Volume 48 1939 > Volume 48, No. 190 > The panis of the Rig Veda and script of Mohenjo Daro and Easter Island, by N. M. Billimoria, p 92-103
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Read before the Sind Historical Society, on August 1st, 1937, and extracted, with acknowledgements, from their Journal for January, 1938, vol. 3, part 2.

THERE is no doubt that the script on seals at Mohenjo Daro and Harappa and the tablets found at Easter island are similar. An authority on archaeology says it is fortuitous. But Prof. M. G. Hevesy in a paper “Sur une Ecriture Oceanienne paraissant d'origine Neolethique” read before the Societe Prehistorique Francaise, has shown that 130 signs are similar—he has put several signs side by side to support his statement—that cannot have happened by chance.

No two learned persons have agreed as to the use of the seals—much less has the script been read. Some assign the seals as mercantile marks—some say they are letters, bills of lading, I.O.Us.; Prof. Hevesy says as the seals were found in houses they were offerings to the deity, and the script, the name of the person making the gift to his animal deity.

The seals have been studied by several savants like Prof. Langdon and Dr. Hunter of the Oxford University without success. They have agreed that it can be read from right to left, in many cases it was “boustrophedon”—manner of writing alternatively from right to left, and from the left to the right—or as the French Dictionary gives, “maniere d'ecrire alternativement de droite a gauche, et de gauche a droite sans discontinuer la ligne.”

I have prepared a thesis on “the Panis of the Rig Veda and the script of Mohenjo Daro and the Easter island” which may or may not be published—however, I give a precis of it.

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Seals from Middle-Indus.

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Let us first examine the tablets found at Easter island. This island is 2,600 miles from Valparaiso; 1,400 miles from Pitcairn island and 2,750 miles from Tahiti. It belongs to the Government of Chile. Easter island, the remotest part of Chilean territory has been linked with the main land by means of a powerful wireless station, and the authorities on the island have already communicated with Antogafasta and other stations. In the past, Easter island, which is leased to a Scottish firm for cattle raising, has relied on the yearly visit of a steamer chartered by the firm for its contact with the outside world. It is also occasionally visited by Chilean warships. The Chilean Government has recently renewed the lease of the island to the British firm.

On this island there are large stone statues—30 to 40 feet high; it is a puzzle to solve how they were erected—these blocks weighing tons; how they were moved often 15 miles and then set up on stone platforms. It appears that Easter island was once a continent. A large population was necessary to account for the manufacture and transportation of gigantic statues. No earthquake seems to have visited the island. Even the purpose of these statues is not known. It is generally supposed that they were commemorative of chiefs or kings and erected after their death.

Hotua Matua, the pioneer, introduced in this island all the food plants and clothing and timber plants, dogs and pigs, etc.; the animals were introduced three times, and they were eaten away thrice.

The Pioneer had brought with him about 67 tablets by which he exerted great influence on the people of Easter island. It was a collection of hymns and songs and genealogies and traditions which he brought with him. The tablets consist of lines of hieroglyphic-like outline figures arranged in rows. To save the precious incisions from rubbing, the wooden tablet was slightly grooved and the letters were engraved in these grooves, the ridges between the grooves thus preventing contact with the face of the script.

It was perhaps the emphasis on sexuality in these tablets that made the basis of the Easter island belief in their virtue as aids to conception. There are other religious cues of the characters; the great god Makemake is very often repeated; it is made of bird, mammal, sometime human and fish; it - 94 takes varieties of forms. He is the representative of power; he is seated on his throne, with symbols of royal authority in his hands; his head touches the heavens and he wields the lightning and thunder, just as Indra of the Rig Veda. He may possibly have been the conqueror or unifier of the empire that could realize the idea of Easter island as a great Mausoleum; and the Pioneer, Hotua Matua, as the surviving representative of that empire made the most of the god.

Some natives professed to read the tablets. Bishop Jaussen of Tahiti heard about these tablets; he heard that they were used as firewood. The Bishop tried to have them read. He says “we must give it up; there is nothing in it.” Mr. Croft, an American resident of Papeete, writes in 1874 that he was cruelly disappointed in his interpreter. The Easter islander who was recommended to him came to him one Sunday and translated one of the tablets; he wrote down the translation, but mislaid it; the next time he got the reader to start again on the same tablet he gave a different translation; he was asked to come again; in the meantime the original translation was found, and this was quite different from the second interpretation; the third time the translator gave a third version, quite different from the former two; the man was dismissed with a remark that it is impossible that the same characters should have three different meanings on three different Sundays, and he warned the Bishop to be on his guard against such discrepancies in the so-called translations of the tablets. Mr. Croft reports destruction of many tablets at the behest of the missionaries.

The first missionary, Brother Eugenio Eyraud was the person to report of the existence of the tablets to Bishop Jaussen. The next to make an attempt to translate the tablets was the Mohican party in December, 1886. When at Tahiti they took photographs of the Bishop's tablets and purchased the only two that remained in the island. They got hold of an old man Ure Vaciko, who was supposed to know the script. After great difficulty he was induced to interpret. “Ure Vaciko's fluent interpretation of the tablet was not interrupted though it became evident that he was not actually reading the characters. It was noticed that the shifting

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Inscribed tablets from Easter island. (In British Museum)
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One of the Easter island tablets; it is known as Mamari, and is preserved by the Brothers Picpus at Braine-le-Comte.
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of position did not accord with the number of symbols on the lines and afterwards when the photograph of another tablet was substituted the same story continued without change being discovered; nor could he give the signification of hieroglyphs copied indiscriminately from tablets already marked; he explained at great length that the actual value and significance of the symbols had been forgotten, but the tablets were recognized by unmistakable features, just as a person might recognize a book in a foreign language and be perfectly sure of the contents without being able to actually read it.”

It is by no means improbable that the genealogies, songs, and hymns given were really what the tablets stood for; for at the annual feast the people were taught to recognize each tablet as they recited or heard recited what it contained, and in 1886 the old language had been mutilated and filled with words from Tahiti and Mangareva.

Every year the Pioneer called all the Maoris of the island together with their newly cut copies of old tablets on boards, planks of old canoes, to inspect them and hear them recite the traditions, genealogies, and prayers they were supposed to represent. This annual feast went on till the Peruvians carried most of the residents away. The Pioneer made the tablets the sacred book of their religion; and when the professional reciters were carried away, we have the authority of Brother Eyraud, who spent nine months on the island, that they were little esteemed by the people. It is a tradition that after a fight a warrior would go to a Maori and ask him to record the number of men he had slain. The names, etc. of the kings have not been engraved in the script on the burial platforms or on the statues, and this seems to imply that the script was a priestly secret only to be used for religious purposes, only by priests in their ceremonies. Each character was probably an aid to memory giving the cue to some sentence or idea, or lengthy prayer, hymn, or incantation. This is probably the explanation of the constant repetition of the figure Make-make; the whole religion is centred round the supreme god; and his form stirred religious emotions rather than ideas; the script is pathographic rather than ideographic.

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The prominence given to the conventionalized VULVA amongst the characters was the source of the fertilizing power that the natives believed belonged to the tablets; it is repeated over and over again and stood for numerous different forms of emotions connected with procreation and fecundity; this was the reason why it was tattooed on the virgin to certify that she was marriageable, and on the hands of men to show that they were producers. The tablets like the king's skull were cherished as stimulators of fertility, and that was why so many of them were found in every hut. At every feast the recitation was essential as the feasters longed for increase in the produce of land and sea. The idea of reproduction was never out of the minds of the people where starvation always stared them in the face. The great pioneer would have failed to make the tablets instruments of religion and power had it not been impregnated with the passion of procreation.

In 1886 the Mohican party visited the island for scientific purposes. They saw so many of the giant statues fallen down from burial platforms, so many images roughly carved out, and some even ready for launching; the workmen's tools were lying by where they had thrown them; the party came to the conclusion that this meant the sudden hand of nature. But as stated above there is no sign of volcanic outburst on the island; why the artists did not return to their work after the upheaval is a problem. The submergence of the larger part of the island is assumed. In native language the name of the island meant “the navel or centre of the world.” Tradition, legend, and observations of modern sailors combine to indicate Easter island as the centre of an archipelagic world that surrounded it at various distances. One of these to the west was distinguished as being a land of temples, probably cyclopean like the maraes of Rarotonga and Marquesas. Another to the east stretched from the south-east away to the north-west beyond the horizon, probably right across the tropics; and it was marked by lofty mountains, which probably with the rains from the tropics bore great forests and sheltered in the valleys rich gardens and cultivation. In this perhaps, writes Dr. Brown in his The Riddle of the Pacific we have a solution of the mystery of Easter island.

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We should not forget the Inca civilization in Central America. Lake Titicaca is an inland sea of 3,000 square miles. This huge lake is the cradle of a vanished civilization—that of the Incas.

Now I will try to show how the script of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, that is Sapta Sindhu, old Punjab and Sind, was carried thousands of miles away to the Eastern island. My idea is only a theory, and I trust that some scholars can base their further research on the materials supplied by me.

I would add a word more about the age of the wooden tablets. Professor Hevesy in his paper gives illustrations of seals of Mohenjo Daro and of the tablets found at Easter island; about the later he says “un des ‘bois parlants’ de l'Ile de Paques; la tablette dite Mamari conservee par les Freres de Picpus a Braine-le-Comte—On observera un certain nombre de signes communs.” That is, one of the “speaking wood” of the Easter island—tablet called mamari preserved by Picpus Brothers at Brain le Comte. One can see certain number of signs common to both. The Professor adds that another tablet, preserved in Liningard museum has the form of a club, weapon called mere which the chiefs of New Zealand used to carry, which was moreover, often of wood as the tablets.

About the age of the tablets, the Professor says we know nothing; but we know that the wood can be preserved for a very long time. At Louvre the Egyptian wooden statues, date from the fifth dynasty—that is to say the fourth millenium before Christ. Thus then any age is possible.

The tablets are made of Podocarpus, a tree which does not grow on Easter island. It is not certain that it is Podocarpus latifolia, which grows in the tropics, Moluccas, Celebes, and even in Central America; or Podocarpus ferruginea, which is found at New Zealand. The natives of Easter island call their most important tree the Sophora, which is in New Zealand.

The writing on the tablets was not done on the island; but tradition says that the Pioneer, Hotu-matua came to the island in two big boats and three hundred warriors with their - 98 families about 900 years ago. He brought 67 tablets with him.

Professor Hevesy says that Baron Heine-Geldern, Professor of the Vienna University has written to him that he found certain relations between the native culture of New Zealand from which the inhabitants of Easter island seem to have originated, and Neolithic culture of North China.

Professor F. W. Thomas in reviewing the 3 vols. of Sir John Marshall's Mohenjo-Daro, compared the Indus script with the earliest Chinese writing in which he recognized a number of similar symbols.

Professor Shirokogoroff has written to Mon. Hevesy from Pekin; “As experiment I have shown your characters, after explaining their origin, to the Chinese who are familiar with ancient Chinese writings. They recognize it as ‘Chinese,’ and they read the letters in Chinese. It is at least very curious and perhaps significant. I hope to show them to the competent Chinese.”

We should not forget that at the end of Paleolithic and at the beginning of Neolithic period a mixture of races existed in Indo-China as perhaps nowhere else at that period.

Professor Hevesy compares the features and position of crossed legs of a person found on Easter island tablet with nearly the same figure found on kmer art relics found in Indo-China. Another form of similarity is the arch on the tablets. The Polynesians knew nothing or very little as the people of Mohenjo Daro knew; he has found only two instances—its form with the two blended ends and the little projecting centre is the same. He comes to the only conclusion that the writings of the Indus and Oceania belong to the same stock.

From above it will be seen that there is no doubt that the signs on the tablets at Easter island and the seals at Mohenjo Daro and Harappa are similar. The similarity is not chance. My theory (only theory, I have no positive proofs) is that the Panis mentioned in the Rig Veda, who had the wandering lust, must have carried the writings of Sapta-Sindhu, Old Punjab and Sindh, to Assam, Indo-China and Australia.

These Panis or Vaniks, a branch of the Aryan race, lived on the eastern coast of Sapta Sindhu. These merchants had - 99 safe harbour, and obtained timber from the Himalaya for ship-building. The Aryans hated these Panis on account of their extreme avarice and niggardliness. The Panis did not worship Indra. They were money lenders. They were persecuted by the Rigvedic Aryans and were virtually driven out of Sapta Sindhu.

Rig Veda does not make mention of the Deccan, or Vindhya mountains or the rivers Narmada, Gadavari, Krishna, etc. There is geological evidence to prove that in early times Southern India formed part of a vast continent which extended from Burma and South China on the east to East and South Africa on the west, and from the Vindhya Hills on the north to Australia on the south.

I will give a very short history of the wanderings of the Panis and how they helped in the course of several years to spread such culture as they possessed over a large portion of the then known world.

The Panis left Sapta-Sindu through sheer necessity. They first settled among the Cholas and Pandyas of Southern India; these aborigines learnt from the Panis the culture and spirit of navigation and trade. From this place they went to the coasts on the Persian Gulf, accompanied by the Cholas; there they settled down for generations; they were in constant commnuication with South India, became friendly with the aboriginal inhabitants and taught them their principal vocation—trade.

When after ages the colony was invaded by the uncivilized Semites the Panis moved on towards the north and settled on the sea-coast of Syria, which they called Phoenicia, or the land of the Panis or Panikas.

This land gave them facilities to trade in the islands of the Greek Archipelago, South Europe, and North Africa. The Panis had several slaves with whose assistance they manufactured articles of trade; they became a prosperous and powerful people; they founded colonies in the islands of the Mediterranean and on the coasts of North Africa. Carthage was a Phoenician colony, and we know what part she played in South and Western Europe. In all the countries where the Panis settled they taught the original inhabitants the arts of civilized life. They traded by sea as far as the - 100 coast of Great Britain and ancient France and even Scandinavia, whose aborigines learnt from the Panis the use of metals and the art of agriculture. Thus the Panis or Phoenicians spread Aryan culture not only among the Semitic peoples of Western Asia and Arabia but also among the early pre-historic people of Egypt, North Africa, the Greeks, the Romans, the Iberians, the Celts, and the Gauls of Europe. It is said that the Phoenicians had settlements far up on the northern shores of Norway also, where they spread the worship of their god Baal.

As the Panis were traders they were the first to invent a purely alphabetical script, which was afterwards borrowed and improved on by Greeks. The Semites also, with the help of the Chaldeans who were originally the Cholas of South India, founded the famous kingdoms of Babylonia and Assyria, to which also the early European civilization was greatly indebted. The ancient Egyptians, which are considered to be an amalgamation of the Punic race (the Panis) the Pandyas of the Malabar coast of South India, and the aboriginal inhabitants of the land, developed a civilization, which had great influence over European civilization. The Greeks received their culture from the Phoenicians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians, and imparted it to the Romans, who in turn passed it on to the Iberians, the Celts, the Teutons, and Slavs.

The above is a rapid sketch of the interesting romance of the expansion of Indo-Aryan civilization from Sapta-Sindhu and the Deccan over Western Asia, Northern Africa, and Europe.

Besides being great merchants, the Panis possessed a large number of cattle; the Rishis also stood in great need of them, since their sacrifices could not be performed without milk, ghee and curd.

Regular and systematic attempts had to be made by the ancient Aryans to steal away the cattle of the Panis. Thus a deadly hostility sprang up between the two, the sacrificers stealing away the cows whenever they could and the Panis recovering them heroically. In Hymn 108, book X of the Rig Veda a very interesting description is given of how the Rishis sent Sarama to the Panis to get hold of a number of - 101 cows from them; she was not successful. In the Sukta of the Rig-veda in which is related the affair between Sarama and the Panis quoted above, it is clearly stated that she had to cross the river Rasa to reach the quarters of the Panis for they ask her how she had crossed the River (X. 108, 1). How have you crossed the waters of the Rasa? This gives us a valuable geographical position; for this river passing through Khorasan and Gandhara (modern Afghanistan) flowed into the Indus. We learn from the Rig Veda that the Panis had strongholds on the banks of this river, and that their sway extended over Eastern India also. We also find from the Book of Kings that the Phoenician Chief Hiram, King of Tyre from B.C. 970-936 contributed cedar and fig trees as well as workmen and gold for Solomon's palace and temple. In return Hiram received the grant of a territory in Cabul (i. Kings IX, 14). These bear a great testimony to their greatness.

On the authority of Herodotus the En. Britannica states:

The Phoenicians themselves retained some memory of having migrated from older seats on an eastern sea. Herodotus calls it the Red Sea, meaning probably the Persian Gulf; the tradition therefore seems to show that the Phoenicians believed that the ancestors came originally from Babylonia; by settling along the Syrian coast they developed a strangely un-Semitic love for the sea and advanced on different lines from the other Canaanites who occupied the interior. They called themselves Canaanites and their land Canaan… The Canaanite sailors were spoken of as the redmen on account of the sun-burnt skin.

While Nagendranath Vasu in his “Social History of Kamrupa” gives a different interpretation of the Red sea. He says that:

The Eastern Sea to the east of Phoenicia as mentioned by the Phoenicians is no other than the eastern sea (Purva-samudra) mentioned in the Manu-Samita as the eastern boundary of Arya varta or the Aryan land; and the red sea of Herodotus is also no other than the red sea (Lohita Sagar) so called for its blood red waters, mentioned in the Ramayan and Mahabharata. This points clearly to India as being the original home of the Phoenicians. The Panis life goes to prove a long way that the Panis and the Phoenicians were the same people, following the same calling, and there was a time when their authority was established over the whole of India. Evidently they were compelled by the Vedic Aryans of Western India gradually to migrate eastward till they settled on the other side of the Karatoya on the shores of the Lohita Sagar.

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In short the writer means Mymensing and Sylhet districts. The river Lohita is the modern Brahmaputra.

Western antiquarians have decided that Phoenician culture and influence spread over Asia Minor and the whole of Southern Europe about 2, 000 years B.C.

It has not been ascertained when the Panis left India by sea and established the colony of Phoenicia along the coasts of Syria. From the account left by Herodotus, however, it is found that the very ancient capital of Phoenicia, the city of Tyre, was founded 2,300 years before him, i.e., 2,756 B.C. In these circumstances it may fairly be concluded that the Panis must have deserted the shores of India long before that date. From a consideration of the legend telling how Sargon I (about 3,800 B.C.) crossed the eastern sea, it will also appear that the Panis colonised themselves in Syria so long back as 5,717 years from now. And subsequently they gradually extended their sway as traders and rulers over Egypt and Asia Minor.

It appears from the authority of Rig Veda that the Panis had the principal centre to the west of the Rasa, which flowed into the Indus through Khorasan and Afghanistan. After the Vedic Aryans had succeeded in depriving the Panis of their possessions, the latter bade goodby to this centre of their influence and were divided into two parties, sailing along the Indus and ultimately settling into the region of Sauvira, and the other marching straight into Babylonia through Khorasan. The Kalakyas had no doubt a principal centre in Sauvira (Sind) and Hiranyapura. But here even they could not live in peace; the Aryans attacked them very frequently and made their life miserable till some of them found it necessary to migrate to the Deccan and others took to the hills of Eastern India.

It seems that the branch of these people which sailed along the Rasa and settled in Babylonia subsequently came to be known by the name of Sumerian after the place of their residence. Whether out of fear of the Vedic Aryans or for any other cause they may have studiously concealed their original racial name Pani.

It is these Panis of the Vedic Age who have passed as Phoenicians in the western civilized world and later as - 103 Baniks in India. The ancient Greeks and Germans called them Fonik or Fenek and even Punic. Herodotus wrote in the 5th century B.C. “The Foeniks are known to have been the first people to engage in trade and commerce. Formerly they lived on the shores of the Red Sea.” Mr. Pococke in his India in Greece clearly states on page 218 that the Phoenicians originally dwelled in Afghanistan.

There is much to say in this matter; but I will conclude that it is a matter of no small congratulation to India that this land was the cradle of that primitive race of traders who over 4,000 years back carried the torch of civilization to Assyria, Babylonia, Greece, and other ancient countries. According to western historians the Phoenicians colonised the coast of Syria between 3,000 and 2,500 B.C.