Fish Symbolism in Indus Valley Epigraphy and Protohistoric Accounts


  • Shamashis Sengupta Université Paris-Saclay


Indus Valley civilization, Rajasthan, Chalcolithic cultures, Flood myth, Vedic period, Indus script


The contribution of the Indus Valley civilization to the historic cultures of South Asia is a matter of debate due to a discontinuity in material culture, from the time of its decline to the reappearance of urbanization several centuries later. Progress in the epigraphy of the Indus Valley has been hindered by the absence of a bilingual inscription and the brevity of its texts. One of the most frequent signs encountered in its undeciphered writing system is the pictogram of ‘fish’. On a few seal inscriptions, this sign appears alone, suggesting that it represented a meaningful word or a name. It is noteworthy that Indian literature of later centuries recounts a protohistoric kingdom named Matsya in the vicinity of the Indus Valley sites, as matsya is the Sanskrit word for ‘fish’ and a divinity in the form of a fish is celebrated in the Indian version of the flood myth. An analysis of these narratives is presented in this paper, revealing the possibility of an association with the Indus Valley civilization of the more distant past. These observations indicate that fish symbolism may have occupied a place of prominence in Indus culture from political and religious perspectives. The Matsya territory mentioned in Vedic and epic literature is discussed in light of the chalcolithic cultures of Rajasthan, and it is suggested that this region witnessed successive waves of migration of different cultural groups due to its economic importance related to the exploitation of copper reserves.




How to Cite

Sengupta, S. (2023). Fish Symbolism in Indus Valley Epigraphy and Protohistoric Accounts. Studia Orientalia Electronica, 11(1), 86–102.