SarasvatI etc.

Yaroslav V. Vassilkov yavass at YV1041.SPB.EDU
Mon May 25 07:50:41 UTC 1998

Responding to my attempts to give a historico-typological definition to
IVC religion, S.Kalyanaraman puts a question (May 24):

<Are we not making some assumptions here (as Parpola did in his
<Deciphering the Script) that the seals represented the religious
<beliefs thru the pictorials?
<How do we understand 'religion' from the archaeological artefacts

        It is difficult to say anything with certainty about the art of
the Paleolithic (the mentality of the Early Stone Age man was too different
from ours, though sometimes parallels from Australian or South American
Indian traditions are very helpful). But since Neolithic, at least, we may
be sure that early art never was secular. If we have, e.g., a tradition of
rock-painting which can be interpreted in the light of slightly later local
mythology, we are to recognize that this is a religious art. For example,
we can easily recognize in the rock-paintings of Bronze Age Sweden the images
of Ancient Germanic mythology and ritual: hammer of the Thunder-God,
chariot (or boat) of the sun, the May-tree and so on. As far as we can
judge, there are no "secular" motives at all.
        The images of animals on the Indus seals are not just animalistic
sketches. So often we can see that they are represented standing before a
kind of "feeding though", and the more dangerous a particular animal is
(tiger, buffalo), the more often it is depicted in this position. They
are sacred and feared animals (teriomorphic gods) who are to be propitiated.
        The scenes depicted on the seals are also mythic or ritual. In what
other way can we interprete the image of a personage killing a buffalo with
a spear, in the same way as much later DurgA or Skanda does the same thing (the
parallelism is enriched by a detail: both IVC personage and the Goddess in the
DevImahAtmya first stamps one foot on the buffalo's head and then pierces its
withers with the spear). Or a scene where a goddess in a horned headdress is
standing in the "azvattha arc", while adorants offer her a (sacrificial?)
goat? And so on.
        I do not see why the archaeologists can not make conclusions about the
religion of the culture they study in the same way they make conclusions about
its socio-economical conditions. Even the city planning can give some
information about religion. In the case of the IVC the city planning gives us
evidence, I would say, in favour of the coincidence of religious and political
authority, i.e., some kind of theocracy. Temple complex with its storehouses
and granaries as a nucleus of a city-state. A lot of parallels in Mesopotamia
and most ancient Near East in general; and sharp contrast with the duality
of authority (royal palace - temple) in the much later Gangetic urban
        In conclusion - a remark on the latest posting by S.Subrahmania. Why
are you so sure about the "kentum language" of Xinjiang mummies? Some of them
would probably speak Iranian (Saka). And if you mean Tokharian, then
        1. there would be no surprise in their tilak, as Tokharian language
and culture, witnessed in Chinese Turkestan in 6th-8th centuries AD, were
strongly influenced by Sanskrit and Indian culture, and
        2. the supposed "wrong turn" made by Tokharians in the Ukraine should
be related to a very distant past, because there are now some arguments
in favour of Tokharian ethnos being represented by the Afanasyevo culture,
which occupied in the III mill. B.C. great territory stretching from the
Southern Ural to Mongolia.
        Best regards
                                        Yaroslav V. Vassilkov

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