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Pashupati: Decoding the Indus Seals: A theoretical perspective

By Yogi Baba Prem

(Note to readers: This is a highly controversial subject, and Yogi Baba Prem's theories presented are controversial as well.)

The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) could play an important key to unlocking a significant aspect of Vedic history.  While the IVC is controversial and theories are hotly debated among scholars, it is commonly recognized that an important key in this process has been the Indus Valley Seals (IVS).  The IVSs contain a rich assortment of imagery and what is believed to be a language.  Of course, this language is hotly debated among scholars and there is generally no consensus, as there has yet to be discovered a rosette stone for the Indus Script (IS).  Therefore, it is assumed and somewhat logical that a language exists on the seals.  Several scholars have suggested a link between the IS and Vedic Sanskrit, among these would be C.R. Hunter and more recently Subhash Kak[i]. While there is no academic consensus as to the meaning or translation of the IS, it is theoretically possible to gain insight into the script using traditional spiritual teachings from Hinduism that have survived to the modern era.  India and a handful of other global regions are unique as far as their retention of practices and teachings that span thousands of years.  Especially when examined from an adhyatmic[ii] perspective. 

It is quite possible that many of the seals may have been used for a variety of different functions and applications within the IVC, as some may have been used for tax purposes, to mark shipments and other practical applications as is commonly suggested by academia.  Likewise, it is plausible that some contain spiritual stories, possibly multi-layered stories to preserve spiritual knowledge or used for teaching purposes.  But the application of the adhyatmic interpretation may be a key to unlocking a hidden symbolic lexicon within select seals.  An important place to begin with would be the famed Pashupati seal.  See below Fig. 1

It is theorized by numerous traditional scholars that the central image is Pashupati, the lord of animals, a name for Shiva.  If correct, this seal is critical in translating another seal with an important adhyatmic teaching.  An examination of the seal reveals several important items: Indus Script, A variety of animals such as a bull, rhinoceros, tiger and others.  These would be expected if the central image is Pashupati, it would be logical as the lord of animals for there to be depictions of animals.  Yet, more notable would be the presence of two human figures.  Note arrows.


Fig 1. [iii]

Note on the seal of fig. 1, the human image is important as it places the humans with the animals, potentially indicating that the IVC perceived humans as an animal and associated with Pashupati.  David Frawley in his book Shiva: The Lord of Yoga notes that Pashupati is not only the lord of animals, but for humans that have not obtained liberation (p. 156).[iv]  This would match the information to a degree regarding the fig. 1 seal.  Interestingly the name Pashupati appears with the Shiva Sahasranamam indicating that the names to Shiva could be quite old and obviously applicable to the human animal through names such as Pashupati.  Assuming this theory is correct, analysis of the next seal is possible.  See fig. 2


Fig. 2[v]

Figure 2 is commonly referred to as an ‘animal sacrifice’.  Here we to the right of the seal an image of Pashupati, in the middle a human and to the left a bull.  The bull was/is an important spiritual animal within the Vedic tradition. The bull is associated with Indra, the Vedic God of Gods and holds a rather high position relative to the Vedas.  It is visually easy to see why one would assume it was a bull sacrifice.  But within the traditions of India, it is commonly known that there are always layers of knowledge.  Applying the adhyatmic view toward the seal, we see Pashupati in the back of the human supporting the ‘human animal’.  Pashupati is present but unseen, as the image of Pashupati could have easily been placed in a different location of the seal.  The human in slaying the bull is in essence slaying his animal nature.  By slaying the animal nature the human is transiting from the human animal into the spiritual being.  It is possible that some seals were used as ‘teaching tools’ and to convey spiritual principles within the IVC.   We will explore other symbolic associations with the bull later. 

Examining Pashupati temples reveals the same concept.  An example would be the Pashupati temple in Nepal. See Fig. 3


Fig. 3 [vi]

The Pashupati temple in Nepal is not known as to when it was originally built, but it is considered to be quite old.  The sexual imagery is highly suggestive of the human animal that Pashupati is lord of.  Hence, why there is sexual imagery at the temple, indicating the sexual nature of the human animal that has not obtained liberation and is still bound to karma, samskaras and latent impressions within the mind.  Pashupati protects those that are still working through the cycles of death and rebirth. 

An Astrological Connection.

While there is little doubt that the seals must serve a variety of different purposes and functions, it is suspect that they could have been teaching tools or recorded important spiritual teachings, including Vedic Astrology.  The following seal could have an important Vedic astrological aspect.


Fig. 3[vii]

This seal contains numerous important images relative to Vedic Astrology.  Initially, one may see a total of nine figures.  Seven figures depicted standing, one kneeling and one standing amongst a tree.  It is theorized that tree is a pipal tree, long held sacred in India.  The Pipal tree can be associated with the Sun, as Vishnu (a sun deity) is a strongly associated with the pipal tree.  Likewise, Krishna, who taught the solar lineage yoga, is associated with a pipal tree, and is himself an incarnation of Vishnu.   The Pipal holds a position of highest amongst the trees, and again the sun is highest among the planets, as it is the source of light they reflect back to the earth.  It is the pipal tree that is a remedial for the malefic qualities associated with Saturn, as well. 

If the image in the tree is associated with the sun, it is likely that the image kneeling would be the moon, as the moon is locked into a powerful relationship between the earth and sun.  The kneeling moon would be symbolic of the mind worshipping the Sun or soul.  This theme of the mind turning toward the sun is reflected even in the famed Gayatri mantra from the Rg Veda.  This would leave the reaming seven figures to be the remaining seven planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu.

The remaining image of the bull is significant within the seal as well.  From a Vedic perspective, the bull is associated with Indra.[viii]  The imagery of the Indra/Bull is frequently associated with rain or the bringing of rain.[ix]  Within the Rg Veda, the releasing of the waters and releasing of rain is a somewhat common and important theme.  This achieved through a mystical process involving mantric yoga for most practitioners.  David Frawley in Vedic Yoga associates the bull with “the guiding power of chants”. (p. 264)  No doubt this is the shakti of chants or their transforming effect they have upon the practitioner of mantra.  So within this seal, one sees the transforming power of the chant within the mind (moon) directed toward the soul (sun).


Applying an adhyatmic view to the seals does appear to be a valid application, though it is unlikely that one could apply an adhyatmic interpretation to all the IVC seals, as surely not all convey a spiritual message.  But it is apparent that new insight and understanding can be obtained from such an application, provided it is applied with proper discrimination and with the understanding it is theoretical.  Yet, from a spiritual and mystical position, if the theoretical has value within the application of the theory then it is relevant from the position of the practitioner.  It should be noted that within the tradition of the Vedas, there are numerous levels and forms of interpretation for the same teaching.  It is likely that this multifaceted view of interpretation toward the teachings is plausible, but will remain controversial among academics, while finding a comfortable home among the mystics.    


To learn more about Vedic concepts, we recommend:

The Rig Veda and the History of India (Rig Veda Bharata Itihas) by David Frawley

Ushas: The Divine Dawn by Yogi Baba Prem

From Earth to Heaven: Secrets of Yoga, Goddess and Spirituality by Yogi Baba Prem

Yogic Secrets of the Vedas by Yogi Baba Prem

[i] Patel, P.G., Pandey, P., Rajgor, D. (2007) The Indic Scripts: Palaeographic and Linguistic Perspectives. D.K. Printworld.

[ii][ii] Adhyatmic translation is a translation based on spiritual and psychological meanings. 

[iii] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2f/Shiva_Pashupati.jpg

[iv][iv] Frawley, David ‘Shiva: The Lord of Yoga’ Twin Lakes, WI, Lotus Press 2015

[v] http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_WSQsPuiQ9Nc/Sw0x5C8A4vI/AAAAAAAAB5A/Ka_YX6nrv5c/s400/Pashupati-sacrifice.jpg

[vi] https://grindyourwheat.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/erotic-carvings-on-pashupatinath-temple-at-bhaktapur.jpg

[vii] https://www.facebook.com/AncientIndus/photos/pb.24752074845.-2207520000.1443821421./10153487603059846/?type=3&theater

[viii] Frawley, David ‘Vedic Yoga: The Path of the Rishi’ Lotus Press

[ix] Ibid.


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Yogi Baba Prem

  • Yogi Baba Prem has two books published in India, and has written numerous other books published by Universal Yoga. 


  • His articles have appeared in several traditional magazines and a variety of e-magazines.