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Is there any relationship between the Harappan Unicorn, Vedic period ekashringi and a horned Horse? by P.Priyadarshi

A blog article by B.K. Jha (son of the Late Natwar Jha) gave answer to my long disturbing question where the Harappan horse was in the Harappa seals. Of course, the horses were quite few in the Harappa Civilization, mainly because of their ruthless sacrifice for burials and the avanedha yaja-s. There was convincing evidence of horse in the Indus Valley Civilization, and DNA studies too had indicated that the northern or the Central Asian horse never came to India and Iran. There was again concrete evidence from the comparative studies by the hippologists that the modern light race-horses in the world were all descended from the ancient Indian Sivalensis horse. Yet why there were no horses in the Harappa seals? , also, Natwar Jha and B.K. Jhas work may be considered a landmark in breaking the mystery. They claimed that the Harappa unicorn was nothing else than the eka-shringi Varaha of the Pauranic literature, and that the Varaha has an alternative meaning of bull. In his learned view, the Harappa unicorn had the head and neck of a horse, and the torso and tail of a bull. In a word it was a chimera. They cite several quotes from Mahabharata, Vishnu Purana, Vishnu Sahasranama Stotra and Vishnu Dharma texts.

Fig. Harappa seal depicting unicorn Jha cited the example of the Haya-grva of the Puranas, which too was in fact not dissimilar from the unicorn and had the neck and head of the horse. Harappa seals do not depict horse, yet many of them depict a mythical animal unicorn, which is half horse (front) and half bull (back). In addition, it has a single horn in the forehead as a symbol of power or divinity.

Hayagriva (1. by Ram Narayan Datta Shashtri; 2. source: Ganesh Narasimhan blogspot);

Apart found Jhas references, Mahabharta mentions the ekashringi at quite a large number of places. One example is:

ekaga pur bhtv varhodivyadarana (MB12.330.027a)

In the past, there had been a unicorn Vaaraaha, which could be seen by the divine.

immuddhtavn bhmim ekagastato hyaham (12.330.027c)

He salvaged the earth, and that unicorn I am.

tathaivsa trikakudo vrha rpamsthita (12.330.028a)

It was then that this three-headed one stayed in the form of a boar.

trikakuttena vikhyta arrasya tum-pant (12.330.028c)

After having acquired the form, it became known by the term trikakut (the three-headed one).

This passage means, the unicorn, the Varaha-avatara of Vishnu, and the three headed unicorn are one and the same. [Note: This is the literal translation by
me. Other literal translations are welcome.]

Fig. The three headed tri-kakut of the Indian mythology, or the three-headed Unicorn of Harappa Civilization. The lowest head is that of a bull. The middle one is a unicorn-horse, and the one turned back is that of ibexram. The horn of the one head turned to the back in the right seal depicts the haustrations of the ibex-rams horns.

Jha cites a verse from the Moksha-Dharma Parva which contains the phrase eka-sringo gadgrajah which literally means the unicorn horse. [gada=donkey (Monier-Williams Dictionary); hence gada-agraja = the elder brother of donkey = i.e. horse. People have often confused this with Lord Krishna, for which also this word was often used in the Mahabharata.]. Although Jha gives another meaning, yet the one just stated can be better supported by the evidence from

the Harappa archaeology. Literature is replete with the references of unicorn and discussing them all is beyond our scope. Vats identification of the unicorn with bull was flawed M.S. Vats, the archaeologist who wrote of the Harappa Excavation Report thought that the incense-burner depicted in the Harappa seals is intimately associated with the cult of unicorn (p. 322). In fact the unicorn has always been shown with the incense-burner, which is placed in below the head of the creature. Vats expressed a possibility but nothing more than a possibility that the so called unicorn may, after all, be no other than the Indian ox so posed that one horn is completely hidden behind the other. (Vats:321). Ever since this unicorn has been considered/mentioned as a unicorn-bull. [Vats, M.S., 1940, Excavations at Harappa, Vol. 1, Manager of Publications to the Govt of India, Delhi] However such a view is not correct because of the following reasons. The Indus bull has a large fold of skin or platysma hanging down its neck, which is absent from all the unicorns in the Harappan seals. The typical bovine-hump too is absent from all the unicorns. An Indus Valley bull (zebu) must have had a characteristic hump. The head of the unicorn is elongated while that of the bulls depicted on the other seals is more rounded. The overlap of horns, one covering the other in the profile views is a wrong and misleading argument. Because none of the bulls depicted in the Harappan seals have horns which cover each other in such a way that only one can be seen. All the bulls have been depicted with two, clear from each other, horns. Then why should this particular way of depicting two horns as one be applied only to the unicorns?

Clearly the Harappa unicorn had only one horn and it is not a bull-unicorn but an equine unicorn. But for the presence of the horn, it most closely resembles

a horse, though it has the genitals and tail of bull. The inference is that the Harappa unicorn is a composite animal which is a modified and deified horse. It is not a bull.

Fig. Bull, Harappan unicorn and horse head and snout compared: from left to right a. Harappan bull; b & c. Harappan unicorn; d. Cabellus horse; e. Przewalskii horse.

Many of the Harappa unicorns have been depicted with the presence of transverse lines over the neck, which may be some form of ornament/armour worn by the creature, or a symbolic representation of its mane. Often a leaflike-structure originating from the midline just behind the horn has been depicted, implying some form of ornamentation/decoration. These all indicate that the unicorn had some divine status. At that time what was the forms of the Gods, we cannot know from the iconography of the last two thousand years. Even during the Rig-Veda stage of the evolution of the Hindu theology, some divinities were assigned forms and costumes. Horn was one of them (infra). The costumes of Hindu aristocracy became more and more through passage of time and evolution of the richer economy. The divine costumes too reflected this change. The Adornment by horns in Cultures Most of us have so far known only the Harappa seals (pashupati) and certain tribal people wearing horns.

Horned Pashupati Harappa; buffalo horned head-dress of a Central Indian tribal chief

However this is our poor knowledge of our scriptures and the archaeology of the period concerned. Most of the Central Asian horses recovered from the Scythian Kurgans (graves) of big people were all decorated with artificial horns, sometimes made of wood, and other times of gold. The wooden horns were shaped like that of wild ram (ibex), or sometimes like the antlers of deer. They were often covered with gold foil.

Fig of horse mask from the State Hermitage Museum, Pazyrik, Siberia. These masks were born by live horses, and were often buried with the horse on the death of the master if these were nobles and kings.

Not only during peace, but the Scythian war-horses too wore the horns.

Scythian war-horses wearing ibex-rams horns

The Scythians who had possibly migrated out of the Indus Valley after the valley got dry and deserted, settled in the East Iran and West Afghanistan, after 1900 BCE. They spread over widely into the Central Asia, South Siberia, Ural and later the East Europe, and brought many of the things and customs of the Indus Valley civilization to China, Siberia, Mongolia, Russia and Europe over the next two thousand years. DNA studies of their buried horses in Central Asia

has proved that the horses did not belong to the Central Asian horses. They look more like Indian light sivalensis horse.

Design in a Scythian carpet at State Hermitage Museum, Pazyrik, Siberia

The ornaments shown below are parts of a bridle.

Scythian bridle ornaments. Note the artificial ibex-horn.

Rudenko, Plate 38; Gold-foil covered wooden ibex-horn of Scythian period

Real ibex (wild-ram) horns. Note the haustrations in the horn.

In Ancient China too, the horse statues had a horn on the head, usually bifid at the tip (as for example the ones from the Mausoleum of Qin-Shi-Huang).

However, we can assume that not only the horses, but women too adorned themselves with horns. This we can say on the basis of the word shringara or gra, derived from ga (horn, antler) and which has the applied meaning today as the adornments and make ups used by women. This word has been in vogue for this meaning since ages in India. Apart from this linguistic evidence, the question is whether there is enough evidence in the Sanskrit text for the use of horns and antlers by the humans for their own adornment. We know of the ya-ga i who was contemporary to the King Dasharatha. He is known to have one single antler of deer. ya and ya mean deer (and also antelope; Monier-Williams Dictionary). Mahabharata mentions many kings and fighters who were rya-g (rya is an adjective of ya; MB 06.086.045a, 06.086.064a, 06.096.021e etc). King Duryodhana too has been named with the epithet rya-g (MB 06.096.021e), indicating that he too wore the deer-antlers. In another verse, it is said that the goddess saparavadha is adorned with the copper weapons, is dressed in leather, and has the ibex-rams horns (on her head): lohacarmavat cpi sgnih sahuagik (Mahabharata 03.016.008c). I have no doubts that many people may start debating immediately that the real meaning/symbolic/applied/spiritual meaning is something else here, and


not horn. However in the presence of the archaeological evidence from Central Asia and Harappa, there is no space for such enthusiastic conjecturism. The adornment of some other animals by horns in the Harappa seals It was usual in the Harappa culture to add horns to any animals head. For example, Kenoyer reports an elephant with horns found in one of the clay-tag impressions of the Kalibangan seals: At the site of Kalibangan, a clay tag was found impressed by a seal that has an elephant with the horns of a bull (Kenoyer, J.M. 1998:88; Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, Oxford University Press, 1998). Adding horn to elephant was done in this case to add divine status to the elephant, which possibly was the airavata in this case. Horned tigers too have been depicted in the Harappan seals:

Left: horned tiger. Right: a horned tiger (or ?lion) by a horned and tailed goddess

11 A small horned tiger to the right side of the horned-human, praying to a horned tree goddess. The seven ladies (possibly the Sapta-matrika-s too are horned. Harappan artefact,

A tiger with human face; with ibex-horns and deer-antler on its head. Could be a form of Nsimha.

The Unicorn Iconography The unicorns from Europe are all horses with single horn. It is likely that the European unicorns were inspired by the Harappan unicorn due to contacts during the Bronze Age. The Harappa unicorns as well as the Western unicorns both have horns depicting haustrations, which are typical of the ibex-horn although their shapes differ from the ibex-horn.

12 Ibex-horns markings (real and artefact) and unicorn horns iconography compared

European depictions of unicorn. The unicorn on the left has tail like a bull

During the post-Harappa period, when the modern forms of the various Hindu gods were evolving, Indians did not treat the horse favourably, and the animal was not assigned the vehicle status for any god. We do not know why a discriminatory treatment was meted to the horse. It is likely that the depiction of the pure horse was considered ominous and it was avoided due to its intimate connection with death rituals. However, there was no bad omen associated with the gods resembling the horse. The horned horse is not restricted to the Harappa seals. Horses with horns have been mentioned in the Rig-Veda, which predated the Harappa culture in our study. Probably some of the references symbolize the Ashvini-Kumaras: Rig-Veda Hymn of Horse RV 1.162.9: Horns made of gold hath he: his feet are iron: less fleet than he, though swift as thought, is Indra. RV 1.162.11: A body formed for flight hast thou, O Charger; swift as the wind in motion is thy spirit. Thy horns are spread abroad in all directions: they move with restless beat in wildernesses.


Conclusion: We may conclude that the Indians of the early as well as the later Vedic period used antlers and horns for adornment. This practice/ fashion was extended to the animals and gods as well. The practice was adopted by the Scythians, who spread this to China, Europe, Central Asia and Siberia. The Harapaa Unicorn was a Hindu Vedic deity with half horse half bull features and in addition it had a single horn on a horses head.