August 04, 2011

Childbirth and Ancient Imagery

This is a most fascinating comment on the female power of birth….and it is almost 3000 years old. It is a ‘Harappan Seal’ from the Indus Valley Civilization (now in Pakistan). The proto writing has not yet been deciphered. I will tell you my interpretation of what these images are telling us.

First, in the upper right hand corner we see an upside down woman with an emanation coming out of her vagina/yoni. I call this an emanation because it is not a baby, nor a plant—it is energy—that of the life force which brings both babies and vegetation into being, into this world. You will notice that her arms are on her knees in an almost meditative position.

Other images that evoke birth are the pregnant letters—see the big bellies on the right hand sides of both seal faces.

If you look to the left side of the upper seal you see two theriomorphic images, that is beings which have human bodies, but animal heads—they seem to be conversing. Animal heads on human bodies are not uncommon in later Indian imagery—for example Ganesh, the Yogini temples, many, many gods and goddesses are sometimes rendered with animal heads. I understand this to indicate shamanism, particularly the ability of the shaman/possessed to channel the spirit/perceptions/abilities of that animal.

Okay, so we have a woman with the life force coming from her vagina, and two animal/people exchanging something…what we know not….until we go down to the bottom seal.

About the bottom seal—it’s from Pupul Jayakar’s book The Earthen Drum. In that book she writes that the bottom image is human sacrifice. I always doubted that….you don’t picture a woman with life coming out of her body on one side of a seal and then chop off her head on the other. It doesn’t make sense. When I approached her and questioned her interpretation, she said that yes—that was probably wrong. But in the book it also said that the man approaching the woman was holding the mithuna symbols, the cup and the knife, the chalice and the blade—male and female imagery.

Now look at the woman he is approaching. She is sitting, her hair is askance, all over the place, sticking out. This signifies with two meanings. One is that women still, when they get possessed (and they still do in some areas get possessed either by demons, or more often the devi, the goddess) let their hair fly, loose, open, uninhibited. The other meaning is that she is holding a sheaf of grain on her head during harvesting. Until recently, before mechanization, this was a common sight in agricultural areas.

In my interpretation, rather than killing (human sacrifice—chopping off her head) this image shows the communication from woman to man about LIFE—both the life the harvest provides for people, and the role of woman as the bearer of life when she gives birth. She is channeling her knowledge (gnosis, gyan) of life. The man is approaching her and will receiver her knowledge/experience, gather it, harvest it and return enriched.

These seals tell us things about ancient peoples’ lives. But we need to be aware that this birth power—and its symbology—has been codified and used extensively in pursuit of barkat—growth of riches, knowledge, power. More about that later.

Janet Chawla

2 August 2011


soma said...

This is an interesting study.When we have no class based soceity then mother is the leader of a group and she also the gurdian of a child as there is no system of marrige.She is the food gathern and look after her child.The role of mother conidered as an important one.Out of that there started matrika worship and later in agricultural society the power of her fertility added with the firtility of the crops and emergeged the cult of the mother goddess.This is the feture of agricultural society through out the world.In Harappan Civilization we found a good number of seals relating to that power of life force of women and out of that latar begin the conception of SHAKAMBHORI OF markendeya purana.If we can trace the history of traditional birth system from that point of view it will be an interesting one,So I Welcome you to discuss more thing on it as we also exchange our idea.

Anonymous said...

I found this picture (bottom row left) and many historians said that it was demonstrating human sacrifice. This claim marred my image of the Indus valley civilization because I always thought of it as a beautiful time period that gave rise to our current day morals and opinions. I was shocked to learn that sacrifice was encouraged and recorded on this seal. Like you said, I was thinking why would the beautiful aspects of birth and human sacrifice be so closely related. But I am glad I found this page to clarify what this seal could mean. I really like your claim about the possession of Parvathi Devi because Devi Matha is a woman, and woman hood seems to be much appreciated here. The reason I don't think it is wheat on her head is because she is sitting down. Woman usually place the wheat on their head when moving it from place to place... They rarely sit with the wheat placed on their head. But again the seal, when you look closeley, makes it look like wheat grains. It is maybe the possession of Shakthi because when possessed by Shakthi, women tend to sit down.