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Dravidian Languages Spoken In IVC


A recent publication has provided crucial evidence that Ancestral Dravidian languages were possibly spoken by a significant population in the Indus Valley civilisation.


GS-I: History (Ancient Indian History), Prelims, GS-I: Art and Culture (Languages)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Indus Valley Civilization
  2. What is the relevance of Harappa in today’s world?
  3. Proto-Dravidian language
  4. Dravidian languages
  5. About the recent study on Dravidian Languages and the IVC

About Indus Valley Civilization

  • The history of India begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), also known as Harappan Civilization which flourished around 2,500 BC, in the western part of South Asia (contemporary Pakistan and Western India).
  • The Indus Valley was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China.
  • In 1920s, the Archaeological Department of India carried out excavations in the Indus valley wherein the ruins of the two old cities, viz. Mohenjodaro and Harappa were unearthed.
  • Three phases of IVC are:
  1. the Early Harappan Phase from 3300 to 2600 BCE,
  2. the Mature Harappan Phase from 2600 to 1900 BCE, and
  3. the Late Harappan Phase from 1900 to 1300 BCE.

What is the relevance of Harappa in today’s world?

  • Harappan civilisation is amongst the first major urban civilisation that stretched over an area of 1.5 million square kilometres (the size of a modest sized modern country).
  • It was highly standardised architecture, art and utilitarian items.
  • It traded over an even larger area, getting raw material and exporting (to region where its standardisation rules did not apply) finished products, traders and some of its habits to different regions.
  • The occurrence of the first civilization from which the emergence of the city and urbanism can be understood
  • Their expertise in town planning, water management and harvesting systems as well as drainage mechanism is unparalleled.
  • They had public and private wells at most of their sites and their houses were often equipped with bathing areas and toilets.
  • They were also technologically very advanced in pyrotechnics and metallurgy.
  • Their craftsmanship is evident in their beads, jewelry, pottery, seals as well as other artifacts made of metals and their alloys.
  • Their trade networks were also quite widespread.
  • They had standardized weights and measures.
  • They often used standardized bricks in their architecture.
  • Recent research has suggested that Harappan people were probably the first ones to introduce silk and lost-wax casting techniques.
  • No large-scale weapons have been discovered from the Harappan sites which also suggests that they did not indulge in warfare.
  • It post-dated the great cultures of Mesopotamia and was contemporaneous to Sumerian cultures.
  • However, it received a lot of ideas also from Central Asia and in many ways, it collected the finest of ideas and technologies.
  • Among other things, the Harappan civilization provides important insights into the relationship between civilizational collapse, violence, and disease.
  • Global bodies and governmental organizations seeking to make predictions about global warming in the contemporary context have essentialized the relationship between climate change, environmental migration, and violence.

Proto-Dravidian language

  • Proto-Dravidian is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Dravidian languages.
  • It is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian, and Proto-South Dravidian, although the date of diversification is still debated.
  • As a proto-language, Proto-Dravidian is not itself attested in historical records. Its modern conception is based solely on reconstruction.
  • The reconstruction has been done on the basis of cognate words present in the different branches (Northern, Central and Southern) of the Dravidian language family.

Dravidian languages

  • Dravidian is a family of languages spoken by 220 million people, mainly in southern India and north-east Sri Lanka, with pockets elsewhere in South Asia.
  • The Dravidian languages are first attested in the 2nd century BCE as Tamil-Brahmi script inscribed on the cave walls in the Madurai and Tirunelveli districts of Tamil Nadu.
  • The Dravidian languages with the most speakers are (in descending order of number of speakers) Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam, all of which have long literary traditions. Smaller literary languages are Tulu and Kodava.
  • here are also a number of Dravidian-speaking scheduled tribes, such as the Kurukh in Eastern India and Gondi in Central India.
  • Only two Dravidian languages are spoken exclusively outside the post-1947 state of India: Brahui in the Balochistan region of Pakistan and Afghanistan; and Dhangar, a dialect of Kurukh, in parts of Nepal and Bhutan.
  • Dravidian place names along the Arabian Sea coasts and Dravidian grammatical influence such as clusivity in the Indo-Aryan languages, namely, Marathi, Gujarati, Marwari, and Sindhi, suggest that Dravidian languages were once spoken more widely across the Indian subcontinent.

About the recent study on Dravidian Languages and the IVC

  • Analysing numerous archaeological, linguistic, archaeogenetic and historical evidences the study finds some proto-words whose likely origin in Indus Valley civilisation gets confirmed through historical and linguistic evidence (whereas archaeological evidence indicates that the objects signified by those proto-words were prevalently produced and used in the Indian Valley civilization).
  • The study claims that the words used for elephant (like, ‘pīri’, ‘pīru’) in Bronze Age Mesopotamia and the ivory-word (‘pîruš’) recorded in certain sixth century BC Old Persian documents, were all originally borrowed from ‘pīlu’, a Proto-Dravidian elephant-word, which was prevalent in the Indus Valley civilisation, and was etymologically related to the Proto Dravidian tooth-word ‘*pal’ and its alternate forms.
  • The paper points out that elephant-ivory was one of the luxury goods coveted in the Near East, and archaeological, and zoological evidence confirms that Indus Valley was the sole supplier of ancient Near East’s ivory in the middle-third to early-second millennium BC.
  • Some of this Indus ivory came directly from Meluhha to Mesopotamia, whereas some of it got imported there through Indus Valley’s thriving trade with Persian Gulf, and even via Bactria.
  • Thus, along with the ivory trade, the Indus word for ivory also got exported to the Near East and remained fossilised in different ancient documents written in Akkadian, Elamite, Hurrian, and Old Persian languages.
  • However, the study says that it would be very wrong to assume that only a single language or language-group was spoken across the one-million square kilometre area of Indus Valley civilisation.

-Source: The Hindu

February 2024