Colour of India

Colour of India

Thursday, October 14, 2010



“The relation between psyche and soma, mind and brain, are peculiarly intimate; but, as in marriage, the partners are not inseparable: indeed their divorce was one of the conditions for the mind's independent history and its cumulative achievements. But the human mind possesses a special advantage over the brain: for once it has created impressive symbols and has stored significant memories, it can transfer its characteristic activities to materials like to stone and paper that outlast the original brain's brief life-span. When the organism dies, the brain dies, too, with all its lifetime accumulations. But the mind reproduces itself by transmitting its symbols to other intermediaries, human and mechanical, than the particular brain that first assembled them.”--Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), U.S. social philosopher. "The Mindfulness of Man," Interpretations and Forecasts, Harcourt, Brace (1967).

My dear and esteemed friend Dr S. Kalyanaraman has produced a master-piece of a book titled “Indus Script Cipher, Hieroglyphics of Indian Linguistic Area”. For more than 130 years, the Indus script has posed an insurmountable challenge to the research scholars all over the world. It has remained a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma to scholars of different languages, writing systems and civilization studies. It is now common knowledge that the Indus script was invented and used over an extensive area of what is called the Indus or Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization. More than 2,000 or 80% of the ancient archaeological sites are found on the Sarasvati River Basin, a river famed in tradition, song and legend in the timeless history of Bharatvarsha --- adored in grandiloquent terms in the oldest human document in the world called the RIG VEDA. The sacred Sarasvati River, after the elapse of several centuries, got dried up on account of tectonic and consequential river migration causes.


Dr S. Kalyanaraman’s new magnum opus Indus Script Cipher is indeed a trailblazing and historic work recording hundreds of hieroglyphs of Sindhu-Saraswati civilization. In this very difficult, complicated, complex task of decipherment of the hieroglyphs of India dating back to the SARASVATI-SINDHU CIVILIZATION from 3100 BC to 1400 BC, Dr. Kalyanaraman has brought to bear upon this task his formidable and wide ranging in-depth knowledge as a multi-lingual scholar versed in Tamil, Telegu, Kannada, Sanskrit and Hindi. This new work of Dr. Kalyanaraman draws heavily upon his landmark publications like An Etymological Dictionary of South Asian Languages—A Multi-Lingual Dictionary in 3 Volumes Covering more than 25 Indian Languages, Saraswati in 15 volumes, Indian Alchemy—Soma in the Veda.


In more senses than one this book published in 1993 is a landmark book in the world of languages, linguistics and culture. This is a Multilanguage historical and cultural dictionary of South Asia; it is a lexicon; it is an encyclopaedia. To quote the words of Dr. Kalyanaraman in this context:” This is a comparative dictionary covering all the languages of South Asia (which may also be referred to, in a geographical/historical sense as the Indian sub-continent). This dictionary seeks to establish a semantic concordance, across the languages of numeraire facile of the South Asian sub-continent: from Brahui to Santali to Bengali, from Kashmiri to Mundarica to Sinhalese, from Marathi to Hindi to Nepali, from Sindhi or Punjabi or Urdu to Tamil. A semantic structure binds the languages of South Asia, which may have diverged morphologically or phonologically as evidenced in the oral tradition of Vedic texts, or epigraphy, literary works or lexicons of the historical periods. This dictionary, therefore goes beyond, the commonly held belief of an Indo-European language and is anchored on proto-South Asian sememes.”


Dr.Kalyanaraman’s new work INDUS SCRIPT CIPHER achieves a revolutionary break-through, a magnificently successful decryption of the key used in the Indus Script Code. The key is ‘Rebus Method’ applied to the underlying language of the LINGUISTIC AREA of South Asia. In my view this concept of Linguistic Area is a major contribution to our understanding the cultural history of Saraswati Sindhu Civilization.

To quote the words of Dr. Kalyanaraman in his new work ‘Indus Script Cipher’: “Decryption draws upon the database of 8000 semantic clusters of glosses, from an INDIAN LEXICON, a multi-lingual comparative dictionary of over 25 ancient Indian Languages, painstakingly compiled in 3 volumes over 20 years (please see the front cover of this lexicon displayed above). Decrypted Indian script reveals that artisans—lapidaries, masons, carpenters, miners and smiths---of the civilization working with stones, wood, ivory, shell, minerals, metals and alloys of metals, created the Indus Writing System to record 1) the characteristics of artifacts produced by them and 2) techniques used. The principal thesis of decryption of Indian Script Cipher is that, in the Indian Linguistic Area, artisans of proto-indic language families Indo-Aryan, Munda(Kol) and Dravidian interacted with one another, absorbed many glosses and structural language features from one another. Complemented by recent advances in the method of areal linguistics, REBUS METHOD is applied to glyptic elements to decode Indus Writing System. Given the fact that the 3 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 these language families constitute the INDUS LANGUAGE LEXICON.”

What is Rebus Method? ‘Rebus’ (Latin: by means of things) is a graphemic expression of the phonetic shape of a word or syllable. Rebus uses words pronounced alike (homophones) but with different meanings. Sumerian script was phonetized using the ‘Rebus Principle’. So were the Egyptian hieroglyphs based on the rebus principle. It is the representation of a word or phrase by pictures, symbols, etc., that suggest that word or phrase or its syllables. For example, a picture of two gates and a head is a rebus for Gateshead.

What is a Sprachbund? A Sprachbund, from the German word for "language union", also known as a linguistic area, convergence area, diffusion area or language crossroads, is a group of languages that have become similar in some way because of geographical proximity and language contact. They may be genetically unrelated, or only distantly related. Areal features are common features of a group of languages in a Sprachbund.

What are clusters of Glosses? Dr.Kalyanaraman uses the word Gloss in the following sense: A Gloss (from Latin: glossa, from Greek: γλῶσσα glóssa "tongue") is a brief notation of the meaning of a word or wording in a text. It may be in the language of the text, or in the reader's language if that is different. The derivative glossary means a collection of glosses. Simply, a gloss is a lexical entry or lexeme. A lexeme is the minimal unit of language which has a semantic interpretation and embodies a distinct cultural concept.

To quote the words of Kalyanaraman in this context: “My 8000 semantic clusters are put together based on the 'meanings' of phonetically concordant lexemes or glosses. Meaning expands as cultural interpretations expand. For example, the word akkam means a 'numerical figure' (Malayalam). This gets elaborated further as lekka in Telugu 'mathematical problem'; akshara in Sanskrit 'syllable'. So I cluster all words with such semantic expansions also in the semantic cluster related to akkam.”

Ko. ekm (obl. ekt-) counting, taking account of something; ekaṭ- (ekac-) to count (kaṭ- to tie); eku•ṭ- (eku•c-) to count (ku•ṭ- to make to join, gather);ekmu•ṛ- (ekmu•c-) to count. To. ökm (obl. ökt-) arithmetic, account, figures. Tu. ekkam the unit of numeration, first place in ciphering. Te. ekkamu a unit, the place of units, a multiplication table. ? Ma. akkam a numerical figure. / ? < Skt. eka (DEDR 769)”

“The general principles I have used in organizing the 300,000 glosses into 8000 clusters are: 1. semantics (basic meaning and further semantic, cultural expansions); 2. words which are related to the phonetic structure of the sememe but with phonetic variations, e.g. akkam of Malayalam language becoming ekkam of Tulu language. U define a sememe (from the Greek: σημαίνω (sēmaino), "mean, signify") as a semantic language unit of meaning

Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832)

Dr S. Kalyanaraman’s bold, spirited and innovative attempt to decipher the Indus script and the hieroglyphs of the Sarasvati-Sindhu Civilization is very much on the lines followed by Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832), the French classical scholar, philologist and orientalist who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822. Champollion translated parts of the Rosetta Stone in 1822, showing that the Egyptian writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs. Champollion deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs based on the pioneering groundwork done by his predecessors: Athanasius Kircher(1602–1680), Silvestre de Sacy(1758-1838), Johan David Akerblad (1763-1819), Thomas Young (1773-1829), and William John Bankes (1786-1855).

Sylsetre de Saci (1758-1838)

Jean-Francois Champollion’s Guru and contemporary was the great linguist and Oriental scholar Sylsetre de Saci (1758-1838). He was a polyglot and a multi-faceted genius. Having mastered the Semitic languages, he began to make a name as an orientalist, and worked from 1787 to 1791 on the Pahlavi inscriptions of the Sassanid kings. In 1792 he retired from public service, and lived in close seclusion in a cottage near Paris till in 1795 he became Professor of Arabic in the newly founded school of living Eastern languages (École speciale des langues orientales vivantes). He published the following Arabic textbooks:

Grammaire arabe (2 vols., 1st ed. 1810)

• Chrestomathie arabe (3 vols., 1806)

• Anthologie grammaticale (1829)

Sylsetre de Saci’s attempts to identify the proper names in the demotic inscription on the Rosetta Stone were not very successful.

Johan David Akerblad (1763-1819) was a Swedish diplomat and orientalist and a student of Silvestre de Sacy. As Sacy's investigation of the Rosetta Stone did not give any result and Akerblad took on his work in 1802 and managed to identify all proper names in the demotic text in just two months. He could also read words like "Greek", "temple" and "Egyptian" and found out the correct sound value from 14 of the 29 signs, but he wrongly believed the demotic hieroglyphs to be entirely alphabetic. ONE OF AKERBLAD’S STRATEGIES OF COMPARING THE DEMOTIC TO COPTIC LATER BECAME A KEY IN CHAMPOLLION'S EVENTUAL DECIPHERMENT OF THE HIEROGLYPHIC SCRIPT AND THE ANCIENT EGYPTIAN LANGUAGE.

Thomas Young (1773-1829)

Thomas Young was an English genius and polymath, admired by, among others, Herschel and Einstein. Young made notable scientific contributions to the fields of vision, light, solid mechanics, energy, physiology, language, musical harmony and Egyptology. Young is famous for having partly deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs (specifically the Rosetta Stone) before Jean-François Champollion eventually expanded on his work.

Rosetta stone

Experts inspecting the Rosetta Stone during the International Congress of Orientalists, 1874

The Rosetta stone is very famous in cultural history for it provided the key to solve the ancient Egyptian language. The Rosetta Stone was carved in 196 B.C. It was discovered on 15th July 1799 in Lower Egypt by the French soldiers under the command of Captain Pierre Bouchard who came with Napoleon. The French soldiers found the Rosetta Stone when they were digging the foundations of an addition to a fort near the town of el-Rashid (Rosetta), in the Nile Delta (40 miles to the north-east of Alexandria). Captain Bouchard saw that the polished black basalt stone contained three sections of different types of writing, and recognized its significance immediately. He sent the stone to Cairo, to the scholars who also accompanied the French expedition to Egypt.

The Rosetta stone is a compact basalt slab (114x72x28 cm). As I have already stated, this Stone was carved in 196 BC. The inscription on the stone was a decree passed by a general council of priests which assembled at Memphis on the first anniversary of the coronation of Ptolemy V Epiphanes, king of all Egypt. The text concerns the honours bestowed on the king by temples of Egypt in return for services rendered by him to Egypt both at home and abroad. Priestly privileges, especially those of an economic nature, are listed in detail. The stone contained words in three types of writing: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic, which is a shorthand version of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, and Greek. By translating the Greek section, scholars were able to learn what the hieroglyphs meant. This enabled them to translate inscriptions inside the Egyptian temples. The Frenchman JEAN FRANÇOIS CHAMPOLLION was the one who cracked the code of the Rosetta stone by comparing the Egyptian hieroglyphic and demotic versions by comparing them with the Greek version. Furthermore, with the aid of the Coptic language (language of the Christian descendants of the ancient Egyptians), he succeeded in determining the phonetic value of the hieroglyphs. It was he who proved the fact that hieroglyphs have not only a symbolic meaning, but also served as a "spoken language”.

Thomas Young, the English Physicist, was the first to prove that the elongated ovals or cartouches in the hieroglyphic section of the stone contained a royal name written phonetically, in this case that of Ptolemy. Jean François Champollion went on to correct and enlarge Young's list of phonetic hieroglyphs and lay the foundations of our knowledge of the ancient Egyptian language in a paper which was read to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in Paris in 1822.

It was this great discovery of Jean François Champollion -- that the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system used a combination of ideograms, phonetic signs, and determinatives -- that provided the breakthrough in the translation of hieroglyphic writing. And this ability to read the ancient hieroglyphs in turn opened the door to the history of ancient Egypt and gave birth to the new discipline of Egyptology.

Dr.Kalyanaraman has applied the broad principles evolved by Jean François Champollion for the understanding of the Egyptian language to the decipherment of the Indus Script Cipher, even without having the advantage of having a Rosetta Stone. To quote Kalyanaraman’s words in this context: “Indus Script Cipher makes history recording hundreds of hieroglyphs of India. Absence of a Rosetta Stone which has been the principal impediment in validating any decryption of Indus Script Cipher is thus overcome. Further validation comes from evidences of the historical periods in India from c.600 BCE showing continued use of Indus Script Hieroglyphs which evolved from c.3300 BCE. This book details a decipherment of the Indus Script using the same Rebus Method used by Champollian to read ancient phonetic hieroglyphs of India.



The insurmountable difficulties and road blocks on the way of our understanding the Indus Script Cipher were clearly foreseen by Sir John Marshall who unearthed the Indus Valley Civilization (known today as Saraswati-Sindhu Civilization) in his timeless official Report presented in 3 volumes to the Government of India in 1931.

I would like to conclude the I part of my review of Dr.Kalyanaraman’s new book INDUS SCRIPT CIPHER with the following observations of Sir.John Marshall:

“The fact that the Indus Script was not an alphabetical one is evident from the large numbers of its signs. Probably, it was in the main phonetic, the majority of the signs standing for open or closed syllables, and the remainder functioning either as complete ideograms or as determinatives to fix more precisely the requisite sound or meaning, as such determinatives do in Sumerian. This, however, is no more than a surmise, prompted by what is known of other contemporary scripts; for, as a fact, none of the Indus signs, whether initial, medial, or final, can be identified with certainty as syllables, ideograms, or determinatives.”

“Resemblances, more or less striking, can be traced between the Indus Script and most of the other quasi-pictographic scripts of Western Asia and the Nearer East. Indeed, it is a significant fact that of the several experts who have made a study of the Indus writing, each has commented on its resemblances to some other scripts but in each case the other script has been different --- in one Sumerian; in another proto-Elamite; in a third Minoan; in a fourth Hittite. We must be careful, however, not to let these obvious resemblances mislead us into imagining that the Indus script was directly borrowed from any other country. The truth seems to be that all these scripts are inter-related, but only up to a certain point. There underlying principles are the same, an there is every likelihood that they all derived from one common origin, which probably went far back into Neolithic times; but in each case they were just as individual in character, just as peculiar to the people who evolved them, as were the languages they were designed to record ………………….. prima-facie there is a strong presumption in favour of the Brahmi alphabet having been evolved, like other alphabets, from a pictographic script specially as it is now established that such a script had actually been in use on Indian soil; and in this connection, it is worth recalling that the derivation of this alphabet from picture signs was postulated by Sir Alexander Cunningham, the First Director of Archaeological Survey of India, two generations ago.”

“Apart, moreover, from the resemblance traceable in individual signs, this presumption receives further support from the fact that two of the most characteristic features of the Indus Script, viz. the systematic use of accents or other diacritical adjuncts and the practice of combining one sign with another are also distinguishing features of later Indian alphabetic writing, so that it seems as if, despite all changes in race and language, these inventions of the early scribes had managed to somehow survive the centuries.”

“In this study of the inscriptions of the early seals of the Indus Valley I have deliberately stated that the early Indian alphabet known as the Brahmi script, is derived from the ancient Indus pictographic writing, and I have identified the origin of many Brahmi characters with confidence. In my sign list the phonetic values of the derived alphabetic characters have been inserted, but I do not wish to convey the inference that these are the correct values of the ideograms, any more than the Phoenician alphabet represents the values of the Egyptian pictographs from which they are derived. It is highly improbable that the signs of the Indus script have reached the syllabic stage, that is, a consonant + a vowel like in Brahmi alphabet. Many of them may possibly be so used, and used as phonetic elements in the writing of the words, as many Sumerian pictographs are in the oldest known Sumerian texts. If the roots of this unknown language are bi-consonantal, as in Sumerian and Indo-Germanic languages, then it follows that the syllabic values, such as ba, ta, ga, etc., tad, tag, tab, etc., gal, gan, gab, etc. IT IS NO MORE POSSIBLE TO TRANSLITERATE THE INDUS SIGNS FROM THE DERIVED BRAHMI ALPHABET THAN TO OPERATE IN THE SAME MANNER ON THE EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHS WITH THE DERIVED PHOENICIAN ALPHABET. Here we have, already from the seals, a sign list approaching 300 numbers; obviously the initial consonants of a very restricted proportion would be known, even in the successful identification of all the 45 Brahmi characters.”

“The proper names and names of profession on these seals do not supply sufficient material for successful decipherment. It is not possible to separate word and sign groups; the declensions and verb inflections cannot be detected here, and the pronouns are entirely absent. Until longer inscriptions of a literary and historical character, are discovered, not much advancement in the interpretation can be expected. A good many important facts can be determined, however, to clear the ground for more satisfactory research. In the first place this script is in no way even remotely connected with either Sumerian or proto-Elamitic signs. I have compared some of these signs with some of these scripts. For the references to the Sumerian pictographs, or the earliest forms of the Sumerian signs, I have referred the readers to the numbers of the REC (Thureau-Dangin, Recherches sur l’ Origine de l’Ecriture Cuneiforme), and for the proto-Elamitic signs to Professor Scheil’s “Textes de Compatibilite proto-Elamites”, in vol xvii of Memoires de la Mission Archeologique de Perse, pp. 31-66. This series is commonly cited as Del. Per. (Delegation en Perse). The Indus inscriptions resemble the Egyptian hieroglyphs far more than they do the Sumerian linear and cuneiform system. And secondly, the presence of the detached accents in the Indus scripts is a feature that distinguishes it from any of these systems. Although vowels must be inherent in all the signs, nevertheless some of the signs and accents must be pure vowel signs. For this reason alone it is necessary to resign further investigation to Sanskrit scholars. If future discoveries make it possible to transliterate these signs, and the language proves to be agglutinative, it will be a problem for Sumeroligists. I am convinced that all attempts to derive the Brahmi alphabet from Semitic alphabets were complete failures.”

Emerson in his Journals wrote: “A great man will find a great subject or which is the same thing, make any subject great….The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances”. These words are wholly applicable to Dr.S.Kalyanaraman and his Himalayan scholarship in the field of Saraswati-Sindhu Civilization and South Asian Linguistics. The relation of faith between subject and object is unique in every case. Hundreds may believe but each has to believe by himself. Dr.Kalyanaraman’s scholarship is as much rooted in his reason as in his faith. His Testament of Faith as a true scholar can be put in the words of another incomparable scholar called Hans Morgenthau (1904-1980) who laid before himself the following Testament of Faith at the age of 18 in 1922: 'To be able to work in the service of a great idea, on behalf of an important goal; to be able to commit every nerve, every muscle, and every drop of sweat to a work, to a great task; to grow with the work, to become greater oneself in the struggle with one's betters' and then to be able to say at the end: I die, but there remains something that is more important than my life and will last longer than my body: my work. That is my hope, which is worthy of tremendous efforts, that is my goal, for which it is worth living and, if need be, dying.'

Great scholars like Dr.Kalyanaraman never get convulsed or shaken up by the the terrors of truth and dart of death.

(to be continued)