Tuesday, 8 November 2016

ANCIENT NUBIA AND MEROE- NOTES FROM THE WRITINGS OF HISTORIANS OF THE PAST

The Britannica Encyclopedia states that Nubia, one of the earliest civilizations of ancient North-eastern Africa, flourished along the Nile river in regions that are today identified as northern Sudan and southern Egypt. 

Nubia is traditionally divided into two regions. The southern portion known as Upper Nubia was called Cush by the Egyptians and Ethiopia by the ancient Greeks. Lower Nubia was the northern part of the region and was called Wawat. 

Biblical sources trace the earliest ancestry of the Nubians to Noah and his son Ham, who in turn was the father of the greatest ever Nubian ruler Cush who's capital city was Kerma. The existence of Cush's reign is tentatively estimated  at around 3000 BC.

The Nubian names Ham and Cush have lead some to put forth the view that their legend might have its source in the ancient Indian epic, the Ramayana. The Ramayana is the story of the great ancient Indian God-King, Sri Ram, who had a son by the name Kush


The Ramayana traces the lineage of Sri Ram to Manu, the first man on earth, much like how the Nubian texts trace the lineage of Ham to Noah, whom they regarded as the first man. Biblical sources say that the name of the father of 'Cush' was 'Ham'. It is highly likely that these sources are inadvertently referring to Manu, Lord Rama and Kush. 

In the compilation 'Memoirs Relating to European & Asiatic Turkey', 1820, edited by the Robert Walpople, the author states, "It is probable, that a more minute observation of the remains of sacred buildings in Nubia would throw light on the hypothesis of Sir William Jones, that Ethiopia and Hindustan were peopled or colonized by ‘the same extraordinary race'. Characters have been found in Ethiopia which have an astonishing resemblance to those of ancient Sanscrit, and particularly to the inscriptions in the caves of Canara, in India". The author is referring to the Kanheri caves of Maharashtra here.


Sri Ram had two sons, Kush and Lava. In Sanskrit, 'Kush' is translated as 'grass'. It is said that 'Kush' was 'created' by Rishi Valmiki (the author of Ramayana) from 'grass'. In ancient Indian texts, Africa was referred to as 'Kusha-dwipa' (कुश द्वीप), 'the island of grasslands'. Uncannily, the Nubian king, Cush had a grandson by the name 'Ramaah'.

The Name 'Nubia' came into use in the Roman period. The origin of the name Nubia is obscure. Some have linked it to nwb, the ancient Egyptian word for gold. However, for much of antiquity, the region south of the 1st cataract of the Nile was called 'Kush.' The Kushites developed powerful kingdoms. The first was centered 
at Kerma (2000–1650 BC). The later kingdom had capitals at Napata (800–270 BC) and Meroe (270 BC–370 AD).

Kerma was the capital city of the Sudanese Kingdom of Cush (3000-1785 BC). The name 'Kerma' is probably a distortion of the Sanskrit 'Karma' (कर्म) meaning 'action.

Another Sanskritic name is Meroe which is close cognate of 'Meroe is 'Meru' (मेरु) which translates as 'Divine Mountain' from Sanskrit. The link between Meroe and Meru is not that far-fetched considering that Tanzania too has a mountain by the name of Mt. Meru which is the second highest peak after Mt. Kiliminjaro. 

Jean-Antoine Dubois, (1765 – 1848), a French Catholic missionary in India, and member of the 'Missions Etrangères de Paris', who authored the book, 'Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies', a valuable work of Indology stated that in the Indian tradition the belief is that the route of civilization is from north to south and that civilization descended from Mt. Meru and Mt. Mandara situated in the remotest quarter of the north. 


Edward Pococke states in 'India in Greece' that the  route of civilization was from north to south and hence  "we must bid farewell to the idea that this (India) country received the grains  of religion from the continent of Africa; the only remaining supposition is that Meroe was indebted for its civilisation to India."- the argument being that had civilization moved from south to north, ancient Hindu authors would have stated the name of the sea and sea-route from were the civilization travelled from the south rather than Mt. Meru and Mandara situated in the north.


 A stylised elephant, much like the temples of India,
at the Meroe ruins in Mussawarat, Sudan.
The four-armed, three faced lion-headed god Apedemek at Meroite ruins in Sudan
has a close resemblance to Hindu God Narsimha

Lucius Flavius Philostratus (170-250-AD), a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period states in his works that the Ethiopians were originally an Indian race, compelled to leave India from  the impunity contracted by slaying a monarch to whom they owed allegiance.

Julius Africanus Thallus, was an early historian who wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean world from before the Trojan War to the 167th Olympiad, c. 112-109 BC. Most of his work, like the vast majority of ancient literature, has been lost, although some of his writings were quoted by later authors. Thallus, often cited for details on Syrian and Assyrian history stated in his works that "the Ethiopians, emigrated from the river Indus and settled in the vicinity of Egypt."

'Uttara Ramayana' (the Indian text that traces the story of Luva and Kush) mentions that Kush had a great great grandson by the name' Nabha'. In Sanskrit , NAbha (नाभ) means 'centre', and, Nabha (नभ) means 'sky'. Many scholars from India have argued that Lord Rama's sons, Kusha expanded his empire westward. Though his capital city was 'Ayodhya', Kush also made a city by the name 'Kushapur'. 

What is interesting is that there is yet another Kush in the lineage of the Ikshvaku's, the dynasty  to which Lord Rama belonged. And he precedes the birth of Lord Rama. In fact, the Valmiki Ramayana says that  Lord Brahma, the creator of the world had a son by the name 'Kusha' - the one with the 'Highest Soul'. Kusha had four sons, who he encouraged to rule and govern piously. Kusha's four  sons developed four cities including one that was named Kusha Nabha. 

Up north from Sudan in Egypt lies the ancient archaeological site by the name 'Nabta Playa'. Nabta Playa is an ancient stone observatory aligned to the Sun and constellation Orion. The entire sky can be mapped from Nabta Playa, and therefore the link with Sanskrit word 'Nabha' which is Sanskrit for 'sky' is ascertained.

Suggested Links:

1. 'None but India' by Jagat Motwani
2. About Nubia
3. Ancient Kingdoms in Land of War
4. Ancient Sudan : Nubia
5. Dravadin, Mande and Elamite by Clyde Winters
6. Nubia and Nubians
7  Son of Ham: Cush
8. Aksum & Nubia Commerce, Warfare and Political Fictions by George Hatke
9. The Athenaeum - Journal of Literature Science, and the Fine Arts Issue 271-321, Jan-Dec 1833
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