9. The Planets

Fig. 2: Modified Fish Signs

'Modified fish' signs: Planets and a Star

The Indus texts very often feature the 'fish' sign modified by some diacritic-like markings (Fig.II). These signs are identified by Parpola as planets or stars on the basis of his pictorial interpretations of the markings. The Dravidian word meen may denote either 'star' or 'planet' as attested in Old Tamil.

The planet Mercury

Parpola interprets the line drawn horizontally or obliquely across the body of the 'fish' sign (Fig. Il a) as expressing the idea 'dividing or halving'. He identifies the Proto-Dravidian root *pacu, 'to halve, divide'. There is an exact homophone *pacu, 'greenish-yellow'. Hence by rebus the 'halved fish' sign is read as pacu meen and interpreted as the planet Mercury which is greenish-yellow in colour. The word paccai, 'green (planet)' is one of the names of Mercury in the Old Tamil star lists.

The Planet Saturn

Parpola regards the inverted V-like element above the fish as depicting a 'roof' (Fig. II b). He equates it with Dravidian *vey/mey, 'to cover a house with thatched roof'. This suggests to him the "partially homophonous" root *may, 'black'. Hence the reading may meen, 'black star,' interpreted as the planet Saturn which is dark in colour. The term mai(m) meen, 'Saturn'is attested in Old Tamil.

The Dravidian words chosen by Parpola in this case are however problematic. The ProtoDravidian root for 'roof, to thatch' has been reconstructed as *vey, not *mey. Even assuming *vey/*mey alternation in Proto-Dravidian, *mey is not homophonous with *may, 'black'. The morpho-phonemic rules regarding alternation of included vowels in Dravidian apply only to cognate forms and cannot be invoked to justify 'partial' homonymy of unrelated etyma.

The Planet Venus

According to Parpola the sign of two long vertical strokes expresses pictorially the idea of 'enclosed, intervening or intermediate space'. He chooses veli as the equivalent Dravidian word which leads him to the homophone vel/velli, 'white', 'bright'. The pair of signs 'two strokes + fish'(Fig. II c) is then read as vel(li) min meaning the planet Venus. Velli is still the name for Venus in Tamil.

However the word veli does not by itself convey the qualified meanings 'enclosed, intervening or intermediate' imported into it by Parpola. The central meaning of veli is 'open (space), out, outside, exterior, external'. One would have to use some qualifying expression like itai-veli to mean 'intermediate space'. The interpretation of a sign which suggests 'enclosed space' to denote the word for 'open space' seems inapt.

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© Harappa 1998