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A New Key to the Proto-Indian Writing System


Sergei V. Rjabchikov

The Sergei Rjabchikov Foundation - Research Centre for Studies of Ancient Civilisations and Cultures, Krasnodar

First posted: 21 April 2006. Last updated: 25 April 2006.

Abstract. The author offers a new approach to the study of the Proto-Indian script. The corpus of the signs includes ideograms (determinatives) and syllables. The texts are written down in the Proto-Indo-Aryan language.

The Indus Valley civilisation (2900 – 1300 B.C.) existed in territories of Pakistan and India. The towns Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were its most important centres. Some thousands of different artefacts – seals, pottery, axes, amulets and so on – decorated with records were discovered by archaeologists. But what do these texts mean?

1. A Dravidian Key

H. Heras (1953) reads the combination of the Proto-Indian signs ‘fish’ and ‘six lines’ (the number six) as the Proto-Dravidian name of the Pleiades (Aru-min). Taking into account this finding, the team of Y.V. Knorozov (Knorozov 1965; 1981; Albedil 1991; 1993) and the team of A. Parpola (Parpola, Koskenniemi, Parpola and Aalto 1969a, 1969b) offer two variants of the decipherment of the Proto-Indian records in the Proto-Dravidian language.

2. An Alternative

On the other hand, the Dravidian conception ‘six fish’/‘six stars’ could be borrowed from an unknown culture. The Old Iranian religious book, Avesta (Yasht XIV.29), tells of sharp eyes of the fish Kara. One can stress that in the Indo-European beliefs ‘eye’, ‘the sun’, ‘light’ are similar ideas. For instance, Old Indian (Sanskrit) go means ‘arrow; thunderbolt; the sun; solar beam; eye; ox; cow; cattle’. Russian oko ‘eye’ can be compared with Russian okno ‘window’ (a source of light). Thus, in some archaic Indo-European cultures the terms ‘fish’ and ‘shine’ could be synonyms. Hence, the language of the Proto-Indian records may be Proto-Indo-European.

3. A Mediterranean Key

G.V. Alexeev (1976: 496) from Y.V. Knorozov’s team compares some Proto-Indian signs with signs of Linear A of Crete. However, he believes that it is an accidental coincidence. In my opinion, such parallels are noteworthy. It is apparent that variants of the syllables of Linear B/A were widespread in records of different civilisations at vast territories.

4. My Own Decipherment

My method is based on the structural linguistics. So, I offer readings of some syllables and ideograms of this writing system. The language of these records is Proto-Indo-European (Proto-Indo-Aryan). Some signs of Linear B (A) resemble corresponding signs of the Proto-Indian script. It is safe to assume that the first homeland of the Indo-Aryans was the Old India. I prefer to denote the Proto-Indian syllables by the numbers of corresponding signs of Linear B (A). The shapes of Scythian/Sarmatian signs are considered in this classification. Four Proto-Indian records are investigated below.

Let us examine the first inscription, see figure 1.

Figure 1


An ox (aurochs) stands near an altar. A blue colour-coded segment contains sign 77 ga (its decorative variant) and sign 33 ra together with three lines (‘the number three’). One can offer Old Indian go ‘arrow; thunderbolt; the sun; solar beam; eye; ox; cow; cattle’, Proto-Indo-Aryan *ra ‘the sun’ (cf. Old Indian ravi ‘the sun’, surja ‘the sun’, vi ‘horse; bird’, su ‘to produce’). To the right of this group there are two signs which denote two years. Really, each rectangle consists of 12 small parts. The following drawing is presented below this text: it is the point of an arrow with three accompanying thunder signs. Each symbol of the thunderstorm and the sun is a six-pointed star located in a round. So, the picture correlates with the record quite exactly. An analogous Slavonic symbol of the pagan (Indo-Aryan, Indo-European) religion is a basic symbol of the god thunderer (Rybakov 1981: 305, 325, 336, 419, 451-459). The two signs 72 be connected together are attached to the head of the ox. Besides, seven signs of the sun are shown on the altar. I believe that the ox is an image of the Indo-Aryan god thunderer Indra. According to the Rig-Veda (I.7.8; I.10.10), the sacred hymns of the Indo-Aryans, Indra is a bull. It is known from this source (Rig-Veda I.62.3; X.68.3-12) that his companion, Brhaspati, forced bulls and cows from the rock of the demon Vala. Brhaspati also looks like a bull, and this hero is connected with the thunder, too (Rig-Veda X.92.10; IV.50.1). The name Brhaspati can be associated with Old Indian brh ‘to be strong; to increase’, brhat ‘abundant’, cf. also Scythian/Sarmatian be ‘to beat; to reproduce; to increase’, Russian bit’ ‘to beat’, peret’ (< *pe-r-) ‘to push; to press’, English beat. Two signs 72 be represented on the head of the ox demonstrate that here Brhaspati plays the role of the procreant power of Indra (cf. the name of the god thunderer Perun in the Slavonic mythology). Moreover, it is known that seven rays decorate Brhaspati (Rig-Veda IV.50.4).

Let us examine the second inscription, see figure 2. 

Figure 2


M.F. Albedil (1993: 97-98) thinks that here the sacral wedding of the goddess of the Earth with a gavial is represented. She is sure that the language of the Proto-Indian texts is Dravidian. On the other hand, she stresses that the gavial is a certain symbol of the Indo-Aryan god Varuna, a mark of the season of rains (ibid., p. 78). Now I read the Proto-Indo-Aryan text: 08 27 01 33 54 60 Are dara Vara ‘(The goddess) Are is holding (the god) Vara’, cf. Old Indian dhar ‘to hold; to keep’. I suppose that the Indo-Aryan characters Vala and Varuna have a common origin. The name Are is comparable with Old Indian arci ‘ray; flame; fire’, arka ‘the sun; ray; lightning; fire’, aruna ‘red; reddish; scarlet’. According to the Rig-Veda (X.67.12), Indra killed the watery monster, Arbuda. Here I distinguish two Proto-Indo-Aryan words, *ar- (cf. Old Indian arci, arka, aruna) and *buda (cf. Old Indian budh ‘to wake’). I suppose that the Proto-Indian goddess of the Earth is the symbol of the connection of the sun with the chthonic world. The goddess describes the transition of the nature from winter to summer [1].

Let us examine the third inscription, see figure 3.  

Figure 3


Animals surround a horned god. It is the king of beasts. Sign 33 ra and the combination of another sign 33 ra with two lines denote three fires or three positions of the sun in heavens. I suppose that here the god Indra is represented again. The sign ‘fish’ is the symbol of the sun, light, and shine. The text has the following final segment: 45 45 MAN [a determinative], i.e. de-de ‘the great god’, cf. Old Indian deva ‘god’, da ‘giving’, va ‘residence; dwelling’. On this basis I reconstruct Proto-Indo-Aryan *de ‘deity’.

Let us examine the fourth inscription (the fragment of an original record), see figure 4. 

Figure 4


I read the text as follows: 13 33 MOUNTAIN [a determinative/ideogram] 33 04 39 MOUNTAIN [the same determinative/ideogram] 33, i.e. Mera MOUNTAIN ra, Tepi MOUNTAIN ra ‘the solar mountain (called) Mera, the solar mountain (called) Tepi’. The name Mera is comparable with Sumerian Meluhha ‘a country situated to the east of the Mesopotamia’, Old Indian Meru ‘a sacred mountain where deities live’ (this term is presented in the Old Indian epic Mahabharata). The morpheme mer- corresponds to Old Indian marici ‘solar beam’, mar ‘to die’, and the morpheme tep- corresponds to Old Indian taapa ‘heat’. In the Rig-Veda (I.20.5) Maruts, companions of Indra, are mentioned. In their names I distinguish the morpheme mer-/mar-, too.



[1] Cf. the name of the Scythian/Sarmatian snaky goddess Argimpasa.


Albedil, M.F., 1991. Zabytaya tsivilizatsiya v doline Inda. Saint-Petersburg.

Albedil, M.F., 1993. Protoindiyskoe “koleso vremeni”. In: N.L. Zhukovskaya and S.Y. Sedov (eds.) Kalendar’ v kul’ture narodov mira. Moscow , pp. 70-101.

Alexeev, G.V., 1976. Kommentary. In: I.M. Diakonoff (ed.) Tayny drevnikh pis’men: Problemy deshifrovki. Moscow , pp. 495-497.

Heras, H., 1953. Studies in the Proto-Indo-Mediterranean Culture. Vol. 1. Bombay.

Knorozov, Y.V. (ed.), 1965. Predvaritel’noe soobshchenie ob issledovanii protoindiyskikh textov. Moscow.

Knorozov, Y.V., 1981. Protoindiyskie nadpisi (k probleme deshifrovki). Sovetskaya etnografiya, 5, pp. 47-71.

Parpola, A., Koskenniemi, S., Parpola, S., and P. Aalto, 1969a. Progress in the Decipherment of the Proto-Dravidian Indus Script. Copenhagen.

Parpola, A., Koskenniemi, S., Parpola, S., and P. Aalto, 1969b. Decipherment of the Proto-Dravidian Inscriptions of the Indus Civilization. Copenhagen.

Rybakov, B.A., 1981. Yazychestvo drevnikh slavyan. Moscow.


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