History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2012: Q.2 (a)

History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2012: Q.2 (a)

Q.2 (a) Evaluate the significance of seals and sealings in the reconstruction of socio-economic and religious life of the Harappan people.


Seal making was an important Harappan craft. Most of the seals are square or rectangular. A few cylindrical and round seals have also been found. Most of the seals are made of steatite, but there are a few silver, faience , and calcite ones as well. Most of the seals have a short inscription.

Significance in the reconstruction of religious life of the Harappan people:

1) The sealings with the narrative scenes may have had religious or ritualistic function.

2)A seal showing a nude women, head downwards, with her legs apart and a plant issuing from her vagina is often intrepreted as a prototype of Shakambari, the Earth Mother.

3)Harappans also worshipped a male god represented on a steatite seal discovered at Mohenjodaro, usually referred to as the Pashupati seal.

a) A male figure with a buffalo horn head-dress seated on a dais with his legs bent double under him, heels together, toes pointed down.

b) He is flanked by four animals- an elephant , rhinoceros, water buffalo, and a tiger. Beneath the dais are two antelopes or ibexes.

c)There exists a striking resemblance between this deity and the Shiva of later Hindu mythology.

4) The Harappan seals and sealings depict a number of trees, plants, and animals, some of which may have cultic significance.

a) The Pipal tree appears often and may have been venerated.

b) Some of the animals depicted on the seals and sealings like the humped and  humpless bull, snake, elephant, rhinoceros, antelope, gharial, and tiger- may have had cultic significance.

c)The composite animals (tiger-human, bull-elephant, ram-bull-elephant, etc ) and the ”unicorn” depicted on seals and sealings may also have had some sort of religious or mythological significance.

Significance in the reconstruction of socio-economic life of the Harappan people:

1) A Kalibangan cylinder seal shows a woman flanked by two men who hold her with one hand and raise swords over her head with the other, this may represent the prevalence of human sacrifice.

2) Most of the writings appear on the seals and sealings. The writings on the seals was probably the language of the ruling elite. Most of the inscriptions are very short, with an average of five signs.

3) Seals provide information about the dresses, ornaments, hair-styles of people.

4) Seals also exhibit skill of artists and sculptors.

5) Both river boats and seafaring boats are depicted on the seals. They may have been used for both internal and external trade.

6) A number of Harappan seals have been found in Central Asia, Persian Gulf, Mesopotamian sites which help in reconstruction of the external trade networks of the Harappans-

a) A silver seal , a rectangular harappan seal bearing the Harappan script at the south Turkeminstan.

b) The sites in Iran have yielded seals.

c) A round seal with a short-horned bull motif and Harappan writing found in the Persian gulf. A flat, round seal with the Harappan script also found in the Persian gulf.

d) Seals with Harappan motifs and writings on the island of Bahrain.

e) Harappan or harappan-related seals at Mesopotamian sites.

f) Certain motifs such as the bull on the Mesopotamian seals have been cited as reflecting Harappan influence. Cylinder seals with Harappan-motifs suggest interaction between merchants of these two areas.

7) Some of the writings were impressed onto small moist clay tablets known as sealings, probably by merchants to authenticate their bales of merchandise. The evidence of textile impressions on some sealings support this interpretation.

8)Some of the seals may have been tokens used in the buying and selling of goods.

9)They may also have been worn as amulets or used as identification markers by the well-to-do people like landowners, merchants, priests, artisans and rulers.

10)Some of the seals may bear names, titles, and symbols of the ruling elites and could throw important light on the Harappan rulers, if the writing could be read.

11) Kenoyer suggests that the animals on the square stamp seals represent totemic symbols standing for a specific clan, perhaps along with some additional information. At least 10 clans or communities are represented by these animals- the unicorn, humped bull, elephant, water buffalo, rhinoceros, humped bull with short horns, goat, antelope, crocodile, and hare.

12) According to Ratnagar, the large number of unicorn seals at major cities suggest that the unicorn was the symbol of the Harappan ruling elite.

13) Kenoyer, on the other hand, argues that the ”unicorn clan” probably represented the aristocracy or merchants who had an important executive role in the government. It is in fact the less frequent motifs such as the bull, elephant, rhinoceros, and tiger that may have been symbols of the most powerful rulers at the apex of the Harappan power structure. 

The seals and sealings can be extremely significant in the reconstruction of socio-economic and religious life of the Harappan people if they are used along with the other literary and archaeological evidences.

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