It was a warm and humid afternoon in August 1995. I was feeling tired and rather sleepy after a hard day's work in the library of the Directorate of Epigraphy at Mysore, where I was collecting material for my forthcoming book on Early Tamil Palaeography. I was also interested in looking at the earliest Kannada and Telugu inscriptions to explore whether they have any similarities with the earliest Tamil Inscriptions.
On that particular day I was browsing through the well-known classic Historical Grammar of Telugu by Korada Mahadeva Sastri (1969). Suddenly I sat up, snapping out of my sleepy mood, when I came across the passage (pp. 135-136) in which Sastri describes the gender suffixes in Old Telugu, especially -(a)mbu/-(a)bu . I saw in a flash that here was the perfect match long sought after by scholars, between the pictorial value of the ARROW sign in the Indus Script and its known function as a grammatical suffix. I shall explain in the present paper the implications of the proposed phonetic value, first by looking at the characteristics of the sign and then the presumed situation in ancient Dravidian regarding the gender suffixes. In order to keep the paper short and focused, I shall avoid discussing in detail the earlier attempts to read this sign. I have however appended a short bibliography of the relevant earlier researches.
|The main characteristics of the ARROW sign are its final position in the texts and its functional similarity with the JAR sign. Both function as terminal signs not only at the end of texts but also in medial positions. The preceding signs or sequences can be shown to be complete words, probably names or titles, especially in the seal-texts.|
The ARROW sign is one of the very few in the Indus Script, which are pictorially transparent, and at the same time, with strongly marked functional characteristics which can be identified by frequency-distribution analysis. Pictorially, this is one of the simplest and least complicated signs with hardly any variant forms. It is easily identified as an arrow or spear (more precisely, an arrowhead or spearhead). For the moment, it is immaterial whether it is an arrow or a spear, as that question would get automatically resolved when the search for probable words narrows down to the field determined by the functions of the sign.