Indus Script: Dholavira Signboard

Image: Siyajkak
Image: Siyajkak

Several different images of the inscription on the Dholavira Signboard can be found on the web. Unfortunately, what I didn't realise when I put together the original version of this webpage (in 2014 - 2015), is that they normally show a mirrored version of the text that would have been seen on the original signboard. The example above is a mirrored version of the inscription.

My understanding is that the symbols from the signboard were found lying face down in one of the side rooms of the north gate into the citadel. The wood of the signboard had rotted away, but the archaeologists were able to establish that the dimensions of the signboard were such that it would have fitted above the gateway. It therefore seems likely that the signboard was removed in antiquity, and placed face down in the side room.

Traffic Control in the Citadel:

Format of the inscription: Symbols carved in gypsum and mounted on a wooden board. Each symbol was around 37 centimetres high.

Image: Siyajkak: Modified and Annotated by: Lynn Fawcett
Image: Siyajkak: Modified and Annotated by: Lynn Fawcett

Translation of the symbols that would have been seen by drivers:

Symbol Number Translation Indus Sign Number¹
1. Wheels (vehicle) 391
2. Middle 256
3. Restrain 327
4. Wheels (vehicle) 391
5. Mouth 261
6. Concealed 137
7. Track 86
8. Wheels (vehicle) 391
9. Wheels (vehicle) 391
10. Drive 216

The first symbol is a pictograph of a wheel. Hence, it is the noun wheels. It refers to vehicles approaching the gate.

The noun wheels is repeated as symbols four, eight and nine.

The second symbol shares a common root with the Chinese character zhòng . It is the adjective middle.

The third symbol is a pictograph of two bundles strapped to a zipline. It is the verb to restrain or control. It is related to the Chinese character shù .

The fifth symbol has two possible readings. It is a full size character, which suggests that it is a pictograph of a perimeter wall. The perimeter wall is equivalent to the Chinese character wéi 囗. However, the context lends itself to a second reading, which is a pictograph of a mouth. The second reading is equivalent to the Chinese character kǒu 口. In this translation, I have opted for the noun entrance.

The sixth symbol is an ideograph meaning to obscure or to screen. It refers to the concealed nature of the citadel.

The seventh symbol is a pictograph of a narrow track. In the Indus inscriptions that I have studied, it means track; way; or, route.

The tenth symbol is comprised of two elements.

The first element shares a common root with the Chinese character yòu 又. It is an ideograph that might be thought of as a pictograph of the upper torso and forearms. It gives us the verb to manipulate or to operate.
The second element is the addition of two hands. The hands modify the meaning. Hence, the tenth symbol is the verb to drive.

In summary, the signboard might be read as:

‘Vehicles: Central area is restricted!

Vehicular entrance to the citadel.

Route for vehicles.

Vehicles: go.’

There is no punctuation in the original text. I have therefore guessed at the sentence breaks. It is possible to interpret the signboard differently. However, there were two gates to the citadel, and my guess is that there was a one way system, with traffic entering via the north gate and leaving via the west gate.

Author's Note

This webpage has had several revisions since it was first published in 2015. This was necessary to incorporate the knowledge that I have gained whilst working on the first edition of the Indus script to English dictionary.

The following page, next stage of decipherment , has not been changed since 2015.



Inscription found near the north gate of the citadel in Dholavira: Siyajkak, 2007: Wikimedia Commons: near_the_northern_gateway_of_the_Dholavira_citadel.jpg: Accessed: 8 September 2014.


1. The Indus sign numbers are taken from: Sign List of the Indus Script: Iravatham Mahadevan, 1977: The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables: The Director General Archaeological Survey of India.


This webpage was revised in October 2018.