FOR years, the Indus script has remained a challenging enigma for scholars of languages, writing systems and civilisation studies. The script was invented and used over an extensive area of the Indus or Sindhu-Sarasvati civilisation. Over 2,000 archaeological sites have been found in the basin of River Sarasvati which dried up due to tectonic and changes in the river course.
In 1822, history was made when Egyptian hieroglyphs were deciphered by Jean-Francois Champollion from parts of the Rosetta stone. He showed that Egyptian writing system, c. 3000 BCE, was a combination of phonetic and ideographic glyphs. The Rosetta stone is dated 196 BCE and it carried a decree in three versions – one in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, one in the Egyptian demotic script, and one in ancient Greek. Since alphabets of ancient Greek were known, Champollion used the trilingual inscription to validate his historic decipherment.
According to the author, with the discovery of hundreds of hieroglyphs in India, the absence of a Rosetta stone has not been an impediment in validating any decryption of Indus script cipher. Further evidence is obtained through the Indus script hieroglyphs which evolved from c. 3300 BCE. This book details a decipherment of the Indus script using the same rebus method as used by Champollion to read ancient phonetic hieroglyphs of India.
Decryption of the key used in the Indus writing code reveals that artisans – lapidaries, masons, carpenters, miners and smiths – of the civilisation working with stone, wood, ivory, shell, minerals, metals and alloys of metals created the Indus writing system to record the characteristics of artifacts produced by them and the techniques used therein. The principal thesis of decryption of the Indus script cipher is that in the Indian linguistic area, artisans of proto-Indic language families – Indo-Aryan, Munda and Dravidian interacted with one another, absorbed many glosses and structural language features from one another.
Com-plemented by recent advances in the methods of aural linguistics, the nebus method is applied to glyptic elements to decode the Indus writing system. Given that the three language families are a sprachbund (language union) with cultural contact situations and history of phonetic changes, of semantic expansions, the glosses common to two or more of the language families constitute the Indus language lexicon.
Decipherment of Indus script is to help in finding a solution to the problem of cryptography so as to understand the meanings of the messages conveyed by Indus writing on nearly 5,000 inscriptions unearthed so far. Cipher uses a code and a code key to transform information. Cipher, meaning the numeral zero, is derived from the Arabic word sifr. Artisan-traders of ancient times created the cipher and their trade associates who received the messages could safely decipher the text of coded messages by performing an inverse substitution using the code key – the nebus. The idea of hiding the message so that it could not be read even if intercepted resulted in ‘cryptography’, the break word for ‘hidden writing’. The result was the development of ‘codes’ or secret languages and ‘ciphers’ or scrambled messages. A ‘code’ is essentially a secret language invented to conceal the meaning of a message. Here the author points out that the simplest form of code is the “jargon code, in which a particular arbitrary phrase of glyph is used to substitute for the real intended message.” This is supposed to be comparable to the army codes used to send concealed messages.
The key for the Indus script cipher is nebus using the language of the linguistic area of India. The underlying language whose glosses are used in the key is mleccha.
This is a book which would interest historians and epigraphers.
(S. Kalyanaraman, Sarasvati Research Centre, 2785 Prince Harold St, Herndon VA 20171 US)