Travel Himalyas
Nepal Tour Packages
Indus Valley, Civilization in Indus Valley, History of Civilization in Indus River Valley
The Himalaya, roof of the world, is a magic place where the magnificence of the world's highest mountains is mirrored in the rugged beauty and unique culture of the people who live in their shadow.

Nepal Tour Packages
Delhi Manali Leh Jeep Safari

Nepal Tour

Duration: 06 Nights - 07 Days

Manali - Leh Jeep Safari

Duration: 07 Nights - 08 Days

Vaishno Devi Tour Package

Duration: 08 Nights - 09 Days

Nepal with India Tour

Duration: 09 Nights - 10 Days

Eastern Himalayan Cultural

Duration: 11 Nights - 12 Days

Darjeeling Tour

Duration: 05 Nights - 06 Days

Darjeeling Gangtok Kalimpong Tours
Booking Information/Reservation
Home >> History Himalayas >> Indus Valley
Indus Symbols
Belonging To The Indus Valley Civilization

Symbolic representations of religion marked wealth and social status, and set the rulers apart from the people

The Natural And The Abstract
Since time immemorial, symbols reflecting ideology and social order have been used by human societies. Archaeologists and ancient scholars affirm that this tradition goes back to the Paleolithic period, the earliest stage in the evolution of the Homo Sapiens.
However, it was only with the rise of urban civilization the world over that one sees as almost theatrical increase in the production and the use of symbolic objects. The symbols of the Indus Valley civilization were also produced in the context of cities. The innumerable finds of symbolic representations and objects in the different cities of Indus civilization are both exotic and mind boggling. Unfortunately, the exact and specific meaning of Indus symbols eludes us because of the absence of written texts.

Many scholars tried to co-relate the Indus symbols and ritual objects with those used by the later Hindu and Buddhist cultures. However, the inability to decipher the Indus script clouds any final conclusion and neither the Indus script clouds any final conclusion and neither can one be certain about the precise meaning of symbols in a particular period. This is because the meanings of a specific symbol might have changed over a period time. Therefore, the meaning of symbols can only be inferred by examining the different contexts in which the symbolic objects and representations were found.

The Two Categories
On the above basis, the Indus symbols can be classified roughly into two categories - symbols of religion and symbols of power. Most popular were the religious symbols, which comprised artistic portrayal of natural phenomena, abstract designs, images of plants and animals and whimsical sequences of human and animal forms. They also included symbols of fertility found in the form of male and female human figurines and stone objects. These symbolic representations of religion were underpinned by the symbols of power - these were the symbols of wealth and social status, which set the rulers apart from the people and were used to mark the difference between public and private.

Getting Inspired From Nature!
HimalayaSymbolic representations of trees are amongst the most numerous and popular. They are found on objects ranging from seals, pottery, jewellery, terracotta tablets and figurines to utensils. Imprints and representations of Pipal and banyan trees and their leaves are found in many contexts and styles throughout the Indus valley.

The use of the Pipal tree as a religious symbol appears to have discrete regional variations. At Mohenjodaro, the deity is always seen standing in the centre of the tree, while at Harappa the deity is placed below an arch made of leaves. The use of garlands and arches made out of Pipal leaves in addition establishes the divine character of the tree. The Pipal and banyan trees are quite common throughout Hindu mythology, where they serve as important symbols of fertility and protection and also death. On the Indus seals, however, the protective and the sacred power of the tree were distinctly portrayed, but it is difficult to confirm any other specific meaning.

Human Illustrations
Human figurines and images of the Indus people were symbolic of the act of procreation and fertility. Male virility was depicted in the act of procreation and fertility. Male virility was depicted in the nude male figurines and the male animal a symbols on seals along with the stone phallic objects. Female figures with pointed breasts and hips were believed to be of mother goddess and some female figurines portray a mother carrying a small infant in the left arm or feeding an infant.

There are also some terracotta tablets and inscribed objects which display human and animals occupied in sexual act. A plethora of such symbolic representations are available, demonstrating how much the fertility cults securing reproduction in humans, flora and fauna were an indispensable segment of the Indus peoples religion.

Bangles - A Class Symbol
Associated with human figurines was another unique symbol of Indus valley civilization shared by all segments of the society - bangles. These are also used for differentiating between social and economic classes. Both men and women wore bangles.

Although bangles are very seldom found on male terracotta figurines, they are etched on seated or standing male figures on seals or has been found on the left wrist of a man buried at Harappa and on the left upper arm of the 'priest king' sculpture. Bangles were also worn in the hair, on belts, ankles or sewn on to clothes.

As a visible illustration of encirclement, bangles were generally the symbol of guardianship and control. They might have served as a sort of collective symbol or "non-verbal communication". The kind of material and the type of bangle suggested the wearer's ethnic identity, social status and ritual power. In the Indus cities, the common people sported plain bangles of clay while the more prosperous donned shell, bronze and gold bangles.

The abundance of animal figurines at the dominant urban cities indicates that they were normally used in homes and public ceremonials. Terracotta figurines, starting from the humped Bull, Elephant, Rhinoceros, short-horned humpless Bull, Goat, Antelope, Crocodile and the Hare portrayed all principal domestic and wild animals. The symbolic representations of these animals probably served as a totemic cymbol and indicated specific clans or trading groups.

They were also identified with characteristics such as strength, cunning, agility and virility. A seal with a deity wearing a headdress made from the horns of the water buffalo is amongst the most important Indus seals. The headdress of buffalo horns was also probably symbolic of the strength and potency of a deity that ensured the fertility of crops and herds. This was because the water buffalo, a domineering animal found along the riverbanks, was known for securing the expansion of his herd through use of reproductive power.

These representations are also critical examples of the blending of local and regional elite into one universal economic and ritual structure of the Indus civilization. This is because no one animal can be tracked to a particular site or region. Domestic and wild animals were also probably sacrificed for specific Indus rituals, as indicated by the scenes on tablets, such as depicting the killing of water buffalo or the scene of a man grappling with a short horned and humpless bull. It may be surmised that if the actual animal figurines were utilized as offerings in place of actual animal sacrifice, some human figures may have also served the same purpose.

A Culture Expressed Through Symbols
The Indus people frequently used geometric designs and wholly abstract symbols. Mostly they are found on seals, pottery, on tools and inlaid objects. Harmony of design and style were elemental in most of the Indus motifs. Painted geometric designs peppered with a pantomime of animals and plants, intersecting circles, fish scale design, hatched triangle, checker board design, circles, wavy lines, multiple lines, kidney or heart shaped design, endless knot motif and the circle and dot motif are amongst the most widespread.

Some of these motifs may have been symbols of the various aspect of religious and social order that assisted in uniting the Indus culture. An extremely popular design was the swastika motif. This symbol exemplifies the order of the universe, which is arranged into four sections by the central cross. The flexed arms determine the direction in which the universe turns, to the right or the left. A right turning or a left turning swastika may show the existence of diverse cults or schools of philosophy.

The Indus script also consists of a fully formed system of abstract signs and symbols of Indus religion and culture were incorporated into pottery, ornaments, tools and the everyday life of Indus people in a way that production of symbolic objects itself became a significant affair.

Advanced Symbolic Representations
In order to produce these symbolic objects, artisans perfected many new technologies. Advanced metallurgy was essential to create bronze sculptures and high temperature kilns for manufacturing glazed ornaments, stoneware bangles and all the important seals. These crafts and objects also required standardized form, size and decoration. The production of the various symbolic objects and motifs thus was accomplished through craft specialization and these crafts in turn also helped in maintaining the ritual order.

For instance, such crafts as stoneware bangle-making, seal production and chert weight manufacture, were directly controlled in segregated workshops by the rulers or the state to limit access to these important symbols of power. Moreover, the process of production of stoneware bangles was shrouded in mystery and preserved through complex rituals to enhance the value of the object.

One can surmise this on the basis of the disappearance of this technology with the decline of the Indus elite and cities and was not reproduced again in South Asia till date. Thus, the ancient Indus symbols served a plethora of necessities of Indus people and reciprocally these symbols required a political and ritual edifice for their maintenance.