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

Pipal Leaves: Revisited

This unique well and associated bathing platform was discovered in the course of building a catchment drain around the site. It was reconstructed on the ground floor of Mohenjo-daro site museum.
"The representation of plant forms on the seals is rare; they occur on only twelve seals . . . On only two seals is a plant form the central motif (Nos. 387 and 527). The plant on the former [shown here] has been identified as a pipal tree, which in India is the Tree of Creation. The arrangement is very conventional and from the lower part of the stem spring two heads similar to those of the so-called unicorn." [Marshall, Vol. III, p. 389]
Large square unicorn seal from Mohenjo-daro. A relatively long inscription of eight symbols runs along the top of the seal. The elongated body and slender arching neck is typical of unicorn figurines, as are the tail with bushy end and the bovine hooves. This figure has a triple incised line depicting a pipal leaf shaped blanket or halter, while most unicorn figures have only a double incised line. The arching horn is depicted as if spiraling or ribbed, and the jowl is incised with multiple folds.(Kenoyer)

The impressions of a pipal leaf found in the upper clay levels of a drain in Harappa, shown here with a modern pipal leaf, indicate that what many think was a sacred tree even at that time was growing in the ancient city of Harappa. A well at Mohenjo-daro, a sealing from the city and the pipal motif on a unicorn seal are other examples of this critical leaf in Indus culture.

See also Unicorn and Pipal Tree Seal.

Anthropomorphized Tigers in Harappa

In the center is miniature mask of horned deity with human face and bared teeth of a tiger. A large mustache or divided upper lip frames the canines, and a flaring beard adds to the effect of rage. The eyes are defined as raised lumps that may have originally been painted. Short feline ears contrast with two short horns similar to a bull rather than the curving water buffalo horns. Two holes on either side allow the mask to be attached to a puppet or worn as an amulet.
Tiger or leopard figurine with incised facial features, including punctated dots on the face that could be whisker marks. This figurine depicts a normal feline without horns or human face and therefore probably represents the actual wild animal. Hand formed with applique eyes.
It has been suggested that some feline figurines have anthropomorphic facial features. While features such as "coffee bean" eyes are unusual, the facial features of many animal figurines are stylized. Such features as beards are not necessarily anthropomorphic features, but may represent either tigers’ ruffs or lions’ manes. Variations in facial features may represent differences in wild felines rather than anthropomorphization.
Molded terra cotta tablet (H2001-5075/2922-01) with a narrative scene of a man in a tree with a tiger looking back over its shoulder. The tablet, found in the Trench 54 area on the west side of Mound E, is broken, but was made with the same mold as ones found on the eastern side of Mound E and also in other parts of the site (see Indus Slides 89 for right hand portion of same scene). The reverse of the same molded terra cotta tablet shows a deity grappling with two tigers and standing above an elephant.

Indus Tigers found at Harappa in recent years, often anthropomorphized. "The most dangerous animals living in the vicinity of the Indus cities were tigers and leopards. The leopard is rarely depicted but some figurines have spotted faces that may indicate the elusive markings of this elusive cat. Both of these large predators would have been a serious threat to human life and domestic animals. Before the introduction of firearms, these animals were usually killed in traps or with poisoned arrows.

Unique Coiled Copper-alloy Necklace

This unique discovery of a coiled copper-alloy wire necklace (H2000/2242-01) dating to Harappa period 3B (circa 2450-2200 BC) is the earliest evidence for silk in South Asia. It has traces of fibers preserved on the inside. Recent studies indicate that the fibers are from the wild silk moth, Antheraea mylitta, commonly called "Tussar" silk today (Irene Good, J. M. Kenoyer and R. H. Meadow 2008).

Its discovery demonstrates that silk production may have first been used to make fine threads for necklaces and only later used for weaving fabrics.

Unicorn Seal

Large square unicorn sealing (left) and seal from Mohenjo-daro. The unicorn is the most common motif on Indus seals and appears to represent a mythical animal that Greek and Roman sources trace back to the Indian subcontinent. A relatively long inscription of eight symbols runs along the top of the seal. The elongated body and slender arching neck is typical of unicorn figurines, as are the tail with bushy end and the bovine hooves. This figure has a triple incised line depicting a pipal leaf shaped blanket or halter, while most unicorn figures have only a double incised line.

Harappan Burial Pottery

Painted and unpainted burial pottery from Harappa. The two largest vessels were found in the same burial and are described below. The other smaller vessels were found in an earlier burial and represent an older style of pottery. The bottom images shows a collection of burial pottery which come from one of the later burials towards the end of the Harappan period, possibly dating to 1900 BCE.

Tall jar with concave neck and flaring rim: 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.

Ornaments and Jewelry

Gold and agate ornaments includes objects found at both Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. At the top are fillets of finely burnished hammered gold that would have been worn around the forehead. Each end of the top fillet is decorated with a punctuated design depicting the ritual offering stand that is common on the unicorn seals. The third ornament from the top was probably worn with the center point at the top of the forehead and the sides curving down over the eyebrows. The hole at the center and on the ends were for holding a cord.
The other ornaments include bangles, chokers, long pendant

Rare Three Animal Seal from Mohenjo-daro

J.M. Kenoyer describes it as a "square seal with animal whose multiple-heads include three important totemic animals: the bull, the unicorn, the antelope. All three animals appear individually on other seals along with script, but this seal has no script. The perforated boss on the back is plain, without the groove found on most seals." (Ancient Cities, p. 194).

E.J.H. Mackay wrote that "a possible explanation of this unusual devices is that its owner may have sought the protection or assistance of three separate deities represented by the heads of these three animals" (Further Excavations,

Indus Elephants

It is unknown whether elephants were domesticated in the Indus Civilization. However, one of the few elephant figurines from Harappa is a head with large stylized ears and red and white stripes painted across the face. This may mirror the custom of decorating domesticated elephants (red and white are common colors) for ceremonies or rituals that is still practiced in South Asia. Elephant bones have also been found at Harappa. Approximate dimensions (W x H (L) x D): 5.4 x 4.8 x 4.6 cm. Photograph by Richard H. Meadow.

See also Hollow Elephant Figurine from Harappa and Elephant Head.


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