Indus Culture, Durga, and CilappatikAram

Palaniappa at Palaniappa at
Wed Jun 25 05:22:08 UTC 1997

An examination of Classical Tamil texts and CilappatikAram reveals that the
animal which has been mentioned in CilappatikAram as the vehicle of
KoRRavai/Durga is better translated as the male blackbuck (antilope
cervicapra). The words 'kalai' and 'iralai' were used to refer to the males
of antelopes as well as deers. To indicate which species was being referred
to, the poets  often added the epithet 'branched-horned' or 'twisted-horned'.
The animal vehicle of Durga is described as the black twisted-horned 'kalai'.
So it is clearly the blackbuck. The picture of the blackbuck is available at
the following site.

As I have said earlier, nowhere else in Indian literature, the blackbuck is
mentioned as the vehicle of DurgA. Further, no other text mentions a
priestess worshipping in the company of the blackbuck which she rides to get
to the altar. On the other hand, some Indus seals depicting scenes
interpreted by some scholars as depicting Goddess worship show an animal with
twisted horns. The animal has been interpreted variously as markhor (capra
falconeri), blackbuck or a domesticated variety of some wild goat.  Both
markhor and blackbuck belong to the same zoological family of Bovidae. 

According to "Status Accounts for Selected Threatened Indian Mammals", "The
Markhor was once widespread in rugged mountain ranges within the
north-western great Himalayan Chain of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, its
range also extending in a southerly arc down through the mountain ranges of
Waziristan and Baluchistan in Pakistan. The largest species of goat, with
adult males weighing up to 100kg, it is a striking animal since both sexes
bear long sharp-keeled horns twisted into a tight or open spiral, and in
addition males have a long neck mane, pantaloons and strong markings....The
Markhor occurs in forest steppe and Artemesia steppe country at altitudes of
from 700 - 4,000 m, with access to cliffs (which form its refuge from
predators) and suitable terrain below 2,200 m where temperatures are moderate
in winter."  The markhor can be seen at the following site.

At least one seal (Fig. 7.13 in Deciphering the Indus Script) seems to show
an animal without any mane. In any case, whether the Indus seals depict a
markhor or a blackbuck or some other animal, their similarity to
CilappatikAram with respect to the participation of an animal with twisted
horns in a worship ceremony with a priestess assisted by other females is
remarkable. If there is a scholarly consensus regarding the Indus seal (Fig.
14. 35 in Deciphering the Indus Script) as depicting an early form of DurgA
worship, CilappatikAram has uniquely preserved some important features of
Goddess worship traceable to the Indus culture.

Any comments from list members will be appreciated.


S. Palaniappan

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