Tuesday, 18 February 2014


Very often Hindus make a claim that Petra, an ancient site in Jordan, has a link with the Indic, Sanskritic, Vedic culture, and of course it receives vehement criticism. But what is the basis to this claim. To those familiar with the Hindu culture, the association is obvious, for the rest of the world, it is unthinkable and unacceptable. It is however, worthwhile to analyze the basis of this claim.

First, let's investigate the name Jordan. Jordan gets its name from River Jordan. The origin of the name 'Jordan' is generally traced to the ancient Semitic word 'Arda'. 'Arda' in turn comes from the Hebrew 'Yorad' which is derived from the Aramaic 'Yarden' or 'Jarden' meaning 'down-flowing' or 'that which descends'.

Let's go a step further and check out the Sanskrit connection. In Sanskrit, the verb in the context for 'flowing down' is 'jharat' (झरत्) and the root word is 'jhara' (झर) which means 'sprinkling' or 'waterfall' and is used to describe water bodies or rivers etc. There are rivers all over the world which have names close to the 'jhara' sound such as the 'Jari' which is the northern tributary of the River Amazon, River Jara in Melbourne, the Jara River - a tributary of the Susita River in Romania, or Lake Jara in New Mexico, the Niger- the root word *ger in Niger also has the meaning of flowing water in the Tureg language, or the Niagara which derives from the word Oniagarah in the Huron language where the suffix 'gara' also has the meaning of 'thundering water' - not to mention many other such names in India and Nepal.

Now let's look at the Temple of Petra in Jordan. Petra in Ma’an, is the home of Jordans most ancient race - the Nabateans. Petra is a complete city carved in a mountain - its rocks are mostly red or pink in hue. It is said that the name Petra derives from the Greek word 'pietra' which means 'stone' a reference to the rocky landscape of the area. But it is highly likely that the Greek 'pietra' is a distorted form of the Sanskrit 'prastar' (प्रस्तर) which means 'rock'. In her blog Jayshree Saranathan states that there is a Tamil link too - 'paarai' is the Tamil word for stone and that might itself be linked in some way to the Sanskrit 'prastar'. But this is not all.

The Bible, the Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarna Tablets refer to Petra with names such as 'Sela', 'Seir' and 'Pel'. 'Shila' (शिला), a close cognate of 'Sela' too means 'rock', 'mountain' or 'rocky-mountain' in Sanskrit. Even the word 'pal' (पल) is linked to 'stone' an occurs in Sanskrit as 'upala' (उपल) or as 'shonapal' (शोणोपल) which means 'red-stone' - thus explaining the name 'Pel' from the ancient texts.

The Biblical Manuscript or the 'Dead Sea Scrolls' say that the original name of Petra was 'Rekim' or 'Rekem'. The name 'Rekem' was inscribed on the Petra temple passage wall - the passage wall was called the Siq or Sic. This inscription 'Rekem' was visible until a couple of decades back when a bridge was built over the passage-wall such that sadly, the inscription is no longer visible.

In any case, it is interesting to note that a close Sanskrit cognate of 'Rekim', the Sanskrit 'Recin', pronounced Rechin (रेचिन्), means red-powder and describes the hue and colour of the temple. It is known that the original Aramaic texts say that the oldest known name of Petra is Rekem-Geya which is very interesting. It translates as 'Red-Gaya' from Sanskrit. Gaya is an ancient Vedic-Hindu pilgrimage site in Bihar in India. Ancient Indian tribes that migrated West from Bihar (then called Magadh) right up to Greece are known to have built temples en-route and given them Vedic names. To read more about the link of Gaya to Greece click here.

The Petra Temple area was full of water springs. There are several springs in the Petra area even today. The Siq or Sic* is a complex geological feature that has many places where water could enter the Petra Temple. In Sanskrit 'Sic' (सिच्) means to soak or irrigate. It is Moses who is credited with extracting water from below the red rocky arid area that is called Petra today. Until then, say the Aramaic texts, the site of Rekem-Geya was known as 'kadesh'. 'Kadesh' or 'Ku-desh' (कुदेश) in Sanskrit means 'Bad-Land' or 'Inhospitable Land'.

Philip C. Hammond, professor of Anthropology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, is the director of the American Expedition to Petra, and has been researching Petra for the last 35 years. In his research he has made an attempt to dispel the myths and legends surrounding the Nabatean Temple of Petra at Jordon, including the various names that have come to be associated to this site over time (such as 'Wadi Musa' - or the 'Valley of Moses' which have no bearing on the history of this site).

The myth about the name 'Valley of Moses' arose because the entrance to the Petra temple (called the Shiq or Sic) is a great cleft in the earth and was once filled with water. People came to believe that it was here that Moses struck the rock to secure water for his wandering people after their flight from Egypt). No one has any inkling why the cleft is called a 'sic'. Interestingly, as mentioned above, in Sanskrit 'sic' (सिच्) means 'to irrigate, sprinkle or pour'.

According to Professor Hammond the Nabateans were highly skilled and it was their ability to control the water supply that led to the rise of the city of Petra, creating an artificial oasis in the desert. Nabataeans were able to harness the rainfall and the desert springs through an intricate system of cisterns, pools and waterways that captured and transported water to the city. Where might the Nabateans have acquired such skills?

The Nabatean territory included parts of present-day Jordon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel. There are other known Nabtean sites apart from Petra, for example there are the ancient cities of Bosra (Syria), Shivta, Mamshit, Avdat and Haluza (also called Halasa) in Israel, and Hegra in Saudi Arabia. Shivta is undoubtedly an Indic name. One of the known ancient trade routes between India and the West passed through the Nabtean town of Petra. And it is a possibility that the Nabateans were originally from India and carried their skills from India. There is a Nabatean temple located in the city of Shivta in Israel.

Not much is known about the Nabateans. Their language is extinct and said to be 'like Aramiac strongly influenced by Arabic' however not much light has been shed on what the meaning of the word 'Naba' or 'Nabha' might be in either of these languages. Instead, it is through the Sanskrit language and through the knowledge of Indian culture that some sense can be made of the Nabatean site of Petra.

It is recorded in historical annals that the Nabataeans were a Semitic people known at least as early as 312 B.C., inhabiting the region between the Dead Sea and the eastern arm of the Red Sea. There is a passage in the Old Testament which mentions Nebajoth who was the first-born of Ishmael who was the son of Abraham and Sara. Abraham and Sara are sometimes equated with Bramha and Sarasvati of the Vedic tradition. The origins of the Nebateans are sometimes traced to Nebajoth.

The second son of Ishmael was named Kedar and his descendants called the Kederites are sometimes regarded as Nabateans themselves, or those who assimilated with the Nebateans. Now, neither the name Nabajoth nor Kedar are said to have any meaning in the known languages of those times including Aramiac. However, in Sanskrit Nebajoth can be traced to 'Navajyot' (नवज्योत) or 'new light' and 'Kedar' (केदार), of course was the name of Lord Shiva himself. One of his abodes is known as Kedarnath, and is an ancient pilgrimage site for the Hindus. It is uncanny and surprising that Ishmael's son should be named 

The Nabataeans are also mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Assyrian kings. Under the form 'Na-ba-ai-te' in these cuneiform inscriptions is mentioned a pastoral people, associated with Kedar. They are also mentioned on a cylinder inscription of Asshurbanipal. The inscription describes them as living in a remote region. The name Asshurbanipal (685 BC- 631 BC), though translated as 'Asshura creator of heir) may be decoded with Sanskrit as 'Asura, (असुर) Bhumipal (भूमिपाल) - meaning 'Asura, the nurturer of land' in Sanskrit. Even though this is perhaps is only a conjecture but 'Pal', or 'nurturer was often added to the names of kings in ancient India. The list is endless: Abhipala, Bhumipala, Indra was known as Devalokapala, Krishna was known as 'Madanagopala', Lokapala (Guradian of the four cardinal directions) was the name by which many gods and kings were addressed.

The ancient Indian scriptures and Sanskrit sheds some light on the names of Nabatean Gods and Goddesses. First, the word 'nabha' itself may be traced to the Sanskrit 'nabha' (नभ) meaning 'sky' or 'atmosphere'; 'nAbha' (नाभ) means 'central point' or 'navel'. It is a word stright from the Sanskrit dictionary. But it also appears in the Hindu scriptures.

The name 'Nabha' appears in the names of the descendants of Sri Rama, the Indian God-king, a descendant of the ancient Ikshvaku dynasty. About five generations down the line of Kush (the son of Sri Rama) we see kings with the names Nabha, Vajranabha and Hirnyanabha. And Kush, is the son of Sri Rama, who left the shores of Bharat, and established his kingdom in what is referred to as Kushadvipa in the Purana texts of India. And in the Puranas Kushadwipa is the Island of Kusha, or Africa. It is here that you find in the Egyptian and Ethiopian texts the name of Cush and his Kingdom with its capital at Meroe, the Meru of the Vedic-Puranic texts.

The genealogy of three of Manu's sons, that is, Ikshvaku (who's descendants came to be known as 'Suryavanshi' - Solar Dynasty), Vena and Saryati, and his one daughter, Ila (her dynasty came to be known as 'Chandravanshi'- Lunar Dynasty), is extensively described in the Vedic scriptures and epics.

Not much is known about two other sons of Manu, whom we find are named 'Nabhaga' and 'Nabha-Garista'. The epics say that the two were knowledgeable ascetics, and either one or both were deprived of their parental wealth; however, where they went and how they lived their lives is not discussed in detail.

Professor C. Hammond has pointed out that one of the known facts about the Nabateans is that they appeared mysteriously in the Nabha region (Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia), that they were highly skilled at water management (click here to read how their several thousand-year-old techniques are now being applied in the desert of Israel). Where the Nabateans acquired their knowledge is not known. Whether Nabhaga's and Nabha-garista's descendants wandered west, and then settled at Petra can only be conjectured but there seems to be a significant connection between the Nabatean and Indian culture.

It is known that the Nabatean temples were constructed as an ode to their deities - the chief male deity being 'Dushares' and the female deity 'Al-Uzza'. In the Mahabharata, Sri Krishna is constantly referred to belonging to 'the Dasarha race'. Infact, 'Dasarha' (दशार्ह) is another name of Sri Krishna who was a descendant of the Yadu tribe. One of the most famous of the kings of the Yadu tribe, an ancestor of Sri Krishna, was Dasarha, and for that reasin the Yadu tribe is also known as Dasarha. As such Dasarha was a descendant of Manu's daughter Ila, mentioned above. Whether the Nabatean Temple to Dushares has anything to do with Sri Krishna is not known but the name of the temple is a close cognate of Dasarha, one of Sri Krishna's many names.

Al-Uzza was the goddess of the morning and evening star and is regarded as the counterpart of the Indo-European goddess of dawn, Ostara, and the Vedic ‘Usha’ and since all Vedic names have a meaning, so does 'usha' (उषा) - and it means 'dawn' and 'night' both. Uzza is once again a close cognate of Usha.

Temple of Dushares, Petra
Right in front is an alter for make offerings

An idol in the Padmasana posture
at the Temple at Petra

Other Shivalinga like structures
in the temple of Dushares at Petra, Jordon

The Temple of Dushares
at Petra. The 'yoni'**. This photo

of Petra is rarely publicized

An entrance to Petra
Notice the 'Ajanta-Cave like
facade' cut into the rock

The North-East entrance to Petra in Jordon
is through a cleft between a mountain which
 was filled with water in ancient times
known as the 'Sic' or 'Sich'. Sich is Sanskrit for irrigate.

The cleft called the 'Sic' at Petra was filled with
water once. In Sanskrit 'sic (सिच्) means 'to
pour, irrigate or sprinkle'. A water-
channel is a must at a Shiva temple

An 'Elephant Column'** at Petra Temple site. 
Reminiscent of Elephant columns
at Vedic-Hindu Temples

The Elephant headed columns
are the most striking feature of 
the Petra Temple.

Elephants are not local to Jordan
yetelephant heads carved on pillars are one of the most dominant
carving themes of the Temple of Petra just like
in many ancient temples of India.

Photo courtesy: Michael Gunther.
"This capital, displayed in the Petra Museum, is from the triple colonnade on the lower terrace of Petra's Great Temple. Elephant heads are substituted for the volutes, between which the capital is worked in a band of "egg-and-dart" design. The capital is thus a modification of the Ionic order (adaptations of all three classical orders are seen in Petra.) Nothing could show more delightfully the Nabataean genius for putting their own, unique "spin" on an adopted architectural vocabulary of classical forms." Caption from the work of Michael Gunther

Some have also associated the name Dusares with the name 'Dasharatha', the name of Sri Rama's father. The names of Rama and Kush also appear in the Bible - though the history, the events and the chronology of events does not match or is distorted. 

Here is a quote on the names Raamah and Rama from Wikipedia:
 "Raamah or Rama is a name found in the Bible (Hebrew: רעמה, Ra‛mâh), it means "lofty, exalted, it may also mean "thunder". The name is first mentioned as the fourth son of Cush, who is the son of Ham, who is the son of Noah in Gen. 10:7, and later appears as a country that traded with the Phoenician city-state of Tyre, in Ezek. 27:22. 

"It has been connected with Rhammanitae mentioned by Strabo in the southwest Arabian peninsula, and with an Arabian city of Regmah at the head of the Persian Gulf. He is the brother of Nimrod, who founded several cities in Mesopotamia, including Babylon and Nineveh. We know from the inscriptions of ancient Sheba that Raamah's descendants settled near to the land of Havilah to the east of Ophir. 

This country of Raamah is usually assumed to be somewhere in the region of Yemen; Sheba was a son of Raamah, and his descendants are often held to be included among the Sabeans. The Yemenites are dark-skinned as are the descendants of their progenitor's eponymous grandfather, Kush or Cush, commonly translated in the Bible as Ethiopia, meaning dark. Dedan, son of Raamah. Apparently a region of the Medina Province of Saudi Arabia."

There are many towns in ancient Nabatea, (now Israel) with the names Ramah. Click here to read the details. 
Following are some other ancient Nabtean temples and sites in Israel, Syria, Jordon and Saudi Arabia. Check out the names:

The Nabatean Temple at Shivta
in Israel is a reminder of Vedic Shiva

The Ramon Crater in
Israel. Its name is a reminder of Lord rama.

Lake Ram, Syria.
Lake Ram or Hebrew Brekhat Ram, meaning 'Pool of Ram' is a
crater lake near Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon
is known as Jabal Haraman in Hebrew.

Mt. Ram in Jordon. Sometimes its name is also written a
as Rum, pronounced Ramm

It is quite evident that the name 'Rama' was well known in the Nabtean region, and revered enough for the Nabataeans to name their temples, towns, lakes and mountains after 'Rama'.

Click here to check out the plan of the Temple of Petra. Maybe the plan will shed some more light on who the Nabateans really were. For a discussion on the Sanskrit connection to the word Petra click here.

Entrance to the Ajanta Caves in India
A rock-cut ancient temple in India.
The facade of the Petra temple is similar to that 
of the Ajanta Caves.

A Shivalinga at a temple in India.
The Dushares Temple of Petra also
has the remains of a Shivalinga yoni

Elephant pillar in temples of India.
One sees the same carvings in Petra. 
Elephants are not indigenous to Jordan

Elephants are carved on foundation walls
and pillars in Indian temples. It appears
that Hindu artisans worked on the temple of Petra.

Suggested Links:

1. Temple of Petra - Jordon: Myth and Reality
2. Ikshvaku Dynasty
3. History of Ancient India by J.P.Mittal
4. Asiatic Researches, Or Transactions of the Society instituted in Bengal, for Inquiring into the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences and Literature of Asia
5. Is Petra a Hindu Temple-complex?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive