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naturally following from Dravidian vata-m¥$ n ‘north star’ = ‘banyan star’ = ‘rope star’.

The ‘Crab’ Sign We can try to verify this interpretation by attempting to understand the sign sometimes inserted in the middle of the ‘fig’ sign, omitting the central one of its three branches. The said sign occurs more than 125 times as a separate grapheme. It seems to depict a ‘crab’, mostly simplified to a round body with claws, but sometimes with feet added. That the signs with feet are allographs of those without feet is indicated by the presence of this variation even when combined with the ‘fig’ sign, while the identity of these combined variants can be seen from the similarity of the context in two seals, one from Harappa (H-598), the other from Lothal (L-11).

The clear emphasis laid on the claws makes it likely that the sign expresses the concept of ‘grasping’ or ‘seizing’, for the crab is consis- tently associated with ‘grasping’ in Indian folklore. In the Baka- and Kakkata-J$ataka, the crab’s claws are compared with the pincers of a smith. The same comparison is found in Old Tamil texts,40) where the verbal root kol ‘to seize, grasp, take’ is used of the crab’s ‘seizing’ with its claws,41) while the P$ali and Sanskrit texts use the semantically corresponding root grah- and its cognates, related to English grab.

In the Indus texts, the ‘crab’ sign usually occurs in the immediate vicinity of the ‘fish’ signs assumed to denote stars and planets. It might therefore stand for Proto-Dravidian ko$ l ‘seizure’ (from the verbal root kol ‘to seize’), which refers to planets and eclipse demons.42) In Indian folk religion, the planets are believed to ‘seize’ people and make them sick.

Instead of ko$ l ‘planet’, a synonymous compound, ko$ n-m¥$ _n (with l

changed into n before the following m), ‘seizing star’, is used in several ______________________________

  • 40)

    Cf. Perump$an$a_r_ruppatai 206–208.

  • 41)

    Cf. Na_ r_rinai 35; Ainku_run$u_ru 27.

  • 42)

    Cf. Pu_ran$an_ $u_ru 260.


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