It is amusing that how we describe people, in our vocabulary we use the word habit, from habitat- the way people dwell, their housing arrangement, or by customs - costume, the way one dresses to express ones tradition/trades, it's commerce. In the bible we see quite a lot of "steeling of clothes" referring to learning of other nations technologies, costumes/customs, also inheriting them. The silk routes both on land and sea were the arteries of antiquities, one of the most important goods were the textiles and colours, it is still resonate in our words and thinking.
India was one of the greatest source of the production of colours, still alive in festivals of Holi, Durga Puja. Our word Indigo comes from the iconic blue paint which europeans thought that were gemstones, came from a plant from the Indus Valley, the Turkey Red is originated in India, spread to turkey later, was made of "sumac and oak galls, calfs blood, sheep's dung, oil, soda, allium, and a solution of tin". Munjeet or Indian Madder is still important plant source of red, Indian yellow distilled from urine from cows fed specific mango leafs or other yellows from curcuma just to mention a few. People were making colours from plant and animal sources, lichens, were fixing it with vinegar or urine, used all sorts of additives. The most sought after ones were the ones that were more lasting, colourfast. The most expensive and exclusive was the dyes made from mollusc, shades of purple and blue. It is still iconic, the garment of Priests and Kings, Colour of Mary and of course the tekhelet(textile traditionally made of the best quality wool).
It was very expensive, the garment dyed with murex fetched its price in its weight in gold, Alexander the great duly noted the dyed fabric next to treasures and ornaments obtained, Cleopatra shown her wealth with her ships sails dyed in blue. The discovery of the dye is a source of legend, the greeks say it was Heracles's dog who chewed on a shell, after wiping its mouth the dye on the fabric just got stronger or the story of the shepherd Hiram, the Phoenician king who saw a dogs mouth bleeding with shell blood, wiping it with wool and making a turban of it.
The dye is secreted from the hypobranchial gland in a mucus form of marine mollusc species, like Chicoreus Ramosus, Murex Brandaris, Hexaplex Trunculus, just to name a few. It is a minute amount of sap ( you have to smash about 10000 shells to produce little over a gram of dye, which only enough to colour a line of purple on the edge of a toga) which develops its colour on the sun, adding colour fixers like salts, wood ash, urine, even milk (both of the latter contains DMSO, a colour fixer), the liquid heated and boiled down. The shells had to be collected alive as it secretes its sap as a defence mechanism, first they were smashing the shells, agitating them to achieve this, later on realised that it is enough to open up the gland, "milk it" so the shell can be thrown back into the water so it recovers, leads to a more sustaining fish farming in larger vats. It was very labour intensive, shell pickers, transporters, murex breakers, dyers, people supplying fabrics, traders. (interesting to note that the first mention of hebrews are from the Middle East, in a form of Apiru or SagAz which means smashers, breakers of brains and sinews, which describe perfectly the activity involving of the production of murex dye) It was a source of income for generations for thousands of years. It is also came with a stench, rotting seafood on the sun, so the importance of incense and cosmetics was a great supporting industry. Like myrrh and frankincense.
The murex dye trade was developed by the Phoenicians, a people of unknown origin around the seashores in the levant. What I do not understand, considering the varied technologies, industries and heritage of colours of India, Murex dye production is absent. So they were making a myriad of colours with all kinds of techniques and (in light of the well attested trade-routes and points of contact) the Indians ignored the most expensive one, did not partake in it. Or did they?
One of the oldest culture in the Indian subcontinent is the Harappa one. The Harappa loved shells, they were eating it, made bracelets from it in the thousands, and a ladle which was held a great importance, made of Chicoreus Ramosus, one of the dye secreting shell. It is still abundant on the sea shores of the Indian ocean and an important trade-good till today. So we have a culture with fascination of seashells, industry to produce various products of it and the evidence of murex shell, treasured. I do think that this culture had all the opportunity for discovering the dye and the know how, the necessary materials to produce it. The oldest Shiva lingams are unearthed in these communities.
Shiva lingam means among others sign, mark, I do not think that it is a far stretch to translate dye as well. The design of the shiva lingam is functionally perfect for a purpose (it is funny coincidence that this word so similar of the word purple). It is a type of bowl or tray sitting elevated with a draining channel and a beak, in the middle of it a larger stone erected. (Jacobs altar is described in a similar fashion).You can pile up a great number of agitated shells around its centre piece, trickling its sap down to the holding tray which can be drained and collected at the beak. You can discard the shells after, dip fabric directly and start new. The stone base can be heated as well. The shiva lingams are accompanied by cows and bulls, source of cows dung for burning, heating the dishes, a source of urine, a colour fixer, transport of shells and discarded shells around dye sites. The symbology of Shiva is a conch/shell, a spear not unlike Poseidon, a good aid in turning up sea-rocks to hunt for the shells and the skin dyed of the colour blue. Around its neck a cobra, -I just wonder if it was originally a wool/textile cord, - riding on its bull. There is a debate on if its a phallic symbol, which might as well be, oozing with purple and blue colour, but please someone explain to me that if its a phallic symbol, why is it still put on a elevated dip-tray with a beak to drain liquids and not made more anatomically correct accompanied by well, the missing parts, obviously they were skilled carvers, if they want to represent a phallus, they are perfectly able to do as they done on the thousands of beautiful temple carvings, in situ. Under some of the shiva lingams on the ground there is a labyrinth groove edged, perfect to place the yarn in, positioned in a way that it catches the drips from the beak. Why it is not a human figure that accompanies the "phallus"? The shiva lingams are accompanied by a cow or bull erected by it,(the tekhelet wearing hebrews were erecting a golden calf as well) on the temple carvings it is often depicted by a figure placing a braided "yarn" over, other often seen carving is a figure making a turban on another with the same yarn (pointing to the legend of Hiram), other carvings showing stages of the "ritual", pouring a liquid over. Paintings are depicting ladies with coloured hands with shells, fabrics and dishes surrounding them, often as well a conch over the shiva lingam dripping liquid over it. I do believe that these altars are tools to make murex dye, the rituals are the remnants of the process of the dye making. The price of the product justify the effort to erect the lingams, considering the effort went into carving, transporting the stones. These altars were lasting, can be inherited. The dye is just great (even if its smelly) offering to the gods.
India's rich literally sources are the other place where I looked for murex dyes. Please remember that this ancient sanskrit is still obscure, the translations and meanings of the hymns we have are just that, interpretations. For long many tried to Identify the Soma plant, soma sacrifice, there is plenty of candidates and theories. There are many references in the Rig Veda, the ones referring to Soma are considered belonging to the older ones, Mandala 8 and 9 are dedicated to it although there are references there are throughout, the information gained sometimes contradicting. We do not know if the mysterious Soma was a plant or an animal. Soma literally means extract, distill and sprinkle, a good way to describe the process. It had no stalks or leafs, a juice was extracted by breaking, pressing the soma between rocks. It was the most valuable and treasured liquid, intoxicating, toxic if taken in large amount, it had medical healing properties, traders came from afar to obtain it, it was reserved to priestly sect, the production involved surprisingly fabrics, fleece and wool.(Sorry to say, but what sort of a drink you make with animal hairs?) Plenty of brilliant robes submerged and references to the sea, piling up Soma, yellow and gold colours around the pillar, the boiling of vats full of the liquid, manipulating it with additives.
If you read the mentioned mandalas, you can interpret them as murex dyers making murex dye, praising their technique of adding of milk/urine, scolding others that do not, promising customer loyalty and listing favourited trading partners with preferred treasures, currency to be exchanged. I would like to mention a few lines about "cuts on the neck" that are referring founding out that you do not have to break and kill, destroy the shell but it is enough to cut the dye secreting gland. There are holding tanks in the sea, a beaker also mentioned many times.
So the dye brought traders loaded with treasures, other products to exchanged and the riches to buy them. The murex and its gland is studied for medical application to date and a common ingredient of Ayurvedic medicine, so is cows urine. The different technologies and materials used were known to the culture. I do believe that the murex dye is just as good a candidate for Soma as others mentioned.
I think that it is reasonable to assume that India, one of the best colour producing region is familiar if not expert source of murex dye too, that the archeology and literal sources are there.
This assumption leads to other questions in history, like why there are thousands of shiva lingams are found outside of Angkor Wat, which declined after the abrupt collapse of murex trade. It is a good starting point to look for the origins of the Phoenicians. It is also refreshes the debate on the origin of Hebrews, interpret their history always keeping in mind that their customs were in a large part were involving murex dye production and trade. Also, the European heritage influenced by Greeks, Romans and the Church, how much the rituals and practices are derived of this activity.
Please forgive me for not posting images as I do not own any and would not want to infringe copyright, I did described the shiva lingams and carvings or tapestries best to my knowledge, obviously you have internet if you read this, please look for the images, there are plenty, apologies again. Images I can use are very welcome!
On Murex dye
Dyes of antiquity and synthesis/Jaime Wisniak
The Purple Murex Dye in Antiquity / Marianne Guckelsberger
The Politics of Purple: Dyes from Shellfish and Lichens / Karen Diadick Casselman, Takako Derada
The First Optimal All-Murex All-Natural Purple Dyeing in the Eastern Mediterranean in a Millennium and a Half / Zvi C Koren
Rarest blue: The remarkable story of an ancient colour lost to history and rediscovered / B Sterman
[www.therarestblue.com] - a very good site with list of readings
Are the traditional medical uses of Muricidae mollusc substantiated by their pharmacological properties and bioactive compounds?/K. Berkendorff, D. Rudd, C.A. Abbott
Anticipating the Silk-Road, some thoughts on wool-murex connection in Tyre/Jane Schneider
Sex-specific tyrian purple genesis / C.Westly, K. Berkendorff
Action of the crude extract of Chicoreus Ramosus hypobranchial gland on the isolated frog heart and rabbit intestine/T. Rajakumar, K. Ayyakkanu
Other dyes, dyeing methods
Indigo in the Arab world/Jenny Balfour-Paul
Recent advances in lychenology Volume2
Modern Methods and Approaches in Lichen Systematics and Culture Techniques
Dalip Kumar Upreti,Pradeep K Divakar,Vertika Shukla,Rajesh Bajpai,CS Nautiyal
Ancient Mesopotamian materials and industries/ P.R. Stuart Moorey
On vedic Soma/Soma sacrifice
How a psychoactive substance becomes a ritual: the case of Soma /F Staal
A Botanical Perspective on the Identity of Soma (Nelumbo Nucifera Gaertn.) Based on Scriptural and Iconographic Records / Andrew McDonald
Accounts of ancient texts
Apocrypha Arabica : 1. Kitab al Magall, or the book of the rolls. 2. The story of Aphikia. 3. Cyprian and Justa, in Arabic. 4. Cyprian and Justa, in Greek / Margaret Dunlop Gibson
Pliny the Elder, The Natural History John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., Ed.
Aristotle The history of animals V
Vedic scripts, Mandala 8 and 9
The Holy Bible, Avesta and Pahlavi scripts
good archeological site on culture of Harappa
Please have a look at Rakhighari site with its pyramids made of cows dung, source of fuel for fire
Mojenjo daro and the Indus civilisation / John Marshall
Anacalypsis /G. Higgins
Thank you again for your time and please let me know what you think!