Friday, 5 May 2017

THE OLDEST REFERENCE TO THE SACRED PALM TREES OF SUMERIA, MESOPOTAMIA, ASSYRIA AND PHOENICIA IS IN THE RAMAYANA

The Palm was the traditional sacred tree of Persia, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Sumeria and Phoenicia. The Tree of Life in the Babylonian Garden of Eden story is a palm. But much before these civilizations came into existence, and before the Bible was written, the ancient Hindu text of Ramayana identifies the whole of the extended Persian region with that of a few geographical sites of which Mt. Meru and Mt. Asta are significant. But, the Ramayana identifies this entire region with just one man-made structure - a gigantic ten-leaved golden palm tree with a magnificent podium. Here are the details:

In the Ramayana, four 'vanara' brigades are readied to be sent out in four different directions for the search of 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 in captivity, one of the search parties is preparing to head west. The search-party is given a route-map by Sugreeva, the vanara chief, which they are told will lead them right up to what was known as the Asta Mountain. 'Asta' (अस्त) is Sanskrit for 'Sunset', and for the 'vanara' commando brigade Mt. Asta was the limit of the western most point that they were to scour for Sita. Mt. Asta's location can be traced to somewhere in the present day Middle East. There is enough evidence for that in the Ramayana. Here are a few clues:

One of the easily identifiable locations that Valmiki mentions is the geographical point where the Sindhu, that is the Indus falls into the Sea.  Moving further west away  from the Indian coast towards a waterlogged mountain glittering like gold by the name 'Paariyatra', the vanaras are told, is a region inhabited by ferocious 'Gandharvas'. 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' are told they will 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.

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 Meru. These appear to be mountain peaks of the Zagros range. Mt. Varaha is probably what is today called Kuh-e-Vararu. Valmiki mentions that close by is the 'golden city of Prag-jyotisha' . That must be a reference to an ancient city in the vicinity of where Tehran stands today.

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 '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. 

As they move further west from 'Sarvaani Meru' to Mt. 'Asta' the 'vanaras' are  told that they will see a 'gigantic ten-leaved date-palm-tree, which is completely golden and shines forth with a marvellous podium'. Here is the verse from the Ramayana: 

अन्तरा मेरुम् अस्तम् च तालो दश शिरा महान् |
जातरूपमयः श्रीमान् भ्राजते चित्र वेदिकः || ४-४२-४६


"In between Mt. Meru and Mt. Asta there is a gigantic ten-leaved Date-palm-tree, which is completely golden and shines forth with a marvelous podium. [4-42-46]

The date-palm tree is a highly respected tree in the Persian-Sumerian-Mesopotamian region. The tradition of gifting golden palm trees by monarchs to others of equal rank has been recorded in the Persian region for centuries. Writes Allegra Iafrate in his 'The Wandering Throne of Solomon: Objects and Tales of Kingship', "..The Golden Palm Tree reaches far back in time. The presence of a tradition of an artificial metal palm trees in what we can loosely call the Persian region is particularly interesting....Although alternatively identified with the tree of life or with the stylized representation of a date-palm tree, the figure would seem to represent a cult object consisting of an actual tree trunk or a pole, encased in bronze or gold sheaths, on which other movable parts like branches and leaves were inserted. ...Archaeological evidence, particularly during excavations made at Nimrud and Khorsabad... has revealed bronze sheathing embossed with a design of a tree trunk scales or imbrications and the remains of poles. Bronze leaves and branches were also found at excavations at Inshushinak temple in Susa.... The actual symbolic meanings of these objects is far from being clarified. It is certain, however, that these are to be put in relation with sacred spaces.....".

The golden metal date-palm tree mentioned by Valmiki adds a wider chronological span to the custom of erecting or gifting metal date-palm trees in this region. In known history, Iafrate states, temple entrances or across the facade, it was a tradition extending from the third millennium BCE in Mesopotamia: mosaic tesserae mimicking palm trunks were found, for instance, at the Ninhursag temple at Tell al' Ubaid, four miles west of Ur, also in the Eanna precincts at Uruk, circa 3200-2900 BCE, on a ziggurat dedicated to Ianna.




4000 year old Sumerian date-palm  Tree of Life



Sumerian Goddess Ninhursag with a Date-Palm Tree


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


A mural depicting a sacred palm tree

Assyrian artifact depicting a sacred palm tree
with a podium

Though the location and any remains of this ten leaved date palm tree structure has never been identified or even searched-for by scholars,  what is interesting is that in the Ramayana, the 'vanaras' 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 which they are told will be visible from the ocean'. This three-pronged palm tree has been identified as the ancient Paracas Trident of Peru etched on a mountain in the Andes chain. For more on this click here.  See picture below:



The ancient Paracas Trident of Peru is
described as a
three-leafed-palm-tree etched on a
mountain visible from the sea in the Valmiki Ramayana.

Suggested Readings:
1. The Wandering Throne of Solomon: Objects and Tales of Kingship by Allegra Iafrate
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