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Indus Script, the earliest writing system of South Asia, may even earliest in the World

Dr.Kalyanaraman’s Book Indus Script Cipher

(Review of First paperback printing edition published in July 2010)

Book Review by Prof. Shivaji Singh.

Former Head of the Department of Ancient History,Archaeology and Culture, University of Gorakhpur (India) Presently National President, ABISY

A real treat for everyone interested in the earliest writing system of South Asia

<Dr. Kalyanaraman’s book Indus Script Cipher (2010) comes as a luminous ray of hope that brushes aside the gloom hitherto prevailing in the field of Indus (or, rather, ) palaeography and epigraphy. Not only all efforts aimed at deciphering the script had failed, there were no signs of even a partial success in that direction. “It is sad to observe” wrote Gregory L. Possehl in 1996, “that, except for the concordances, we are no nearer a decipherment than G. R. Hunter was in 1929.” The situation had remained unchanged till today despite the efforts made by some scholars including N. Jha and N. S. Rajaram in the period following Possehl’s remark. Many a scholars had even started feeling that Indus inscriptions would perhaps never be read! It is a matter of pleasure to note that Kalyanaraman’s present book has succeeded in changing this pessimistic scenario.

It is well-known that very ancient writing systems are seldom alphabetic. They aremnemonic, pictographic, ideographic, logographic, etc., in pure or mixed forms. The scholars trying to decipher the Indus script did not pay due attention to this fact and seldom engaged in investigating the evolutionary level on which the Indus writing system was located. Debates about the script remained confined to whether the language of the Indus people was Proto-Dravidian, Early or Pre-Vedic Sanskrit, or Proto-Munda. The controversy about the Aryan Problem seems to have come in the way of a proper approach to Indus script decipherment.

The author of the Indus Script Cipher makes it very clear in the very beginning of thebook that no a-priori assumptions are made about ‘the theories related to invasionsand migrations or chronology of movements of people into or out of India which yielded the majority of Indus script inscriptions’. It is this capacity of the author to remain objective in an emotionally and politically charged atmosphere that has made this book a great success.

The author successfully demonstrates that the Indus writing uses the rebus method.It is a simple method used by several ancient writing systems that have evolved or are evolving beyond the pictographic stage. It is based on likeness of sound orhomophony. The figure of an ‘eye’ may be made for writing ‘I’ since ‘eye’ and ‘I’ are homophonous. Similarly, wavy lines may be drawn to indicate a ‘sea’ for writing the word ‘see’.

There are many features that make this book laudable. But, to my mind the mostnoteworthy (or rather praiseworthy) is the understanding of the term ‘mlechchha’ arrived at in this book. The author of the book, Dr. Kalyanaraman, has outwitted all subaltern historians by assigning a noble status to this term.

I am sure that Dr. Kalyanaraman’s name will go down the history and he will be remembered with reverence by future generations for this extraordinary contribution.

4 comments on “Indus Script, the earliest writing system of South Asia, may even earliest in the World

  1. Bhupinder Singh
    September 3, 2010

    ‘The Significance of Indus Script Cipher’

    Dr. Vijaya Rajiva (Haindava Keralam 03/09/2010)

    The book ‘Indus Script Cipher’ (Sarasvati Center, June 2010) by Dr.S.Kalyanraman, Director of the Sarasvati Center, is a prodigious effort in deciphering the Indus Valley Script which is found in hundreds of seals discovered in Harappa, Mohenjo Daro and other sites on the Sindhu-Sarasvati rivers. The majority of the finds are from the Sarasvati site. As the reader knows, the Sarasvati river is that mightly river mentioned some 75 times in the Rig Veda. It disappeared sometime in 1,800 BCE owing primarily to techtonic shifts and this fact has been confirmed by recent satellite photography.

    The Indus script, like the Egyptian one, is a hieroglyphic : sacred carving. The word is from Greek, hiero (sacred) and glyph (carving). However, Dr. Kalyanraman while retaining the use of the word ‘hieroglyphic’ is at pains to point out that the Indus seals are not all sacred. In fact, most have a secular meaning and practical use.

    For the last one hundred years or so, there have been attempts to decipher this script, which Dr.Kalyanraman advisedly calls a Cipher, meaning that it is a secret code. His view is that these secret codes were carved on various seals by the Artisans of the Indus Valley Civilisation as it is now called) to communicate messages to their fellow artisans and merchants in foreign countries, chiefly Mesopotamia and regions in the Middle East.

    A good example is the swastika which stands for the zinc ore which makes objects bright and shining. A merchant or trader would immediately understand the contents of the boxes being shipped to him. The secrecy was most likely to protect the cargo from pirates and other marauders. Often the picture would also send a signal to the trader as to how the item was manufactured. And so on and so forth.

    Many scholars in the field have been unable to decipher the Indus script and some have abandoned the search for decipherment. . . . .

    Dr. Kalyanraman’s work extending over a period of 20 years plus, brings a new dimension to the problem, and builds a persuasive case for decipherment. He elaborates on the method he uses for this decipherment and the book touches if not directly, indirectly, on some interesting questions:

    1. The nature of language and human communication
    2. The identity of the peoples of the Indus Valley (circa 3,500 BCE)
    3. The continuity of the Indus Valley Civilisation
    4. The language community of the diverse languages of Bharat
    5. Possibilites of decipherment.

    The book is currently available at and most likely has hit bookstores in Bharat. The editors of HK have tastefully reproduced the coverdesign of the book.


    A copy of the introduction to the 2500 page Indian Lexicon may be seen for a reference to the historical context for the formation and evolution of Indian languages. Pages 267 to 292 of Indian Lexicon: Introduction. May be downloaded/read at

    a. The multi-lingual Indian Lexicon is available for search by any word in any language, downloadable/can be read at

    b. A book review by V. Sundaram of the Indian Lexicon (6 pages) is at

    I hope the work will promote further studies in the evolution of Indian languages,

    I repudiate and disagree with Asko Parpola’s claim. I have also given reasons why I disagree with his and Iravatham Mahadevan’s ‘readings’. I do not know if there is any reference to the pictorial motifs or field symbols — svastika, standard device, fish etc. — in their works nor to the continued use of hieroglyphs in the Indian tradition (e.g. Sohgaura copper plate, Rampurva copper bolt, tens of thousands of punch-marked coins, sculptures of Bharhut, Sanchi, glyphs on Jaina aayaagapaTTas and in Khandagiri caves).

    There is no invocation of Brahui. On the contrary, a number of semantic clusters are cited from ALL Indian languages to establish the sprachbund (language union or Indian linguistic area of all language families).


  2. Peggy Dobbins
    September 4, 2010

    This view of the signs on the seals as used to label or tag trade goods reminds me of the work of Dryer at Abydos. Both seem evidence to me of stages in the evolution of writing. Very exciting and highly welcome approach.


  3. Pingback: Why is 3100 BC considered the start of history time of Ancient Egypt?

  4. S. M. Sullivan
    August 6, 2012

    Persons interested in Indus script are invited to take part in discussions on Facebook at the ‘Indus Script Dictionary’ page, where there are many photos of seals and inscriptions, and a new sign list for use in deciphering attempts.


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