Ishtar was the one goddess who dominated the religions of the Middle East from the latter half of the 3rd Millennium BCE to the more recent biblical times. She was worshiped as Ishtar by Akkadians, as Inanna by Sumerians and as Astarte by Egyptians and Canaanites. Her earliest image found in a cylinder seal is displayed in the Chicago Museum along with her transformed image – which is the most commonly recognized image of hers (Figure 1). Both images belonged to the same time period.
Of the two images seen in the above figure, the top most one differs vastly from the other, though both are identified as Ishtar. A closer look at the top-image is given in Figure 2.
The most striking feature is the dented impression on her forehead. It is not caused by any defect in the seal as can be clearly seen from the corresponding projection in the cylinder seal. While this leaves us perplexed whether it is the Tilaka, the auspicious Hindu mark worn on the forehead, other features help us to arrive at a better understanding of who she is.
The Goddess is seated on a lion throne with legs folded– a feature that is not found in any goddess of the region at any time. The Mesopotamian Goddesses were either standing or seated with legs down.
Her cloths also are not as how they appear for other Goddesses. Her right hand is extended as if in abhaya mudra – something not seen in other goddesses of the region. The inscription in Akkadian reads “of Eshnunna”.
Eshnunna was a city-state of central Mesopotamia hemmed between south Mesopotamia and Elam and served as a connecting trade centre. Importantly some seals and beads of the Indus Valley have been unearthed in Eshnunna hinting at trade contacts with Indians. The location is easily accessible from the Persian Gulf for anyone going from Peninsular India and Gujarat.
Ishtar was the presiding deity of Eshnunna and a code of Law was in vogue in her name. The same codes were found incorporated in the Code of Hammurabi later, showing how popular her code had been. The Code of Hammurabi being no different from the Danda Niti of Shiva, (refer Part 2), it can be assumed that the Code of Eshnunna was originally a derivative of the Danda Niti of Shiva.
The name Ishtar seems to have been derived from the place name, Eshnunna, but then from where did the name Eshnunna evolve?
Looking at her figure, a parallel with Eshwari – Goddess Bhuvaneshwari can be made out. Bhuvaneshwari is the consort of Shiva and a counterpart of him in cosmic relevance. Like Shiva she too has the Third Eye on her forehead and a crescent moon on her head. The goad is her weapon while she pulls people with the noose held in her other hand. She is seated on a throne, not always decorated with lions, but the lion throne is the popular seat for anyone held in supreme position.
Looking for these features in figure 1, the deity of Eshnunna had a Third eye. She was seated. Weapons are seen at her back. The crescent moon is missing but it is found in another unidentified goddess of Isin-Larsa (figure 3)
This unidentified deity had a crescent moon on the head much like Bhuvaneshwari. Her cosmic role is perhaps shown by the star like discs on either side of her head. She has birds on her shoulders, a feature that is commonly found in Indian Goddesses. This figure could perhaps be the early form of Eshwari (shortened form of Bhuvaneshwari where Bhuvana refers to world and Eshwari to goddess) brought to Eshnunna by the traders of Indic landmass. From Eshwari, the place could have got the name Eshnunna.
When Eshnunna came under the Akkadian rule, her cult was absorbed into the mainstream.
The name further corrupted as Ishtar and the iconographic details were modified. The seat supported by lions gave way to Ishtar standing on a lion. The noose of Bhuvaneshwari was used to hold the lion in control while the other hand of Ishtar carried a goad-like weapon. Her costume was changed to the familiar Akkadian / Mesopotamian style. Figure 4 shows how she looked at the same period of the seated Eshnunna having the third eye.
Quick changes like this within the same period are not unknown in Mesopotamia. An example can be quoted from another artifact found the same Museum. Figure 5 shows a “bull-man” holding a ring-staff in the same period.
The same staff appears in the same style in the hands of Ishtar found in Eshnunna of the same period (figure 6).
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ishtar_Eshnunna_Louvre_AO12456.jpg Louvre Museum
For comparison the two figures are shown together in figure 7.
This staff seems to have undergone changes in style though the concept of the entangled twin snake is retained until the Greek time in their Caduceus, the staff of Hermes. (Figure 8)
The quick re-mix and the continuous re-mix were common features in Mesopotamian region with the result the original figure was easily lost within a short time. Perhaps that was the aim of the re-mix. When a city state was annexed, its cult practices were absorbed and made new by the new ruler and perhaps this went on with every ruler. Only then we get a convincing explanation for the numerous twists in the myths related to the gods and goddesses in addition to the changes in names, roles and relationships from time to time.
Behind all these, the original form of Eshnunna with the third eye was lost forever, though some semblance to the Tilaka is found in a figurine unearthed in Tel Agrab, in the ruins of Shara temple, dedicated to God Shara, identified in some texts as the son of Inanna (another name for Ishtar of Eshnunna). The head of a female of the Early Dynastic period, 2600-2400 BCE found at Shara temple shows somewhat a selective damage on her forehead where the Tilaka is placed (circled in Figure 9) The ear bore shows wearing ear ornament which is customary in the Vedic religion.
The holes around the hairline seem to have held some decorative ornament. The ear ornament looks distinctive as to reveal her identity of Indic origin. She could have been a worshiper or a deity at Shara temple, but she stands out as an evidence for the spread of religious beliefs of ancient India along with gods and goddesses. There is no record of any Mesopotamian king having banished any particular religious cult. Instead the cults and gods of the migrants were imbibed or re-worked. Linga shaped stones are an example of this tendency. Some like Venkateśvara and Padmavati were left out. But Eshwari seems to have gained many patrons from across the region with continuing modifications as Ishtar and Inanna. From which part of India the immigrants went on to Mesopotamia is a big riddle.
The closest point to the Persian Gulf is Gujarat where Saurashtra is traditionally known for weavers. The weavers of Saurashtra were generally known for migrating tendency in the past. In the last millennium they shifted to South India. As per 1891 census records, 77,000 silk-weavers of Saurashtra origin were present in Madras Presidency who were speaking their ancient language of yore. Their expertise in silk-weaving got them a name as ‘Patnuli-kar’ – meaning ‘silk thread-people’ in Tamil. Tirupati too must have been one of their destinations very long ago, where they continued their occupation.
The migration outside the country in the 3rd or 2nd millennium BCE is perhaps evidenced in the presence of Shiva linga and Eshwari – the divine couple worshiped in the Gujarat from times of yore. Somnath in Gujarat has been the home for the first Jyothir Linga established in India. This deity of Somnath was associated with a crescent moon! Recently the only Shakti-pitha of Bhuvaneshwari was established there which could not have come up without an olden connection with Bhuvaneshwari.
The region is well known for abundant presence of Asiatic lions. The lion-connection with Bhuvaneshwari could have come up from this feature. The port facility at Lothal right from the early Harappan phase could have given the predominantly trading communities scope to try their hands at distant shores. Shiva linga (Part 2) and his consort Eashwari could have been introduced by them into Mesopotamia.
The next figure that caught my attention was a Hanuman look-alike! A similar figure is found carved on a mountain side in Sulaymaniya, Iraq, prostrating in front of an archer, making us wonder whether it was Rama. The exhibit in the Museum shows a similar pose for the Hanuman look-alike but the man worshiped was carrying an axe! My search for other clues to solve this, led me to locate a Cuneiform tablet of the same Isin-Larsa period in the Museum. (Figure 10) A mathematical problem given to two students was written on that.
The above figure shows the cuneiform tablet and the translation of the text. Two mathematical problems were given to two students, identified by the name of the place they came from. One was ‘Meluhha’ and the other was Ur-Ishtaran. This conveys that some people from ‘Meluhha’ had settled in south Mesopotamia. Their children had attended school and taken up lessons in Akkadian or Sumerian as per the laws of the prevailing king. Ur-Ishtaran belonged to the same region, but where did Meluhha exist?
There is an opinion among Indic scholars that Meluhha is identified with the Indus valley region. How far is this acceptable if we go by the meaning of Meluhha that is vastly accepted as ‘Mleccha’, meaning, ‘outcast’? When we dig into the earlier events given in Vishnu Purana and the Itihasas, on certain people made into outcasts, and compare them with unique figures including the Hanuman look-alike found in the Museum, a different kind of history unrolls before us that links certain missing dots in our understanding of the so-called ancestral South Indians and the migrations that took place before Rama's time, 7000 years ago. All these will be discussed later, followed by another Vedic figure – a couple, Brahma and Saraswati look-alike housed in the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago.
 “Rama in rock carvings of Iraq” http://jayasreesaranathan.blogspot.com/2015/10/rama-in-rock-carvings-of-iraq.html