Ancestral Dravidian languages in Indus Valley Civilisation


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

About the Study on Ancestral Dravidian languages

  • This study seeks to resolve a crucial part of this perennial puzzle of South Asian prehistory, through establishing the certain existence of ancestral Dravidian language(s) in the Indus Valley civilisation.
  • In the absence of any deciphered written documents of Indus Valley civilisation, there are no direct ways of identifying Harappan languages.
  • Thus, the only feasible starting point is to find certain 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 civilisation.


  • Analysing numerous archaeological, linguistic, archaeogenetic and historical evidences the study finds some such proto-words.
  • It claims that the words used for elephant (like, ‘pīri’, ‘pīru’) in Bronze Age Mesopotamia, the elephant-word used in the Hurrian part of an Amarna letter of ca. 1400 BC, 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 ( ‘*pel’/‘*pīl’/‘*piḷ’/).
  • The elephant words ‘pīlu’, ‘palla’, ‘pallava’, ‘piḷḷuvam’, etc., which are attested in various Dravidian dictionaries, are related to the Proto-Dravidian tooth-word “pal”.
  • 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.
  • Some trees of Salvadoraceae family, which are famous as ‘toothbrush tree’ in the western-world, and as ‘miswak’ tree (‘miswak’ meaning ‘toothcleaning-stick’) in the Arabic-speaking countries, are called by ‘pīlu’ and its phonological derivatives across the Indus valley regions.
  • In traditional medicine systems such as Indian Ayurveda and Perso-Arabic Tibb Yūnānī this tree is called as ‘pīlu’ and ‘pilun’ respectively.
  • Even today, people across the greater Indus Valley speak several tongues including Indo-Aryan, Dardic, Iranian, along with the isolated Dravidian language Brahui and the language isolate Burushaski. 

Back to Basics

Indus Valley Civilization

  • The History of India begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization, more precisely known as the Harappan Civilization. 
  • It flourished around 2,500 BC, in the western part of South Asia, what today is Pakistan and Western India. 
  • The Indus Valley was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. 
  • The ruins of buildings and other things like household articles, weapons of war, gold and silver ornaments, seals, toys, pottery wares, etc., show that some four to five thousand years ago a highly developed Civilization flourished in this region.
  • By 1500 BC, the Harappan culture came to an end. Among various causes ascribed to the decay of Indus Valley Civilization are the recurrent floods and other natural causes like earthquakes, etc.
  • Highly developed city life: many houses had wells and bathrooms as well as an elaborate underground drainage system. 
  • The Indus Civilization had a writing system, however, it is not deciphered yet.
  • The social conditions of the citizens were comparable to those in Sumeria and superior to the contemporary Babylonians and Egyptians. 

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. Ancestral Dravidian languages
  • 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.

Ancestral Dravidian languages

Source: The Hindu

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