Religion has for millennia been the excuse
for ethnic differentiation and much violence. Second only to language,
the religious activities of the Harappan Civilization have been the
focus of much speculation. Did the Harappans have a single belief system
or multiple religions? As in modern South Asia, was there an amalgam of
religious beliefs? Did the religion of the Harappans spread to the other
populations of the area? Were Harappan religious beliefs related to any
modern religions? This final question primarily focuses on Vedic
Figurines were a popular artistic form of The female nude figurines
so familiar from Harappan sites also seem to have originated at Mehrgarth. A large number of female figurines have been uncovered from
all over the Female - nearly all- fan shaped headdress- narrow applied
loincloth- breasts- no attempt at naturalism- larger than later nude
goddess figurines- linking of doves is unwarranted- not doves- most with
single necklace. Male terra-cotta figurines are all completely nude
(Gordon and Gordon, 1940).
Figurines were not discovered in any recognizable ritualistic or
specialized contexts (Dales, 1991). They were not found in the burials
of any site (Dales, 1991). Female figurines were made as two vertical
halves, each complete then joined (Dales, 1991). The arms applied later
(Dales, 1991). This was the case only at Harappa, a single example was
discovered at Mohenjodaro by Mackay (Dales, 1991).
An entity referred to variously as the Horned or Tree Deity has been
recognizably represented in numerous and diverse contexts. It is
typified by regalia consisting of a garment composed of leaves, pelts,
hides, fleece or camouflage and a bovine mask (During Caspers, 1989;
Srinivasan, 1984). The mask was horned with foliage between. Similar
miters which signified the divine status of the wearer were represented
in Akkadian art (Srinivasan, 1984). In some contexts, the Horned God is
seen to be carrying a bow and arrow (During Caspers, 1989).
One type of representation was in the form of clay masks. They were
human faced with bull ears and horns. The masks were made from molds and
had two small holes on each side. Their small size, between four and
seven and a half centimeters suggests a personal use. It is possible
they were attached to clothing or as ornamentation. If they were
utilized in large organized ritual contexts they would likely be used en
masse. To this time, large numbers have not been uncovered.
The Horned God is represented in several mediums. Images have been
discovered engraved on several small copper plates found at Harappa and
Mohenjodaro (Marshall, 1931; McKay, 1937-38). (Marshall, 1931, III, Pl.
CXVII, No. 16; Mckay, 1938, II, Pl. XCIII, No. 14) The motif is most
well known from representations on steatite seals. It is further
represented on faience and terra cotta sealing amulets (During Caspers,
1989). (Mackay, 1938, Pl. XCIV, 420, C, F; Mackay, 1938, Pl. LXXXVII,
222; and Makay, 1938, Pl. LXXXVII, 235). This representation is often
thought to be an early version of the Lord Siva. This Proto-Siva often
shown surrounded by animals. As a result, many scholars have compared
the Horned Deity representation with Siva as (Pirassvita) or Lord of
Beasts. The Pirassvita is a Hindu deity which protects domestic animals.
At first look, the two representations seem similar but the Horned
Deity, when animals are present, is depicted with wild beasts, the
intellectual and emotional opposites of domesticate animals.
Some daises legs have hooves and two have fetlocks (During Caspers,
1989). Representations of the Horned God which do not have the headdress
are assigned due to their similarity in posture and circumstance to
several that wearing the horned miter. Two carvings have been discovered
which may represent the Horned God. The first dates from the Mature
Harappan Period and was discovered in the northern urban center of
Kalibangan. It is a terra-cotta cake with the head and torso of a man
with curved horn extending from its head (Possehl, 1999).
The second was etched on the surface of a flat irregular stone slab
(48x27cm) discovered Phase 1b level (c. 2125 B.C.E. ) of Burzahom (Pande,
1971, Agrawal and Kusumgar, 1965). It is a representation of a man,
woman, and a dog hunting a stag under a double sun. It was discovered as
part of a rectangular structure in which the stone seems to have been
reutilized with the inscribed surface facing the interior of the
Several explanations have been made for these representations.
realistic representation of hunt as sympathetic magic
Northwestern Neolithic Culture- hunter/gatherers
These representations may a non-Harappan minority group from northern
perhaps sympathetic hunt magic- dance instead of yogic position
man headed animals- bearded- short stubby horns- many with holes
drilled near base (Gordon and Gordon, 1940)
The use of shell bangles first appears at Neolithic Mehrgarh (Kenoyer,
1992). Shell bangles have been reported in nearly all localities of the
Harappan Civilization. Bangles were manufactured from many different
materials including: faience, terra cotta, bone, copper, and shell. Only
bangles manufactured from shell are found in mortuary contexts (Kenoyer,
1992). They were placed almost exclusively on the left arms of middle
aged women (33 to 55 years of age) (Kenoyer, 1992). Today in South Asia,
objects of magical significance are not passed on to others (Kenoyer,
1998). bangles and jewelry in general represent the reproductive status
of women and a change in bangles coincides with a change in status (Kenoyer,
The unicorn motif found on sealings and stamps. Its obvious male
member and single horn has been interpreted as a phallic symbol of
fertility (Dhavalikar and Atre, 1989). It has been variously identified
as a bull or possibly a composite animal consisting of deer, antelope,
goat, and cattle morphology (Dhavalikar and Atre, 1989). The unicorn is
usually accompanied by an object of possible cultic significance. This
cult object has been variously described as a fire alter, an incense
burner, an ethnic standard or a strainer to purify Rig Vedic Soma
(Marshall, 1931; Dhavalikar and Atre, 1989).
fire temple- Mohenjodaro- HR area, structure XXIII
Marshall 1931: III, Pl. XXXIX
Lothal- say fire alters in permanent form
Rao 1979: 11
Some scholars feel that the unusual physical positions represented
evidence for the practice of a yoga. A minimum of 16 such
representations exist and appear to represent the same position (Possehl,
2002). All representations have been recovered from either Mohenjodaro
or Harappa (2002). The question is can one validly posit such a ‘pose or
ritual discipline’ and the necessary associate theory from such limited
evidence. This ‘pose’ may be nothing more than an artistic stylization.
Some religious concepts have been posited which lack any supporting
evidence. First is Shaktism which is a late concept of sexual dualism.
It may be that this principle did exist, however, there is no
artifactual evidence to support such a complex conclusion.
The ‘fire alter’ recovery and identification is an obsession of those
who wish to see a direct decent of the Harappan Civilization as Aryan
Vedic and thus of modern India as its ideological descendant.
The most significant similarity and nearly universal observation is
that there is little coherent evidence of religion, in any form.
Possehl suggests a kind of ideological integration period, despite
the diversity represented by the Harappan Civilization (2002). This
would be a reasonable suggestion when both Old and New World examples
One of the most desperate needs of Harappan studies is the long term
research project of a team of art historians.