THE OLDEST REFERENCE TO THE SACRED PALM TREES OF SUMERIA, MESOPOTAMIA, ASSYRIA AND PHOENICIA IS IN THE RAMAYANA

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 identified the whole of the extended Persian region with that of a few important geographical sites of which Mt. Meru and Mt. Asta are significant. But, the Ramayana also identified 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 prepares to head west. The search-party is given a route-map by Sugreeva, the vanara chief, which they are told would 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 in search of 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:

1. One of the easily identifiable locations that Valmiki mentions is the geographical point where River Sindhu, that is the Indus, falls into the sea. Valmiki states there is apeak by the name Somagiri in the plateus of the cliffs by the seas. These may well be the Lakhi hills in the Indus Delta.  Moving further west, away from the  Indus Delta but still along the coast, the vanaras are told to move towards a waterlogged mountain glittering like gold by the name  Mt. Paariyatra - and find  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. One may infer that the vanaras would have at that point reached the southern end of the Zagros mountains in present day Iran, though still close to the sea.


2. 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 the Mt. Chakravaan on which the celestial architect Vishwakarma forged the Sudarshana weapon, the 'thousand-spoke wheel'. This seem to refer to the area of the Zagros range of Iran located not too far from the Arabian Sea. The two highest peaks are the Kuh-e-Dena and Kuh-e-Zard, both above 4000m.

3. Then, moving ahead the 'vanaras' are told that they will in succession come across, many mountain peaks which are named as Varaha, Meghavanta and Meru. From the desrription in the Ramayana, the three mountain peaks appear to be from the Albaroz range, in northern Iran close to the Caspian Sea.

If we go merely by the cognate name of Mt. Varaha, this Ramayanic peak can probably be identified as what is today called Kuh-e-Vararu. At a height of  3578 metres above sea level, Kuh-e-Vararu is located in the province of Mazandaran, 60 km northeast of the city of Tehran. Kūh-e Varārū is included in Reshteh-ye Alborz range of mountains in Iran. Vararu today  is about 50 km awaay from the Caspian sea but was perhaps at its coast when the Sea held more water.

Valmiki mentions that close by to Mt. Varaha is the 'golden city of Prag-jyotisha' . That might be a reference to an ancient city in the vicinity of perhaps where Tehran stands today, just 60 km away from Vararu. One finds etymological support from various facts.

First, the ancient Avestan name of Tehran was 'Raghes' or 'Ragha' and may have itself been derived from the name of Sri Rama of Ramayana, who was also known as Raghu (रघू). Second, an ancient site exists in the area of today's Tehran, which is now a part of Tehran. The site is known as Ray. The name Ray might have been abridged from the original Raghes or Ragha. 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 the present day Bhushehr province of Iran, sometimes also referred to as Nar-e-kuh and Maraku.

4. Close to Kuh-e-Vararu, also located in present day province of Mazendaran, 70 km south of Caspian Sea  is the volcanic peak of Damavand. Its most ancient known name, dating to the Sassanid era, is 'Donbavand'. In Sanskrit 'danav' (दानव) means 'demon'. A cognate of Donabavand perhaps, stated in the Ramayana is 'Meghavant'. Of course it is difficult to trace whether the names 'Damavand and the Meghavant of Ramayana have any ancient links, but the popular traditions of the villages around Damavand mountain are filled with legends and superstitions, of which some traces can be found in place names around the region. For example,  in the upper valley of the Lar, a small ravine sprinkled with marshes, warm springs, and geysers is named Div Asiab or the 'the devil’s mill'. 'Dev' is Sanskrit for 'deity'. 'Dev' of Sanskrit corrupts to 'Div' with the meaning of 'devil' in later Avestan and Persian though in early Avestan 'dev' meant 'deity' just as it does in Sanskrit. 


5. 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.

But back to the Ramayana. 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]


Once again if we go merely by the cognate of the name Asta, we may identify Mt. Asta as the Oshtoran Kooh, the Sanskrit Asta becoming Oshto, the Sanskrit sound of 'a' often turns into 'o' in Avestan, the mother of Persian language. Though it is said that the Avestan 'Oshtoran' meaning  'line of camels', which is the same as the Sanskrit 'ushtra' (उष्ट्र), explains the name, but it is the Sanskrit 'Asta' (अस्त) or 'sunset' which is most in concurrence with the Ramayanic meaning.

But where would then the Sarvani-Meru peak be. Perhaps somewhere in line with Mt. Vararu, Mt. Damavand and Mt. Oshtoran. It could be a reference to a peak in the Alborz range for in the Avestan lore the name Alborz is derived from Harā Barazaitī, a legendary mountain in the Avesta, the main text of Zoroastrianism. Hara Barazaiti is the equivalentto the  Mt. Meru of Hinduism. The Ramayana states that somewhere between Mt. Meru and Mt. Asta is placed the ten-leaf gold palm tree with a gold podium.

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 literature for centuries. Writes Allegra Lafrate 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, Lafrate 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

The location and any remains of this ten leaved date palm tree structure mentioned in the Ramayna has never been identified or even searched-for by scholars of Middle Eastern history due to lost information. But the story is different for another lot of 'vanaras' of Ramayana who were travelling east in search of Sita. These 'vanaras' are told to keep going forward 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