Ideographs are symbolic forms the human mind associates with the perceived nature of an object. As perception metamorphoses through the human psyche’s layers, its trans-formation occurs through a variety of subjective factors. In the case of a culture's association of a form with meaning, these factors include their world-view, their paradigm of sciences - their collective psyche.

Despite these transformations, the forms associated with the same concept can have a remarkable degree of resemblance in very distinct cultures.

For instance, if we take the Chinese symbol for Sun, and Egyptian symbol for the Sun, we find they share much similarity - in both their visual forms and their sound forms.

Similarity in sound forms, for instance, exists between languages as culturally distinct and separated as Malayalam [a language spoken in southernmost India] and Chinese. In both the languages, "de" indicates possession, "ni" is you, “nin-de” or “ni-de” conveys the meaning “yours”; "kan" means "to see" in Chinese, and the same sound suggests the meaning "eye" in Malayalam.

Hence, an ideographic exploration of Indus writing could start from analysis of similar forms in other symbolic writing systems. And if our exploration into the Indus seal forms, along these lines, yield as much insight as would lead to the decipherment of a single phrase, we might have, in addition to have made a significant breakthrough, opened up a new field of study - a new approach to decipherment of the Indus Writings. And the pattern of research that led to the decipherment of that phrase may possibly be reflected, to decipher other samples of Indus writing.

Seals In The Indus World

In deciphering the writings on the seals, the first question we might ask ourselves is what the purpose of those seals were? Did they serve a religious purpose? Were they records of events? And if so, what could the few character long markings be?

The average length of Indus writings samples are five characters, and the longest known is 17 characters. For any ideographic script known, a 5-17 letter long sequence is too terse to form descriptive texts of events, or recorded information. Given that, we might assume – the symbols constitute some form of descriptive markings, a time stamp, an astronomical set of symbols, symbols of religious significance, a name, etc.

Even if the Indus people did have a full system of writing, what has reached us through these seals are but terse labels given to things, or markings suggesting the timing of some rituals, events, celestial phenomenon, the names or symbols of deities, or celestial animals or deities associated with celestial phenomenon that are tersely captured in these strings of symbols.

And if only a portion of Indus writing has survived in these seals, why was this the portion they chose to ‘preserve’ in their seals? The answer seems obvious: whatever was captured had a greater or distinct significance to them, as part of their culture - and that significance, in almost all ancient cultures, we find, is deeply related to their religious beliefs. The oracle-bone writings of the Chinese, for instance, contain texts speaking of questions posed to an oracle and the answers obtained.

The motifs on the seals further serve deepen to strengthen our suspicions that they are religious in nature. We might, hence, driven by these observations, assume these could be time-markings of rituals, or the symbolic capturing of the timing or nature of celestial phenomenon, or perhaps even names. For anything else meaningful, the length of symbols on the seals seem too short.

Meaning in Parallels: Deciphering A Seal

Holding these insights, we'll begin an attempt at decipherment of an Indus Script string, by analogy to similar forms that exists in other symbolic scripts. And by extended association of the undeciphered Indus forms to what meanings they carry in those languages, as currently understood, or, as deciphered.

In the Indus seal of Figure 3, the right-most symbol bears a strong resemblance to Egyptian symbol for a star: . Here it could be a marker for a celestial body, a time, symbolic a celestial body or phenomenon, perhaps a celestial, a celestial manifestation in space, represented as a star in space.

Left of it is a character likely representing the number two. In ancient as well as modern Chinese writing, the numeral two is represented with a symbol constituting of two lines.

is the symbol of astronomical conjunction in western astronomy, apparently dating back to Byzantine codices. Here, together with the entry into a containing space, it might indicate an entering-conjunction.

The fourth symbol bears a strong resemblance to various forms, The Egyptian symbol for a House [Determinatives, are often written with a horizontal marker, and hence, house, in Egyptian is,, when written with the mark]

The Symbol for Heaven and Night Sky are as shown, in Egyptian.

The fifth symbol, a container with handles, often occurs in Indus writing at the end of a phrase.

In classical Chinese, phrases end with a (也,yě, the picture of a vessel, a containing unit, indicating the sentence has self-contained meaning).

And, if we have thus deciphered our first seal, it says "The conjunction of two celestial bodies, in a house," read from right-to-left. An astronomical or astrological phrase with a self-contained meaning, conveyed through a set of written symbols. Language, as we know it, in written use.

More Astronomical Symbolism

If the Indus Writing has such astronomical symbolism, which we can parallel to symbol-sets we know, we might expect to find other symbols of a similar nature, there-in.

An Indus symbol, as on a seal below, and the symbol for Capricorn in Western Astronomy:

Figure 4. On the left is a symbol from an Indus Seal. On the Right is the Symbol for Capricorn in Western Astrology.

Here, in another Indus seal[below], we find a symbol similar to the modern symbol for Aquarius[top-right].

To the left of Aquarius is a symbol bearing a remarkable resemblence to ancient forms of 冬, the Chinese symbol for winter.

The second symbols from left has a marked resemblance to , which is the oracle script form of the Chinese character for winter: 冬 (dōng), ( )

The symbol for winter is also symbolic for - "an end" – and in later Chinese forms, is clearly something bundled up at its ends.

The symbol third from right seems to show a celestial body( the Sun here, perhaps moving out of the space associated with the constellation of Aquarius) moving out of a space. A moving out of Aquaris and entering another phase, perhaps.

The fourth from right, a symbol of a fly, or a winged insect, may have been used to convey the sense "activity."

The end of Aquarius(which occurs in February) may have been associated with the last phase of winter. In that sense, the seal shows Celestial phenomenon associated with the end of a winter, and the beginning a new spring. "Aquarius ends, and there is emergence of new activity, a new spring," is then the ideographic meaning captured in the four character sequence.

The seal could have been part of records capturing Indus astronomical theories, or, perhaps made as part of celebrations or rituals to invite a new spring. 

Current Theories

The presence of astronomical symbolism in Indus seals is also suggested by the research of Parpola and Mahadevan.

(The trident, interestingly, is astronomical symbolism in modern astrology, with its association to Neptune – and deriving from the Roman Neptune’s Trident. However separated in time or space the cultures are or however random the forces that made the association may seem to us, such similarity, in the author’s opinion, may reveal deeper aspects of the functioning of the human psyche, our mapping of perception to symbols, and is not to be dismissed as mere-coincidental, without deep study.)

Exploration in Parallels

Here, in this seal is the image of a Centaur, perhaps as a celestial animal, associated with a constellation.

What is documented here are but superficial observations, based on a few hours exploration into the Indus Script by the author. From these insights, however, he is inclined to think that such an exploration based on ideographic parallels could yield insights into the Indus writing that could very likely lead to its partial or complete decipherment.

Dilip Rajeev

Author of Chinese Characters: An Ideographic Approach ( )

Contact:                        Ph: +91 9400991188

15th, January, 2012.