Seals

Seals and tablets with inscriptions from the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

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.

Deity Fighting Off Two Tigers on Seal

This drama is depicted on at least two other seals from the ancient Indus metropolis. In other scenes from Harappa, this is a female deity standing on an elephant with a spoked wheel sign above her head (see Deity Strangling Tigers Tablet).

Asko Parpola writes: "The 'contest' motif is one of the most convincing and widely accepted parallels between Harappan and Near Eastern glyptic art. A considerable number of Harappan seals depict a manly hero, each hand grasping a tiger by the throat. In Mesopotamian art, the fight with lions and / or bulls is the most popular motif.

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

4 Unicorns

Richard H. Meadow at Harvard wrote in response to a question about whether the so-called unicorn seal depicts a mythical animal or a composite: "Some believe the one, some the other. There is no evidence for any unicorn - one horned beast - from the faunal record. A third belief is that it was a wild ox with the horns shown in profile. That is possible, although if so it is idealized and perhaps a conventional depiction.

Steatite Unicorn Seal

A steatite unicorn seal from Harappa with Indus script and dating to around 2450-2200 BCE. When pressed into clay the impression will be reversed. Since the Indus script may have been read from right to left, the last two signs visible at the top right hand edge of the seal would in fact be the last two signs of the inscription.

See also Four Unicorns and A Unicorn Seal.

The Chimaera: Revisited

Further to the discussion of chimeras, among the first unicorn seals found by John Marshall at Mohenjo-daro in the 1920's was this one. He wrote: "The animal most often represented on the seals is the apparently single-horned beast ... There is a possibility, I think, that the artist intended to represent one horn behind the other. In other animals, however, the two horns are shown quite distinctly. In some respects the body of this beast, which is always a male, resembles that of an antelope of heavy build, such as the eland or oryx, and in others that of an ox.

Unicorn and Pipal Tree Seal

A seal from Mohenjo-daro found by Wheeler in the 1920's. From his 1931 text: "The plant on the [seal] 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."

See also Pipal Tree Tablet and Pipal Leaves: Revisited.

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