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Significance of Mayiladuthurai find

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RARE FIND: The Neolithic polished stone celt (hand-held axe) with the Indus valley script found at Sembian-Kandiyur village, near Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu. Photo: Vino John
RARE FIND: The Neolithic polished stone celt (hand-held axe) with the Indus valley script found at Sembian-Kandiyur village, near Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu. Photo: Vino John

T.S. Subramanian

Links between Harappa and Neolithic Tamil Nadu

CHENNAI: The discovery of a Neolithic stone celt, a hand-held axe, with the Indus script on it at Sembian-Kandiyur in Tamil Nadu is, according to Iravatham Mahadevan, "a major discovery because for the first time a text in the Indus script has been found in the State on a datable artefact, which is a polished neolithic celt." He added: "This confirms that the Neolithic people of Tamil Nadu shared the same language family of the Harappan group, which can only be Dravidian. The discovery provides the first evidence that the Neolithic people of the Tamil country spoke a Dravidian language." Mr. Mahadevan, an eminent expert on the subject, estimated the date of the artefact with the Indus script between 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C.

It was in February 2006, when V. Shanmuganathan, a school teacher living in Sembian-Kandiyur, near Mayiladuthurai in Nagapattinam district, dug a pit in the backyard of his house to plant banana and coconut saplings, that he encountered two stone celts. The teacher, who is interested in archaeology, rang up his friend G. Muthusamy, Curator of the Danish Fort Museum at Tranquebar, which belongs to the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology. Mr. Muthusamy, who also belongs to the same village, took charge of the two celts from his friend and handed them over to T.S. Sridhar, Special Commissioner, State Department of Archaeology.

When Mr. Sridhar examined one of the two stones, he found some engravings on it. So he asked the epigraphists of his Department to study the particular celt. To their absolute delight, they found fours signs on it - and all four of them corresponded with the characters in the Indus script. When the celt with the Indus script was shown to Mr. Mahadevan, he confirmed that they were in the Indus script. The celt with the script measures 6.5 cm by 2.5 cm by 3.6 cm by 4 cm. It weighs 125 grams. The other celt has no engravings on it.

Mr. Mahadevan, one of the world's foremost scholars on the Indus and the Tamil-Brahmi scripts, is the author of the seminal work, The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables. It was published by the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi in 1977.

First Indus sign

The first Indus sign on the celt showed a skeletal body with ribs, seated on his haunches, body bent, lower limbs folded and knees drawn up. The second sign shows a jar with a handle. The first sign stood for "muruku" and the second for "an." Together, they read as "Murukan." They formed a very frequent combination on the Indus seals and sealings, especially from Harappa. The first "muruku" sign corresponded with the sign number 48, the second with the number 342, the third, which looks like a trident, corresponded with the sign number 367, and the fourth with 301.

These numbers are found in the sign list published by Mr. Mahadevan.

He said: "`Muruku' and 'an' are shown hundreds of times in the Indus script found at Harappa. This is the importance of the find at Sembiyan-Kandiyur. Not only do the Neolithic people of Tamil Nadu and the Harappans share the same script but the same language." In Tamil Nadu, the muruku symbol was first identified from a pottery graffiti at Sanur, near Tindivanam. B.B. Lal, former Director-General of ASI, correctly identified this symbol with sign 47 of the Indus script. In recent years, the muruku symbol turned up among the pottery graffiti found at Mangudi, near Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, and at Muciri, Kerala. But this was the first time that a complete, classical Indus script had been found on a polished Neolithic stone celt, Mr. Mahadevan pointed out. He emphasised that the importance of the discovery was independent of the tentative decipherment of the two signs proposed by him.

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