Monday, 22 May 2017


The Republic of the Congo is a country located in Central Africa. Bantu-speaking peoples who founded tribes during the Bantu expansions largely displaced and absorbed the earliest inhabitants of the region, the Pygmy, about 1500 BC. The earliest inhabitants of the region comprising present-day Congo were the Bambuti people. The Bambuti were linked to Pygmy tribes and were known to have equivalents in parts of India. Bambuti may be just a morphed form of the word 'Vamana' (वामन), the name of a 'dwarf tribe' of India.

The name Congo is derived from the name of the river Congo. In turn the river gets its name from Kongo- a Bantu kingdom which occupied the mouth of this river around the time of its discovery by the Portuguese in 1483. The Bantu kingdom of 'Kongo' derived its name from its people, the Bakongo. Bakongo is an endonym said to mean 'hunters'. South of the Kongo kingdom lay the similarly named Kakongo kingdom. Abraham Ortelius in his world map of 1564 labels yet another kingdom as Manicongo - the city at the mouth of the river.

We see then that the suffix 'kongo' appears in many tribal names and possibly derives from the equivalent of a word for 'public gathering' or 'tribal assembly' as stated by many scholars. Samuel Henry Nelson (1880-1940) states in his book 'Colonialism in the Congo Basin', published by Ohio University Press, ".....It is probable that the word 'Kongo' itself implies a public gathering and that it is based on the root konga, 'to gather'." 

If 'kongo' means 'gathering' then it is no different from the Indo-European 'congre' or 'congregation'. That itself is a variation of the Sanskrit 'sangha' (संघ) which again has the same meaning - congregation. 

In the context of the etymology of the name Congo, the Sanskrit 'sangha' is significant. For one, a tributary of the River Congo is called the Sangha. In fact the river Congo, itself is a congregation, with many tributaries merging in, flowing along, sometimes parting ways and then flowing back into the Congo river. It is a congregation and assimilation of many large streams and tributaries. Hence it is very likely that Congo itself was the Sangha, its name having survived to the present day in the name of one of its tributaries.

The Congo and the Sangha Rivers

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "When the river Congo first became known to Europeans at the end of the 15th century, they called it the Zaire, a corruption of a word that is variously given as nzari, nzali, njali, nzaddi, and niadi and that simply means 'river' in local African languages." However, all these words are just a corruption of the Sanskrit 'nadi' (नदी) which also means 'river'.

On the Congo
 river lies one of the largest towns of the country. Its present name is Kisangini, it was known as Stanleyville for a while, but prior to that it was known as Singitini or Singatini which are Sanskritic by sound. If at all these names have a Sanskrit origin, then the people who named them so must have been a very refined people. The words Singitini and Singatini have a beautiful feminine nuance to them - and the idea of 'Singitini on the Sangha river' indicates a civilization where the language is poetic. Singitani has the meaning of 'companion', Sangha, as mentioned above implies 'gathering'. Kisangani is strategically placed at the junction of the Congo, Tshopo, and Lindi rivers - a 'Sangham' (सङ्घं) of sorts. Not surprisingly, there are a few other points of river confluences named 'Sangama' in the African continent. For more on this click here.

Kisangani was earlier known as Singitini.
It is indeed a Sangham spot as two rivers

merge into the river Congo here.

The sources of the river Congo are in the highlands and mountains of the East African Rift, as well as Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru. Though Mweru is said to mean 'lake' in Bantu languages, the lake is also spelled as 'Moeru', as mentioned in the 'Geographical Dictionary of the World', edited by Angelo Heilprin and Louis Heilprin, first published in 1906. Moeru is phonetically close to the name 'Meru' - the sacred mountain of the Hindu texts.

The name Tanganyika is equally interesting.Lake Tanganyika is the world's longest freshwater lake. So what about the name. In Sanskrit 'Tunda' (तुण्ड) means 'a long snout', that describes the shape of the lake. Yet, this may sound unconvincing unless supported by other facts. But there is more. 

In his Journals about his travels in the Congo, Reverend David Livingstone (1813-1873), a medical missionary, ironically gives details of many sites in Congo, that are interesting in the Hindu and Sanskrit context.  His writings were later also recorded in the book, 'Garenganze or Seven Years Pioneer Mission Work in Central Africa' written by another Scottish Missionary Frederick Stanley Arnot (1858-1914) who too established Christian missions in Congo.

Arnot shares the details of the lakes of Tanganyika, Mweru and Bangweulu and the adjacent mountain range of Kalasa and the caves of Sombwe that he visited in the Katanga region. He states, "... Going north-west, nearly to the Kalasa, I had a good view of the famous cavern mountain...The great cave has two entrances, a distance of five miles or more apart, and within is a running stream. There are also many smaller caves and dens in the mountainous country...". This is at once a reminder both of the caves of Mt. Kailasha and the name Shambhu. Sombwe is now known is also known as Kambove. Kalasa is a common name for males in the Congo. The ancient name of Katanga was Shaba. All these names are related to Lord Shiva. For example Kalasa or Kailasha is the abode of Shiva. Shaba is a cognate of Shiva, and. Kambove or Sombwe are variations of Shambhu, another name of Shiva.

Reverend Dr. Livingstone had earlier described the Kalasa mountains in his journal without writing the details of the name which had inspired Arnot to explore these caves further. Arnot states, "...(Livingstone) turned southward from Tanganyika, his purpose being to go round the east and south of Bangweolo (in 1868 Livingstone had only seen its northwest shore and visited some of the islands) then onto the sources of the Lufira, and up through Katanga to the caves west of Moero, of which the natives give marvellous reports." These were the Sombwe caves later visited by Arnot.

Dolomite from the Caves of Katanga
in Congo.
Malachite Specimen from the caves of Katanga
also called Shaba.
There is another thread though - one that connects the Bantus with not only the village- families of India but also of some of the native American tribes of the Hudson river of the United States. Among the early Bantu tribes, each village unit had a ritual and political head who was known as the *mu-kumu. In the United States, the nearly 40 Indian tribes that had settled on the rivers Hudson, Delaware, Potomac and Susquehanna by the 1650s called their leading tribe, the Lenape, by the title 'Mochomes'. Both mu-kumu and muchome are strangely close to the Sanskrit 'mukhya' (मुख्य) meaning 'chief' which is the title of the village head in India.

There are some similarities with Sanskrit and perhaps Tamil in the mountain names of Congo too. For example, Nyamuragira is the name of a volcano in Congo. The suffix 'giri' (गिरि) in Sanskrit derived languages means mountain, and appears in the names of many mountains in India, especially in the South, such as Vellangiri and Sathuragiri. Perhaps there is a Tamil explanation to the prefix 'Nyamura' in the name 'Nyamuragira'.

Another mountain is named Mangengenge which it is said derives from the Lingala word 'kongenge', which means 'shining'. This name uncannily rings of the name Kanchenjunga which is a distortion of Sanskrit 'Kanchentunga'. Kanchan (काञ्चन) means 'golden', tunga (तुङ्ग) means 'high', 'tall', 'mighty' and 'mountain'. 'Mangen', due its similarity of meaning, may be a variation of Sanskrit 'tunga'. This seems to be true of another mountain name, which is Mt. Nyiragongo. The suffix 'gongo' here again is a cognate of 'tunga' and may simply mean 'mountain' as mentioned above.

Ancient names of mountains, rivers and lakes tend to survive the longest, as compared to names of cities and towns because these are changed by the rulers or chiefs or anyone with political or religious power. It is in the most ancient versions of the names of mountains and rivers of Africa that one sees traces of a more ancient society, perhaps with a deeper link to the Indic civilization.

Friday, 5 May 2017


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