Thursday, 9 May 2013

ANCIENT CENTRAL ASIA - THE RAMAYANA CONNECTION

In the Ramayana, four 'vanara'* brigades are readied to be sent out in four different directions for the search of the 'Goddess' Sita, the wife of  God-King Sri Rama who ruled from the city of Ayodhya, after she is abducted by Ravana, the king of the mighty Lanka (now Sri Lanka) empire. 

At the time when it was not yet established where Sita was being held captive, one of the search party's headed West. The search-party is given a route-map by Sugreeva the vanara chief, and as they follow it, the route-map leads them to what is referred to in the Ramayana as the Asta Mountain. Mt. 'Asta' (अस्त)  which is Sanskrit for 'Sunset', was for the 'vanara' commando brigade the limit of the western most point that they were to scour for Sita.  


An ancient carving from Silemania in Iraq may depict
Sugreeva at the feet of Sri Rama after the death of Bali who can be seen under the right foot of Sri Rama. Notice the ancient Akkadian inscription on the right.
The rock relief is located on the cliff of mountain Darbadi Belula in the Zagros, Sulaimaniya, on the Iran-Iraq border. Relief from circa 2100 BC.



In the Ramayana Sage Valmiki traces the route of the 'vanaras' going in the western direction in details. An easily identifiable location that he mentions is the geographical point where the Sindhu, that is the Indus falls into the Sea. 

That could refer to two geographical locations. One is in present day Karachi where the Indus falls into the Sea. Or since sindhu (सिंधु)  is also a noun which means 'river', Valmiki might have referring to the Narmada river which also falls into the Arabian Sea from the Indian west coast.

At the junction of Sindhu with the ocean, writes Valmiki, there is a huge mountain named Hemagiri - the 'golden-mountain', which has hundreds of summits and gigantic trees. This description fits the topography of the coastal mountains of the Satpura Range & the Western Ghats.

In any case, the 'vanaras' are now en-route the sea, moving further west of the Indian coast towards a waterlogged mountain by the name 'Paariyatra', inhabited, as they are told, by the ferocious 'Gandharvas', its peak glittering like gold. The instruction for the 'vanaras' is to quickly search for Sita and not engage with the 'Gandharvas', nor pluck any fruit from their date-palm trees.

In the sea beyond Mt. Pariyatra, the 'vanaras' would then come across Mt. Vajra, which  shines like a diamond. And further ahead in the fourth quarter of the sea they will find Mt. Chakravaan on which is located the Sudarshana weapon, the 'thousand-spoke wheel' that was constructed by Vishwakarma, the celestial architect. 

The names Chakravan and Sudharshana Chakra suggest the existence of a megalithic circular ('chakra' means 'circular') wheel like structure atop a mountain. This site has not yet been identified though circular megalithic structures exist in Arkaim in Russia and Goebekli Tepe in Turkey. For more on this click here.

Then, moving ahead the 'vanaras' are told that they will in succession come across, many mountain peaks which are named as Varaha, Meghavanta and finally MeruThese appear to be mountain peaks of the Zagros range, located across the Arabian Sea in Iran, extending to Iraq. Valmiki also mentions a city by the name of Pragjyotisha. If we assume that the sea-levels during the Ramayana era were higher than they are today many of the mountains of the Zagros range in Iran would be water-logged.

Mt. Varaaha is described in the Ramayana as an entirely golden mountain with many waterfalls. The Iranian Zagros Mountains too are known to have many waterfalls even today. One of the most magnificent ones is called 'GanjnaMeh'. Once again the name can be decoded with Sanskrit. 'Ganjana-Meh' (गञ्जन-मिह्) means 'Excellent Mist' though 'Ganjana' may be a distortion of 'Kanchana' (कञ्चन) which means 'Golden'. 'Kanchan-Meh' translates as 'golden-mist'.

The closest cognate to the name 'Varaaha' in Iran is the Kuh-e-Vararu or Mt. Vararu. This is located, not in the Zagros  but in Elburz mountain range in the northern part of Iran close to the city of Tehran. If indeed Valmiki was referring to what is today called Kuh-e-Vararu, then the close by 'golden city of Prag-jyotisha' that Valmiki writes about must be in the vicinity of ancient Tehran. 

The ancient Avestan name of Tehran was 'Raghes' and may be derived from the name of Sri Rama who was also known as 'Raghu' (रघु). The Ramayana says that Pragjyotish was the abode of the demon 'Naraka' (नरक) and there indeed is a town by the name of 'Naraku' in Bhushehr province of Iran.  

Close by is the volcanic peak of Damavand, its most ancient known name dating to the Sassanid era is is 'Donbavand'. In Sanskrit 'danav' (दानव) means 'demon' but the name stated in the Ramayana is 'Meghavant'. Once again it is difficult to trace whether the names 'Damavand' and 'Meghavant' have any ancient links but the popular traditions of the villages around Damavand mountain are filled with legends and superstitions of which traces can be found in place names, as in the upper valley of the Lar, where a small ravine sprinkled with marshes, warm springs, and geysers is named Div Asiab or the 'the devil’s mill'. 

The Zagros Mountains in Iran were named after an ancient nomadic tribe, referred to by the name 'Sagar-tians'. Stephanus Byzantinus (6th century AD), who was the author of a geographical dictionary entitled 'Ethnica', wrote that there was a peninsula in the Caspian Sea called 'Sagartia' and that the Sagartians moved south from Sagrtia to what were later known as Zagros mountains. In Sanskrit 'Sagara' (सागर) means 'Sea and its other form 'Sagartia' means 'of the sea'. The Zagros mountains were named after the Sagar-tian tribe who were also referred to as Zagar-thians. 


The golden mountain peaks of the Zagros Mountains.
Zagros gets its name from a sea-faring tribe called 'sagara'. Sagara is Sanskrit for 'sea'.


The 'vanaras' are told to then move along this range of many radiant peaks till they reach the magnificent 'Savarni Meru'. Moving west of  Savarni Meru  is the 'Asta-Giri' which translates as 'Setting Sun Mountain'. The 'vanaras' are told not to go beyond Asta-Giri.

As they travel from 'Sarvaani Meru' to Mt. 'Asta' the 'vanaras' are directed to look for a 'gigantic ten-leaved date-palm-tree, which is completely golden and shines forth with a marvelous podium' .

This gigantic date palm tree seems to have some sacred significance in the ancient civilizations of the region and Assyrian artifacts seem to support this view.


In this artifact Assyrian Gods are seen
with a stylized palm tree
.

Assyrian Goddesses with a stylized palm tree



A mural depicting a sacred palm tree

Assyrian artifact depicting  a sacred palm tree

The location of this ancient 'ten leaved date palm tree' has not been traced. But what is interesting is that in the Ramayana, the search party travelling east in search of Sita are told to keep going forth across many oceans, till they see 'a three-leafed palm tree etched on a mountain near Mt. Udaya' or Sunrise Mt. visible from the ocean'. This has been identified as the ancient 'Paracas Trident of Peru' etched on a mountain in the Andes chain. See picture below:


The ancient Paracas Trident of Peru is
described as a three-leafed-palm-tree in the 

Valmiki Ramayana.
There then is a possibility that the 'ten leafed palm tree' mentioned in the Ramayana may yet be found etched in the mountains of Iran or Iraq! 
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*'Vanara' is commonly translated as 'monkey' but refers to the 'commando brigade' of Sri Rama's troops. 'Vanara' here refers to 'those who live in the forest'.

Suggested Sites:
1. Encyclopedia of Ancient Indian Geography - Subodh Kapoor
2. Ancient Indian History and Civilization - S.N. Sen
3. The suffixes 'mant' and 'vant' in Sanskrit
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