Finance Minister’s Harappan reference puzzles historians

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman   | Photo Credit: Kamal Narang

In her second Budget speech on Saturday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman used information from Harappa seals to buttress claims about India’s maritime trade a few millennia ago.

While India’s maritime trade in the historic period is quite well known, what left historians puzzled was the Minister’s use of words and their meanings from the seals.

“The script has not been deciphered satisfactorily. There are some claims but they are not accepted by leading scientists,” said K.P. Rao of the University of Hyderabad when asked about the claim.

Another historian, Tathagata Neogi dismissed the claim about the decipherment of the script. “We don’t know the language spoken by the people. Unless we get a clue like the Rosetta Stone or multiple cuneiforms in one location, the language may remain untranslated,” he said.

Minister’s speech

Reading from her speech, the Finance Minister had said: “The guilds of Saraswati-Sindhu civilisation and the Harappan seals are remarkable. They belong to 3300 BCE. Words from the Indus Script-hieroglyphs have been deciphered. Commerce and trade-related words show how India for millennia is continuing as rich in skills, metallurgy, trade etc. ‘Takara Kolimi=Tin smithery’, ‘Sreni’ = Guild, ‘Sethi’= wholesale merchant, ‘Poddar’= Assayer of metal into the treasury.”

Indus script

The word ‘Sreni’ translated as ‘guild’ used by Ms. Sitharaman could be traced to a paper published by S. Kalyanaraman in 2016. Mr. Kalyanraman is a former banker who is now part of Sarasvati Sindhu Research Centre in Chennai.

Incidentally, 2019 was a bumper year for the decipherment of Indus script with four authors registering their books for publication with the Raja Rammohun Roy National Agency for ISBN.

“Scholars are facing three challenges for the decipherment of the script,” says Mr Rao. “Devanagari was key to the decipherment of Brahmi script used for Ashoka edicts. But in the case of Indus Valley Civilisation, the link is broken and it doesn’t match with any modern script. The second hurdle is we don’t know the language. We don’t even know whether it was written from left to right or right to left,” asserted Mr. Rao.

Historian B.B. Lal has hypothesised that the script is from right to left, unlike modern Indian languages which are left to right.

The other notable example of an attempt to decipher the Indus Script was made by S.R. Rao who discovered the Lothal site of Harappan Civilisation.

Not surprisingly, the budget has a proposal for setting up a maritime museum in Lothal.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 5:10:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/finance-ministers-harappan-reference-puzzles-historians/article30737587.ece

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