Thursday, 12 March 2015


Elam was an ancient Pre-Iranic civilization located in the far west and south west of what is present day Iran dated to roughly 3200-540 BC. Knowledge of Elamite history remains largely fragmentary and the reconstruction of its history is based mainly on Mesopotamian sources.

The Elamites were known as a warlike people who were the rivals of Babylon. Although the presence of other groups and tribes in this region is known from other written evidence, still the Elamites are the best- attested pre-Achaemenid population east of the Tigris-Euphrates plain in the cuneiform (wedge shaped script etched on clay tablets)  sources of Mesopotamia, Susiana (east of Tigris river in Iran) , and Fars (an ancient Province in Iran which is the location of Persepolis, Pasargad and Estakhr sites).

The history of Elam’s artistic culture is closely linked with the art of Mesopotamia. Among the Elamite remains from the second millennium B.C. are two fascinating rock reliefs - one at the cliffs of Kurangan, the other at Naqs-i Rustam. Both show nearly similar scenes, but while the Naqs-i Rustam relief has almost entirely disappeared, the Kurangun relief, carved atop a cliff by the Fahlian River has been preserved in an excellent condition.

The Kurangan Relief in Fars, Iran.
The relief depicts a god and a goddess seated on a coiled serpent.

The central panel of the Kurangun Reliefbdates to the seventeenth century BC and is carved in a rectangular frame. It shows a divine couple, sometimes identified as the god Insusinak seated on a coiled serpent and goddess Napirisa by his side and are shielded by the hood of the serpent.The divine couple is honored and surrounded by nobles or dignitaries who standby with folded hands. 

A sketch of the Kurangan Relief, Iran.
Notice the central character seated on a coiled serpent.

The divine couple is shielded by the serpent's hood.
Now, the above scene is reminiscent of the reliefs and stone sculptures that depict Vedic India. In the Vedic pantheon the coiled serpent named Shesha is the seat of Lord Vishnu.

Sri Vishnu seated on the coiled serpent named Shesha,
shielded by the hood of Shesha.
Sculpture from Deogarh Temple, Uttar Pradesh, India

In the Vedic belief, when a cycle of creation comes to an end, a subtle residue of the destroyed universe still persists and is known as 'Shesha' (शेष) - 'shesha' in Sanskrit is 'what remains'. Sri Vishnu's serpent named Shesha embodies the remains of the destroyed universe.

Sri Vishnu and Lakshmi seated on the coiled Shesh Nag

In the Iranian annals there is no clear idea as to what the Kurangan relief depicts though it is said that in the Elamite tradition the snake represented the earth. It is quite possible then that the couple deity in the Kurangun relief though identified as Elaminite deity Insusinak and his consort Napirisa, are just distortions of the names and persona of Vishnu and Lakshmi of the Indian pantheon who are seated  on the coiled serpent. 

Suggested Links:

1. Rama - King of Sumer
2. India of the East, India of the West and the Nomadic Jews

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