Published : Nov 11, 2000 00:00 IST

Editor's Introduction

"Horseplay in Harappa," the Cover Story by Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer in Frontline (October 13, 2000), has attracted a lot of interest from readers, including scholars, in India and abroad. In the same issue, at Frontline's invitation, Romila Thapar, the eminent historian of ancient India, commented on the Witzel-Farmer article and offered a perspective on Hindutva and history.

The subsequent issue (October 27) carried letters from Iravatham Mahadevan, the leading Indian expert on the Indus Valley script, and Richard H. Meadow, Project-Director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project at Harvard University and one of the world's leading experts on ancient animal bones. There has also been a large number of letters from general readers. Additionally, the Witzel-Farmer scholarly investigation and expos has generated a lively discussion on the Internet.

To take the discussion further and deeper, Frontline presents in this issue scholarly communications on the subject. These comprise N.S. Rajaram's letter to the editor, backed up by two scanned colour images; and invited responses from two of the world's leading experts on the Indus Valley script, Asko Parpola and Mahadevan, and from the authors of "Horseplay in Harappa."

- Editor, FrontlineFrontline Cover has "the head of a horse"

The Deciphered Indus Script: Methodology, readings, interpretations

Vedic Aryans and the Origins o f Civilisation

Profiles in Deception: Ayodhya and the Dead Sea Scrolls

FrontlineN.S. RAJARAM

Recently, Frontline published articles by Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer and by Romila Thapar ("Horseplay in Harappa," Frontline, October 13, 2000), the main thrust of which was that the Harappan Civilisation was ignorant of the horse beca use it is not depicted on any of the seals. On this premise they claimed that the image of the seal known as Mackay 453 given in The Deciphered Indus Script by N. Jha and N.S. Rajaram is a fabrication, with a unicorn bull made to look like a horse .

Both Frontline and the authors overlooked the fact that the seal displayed on the cover contains a figure recognisable as the head of a horse at the top right-hand corner. The scanned images [on this page] highlight this by giving both the cover p hoto (with the arrow pointing) and the enlargement. I hope the authors will not suggest that this is the head of a unicorn bull! This is just one example of hasty conclusion due to preconception, unfamiliarity with the sources, and insufficient attention to detail.

At the same time Jha and I don't want to be dogmatic because these are artists' depictions and not anatomical specimens. So differences of opinion are unavoidable. We regard the question of the horse to be of minor significance: our book is about the Ind us script, not the Indus horse. There are more fundamental issues like the Sarasvati River data and others that need to be addressed. The broader issue, as Professor Thapar makes clear, is the Vedic identity of the Harappan Civilisation. This, I feel, ha s been amply demonstrated by our book and by several others - with and without the decipherment.

Interview with N.S. Rajaram.

Following the publication of "Horseplay in Harappa," N.S. Rajaram wrote a letter to the Editor of Frontline. In the covering note, he offered access to "the original photograph" of the 'horse seal' on which the image published in the Jha-Ra jaram book was based. Frontline accepted the offer and received from Rajaram a copy of the photograph, which was identical to the one Rajaram sent Iravatham Mahadevan in 1997. Frontline correspondent Anupama Katakam interviewed Rajar am in Bangalore on November 2 on the provenance of the image of the 'horse seal,' the 'computer enhancement,' the 'decipherment,' and other aspects of Rajaram's work and views. Excerpts from the tape-recorded interview:

Where did the image of the 'horse seal' come from?

Jha had a photograph taken of the image from Mackay's book - Mohenjodaro. This attribution is in the index of his book. Jha lives in a small town. He may not have had access to high-tech equipment, which explains the low quality of the image.

Why does he believe it to be a horse?

I looked at the original [photograph], which is very small. In Mackay's book. Of course, Frontline gave a much better picture because they have better facilities. To me it looks more like a horse. I am convinced it is a horse.

The shape of the under-belly. If you look at the unicorn bull's genital area, it is very prominent [referring to Frontline's cover]. It is not so in the horse. The tail is also quite different. And another thing is - the tapering back is a feature of all fast-running animals.

What is the significance of the 'horse'?

I feel the importance of the horse is blown out of proportion. We have a great deal of much more important evidence that we have to explain. They are making it the central issue... It was just a footnote in our book...

As far as identification is concerned, we are sure it is a horse! And we can demonstrate that horses existed.

I believe the debate should be on a whole range of issues.

What is the old-style-telephone-like object in front of the animal?

Do you find it in our book? You see what has happened is this writing [pointing to the annotation] has got scrambled in the scanning. This writing which has got scrambled resembles this telephone-like thing which they refer to as a [feeding] trough. Noth ing is behind that label. This is not in the original seal.

Who annotated or labelled it?

Jha must have. To keep the file number... This is the photo I received and I have checked it with the original... But I didn't have such a good print. The original seal is in Mackay's book. This [points to the image numbered M-772A, published on p. 9 of the Frontline issue of October 13] they say has been flipped horizontally. It is probably the same seal, but you see there is more damage here. But I am not going to look at this one. You see when Parpola took this photograph, it was about 30 year s later. This has been computer-manipulated. As far as I am concerned, I will go with the oldest.

In any case, it is irrelevant as they may be the same image. See, the writing is the same... As far as the trough goes - it is a distortion of the letters.

On the why and how of the 'computer enhancement'

I never said computer enhancement in my book. When they kept pressing me, I said it might have been computer-enhanced. That is what I mentioned in a particular note to these people. I had no idea. I think it was scanned by the publisher. The best way of finding out is if you look at what copy the publisher has and mine. Then you will know what went into the book. This has not been scanned by me. I xeroxed it and I either sent a smaller photograph to improve the resolution, or a contraction of it taken o n a xerox machine.

If I had this quality [pointing to a clear image of the broken seal published in Frontline], there would be no problem. My point is if 'computer enhancement' was said, it may have been said under pressure. I have never done any computer enhancemen t.

Clearly he [Jha] has, or somebody has, taken the photograph from a publication. And I either sent a photocopy of it... And I remember what I said to the publisher. I said, "see if something can be made out of this."

... I am not in a position to say 'Yes' or 'No' [about the computer enhancement]. But I can definitely say I have done no computer enhancement. In fact, I have not even scanned it. If the publisher has done it, I might have said it has been computer enha nced. I am not denying that, but I have... never done any computer work on it. The only time it may have been scanned is by the publisher. He could have done it.

Does he still think it is a horse? Does he stand by his decipherment?

Absolutely. Sure. We have done nothing...The issue they [Farmer and Witzel] have raised is that no horses were found in Harappa. But there is ample evidence that horse bones have been found at all levels at the Harappan site.The reference to the horse is only in one part of a footnote!

Our point is that decipherment is part of the historical connection between the Vedic and the Harappan. What we see as the main significance is the historical context which links Harappan archaeology to Vedic literature...

We will hold on to our identification of the horse. But I have also made the point in my letter [to the Editor of Frontline] - another example. I don't know how it ended up on the cover but anyway, these are artists' depictions and not anatomical representations. So we can only argue it, we cannot prove it. It is simply a question of people's impressions.

And at least for the last 50 years, horse bones have been found at Harappan sites and some have been found much earlier. More information will be coming now.

The main point I want to make is about the Vedic-Harappan connection. Both the Vedic and Harappan civilisations - you cannot call it saffronised if you relate it to Hinduism because both of them preceded Christianity and Islam by thousands of years! And India before that time was Hindu. My point is that I can demonstrate the Vedic-Harappan connection - that the Harappan civilisation was Vedic and full of Vedic symbolism even without the decipherment...

And we see our book on the decipherment not in isolation but [alongside] a whole lot of information that has come out beginning with the discovery of the Saraswati River. Which the Aryan invasion model does not explain.

Was he mistaken in his identification of the 'horse seal'?

Just as I gave my clarification to you, I told him [Farmer] I would check with Jha and give him the clarification. I had not located the photograph because I never imagined this would be turned into such a major [controversy]... and then I found it in my file.

I went to the Mythic Society to check the original for Farmer. And I even told him we could have made an honest mistake. But I don't think we have made any mistakes and we stand by our identification. I will not be surprised if the same picture is found in some old books.

I can tell you this: This photograph is what Jha sent me. I have not computer enhanced it. If I said that - which is possible... I might have said [it]... because I didn't have the photo at that time, which I traced later. I might have said it meaning no t that I enhanced it but it might have been done for publication.

I still stand by my interpretation.
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