The ‘High-West: Low-East’ Dichotomy of Indus Cities: A Dravidian Paradigm

A fascinating, well-documented article on Indus city layouts and linguistic paradigms. First published by the Indus Research Center at the Roja Muthiah Research Library in Chennai in December 2012.


The ‘High-West: Low-East’ pattern observed in the dichotomous city-layouts constitutes one of the most fundamental features of the Indus (Harappan) urbanism. Local innovations notwithstanding, excavators and Indus researchers have found significant uniformities of layout configurations, segregated neighborhoods and public amenities throughout Indus civilization. Considering the importance of cardinal directions in general layout plans and the orientation of streets along the cardinal directions in the Indus cities, it would be fair to anticipate that the method of lexical encoding and naming of cardinal directions in the ‘unknown language’ of the Indus civilization might have been influenced by the ‘prototypes of the dominant culture’ in which the concept of cardinal directions probably had a significant relevance. Based on this premise, using published archeological data and archeologically inferred views, I prepare, in generic terms, a tentative Direction-Elevation-Material-Social (DEMS) matrix for the Indus dichotomy and compare that with the Dravidian and Indo-Aryan frameworks of lexical encoding and naming of cardinal directions. In the process, I find that the Dravidian languages follow a topocentric ‘High-West: Low-East’ model as against an anthropocentric ‘Front-East: Behind- West’ model of the Indo-Aryan languages and that the Indus DEMS matrix encodes a concurring association with the Dravidian framework and a contrasting one with the Indo-Aryan.