Blog posts about the art of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

Unicorn Pendant

'"Pendant or medallion [from Mohenjo-daro] pictures the unicorn combined with many sacred symbols of the Indus religion. The body of the figure has a womb-shaped symbol in its belly, the same motif is elaborated to form the frame for the pendant, which is also a common design for shell inlay. Two leaf shapes of the sacred pipal tree are depicted at the animals shoulders and rump. A ritual offering stand is placed in front of the image. The deeply incised frame and the symbols on the unicorn would have been set with inlay." (J.M. Kenoyer, Indus Civilization, p. 188)

See also The First Unicorn

Detailed Religious Scene Seal

One of the most evocative seals from Mohenjo-daro, depicting a deity with horned headdress and bangles on both arms, standing in a pipal (sacred fig) tree and looking down on a kneeling worshiper. A human head rests on a small stool and giant ram and seven figures in procession complete the narrative. Asko Parpola writes "An anthropomorphic figure has knelt in front of a fig tree, with hands raised in respectful salutation, prayer or worship. This reverence suggests the divinity of its object, another anthropomorphic figure standing inside the fig tree.

Painted Burial Pottery

The rounded base was originally supported in a ring stand. The black painted geometric designs are arranged in panels with a red slip as background. After initial firing, the entire painted design was obliterated with a red slip and fired again at a low temperature that turned the exterior layer of the slip red through oxidation, but the inner layer remained gray. This overslip was not well bonded to the previously slipped surface and was partially eroded when first discovered.

Grand and Rare Zebu Bull Motif

The grand and rare humped zebu (bos indicus) motif on a pot from Nausharo (ca. 2600-2500 BCE) and on a square steatite seal from Mohenjo-daro (ca. 2500 BCE). Note how similar they are.

The majestic zebu bull, with its heavy dewlap and wide curving horns is perhaps the most impressive motif found on the Indus seals. Generally carved on large seals with relatively short inscriptions, the zebu motif is found almost exclusively at the largest cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.

The rarity of zebu seals is curious because the humped bull is a recurring theme in many of the ritual and decorative

Dancing Girl Figurine

Three views of Mohenjo-daro artifact

The dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro in three views, with close-ups of face, choker and bangles, and next to a dancing girl from Jaipur around 1900. John Marshall writes of this figure: "the arms and legs . . . are adorned with armlets, bangles, and anklets. These ornaments may sometimes have been made of metal, but in all probability the majority of them were shell. The custom of wearing so many shell bracelets as almost to conceal the whole of the forearm is very common in India at the present day." (Mohenjo-daro and the Indus Civilization, 1931, p. 339).

Horned Figure Copper Tablet

An incised copper tablet from Mohenjo-daro showing a figure with large horns.

The large horns could represent the power or virility of the animal; whoever wore the horns would possess similar attributes. According to J.M. Kenoyer, they may depict powerful hunters, shamans or even some form of water buffalo or cattle deity. Asko Parpola writes "a male deity having similar long eyes and bulls horns, but a goat's beard in addition, is known from several terracotta masks and terracotta statuettes" (Indus Script, p. 234).

See also Deity Strangling Tigers Tablet and Parpola's essay Deciphering the Indus Script.

Harappan Feline Figurine

An Indus feline figurine from Harappa. Among the dangerous wild animals represented in the figurine corpus are large wild felines. This feline figurine with punctuate designs on the face (possibly representing spots) and an open mouth showing teeth is a relatively naturalistic representation of a large wild cat, possibly representing a leopard or a cheetah. Approximate dimensions (W x H(L) x D): 4.6 x 11.5 x 6.2 cm. Photograph by Richard H. Meadow.

For another feline face, see also Ritual Mask or Amulet.

Intricately Painted Jar from Chanhu-daro

One of the finest ancient Indus painted jars ever found, excavated at Chanhu-daro during the 1935-36 season led by Ernest MacKay. JM Kenoyer describes it as a "large storage jar with red slip and black painted motifs, including peacocks, vegetation and the famous intersecting-circle design. Such vessels were probably used as marriage gifts or for other ritual occasions, and the motifs undoubtedly represent auspicious blessings on the owner" (Ancient Cities of the Indus Civilization, p. 231).

See also Finds and Chanhu-daro.

Carnelian Beads

"Indus beadmakers have the distinction of producing the longest and most slender beads of carnelian in the world, prior to the advent of diamond drilling," (J.M. Kenoyer). Chanhu-daro has provided the most data about the manufacture of these long carnelian beads, seen here in a necklace or belt from Mohenjo-daro's DK Area. It could take weeks of intense labor to create one bead, some nearly 5 inches long, with much breakage along the way.

See also Dorothy Mackay's article Finds at Chanhu-daro.


Subscribe to Art