In a lecture that raised the global Classical Tamil meet here from humdrum levels to a scholarly plane, Parpola marshalled an impressive array of linguistic, religious and cultural markers to substantiate his path-breaking findings.
Delivering the Kalaignar Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Research Endowment Lecture, the academic from the University of Helsinki said Murukan, the principal native deity of the old Tamil pantheon, and his Vedic predecessors Skanda and Rudra, might have descended from a proto-Dravidian deity and it was possible that this god was mentioned in the Indus inscriptions. But how does one identify his name in Indus texts whose script none can read?
Unveiling his first clue from among Harappan seals, Parpola referred to a peculiar symbol sequence in which six vertical strokes are followed by a fish. As fish' was a symbol to depict a star too (the Tamil word miin' is common to both fish and star), the 6+fish' could refer to aru-miin', the Tamil term for the constellation Pleiades. He also cited old Tamil texts that describe Murukan as aru-miin kaatalan' (one beloved of the Pleiades).
Referring to another sign of two intersecting circles' in a Mohenjodaro seal, Parpola said if this was a reference to Murukan, whose name means youth or young man', it could be a pictogram depicting muruku' (ring, earring or bangle) and is also another name for Murukan. Noting that muruku' also meant bangle', he spoke about a bangle cult' in various parts of India. Bangles were given as votive offerings by women praying for a young boy (muruku).
The bangle is associated with pregnancy in many parts of India as it is a protective ring' for a pregnant woman (referred to in Tamil as valai kaapu') who was in danger of being set upon by demons. "Even today in Tamil Nadu, couples desiring a male child make a pilgrimage to a famous shrine of Murugan and, after the birth, name their son after the god," he said.
Another sign shows a squirrel in the Indus script. In Tamil, the striped palm squirrel is known as anil'or anil-pillai', the suffix denoting a child or a boy. Just as Tamils add an affectionate pillai' to refer to the squirrel, parrot and mongoose as anil-pillai, kili-pillai' and keeri-pillai', the word is suffixed to Murukan's name. Popular names among Jaffna Tamils still show this trend Murukapillai or Velupillai, for example.
"The readings are based on reasonable identification of the pictorial shapes," Parpola said. "I am confident that an opening to the secrets of the Indus scripts has been achieved: we know that the underlying language was proto-Dravidian and we know how the script functions," he added but asked scholars whose mother tongue was Tamil or any other Dravidian language to develop the research further. Laymen too could suggest possible meanings for the Indus signs.
Well-known epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan, who has published an authentic collection of Indus texts, inscriptions and seals, said it was time for younger scholars to follow up on existing findings and find a comprehensive solution to the problems in deciphering the Indus script.