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Vratyas in Indus Seals – I


Part 1 of 2 part paper that attempts to show how Vratyas/ Vratya-pati or Rudra described in Vedas is
Rekha Rao(http://indiafacts.org/author/rekha-rao/)
Indology(http://indiafacts.org/category/indology/) | 19-10-2017

Abstract

I
nterpreting Indus Seals by deploying the literary sources, social and cultural practices that prevailed i
hidden in the seals. Some of the Indus seals show a peculiar picture of a man merging with a tiger. The
and has long matted hair depicted horizontally like a snake. His head is decorated with a turban on w
flowers. The extended portion of the turban is held in the left hand. The merging with animal body is d
human and the back ones like tiger’s. The arms are serrated and depicted to be holding a long Stick, Shula o
characters correlate closely with the Rig Vedic description of a group of ascetics of tribal origin termed Vraty
10th mandala (Hymns of Rig Veda, 10.136.1-7 (Griffith, 1973). Since the depiction of vratyas is seen in the In
can say that Vratyas lived either before or during the time of Indus civilisation.

This paper attempts to trace the term Vratyas described in Vedas and how well the vratyas and Vratya pati
My analysis of the 4 seals here, show a strong correlation to Vedic practices that were followed in Indus peri

Type and Theme of Indus Seals


A brief Description of Seals:
The Indus / Harappan Seals, many as tiny as 3cms / 3.5cms, and weighing nine to ten grams approxima
expanse of Indus civilization sites of Harappa – Mohenjo-Daro and north Western parts of India, were
1931. These seals with finely executed carvings are the archaeological proof of the civilization that exis
Indus Seals are made of a type of Soft Stone called Steatite, a type of white or greenish rock, composed
temperatures. The softness of this variety of soap stone when freshly cut probably made it popular for
and Symbols.

The scholars are more inclined to accept the date of C-14 test and have fixed the lower date to be 1500
that the date of Rig Veda and the other three Vedas is said to be compiled approximately in 1400 B.C.E.
can be thus considered as the archaeological proof of the civilization of Vedic period. Some seals depic
the three sacrificial altars as Symbols inscribed that looks like Script, Support the view that the inform
related to fire altars of yajna. The social pattern of life and Vedic rituals that were in vogue during the V
considered as the primary tools to the study of seals. An insight into the Vedic rituals appears essential
as well as Indus civilisation that existed at least 3000 years ago.

The social order and the concept of God, their role as protectors and giver of wealth, the rituals adopte
dead Pitrus (fore fathers), the demons who bothered humans in many ways, all aspects that were proba
civilisation, got expressed in Rig Veda in a poetic form. Many seals depicted like an action tableau can
episodes of the Vedas. The social life pattern of the ancient Vedic civilisation can be seen depicted in th
information is documented in Symbol form for reasons – the script of language had not yet evolved. Th
were translated as archaeological proofs of seals over a period in the post Vedic period. The seals reflec
intellectual activity was concentrated on the yajna and sacrifices.

The Two Types of Seals – Vidhi and Arthavada:


The Indus Seals are mainly of two types. Firstly, the ones with a single horned bull or an animal represe
elephant along with five to ten Symbols inscribed. Secondly, some are the pictorial presentation of an e
without Symbols inscribed. The reason for the difference in representation could be understood when
rituals, as explained in the post Vedic literature, the Brahmana text are considered.

According to Arthur A Macdonell in “History of Sanskrit Literature”, “The period in which the Vedic
which produced a different type of literature, a theological treatise called Brahmanas.” Brahmanas are
sacrifice or Yajna, explained in a prose order for easy understanding. In other words, the name ‘Brahma
by a learned priest for those who were familiar with the sacrifice procedures. The description, though n
Another Set of Work regarded as auxiliary and the six limbs of the Vedas called Vedangas were made in
proper phonetical and ritual understanding of Vedas. One of the Vedangas was the Kalpa, which also de
associated with performance like how and when the rituals of sacrifices are performed. The figures and
analyzed appeared to have the contents of Brahmana texts; hence, may belong to a period later to Brah
was made in seals for the brief coded form of contents of Vedas. Though the Brahmana texts deal with
were considered as the main type of explaining a ritual. The Six Categories were — Vidhi, Arthavada, Ni
Parakriti. Vidhi-dealt with the rules and injunctions of a yajna ritual Arthavada — dealt with explicator

The Vidhi type of explanations usually come with the picture of a single horned bull or an animal alon
sets forth the various details relating to a sacrifice like proper time, the place for sacrifice, the rite of in
the divinities, the oblations offered to them, the utensils and other materials used and the procedure o
the Chandas. The other details were conveyed symbolically in the inscription part. The Vidhi consists o
commandment- a sacred precept. (This type of seals is not a part of this article, but are discussed in my
Seals”, Rekha Rao).

Arthavada comprises the numerous explanatory remarks on the meaning of Mantras of particular rites
the rules of a Sacrifice and picturise a Sacrifice. In Arthavada, the ancient legends, most of which had t
demons as their central theme and narrate how Gods became powerful enough to vanquish the demon
arthavada set of Seals.

Arthavada seals also depict the variations in costume and the ornaments that adorn the figures becaus
representation of the descriptions given in Vedas. The figures of tribal origin wearing the costume of a
an elaborate head dress are shown in contrast to the hair style, tied into a bun of the priestly class. The
form, Complete in physical structure, are full of action and expression, presented like a perfect picture
thoughts have precision in their execution. In addition, the tools used being sophisticated contributed
the seals. The caliber of narration of episodes with illustrations in the Indus seals can be compared to m
Sophistication. The Symbols and motifs have been used extensively to convey the vast information of r

Who were Vratyas?


Regarding the literary evidences for vratyas, the Rig Veda, generally, employs the term Vratya or Kesins
inimical horde, living in temporary settlements. Satha Rudriya of YajurVeda, the Vratya Kanda (15th
and Jaiminiya Brahmana (2:222) introduces Vratyas as nomadic ascetics roaming about themselves in a
however, addresses them as divine – Vratyas (Daiva Vai Vratyah). The Vajasaneyi Samhita refers to them
truth. They seem to have been a community of ascetics living under a set of Strange religious vows call
(http://indiafacts.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Indus-Seals-with-Vratya-Figures.jpg)

Fig.1 and 2: Indus Seals with Vratya Figures

The Vratyas worshipped elements of nature like Agni, Vayu, and Varuna; however, Rudra was their pref
and some in groups, away from populated areas, following their own cult-rules and practises. They wer
everywhere; roamed from the Indus valley to banks of the Ganga. They were non-conformists and rejec
their rituals. They were an atrociously heterogeneous Community; and moved like rebels in a group of
amazing community of the Vratyas included talented ones like magicians, medicine men, singers, myst
roaming warriors, mercenaries, poison eaters, libidinous pleasure seekers and wandering Swarm of aus
violent and some others were refined and austere.

The Dress Code of Vratyas:


The Vratyas were wanderers (indicated in the Seal by a fearless animal, attached to human body). RigVe
ascetics called Kesins-(the other term for vratyas) who were wearers of long loose hair or locks of hair t
Kesin mean – a lion, is from the root word Keshara-meaning the mane of a lion, with luxuriant hair, als
prominent of a class. They were Muni or ascetics, who worshiped elements of nature like Sun, air, mois
be in a state of ecstasy and never wore any girdle on waist or Yajnopavita like a dvija or brahmin class.
of Sage Vata Rashana – which meant wind girdled or moving like wind in life style, following their own
Veda (Griffith) 10.136.1-7says about Vratyas:

“He (Kesins) with the long loose locks supports Agni and moisture, has all sky to look upon (meaning fr
light

The munis girdled with wind, wore garments Soiled of yellow hue (means the skin of animals). They fo
where the Gods have gone before.

Transported with munihood mortal men, behold our natural bodies and no more (were naked).The stee
God’s impelled, in both the oceans hath his home in eastern and in Western Sea.”

The address of sea may be indicative of the mighty rivers Ganga and Sindhu.

Vratyas were distinguished by their black turbans (Krishnam Ushnisham Dharayanti) worn in a slanting
(Kesi). This is depicted in seals as long Snake like head decoration. Atop was the buds of plants attache
ears (Pravartau). Varieties of neck ornaments were hanging by the neck across the chest with rows of lo
Swinging. Two (dvi) deer-skins were tied together for lower garment, (displayed as a long piece of skin
extracted from the animal), and sandals for the feet (Upanahau). They carried a lance called Pra-toda
shoulders.

The Vratyas spoke the dialect of Prachya, the source of the languages of ancient Eastern India. It is also
language of the initiated (Dikshita – vac), though not themselves initiated (Adikshita), however, also us
durukta) and difficult to utter. (Panchavinsa Brahmana 17.1.9). This may mean that the Vratyas were fa
Sanskrit and in Prakrit. Vratyas did not use refined Vedic dialect in their speech nor hired a priest of ev
They lived alone or in groups, away from populated areas. They followed their own Cult rules and pract

Lifestyle of Vratyas:
Vratyas observed their own set of rituals, different from the Vedic prescriptions Vratya Sukta of Atharv
descriptions of these Magis. The Vratyas used a rickety cart that was in bad condition called Vipatha, w
by a mule. The Indus figurines of a rickety cart, hitherto classified as a toy for children may be the cart
together project a truly impressive, Colourful and awe-inspiring image of the Wandering Vratyas.

Panchavinsh Brahmana 17.1.9-15 further states that the Vratya leader wore a turban (usinisha), carried
(Jyadroda, also called Pinaka), was clothed in a black (Krsnasa) garment and two skins (Ajina), black and
a rough wagon (Vipatha) covered with planks (Phalakastirna). The others, followers of the group or sub
with fringes of red (Valukantani Dam Atusam). They did not consider either the rituals or for initiations
Brahmacharyam Charanthi). They did not engage themselves in agriculture (Na Krishim) or in trade (
were possessed (Gandharva Grithaha) or drunk or just mad. The Scholars generally believe, what has co
residue of the Cult-practises of the Vratyas. The Tantra, event this day, is considered non-Vedic, if not a

The Atharvaveda mentions that Vratyas were also a set of talented composers and singers. Their prefer
with wind. Vratyas knew the art and effect of controlled breathing and used it in their music. They foun
probably hold the notes longer – when they practised what they called Pranayama, a type of breath con
with nature. There is, therefore, a school of thought, which asserts, what came to be known as Yoga in t
ascetic and ecstatic practises of the Vratyas. The vratyas who could imitate the sounds of nature in the
evolved divijas to chant the samans of Samaveda in a melodious form. The Vratyas were, therefore said
evolved ascetics and yogis.

The Vratyas roamed about near the furrowed lands of sacrificial arena and probably consumed the germ
furrows inscribed in the seal Fig. 1, probably indicates the furrowed land where, the orthodox Brahmin
furrows for the six seasons) and they were sowing the seeds as a perpetual source of food. Vratyas cons
called unevolved.

The Vratyas did not observe the orthodox Yajna of offering Soma juice to Indra. They crushed Soma an
observing any ritual procedure. The pounding Stone Ashman, one Span long, narrower at upper end ha
symbols of the inscription of the seal, Fig.2. The pressing stones, generally four in number were used fo
Soma twig. The Putika, replacement of Soma is indicated in the seal as the last Symbol of figure-2, whi
consumed by a Vratyas. The Symbol of Soma twig and Ashman stones indicates the Vratyas crushed ou
getting into rituals of offering it to Indra before.

To be continued…

The article first appeared in Arnava Vol VI No 1 (2017) and has been republished with permission.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions
not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness,suitability,or vali
article.

Rekha Rao(http://indiafacts.org/author/rekha-rao/)
Independent Researcher and Indologist, Mysore

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मारुत् वक्ता ! • 5 months ago


A very well researched piece. I'm eager to read the II part. But I'm very very skeptical ab
Sindhu Civilization(SSC). BC 1500 is the time when SSC's dicline started and they starte
Great Plains. The reason for this is the drying up of Mahaanadi Saraswati. Described th
and the Dwapara, one can trace the declining flow and the eventual drying up of Mahaa
her as Mahanadi, Saagarasadrusha, which flows from Mighty Himaalayas to the Great S
This continues in Tretaa, But in Dwapara during the Great War of Kurukshetra They ha
Saraswati is slowly drying up. She eventually dried up around BC1900. So thorough stu
riverbed and dating is very essential for fixing the antiquity of our great civilization. Ma
most physical evidence that will push our great civilization back in time to at least 7000
16 △ ▽ • Reply • Share ›

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