A Harappan Seal: Proto-Yogi or Plant God?
By Dr. Dean M. Anderson
The eminent scholars of ancient India, Steve Farmer and Michael Witzel, have examined the famous Harappan “Proto-Shiva” or “Proto-Yogi” seal and concluded that the hands do not touch the knees. They cite this as evidence that the figure in the seals is not sitting in a yoga posture but is instead a plant-like deity and the arms are similar to hanging branches.
If the Indus had "yoga," so did the Egyptians and Olmecs (by Steve Farmer)
“Specifically, as I first pointed out, the arms on ALL these figures
dangle oddly, branch-like, in the air, hovering over but NOT touching
the knee, let along resting there in any of the formalistic ways seen
in later asanas. On this, see again M-304 A and M-1181 A, the two
most famous pieces of this sort, at:
See also now the closeup scans I've made (attached to your last post)
of hand positions in M-304 and M-305, since Dean has claimed that
the hands and knees do touch in those pieces; but they clearly don't.
Nor do they in any other piece I've been able to locate: a quite
interesting and unexpected find:
There is good evidence (and I address this in part to Dean) that this
is not an accident or error of carving: the arms dangle like this
above the body, hanging tree-like or branch-like (as further
suggested by the bangles and odd plant-like and ill-defined hands) in
ALL cases in which we can make out the detail. (It surely would be
possible to put the "hands" on the knees, as we see in many carvings
from other civilizations.)”
Ganweriwala tablet with "Yogic" person (by Michael Witzel)
“This stray find is that of a "yogic" person sitting on some kind of a
stool. Like other such "yogic" persons, he does not actually cross his
legs, but the legs are bent at the knees in such a fashion that the
soles of both feet touch each other. His arms do not touch the legs, a
pretty uncomfortable position!”
I suggest instead that it was the intention of the artists to portray the hands touching the knees as is common in yoga postures. The hands don’t appear to touch the knees because the image is highly magnified. Most scholars view these seals at a reasonable size – something approximating the image above. What many don’t realize, however, is that the actual seals are much smaller. For example, the seal shown above is only about 1 inch square (2.65 x 2.7 cm). The actual size is closer to the image below.
To get a better idea of the actual size of the seal, here it is shown next to a US Nickel and an Indian Rupee.
Let us examine this seal more closely. Farmer has made available a close-up of the hands and knees on the seal above to illustrate that they are not touching.
I took the original image and zoomed in to about the same resolutions as Farmer’s picture above. I then outlined that region in red.
Here I show again the actual size seal with the hand-knee region outlined in red to illustrate how tiny the area is that we are talking about.
In order to approximately measure the distance between the hand and the knee, I use Photoshop to draw a 1mm grid over the image. I then rotate the image 45 degrees so that the grid aligns with the space between the hand and knee. The distance between the actual “hand” (or last bangle) and the outside of the knee is about .25mm. Between the widest points it is .5mm. The critical distance here is .25mm because that is the minimum distance the artist has without making the bangle/hand actually touch the arm and complicating both the creation and the use of the seal.
Some people might try to spuriously increase the distance by claiming that the line should be drawn closer to the knee. A close inspection shows that I have drawn the line at the outside of the knee. Attempts to increase the distance by trying to draw the line any closer to the knee would be overlapping the edge of the knee and thus invalid.
Or considering the end of the appendage as the “hand”, the distance between the “hand-knee” is also about .5mm. (below) This image was rotated 30 degrees.
The line drawn by a modern fine point pen is .5mm. Thus the distance between the hands and knees on the Harappan seals is about the width of a thin pen line. This very narrow distance cannot reasonably be considered as separation. It is about the smallest possible distance that an artist using 4500-year-old tools could leave without confusing the resolution by actually joining the parts of the image. The Harappan artists were remarkably talented. If they had wished to show arms that “dangle oddly, branch-like, in the air”, they would have used the ample space left empty on the seal to separate the arms from the knees by a larger distance. The stylized appearance of the “hands” can also be explained by the small size of the seal and its utilitarian function.
Thus I conclude that, in the minds of the artists and the Harappan people, the hands on this tiny and highly stylized figure were considered to be touching the knees and the figure is sitting in what Farmer called one “of the formalistic ways seen in later asanas.” Namely, it is sitting in what is variously called the bhadra-āsana or the noble, butterfly or tailor poses.
For further discussion about proto-yoga and Harappan seals, I suggest reading the online discussion at:
Some of my comments in defense of the “Proto-Yogic” interpretation are: