Red ochre

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Thu Dec 30 06:39:29 EST 2004

One has to be very careful in drawing parallels between the Indus Civ.
and later India (as has been pointed out in this thread).

In particular, red/ochre color and powder have been used forever,
apparently to symbolize blood/life: I do not recall the particular
reference (away from my books now), however, red powder was sprinkled
on the bodies of some Neanderthals in at least one burial (may be in N.
Iraq, just in that in which  flowers were laid on the bodies of a
Neanderthal man, Shanidar IV grave, Kurdistan, 60,000 BCE).

In short, "easy, obvious" comparisons, such as between finds of ochre
on prehistoric Pirak/Indus figurines  and the modern use of Sindura in
the partition of women's hair, as done by the former dir. of Indian
Archaeology, B.B. Lal, are facile but simply unprovable.


On Dec 30, 2004, at 9:08 AM, Matthew Kapstein wrote:

> Red ochre and other red mineral substances, especially
> cinnabar or vermilion, have played an important cultic
> role in many societies, frequently in connection with
> rites of the dead. For some aspects of the question
> in early medieval Tibet, with reference also to selected
> Chinese data, one may refer to my *The Tibetan Assimilation
> of Buddhism,* ch.3, "The Mark of Vermilion."
> Perhaps an additional point of comparison, pertinent in the
> present context, is the later medieval ritual use of sinduura powder
> in India -- in Buddhist tantric contexts it is a substance
> particularly consecrated to the .daakinii.
> Matthew Kapstein
Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University
1 Bow Street , Cambridge MA 02138
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direct line:       496 2990

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