Janata Party has realised that it has to be in the good books of communities other than Hindus as well. That it has m ore or less retained the same number of seats in the Lok Sabha in the last two general elections must have spurred the BJP to try and broaden its vote bank and aspire for a single-party government at the Centre. But all the sweet talk about Muslims came to nought when the Prime Minister chose to attend in New York a meeting with a large saffron presence. Alhough he tried to "clarify" his reference to being a swayamsevak, it fooled no one. A tiger cannot change its stripes however hard it might try. Peop le go by past record and they find the BJP wanting in its approach to the minorities.

With the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and other groups in a belligerent mood on the questions of Hindutva, swadeshi and building a Ram temple, more friction is expected between them and the BJP. Bangaru Laxman will have to walk a tightrope in dealing wi th the Hindutva elements that form the core of his party. To expect the BJP to cut its umbilical cord with the RSS is asking for too much.

D.B.N. Murthy BangaloreTibet

Congratulations on your thought-provoking article on Tibet ("Tibet: A reality check", September 15). For the past many years I have been living in Washington DC. Of late, I spend more time in Pune where I have settled down after retirement. I bought the issue in Pune and postponed writing this letter to you until after I reached the U.S. and passed the article on to a few friends of mine here. All of us are of the opinion that all these days we had been fed misinformation by the media.

What the U.S. government practises is realpolitik but it professes that it supports democratic aspirations everywhere. It says it supports the Dalai Lama because he stands for democracy and freedom. If that were so, how does one explain the U.S.' support for Pakistan all these years? The impression I had about Tibet (having been fed by the American media) was that of a backward region of an overrun state, frozen in time as depicted in Hollywood movies. How will the U.S. react if California asks for sece ssion? There was an article in the Smithsonian Magazine some years back, which said that the real reason for the Civil War was the southern States' demand to secede from the union.

V. Venkatesan Pune* * *

It is incomprehensible to me that the author refutes the statistics provided by the Tibetan government in exile, Time, respected international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and the State Department of the United States, which released a statement recently that China "has been trying to stem a surge in religious activity by harassing, detaining and physically abusing believers." Instead, he would have us accept the statistics and information provid ed by the Government of China.

Regarding the Chinese government's statement that "religious belief is a citizen's private affair," I can only ask how this fits in with the decision made by China to remove all pictures of the Dalai Lama in Tibet not only from public spaces but also fro m private homes. What is inherently not being recognised here is that the Dalai Lama is part of the Tibetan Buddhist religion; China cannot be anti-Dalai Lama and pro-Tibetan Buddhism.

The author endorses the idea that the 1959 chapter in Tibet's and China's history be constructively forgotten. Could any Indian "constructively" forget the history of colonialism and British reign in India? And, could he imagine what it would be like to be occupied by foreign powers?

Why are there hundreds of thousands of Tibetans outside Tibet if life in Tibet is so good for them? Why do thousands of Tibetans flee each year, braving terrible hardships, crossing the mountain ranges on foot, to reach Nepal, India and Bhutan?

Dekila Chungyalpa Washington DC* * *

First, I question the "indicators" by which N. Ram concludes that before the Chinese invasion Tibet was "one of the most backward places on earth." I also object to any suggestion that even if this was the case, invasion by the Chinese was good for the T ibetans. The Editor gets statistics on education in Tibet from Is the Internet really the place to get this kind of information?

The failings of Tibetan society are no justification for Chinese imperialism. The people's own ways of measuring their development may not always be reflected in the "indicators" that make their way to Internet sites or state reports. "China's Tibet" exe mplifies the way globalisation - global standards, global databases - serves the interests of imperialism.

L.S. Aravinda Deonar, Maharashtra* * *

The article was an apologia for the behaviour of the Chinese Communist government towards the Dalai Lama. The assertion made in Themes No. 5 and 6 on religious and political freedom and human rights in China are particularly breathtaking. According to th e author, China guarantees freedom of religious belief subject to reasonable restrictions. One of the restrictions is that the religious communities should not be subject to foreign domination. This amounts to saying that the Pope should have no control over Catholics. It is significant that the Pope has not been allowed to visit China after 1949.

R.V. Chandramouli ChennaiEpilepsy

The article on epilepsy ("Dealing with epilepsy," October 27) was informative. There is a general opinion that epilepsy is a mental disorder and hence incurable. As the article makes clear, big advances have taken place in the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy through simple methods that does not involve expensive, sophisticated procedures.

G.E.M. Manoharan CoimbatoreFrontline
Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment