Decoding the Indus Script: Languages, Theories, and Controversies

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January 9, 2024

Decoding the Indus Script: Languages, Theories, and Controversies

Unraveling an Ancient Enigma

  • The Indus script, a puzzle that has confounded scholars for over a century, continues to resist decipherment despite more than a hundred attempts by diverse experts. From Sanskrit to Dravidian, Mesopotamian, and even doubts about its linguistic nature, the script’s origins remain elusive. Discovered in the 1920s during excavations led by Sir John Marshall, the script found on seals and tablets of the Indus Valley Civilisation has remained an enigma.

Quest for Decipherment

  • While various scholars have proposed theories over the years, a recent research paper by Bahata Ansumali Mukhopadhyay, a Bangalore-based software engineer, proposes a novel perspective. Mukhopadhyay’s contention suggests that the Indus script symbolically conveyed meanings across diverse dialects and languages rather than being tied to a single language. Contrary to conventional beliefs, she posits that the script primarily served commercial, not religious, purposes.

Contested Theories

  • The debates around the script’s decipherment encompass diverse viewpoints. The number of symbols within the script itself is a subject of contention, with estimates ranging from 62 to 676 signs. Additionally, the script’s potential linkages to languages like Sanskrit or Brahmi are fiercely debated among scholars.

Dravidian Roots and Linguistic Debates

  • Parpola’s investigation, pioneering the use of computers, suggests Dravidian roots for the script. He proposes that the signs might have conveyed complete words or phonetically similar terms, resembling the ‘rebus’ concept. Parpola’s hypotheses find support among several scholars, implying a Dravidian connection.

Language or Symbolism?

  • However, the script’s true nature remains elusive. Some researchers question whether the script truly represents a language or rather functions as a system of symbols with non-linguistic significance. The argument suggests that the inscriptions’ brevity might indicate a non-linguistic nature, challenging the assumption of a literate Harappan civilisation.

Beyond Linguistic Boundaries

  • Peggy Mohan suggests viewing the script as more of a hallmarking system rather than a language-based script. She emphasizes that societies of that era might have prioritized recording commercial information over narratives or mythologies.

Continuing Mysteries

  • Despite ongoing research, deciphering the Indus script remains a challenge due to limited understanding of the civilization itself. Biagi highlights the need for further excavation and exploration to comprehend the origins and nuances of the Indus Valley Civilisation comprehensively.


  • While the quest for decoding the Indus script continues, recent insights challenge traditional beliefs and open new avenues for understanding ancient civilizations. Whether the script represents a language or a sophisticated system of symbols remains a tantalizing mystery, offering glimpses into the economic functions of that bygone era.

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Decoding the Indus Script: Languages, Theories, and Controversies | Vaid ICS Institute