The excavation of the Indus Valley civilization has revealed many intriguing artifacts. The most interesting of these relics are seals used to stamp designs in soft clay. Anthropologists believe that these seals probably have some religious significance. When anthropologists say that something has religious significance what they really are saying is that they don’t know what these objects meant.
These seals were probably used to mark property in trade, but the importance of the design themselves is a matter of speculation. It is interesting to note that similar seals have been found as far away as Mesopotamia, suggesting perhaps a commercial connection between these great civilizations.
The Power of Sexuality
Most scholars who examine these seals think that the images depicted on them were related in some way to fertility rituals. The great majority of seals portray animals, almost exclusively male animals with horns and massive flanks and legs. The emphasis in the horns and flanks does suggest an intense interest in sexuality and reproductive functions.
This sort of concern with the power of sexuality is not at all uncommon and it is intimately connected with the experience of the sacred. Still, we are up to wonder why animals rather than humans are taken as representative of the males’ sexual powers.
I’d like to suggest that perhaps these depictions are associated with the human effort to appropriate animal powers. Throughout the world, early humans often sought to incorporate into themselves certain qualities that they admired in animals.
In the movie “Dances with Wolves”, the character played by Kevin Costner is directed to eat the warm heart of the first bison that he kills as a way of appropriating its courage, which is believed to reside in the heart.
The depiction of sexual energy in animals we find in the Indus Valley seals may suggest a similar effort to acquire powers that humans lacked or simply wanted in greater abundance.
Indus Valley’s culture fascination with sexuality is also evidenced with the discovery of numerous terracotta figurines depicting women with exaggerated hips and breasts. Similar representations have been unearthed in many parts of the world, leading scholars to theorize the existence of a mother goddess religion, long antedating the worship of male gods.
The details of that theory are debatable but is does seem evident, at least in the Indus Valley civilization, that the reproductive powers of women were revered and celebrated. Perhaps women themselves were regarded as sacred. It is clear that the worship of goddesses has a long and deeply rooted tradition in Hinduism, and may in fact derive from Indus Valley’s practices.
The Origin of Meditation?
There is a seal illustrating a man sitting down in what appears to be the lotus position, a fundamental pose in yoga and meditation. This seal rises the intriguing possibility that this early dwellers on the Indus were practitioners of meditation. If true, then India has had a contemplative spirit throughout its history.
The sited figure seems to have three faces looking in different directions. It is not clear what or who this image represents. Many scholars believe that this figure may be an early representation of the god who later came to be known as Shiva. Multiple faces are often used in Hindu iconography to suggest omniscience.
To compare the Indus Valley image with a modern Hindu image of Shiva helps substantiate the scholarly claim.
To round up this portrait of the religious dimension of the Indus Valley let me sum up what we know. Indus Valley religion seems intensely concerned with procreation and purity. It may have involved the worship of male animals as a way of incorporating their sexual powers. Female powers of reproduction were also regarded as sacred.
Purification practices, meditation and the well organized cities suggest that the Indus dwellers were very interested in order and restrain.
After the Indus Valley was discovered in the 19th century, scholars were faced with having to explain the demise of this great civilization and its relationship with the Aryans, the people with whom Hinduism has long been associated.
The dominant theory suggested that the Indus civilization came to an end around 1500 B.C. when bands of lighter skinned Aryans verged into the Indian subcontinent and conquered the darker skinned Indus dwellers. Today, this invasion theory is in serious doubt. Scholars are revising their understanding of the cultures of early India, although many still hold to the idea of Aryan conquest.
We know that the Indus civilization was already in decline by 1500 B.C., when the Aryans supposedly subdued the region by military conquest. Between 1900 and 1600 B.C. the Indus river may have changed its course. Maybe the entire region desiccated. This has been confirmed by recent satellite photography.
Furthermore, there is no evidence archeological or otherwise to suggest such a massive conquest. Aryans’ own extensive writings don’t mention a migration of people from outside of India. In fact, there is evidence that the Aryans and the Indus may have coexisted in the same are for some time before the ultimate demise of the Indus Valley culture.