AMA, THE GREAT KING OF SUMER, ELAM AND INDUS
By Ranajit Pal
“Rama, Lakshmana and Sita are truer to Indians than even their own family members. ... If we can cherish and nurture the ideals of brotherly love, truthfulness, chastity and loyalty described in the Epic, then our homes and work-places would remain freshened by zephyrs from the great sea”.
"The caprice of discovery plays a large part in writing the history of a man's early past" wrote Margaret S. Drower in the Cambridge Ancient History and this is more than true in the case of Rama whose true history remains largely unknown. The recent Sethusamudram fiasco [i] is a stark reminder that dust is yet to settle over the so-called Rama Janmabhumi at Ayodhya [ii]. It is a sad irony of fate that this mordant dispute involves Rama, the greatest hero of Indian myth. No God uniquely symbolizes the spirit of Hinduism but the deified Rama comes closest to a single visible embodiment of the Indian ethos. Rama’s self-sacrifice, piety, righteousness, and valour has enthralled Indians for ages. The fact that some of the greatest Indians like Mahatma Gandhi,[iii] Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore [iv] were inspired by Rama shows how deeply ingrained he is in Indian culture. Hinduism generally denies the sanctification of rigid written codes, yet the Bhagavad-Gita and the Ramayana are the closest equivalents of Hindu scriptures [v]. In Buddhist doctrine, ignorance is at the root of all evil. While the claim of the Hindus is archaeologically absurd, the Muslims have also forgotten that Rama was once their much-adored hero.
‘Build Rama in your heart’, enjoin Rama’s ardent devotees, totally unaware that Rama belongs to the world and cannot be circumscribed within any single country or sectarian creed. The Ramayana once influenced a greater part of humanity than any other Epic. It was also popular in Iran, Central Asia, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Japan and even the Philippines [vi]. The learned British Sanskritist, J. L. Brockington terms the Ramayana a classic of world literature. An Epic is no history yet its impact on posterity is often moulded by its historical nuance. The worldwide appeal of the Ramayana implies that Rama must have been a great historical figure.
The Colonial Assault On History
Myths and miracles are integral parts of all great religious literature but clearly without a historical kernel the Ramayana would never have become a world classic. At the root of the problems with Rama Janmabhumi lies glaring historical ignorance. Writers of the London school like R. Thapar and R. L. Basham overlook that Rama’s India was a far wider territory than British India. Urbanism in Gangetic India or South India did not begin much earlier than the Mauryan age which makes it absurd to seek the historical Rama in these regions. The great antiquity of Rama can be sensed from the fact that even in the age of the Vishnu Purana his figure had receded to the distant horizon [vii] and he was likened to a God. The historicity of Rama was stressed by elder scholars like R. S. Tripathi and R. C. Majumdar but is denied by writers of the London (SOAS) school [viii]. This highly distorted view in effect denigrates Rama and has had a very damaging effect on Indian society [ix]. After the discovery of the Indus cities it was hoped that archaeology would unearth figures like Rama and Arjuna [x] but this was made impossible by Jones’ false [xi] discovery which in stroke shifted the centre of early India far to the east. This shallow standpoint has deluded many unwary scholars [xii] and relegated not only Rama but many other famous Indian figures like Manu, the Nandas, Chandragupta etc. to the backyard of history. Central to Basham's thesis is an ignorance of not only Mesopotamian history but regrettably also that of neighbouring Iran. Jones had a great respect for India’s heritage and culture and his error was inadvertent but there were others in the government who had sinister motives. T. A. Phelps has highlighted the attempt of the colonial administration to fraudulently justify Jones’ decrepit theory [xiii] by moving artifacts and re-inscribing.
Rama, A Hero Of The Medians And Iranians
As the Ramayana shows, there cannot be any doubt about Rama's presence in Haryana, Punjab, Sindh and Afghanistan but due to the difficulty of deciphering Indus writing Rama’s presence in the Indus area remains unknown. However, that Rama was far from a mere ‘tribal hero’ as described by Basham and Thapar can be seen from many ancient documents. The famous Orientalist I. M. Diakonoff gave the significant clue that names of ancient Medians often included the affix Rama, [xiv] in preference to common deities like Mitra, Ahura Mazda etc.. T. Cuyler Young, an eminent Iranologist who has written on the history and archaeology of early Iran in the Cambridge Ancient History and the encyclopedia Britannica, writes [xv] that one can look for early Hindu and Sanskrit connection outside of the sub-continent. `Ram' was a sacred name in pre-Islamic Iran; Arya Ram-anna was an early ancestor of Darius-I whose gold tablet is an early document in Old Persian; Ram is an important name in the Zoroastrian calendar; the Ram Yast is devoted to Rama and Vayu, possibly an echo of Hanuman; many Rama-names occur in Persepolis tablets. Ram Bazrang is the name of a Kurdish tribe of Fars. Frye lists [xvi] many Sasanian cities with Ram-names: Ram Ardashir, Ram Hormuzd, Ram Peroz, Rema and Rumagam. Ram-Sahristan was the famed capital of the Surens. Ram-alla is a town on the Euphrates and also in Palestine.
Rama and Bharata in the Highly Authentic Sumerian King-List
Fortunately, a study of Sumerian history provides a fairly vivid flesh-and-blood picture of Rama. The highly authentic Sumerian King-list appear such hallowed names as Bharat (Warad) Sin and Rim Sin. Sin was the Moon god Chandra and as the cuneiform symbol for ‘Rim’ can also be read as ‘Ram’, Rim Sin is the same as Rama Chandra. In the Sumerian texts Ram-Sin is said to be from Elam which links him to Indo-Iran. Rama was the longest reigning monarch of Mesopotamia who ruled for 60 years. Bharat Sin ruled for 12 years (1834-1822 BC), exactly as stated in the Dasaratha Jataka. The Jataka statement, "Years sixty times hundred, and ten thousand more, all told, / Reigned strong-armed Rama", only means that Rama reigned for sixty years which agrees exactly with the data of Assyriologists. Ayodhya may be Agade the capital of Sargon which has not yet been identified. It is possible that Agade was near Der or the Heart near Harayu or Sarayu. Learned scholars like D. P. Mishra were aware that Rama could be from the Herat area. The noted linguist Sukumar Sen also noted that Rama is a sacred name in the Avesta where he is mentioned together with Vayu. Rama is called Rama Margaveya in some texts from which Dr. Sen concluded that he hailed from Margiana. The Cambridge Ancient History contains priceless information relevant to Indian ancient history. The Sumerian records furnish the first date of the Indus era - the war with Ravana took place in 1794 BC. The significance of the fact Ram-Sin's reign (60 years) was the longest in Sumerian history has been lost on most writers. There are two Ram-Sins in Sumerian history.
Raghupati Rama in the Old Testament of the Bible
Although, according to historians like R. Thapar, the Bible is irrelevant in Indian history, a careful study of it provides invaluable information about Raghupati Rama (Laghumal) that help in unraveling the 'dark backward and abysm of time'. A Genesis story in the Old Testament runs as follows:
"At that time Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal, king of Goyim went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar).
Amraphel is interpreted by most scholars as a contraction of Hammurabi-ilu but the names of Arioch king of Larsa and Kedorlaomer king of Elam need careful study. The name seems to correspond to Kudur-lahgumal which occurs in three late Babylonian legends, one of which is in poetical form. Besides Kudur-lahgumal, two of these tablets also mention Eri-Aku, son of Durmah-ilani, and one of them refers to Tudhul(a) or Tidal which prove the veracity of the Biblical tradition. The name Durmah is an echo of Dharma and cannot but be related to Indian history.
Durmah-ilani Of The Babylonian Texts Was Dasaratha, Father of Rama
Kudur Mabuk is frequently described in the literature as a tribal Shaikh which is sadly inappropriate. The term Shaikh should more appropriately be replaced by Saka which links him to the Indo-Iranians or Indo-Aryans. This is related to the fact that Gotama Buddha was called a Shakya. This must be the reason why the Buddhists considered Rama as their hero although scholars like Sir Harold Bailey have ascribed this to pure opportunism. The term Mabuk also appears to be related to the epithet Mahabhaga. It may be mentioned that Gotama was called a Bhagava which corresponds to the Babylonian title of Bagapa. This sheds light on the significance of the name Durmah-ilani. The name Tusratta of some later Mitannian kings appears to be an echo of Dasaratha. Margaret S. Drower translates Tusratta's name 'owner of terrible chariots' but it may in fact be 'Owner of Ten Chariots' or 'Ten-fold Chariots', echoing Dasratha's name. Dasaratha may have led a confederacy of ten kings. The name has echoes in the later names like Aryaratha.
A Ram-Chapel at UR
One of the major triumphs of modern archaeology was the hair-raising discoveries of Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur. Amidst the ruins of Ur, he unearthed a Ram-Chapel but totally missed its import in world history. This crucial finding not only bridges the wide gaps between Indian tradition and archaeology but also unfolds the historic bonds that once united ancient India, Iran and Mesopotamia. Ram-Sin of Larsa to whose memory this chapel was dedicated must have been Rama of Valmiki.
Ram-Chapel at UR (Picture Courtesy Joan Oates, ‘Babylon’. P. 77)
Sita, a Highly Respected Figure of the RigVeda
The RigVeda [xvii] refers to an Asura (powerful king) named Rama but makes no mention of Kosala. In fact the name Kosala was probably Khas-la and may correspond to Mar-Khase (Bar-Kahse) of the Sumerian records. The RigVeda also refers to Sita (IV,57.6) with singular respect; `Auspicious Sita, come thou near, we venerate and worship thee'. Warad-Sin’s sister was consecrated as the high-priestess of the moon-god at Ur under the Sumerian name Enanedu [xviii]. The first known chief priestess of Ur was Hedu-anna, sister of Rimush [xix]. There survives a number of hymns composed by her in fluent Sumerian which makes her the first literary figure of history. Her enormous prestige in Mesopotamia can be gauged from the fact that 1500 years later King Nabonindus recorded how he had searched for and recovered her memorial. This lamentation speaks of her exile (from Ur) and exile is an important theme of Valmiki though not of the Jataka, which suggests accretion. Did the first poetess of history inspire the first poet of India?
Unidentified Rock-Cut Relief Near Sutala - Rama and Sita?
"The rock carvings of Iran, in spite of a century of study, are still inadequately published.", wrote N. C. Debevoise in 1942. The fact is that even after 150 years of study these are still being interpreted from a very primitive perspective that ignores that the Indian and Iranian traditions are inextricably linked. This was known to great scholars like Sir Aurel Stein and Sir Charles Eliot but modern scholars have generally overlooked it.
One of the best preserved ancient reliefs is one near the ancient site of Kurangun on a high cliff which can be seen from afar. In the main scene, which is enclosed in a rectangular frame, a god sits on a throne formed by the coils of a serpent which he holds by the neck. He also holds a vessel from which two streams of water flow. One stream forms a canopy over the god and a goddess behind him and is probably caught
Picture courtesy Prof. Mark Garrison
in a vessel held by an attendant. The other stream flows toward the long-robed slender worshippers approaching the deities. A large number of squat pig-tailed figures in short kilts are carved on the rock as if descending toward the principal scene. There is a considerable difference in style between these figures and those of the main scene, which has been explained by assuming that this scene was re-cut at a later time than the procession of worshippers. [xx]
The throne formed by the coils of a serpent is reminiscent of Hanuman seated on his coiled tail which is a common theme in later Indian art. The large number of squat pig-tailed figures may be a representation of the Vanaras (Amorites).
It has to be remembered that during Elamite rule Kurangun was a dual capital with Susa, That Ram-Sin was an Elamite is known from the Sumerian records but where in Elam was his capital? His father came from Der which resembles the name of Mohenjodaro (probably Maha-Anga-Dvara). Did Elam of the Sumerians include the lands further East ? Although the standard texts on Iran do not mention it, the most sacred figure of ancient Iran was Rama. Writers like R. N. Frye have missed that an early ancestor of Darius-I was Arya Ram-anna whose name bears a clear echo of `Ram' and that the name of the first Sasanian king Ram Behist is also a remembrance of Rama. Ram-Sahristan (Suryasthana?) was the famous capital of the Surens of Seistan and many Sasanian city-names echo Rama.
The answer to many questions is provided by the name of Sih-talu or Sutala near Kurangun. Sutala was the capital of Bali, an enemy of Rama, but after his death it must have been taken over by kings who were loyal to Ram-Sin. That Bali was a king of Iran has been forgotten. In Sumerian myth, Balih, son of Etana ruled Kish for 400 years. In the Ramayana also Kishkindhya (Kish-Khanda?) was the capital of Sugreeva, brother of Bali.
Ilu-Ma-Ilu, the Hanuman of the Epic, was a Marut or Amorite
As the cuneiform symbol for 'ilu' can also be read as 'an', the name Ilu-ma-ilu who was an adversary of the Hammurabi dynasty can also be read as Hanuman. Jona Oates also writes the name as Iliman which supports this. Hanuman leader of the Vanaras, is called Maruti which may link him to the Martus or Maruts of the Sumerian texts. The Martus were the Amorites of modern writers. The best known Amorite was Hammurabi who must have been a distant kin of Iliman or Hanuman. The original character of the Maruts, the chief among the Vedic Indra's personal attendants is vague and shadowy in early Vedic literature. The Maruts were associated with the vedic god Rudra and were said to be the messengers of death, their name being derived from the root √mar, to die. The Maruts were said to be storm-gods.
Ravana Was The Great Law-Maker Hammuravi, son of Mubalit
If Ram-Sin is identified as Rama his greatest Amorite enemy Hammurabi must be Ravana or Ravi-anna. This presents some difficulties although Valmiki's version of the the abduction of Sita probably has more to do with poetic imagination than history. However, that she was the chief priestess of the moon-temple at Ur may have been at the root of some events of the politically turbulent era. There is a possibility that at some stage Ur was captured by Hammurabi. The chief-priestess of Ur was inviolable under Sumerian law and the fact that Ravana did not dishonour Sita may show his regard for law. The Battle between Khammu-ravi and Ram-Sin who led a group of Ten-Kings was one of the most famous events of Sumerian history. Whether the name Sin-Mubalit of Hammu-rabi's father links him with Mahabali, a name of Bali, is uncertain but this may even be true. The Ramayana describes Ravana's clashes with Bali which are clearly poetic in nature. Even here the fact that Bali carries Ravana in his lap may reveal his true relationship. Much has been written about Khammuravi that is undoubtedly true but in a sense Ram-Sin’s contribution has been underplayed. The great Assyriologist C. J. Gadd, however, termed Ram-Sin’s reign as the golden age of Sumer.
Bandar-e Lengeh In The Persian Gulf
The fact that Khammu-ravi’s palace has not been found in Babylon may be due to the presence of an older city named Babil in Eastern Iran. Although this is denied by the presently available archaeological evidence is likely that future excavations would unearth Hammu-rabi's link with the Seistan area. Learned archaeologists like H. D. Sankalia of the Deccan College, Pune, were not aware of Jones’ blunder but wrote in clear terms that modern Sri Lanka cannot be the Lanka of Valmiki. Reference may be made here to Bandar-e Lengeh in the Laristan area of the Persian gulf. According to E. A. Speiser, many Sumerian city-names were echoes of the names of earlier cities in Elam. Thus Larsa may be an echo of Lar in the Gulf area. Lar was once the name of Gujrat. There may also have been an earlier Kish near Sih-talu. It may be Lanka of the Ramayana was near Bandar-e Lengeh. There is a small island near Lengeh which may also be significant. Some other names like Hetumant in the Helmand area remind one of Setuband. Dandanakan near Merv was on the Silk route and resembles Dandakavana.
Rama in the Indus Seals?
Some German scholars dated Valmiki in twelfth century BC and there is no reason for not searching for him in the ruins of the Indus cities. Once the Jonesian stumbling blocks are removed it may be possible to read Rama’s history in the Indus seals. Although it is not easy to pinpoint relics of Rama and Arjuna it is just possible that the symbol of the bowman in the Indus seals stands for Rama.
The Arrival of the Indo-Iranians in Sumer
That Rama was an Indo-Aryan or an Indo-Iranian but Hammu-ravi was not so appears to be fairly certain and this adds an extra dimension to the clashes between them. Furthermore the presence of Indo-Aryans in Sumer in the early second millennium BC disproves some of the old assumptions about the arrival of the Indo-Iranians in the middle east.
[i] The Archaeological Survey of India's affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that the so-called Rama-Bridge is in no way related to Rama may have been politically motivated but there is nothing to disprove it scientifically. Even Konraad Elst, a staunch proponent of ‘Hindutva’, agrees that the so-called Rama-Setu is not a man-made construct.
[ii] In a sense, historicity of Rama, or the Ram-temple, concerns only a small minority of truth-seekers. It is distressing to realize that even for some educated Indians the crux of the matter is not the historical truth but what most people believe to be true. See Tharoor, S., ‘India’, Penguin, 1997, p. 58.
[iii] Even when struck by an assassin’s bullet Gandhi’s last words are said to have been ‘Hey Ram’.
[iv] Tagore warned about the ill effects of false history at a very early stage.
[v] Rama is a greatly respected, if not properly understood figure of the sub-continent. Even the MQM chief of Pakistan has recently expressed his veneration for Rama.
[vi] In the third millennium BC, the Gilgamesh Epic swayed the whole of the civilized world from the Indus valley to Egypt.
[vii] "I have given this history. The existence of these kings will in future become a matter of doubt and speculation. Emperors become mere legends in the current of time - the Emperors who thought and think that `India is mine'." Vishnu Purana (iv,Ch.24 vv.64-77).
[viii] Jacobi and Winternitz considered the Epics to be allegories. A. L. Basham of SOAS London held that the main story must have existed in a form similar to Valmiki's tale around the beginning of the Christian era. According to him Rama was considered as an incarnation of Vishnu but was still a minor figure in the Gupta age (4th to 6th cent. AD). From this he concluded that Rama and his father were minor chieftains whose exploits were `chance remembered'. Basham’s thesis has been faithfully repeated by R. Thapar of SOAS who has a large following among gullible politicians and media barons.
[ix] The recent spate of journalistic writing betrays a pathetic ignorance of the fundamental points of history and archaeology. To use a vulgar usage, Rama has become a “political football’ kicked by ignorant political leaders.
[x] Even after rejecting Jones it is not easy to pinpoint relics of Rama and Arjuna. See ante
[xi] The eminent scholar Prof. N.G. L. Hammond admits that ‘Patna is too far east’. Personal communication.
[xii] Even such a keen observer of the Indian scene as Amartya Sen sees Rama mainly through tinted Jonesian glasses.
[xiv] Diakonoff, Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 2, p. 140.
[xv] “Your piece in the Sunday Statesman on Ram is most interesting. Unfortunately, I do not have either Sanskrit or Sumerian, so I am not able to follow your argument in any detail. Nevertheless, it seems to me quite reasonable to look for early Hindu and Sanskrit connection outside of the sub-continent. After all, we know that the early speakers of Sanskrit were not native to India, and so it is logical to consider early connections with Western Asia. Congratulations on a most stimulating article.” Personal communication to Dr. Ranajit Pal, dated January 14, 1992.
[xvi] Frye, R. N., `The Heritage of Persia', London, p. 291.
[xvii] This to Duḥśīma Pṛthavāna have I sung, to Vena, Rama, to the nobles, and the King. They yoked five hundred, and their love of us was famed upon their way.
[xviii] Joan Oates, 'Babylon', p. 62
[xix] Gadd, C.J., `Cambridge Ancient History', vol. 1, pt.2, p. 435.
[xx] Edith Porada writes, “There is a considerable difference in style between these figures and those of the
main scene, which has been explained by assuming that this scene was re-cut at a later time than the procession
of worshippers. It is not possible to be definite about this, however, or to fix the date of the main scene with any
certainty. One can merely say that a god with a flowing vase first occurs in the Akkad period (c. 2370-2230 BCE)
but that the motif of the flowing vase survived in varied and extended form in the Middle Elamite period, as shown
by the examples on the stele of Untashgal. It is not impossible therefore that the relief of Kurangun was made in
the middle or even in the latter half of the second millennium BCE.”