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Quinta-feira, 16 de Dezembro de 2010

Harappan Secrets. A Continuation of the Portuguese Discoveries ?

As a result of its pioneering commercial-colonial links with India since the close of the 15th century, the Portuguese have made some rare contributions to world’s knowledge about Asia, including India, their first point of contact and later the base of their colonial empire in Asia.  The manuals produced by Duarte Barbosa and Tomé Pires are still regarded as masterpieces of encyclopedic information about material and human resources of Asia at the time of the Portuguese arrival in the Indian Ocean. Later the colonial missionaries produced linguistic tools that could enable them to penetrate Asian cultures and implant Christianity. In Portugal itself there was short period of orientalist research surge in the late 19th – early 20th century, marked by such scholarly figures as G. de Vasconcellos Abreu, Esteves Pereira, David Lopes Sebastião R. Dalgado. Lately, we have only seen commemorative stunts and  neo-orientalist gimmicks!

José Calazans, my colleague  at the Lusophone University in Lisbon, and faculty member in the Department of the Science of Religions, has released this week at the Hindu Temple in Lisbon a Short Grammar of the Harappa Language, a bilingual edition in 150 pages, wherein  he provides a preview of a much larger work he has compiled on the grammar and dictionary of  the Indus Valley script that has so far defied the interested scholars over nearly a century in India, Finland, Russia,USA and elsewhere, assuming generally that Tamil (proto-Dravidian) was the key for the deciphering the 2000 and odd seals so far known.



José Calazans recognizes and praises  the pioneering work of Fr. Heras and several others, but points to the reason why their  efforts ended in failure: they all sought to fit in Vedic concepts into the Harappan script. His method suggests  instead that the “language” ideopictographically expressed could be a dialect (prakrta) of indo-iranian family, partly structured like  the Vedic Sanskrit (bhasa), the Pali, other near-contemporary jargons (paisaca), but with significant differences. He cites references in the classical and Vedic texts to the existence of such jargons, some probably never taken seriously, because they are mentioned as languages of the «dogs» (sva), «owls» (uluka), «cuckoos» (koka), «eagles» (suparna) and «vultures» (grdhra), all of them referred as «demons» (raksasas) in the Rgveda. The users of the languages are designated as Kikata people , and their priests as Kilata and Akuli, always in a pejorative sense. There are no references to any written script prior to Brahmi.

The team led by Rajesh Rao (University of Washington, 2009) produced interesting results using computer-based statistics and comparing symbols of  Indus script  and different languages – including  modern English and the ancient Sanskrit - as well as nonlinguistic systems. Calazans confesses that  recent statements by Rajesh Rao egged him on to  make public his findings,  because they supported his own conclusion  that the Harappa pictographic script is in fact a dialect (prakrit) closer to Pali than to Vedic Sanskrit.

Calazans  classifies the Harappan language as belonging to the group of  Raksasibasha. Identifies phonetic and phonologic bridge with the Vedic Sanskrit and Pali, but marked by semantic differences of conflicting social strata and anti-Brahmin orthodoxy. The novelty that Calazans proposes is that the continuity of older traditions need not have been only oral as Vedic texts presume.  Harappan script was a written tradition in aphoristic style that was inconvenient to the Aryan Brahmin orthodoxy. This written tradition, defends Calazans, was probably the first source of astronomic and astrologic calculus, and could have been the origin of later shastras linked to the science of astronomy.

In the Harappan ideopictographic writing the stress was not based on sound or pronunciation, vowels or consonants, but on pictograms which need to be interpreted as a whole, an idea and a religious, divine and human principle.

Only through an oral teaching process would hundreds of ideopictographic combinations be fully understood. A sentence was constructed through successive agglutinations in a syntagmatic disposition through prefixation, infixation (a sign placed inside the ideogram when ideographic compounds are formed) and suffixation. Digital affixes represented by short vertical bars indicated specific numbers or declension cases,  depending upon  their position at the upper left corner (number) or upper right corner (case) of the basic ideopictogram.

Calazans sees extraordinary similarity with the Chinese number system, more so than Egyptian and Summerian, a fact he attributes to the proximity of two mythical regions of Uttara-Kuru and Takla-Makan as a cultural melting pot.  Calazans is not yet sure of the full meaning of the zoomorphic sequence in the seals, but believes that it obeys to cycles of years or seasons, also similar to the dozen animals of  the Chinese calendar. Following the order adopted in the Corpus of Hindu Seals and Inscriptions (A. Parpola, 1987-1991) despite persistence of doubts, sees some important registry of events, such as a solstice on July 26 of 3912 BC, when Mars and Saturn were in conjunction during five days. Such seals were reused probably as amulets with some ritual value. This date suggests that the Harappan culture belongs to a much earlier chronological setting than so far believed, and Calazans opines that this fact may embarrass many a political rival.

Calazans declares that it is not his intention to announce any “triumph” (sic) before achieving it or to take the risk of repeating what others have said before. States that many had been close to finding a solution, implying that he too may  join the ranks. Hopes though  that his solution will revive the interest of the scholars and awaits scholarly feedback proving him right or wrong. We too wish that the readers of this column  take up the issue and pass on the word. Personally, I respect my erudite colleague and wish him luck in this bold endeavour.

To conclude, among some of the doubts that do not find  answers or leads in the present edition of the Short Grammar of Harappa Language, but which we hope to find in the fuller published version,  is how the very limited sequences of seals can ever provide a satisfactory base to capture a meaningful system of concepts. We are also not provided details of any comparative advance made beyond what Parpola or Mahadevan have done for solving the Harappan puzzle. Besides, why would  the pictographic script disappear in the Middle East and  Indus Valley, but not in China and Chinese cultural world? Was it determined by changes in dominant cultural thought patterns or a change in dominant materials and support technologies?  We have no clue either as to how a language seemingly  well developed long before the arrival of the Aryans into the region should have structural links with Vedic languages or related jargons. Or does the researcher-author  imply that Vedic language and dialects grew out of the Harappan culture or suffered its linguistic influence in a significant manner?


Teotónio R. de Souza



publicado por Re-ligare às 15:19
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De kalyanaraman a 6 de Dezembro de 2011 às 03:27

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