Saraswati and Ushas in the Harappan Seals




       There is also indirect evidence for the presence of Hinduism in the Indus cities. The name of the Mitanni (14th cent. BC) is an echo of the Vedic Mitra. They worshipped Vedic gods like Indra, Varuna, Mitra and Nasatiya. Again the Kashi people (Kassites) who migrated to Sumer from the Zagros area about 1750 BC also worshipped Hindu gods like Suryash and Maruttash and, according to Toynbee, spoke a Sanskrit-like language. However, it is important to note that the religion of the Harappans may have been substantially different from Vedic religion although the Vedas provide a rough framework for studying it. In this respect the data from the seals assume great importance.

      One of the frequently occurring signs in the seal is the compound symbol which occurs on 236 seals. Many scholars have held that the Indus symbols are often conjugated. Thus the symbol can be seen as a compound between  and the symbol which may represent the sceptre which designated royal authority and may thus be read as ‘Ras’. The symbol-pair   occurs in 131 texts and in many copper plate inscriptions which shows its great religious significance. The ending ‘Tri’ or ’Ti’ is significant and cannot but remind one of the great Tri-names like Saraswati and Gayatri.  As Uksha was often shortened to ‘Sa’ the sign-pair  becomes Sarasa-tri or Sarasvati.


       However, Saraswati appears to have been much more than just a river name. Further clarification on Goddess Sarasvati comes from a study of Goddess Ushas.

     From the the Vedas we may now turn to a priceless historical source - Herodotus, who writes,


The following are certain Persian customs which I can describe from personal knowledge. The erection of statues, temples, and altars is not an accepted practice amongst them, and anyone who does such a thing is considered a fool, because, presumably, the Persian religion is not anthropomorphic like the Greek. Zeus, in their system, is the whole circle of the heavens, and they sacrifice to him from the tops of mountains. They also worship the sun, moon, and earth, fire, water, and winds, which are their only original deities: it was later that they learned from the Assyrians and Arabians the cult of Uranian Aphrodite. The Assyrian name for Aphrodite is Mylitta, the Arabian Alilat, the Persian Mitra.


According to most commentators Herodotus' portrayal of Mitra as a kind of Uranian Aphrodite is a horrible mistake but this may be a hasty conclusion. The great historian, in fact, may be providing a crucial information here that greatly clarifies the complex nature of the god/goddess Mitra in Indo-Iran. Herodotus' 'Persia' often includes 'India' but even here a Goddess named Mitra or Mitrâ is not known. The problem merits study from a wider perspective.

       Is Herodotus referring here to Ushas, "the most graceful creation of the Vedic seers" according to A. A. Macdonell ? It is well known that Mitra and Ushas were both solar deities. In the RigVeda (I.123.5) Ushas is said to be related to Varuna who is often jointly invoked with Mitra. As Varuna is associated with waters, the same may be true of Ushas. Was Ushas the presiding deity at the great bath at Mohenjo-daro?

      Ushas is also described as a sister of Bhaga, who is also a solar God like Mitra. Is the name Bhagavati of Sarasvati (and also of Durga) a reminder of her links with Bhaga who was a brother of Ushas? Bhaga may correspond to Baga of Persia and Mary Boyce writes that Baga also meant Mitra. This indicates a close relation of Ushas with Mitra.

      A striking confirmation of the identification of the symbol as Uksha(n) comes from a seal depicting a king kneeling before a great goddess who has been identified by some scholars as Ushas.


Seal depicting Goddess Ushas and the sign

      The stylized symbol around the goddess clearly suggests the Uksha symbol which appears to be linked to Ushas. From the trident symbol on the head of the goddess surrounded by the symbol , the very important symbol which has a frequency of 118, can be identified as Ushas or Usha. Of the 118 occurrences 110 are in the duplet which seems to have special importance. Ushas can be easily seen to be the feminine counterpart of Uksha.  

Seal no. 4049 reads __ Yamina Saraswati Usha Uksha. Seal no. 5076 10   can be read as __ __ Maha Kal Usha Uksha which may indicate that Ushas was a priestess of Mahakal.

      It is probable that the mythology of Ushas later became transformed into that of the graceful goddess of learning - Saraswati. 

       The father of Ushas was Dyaus, who is probably represented by in the seals. Dyaus later became transformed into the figure of Brahma. Significantly the incestuous relation alleged between Ushas and Dyaus has a counterpart in that between Brahma and Saraswati. Furthermore Asvins are said to be the companions of both Ushas and Saraswati. 

Urania was the muse of astronomy and astrology. Just like Mitra she is associated with stars. The name Urania seems to be related to Varuna and hence also to Mitra.