The Pashupati Seal 

The Pashupati seal (Mohenjo-Daro Seal No.420)  shows a man with three faces, wearing bangles and a horned head-dress with plumes, seated on a throne in a very difficult yogic position called mulabandhasana (in which the legs are bent below the body such that the heels are pressed together below the groin with the toes pointing downwards). The yogi is surrounded by four wild animals – elephant, rhinoceros, tiger and water buffalo.

Mohenjo-Daro Seal No.420, popularly known as the Pashupati seal
Fig 1: Mohenjo-Daro Seal No.420, popularly known as the Pashupati seal. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Another seal found at Mohenjo-Daro (Seal No.222), also shows the three-faced, meditating yogi. He is wearing bangles and a horned headdress with a leafy branch in the center. He is seated on a stool having legs carved in the shape of bovine hooves. There are, however, no animals surrounding this yogic figure.
Mohenjo-Daro Seal No.222 shows a three-faced meditating yogi wearing a horned head-dress
Fig 2: Mohenjo-Daro Seal No.222.
When the Pashupati seal was first discovered, Sir John Marshall (the Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1902 to 1928), who led the excavations at the Indus sites, identified the seal as an early prototype of Shiva. In a 1928–29 publication, Marshall summarized his reasons for the identification as follows:

“My reasons for the identification are four. In the first place the figure has three faces and that Siva was portrayed with three as well as with more usual five faces, there are abundant examples to prove. Secondly, the head is crowned with the horns of a bull and the trisula are characteristic emblems of Siva. Thirdly, the figure is in a typical yoga attitude, and Siva was and still is, regarded as a mahayogi—the prince of Yogis. Fourthly, he is surrounded by animals, and Siva is par excellence the “Lord of Animals”(Pashupati) - of the wild animals of the jungle, according to the Vedic meaning of the word pasu, no less than that of domesticated cattle.”[1]

Sir John Marshall’s identification of this seal image with Pashupati Shiva was been widely accepted and has stood the test of time.

Early representations of Shiva often show him seated on a throne in a meditative position, with his hands resting on his knees, wearing an elaborate crown and jewellery. There are many instances where he is shown with four faces looking at the cardinal directions (of which only three can be seen in a frontal view). Sometimes he is surrounded by animals. A panel from Ellora shows him surrounded by gods riding their animal mounts. In his Dakshinamurthy form, he is generally shown in the company of lions and deers. A sculpture in the Kailasanath Temple at Kanchi has a pair of deers under the throne, which corresponds to the pair of ibexes that can be seen under the throne of the yogic figure in the Pashupati seal.  
Shiva seated on a throne in a yogic posture, surrounded by gods riding their animal mounts. Ellora, 7th century AD.
Fig 3: Shiva seated on a throne in a yogic posture, surrounded by gods riding their animal mounts. Ellora, 7th century AD. Source: Wikipedia.
Shiva with three faces, 10th century AD, Chola Dynasty
Fig 4: Shiva with three faces, 10th century AD, Chola Dynasty. Source: CMA
Shiva in his form as Dakshinamurthy at the Kailasnatha Temple, Kanchi, c. 700 AD. A pair of deer are under the throne.
Fig 5: Shiva as Dakshinamurthy at the Kailasnatha Temple, Kanchi, c. 700 AD. A pair of deer are under the throne. Source:
Modern day representation of Shiva holding the Trisula and Damaru
Fig 6: Modern day representation of Shiva holding the Trisula and Damaru. Source:

It is obvious that the key symbolic elements of the Pashupati seal were present in the iconography of Shiva from an early period.

Shiva and Bada Dev

In the previous article titled Shiva as Bada Dev: Gond Symbolisms on Indus Seals, I argued that Mohenjo-Daro seal No.430, (popularly called the "Sacrifice Seal"), depicts the Gond deity Bada Dev appearing in the trunk of the Saja tree, after being worshipped by a Gond priest through the offering of a holy fire and the sacrifice of a goat (markhor).

Bada Dev, who is also known to the Gonds as Mahadev or Shambhu, is symbolically equivalent to the Hindu deity Shiva. The seal image, therefore, can also be interpreted as "Shiva in his form as Dakshinamurthy, standing under the banyan tree, and bringing his blessings and illumination to the world".

In the Pashupati seal we notice that the seated yogi wears a horned head-dress, with plumes or a leafy branch in the center, which reflects the Gond artistic style. The Maria Gonds of Bastar still adorn their gods and heroes with a horned head-dress. Even as far away as Tripura, the Bodo tribals worship a horned Bura Deva (Old God). K.L.Barua writes that,

“The Bura devata, the chief of the fourteen devatas of the ancient Bodo kings, was a horned God like the one depicted in a Mohenjo-Daro seal and which Sir John Marshall claims as a prototype of Siva Pashupati.”[2]
So the horned deity on the Pashupati seal can also be interpreted as Bada Dev or Mahadev, the principal deity of many tribal societies. The body of the meditating yogi is extensively decorated with jewellery, while his arms are fully covered with bangles, both of which are features of the dokra craft practiced by the tribes of Chhattisgarh.

Interestingly, like Shiva Pashupati, Bada Dev is also regarded as the lord of wild animals and livestock. R.V.Russel writes that, “Bura Deo is believed to protect the Gonds from wild animals; and if members of a family meet a tiger, snake or other dangerous animal several times within a fairly short period, they think that Bura Deo is displeased with them and have a special sacrifice in his honour.”[3] 

The horned headress of the seated yogi of the Pashupati seal, and his extensive jewellery, can be seen on Bastar wood-work and metal craft
Fig 7: The horned headress of the seated yogi, and his extensive jewellery and bangles, can be seen on Bastar wood-work and metal craft.
A few terracotta tablets from various Indus sites show that the seated yogi figure conforms to the symbolisms of both Shiva and Bada Dev.A Mohenjo-Daro tablet shows the seated yogi flanked on either side by a kneeling devotee, offering a pot, and a rearing serpent. The serpent, as we know, is a familiar motif in the iconography of Shiva. 

A terracotta tablet from Harappa shows the yogi wearing a horned headdress and seated on a stool under an arch. As mentioned earlier, Shiva as Nataraja also appears under an arch of fire, while Bada Deva has been depicted under an arch formed by the branch of a tree.The horned deity also appears on a terracotta cake from Kalibangan.

Mohenjo-Daro tablet M453A showing the seated yogi flanked by two rearing serpents
Fig 8: Mohenjo-Daro tablet M453A showing the seated yogi flanked by two rearing serpents.
Harappan terracotta tablet H2000-4441, showing the horned deity seated on a stool under an arch
Fig 9: Harappan terracotta tablet H2000-4441, showing the horned deity seated on a stool under an arch.
Kalibangan terracotta cake showing the horned deity of the Pashupati seal
Fig 10: Kalibangan terracotta cake showing the horned deity of the Pashupati seal.
It has been noted by scholars that the seated yogi of the Pashupati seal looks similar to the tree-spirit of the Sacrifice seal.  Both of them are wearing a horned head-dress and bangles. The visual similarity suggests that they may represent the same deity. That is the same conclusion that we arrive at from this analysis. Both of these figures represent Bada Dev or Shiva – who was known by many other names such as Bura Dev, Mahadev, Shambhu, Pashupati, Dakshinamurthy, Yogeshwar etc.

Evidently, Shiva worship was deeply entrenched in the Indus Valley, and for many tribes Shiva was the omnipresent, omniscient, Supreme Reality. 

But how did the two forms of Shiva depicted on the Indus seals and tablets – one in which he is standing inside a tree, and the other in which he is seated in a yogic posture – emerge in the Harappan psyche at such an early period (at around 2600 BCE)? 

The Vedic Connection

Not surprisingly, the Harappan representations of Shiva appear to be directly derived from earlier Vedic hymns. Modern scholars like Rajaram, Talageri and others have argued that the Vedic Age had ended by 4000 BCE with the drying up of the Saraswati River, and its transformation from a perennial river into a seasonal stream.

In the Vedas, Shiva was praised both as Agni and Rudra. Agni and Rudra were two names of the same deity. In the Rig Veda, Agni is sometimes addressed as Rudra[4]. The Satapatha Brahmana says, “Agni is Rudra”[5], while, as per the Nirukta, an important text on etymology, “Agni is called Rudra”[6]. The Atharva Samhita explains: “Because he made all the worlds, this Rudra was named Agni”[7].

Agni, the sacrificial fire, “pillars apart Heaven and Earth”[8]. He is the pillar[9] who supports the celestial vault above the earth by his flame or smoke[10]. This dovetails with Shiva’s description as a blazing pillar of light in the Linga Purana, and the reason why Shiva is worshipped in the form of a pillar or shiva-linga.

Agni is also Vanaspati (Lord of the Forest), who is praised in the Rig Veda as the ever-green, golden-hued, refulgent Tree with a thousand branches[11]. This is why Bada Dev is associated with the Saja Tree and Shiva with the Peepal or Banyan Tree. Agni is the priest, the seer, the purifier, possessed of the truth, who imparts inner illumination[12], much like Shiva in his Dakshinamurthy form, sitting under the banyan tree, and imparting wisdom to the four sages.

It is very interesting to note that Agni received animal sacrifices (pasuyajna) during the Vedic times. A specific sacrifice called Niruddha pasubandha yajna involving immolation of a he-goat was an obligatory rite performed once in six months or a year to appease Indra and Agni[13]. The Satapatha Brahmana states that Agni enters the sacrificial animal, such that it is Agni himself who is sacrificed.[14] 

Is it not incredible how much this resembles the Gond custom of sacrificing a goat to Bada Dev every year? They even call the goat by the name of Bada Dev and allow it to roam freely for a year and offer it food. As strange as it sounds, the sacrificial rites of the Gonds are conducted as per the precepts of the Satapatha Brahmana!

Agni is said to be facing everywhere and to pervade in all directions[15], and is specifically credited with four faces facing the cardinal directions: “Agni with four faces advances himself with his tongue”[16]. Four faces are frequently seen in the iconography of Shiva as well. Presumably, the yogi on the Pashupati seal also has four faces, of which only three can be seen. Agni is also described as a deity with "horns", which he sharpens and uses as weapons. This explains the depictions of the horns on the seated yogi. 

Rudra, on the other hand is a terrifying deity of unpredictable temper; a marvelous archer and merciless slayer of enemies; the lord of animals (Pashupati) whose symbol is the bull; possesses the ability to inflict diseases and the power to heal; blue-throated, with braided hair, wearing animal skin, and dwelling in the mountains - all of which became attributes of Shiva as well.

Thus, many of the key attributes of Shiva or Bada Dev, as reflected on the Harappan seals, and as found in later-day Hindu and tribal iconography, have clearly been derived from the ancient Vedic deity Agni-Rudra.


The two prominent representations of Shiva or Bada Dev on the Indus seals – one in which he is standing inside a tree, and the other in which he is seated in a yogic posture – can be traced back to earlier Vedic hymns, in which Shiva was praised as both Agni and Rudra

Evidently, the Indus Valley was a post-Vedic society where the abstract deities of the Vedic pantheon were taking on a personified form

When the Harappan civilization started to collapse at around 1900 BCE due to a host of environmental factors, the various Indus tribes moved into India, carrying with them their material technology and religious beliefs. As D.P.Agrawal writes,

“It is strange but true that the type and style of bangles that women wear in Rajasthan today, or the vermilion that they apply on the parting of the hair on the head, the practice of yoga, the binary system of weights and measures, the basic architecture of the houses etc. can all be traced back to the Indus Valley civilization. The cultural and religious traditions of the Harappans provide the substratum for the latter-day Indian civilization.”[25]

Although modern day Hinduism derives from the Indus culture, it has become modified and overlaid with many layers of disparate foreign influences and indigenous religious thoughts over the past 3000 years. The tribals such as the Gonds, living in remote, forested locations, have managed to preserve certain aspects of the ancient Indus heritage in a better state than their city-dwelling Hindu counterparts. As result, their legends and customs can offer us surprisingly clear insights into the symbolisms on the Indus seals and tablets.


[1] Mackay 1928-29, pp. 74-75. 
[2] G. P. Singh, Historical Researches Into Some Aspects of the Culture and Civilization of North-East India (Gyan Publishing House, 2009) 68. 
[3] R. V. Russell, The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India (London: Macmillan & Co, 1916) Volume III of IV. 
[4] RV I.27.10 
[5] SB; SB 
[6] Nirukta 10.1.7 
[7] Atharva Samhita 7.87.9 
[8] RV V.29.4 
[9] RV IV.5.1 
[10] RV III.5.10; III.4.6; IV.5.1; IV.6.2.3 
[11] RV IX.5.10 
[12] RV I.77 
[13] Vedic Sacrifices (PDF), Shri Ramakrishna Math, p 11 taken from Wikipedia 
[14] SB XIII.ii.7.13 
[15] RV I.97.6 
[16] RV V.48.5 
[17] Francesco Brighenti, "Buffalo Sacrifice and Tribal Mortuary Rituals", 10 March 2007 <> 
[18]  RV X.14.1 
[19] RV X.14.2 
[20] S Mendaly, "A Study of Living Megalithic Tradition Among the Gond Tribes, District – Nuaparha, Odisha", Ancient Asia Journal 01 Sep 2015, Vol 6 <> 
[21] Linga Purana, II, chapter 50, 23-26 
[22] Alain DaniĆ©lou, Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus (Inner Traditions / Bear & Co, 1992) 74. 
[23] RV X.16.1 
[24] RV X.16.5 
[25] D.P.Agrawal, “An Indocentric Corrective to History of Science”, 2002 <>

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Bibhu Dev Misra

Independent researcher and writer on ancient mysteries, cultural connections, cosmic wisdom, religion and science. Graduate of IIT and IIM with two decades of work experience in different fields

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8 comments so far,Add yours

  1. Thanks Bibhu .. Always loved your articles .. and I keep coming back.
    Bhalo thakben .. and keep up with the research and interesting work thatyou are doing.
    Samit Bhattacharya

    1. Thanks for the compliments Samit...great to know that you have been following my blog.

  2. Its really happy to kno abt our Indus civilization.Nice comparsion with evidences.Proud to ba a south Indian

  3. Please refer to the book by Alain Danielou, 'While the Gods Play'. He comes up with some interesting theories about a pre-Vedic Shaivic religion followed by the Indus Valley people which has its roots in an ancient Dravidian Civilization. I think the Baluchistan sphinx was probably built by them.

    1. I have not yet read the book, and it is in my bucket list of books to read. However, I do not see why a Shaivite religion needs to come before or after the Vedic religion. It could co-exist with the Vedic religion, since as per my analysis, Shiva is the same as Agni-Rudra. He was worshiped in the form of a fire, tree, and upright stones symbolizing the cosmic axis-mundi.

  4. Very informative and interesting content. After inspiring from you, I also tried to write on this topic

    1. Thanks. I read your blog post and found it to be an interesting overview.