Saturday, October 31, 2020

Any confusion about Shabda Pramana and Pratyaksha Pramana? Take lessons from Nilesh Oak.

Excerpted from the 7th chapter of my book Myth of 'The Epoch of Arundhati' of Nilesh Nilkanth Oak titled, 'Methodology: Faulty concept of Pramana'

Is A-V observation a valid Shabda Pramāna?

This question arises after reading the views of Nilesh Oak on Shabda Pramāna in different platforms between 2011 and 2019. In his book he treats A-V observation as a Shabda pramāna. Writing on A-V observation in the chapter on “The Epoch of Arundhati” he says,

“This is an illustration of the validity of ‘Shabda Pramāna– Verbal Testimony’ corroborated by ‘Pratyaksha Pramāna – Empirical Proof.”[1]

Here he treats the sighting of Arundhati – Vasishtha by Vyasa as Shabda pramāna, and his own verification of the same in the simulator as Pratyaksha Pramāna.

In his 2015 blog comes the rejection of Shabda as a pramāna in the context of explaining the sutra of Patanjali “pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni” Unable to accept Agama as a pramāna, he figures out a scenario of misinterpretation of Agama, stating that “anytime ‘Agama’ was misunderstood and was interpreted as ‘knowledge beyond doubt, scepticism or criticism’, humanity has landed in big trouble.”[2]

He further says that Agama was modified into Shabda later and was twisted with an element of dogmatic insistence. To quote his own words,

It appears that some of the Indian traditions modified Patanjali’s original ‘Pratyaksha-Anumana-Agama-Pramāna’ into ‘Pratyaksha-Anumana-Shabda’ as means of ‘Pramāna’....However the worst part of this twisting was their dogmatic insistence on Shabda (Authority-read-utterance/opinion of Gurus, Godmen, Teachers, Professors, elders) that, IMHO, led to Dark Age of Science in India.”

So according to him Shabda replaced Agama and was twisted badly such that the Indian science was pushed into Dark Age. This view of him seems to have grown exponentially over the years that recently in a twitter interaction Nilesh Oak was found to be spitting scorn over the very idea of Shabda Pramāna.

However his view recorded in 2017 was dramatically different from this, echoing his earlier insistence on A-V observation as Shabda Pramāna. One can read this in the transcript of his lecture given at Srijan Foundation, posted in a website. [3]

So, now we bring all of this together and let us adorn our scientific hats. We have got our empirical proof; we have got the “Shabda Pramaan”,somebody’s claims. Arundhati walking ahead of Vasishtha, we got empirical proof?Yes, that indeed it went ahead of the Vasishtha........

“....That’s fine ‘Shabda Pramaan’ matches with the ‘Pratyaksha Pramaan’, empirical proof that’s all nice but come on, that is just one observation.”

Few months after this, in 2017, Nilesh Oak repeats the same idea of treating A-V observation as Shabda Pramāna in a crisp reply to Dieter Koch.[4]

Now more recently in May 2019, in a twitter interaction he envisaged taking up Shabda Pramānaas a last resort when the other pramāna are not available.

Thus we find a changing stance on Shabda Pramāna.

2011 (book) – Accept Shabda Pramāna.

2015 (blog) – Reject Shabda Pramāna.

2017 Feb (lecture) – Accept Shabda Pramāna.

2017 May (Blog) – Accept Shabda Pramāna

2019 May-twice (Twitter) – Reject Shabda Pramāna.

The only common feature through all these is to accept Shabda Pramāna if it is about A-V observation. But Shabda Pramāna in general is rejected. This raises the following questions.

1.      Having rejected the very idea of Shabda Pramāna summarily, how can he still hold on to the claim that A-V observation is the Shabda Pramāna validated by him?

2.      Rejection of Shabda Pramāna must hold good for all Shabda Pramānas. By harping on A-V as Shabda even after this rejection, does he mean to accord an exception to A-V observation?

3.      If A-V is special that he treats it as an exception, on what grounds he does that?

4.      If Arundhati walking ahead of Vasishtha is a Shabda Pramāna, then what is the status of Arundhati walking behind Vasishtha that is continuing for aeons? Isn’t Arundhati behind Vasishtha a Shabda pramāna, given the fact she is invoked in Vedic mantras precisely for this reason at Vedic marriages?

5.      Can two Shabda Pramānas exist for two facets of the same person / star – Arundhati walking ahead and Arundhati walking behind Vasishtha?

6.      These two being contradictory, both (contradicting) statements cannot become Shabda Pramāna. But one of them can be Shabda Pramāna. Did he analyse which of the two qualify to be a Shabda Pramāna?

7.      At the least, did he analyse the verse on A-V to check if it is qualified as Shabda?

8.      Taking up the analysis, let me reproduce the verse given by Nilesh Oak in his book.
“My dear King, Arundhati (saintly wife of Vasishtha) who is revered by the righteous all over the three worlds, has left her husband Vasishtha behind.”[5]

·         This has two parts, appearing as two lines in the Sanskrit verse.

·         Line 1:My dear King, Arundhati (saintly wife of Vasishtha) who is revered by the righteous all over the three worlds, (the cause for the reverence is that Arundhati follows Vasishtha - inter-subjective observation as per Karl Popper)

·         Line 2: Has left her husband Vasishtha behind (subjective observation by Vasishtha).

·         As per Karl Popper’s falsification method, the first line is a Universal Statement (much like “All swans are white).

·         The second line is an existential statement (like “There is a black swan”)

·         To make the second line a Basic Sentence or falsifier, it must have been seen by more than one person. In the absence of any reference to that effect, the first line continues to be unchallenged, remains a universal statement and therefore only the first line is validas a ‘Shabda Pramāna’.

·         Can Nilesh Oak challenge this by Popperian methodology of falsification that he is fond of?

9.      On what basis Nilesh Oak treats the A-V verse as Shabda Pramāna – because it was seen by Vyasa, or because it appears in Mahabharata, a text he assumes to be factual?

·         If Nilesh Oak picks out the first among the two, raised in the 9th question, then it becomes the Pratyaksha Pramāna (direct perception by Vyasa) and not Shabda Pramāna.  That Vyasa had seen Arundhati going ahead of Vasishtha is his perception – PratyakshaPramāna. The researcher has to check it with the next in sequence namely; Anumana and then cross check it with Shabda – that is how the process of research happens with Pramānas. But why did Nilesh Oak go on the reverse – taking up Vyasa’s observation as Shabda and himself seeing it in simulator as Pratyaksha?

·         Taking up the second in the 9th question, will he accept everything in Mahabharata text as Shabda Pramāna? If yes, why did he cling on to a number 98 that is nowhere found in Mahabharata as the number of days Bhishma was lying on arrow bed?  If his answer for the question is no, why should he treat the A-V observation as Shabda Pramāna as he himself has conceded in his book that   it is reasonable to assume existence of transcription and transmission errors in the Mahabharata text”?[6]A text with errors and doubtful transcript cannot be treated as Shabda Pramāna.

Post his book release, Nilesh Oak’s obsession with Pramānas seems to have grown. A-V observation is Shabda Pramāna in his book, and on all the occasions he speaks or writes on A-V observation. Come other times, Nilesh Oak is up with various interpretations of Pramāna, forgetting every time that his newer definitions would contradict the Shabda Pramāna nature of A-V observation. So far he has talked about the Pramānas from Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and from Nyaya Sutra (in the tweet shown earlier). Mixing them with Karl Popper’s ideas he has created what can be called Nilesh Oak Sutra of Pramānas’. I tried my best to pick out the substance from them and present it below.

Nilesh Nilkanth Oak Sutra of Pramānas.

Sometime after he published his book, Nilesh Oak had come across Patanjalai’s Yoga Sutras and found something dramatic in support of his methodology of how he arrived at A-V observation. He writes in his blog in 2015,[7]

While reading Patanjali Yoga-Sutra, I came across a Sutra (Aphorism) and instantly realized that I had landed on more intricate and elegant scientific method”.

The sutra that attracted him is “pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni”

The above narration by Nilesh Oak gives an impression that he is new to the concept of Pratyaksha etc pramānas until he read the Yoga sutras, although he was found to have used two terms ‘Pratyaksha’ and ‘Shabda’ pramāna in his book. It could also mean that he already knew the terms (or else he could not use them in the book) but had thought about them deeply only in 2015 when he was reading the Yoga sutras. And in his habitual way of interpreting terms in his own way (much like interpreting vakri, pīdana etc) he re-interprets the sutra of Patanjali and declares,

I want to present alternate explanation for this Sutra that is further enriching and exhibits iterative and sophisticated view of acquiring knowledge:”

The uniqueness of his interpretation is such that he has made Pramāna, a generic term, a subset of itself. To give a simple example, there is a triad, the Tri-mūrti: they are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Now you state the triad consists of Brahma, Vishnu and Tri-mūrti, how correct is it? It is correct if we accept Nilesh Oak’s interpretation.

For Nilesh Oak, the pramānas are Pratyaksha, Anumana and Pramāna!!

He strips off Agama from the triad of Pramānas given by Patanjali and forms what he calls a triangulation comparable with Popper’s Triangulation of Explanation-Prediction-Testing in which

Pratyaksha = Testing

Anumana = Prediction

Pramāna = Explanation.

Interestingly he has coined the term “Tri-mūrti scientific method[8] for the triangle he interpreted from Karl Popper. Though he compares Agama with background knowledge and assumptions, he prefers to set it aside from pramānas, as he thinks that anytime ‘Agama’ was misunderstood and was interpreted as ‘knowledge beyond doubt, scepticism or criticism’, humanity has landed in big trouble.”

He justifies this treatment to Agama by citing how Aristotelian science turned into dogma leading to stagnation of growth. He also accuses some of the Indian traditions as having modified Agama into Shabda which resulted in dogmatic insistence of the authority of Gurus, Godmen, Teachers, Professors, elders. It is clear he has no respect for Shabda Pramāna – but that did not stop him from quoting A-V observation as Shabda Pramāna!

The contradictions don’t stop here as we find new interpretation for the pramānas in his tweet from Nyaya Sutra, posted in May 2019.(Next Page).

As per the logic of Nilesh Oak, Pratyaksha appearing first in the list of pramānas is the highest Pramāna and Shabda appearing last in the list is the last resort. In other words, he gives place value for the three pramānas Pratyaksha, Anumana and Shabda appearing in this order.  Applying this place value formula for the Tri-mūrti-s I started wondering how would he interpret the importance of the three murtis? Would he say that Brahma is the deity of highest importance and Shiva being the last in the list must be invoked only as a last resort or after reaching out to the first two?

In Nilesh Oak’s scheme, Agama and Shabda deserve to be eliminated from Patanjali’s Yoga sutra to make them more scientific. After he started reading Nyaya sutra, he seemed to have somewhat come to terms with Shabda Pramāna, but wanted to uphold Pratyaksha above Shabda and the placement order convinces him of the superiority of Pratyaksha over Shabda.  However one cannot help thinking that this love for Pratyaksha over Shabda may be to justify his ‘direct viewing’ of the A-V phenomenon through Voyager- Simulation which he promotes as Pratyaksha Pramāna! 


·         By having rejected Shabda / Agama, Nilesh Oak has reduced his much laboured work – laboured to prove that he is following Vedic methods – into nāstika or non-Vedic work!

·         By making Pratyaksha Pramāna as the primary and the only pramāna, Nilesh Oak has made his research fit to be called as “Carvaka” work.

·         By embracing a methodology of Pramānas with twisted meaning of Pramāna by making it a sub-set to itself, Nilesh Oak has set the tone of his research – of ignoring the established meanings of the terms of Mahabharata and twisting them as he likes. E.g.: Vakri, Pīdana.

·         By merging the lofty concept of Pramānas with Popper’s Triangulation (that is however inferior to modern Flow chart models of scientific research in sociological studies that include history.[1]), Nilesh Oak has undermined the scope of Pramānas. To quote an example, Popper does not recognise the role of negation as a Basic Sentence which however is one of the sources of knowledge (pramāna).

·          The following view of him shows the limitations of his methodology.
“A statement of the form ‘There is a so-and-so in the region k’ or ‘Such-and-such an event is occurring in the region k’ (cf. section 23) may be called a ‘singular existential statement’ or a ‘singular there-is statement’. And the statement which results from negating it, i.e. ‘There is no so-and-so in the region k’ or ‘No event of such-and-such a kind is occurring in the region k’, may be called a ‘singular non-existence statement’, or a ‘singular there-is-not statement’. We may now lay down the following rule concerning basic statements: basic statements have the form of singular existential statements.”[2]

·         It is a fact that the ‘Singular non-existence statement’(or there-is-not statement), not recognised by Karl Popper is very much part of the Pramānas of the Astika Darshanas. Such statements have a parallel in the concept of Anupalabdhi, the 6th pramāna among the eight narrated by Vatsyayana and followed by Vedantic schools of Thought. A non-existence statement such as “There are no stars in the sky” pre-supposes that there were stars in the sky but not apprehended at the time of looking at the sky. It also gives the knowledge that the statement was uttered in the day time! Sometimes non-existence conveys existence, and non-perception is perception. Such kinds of expressions are found in Mahabharata astronomy terms – which cannot be deciphered by a Popperian follower. The Indian system of Pramānas is undoubtedly far superior source of knowledge and need not be mixed with Popper’s philosophy of science to sanctify it as scientific.

[1]C.R. Kothari, (2004)  “Research Methodology: Methods and Techniques” New Age International Publishers, New Delhi, Page 11

[2]Karl Popper,  “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” (English edition 1959), Page 83

[1]“When Did The Mahabharata war Happen?” Page 70

[3]“AV Observation And The Date of Mahabharata Explained.”

[4]Debating evidence, method & Inferences: Oak vs Koch – Part 3”


[5]“When Did The Mahabharata War Happen?” Page 53

[6]“When Did The Mahabharata War Happen?” Page 14

Friday, October 30, 2020

Hindu Gods in south Mesopotamia of early 2nd Millennium BCE - Part 1 (Venkateśvara – Padmavati)

Part 2: Shiva Linga  

Part 3: From Eshwari to Eshnunna to Ishtar

The Gods of ancient Mesopotamia are many totalling to more than 3000. Yet there are some without names whose identity is beyond the perception of the researchers of the West and Near East but which are easily identifiable by anyone from India. Figures resembling the divine couples of Tirumala – Tirupati and the four faced Brahma- Saraswati, Shiva linga, Bhuvaneswari and Hanuman are found among the Gods of Isin-Larsa and Old Babylonian period of the early 2nd Millennium BCE. Housed in the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago these figures stand out in marked contrast to the numerous other Gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon that reached the maximum head-count in that period. That period also witnessed the highest level of scribal activity, creation of myths, poems and art works. Perhaps the dynasties of Isin and Larsa and the longest ever reign of a Sumerian king falling in that period (of Rim-Sin) attracted traders from all directions whose co-existence led to the transmission and transfusion of their respective cultures and god-heads. It is in this background we are going to discuss the plaques and seals that resemble popular Hindu Gods.

The first figures that struck this writer on her recent visit to this Museum in Chicago were two exhibits that bear close resemblance to Lord Venkateśvara of Tirumala Hills! Made of some form of clay, they are mold-impressions of hardly three inches long. Having no parallel with any other image discovered in the region, these impressions have been termed as Goddesses, standing inside a shrine made of reeds. But to a person coming from India, these images resemble the God of Tirumala.

(Figure 1)

Source: Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago.

Though not of the same mold, the figures are hardly any different from each other. The structure is self –revealing as male and not female. The unique style of the decoration of the deity of Venkateśvara can be seen replicated in these plaques. On closer examination one can find the Sankha and Cakra (conch and discus) resting on the shoulders like how it is for Lord Venkateśvara. The hands are not seen but hidden inside the long decorative fabric in the front. Perhaps this is how the decoration was done for Lord Venkateśvara in those days. But one cannot miss out the long garlands on the shoulders and hanging down from the head evenly on the two sides. This decoration is unique to Lord Venkateśvara on all days since the times our elders can recollect, but these plaques seem to convey that it has been so in the past too.

More importantly, the kind of flowery garlands found in these plaques are completely absent in every other image of God or Goddesses of Mesopotamia in display in the Museum. One figure is seen carrying flowers along with a bud (Figure 2) but flowers and garlands were never part of accessories or decoration for the deities or royal people of ancient Mesopotamia.

Figure 2

While on the process of collating the facts and information on Lord Venkateśvara of such an antiquity as that of the early 2nd Millennium BCE this writer kept thinking that unless the consort of Venkateśvara is found in the same region, the case for this plaque as the Hindu God Venkateśvara cannot be effectively made out, as traditionally Venkateśvara is worshiped along with his consort as a couple though his shrine is geographically away from that of his consort. Surprisingly and fortunately this writer happened to stumble upon an image in the data-base of AKG images that is exactly a look-alike of Goddess Padmavati, the consort of Lord Venkateśvara. The data-base says that this plaque was discovered in Old Babylon of the same period of early 2nd millennium BCE.

Figure 3

Picture source:

Belonging to the same age and same site as the Venkateśvara look-alike plaques, the above plaque offers the best match for those plaques in terms of the mold-creation and the decoration. This is a female and one can see the huge ear studs dangling on the sides. Wearing ear studs is unique to Vedic culture as it follows the ear-boring ceremony, a Vedic samskāra. Although quite a few images of the same Mesopotamian period are seen with ear studs, they differ in style from what is seen in this plaque. The Padmavati look-alike is wearing a kind which is commonly found to adorn Hindu deities.  

Like Venkateśvara images, this image also has a long garland hanging from the shoulders and another from the crown. There is a short garland from around the neck. All these are how the Hindu deities are decorated. Rows of jewellery are covering the upper part while the lower part looks like a fabric. This is exactly how Goddess Padmavati is decorated even today.

The note given along with this image says that it is a goddess lying on the bed but it cannot be so. A cross-check with a couple of beds (artefacts) excavated at the same site (Iraq) of Isin-Larsa (Old-Babylonian period) and housed at the Chicago Museum shows that they are beds with four legs. In contrast this artefact is a flat plaque with the image of the deity cast by a mould.

Figure 4

The posture of the deity with garlands and jewellery flowing vertically down clearly indicate that the deity is not lying on the bed. Goddess Padmavati is in seated position and this plaque also shows deity in such a position with the fabric covering the portion of the seat she is mounted on. For comparison, the divine couple as they are seen today (figure 5) is given together along with the excavated plaques (figures 6 & 7).

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Further examination of the Venkateśvara look-alike shows that the long fabric covering the front is a woven material of some vegetation (reeds). The crown-like head gear also looks like made of cloth. The same observation also holds good for Padmavati look-alike, in addition to the cloth material adorning the lower part which is actually the visible part of the entire garment that is covering her front. The preliminary inference from this is that the decorative material for the Venkateśvara look-alikes of these plaques came from weavers and wild vegetation of the forest.

Of importance to mention here is that the Tamil Sangam poems on Venkatam hills (that house Lord Venkateśvara’s shrine) invariably speak about abundance of bamboo and Vengai trees (Ptrocarpus Marsupium) in the region. There is reference in a Sangam composition[i] about making dresses from Vengai leaves. The fabric worn by Venkateśvara look- alikes seem to be woven with bamboo reeds. The big, round flowers of the garland look like the products of Vengai trees (figure 8).

Figure 8

Only 1000 years ago, flower gardens growing specific flowers for the Lord were created at the instance of Sri Ramanujacharya. This conveys that until then the deity was decorated with wild flowers and products of the forest. The plaques unmistakably reveal the olden ways of using forest products for decoration. The continuing practice of using a long cloth as a garland (Thomala) and around the head as a crown for Lord Venkateśvara seems to be the legacy of the olden practice that we can make out from the plaques.

Weavers’ deity.

The woven material dominating the decoration of the images of the plaques pre-supposes the existence of weaver communities that were preparing the fabrics for the deity. As regular suppliers of the vegetative fabric and cloths to the deity, those communities could have developed close allegiance with the deity to the extent of treating it as family deity and a personal identity wherever they went. The Venkateśvara look-alike appearing in Mesopotamia 4000 years ago could not have happened without such communities moving over to Mesopotamia obviously for trading purpose.

Even today specific weaving communities are preparing the cloths for Lord Venkateśvara. Though their service started a few centuries ago, the presence of this practice can only be a continuation of an older tradition. The huge size of the deity required specially woven cloths for this deity and not just any cloths. This emphasises the fact that specific weaving communities must have been engaged in preparing the fabric in the remote past too. 

A couple of bronze objects looking like weaver’s implements unearthed in Isin-Larsa in the early part of the 2nd Millennium BCE and bearing resemblance to Indian images strengthens the notion of the presence of weavers of Indian origin in that region. Figure 9 shows one of those objects whose purpose is not known but could fit with the weaver’s kit.

Figure 9


The female figure in the middle looks more Indian than any Mesopotamian female figure found so far, in the same period or any time before or after. The jewellery in ears, neck, waist and hands are typical Indian style that we find in old temple sculptures of south India. The men also look different from the male figures of the comparative period. Their adornments, facial looks and cloths are Indian in style.

Figure 10 shows yet another bronze image found in the same place, same era. The roller in the image looks like a bobbin used for winding thread.

Figure 10


The male figures in this piece are also different from contemporary Mesopotamian males in other art works. A shaven head with a forelock is unknown in Mesopotamia, though completely shaven heads are found in Akkadian period that preceded the period under discussion.  The forelocks in these images are characteristic of Cholia people of Tamil lands and also were witnessed across India in the past. A figurine found in Harappa has a similar forelock (figure 11).

Figure 11

Cossacks of Ukraine also sported similar forelocks but their early presence in Mesopotamia has no back-up support. The Indian-ness of these objects and the plaques of Venkateśvara look-alikes weigh in favour of a weaving community to be present in south Mesopotamia in early 2nd Millennium BCE.

Further back in time, weaver’s presence is also noticed in Uruk period of 4th Millennium BCE. The location is close to Isin-Larsa. Figures 12 and 13 show three cylinder seal impressions of women engaged in weaving, kept in Chicago Museum.

Figure 12

Figure 13

The pig tailed women bear close resemblance to the seven women of Mohenjo-Daro seal that appeared 600 years later (Figure 14)

Figure 14

For closer comparison, the Uruk and Mohenjo-Daro seals are shown side by side in figure 15.

Figure 15.

The pig tailed women with similar costumes appearing in Uruk seals engaged in what looks like looms (textile making) give rise to an opinion that the Mohenjo-Daro seal was a ceremony done by weavers! This similarity is brought out here to justify the presence of weavers in south Mesopotamia in late 4th to early 2nd Millennium BCE who shared similar physical traits with people of Indus civilisation (India).

Available research works done so far have established that Lothal has served as a transit point from India to Mesopotamia via Persian Gulf. The easiest route is through Persian Gulf and not through North West India. Dr B.S During in his thesis on “Seals in Dilmun society[ii] established on the examining the seals how Dilmun (Bahrain) served as a nodal point of trade for those entering the gulf that further takes them to south Mesopotamia. The trade routes from Lothal to Dilmun and Mesopotamia in the period 2800-1500 BCE is reproduced in figure 16 from his paper.  

Figure 16

Authors Steffen Laursen and Piotr Steinkeller established that military conquests of Sargonic kings of Babylonia were aimed at controlling trading points and ensuring smooth business for their own subjects[iii] . Trade and commerce were the buzz words of rulers of that time.

It is worth noting here a parallel incident from Mahabharata. It is everyone’s knowledge that almost every ruler of India participated in the war. This could be possible only if the participating countries had some stakes in winning the war. The Pandyan king by name Sarangadwaja refused to side with the Pandavas as he wanted to avenge Krishna for having killed his father (previous enmity). But he was discouraged from doing that by his friends in the Pandava camp (Drishtadymna)[iv]. What could have weighed in favour of keeping aside his personal enmity and siding with the Pandavas? Only if a larger good is assured in return for his country, this Pandyan king could be expected to have for kept aside his personal grouse. That larger good could in all possibility be economic and commercial returns.

If by siding with the Pandavas and Krishna, the Pandyan traders could get easy and hassle-free access to the ports of Dwaraka (Gujarat) in the event of Pandavas winning the war, then the Pandyan king had no other choice than burying his personal enmity and backing up the Pandavas. The traditional date of Mahabharata war coinciding with Early Harappan period and the rise of Lothal as a busy port concur well with Indic history as revealed in Mahabharata. By keeping control over the ports in west coast of Gujarat, entire South India that sided with Pandavas stood to benefit while the north Indian traders could have chosen Gandhara- route that was with Kauravas before the war.

Until now everyone has been talking about Indus regions. There is absolutely no thought about south India. The Tamil kingdoms existing for long and grand rivers draining the lands of south India offer enormous scope for evolution of economically profitable occupations well before the Indus civilization. The nearest points of transit to enter west Asia and Europe were the ports of Arabian Sea. The closest and safest port (from monsoon vagaries) was Lothal.

 It is in this backdrop, the movement of weavers of south India who were once serving Lord Venkateśvara, to Mesopotamia through western ports and Persian Gulf looks very much viable. Both Gujarat (Saurashtra) and Andhra Pradesh are known for traditional weaving practices. Anyone from these regions could have taken their families and family deities to Middle East.

Conducive atmosphere for trade in Isin-Larsa period had attracted people from all sides. The culture, language and religious beliefs of all the new entrants were absorbed leading to the formation of Anunnaki – group of various and numerous deities that dominated Mesopotamia for over two millennia later. The Hindu deities too have contributed to the diffusion of Thought (to be discussed in upcoming articles) but Venkateśvara stands out from other deities in this regard. There is no trace of Venkateśvara in Anunnaki and no trace of the people (who carried memory of this deity) further in time. May be they were absorbed in the local community or had gone beyond the Middle East. This probability must be borne in mind in any genetic study that finds a link with south Indians or Indians.

This monograph cannot end here without ascertaining an antiquated presence of Lord Venkateśvara at Tirupati hills on par with the date of the plaques found in Isin-Larsa 3500 years ago.

Antiquity of Venkateśvara temple at Tirupati.

There are literary evidences from Tamil Sangam texts in support of antiquity of Lord Venkateśvara.

The earliest reference to the presence of this deity on top of the hill is found in the 2000 year old* Tamil Epic called Silappadhikaram. Tirupati was known as ‘Venkatam’ in those days. A Brahmin from Māngādu near Kudamalai (Kodagu) on a pilgrimage to worship Vishnu at Srirangam and Venkatam describes the deities of these two places. As per his description the deity at Venkatam was standing in between the sun and the moon, with the conch and discus in his hands and adorned with beautiful garland on his chest and a fabric dotted with golden flowers.[v] The reference to sun and the moon is because of the strategic location facing the east as one can see the luminaries on the two sides of the temple and crossing the temple every day.

This description conveys that this deity was popular 2000 years ago. Yet another reference to Venkatam comes in the same text when a newly married couple belonging to Northern Chedi travelled to Pumpukar to witness the Indra festival. After celebrating the Festival of Kāma deva (on the Full Moon day of Phalguna month when the Sun is in Pisces – today’s Holi festival), they crossed the highs of Himalayas and then the river Ganga and reached Ujjain. From there they went to Venkatam hills before going to Pumpukār. [vi]

Figure 17

This description at once changes the currently held popular views on Holi festival and the location of Northern Chedi. In the tourist map for someone coming from the Himalayan region, Venkatam hills being held as an important place of destination is something that conveys more than just a hill station or a stop-over. The popularity of Lord Venkateśvara even as early as 2000 years ago is the inevitable message of this travel map.

Further back in time, Venkatam gets frequent mention in Tamil Sangam texts. The grammar book of the 3rd Sangam, namely Tol Kāppiyam begins with the name Venkatam as the northern boundary of the speakers of Tamil language.[vii] Tol Kāppiyam was composed at the beginning of 3rd Sangam after the previous Sangam location was lost to the seas. By the calculation of the Sangam age-years given in another text called “Iṟaiyanār Agapporuḷ Urai”, the previous location was lost in 1500 BCE which means the reference to Venkatam as northern boundary had been made soon after 1500 BCE.

The existence of the name Venkatam as early as 1500 BCE reiterates the presence of the God Venkateśvara even at that time as the etymology of ‘Venkatam’ is traced to ‘burning the body (of sins)’. It is VenGhata where ‘ghata’ means pot, a reference to human body. The hymns of Vaishnavite saints (Alvars) also convey that this God removes the sins of previous and current births. In other words the Lord burns the sins of the human body. So this goes without saying that the hill got the name from the deity and not vice versa. The reference to Venkatam in Tol Kāppiyam is proof of existence of this deity from before 1500 BCE.

How widespread was the popularity of Venkateśvara in olden times?

The reference to Venkatam hills as the northern boundary of Tamil speakers opens up considerable part of South India to have been inhabited by those who spoke Tamil. This is because Venkatam is a range of mountains running from north to south in the form of a cobra.  Abodes of Gods dot the important organs of the cobra. Puranic description of Venkatam is such that Nallamala housing Srisailam forms the tail of the cobra. Ahobilam is located at the trunk. Tirupati is at the back of the cobra’s hood while the mouth can be identified by Kalahasti. A Sangam poem also reiterates the idea that the range is a house of Gods.[viii]

Figure 18

The regions on both sides of the Venkatam range had people finding mention in the Tamil Sangam compositions. While Nannan was associated with Konkan, Velir were reigning from Kudremukh in Karnataka. On the eastern side, Kallada was the native place of Sangam poet ‘Kalladanar’. In all his compositions, he describes the scenes of Venkatam hills, the ruling dynasty of Pulli of Venkatam and the difficulties in crossing this range. While all his compositions found in Aganānuru describe the difficulties faced by those going for trade while crossing the range from south to north, in one composition in Purananuru[ix] he describes a scene of drought induced poverty that drove the hero into crossing Venkatam from north to South to reach Tamil kings.

Figure 19

From the Sangam poetry it is known that the Venkatam range was a well-known landmark for people going for trade and livelihood. In all those trips the main deity of the hills, Venkateśvara must have been worshiped to ensure safe journey and return. With the range spanning across South India, the deity also must have been a popular one throughout South India. From the Silappadhikaram narration of the newlywed couple of Northern Chedi making a stop at Venkatam it is known that Venkateśvara was popular throughout India 2000 years ago.

Who among them had gone to south Mesopotamia taking with them Venkateśvara and his consort Padmavati?  There is a clue to this which we will discuss in the next part of this article.

(to be continued...)


* Silappadhikaram can be dated at 2000 years BP based on a cross reference from a Satakarni who helped the Chera King Senguttuvan in his northern expedition. Silappadhikaram makes a reference to a victory over the Yavanas by this king during the expedition (Ch 28: lines 141-142). Gautamiputra Satakarni was the only Satakarni who scored a victory over the Yavanas. This conveys that together they have fought and won the Yavanas. From the date of Gautamiputra Satakarni, the Silappadhikaram date can be made out as belonging to the beginning of the Common Era.

[i] Kurinji Paattu

[ii] During, B.S., 2011, “Seals in Dilmun Soceity”, University of Leiden.

[iii] “Babylonia, the Gulf Region and the Indus: Archaeological and Textual Evidence for Contact in the Third and Early Second Millennia BC (Mesopotamian Civilizations)”

[iv] Mahabharata: 7-23

[v] Silappadhikaram: Chapter 11: lines 41-52

[vi] Silappadhikaram: Chapter 6: lines 1-33

[vii] Tol Kāppiyam:  Line 1

[viii] Agananuru: 359

[ix] Purananuru : 371